When Oz woke that morning naked in the clearing on the edge of town, he spent some time lying there, trying to decide which was more disturbing, that he'd apparently spent the night outside, or that nothing had killed him when he did.
The last thing he remembered was hurrying back to Dev's place from school, trying to get under cover before night fell. He'd definitely been fully-clothed then, with no intentions of getting back to nature, and he hadn't even been high, so finding himself stark naked in the woods the next morning with no memory of the last twelve hours was not what he would call a predictable outcome.
However, since he had, it seemed, been running around after sunset, that he'd found himself at all, except in a coffin ready to rise, was quite possibly even stranger. He would have liked to think that he'd just been lucky, but no one in Sunnydale believed in that anymore. What, then, could he possibly have been doing during his fugue state that would have kept the monsters off his back?
Compared to those worries, the nudity hardly registered, but after the first woman saw him and screamed, he realized the problem. It took him a while to pick his way back to the house without getting spotted again. When he came into the kitchen, Dev jumped up from his cereal.
"Shit, man, you're...you're still alive. When you didn't come home last night, I thought for sure..." He stopped and eyed him, trying to discreetly scrabble for a knife. "Are you alive?"
"Dev, I've got total sunlight exposure here." He looked down at his body, scratched and smeared with mud. "And I do mean total."
"Right, right. What the hell happened? Did you score?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
"I don't remember what happened last night. At all."
"Well..." Dev looked him over and grinned. "It looks like you had a good time, anyway."
Oz felt a twinge. A good time. Dev still thought like that. "Yeah." He looked at the paper on the table. Dev usually stuck to the funnies, but he left the obits section for Oz. The headline at the top read, RESIDENT BADLY INJURED BY WILD ANIMAL. That wasn't usually the way they talked about vampire attacks. He frowned. "Look, I'm going to get dressed and then we can go to school."
"And miss the morning cartoons?"
"There's something I want to check out there."
Dev shrugged. "Okay. But then I want to skip out early. Get some time down by the water before dark."
"Sure," Oz said distractedly, staring at the article. No, it didn't sound like a vampire at all.
Oz had hardly ever been in the library before, since that would imply actual interest in the assigned readings. It didn't look like anybody else was interested, either; the place was deserted. There wasn't even a grownup around. Probably just as well.
He found the card catalog and was surprised to see just how many books there were on the supernatural. He pulled a bunch of them out of the stacks and sat down at the central table. It didn't take too long for him to narrow down his choices. Assuming that he hadn't just lost his mind the previous night, the odds were good that he'd become a werewolf. The bite from Jordy, the phase of the moon...He chuckled bitterly. Three years of dodging vampires, and some other horror had crept up on him and claimed him without his even realizing it. He should have known. Stay in Sunnydale long enough, the monsters get you one way or the other. He'd been reading for about an hour when the doors open and the librarian--Mr. Giles--came in. His clothes were rumpled, he wasn't shaved, and Oz could take a pretty good guess as to what his sunglasses were hiding.
"Oh," he said, stopping dead when he saw Oz. "There's--what are you doing here?"
"Reading. I was kind of under the impression that that was the point of this place."
"Some people are of that opinion." Giles approached the table warily. "Not, however, many students."
"I'm a rebel."
"A rebel interested in..." He lifted the cover of the book. "Werewolves." He gave Oz a look. "Students have occasionally been known to come in here to research vampires, but I believe you're the first to demonstrate an interest in lycanthropy."
"What can I say? Lon Chaney, Sr., is a seriously underappreciated artist."
"That's the extent of your interest?"
"Yeah. The later treatments of the material just aren't as compelling."
"That's not what I meant." Giles took the paper out of his bag and tossed it down in front of him. The same article he'd seen earlier was circled. "You wouldn't, by any chance, know anything about this incident?"
Oz cast an eye over it. "No. Should I?"
Giles stared at him. He looked back impassively. "Perhaps not." He picked up the paper. "You'll excuse me." He went into his office and closed the door.
Because, really, what help could an adult be?
Once upon a time, Oz had had a plan. He hadn't actually known what the plan was, of course, but that was okay. Because he was sure that whatever it was he was doing, that was the right thing. He was where he was supposed to be, and it would all work out in the end.
That was before the Master had risen and the world had gone to hell. These days, he had no idea where he was headed. Heck, he'd known he was a werewolf for a week and he still hadn't even figured out what to do about that, which left him even less motivated than usual to pay attention in class. He'd skipped out of school early, even left Dev behind, to play video games at the one arcade still open in Sunnydale. It'd been a while since he'd been in, and the place smelled more strongly than it used to, of must and plastic and sweat. He'd stood entranced in front of Zaxxon, explosions of light and color numbing him, fascinated by the way the slightest movement of his hand translated into such spectacular destruction on the screen. He played for hours, and when he finally looked up, the place was dark and deserted. No one had even tried to get his attention to let him know they were closing. They must have been too busy worrying about their own safety. He understood, but it still sucked.
He ran towards home in the dark, trying to be alert to his surroundings and yet not hear the screams in the distance that were the regular Sunnydale soundtrack now. Then the inevitable figure detached itself from the shadows and stood in front of him. A boy his own age, with dark hair and eyes and a cruel expression contrasting oddly with his relaxed stance. A dimly familiar face from school, but then he shook his head and his features melted and hardened into those foreign ridges and he wasn't familiar at all, except in the sense that all vampires looked pretty much the same, and Oz had seen his share.
There didn't seem to be much point in making small talk with him, so Oz skidded to a stop, turned, and ran the other way. He heard the laughter behind him and knew there was no way he was getting out of this one, but he ran anyway, hoping that he'd at least piss the vampire off so he'd kill him instead of turning him. Because there was Dev. God, Dev. And Dev's parents, who'd taken him in, even if they didn't generally seem aware of that fact. He could already see them with their throats ripped out, and that made him run as fast as he could, though his own throat was tightening up on him and he could hear the vampire just behind him as he ignored a traffic light and ran across the street.
A car screeched to a halt in front of him, and a man jumped out of the driver's-side door, holding out a large cross. "Get in!" he shouted, and Oz blinked, realizing that it was Mr. Giles. He didn't have any serious objection to having his life saved, so he wrenched open the passenger-side door and slid in. Looking back, he saw the vampire snarling, backing away slowly. Giles threw himself into the car and hit the gas without even closing his own door.
Five minutes later, they pulled in at what had to be Giles's apartment building and dashed up the walk. Oz looked around as Giles triple-locked the door behind them. Giles's place was cluttered with weird knick-knacks and not much tidier than Dev's. "You'll have to spend the night, I'm afraid," he said. "It's not safe for you to be out on the streets."
"Fine." Even if the guy turned out to be a killer with a thing for teenage boys, he couldn't be worse than what was out there. Maybe not even worse than what he had brought in with him.
Giles went over to a chest against the far wall. He opened it and tossed the cross in. Before he closed the lid, Oz saw what looked like an axe sticking up. All right, that was new and different. "Are you injured?"
"Good. If you'd like to call your parents, the phone is there." He pointed.
"My parents are dead."
