Humans thought they owned the city, but Oz knew that was an illusion. They just lived on the surface of it, scurrying back and forth, blind to what was going on around, above, and below them. The real owners of the city were the rats, the cats, the dogs, the birds, the insects...all the other forms of life who met and mated, fed and fought, and marked out their territories, totally oblivious to the human attempts to draw property lines and zoning boundaries.
Oz could sense them all, and he knew they could sense him. He tried to be as unaggressive as possible as he crossed their territories, but they still ran and hid. He had the scent of a predator now, the most threatening kind.
A predator who had no territory, or maybe one whose territory was the whole world.
It was kind of a paradox, a thing that in the old days would've made him go, "Huh," reach for a joint, and ponder for hours. But Oz was tired now. Tired of trying to figure out what his place in the world was.
Or should be--because while Oz was mostly willing to accept the natural order, to go with the flow of blood and flesh and nerve, he wasn't willing to accept waking up in the morning to hear news reports of another savage murder with no suspects and being sure it was him.
He looked at the street number. He was getting close to the address he'd been given. A few dozen more yards and he'd found it: a tiny bookshop with no obvious name and a few large, dull-colored, dusty books in the narrow window. He pushed the door open and stepped inside, feeling a faint shiver as he did so--some kind of ward or warning system, maybe?
Then the smell hit him, faintly musty paper and wool and tea, and it drove the thought out of his head. The figure standing at one of the shelves turned around and looked at him, eyes welcoming and surprised behind his glasses. "Oz."
"Giles," he answered, and passed out.
When he woke up, he was lying on a tiny overstuffed couch in the store. Giles was kneeling next to him, taking his pulse, and his fingers seemed impossibly large around Oz's fragile wrist. "Drink this," he said, offering him a cup from the coffee table.
Oz accepted it and sipped. Tea, milky and sweet. It went down more easily than he could've hoped. Something else must've been in it.
"You haven't been eating," Giles commented, looking at his arm.
"Mortifying the flesh?"
"I just...couldn't." It was hard to have much of an appetite during the day when you dreamed at night of mouthfuls of raw human flesh.
Giles nodded. "We can put you on a liquid diet for a while, then."
Oz closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of the tea against his face. It was this he had come for, wasn't it? The way that Giles could make even the most bizarre situation seem solid and respectable and manageable. Like there was no craziness so bad he didn't have the right tea for the occasion. He opened his eyes again. "They told me about Buffy."
"Yes." Giles pushed himself up slowly, then lowered himself into the nearby chair. "I tried to reach you before the funeral."
"I was out of touch."
"It was beautiful." He looked away. "She was beautiful," he added, irrelevantly, after a minute.
Oz thought of red hair, not blonde. "She was." When he had finished his tea, he said, "So what are you doing now?"
"Running this shop," he answered. "During the day. As you can see, it's not particularly busy, nor is it meant to be. My real line of work now is what Anya informs me I should call supernatural technical consulting. Helping people with arcane problems."
"I have an arcane problem."
Giles smiled, just a little. "I could use an assistant."
"Um. I'm still kind of dangerous to be around."
He looked back at him, and his gaze was flinty and sad at once. That was different--at least, how open it was. "As am I, Oz. We'll manage."
Oz nodded, and he went to make him more tea.
It was sort of confining, settling into a routine after wandering for so long. Giles's flat was right upstairs, but he turned one of the shop's storage rooms into a bedroom for Oz, for privacy and for protection against vampires. He worked with the books during the day, and at night sat in the back room, listening to the strange stories of Giles's real clients. Something wild in him protested at spending so much time in one place, made him prowl around the shop when he was supposed to be cataloging. After watching him do this a few times, Giles put on a leather jacket one evening and took him into some of the stranger London clubs. He found his own way around the circuit from there, listening to Byrno demons squeal their weird, high-pitched songs or humans play enchanted instruments that made you have visions. The music sometimes rocked, sometimes sucked, but it took him out of himself, and that was all he wanted. He met a lot of people in the clubs, pretty laughing girls with glittery purple hair, sultry boys with ritual piercings who offered him drugs after sets. He talked to everyone, took some of the drugs, kissed a few people in the shadowed corners, but he always came home alone, to Giles reading by himself in the shop. That didn't feel confining at all.
Six weeks after he'd moved in, as he was taking a break from memorizing the transliteration system for the N'Kant family of demon languages, he discovered the werewolf collection in the shop. He was surprised to realize how many books Giles had. He'd never seen so many in one place.
"Yes," Giles said, coming in to the room and seeing Oz squinting at one of the books, "since I've been in London, I've been doing some research on the subject."
"Oh." Oz looked more closely at the page, not asking. "Did you find anything?"
"I've some theories, but none I'd care to share at the moment."
So when he wasn't dealing with books using the elaborate safety precautions Giles had taught him, or keeping an eye on the customers they had during the day, or doing other research for the even weirder customers that came after the shop was supposed to be closed, Oz read about his kind. He didn't learn much more, though, just accumulated a hundred historical examples of the horrors he was capable of. It got so bad that one afternoon after reading about the fate of a small village in Greece which had offended the alpha of a pack, he started retching into a wastebasket right in the shop. Giles found him there, on his knees, gasping for air. He rubbed his hand across the back of Oz's neck and murmured, "It's all right, Oz, you're doing what you need to."
"Giles," he choked out, holding himself rigid, "Giles, if I was--changed--and you saw me about to hurt someone..."
"I'd kill you."
It was only the quiet chill in his voice that allowed him to relax back into the hand. He had just moved from drinking the weird shakes and soups Giles made for him to nibbling on vegetables, and he felt hollow and weak as he knelt there. Giles seemed to sense this and pulled him over so that he was leaning against a chair, but kept his fingers on his neck. "I almost killed Tara."
He could tell that she'd kept that a secret, but Giles didn't flinch. "Oz," he said, and his eyes had stern compassion in them, "Oz, you must be aware by now that humans are capable of brutality as great as, if not greater than, anything a werewolf can do."
Oz did flinch, thinking of electroshock and beatings and cages and nakedness, but Giles held his hand firmly in place. "Strangely, that's not really that comforting, Giles," he said shakily.
Giles handed him his handkerchief. "The darkness in your nature is there, Oz, no matter what you are, wolf or man or something in between. It's a possibility, not a fate. It's a part of you, but it doesn't have to be all."
He wiped his mouth and was quiet for a while. "How can I make it so it's not all? What kind of life can I have?"
Giles sighed. "I don't know. Yet. But you have made progress, Oz; don't fool yourself."