"Oh." It was Giles's turn to blink. "Who looks after you, then?"
"A friend and I...we mostly look after ourselves."
"Would you like to call him, then?"
"He doesn't answer the phone after dark."
"I see." Giles crossed the room to some shelves and poured himself a drink. "I'm afraid I haven't much here to amuse you with this evening," he said, picking up a book and flipping it open while he drank.
"That's okay. I was thinking I might check out your weapons."
Giles dropped his book. "What?"
"All those weapons you've got in that chest. They seem pretty interesting."
"They're not. Strictly a historical collection. A...very, very dull historical collection."
"Right," Oz said. "You're more than an amateur at this, aren't you?"
Giles put down his drink. "That depends. Are you more than an ordinary young man?"
Oz swallowed. "What do you mean?"
"There was something remarkably like a werewolf attack last week. The very next day, you were in the library reading about them. I doubt it was a coincidence."
What was Giles going to do, after all? He figured he could stop him from reaching the weapons chest if he had to. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."
"Let's trade. You first."
"Oh. Yes. No, I'm not an amateur. I was sent here, well, to stop all this happening. The Hellmouth opening and the Master rising, that is."
"Didn't do too good a job, did you?"
"Well, I was, I was never meant to do it on my own." His voice was almost plaintive. "I haven't the skill to fight. I was supposed to guide and train another. A warrior."
Giles smiled bitterly. "Politics, mostly. It's...it's a very long story." He emptied his glass with grim deliberation.
So, another adult fuckup. Which had pretty much caused the end of the world. Why was he not surprised? "That's just great."
"I'm glad you approve. Your turn."
"Yeah." He hesitated. "I'm a werewolf. I think. I mean, I don't know. It was just the one night last month."
"The night after the full moon?" Oz nodded.
"Well, it does seem likely. Interesting..." Giles refilled his glass, turned, and paced across the room again, where he stood with his back to Oz, fingering a statue.
After a couple of minutes, he ventured, "Do you know...is there a cure?"
"Sorry? No. Not that I've heard of." He paused. "But..."
He looked back at him, eyes narrowed. "I might be able to help you to control it. To...to use it."
"To use it? For what? To make the sequel to 'Teen Wolf'? 'Cause that film hasn't really held up."
"No." Giles came towards him, his eyes suddenly lit. "To fight them. The vampires. You would be strong enough to give them real difficulties. I've never dared to take them on on my own, but we could work together."
To make him even more of a monster? No way. "So I could get killed?" He snorted. "No, thanks."
"But...but...Sunnydale needs you. You know perfectly well what kind of terror its residents have to live with. You could help ameliorate that."
"Maybe, but what has Sunnydale ever done for me?"
Giles frowned. "It is your hometown."
"Look. It sucks that there are vampires, but the whole world has gone to hell, and it doesn't seem like anybody can do anything about it. I just want to keep my head down and keep me and Dev alive for as long as possible, okay?"
He sighed, and the light went out of his eyes. "I see. Well..." He shrugged, emptied his glass again, then picked up the book from the floor and went to sit at his desk, paying no more attention to Oz. He clearly wasn't the master of the social skills, but fine. Oz was just crashing on his couch for the night; they didn't have to make conversation. Especially not if there was going to be guilt involved. Oz stretched out on the couch and let his mind drift. He used to need a joint for that, but it had gotten easier and easier over the past year or so. After some time, he heard Giles saying his name. He stirred and opened his eyes.
"I'll be going to sleep soon. If you'd like to take a shower before bed, the bathroom is around the corner." Giles's voice was thick and his face was flushed. Obviously, he'd been making more trips to the decanter.
When he came back out, Giles was asleep on the desk, books and bottles of pills scattered around him. He reeked of whiskey. Yeah, Oz thought, looking at him, I made the right call there.
That would have been that, except that a week and a half later, Dev didn't come home before dark.
Oz sat and stared at the kitchen door and tried to decide what to do. They'd split up after lunch; Dev had borrowed the van, muttering something about a girl. Oz hadn't paid too much attention. He'd just warned him, as usual, not to lose track of time. Unfortunately, Dev had been known to lose track even of what verse he was singing mid-concert, and when he had some pot in him...
It had been stupid to let him go, but the fact was, it made Oz feel good to know that Dev could still take an interest in that sort of thing. Therefore, he'd always gone along with it. Now, though, it was so obviously stupid that he could smack both of them, and he was going to have to do something even stupider to try to repair the situation. He pulled on a jacket and then the cross on a necklace that Giles had insisted on his taking the morning after he'd rescued him. It was dull, heavy gold and actually had a certain severe, manly charm, though it was a little more stern than the jewelry he liked. He tucked a knife and a flashlight into his pocket and then ducked out the door.
Dev usually took girls down to the water. When Oz got there, his heart was racing. The familiar bulk of the van was there, but as he approached it, he saw that the back doors had been wrenched open. It was empty. There was no sign of Dev. Oz stared at it for a minute, then closed the doors, climbed in, and hit the gas. He didn't like it, but he knew what he had to do. There was only one thing that offered Dev even a smidgen of a chance.
Five minutes later, he was pounding on Giles's door. Giles opened it an inch, then saw who it was, unlatched the chain, and dragged Oz inside. "Are you mad?" he demanded, slamming the door. "What are you doing outdoors at this hour?"
"I need..." Oz swallowed. "I need your help."
"And the van was simply empty?" Giles was pacing up and down the room, the way he had been through the whole story. "No signs of struggle?"
"Except for the doors being torn open, yeah. If they fell asleep..."
"Well, at least you didn't find their bodies. It may be that they were taken somewhere for later consumption. In which case, they might still be alive."
"But where?" Though he kept his voice calm, Oz was ready to break something with frustration. Giles was so slow.
Giles stopped in front of his desk, opened a drawer, and took out a map. He spread it open and considered it. "Probably here." He pointed to a red circle not far from the beach.
On the other hand..."How do you know?"
"Since I haven't been much good for anything else, I thought I might at least try to gather intelligence. I believe I've identified all of their major gathering-places as of last week. This is one of them, the one closest to the place where they were captured."
"All right, then. Let's go." He started for the door.
"Wait." Giles put a hand on his arm.
"No." He yanked his arm away. "There's no time. They could kill him any minute."
"And they'll kill us if we don't approach this properly." Giles went back to the chest and started taking things from it. "Do you know how to use one of these?" He was holding up a crossbow.
Oz stared. That was much too weird a question to be asked in such a casual tone. "No."
"Pity." He tossed it aside. "Perhaps you should learn. Later. Here." He brought him two stakes and a bottle of what he guessed from the cross marked on it was holy water. Okay, so he really hadn't been kidding about not being an amateur. "They're much stronger and faster than you are--in your human state, at any rate. Avoid closing with them at all costs. Use the cross to hold them off and the holy water to stun them if they get too close. Above all, remember that we're attempting a rescue, not the Charge of the Light Brigade. In the best-case scenario, we don't fight them at all."
Oz nodded impatiently. "All right, all right. Can we go now?"
Giles narrowed his eyes at him. "Oz. Getting yourself killed won't help your friend in the slightest. You do understand that?"