He thought of red hair again, of the surge in the back of his throat as he confronted a stammering, gawky blonde girl. He no longer had to be caged up around the full moon, but that hadn't changed at all. "Not enough."
"It never feels like enough." Giles released him and got up, and Oz could suddenly see the strange tightness in his shoulders. "You'd better go and get changed. I'll mind the shop."
It was the next day that the Falklands came in.
Oz had always had a good eye for people, and he'd learned to sort out their customers pretty quickly. He kept the teenage posers in the front room and calmly vanished to get Giles when a real sorcerer walked in. The Falklands dropped into the shop just before the official closing time, so it was pretty obvious what they were, and even though he hadn't quite gotten the hang of the English class system yet, it was equally obvious that they could actually afford to pay Giles's bill. The man had on a slightly rumpled but elegant suit; the woman a black dress with her blonde hair up.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
The woman gave him an indifferent glance. "We're looking for Mr. Rupert Giles."
"You're not him, are you?" the man asked.
"No." He smiled. "I'll get him."
Giles wore sweaters and cords during the day, but after hours he usually changed into wool pants and a crisp white shirt under a soft, slouchy dark jacket. He changed his whole attitude, too--or maybe it was just that the contrast between the enthusiastic, stammering librarian of Sunnydale and the man he acted like those days was the most obvious to Oz then, when he could make a direct comparison with the past. Giles greeted them, got their names, and welcomed them into the back room where he consulted.
"Have you come here about the murders?" he asked, sitting in his leather chair and starting to polish his glasses.
Falkland glanced at his wife nervously. She frowned. "You know about those?"
"They have been reported in the press." He held the lenses up to the light, then put them back on. "Three mysterious, gruesome deaths by strangulation at Falkland House in the past two years, none of which have been solved. The most recent one was last week."
"It's been bloody awful," Falkland said. "The police, the press--you've no idea. They were thinking about arresting me for a time."
"But they knew better," Mrs. Falkland said. "There was no evidence."
"No," Giles murmured. "Not against your husband, not against you, nor indeed against anyone in the house."
"Not anyone the police could know about, at any rate." She smiled disdainfully. "We all know how limited the police are in such affairs."
"It was Sandra," Falkland blurted. Giles raised an eyebrow.
"Our deceased six-year-old daughter, Mr. Giles," Mrs. Falkland explained. "She drowned in our pond three years ago. All three of our guests who were murdered were found lying in a puddle of water and weeds. We've heard--noises in the night." She hesitated. "Unpleasant ones."
"Like her screaming her head off."
"I see." Giles looked out the window. "She was murdered, then?"
"Mr. Giles!" Mrs. Falkland sounded shocked. "How dare you suggest--"
"Mrs. Falkland," he somehow managed to cut her off, even though his voice was soft and weary, "if you wish me to solve your problem, you will give me all the assistance I require. Otherwise, Mr. Osborne can see you out."
The woman stared at him icily; he looked back with mild detachment. Finally, she dropped her gaze. "Sandra's death was accidental. There isn't any question of that. She was supposed to be taking a nap, and she slipped out to the pond and fell in. No one has ever suggested--til now--that it was anything more than a tragic incident."
"And you would like the spirit exorcised?"
"And Sandra put to--set at--at peace, you know," Falkland said. "Resting. She was such a sweet little girl."
"A sweet little girl who is now strangling our houseguests," she said waspishly.
Falkland flushed. Giles said, "Very well. Mr. Osborne and I will come to the house tomorrow to investigate. Everyone will, of course, have strict instructions to cooperate with us fully. You may write a cheque for a retainer now."
It was only an act, Oz thought, watching Giles as Mrs. Falkland wrote the check. Like the stage persona he had used when he played. It was just so Giles could charm or scare their clients--it had to be. Because otherwise Giles's kindliness to him was merely some kind of automatic reflex out of the past. And if that were the case, London was no more a place for him than anywhere else.
After the Falklands had left, Giles got up. "Come. We need to go to the market. I haven't made you up a scapula yet, and you'll need some special ingredients."
They took the Tube to a large, gloomy shop, the Blue Pestle, in Southwark. Oz was about to enter when he felt a sting across his face and backed up, swallowing a howl in his throat. Giles glanced at him, then called into the Pestle, "It's all right; he's with me."
"Are you mad? It's a full moon tonight, Mr. Giles," an irritable male voice responded.
"I can wait outside," Oz offered. "It's cool."
Giles shook his head at him. "It's under control," he assured the other man.
"Fine," he said. "But don't think I won't shoot him."
Giles went into the shop, and this time Oz could follow him. The proprietor, a fat man in a white apron, was holding a pistol and giving him a dubious look, but Giles immediately stepped over to him and began talking in a low voice. Oz remained just inside the door. He could remember a time when he could've sauntered around and carried himself so that somehow it would've been okay, but now he could only wait and resist the urge to shrink in on himself.
Giles was measuring a powder out carefully, and Oz looked at his hands, trying to distract himself. Steadiness, that steadiness was what he needed, what, somehow, between Veruca and the Initiative and Willow and Tara, he had lost. "Oz," Giles said, not taking his eyes off the scales, "come here." This clearly didn't make the shopkeeper very happy, but Oz came to his side. "Sniff this." He offered him a pinch of the powder, and Oz obeyed.
"Burns," he gasped a second later, his eyes flooding with tears.
"Yes," Giles looked at him musingly with his head tilted, "we'll have to cut it when we get back."
"Ought to just put it in his damned drink," the shopkeeper muttered. "That'd settle him."
"Excuse me?" Giles asked, in a very gentle voice.
He flushed. "Nothing. That'll be forty pounds ninepence."
The door slammed shut behind them on the way out. On the way back, they stopped at a vegetarian restaurant. "Thanks, Giles," Oz said, as they drank cocktails.
Giles shrugged. "Most Watchers have no idea what it's like not to be welcome in a respectable establishment."
"But you do?" Buffy had made that one crack about him being bad-mojo guy when he was their age, but he had never tried to find out more.
"There was a time when we--when I was persona non grata in every reputable pub and magic shop in the West End."
"Huh." Two years ago, he would've said he couldn't imagine Giles ever unwinding enough to get himself tossed out in the street. Now, he found himself wondering how anyone had ever managed to do the tossing.
Giles looked at him. "You're not scandalized?"
"Giles, no one gets a record collection like that by being a choirboy."
He smiled with slow warmth. "True enough."
The food came. Unfortunately, the vegetables were soggy and thick, not light and crunchy the way they had them at home, and it only took two bites before his throat closed up on him. Giles saw him push away the plate and shook his head. "English food does take getting used to. You'd be better off in California..." He trailed off, eyes suddenly even further away than usual.
"Giles," Oz said, and covered his hand with his own. The damaged hand, with the off-kilter little finger. He stroked his finger over the knob of bone at the wrist.
That brought Giles back to himself, slowly. He gave Oz another, faint smile, but withdrew his hand. Oz looked down at the table. Giles pushed back his chair and stood up. "Let's go make you something you can eat."
They were about twenty feet away from the door when Giles stopped, peering up. Oz looked up and saw it, too: someone sitting in one of the front windows of Giles's flat, smoking. A man, though it was hard to tell much else in the darkness.
"Hallo, Ripper," his voice floated down to them.
"Hello, Ethan," Giles said. "Still working on the concept of a locked door, are we?"
"Well, I knew you didn't mean me."
"The wards meant you."
The man gestured with his cigarette. "If they really did, you would've actually made them strong enough to keep me out."
"Oz," Giles said more quietly, "do you think you might choose to spend the evening out tonight?"
"What's the matter, Ripper," the man asked as they moved to the door, "don't you want your little friend to meet me?"
Giles tipped his head back. "You'd bore him, Ethan," he declared in a matter-of-fact tone.
Oz thought he smelled anger then, but the man just laughed above them while Giles let them in. He went immediately to the stairs, then paused. "I'm sorry about dinner, Oz. Come back after midnight and I'll have something for you."
"No problem, Giles," Oz said, and went to collect his jacket.
Except, he thought as he went back out, that wasn't true. Ethan, he thought, must be Ethan Rayne of the band-candy-and-bad-mojo incident. A bad guy. But Oz had heard the low and insinuating tone in his voice, and he knew what that meant. He'd heard Dev use it often enough. His hackles rose as he passed the stairs, and he had to suppress the urge to growl.
Falkland House was forty-five minutes north of London. They pulled into the long, curving driveway at nine a.m. the next morning. Giles smoothed out the tired expression he'd worn all the way up as he followed the road towards the house. "This is likely to be unpleasant, Oz."
"It's almost unheard-of for the ghost of such a young person to be so violent unless there was some appalling trauma associated with its death--or life."
"And we're going to dig it up?"
"It's always advisable, when attempting to rid a place of a ghost or poltergeist, to understand its motivation. Sometimes it's possible to resolve the problem peacefully. A traditional full-fledged exorcism is dangerous and exhausting and to be avoided whenever possible." He frowned. "But if something unspeakable should have happened to the little girl..."
"You don't think she'll go peacefully."
"No. Perhaps if the perpetrator were brought to justice, but...no." He pulled the car up in front of the house. "Be alert. Anything you can sense will be very useful. I doubt the Falklands will share their secrets voluntarily, and their staff is no doubt well-trained."
The house was big and looked like something out of those Merchant-Ivory movies that Willow loved to watch. Oz glanced around for the butler, but instead Falkland came out of the house. "Glad you could come, Mr. Giles, Mr. Osborne. Let me show you around."
Oz smiled, liking the way his name sounded with the mister, next to Giles's. Like they were professionals in a firm, only a firm for something cool. He wondered if he should've dressed up a little, but then decided that jeans, a T-shirt, and sunglasses were the only thing they'd expect an American to wear, anyway.
The place was nice on the inside, too--not quite the way he would've decorated it, a little stodgy, but cozy-looking, most of it. The furniture was all big and heavy, and the walls covered with darkish paintings of old-time people. Giles talked to Falkland as they walked around. The Falklands had an older son, James, who was away at school now and had been at the time of the death. Sandra had had a nanny, and they'd kept her on to look after Mr. Falkland's mother, who was old and sick and living with them. No one else had been staying with them when she died, and they certainly didn't have any visitors now. "I sort of like the quiet," Falkland confessed, "but my wife gets bored."
They had reached the living room, which looked out over a grassy slope leading down to the pond. "That's the place where it happened?"
"Do you mind if we go down there?"
"No. But I'd just as soon not go with you. I haven't really been..." He fiddled with his tie. "Since."
Giles shrugged. "Your presence is not required. But I would like to speak with the nanny. Mrs. Hawkins?"
"I'll send her down to you."
They crossed the well-manicured lawn down to the pond. Oz could smell the fresh green, and then the bluish water. It all seemed too...clean...to have been the place where a little girl had died. When they reached the edge of the pond, Giles removed a small bottle from his bag and bent down to spray its contents on the water. There was a flash of color, like sun on an oil slick, but then it vanished. He shook his head. "It's been too long. Even if there had been violence done here, I doubt the traces would linger for three years. Did anything about Falkland strike you as suspect?"
"No. He seemed normal to me."
"And to me. Although it's always possible--" He broke off as a thin, kindly-looking middle-aged woman came down the grass to them. Oz liked her right away. She smelled like bread straight out of the oven, the kind Willow used to bake. "Mrs. Hawkins?"
"May we have a word?"
"Of course. Though I don't see what I can tell you."
Oz could tell Mrs. Hawkins was surprised to be asked about Sandra rather than the recent deaths, but she told the story freely, if sadly. She had put the "poor girl" down for her nap in the afternoon and had gone to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Sandra had always been an active and rather mischievous little girl, but she had seemed normal and sleepy when Mrs. Hawkins had left her. She hadn't realized that anything was wrong until she returned upstairs to check on Sandra about half an hour later and found the bed empty. They had searched the house, and then the grounds, but they hadn't found her until it was too late.
"Did you ever have any reason to suspect that her death might not have been accidental?"
She frowned, surprised. "No, of course not. Neither did the police. They could tell where she'd been standing on the bank." She looked off to the side, sighing. "Right over there. It had been raining hard for two days before, and the dirt just caved in. She couldn't swim at all, and there was no one to hear her. A terrible accident, just terrible."
"Who was in the house at the time?"
"Myself and cook...she made me the tea. Mr. and Mrs. Falkland, of course. They were together in the library the whole time. And the elder Mrs. Falkland, of course, but she can hardly leave her room, poor thing. If only we'd had someone working in the garden that day!"
"Ah." Giles hesitated, then said, "You obviously cared for your charge deeply."
"Yes, I did."
"Then you would want to bring to justice anyone who had hurt her."
"Did you ever suspect that someone was...hurting her?"
Mrs. Hawkins stared. "You mean...you mean something dreadful."
Giles's tone was almost coaxing. "Yes, I'm afraid I do."