"Very well, then." Giles took a stake himself, and the crossbow, as well as the map. "We'll take your vehicle; mine doesn't have enough room for many passengers."
When they were in the van, Oz said, "What do we do if he's not there?"
"I'm not sure. You weren't able to track them?"
"Werewolves have an acutely keen sense of smell, even in their human form. You hadn't noticed?"
Of course he had, he realized. He just hadn't put it together. So Dev didn't need to wash his hair quite as much as he'd thought. "You're saying I might have been able to follow him to wherever they took him, if I'd started at the beach?"
"If you knew his scent. And I imagine you would."
"Oh." He tried not to think about the implications of that. If Dev was all right, it wouldn't matter, anyway.
"Therefore, if he's not there, we'll just have to go back and track him to their lair."
"Okay." He pulled the van over. "We are there."
A single light shone from one of the ground-floor rooms of the ramshackle old house. Giles and Oz crept across the lawn to the windows and peered in cautiously. There was one vampire, boredly throwing up a knife up in the air and catching it, over and over again, and what looked like several people huddled in the shadowed corners of the room. He could hear a girl sobbing softly.
"Is your friend there?" Giles asked softly.
"Can you...can you smell him?"
"Oh. Right." He stopped, took a deep breath. It'd be like the scent in the air after Dev took a shower, wouldn't it? Yes, it was there, along with the smell of blood. And something he thought he might be fear. "Yes. He's hurt, though. Or somebody's hurt. We need to get in there."
"Well, it seems most of the vampires are still out grocery-shopping for their soiree. We ought to be able to take one of them."
"You're going to go in and distract him, then douse him with holy water when he gets close."
"And what are you going to be doing?"
Giles held up the crossbow. "Using this."
"Oh." For a minute there, his face shadowed, holding the weapon so easily, he almost looked competent.
"Just remember that you need to take several steps to the right as you come in, so you don't block my field of fire. Understand?"
"Then let's go. We haven't much time."
Oz crept towards the door to the house. He had thought he might be scared, but he wasn't, at all. It wasn't even that he was thinking only about rescuing Dev. It was more than after three years of skulking around Sunnydale, the threat of vampires a miasma in the air, his nerves had gotten hardened to terror. What could be left to scare him with? In fact, he realized as he opened the door as quietly as he could and stepped into the hallway, it felt good to finally be taking some kind of action. Giles was right behind him, not quite so quiet. He only hoped he could do what he said. Oz remembered the competent look, but he also remembered the slumping, out cold, on the desk. There was no time to worry about that, though, and so he flung the door to the room open and stepped in.
The vampire turned and stared at him. "Hey, man," Oz said casually, holding out his hands and letting himself drift to the right, "I was thinking about rescuing your prisoners here, and I was wondering what the best method would be. I mean, do you think I could lure you away from this room, or do I have to kill--"
The vampire lunged at him. Oz's hand flashed into his pocket, and he threw the vial of holy water at him. It broke, and the vampire began to jerk and scream. Only for a few seconds, though--then he abruptly resolved himself into dust.
Oz didn't bother to look at Giles; he just ran to the slumped figures against the wall. There were three guys and a girl.
"Wow! That was amazing!" one of the guys exclaimed; it was Larry from the football team. Another was on his hands and knees, puking his guts out--Freddy the newspaper guy. And the third... He knew it even before he turned the head to face him. Dev stared up at him, unblinking and unmoving, his throat a bloody mess. There weren't going to be any more good times, for either of them.
"The vampire killed him," the girl (Emily, he thought) said. "He said he was too hungry to wait."
"This is...Dev?" Giles said from behind him.
"I'm sorry, Oz, but we have to get out of here. That vampire's friends could return at any moment, and there's no way we can manage them."
Oz, however, really couldn't see the point of standing up ever again. There was such a crushing weight on him; he thought he'd just sit there forever. Or maybe lie down...that would be easier. Lie down and just drift.
"Oz!" Giles grasped his arm. "Come on! The rest of you--outside. We have a van."
Someone else got his other arm, and he reluctantly allowed himself to be tugged to his feet and half-dragged out of the room. Giles had to lift him into the front passenger seat of the van. Shortly afterwards, he felt him pulling down his seatbelt. As they drove off, tires squealing, he just shut his eyes and let his head go back. It didn't matter if they made it safely back to Giles's. The only point to the whole stupid thing was gone for good.
Oz sat in the corner, seeing what was going on without really registering it. Giles had given him a glass of Scotch, and he sipped at it without actually tasting it, though he was getting more and more lightheaded. The others were buzzing around, discussing their adventure as Giles tended to their minor injuries. "That was so cool!" Larry kept saying. "I can't believe you guys did that. Especially the crossbow--"
"Would you like to learn?" Giles finally offered.
"You'd teach me? It'd be great for self-defense."
"And the defense of others."
"Whatever. As long as I get to kill some vamps."
"Come to the library tomorrow afternoon, then, and we'll begin." A pause. "Freddy? Would you be interested, also?"
"Yeah. I guess so. It beats dying, anyway."
"Emily?" He looked more closely at her as he bandaged her arm. "You're shaking. Do you feel cold? You might be going into shock."
"No," she said, "no, it's just--Dev--we had some weed and we made out and we fell asleep and--and--"
"It's all right," he said soothingly. "The important thing is that you survived. You need to get some rest." He raised his voice a little. "All of you do. I have the couch for Emily and the chair, but one of you boys will have to sleep on the floor and one upstairs with me. On the bed, or on the floor--whichever you're more comfortable with."
"I'll take the chair," Larry said instantly.
Freddy gave him a sour look. "So much for the manly spirit of the all-American athletic hero."
"What? You want to arm-wrestle for it, man? I'm up for that," Larry offered.
Freddy snorted. "Never mind. I'll take the floor down here."
"All right. Oz?"
"I'll come upstairs." It was difficult to care, but somehow the thought of stretching out on a hard floor was just too much.
Upstairs, Giles dropped onto the bed without even bothering to change, and Oz crawled under the covers, starting to shiver himself. Dev was as straight as straight could be, but sometimes, when things got really bad, Oz would slip into his bed, like he had when they were little kids, and sleep curled up against his comforting bulk. He wouldn't be getting that tonight. Or ever. Instead, he was bunking with some guy who was handy with a crossbow but useless in the comfort department. He closed his eyes and let the liquor take him.
Oz awoke. For a minute, he felt fine, but the strange scent in the air nagged quietly at his edge of his consciousness like some half-suppressed, terrible memory, and then the knowledge of what had happened the previous night settled on him hard. It was like learning about Dev's fate all over again. He breathed in slowly, then opened his eyes. Giles had just come into the room, hair damp. Oz rolled back over onto his stomach and closed them again. He wondered how long he could stay there before Giles would make him leave.
"How are you feeling?" Giles asked quietly.
"Pretty much how you'd expect," Oz muttered into the pillow.
"Did you know him well?"
"Since we were little kids."
"Yeah." Weren't they all?
He could hear Giles move to sit on the other edge of the bed. "You did your best, Oz."