She shook her head vigorously. "Pardon me, but what a horrible suggestion! It's completely impossible. Everyone loved Sandra. Even--I know how the younger Mrs. Falkland seems to strangers, but she doted on that child. Mr. Falkland and James, too. And the older Mrs. Falkland--she still doesn't believe she's gone, though we tried to make her understand for months. That's how much her death hurt her. What you're suggesting simply isn't possible, and I can't imagine why anyone..." She stopped, blushing. "Pardon me. It can't have been so."
Giles tried several other tacks with her, but she wasn't budging. Finally he thanked her, and she returned back up the hill, looking a little more doubtful than kindly now. Giles glanced over at Oz. He shook his head. "Nothing. It's kinda hard to tell out here in the wind, but I think she believed what she was saying."
"Yes, she did. And you would believe that the child's nanny would know. Still, it's almost impossible to explain why a child would behave in that manner unless someone had hurt her or neglected her very badly."
"Maybe..." Oz frowned. "Maybe the ghost is just evil. I mean, some people, they have that in them. By nature."
"You think Sandra was a sociopath?"
"It could be, couldn't it?"
Giles rubbed his chin. "It seems to me unlikely that no one would have detected it. Sociopathic behavior manifests itself very early."
"Some people can hide it."
Giles gave him a thoughtful look. After a moment, he said, "Well, I suppose we should go speak to the cook, although I doubt she can tell us much more."
"And after that?"
"After that...we'll have to try the exorcism."
A little later, Oz stood in the living room, holding a candle and looking at his watch. The cook hadn't been any more helpful than Mrs. Hawkins, so Giles had decided that they had better go ahead with the ritual before anyone else died. "It's a modified Mangus tripod," he'd told him. "We used it once in Sunnydale, with less than spectacular results. Since then, I've tried to make some improvements, but it's still far from foolproof, so be alert."
"Sure. The world needs more lerts," he'd answered, and Giles had smiled faintly. He looked at his watch. Almost noon. He lit his candle and waited. As the hour struck, he chanted, "I shall confront and expel all evil...out of marrow and bone...out of house and home...never to come here again."
He looked around, expecting something dramatic to happen, like the show at the laserium, but all was quiet. Then he glanced back at his candle. It had gone out.
Something smelled wrong, like rotting peat and stale water.
Invisible fingers were suddenly scrabbling at Oz's throat, but they couldn't seem to get a grip. Then a force picked him up and threw him across the room. "Let me go! Let me go! Let me go!" a high-pitched child's voice shrieked, only half-understandable through its shrill rage. The tone was piercing his eardrums, but he couldn't cover them with his hands because the force had grabbed him again and was banging him against the wall. "Let me go! Now! Now! Now!"
"Oz! Oz!" That was Giles's voice, but he was too far away. His head was starting to get heavy. At least the wolf wasn't coming out. He clutched that thought as the world went grey.
When he came to, Giles was holding him. Even before he opened his eyes, he could tell by the scent, a scent comforting and attractive in a way that skipped right past the layer of rational thoughts in his brain and plugged into something deeper. Giles was solid and warm and masculine around him, and Oz felt the urge to burrow into him, bring his legs up and get closer. "Oz? Can you hear me?"
"Should we call a doctor?"
Mrs. Hawkins's voice made him realize just where he was and stop moving his legs. He groaned. "Giles. Geez. I think that spell needs more proofing against fools."
Giles carefully eased him back down onto his back as he opened his eyes, and Oz found himself sniffing after his scent. Huh. That was new. Mrs. Hawkins and Falkland were standing nearby, clutching their candles and looking at him worriedly. "Sandra's spirit is exceptionally violent," Giles said, "though at least there were no wasps this time."
"Oh--nothing. Never mind."
"Also, not to go all critical here," Oz said, rubbing his head, "but that scapula could use some work."
"It's only meant to offer limited protection. You'll notice she wasn't able to strangle you."
Fair enough. Oz nodded. "Did you hear...?"
"I heard shrieking of some kind from my station by the pond. I rather thought any disturbance would occur there. When I got in here, something was trying to dash you to pieces against the wall. Fortunately, I was able to dispel the immediate manifestation."
"That was some quick thinking, Mr. Giles. I'm no good at the fast casting," Falkland said. "My wife, now, or my mother, when she was well..."
Oz sat up, feeling at his forehead. He was going to have a big old goose egg in the morning. "It--she--kept saying, 'Let me go! Let me go!'"
"It didn't like being forced from the house?"
"I don't know."
"Well, since it tried to kill you..."
"Clearly, we're going to need to rethink our plan. Perhaps more research is called for."
"How about more Advil?" Oz asked. "This getting knocked out business is overrated."
"Welcome to my world," Giles told him, and patted his knee. It was a little surprising, the way he didn't really want him to take his hand away, but it wasn't a bad thing, either, he decided.
On their way back to London that night, they stopped at the graveyard where Sandra was buried. It was deserted, lying in the shadow of a crumbling old stone church. The blues and lavenders of dusk were just closing in around them as they reached the grave itself.
"Wacky hijinks in the graveyard," Oz said. "Just like old times."
He regretted it as soon as he'd said it, seeing Giles stop and blink down at the trowel in his hand. But after a minute, he answered cautiously, "Yes," and knelt in the dirt. "I doubt the authorities are quite as blind here as they were in Sunnydale, however, so please do keep a lookout."
Oz nodded. Giles scraped some of the dirt from the grave into a small bowl. He mashed into it some herbs which made Oz's nose wrinkle and then took out a knife. "Should I maybe keep back?"
"I don't think there's much danger of contaminating me," Giles said, slicing his finger and squeezing two drops of blood into the bowl. He passed his hand over the bowl and murmured some words in a language Oz didn't understand. Oz caught himself watching his face, careful and intent but lit from within by power, and deliberately turned his head away to scan for crashers. It wasn't like Willow at all. Giles was...sure.
"Nothing of note," Giles said after a while, "though that's hardly surprising, given how much time has passed." Oz looked back to see him taking another soil sample, then using the gravestone to pull himself up. He turned to go, but realized that Giles was still standing there, hand on the stone, looking down. "How terrible, to lose a child so young," he mused.
Oz was relieved to hear Giles finally acknowledge it. "Yeah. It's hard to even imagine."
"No," Giles contradicted him softly, "no, it isn't."
He looked at Giles standing there, head bent, hand gently stroking the stone. He seemed so much older than he had even five minutes before. Oz felt something wrench in him towards tenderness. Giles didn't have to be alone with it. He didn't have to be alone with it. It wasn't right to be alone. Clearing his throat, he moved to him and nuzzled his shoulder.
Giles didn't respond. Oz wanted to make it clear what he was saying, so he slid his arms around Giles's waist and pulled his hip against him. Not pressing, but letting him feel it. Letting him know more by kissing softly at his throat. He felt Giles almost teeter in his arms, then turn his head to look down at him. "Oz..."
He pushed himself upwards and kissed his mouth, wanting to be slow and thoughtful but somehow being a little bit too eager, a bit clumsy, because it wasn't at all like kissing the others in the clubs. It was real; Giles's mouth was pulling him into a place in the world. He should've been afraid of the wolf and what the wolf might want, but somehow he wasn't at all. He was a little afraid of himself, that he would mess up in some way, but the kiss felt right as well as damned good.
Until Giles broke it and pulled away. "Oz," he said breathlessly. "Oz, I can't."
"That's...that's over for me. Since Buffy. It's not in me anymore."
And Oz could see it in his eyes. Could understand it perfectly. He'd been right in the first place. Helping Oz, that had been old habit, and since he'd been familiar--part of the old Sunnydale crew--it was easy. But stolen kisses in a graveyard were something new and different, and Giles didn't want to cross that boundary. Oz had been living in Giles's scent and silences for well over a month, and he hadn't let himself see til now how wrong things were behind them. He'd needed him to be steady and stable too badly. "Giles," he said, "Giles, you're still here. In the world. Alive. Check it out."
Giles laughed, a strange laugh. "Oddly enough, someone else was saying the exact same thing to me just last night."
Ethan. "Is it because you love him?" Oz said, trying not to ball his hands up. "'Cause if it is, that's okay, it's--"
Giles sighed and looked away. "It's not that, not really. It's just...it's finished. I'm finished. Buffy took it all. I know it's not easy for a young person to understand..."
"Giles, you're not finished. You survived."
He smiled gravely and shook his head. "No, I didn't."
They walked back to the car in silence.
They didn't talk much on the way back to London, either, but that was normal. When they got to the shop, Oz decided to go out again. He didn't want to push, but he didn't want to sit in the shop, pretending to read but actually stealing looks at Giles's hands and wanting to lick them, either. So he changed and left quickly. The music pretty much reeked that night, though, and suddenly the whole scene just seemed so...done. He drifted from place to place, but it wasn't better anywhere he went. He kept trying, however, and it was past one when he got back. When he came in, a little wilder-looking from the dancing, Giles was sitting on the stairs with a book open on his knees, waiting for him. His heart jolted.
He stopped in front of him. "Giles."
"You left without saying anything."
"Yeah. I wanted to get my head clear."
He shrugged. "Not really."
"Well, there was something I needed to warn you about."
He was usually good at being quiet without sounding brusque, but it didn't seem to be working that night, because Giles winced. "Oz..."
"Look, I'm just tired."
He glanced down, then back up. "No, I...It seems to me I didn't say before--I wanted to be clear..." He looked as though he wanted to touch his hand, but then thought better of it. "It's not the wolf. I'm not afraid of that. And it's not that I don't find you attractive. Particularly like this. I wish I could. Truly."
"Giles, she's not coming back."
"I know, and it doesn't help." He looked away. Well. That was that. Oz started to walk back to his bedroom, but he spoke again. "That's not what I wanted to talk to you about."
"It's about the man who was here last night."
He didn't really want to hear about him, but he made himself stop. "Ethan."
"Yes. Ethan Rayne. You've probably heard at some point about his adventures in Sunnydale."
"The band candy. Sure. And Willow said something about being turned into a ghost."
"Exactly. He's been incarcerated for some time, but now he's free again. He's discontented with me, and he has a tendency to work off such feelings through mischief. You need to be cautious. Avoid him if you see him, keep the scapula on, and..." He hesitated. "It would probably be best not to accept drugs from strangers, or engage in intimacy with them. At least until he's left town."
"You think he'd come after me?"
"He's already expressed a rather...unwholesome interest. Ethan is not encumbered with morals that prevent him from hurting innocents."
If they were going to talk about him, he had to know. "You guys were lovers?"
Giles nodded. "A long time ago. Ethan has had trouble letting go."
Oz felt sympathetic. "I don't think any of us can throw stones on that point right now."
He grimaced. "Perhaps not, but Ethan's case is particularly advanced. He simply can't accept the way things are, and, given his power, that can be terribly destructive..." He suddenly pursed his lips and furrowed his brows.
He held up a hand for silence, obviously thinking hard. After a little while, he said, getting up, "I'm sorry. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yeah. I'll be careful. What's up?"
"I may know what's going on at the Falklands."
"I don't want to say anything yet. If I'm right, you'll find out tomorrow." He moved towards the shop.
"Can I help with the research?"
"No, no. This won't take too long to check." Oz passed behind him and, on impulse, pressed his face into Giles's shoulder blade. His shirt was very smooth and a little damp with sweat. Giles stood there for a moment; Oz could feel his breathing speed up. "You were very helpful today," he said thickly.
"Was I?" he breathed against the shirt.
"You were. I appreciate it." He reached behind him and awkwardly patted his head. "Good night, Oz."
He peeled himself away. "Good night, Giles."
Giles looked grim on the drive up the next morning. Oz was pretty sure he'd spent way more than a little while reading, but he didn't want to ask if Giles didn't want to tell. This time, when they pulled up in front of Falkland House, it was Mrs. Falkland who came out to greet them. "Mr. Giles," she said crisply. "After what I was told happened yesterday, I wasn't sure you'd be back."
He blinked at her. "Oh?"
"Well...your little exorcism didn't actually work, did it?"
"No, it didn't. But if you had reason to believe I'd be so easily deterred, you hired the wrong person, didn't you?" He looked thoughtful. "Unless, of course, you weren't actually interested in having your problem solved."
"Of course I'm interested," she snapped, "I'd just like to have it done with a minimum of disturbance to my household."
Oz said, "Oh, I'm fine, Mrs. Falkland; thanks for asking."
Giles gave him a half-smile as her back stiffened while she led them into the house."Well, what is it you want to do today? More exorcisms?" she asked, halting in the living room.
"Actually, I need to speak with your mother-in-law."
She turned around to stare at him. "Mrs. Falkland is very, very ill. She keeps to her room."
"I know. But she was a witch, wasn't she?"
"Of course. I fail to see what that has to do with anything; she's far too old and confused to be doing castings of any kind."
"Nonetheless, I'd like to speak with her."