He opened his eyes. "If I had only thought to track him from the van--"
"You would have died, and so would everyone else in that house. Your actions last night saved three lives. You mustn't allow yourself to forget that."
"No, your actions did. I was just along for the ride."
There was a silence. Then Giles said cautiously, "You could change that. We did discuss how it might be possible."
"You mean...learn to fight. Learn to use the werewolf." If he'd been able to do it that night...
"Yes. I can't claim it will be easy, but if you want to bring those who killed your friend to justice--or simply to prevent others from suffering the same fate--"
Justice, defending the innocent, truth, the American way...He pressed his hands against his eyes. "I can't--I'm not a superhero, Giles. I don't think like that."
Giles sighed. "It is, of course, your decision, Oz. I suppose the question is whether you are comfortable with taking help and not giving it."
He could have punched him, because that was the problem, wasn't it? Giles had saved his life, then risked his own to try to save Dev, even after Oz had said no. Didn't he owe him? And if he did, why couldn't have Giles put it like that, bluntly, so he could turn him down? Why did Giles have to make it a question of what was in Oz's heart? "Maybe I should. Learn, I mean."
"This will be arduous for both of us, Oz. I don't think 'maybe' is sufficient."
"All right. Yeah." He burrowed his face back into the pillow. Giles wouldn't smell so bad, if it weren't for the faint scent of Scotch. "But I'm not going to school today."
Giles frowned. "I'm not your parent, and I can't dictate how you conduct yourself. However, I believe it would be wisest to hold onto what vestiges of a normal life we can. It would be too easy to slide into despair if we gave up on that."
He was one to talk. "Which is why you're always coming into school late yourself?"
Giles looked down. "I wish I could say that I was not speaking from experience."
"Fine. You'll give me a ride, and that way we'll both get there."
He lifted his head again and smiled oddly. The morning sun flashed off his glasses. "I think you'll find the library can be something of a haven."
It wasn't too surprising that Giles was able to turn the library into some kind of dojo without anybody noticing. Principal Flutie hardly ever left his office anymore--he spent most of his time monopolizing the school therapist--and the teachers didn't even bother to keep track of who was missing from classes. Giles began with lectures on safety: crosses, holy water, charms, advanced running-away. Freddy declared it all lame and left after just the second day. Oz offered to go after him, but Giles shook his head, shoulders slumped. "We haven't the resources for anyone who isn't committed." At least, Oz thought, Freddy probably wouldn't write an editorial against them--satirically, they were pretty small potatoes--but he didn't like the dull look in Giles's eyes at all.
The next day, probably because Giles feared more deserters, they started on weaponry. He brought in and passed around stakes, crossbows, quarterstaffs, swords: it was like a Tupperware party, except for the Ren Fair. It was just as well Freddy hadn't stuck around for their first lessons--the opportunities for satire increased dramatically--but they did learn. Larry turned out to be a pretty good shot. Emily, quick and lithe, preferred the sword and picked it up fast. Oz liked to watch Giles and her practice. Maybe it was just that Giles's posture had to be much better, his reactions faster, for him to train her, but he looked less tired, less defeated when he was fencing with her. Almost vigorous. It was vaguely reassuring.
For Oz, there were extra lessons. Endless research on werewolves, night after night, trying to find the right way to channel the wolf, while Giles sat across the table with his own books, popping uppers and drinking tea in a display of talent at maintaining chemical equilibrium that Oz had to admire. Giles even had him studying Latin so he could read more of the texts. He had a theory that Oz needed to be conscious of himself as a wolf before he could control it, so they did all sorts of breathing exercises, chants, and meditations, with different herbs and music to accompany them each time. Oz wasn't sure how volunteering to fight evil had come to entail quite so much homework--he was doing more in a month than he'd done in the entire past year, maybe two--but he'd said he'd do it, so he tried to stick to it. None of the tricks worked, though, and he had to spend the next full moon locked up in the book cage of the library, raging unconsciously and waking up badly bruised and disappointed to a Giles hunched up asleep on the wall, head on his knees, crossbow not even pointed at the cage.
Not that Dev's parents noticed when he was gone. They had barely been around when Dev was alive, and now that he was dead, Oz scarcely ever saw them. He hated the empty feel of their house, so he took to staying out more and more nights, sleeping on Giles's couch or in the library office, which they'd warded. But even when he stayed at Giles's place, they hardly talked at all, except about their work. Most nights, Giles dragged himself blearily through the door and lost himself in books or Scotch, depending on how the day had been. It was usually the former rather than the latter now--though Oz didn't like to imagine what it had been before--but either way, he was gone. It fell to Oz to scrounge up food for them and to try to keep the place in some kind of order. He wasn't very good at either, and the best it got from Giles was a blurry, distant smile, but somehow it made him miss Dev a little less.
After a month, Giles announced that it was time to start patrolling. They were strictly rescue operations, with all of them cruising around in Oz's van, ready to hop out with their weapons and drive off a lone vampire on a kill, but they let Larry blow off some steam. Oz himself didn't really like it. Patrols gave him a kind of dull but relentless tension he didn't enjoy. Even on the rare occasions that they killed a vampire, he didn't get much satisfaction. Seeing one dusted just reminded him of the night that Dev had died. But they were saving people, and that encouraged everyone. Most ran off, but some of the students who recognized them stuck around, and they even recruited a few: Nancy, who was a big help with the books, Sheila, who quite possibly didn't even know what a book was but already knew how to fight hand-to-hand better than any of them, and Owen, who was even more reckless than Larry.
It was a life, he guessed, and he could let himself fall into the routine, and so more than two months passed. His lack of progress with the wolf was frustrating, but he was getting to be a crack shot, and they were all starting to work together easily. Even Sheila was learning to play well with others. With the wolf on his mind and theirs, he couldn't really get as close to the rest of them as they did to each other, but he knew their bonding was good and meant a better chance of surviving for them all. He didn't realize how they saw things, though, until the day he came into the library to find them there with stricken faces.
"What's up? Where's Giles?"
"We were hoping he was with you," Emily said carefully.
"No, I slept at home last night. Didn't he come in?" There was quiet panic in him now.
"No. We called his place, but nobody answered."
"That's...not good." Oz frowned. "Did somebody go over there?"
"No. We thought that would be your job."
"Well," Sheila said, "you're the one he's totally into."
He cocked his head. "I really don't think Giles is 'into' anybody." Whatever way you took that.
"Come on," Nancy said. "I spend all evening in here translating prophecies for him, and all he notices is whether or not you're getting your breathing right. Do any of the rest of us sleep at his place? Or keep a Playstation there? I don't think so. He likes all of us, but you're his project, Oz. Sometimes I think any one of us could die and he would hardly even register it, but if something happened to you, it would be all over."
Oz swallowed and looked around. The same thought was on everyone's face. "Well, yeah, maybe, but it's just because of the wolf."
"Which would make you the teacher's pet."
Oz frowned. "Dude," Larry said, "it's okay. But if somebody goes and bangs on his door, it should be you."
"Fine." Oz shrugged out of his backpack and went into the office to pick up his bag of gear. "I'll call in an hour. If I don't--"
Larry nodded. "Got it."