"Very well. Mrs. Hawkins can take you up to see her. Kindly do not trouble her any longer than you must."
"Of course I shan't."
Mrs. Falkland looked dark, but rang for the nanny. Five minutes later, they were in a large room on the third floor, neat and tidy but filled with what Oz could only call knick-knacks from hell, little animal figurines and bad paintings of kids and bunches of fake flowers. A white-haired woman in a dark blue dress was sitting in a rocking-chair at the end of the room.
"Be gentle with her. Please?" Mrs. Hawkins whispered, and Giles nodded. She went to the woman and said, "Guests, Mrs. Falkland. Mr. Giles, Mr. Osborne, Mrs. Falkland."
"Hello, dears." The woman's eyes twinkled at them. "How nice to see you. Sit down, sit down."
"It's our pleasure, Mrs. Falkland," Giles said, sitting on a couch near her chair. Oz could hear the purposefulness underneath his friendly, respectful tone. He sat down next to him. "It's a lovely day, isn't it?"
"It is now that I have visitors," she smiled. "Guests don't get up here much, and I'm afraid I'm just a little too tired to go down to meet them. If it weren't for Mrs. Hawkins, I think I might almost be a little lonely."
"But your family comes to visit, surely?"
Oz wrinkled his nose. There was a ghost of a smell in the room.
"Oh, my son and his wife come when they can, I'm sure. James tries to visit when he's home, but he has so many friends to see. It's hard for him."
"And Sandra?" Giles asked. Oz saw Mrs. Hawkins shoot him a warning glance.
"Oh, well, Sandra..." Her eyes unfocused a little. "Her parents don't bring her anymore, and I don't think Sandra can quite make it up the stairs by herself. It's a long trip for little legs. Still, I hear her in the house all the time, and when I look out the window on fine days, I can see her playing. She's a high-spirited girl, and I'm afraid sometimes she's a little naughty, but you couldn't ask for a more adorable child. She's the apple of my eye." She got up. "Let me show you something."
"Oh, let me get that for you," Mrs. Hawkins said quickly, following her as she hobbled over to a table.
"Nonsense, dear, I'm not that weak." She waved her off, picked up something from the table, and brought it to Giles before returning to her seat.
Giles glanced at it, then silently handed it to Oz. It was a large handmade card. On the front was a child's drawing in crayon of Falkland House, surrounded by a heart. On the inside was scrawled, "I lov you, Grandmther."
"You see?" Mrs. Falkland beamed at them. "Isn't she a clever child? To spell so well at her age? And so artistic! Her brother's a good boy, but so practical--like his mother. Sandra's going to be different. Like me."
The stench of decomposing plants and mire washed over him, and he got up hastily to put the card back. Giles talked politely to Mrs. Falkland as he walked over to the window and took some discreet deep breaths, trying not to think of red hair.
"Are you all right, Mr. Osborne?" Mrs. Hawkins asked.
"Yeah," he said, making himself turn around and smile. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"He's so peaky," Mrs. Falkland said. "You should have him lie down."
"That's an excellent idea," Giles agreed, rising. "It was good to meet you, Mrs. Falkland. Good day, Mrs. Hawkins."
Oz waited til the door had closed behind them before inhaling a big mouthful of the fresher air and saying, "It's her, isn't it?"
"It's quite uncommon," Giles said ten minutes later in the living room, "though, perhaps, somewhat less rare among practitioners of magic. One person's love for another is so strong, his inability to accept his death so complete, that it binds the dead person's spirit to this plane. Unable to rest, the spirit suffers horrendous agony."
"Then when she said, 'Let me go,' she wasn't talking to me," Oz said.
"No. She was simply screaming for release. The mind of a six-year-old child, trapped forever in that sort of pain, unable to understand what has happened to her...it's little wonder she's been lashing out violently, especially against strangers."
Oz shivered. "What can we do? We can't leave her like that."
"We certainly can't. Especially since she will certainly kill again if she continues in this state."
"So how do we release her?"
Giles frowned. "There is no known means of dispelling this kind of spirit. Only the person in question can set the spirit free."
"Oh." Oz thought. "How can we get her to do that? I mean, she's kinda crazy. She doesn't even believe Sandra's dead. If her own family couldn't convince her..."
"I don't think we could, either. Not--" He hesitated. "Not naturally."
"A memory charm could cause her to forget that she'd ever even had a granddaughter. No memories, no feelings. It should suffice to set Sandra's spirit free."
"You mean, mess with that poor old lady's mind."
"Yes. It's the only way, short of killing her."
"It is." Giles sighed. "Oz, I'll understand if you don't wish to be a part of this. You can take the car back to London."
Oz looked at him. Giles gazed back at him levelly. Necessity. Oz understood necessity. It was what had made him leave everything he loved in the world behind, twice. Giles understood necessity, too. It was why he was safe with him. "No. I'll stay."
Giles's eyes softened, and he patted him on the shoulder. "Thank you, Oz."
"Do you need help with the spell?"
Now he looked away. "Actually, I don't think I'll be casting it."
Oz was appalled. "Giles, you're not gonna make the Falklands do it."
"No, of course not--though I will need their permission. I'm going to call in some assistance. I'd like this to be done with as little damage to Mrs. Falkland as possible, and that requires someone with more recent experience than me."
"Oh." That made sense. "Who?"
Giles sighed again. "An old friend."
Giles was standing by the window in the living room two hours later when Ethan wandered in, hands in pockets.
"Ethan," Giles greeted him. Oz tensed, but made himself stay on the couch where he was sitting.
"Ripper," Ethan said, "it's not that I don't get a thrill every time I hear your melodious voice on the line, but when I encouraged you to call me, I meant socially, not professionally."
"If you weren't interested," Giles said coolly, "you wouldn't have come."
Ethan put up his hands and laughed, a little uneasily. "Touche. What is it you want?"
"I need you to cast a memory charm on someone. You've always been good at those."
He raised his eyebrows. "Someone willing?"
Giles shook his head. "No."
"Ah." Ethan frowned and folded his arms. "So you want to use me to keep your precious hands clean? Fuck you, Ripper. I won't do it. For any price."
"Keeping my hands clean," Giles said softly and distinctly, "can no longer be a concern of mine."
Ethan's eyes widened, and he stared at him without saying anything for several minutes. Giles looked back at him steadily. Finally, he said, "You killed someone else, didn't you?"
Giles's gaze did not falter. "Yes."
Oz swallowed a gasp. Ethan shrugged. "Then I'll do it." Giles started to say something, but he raised a hand. "For the right price, of course."
"Oh, nothing you can't afford, Ripper."
"How much, Ethan?" he repeated, his voice growing colder.
Ethan swallowed, then said, "I want you to tell me all about it. Everything I want to know. With complete truthfulness."
Giles recoiled a step. "Ethan--"
"That's my price, Ripper," said Ethan, obviously gaining confidence from his reaction. "Take it or leave it. I'm not in the mood to negotiate today."
Giles took a breath and regained his composure. "Very well."
"You agree to my terms?" He glanced at Oz. "In front of witnesses?"
"Yes, Ethan. I agree."
"Then I'll have to get some things from my car." He smiled and turned on his heel.
After he had gone, Giles dropped down on the couch next to Oz, looking very tired but saying nothing. Oz moved over, slouching so that his head was resting just above Giles's shoulder, not quite touching it. "Giles...you killed someone?"
"I can't talk about it now, Oz."
"It's okay. Whatever happened, it's okay." Somehow, the knowledge that Giles had done it, too, only made him seem closer. He let his cheek slide down and closed his eyes. Giles didn't pull back. They were quiet for a little while as Oz thought. There had to be another way. A way different from Mrs. Falkland's with Sandra, or Ethan's with Giles. A way where you didn't sink your teeth in and end up hurting the person you cared about to try to keep him after it was over. Maybe...
He shifted and said, "How much do you think Ethan would charge to do memory charms on us?"
Giles half-chuckled. "I believe he would cast mine gratis. He thinks it would be best if I forgot all about Buffy. And he may have slightly more of a point than usual."
"Mrs. Falkland is a sobering mirror, huh?"
"Indeed. I may have to reconsider certain things."
Oz put a hand on his chest. "Good."
Giles curled his hand around his, not quite lifting it away. "Oz...your problem is a little different than mine. I've been observing you carefully for the past several weeks. With the herbs and the chanting, your lycanthropy is manageable now, except when your closest bond is threatened. You asked me once what sort of life you could have. I think you can have a good and useful one, but it may...it may have to be one without passionate attachments." He slid his arm around him. "It's not fair to you, I know; it's nothing you deserve; but I fear it may be inescapable."
Oz felt a sudden surge of hope. "Giles, you don't get it. I understand now. I--"
Ethan walked back into the room, carrying a bag. "Oh, dear," he said, "am I interrupting something?"
Oz just opened his eyes and looked at him, not moving.
"Yes," Giles said, "but never mind that."
"Go ahead, I can wait." He leaned against the wall.
Giles got up. "I'm afraid I'm not interested in helping you compensate for an inadequate love life, Ethan. Let's take care of this now."
Very late that night, Oz sat in the shop, toying with Mrs. Falkland's card. The family had had to take everything that would have reminded her of Sandra out of her room before the ritual. They had intended to throw away the card, but Giles had saved it and brought it back with them. "We have to remember for her, Oz," he'd said. "That's the only way for us not to become monsters." Oz understood. After all, he was all about that, not being a monster.
He laid the card down gently as he heard the key turning in the lock. A minute later, Giles came in, his hair a little rumpled, his shirt unbuttoned one button farther down than it usually was. Oz could smell cigarettes on him, and alcohol, and Ethan Rayne, faint but clinging. "Oh. I didn't think you'd still be up, Oz. It was quite a day."
Giles frowned. "You didn't hear anything untoward from the Falklands, I hope?"
"No." He didn't think they would, either. After Ethan had cast the spell, he hadn't been able to smell the rot anywhere in the house. He wasn't an expert, but he was pretty sure Sandra was gone. "It's just that we didn't get to finish our conversation."
"Oh. No. We didn't." He leaned on a bookshelf. "What did you want to say?"
"You killed someone?"
That brought his head up sharply, but then he visibly forced himself to relax again. "I suppose you have as much a right to know as Ethan does. Yes, I did."
"We were fighting a god, named Glorificus. An insane, sadistic, supremely powerful creature who wanted to bring down the walls separating the dimensions so she could return to her own. In the process, she would have destroyed almost all life in the universe. Her only vulnerability was that she was sharing the body of an ordinary man, named Ben, and his death would mean hers. She tried to kill Dawn to accomplish her end. Buffy only just managed to prevent that and force Ben to manifest. I had to kill him. There was no other way to stop her."
God, Sunnydale hadn't been much of a party town since he'd left. "Sounds like you did the right thing."
"Yes," he said very quietly. "Yes, I did. But it's changed me."
"Well, I kind of like the new you."
"That's probably unwise. It's just as well that you can't..."
"Yeah. About that." He took a deep breath. There wasn't going to be a comfort zone here. He just had to say it. "I still want to be with you, Giles. And I think I know how I can."
"Just hear me out, okay? When I was with Willow, I thought she was my anchor, the one permanent thing in the world. The thing I could never turn away from, or lose, or give up. The only thing it was safe to really care about. And the wolf, the wolf thought so, too, I guess. Even when I was away from Sunnydale, it was holding onto her. Nothing else was even real to me."
Giles nodded. "And when you lost her, it was simply too much for you to control, even with the restraint you've developed."
"Yeah." He swallowed and pushed away the vivid images of Tara dead, Willow dead. "But that's not the only way to do it. I did some thinking, and it occurred to me that maybe you can love things, but still remember that they're transient. Love them in the moment, but be ready to let them go when the time comes. I think...I think I can do that with you, Giles."
He felt like he needed to catch his breath. He'd said more in the past two minutes than he usually did in a day, but he knew Giles would have to hear it from him, hear everything, for him to have any chance at all. Even with the speech, he was looking skeptical. "Oz, even if that were true, a relationship between us would be...difficult to maintain. I'm flattered that you'd even suggest it, but we're very different creatures in some ways, with different interests, different outlooks. I'm more than twice your age. You'll change quickly. I'll change, more slowly, but change nonetheless. We're bound to grow apart."
"But don't you see? I know that. And that's exactly why it could work. It's not like with Willow. I'm not talking about forever here."
Giles nodded again, but his expression didn't clear. "There's still something else."
He sighed deeply. "You can never fully have me. Not while Ethan is still alive. No one can."
It dug into him, but he kept going. "I know. I can live with that."
"Can you?" Giles looked at him searchingly. "What you're describing is a state of mind recommended by many mystics and poets, but it's generally regarded as a severe form of religious discipline. Not an easy undertaking, by any means."
"Easier than going through life trying not to love anyone. I don't think I can do that. This...this I have a shot at."
"Oz, forgive me, but you're a very young man, though one of great depth. I'm not even sure you know what you're saying."