The door was slightly ajar when he got there. He took a cross and a stake out of the bag and sniffed at the air. Nothing but Giles, as far as he could tell, but of course his scent would be heavy on the place.
He stepped inside and gasped. The apartment was always a little untidy--he only channeled Martha Stewart once or twice a week--but now there were books knocked off the shelves, papers strewn across the floor, stirring in the draft from the door, and what looked like the fragments of a shattered glass in the kitchen sink. Dev's room had usually looked better.
Oz didn't know what to think. There might have been a fight, but there were no obvious bodies and no smell of blood. Could Giles have done it while drunk? There was no denying that he was into the recreational substances, but he was like Oz with them: he took drugs to feel better or to keep on top of things, not to turn his aggression loose. Giles had never so much as yelled at him while drunk or high--just ignored him and pulled further into himself. Why would he change now?
Oz crept up the stairs slowly. If Giles was dead up there, he had no idea what they would do next. The thought pressed so hard against the place where he still ached for Dev that he almost turned and walked away. Somehow, though, he kept climbing.
Giles was on the bed, and it took only an instant to tell that he was alive. He was unconscious, though. Also unshaven and generally unkempt. The way he sprawled out loosely said he'd been drinking as much as the smell did, but he was clutching an envelope in his hand tightly. Oz crawled onto the bed and looked at it. He could make out part of the return address: Diedre Page, London. He reached out and gently tugged it free, but the motion woke Giles, who stared at him muzzily for a moment, then growled, "Go away."
"Giles? What's going on? Are you all right?"
Giles jerked away from him and got unsteadily to his feet, turning his back on him. "I said go away." His voice was heavy with whatever he'd taken, and it dropped to a mumble. "Stupid bloody Americans. They can't leave you alone. Always wanting you to teach, to take care of things, to make things better. I can't fucking fix the world. I can't even fucking stop my own best mate being eaten alive by a demon I brought here..." He swayed and dropped back onto the edge of the bed, seemingly oblivious to Oz's presence.
Oz pulled the letter from the envelope. Words swam up at him: Ethan, Ripper, Eyghon, destroyed, killed, "your goddamned fault" underlined three times. "Who's Ethan?" he asked.
"Ethan," Giles snorted. "Ethan was going to outlive the cockroaches and the ruddy Twinkies. Ethan could look after himself, said I. He didn't need me, and the Slayer did. The Slayer. My wonderful Slayer who was going to save the world, except she never showed up. Just a letter from the Council. Hellmouth? You're off your nut, you're sacked. But I wasn't, now was I? Useless, and the worst fucking mate a man could have, but not cracked. Wish I had been. It'd've been easier."
Oz tried to follow the thread. "He was...your friend?"
"Don't be so dense," he snapped, still not turning around. "If you're going to muck about in my personal life, you might at least get it right. He's dead, there's no reason to lie about it anymore."
Oh. Oh. He'd wondered a little, but--"And he stopped this demon, this Eyghon, that you guys had summoned."
"And Eyghon stopped him." Giles flung himself back onto the pillow. "Meaning I might as well have killed him myself." He shut his eyes, then opened them again on Oz. "Is this as entertaining as your idiot box downstairs? Why aren't you blowing up your aliens instead of bothering me?"
The nasty edge in his voice took him off-guard. "Giles, come on--"
"Right. I'm a clown to you lot, aren't I? Better than anything on the bloody telly. Why else would you stick around?" He hiccuped. "Get me some more Scotch or get out. No, better: both. Price of admission."
He wanted to get out of there. He could feel the despair in the air twisting around him, trying to gain a purchase on his own soul, and he could feel himself responding, but he couldn't go. "Giles, what did you take?"
"Special stuff. Don't worry, no harm mixing it with booze. Ethan's Christmas present. He still sent--oh, Christ, he still sent--I wouldn't even call--" He put his hands over his face and started to shake.
Oz got up and went downstairs. There were a few bottles under the sink. He picked the cheapest-looking one and brought it back up to the bedroom. Giles was crying now, harsh, wrenching sobs that it hurt to listen to. Oz found a glass and looked into it. Two choices here. Give him a drink and put him to bed and get the hell out of there, or stay and share it. Admit what was in common: Dev, Ethan, the way the world was ruined and you couldn't do anything to fix it and everything you tried to hold onto slipped away. Maybe get a little comfort... Or maybe get dragged down so you could never get up again. Maybe feel stronger for a little while, but give fortune another hostage to play with so that she could screw you over again whenever she felt like it. Oz set the glass and the bottle on the bedside table and fled the house.
When Giles came in the next day, he was grim-faced and unshaven beneath the sunglasses. He put them through the toughest practice they had ever had, and the other kids were plainly all glad to get out of there when he sent them away early. "Not you, Oz," he said, though, as Oz headed for the door.
Oz turned. Giles was unpacking a bag onto the table. Incense sticks, little jars and stoppered vials, a brazier, a dagger with a heavily-ornamented sheath. The hair on the back of Oz's neck prickled. "Something special today?"
Giles lifted the dagger and looked at him over the blade. "We're going to bring out the wolf."
Oz reflexively took a step backwards. "Isn't that...dangerous?"
"Yes." Giles slashed at his palm, letting the blood drip into the brazier. "Quite. Which is why I'll be binding you first."
A flame danced out of the brazier. Oz couldn't remember seeing Giles light it, but he nodded with satisfaction, took some of the incense sticks, and thrust them into it. "Why...why are we doing this?"
"We've been too cautious. We've been trying to reach the wolf while keeping the human fully in control, and we've had precious little success. We need to shift tactics. We're going to bring the wolf up, and you're going to learn to fight him down."
A hideous smell, like rotten flesh, was filling the library, and it was all going much too fast for Oz. "Do you think this is really such a good idea?"
"The time for half-measures is over, Oz." Giles took the sticks from the brazier and a jar from the table. He pointed to the wide space next to the checkout counter. "Sit there." Oz obeyed, and Giles handed him the bottle. "When I tell you to, drink that."
"Giles," he said loudly enough that the other man actually stopped and looked at him. "Giles, will I come back?"
"The potion's effects will last four hours, and then you will revert to normal, if you haven't already done it yourself. You probably won't manage that on your first attempt. Just try to gain consciousness, to...to share space with the wolf."
It was what he'd said he'd do, so he lifted the stopper from the jar and sniffed at it. It smelled intensely green, but much better than the incense. Giles was using the charred end of the sticks to draw a circle around him. When he finished, he went back to the table and got a book and a crossbow. "Drink," he said. Oz closed his eyes and gulped the potion down. It was minty and oily and burned his tongue. Giles was chanting something, low and fierce, and he thought of his own chants, the ones Giles had taught him for focus and presence of mind. He waited, running over them in his head, until he felt the twitching of his skin, the rippling of his muscles, that signaled the change. "It's happening," he said, and then bent over with the familiar pain, which felt like his insides being wrenched free from the skin that covered him. Two breaths later, he'd blacked out.