"You were with Ethan tonight," Oz said abruptly. "Really with him, I mean."
Giles was surprised. "We didn't have sex, Oz."
"No, but you were together somehow. You didn't just tell him the story and leave. I can tell."
"You're right. We were."
"Which I don't like. But see?" Oz held up his hands. "No wolf. Ethan's still alive. You can call him."
Giles took his hand and turned it over, looking at it. He rubbed his fingers along the back of it, pressing hard against each individual bone, as if he were trying to find some truth buried under the skin. "I see."
"Giles, I trust you. You're strong enough. If anything did happen, you'd do what had to be done."
There was such earnestness in his face. "I would, Oz. You mustn't doubt that."
"I don't. Can you trust me?"
Giles put a hand on the side of his face and stared into his eyes. Oz looked back. "Yes," he finally said, bending to kiss him, "yes, I believe I can."
Oz shut his eyes and felt it again. Connection. When the kiss was over, he said, "Giles...I want..."
Giles gave a bemused laugh. "Oz, it occurs to me that I haven't got--"
"I do. In my room."
When they got there, Oz kissed him again and began unbuttoning Giles's shirt as he sat on the bed. The alien scent still lingered, and he almost asked him to take a shower first, but decided that that would not exactly be a good way to prove he could do this right. So he got the shirt off him quickly, which took care of most of it. Giles, in turn, pulled at Oz's clothes, studying carefully each line of flesh which was revealed. It felt strange to be the object of such an inspection--Willow had always been so shy that half the time she didn't even really look. That had been sweet, but this was making him squirm with a slow ache that was already getting him hard.
After Oz's clothes were off, Giles looked up at him, uncertainty suddenly in his eyes. Of course. It had probably been a long time for him. Oz took his glasses off and set them on the nightstand, laid his palms flat on Giles's chest and pushed him down slowly, then straddled him. It was a different sort of body than he was used to--filled-out and solid, with grey scattered in the hairs on his chest. More tangibly physical somehow, strange as that sounded. He leaned down and licked at the collarbone, just above a small white scar. He was learning something new, he thought dimly: older men tasted so much more intense, headier, muskier, than girls or other boys. He liked this maturer vintage, and gently rubbed his nose in the hair as he moved his face down Giles's chest. Giles was shivering; his nipples were hard little nubs and Oz nosed at them, then found himself worrying them with his teeth. Carefully, but still. He looked back up at Giles, who whispered, "It's okay," and ran a hand through his hair. Oz began again, rubbing himself against Giles's leg as he did, feeling Giles growing hard against his stomach.
After a couple of minutes of this, Giles groaned, "Oz," and in one swift motion flipped them over, settling himself on Oz's legs. "Where's the--"
He heard unzipping, a cap turning, and foil ripping, and a minute later fingers pushed into him. He pushed back against them, wanting them deeper, and Giles obliged, driving them in so that he felt like he was pinned to the bed. "It's been a while," Giles said. "I--ah--I don't know how long this is going to last."
The fingers pulled out, but were soon replaced by Giles's cock. Giles let out a hissing sigh as he slid into him, then pulled out, settling his weight onto his elbows above him. Oz lay still, relishing the feeling of being surrounded by sheltering male flesh, gasping as Giles thrust in further. He wanted to be reached in the way that was only possible through fucking. Giles settled into a steady rhythm for a while, but gradually sped up. Oz was clutching at the sheets as he was pushed back and forth, but he thought he could take a little more. Then, without warning, Giles growled, brought his head down, and closed his teeth on the nape of Oz's neck.
Oz howled. The grip went straight to the wolf, and he couldn't tell whether it was utter pleasure or utter terror, but it was everything, and he was thrashing underneath Giles frantically. Giles released him and slowed down. "Are you all right?" he said, between gasps.
"Go on, go on," he said, bit down on the pillow so as not to yell again, and rode it out as Giles caught at the nape of his neck once more. Reached, he was reached, Giles had found him, and it was all too soon that Giles shuddered and spasmed into him, then collapsed on top of him.
His weight was sort of heavy, but it forced him against the blanket, and if he kept squirming, it wasn't too bad. "Giles..."
"Oh, yes." Giles pulled out, and there was a soft thud in the wastebasket. He rolled Oz over and settled down next to him. He was giving him another one of those appraising looks, but a much sweatier and less steady version this time, which made Oz grin. Then Giles reached down and wrapped his still-slick hand around Oz's cock, and that took it all to a whole new level of not too bad.
Oz was almost whimpering as he shoved against his hand, but Giles put his other hand on his hip, restraining him, and he made himself hold still and let him control the pace. He thought about the times back in Sunnydale when the other kids had made jokes about Giles's sex life, when all the time there had been the potential for this, this absolutely assured hand pumping him, pulling him right out of himself. Giles was talking to him as he worked: "...don't know how I didn't see it before, I was blind, you're so beautiful, so yourself, the wolf, Oz, it's all magnificent..."
He could have cried, but instead he squeezed his eyes shut and trembled. "Giles," he said in a strangled voice, and came, arching his shoulders against the bed, kicking his feet. A wave of exhaustion swept over him immediately, and he kept his eyes closed as Giles wiped him with something. "Wow. That was...great."
Giles stroked a hand over his forehead, carefully avoiding the lump from yesterday. "Thank you, Oz. It was."
"Of course. Though, in future, we might consider using my flat. I have a considerably larger bed." He could hear the smile in his voice. Giles shifted, then lay down again. But he didn't touch Oz, and when Oz put out a hand a couple of minutes later, he could feel that his body was tense.
"Giles?" He rolled over to look at him. "What's the matter?"
Giles had a hand over his eyes. "Strange. It's strange."
"Being alive again."
For a minute, Oz asked himself if he had done the right thing, breaking through Giles's resignation to pull him into something so ephemeral. He wondered if he hadn't made him more vulnerable to Ethan; he knew he'd made him more vulnerable to other things. Like Oz himself, and how it was going to feel when they finally did separate. But, he thought, he had been right: Giles had survived Sunnydale. They both had, and they had to learn to live with it. "You get used to it," he told him. He snuggled up to Giles and slid his arms around him, drawing him close. Slowly, Giles relaxed into him. He must have been tired, too; it wasn't long after that that his breaths grew even and shallow.
Oz turned his head and looked around the room. His room, with his rock posters on the wall, and his clothes scattered around, and his lover stretched out in his bed. It wasn't his territory; it wasn't something he could hold of his own and keep outsiders away from forever. But it was home.
That was good enough for now.