When he came to, Giles was half-sprawled out on the floor, leaning against a chair leg, though still holding the crossbow on him. He was surrounded by a litter of bottles and ashes, and strange scents lingered on the air. Oz gasped. There were nasty-looking purple bruises on Giles's hands and face, and silver had come into his hair without warning. "Giles? What happened?"
"Ah." Giles jerked himself up, and it was obvious it hurt to move. "You're back." He crawled slowly and painfully across the floor, then wiped his hand carelessly through the circumference of the circle. "It's a powerful binding spell, Oz. Nothing in magic comes for free, and I had little to offer a power besides my flesh."
Oz caught him as he fell over. "Do these effects last?"
Giles sighed and relaxed against him a little. "Only for a while. Did you succeed in gaining consciousness?"
"No." He felt Giles sigh again and suppressed the surprising urge to stroke his stubbled cheek. "No, no, wait." A memory was swimming up to him out of the blackness. "You were reading--something. Pacing up and down the library with the crossbow and reading something to me. I remember. 'I wish it need not have happened in my time.'"
Giles sat up at once. "That's right. I was."
Oz swallowed. "So I...we did something." Beat one of the monsters back, if only a step.
"Yes." He got to his feet, giving him a nervous smile. "Yes, we did. A small something, but a bigger one than we've managed so far. Excellent work, Oz, excellent."
"What do we do now?"
"We try again. We'll have to wait two or three days, for these"--he looked at his hands--"to heal a bit, but then we'll do this again. Now that we've had a breakthrough, we may make much faster progress."
"Okay. Are you going home now?"
"I think I might just sleep here tonight," Giles said, going over and starting to put things back in his bag, his back to Oz. "I don't think I have the strength to make it home. But you should go. Get some rest. You've earned it."
Actually, he felt pretty strong, and this was probably the best chance he was going to get. The other kids were right; it was his job, not theirs. Someday he'd have to figure out how that had happened. "Um, Giles. Which reminds me. About last night--"
Giles stopped. "If I said something inappropriate, I apologize. I was not in very good shape."
"It's not that. I just...are you all right?"
He could see Giles's back stiffen. "What an extremely foolish question," he said in a voice suddenly cold. "I haven't been all right in over two years, and it's highly doubtful that I ever will be again."
"Look, I don't want to pry into your personal life or anything, but if you crack up, we're all..." He searched for a more neutral word, but couldn't find it. "Doomed."
"I'm aware of that," he said, and resumed his packing. "Therefore, on reflection, I'm changing my assessment of that question from 'foolish' to 'dangerous.' If you would like me to remain useful to you, don't ask me to think about how I feel."
Oz knew better than to keep poking where he wasn't wanted. It wasn't like he didn't know exactly what Giles was talking about, either. There were a lot of places in his own mind that he couldn't go anymore, and not because of the wolf. "Okay, okay. I'll just go."
"Be careful." Giles still hadn't turned around.
Two days later, they began again. Giles was right--now that they had made that particular breakthrough, Oz developed control quickly. Maybe too quickly, even. Within a couple of weeks, he was fully aware of himself when the wolf was out, and three weeks after that, he was mostly able to control his actions. The total, mind-boggling weirdness of experiencing himself as a creature on four legs with fur, keen senses, and extra strength, at first had him wanting to try some of Giles's pharmaceuticals, but the feeling wore off fast. He never felt that his grip was strong enough for him to be really comfortable, but it was still enough. He spent the next full moon in the book cage, but it was just a precaution; he slept through most of it, fully human. They stopped using the binding spell after that, so that Giles could start teaching him how to exploit his abilities in combat. Oz was glad that that was over with. He hated seeing Giles looking as if he'd just gone nine rounds every day, and the accusing looks Nancy gave him didn't help.
She had plenty of opportunity to give them, because Giles was working all of them much, much harder than he had before. Oz didn't have much time alone with him in the library during the day anymore; they all came in a little after daybreak and stayed until dusk was coming on. He found himself oddly looking forward to the evenings after they'd left, when it was quieter and cozier, and he almost always went home with Giles now. Giles didn't talk to him any more than he had before, but sometimes he'd watch television with him, though he'd inevitably fall asleep within an hour. He'd also revealed to Oz his awesome cache of seventies rock on vinyl, which he was only allowed to play when Giles wasn't there. Oz would sit on the floor, fingering the records, and wonder what Giles had been like before the world had gone to pieces around him. A gay English librarian who loved fencing and old books and Cream and a guy named Ethan Rayne who could destroy demons...he couldn't quite picture it, because Giles didn't seem to love anything now. Did Oz? He honestly couldn't say, and when that thought came to him, he knew it was time to go to bed.
They'd just come in one morning in late May to start calisthenics with the others when Freddy walked into the library. Sheila was the first to notice him.
"Come for a scoop?" she sneered. She'd heard the story of how he'd left.
"No, actually...I came to thank you all."
"For what?" Larry asked, as the others gathered behind him.
"You saved my girlfriend's life last night. Theresa's."
"I thought that was her, but she ran off too fast."
"She was spooked and she just wanted to get back home. But she's grateful, and I'm grateful, and...she heard something while they had her. I thought you might find it interesting."
"What?" Giles asked, moving closer.
"Something about a ritual in three days. In the woods. One they'd almost all be going to...but not the Master. He didn't need it or something."
"You mean...they'll all be away from the Bronze?"
Freddy nodded. "They didn't say that specifically, of course, but logically..."
Giles was frowning. "I don't remember ever reading anything about a ritual to take place then."
"Well, she could be wrong about something--the date, maybe. But she seemed sure, and I thought I should let you know. Just in case it's helpful."
While he was talking, Giles had turned and gone back to the table and picked up a book. "Yes, well, thank you," he said absently. "Nancy, Oz, can you give me a hand here?"
Freddy looked around at them with a funny expression. "You're welcome," he said, almost sarcastically, and left.
Oz wondered if LIBRARY TURNED INTO ARMORY; STUDENT VISITS INCREASE would be the headline the next day, but he put the thought aside to get a book of his own. At the end of the school day, however, they were still researching, with no luck finding anything that could identify the ritual. "Of course, it could be anything," Giles said, closing a big book bound in leather. "A one-time prophecy of some kind. Something completely unmentioned in the records."
"I think we should go for it," Owen said abruptly.
"Go for what?" Emily asked.
"Attacking the Bronze. Taking the Master out. That is why we're reading all this, isn't it? Not to see if we can stop the ritual, but to make sure that there won't be vampires left behind."
They all looked at Giles. "I was thinking of that," he confessed. "Normally, an assault on the Bronze would be suicide, but if the Master is alone, or nearly so, a stealthy assassination attempt might work."
"And it'd be fun."
"I'm up for it," Larry said, "but do you think we can do it?"
"You've all been training very hard," Giles said slowly. "We've killed three vampires in the last month alone. Oz is becoming adept at using his extra speed and strength. All we would need is one good shot with the crossbow."
"Which you could do, G-man," Sheila said.
"I don't know," Oz said. "It's risky. If there are even five vampires still hanging around the place, it would be too many, and we could easily get trapped inside the building."
"But if we killed the Master," Nancy argued, "a lot of the vampires would probably drift out of town. His personal cult is holding many of them here--that's what all the books say. It could really make Sunnydale safer. Giles?"
They all watched him as he took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. Then, abruptly, he put them back on and straightened up. "Yes. We're going to do it. We'll start planning tomorrow." He glanced out the window as the other kids cheered and then raised his hand to cut them off. "It's getting dark. Go home and get some rest. I want you all at the top of your games for this."
They were gone in about ten minutes, laughing and talking excitedly, leaving Giles and Oz behind. Giles took up a knife and began carving a stake, head down. "Giles," Oz said, "are you sure this is a good idea?"
"We'll take every precaution. If the girl was misinformed, it ought to be fairly obvious."
"But it's dangerous."
Giles kept whittling. "Oz, we haven't much time," he finally said quietly.
A chill touched Oz's stomach. "What do you mean?"
"We've been having increasing success in striking against the vampires that rule this town. How long do you think it will be before they discover some effective means of striking back at us?"
Oz frowned. "I hadn't really thought about it that way."
"I have. And after the first of us dies...how many of the others do you think we'll lose, out of fear and grief?"
It was a good question. Right now they were held together by the sense that this was the best thing, the only thing, they could do to fight back and actually stand a chance of winning. But if they started losing..."Okay. I see your point. But--"
"This may be the one opportunity we have to bring about some real good in Sunnydale. For me to do something like what I was sent here to do."
"And to get some revenge for Ethan?"
Giles stopped. After a minute, he said, "I can't do anything else for him."
"Just...as long as you're sure, Giles." Oz watched him. "That it's for the best."
Giles offered him a tired smile. "I think it's the best we can manage, at any rate."
"That's going to have to be enough?"
"Yes." Giles tossed the stake on the table. "It's the story of our life now. I'm tired, Oz, and I've a great deal of thinking to do. Let's go home."
As they headed out the door five minutes later, Oz said, "Giles?"
"I wouldn't go. Not after the way you've helped me."
Giles gave him one of his rare real smiles and patted him on the shoulder. "I know, Oz. I know."
So, three days later, Oz was kneeling on the roof of a building downtown, looking at the Bronze through binoculars as the sun set. Almost as soon as it touched the horizon, the doors burst open and a crowd of vampires came streaming out, heading off in the direction of the woods. It was disheartening to see just how many vampires there were in Sunnydale, despite their best efforts. Oz picked up his walkie-talkie. "They're going, all right. Looks like the best kegger in town is elsewhere tonight."
"Good," Giles said. "Get down here."
Oz handed the binoculars to Nancy. They hadn't talked much since the day Giles didn't come in, and she took them almost without acknowledging him. He shrugged and headed for the stairs.
They were all waiting in the van a few blocks away. Oz could smell the fear in the air as Larry cocked and recocked his crossbow and Owen spun his stake from hand to hand. Even Emily was nervously running her fingers along the edge of her blade. Only Sheila seemed stoic. He wondered what was wrong with him that he felt so detached. "We're going in?"
"Yes." Giles looked them over. "All right. Remember: our goal is to slip into the building unnoticed and take out the Master. If there are more vampires inside than we've anticipated, or if Nancy calls in a warning, then we get out. If we reach him, Larry and I will try to get him from a distance. Should that fail, we will retreat. Oz and Emily will hold him off as we go. Any questions?" There were none. "Then let's go."
It was incredibly strange to see the streets around the Bronze deserted when they normally teemed with vampires. Oz wasn't used to thinking of the dark and quiet as reassuring. The Bronze was unlocked--of course, why would they need to lock it?--and gloomy inside. The detritus of the previous night's party was scattered everywhere, and the cheerful litter of a good time was more unsettling than a dungeon would have been. There were cages suspended from the ceilings with vaguely human-looking forms in them. "Are any of them alive?" Giles whispered to Oz, and he shook his head. Not a heartbeat, not even the scent of fresh blood. More detritus.
They filed through the main hall into the warren of rooms in the back. The dungeon, it turned out, was back there. There were cells set up along one hallway, with tools that looked like they were meant for torture lining the walls. A figure was slumped on the floor behind one set of bars. As they approached, he stirred and let out a faint moan. Oz glanced at Giles, who had stopped and was gazing into the cell, irresolute. Then the figure moaned again, a little louder, and Giles muttered something and passed his hand over the lock. It clicked open, and they hurried inside. The figure was chained to the wall with heavy manacles. It lay on its side, facing the wall. "Can you speak?" Giles asked softly.
The figure fell on its back; it was a guy, dark-haired and heavy-browed. He blinked up at him, confused, and then started up in fear and horror. "No!"
Giles clapped a hand over his mouth. "It's all right; we're humans. We're going to get you out of here, if we can, but you've got to keep quiet."
The man was pushing frantically at his hand. When Giles withdrew it, he said, "You can't save me. You're trapped yourself."
"Trapped?" Oz asked, but Giles was already on his feet, bringing up his crossbow. Oz scrambled up, too.
Owen, Sheila, Larry, and Emily were bunched together in the corridor, staring at the vampires who blocked both exits.
"Well," one of the vampires said--the same one that had hunted him that first night, Oz thought, though he wasn't sure. "This is going to be interesting."
"And tasty, Xander," giggled a red-haired one who was holding onto his arm.
"Yes, it should be very interesting," Giles said. "I, for one, will be fascinated to see which of you is nursing a death wish."
"You're a little confused, old man," Xander said cuttingly. "You're the ones who are going to die here."
"Eventually, yes. However, we have weapons and the will to use them. Certainly, the first several of you who attack us will be cut down." He leveled his crossbow at the other's chest, and the others, following his lead, readied their own weapons. "So, who among you is willing to die for the greater glory of your Master?"
Startled, Oz looked at Giles. His face was set, his hand steady; he seemed transformed. Of course. It was the uncertainty that he couldn't bear--the dull ache and anxiety of day after day of futile struggle that reduced him to a shell of a man. He had no doubt about how to act when they were unquestionably doomed. It was obviously a scene he'd lived over in his head a thousand times, and he had the nerve to carry it out properly. In a weird way, Oz was almost proud of him.
"That doesn't sound like fun," simpered the redhead, breaking the silence.
Xander frowned. "Well, why don't you start with the traitor to your own kind?" He reached back into the crowd and dragged out an obviously terrified Freddy. "This one was only too willing to help us set you up."
"Freddy!" Giles exclaimed. "How could you?" Oz snarled. Behind him, he could hear Sheila curse.
He shrugged. "I just want to stay alive. When they got Theresa, I realized that I had to do something to make sure that happened."
"Even trade the lives of others for your own?"
"Look, you do what you have to do and I do what I have to do. I'm not going to be judged by the damn high-school librarian. Besides," he added, "the way you guys were going on, you were all going to be killed soon anyway. This way, at least some good comes out of it."
"Yeah," Xander said, "that was really far-thinking of you, Freddy."
Oz's throat was thick with rage. "Freddy," he said with difficulty, "you could have stayed with us. We could have kept you safe."
"You mean, the way you kept Dev safe? No, thanks."
Oz growled and lunged for him. "Oz! No!" Giles shouted, grabbing at his arm, but he was already shifting, and he could pull it free with ease. Which was good, because he wanted to rip Freddy's throat out. The only problem was that he hadn't summoned the change. It had come to him on its own, and even as he bounded across the space between the two groups, he felt the wolf-mind shove him down. He teetered for a moment on the brink of consciousness, then fell into blackness.
When he woke up, he was lying manacled in the back of the van. It took a sharp corner at high speed and threw him against the wall. He groaned.
"He's awake," Nancy's voice said. He managed to roll himself over and look up. Nancy was clamping a blood-stained cloth on Larry's neck. There was no one else in the van. "Giles? Did you hear me? I said Oz is awake."
"Human?" Giles asked tersely from the driver's seat, not looking back.
"Yeah." Nancy peeked under the cloth and winced. "This isn't looking so good here."
"I'm taking you two to the emergency room."
"But I'm fine. I don't need to--"
"I cannot have you in my house this evening," Giles said, low and cold. "You are going to the emergency room with Larry and then you are going to see him home."
"Should we come in to the library tomorrow?" Larry asked. There was a silence.
"Giles?" Nancy said uncertainly. "Should we?"
"I think you may regard our training sessions as suspended until further notice."
Giles slammed on the brakes. "Here we are."
"Should I undo Oz?"
"Yes. Then go."
Nancy unlocked the manacles with shaking hands, but Oz just lay there. He could add two and two, after all. "Giles," she whispered, "this wasn't your fault."
"Go. We can't be caught here."
She threw open the back of the van and the two of them jumped out. As soon as she thew the doors shut behind them, Giles took off.
Oz lay on the shag, looking at the ceiling, which was painted a restful shade of dark blue. The wool blanket over him was rough against his skin. Flickers of memory teased at him. Cold flesh and putrid blood in his mouth. Shouts of surprise and dismay from the vampires. Emily decapitating one with one gorgeous swing, then stumbling to her knees, eyes wide with surprise, blood spurting from her back. The redheaded vampire taking a crossbow bolt in the shoulder from Giles, shrieking, and running off, followed by Xander. Someone hitting him, hard, on the head.
He wondered if he could change for good, lose himself in the wolf until somebody killed him. No. The way the world worked now, no one would ever kill him, and he'd be some kind of horror in the Sunnydale woods forever. Staying the way he was, that was the faster way to die.
Neither of them had said a word when they reached Giles's house. Giles didn't wait to see if he'd get up on his own--he picked Oz up and carried him to the door, only setting him on his feet to get his keys out. Oz followed him in, followed the smell of the blood soaking through Giles's shirt. He sat on the couch silently as Giles went into the bathroom to bandage himself up.
When Giles came back out, he already had his glasses off. Oz grimaced, seeing it, but there were some things he had to know. "How did I change without meaning to?"
Giles paused in the middle of the room. "I don't know, Oz. Extreme anger, I suspect."
"Did I--I mean, was it my snapping that made everything go wrong?"
"Actually, Oz, I think it's safe to say that it was only the savagery of the werewolf that allowed even the three of us to get out alive."
Now there was something to be grateful for, he thought, even as he mentally winced at the confirmation of the others' fates. Owen. Owen had thought it would be fun. "How did the others--"
Giles raised a hand. "Oz, if there's a point to discussing the events of the evening, you'll have to demonstrate it to me, because I don't see it. Now go to sleep."
He started for the liquor cabinet. It was obvious what he was planning to do--drug himself into oblivion. The story had been supposed to end there in the Bronze, but it hadn't, so Giles would do his best to make it stop for just a little while. That night, and the next night, and for some time into the future. It would be so easy. It would be so easy, too, for Oz to just lie down and drift until Giles made him get up again. That would be a week or more, probably. But then what? Then what? The future loomed so deathly blank that his mind skidded back from it.
He put out a hand to stop Giles. "Giles, don't," he said, his voice cracking in desperation.
Giles turned a look that was almost vicious on him. "I don't think it's any of your concern."
"Maybe...maybe it should be." He slid his hand down and grasped Giles's, turning it over. "Maybe..."
Giles stared at him, puzzled, for a minute, and then his eyes widened. "Oz, no."
"Giles, this isn't working. I can't go on fighting for some abstract hope. Because that's fighting for nothing, Giles. There isn't any hope. I need something...someone to fight for."
"And I happen to be the closest person handy?" There was a ghost of cynicism in his voice, but no energy to it.
"No." Oz brought Giles's hand up to his face, hoping he wouldn't fight it, because he didn't have the strength in him for seduction. "You're a good guy. And you're ready to die. But you can't."
He could feel the hand tremble as he pressed it against his cheek, but Giles pulled it away. "Oz...you're a student. You're not supposed to--"
"Yeah, well, there are a lot of things I'm not supposed to do," he said, bitterness suddenly breaking through. "I'm not supposed to spend my days training to survive in a world that we both know is going to kill me sooner or later. I'm not supposed to spend my nights trying to keep down the monster that's half-taken me over. I'm not supposed to see my friends die right in front of me. You can't protect me like a child, Giles, so don't try to treat me like one."
"No. No, you're not a child. But you might...regret..."
"Regret? Is that supposed to hurt more than this does? I need to have something to lose, Giles. Don't you?"
Giles passed a hand over his eyes. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes."
Oz cast the blanket off his shoulders and reached up to pull Giles down. He wasn't completely prepared for the ferocity of the kiss that followed, the stubble rubbing along his cheek. It had been months since anyone had touched him, though, and he was starved for it. He hadn't even realized how deep the hunger was until it began to be satisfied, and then he couldn't get enough. "God, Giles," he moaned.
Giles pulled back. "Are you all right?" He hesitated, though Oz could see the look in his eyes: Don't offer me this and then take it away. "Are you sure?"
Oz just yanked him back to him.
It was like blacking out with the wolf, only bittersweet instead of terrible. He had only glimpses of clarity. Writhing against Giles, trying to get touched everywhere, until Giles held him still and began stroking him fiercely and systematically. Lying on his back on Giles's bed, his leg hooked around Giles's neck as he pushed into him, wishing there was some way he could enter into his skin completely. Going over the edge himself, Giles's mouth warm and needy around him. Sobbing against Giles's chest, sobbing for his parents and for Dev, for Sheila and Owen and beautiful Emily, for Giles and for Ethan, for Oz, the Oz who had once had a plan and known that everything was going to work out right.
He woke some time later to an empty bed. He got up and looked over the edge of the loft. Giles was sitting on the couch in the half-glow of a lamp, staring at nothing. The glass of Scotch at his elbow was full. "Giles," Oz said softly, "come back to bed."
He raised his head and looked at him, eyes unreadable. "Bed?"
"Yes. Bed. Come back to me."
Giles rose, glancing at the glass, but left it. Oz watched him climb slowly back up to the loft. As he lowered himself back to the bed, Oz slid against him, tugging the blanket over them both, and wrapped his arms around him as tightly as his exhaustion would allow. He knew it didn't matter how closely he held him, Giles would still go for the bottle again. Not that night, though. Not that night. He'd stay with him until morning.