they weren't wearing hats, but they were real, and i took three pictures of them anyway
Oz has flashes, when he kills people. Vamps, that is. Vague memories of someone he probably sort of knew, once upon a time. The walking dead in this town like the young and pretty, which makes up most everyone he's ever come in contact with, so he's gotten used to that shaky sense of half-recognition. It's easy enough to shrug off, and he does, even as he thinks about -- of all things ? Eskimos. And then the image is gone as quickly as the girl -- no, demon, in front of him falls cursing into dust.
No time to process it, though, because Larry's already turning, diving back into the fray before Oz can stop him, with the kind of stubborn desperation that's been stringing him tighter and tighter lately. Everything is moving very slowly; his gaze catches on the Master across the room, snapping the neck of the tiny, dark-eyed girl who?d charged in here like she knew something nobody else ever would. She sways and crumples at his feet, and then everything speeds up again because the next person the Master turns to touch is Larry. Larry looking away, Larry who's fighting off a vamp, Larry who jerks back as the Master grabs him, sinks hungry teeth into his neck and --. Larry shudders and twitches and then goes very, very still, and never looks Oz's way once.
Things are getting pointless. More dead people than alive in the room, and Oz is closest to the door, Oz is rooted to the spot, Oz is watching Larry fall and then something clicks and he's out and running and away.
He doesn't stop once the whole way across town, adrenaline and shock propelling him, and the only way he makes it in one piece is because all the big bads of Sunnydale are where he's just been. He bursts through Giles' door without knocking to see him crumpled on the floor, looking very small and old. There's someone standing over him, demonwoman in a drab dress and Oz doesn't even notice himself picking up the axe as he hurtles toward her, just lodges it in her chest as she whips around to look at him.
Angry flash in her eyes as she pulls the axe out of her torso like it was nothing and flings it into the wall. She starts toward him furiously and he's rooted to the spot, holding his breath, but then she stops, rolls her eyes, sighs.
"Oh, honestly, I don't have time for this," she says to no one in particular and disappears with a gesture. Very 'Beam me up, Scotty' but Oz can't stop to process that because -- Giles.
Who groans and starts to stir and Oz's insides do that huge whoosh of relief thing
"Hey," he says, dropping down to crouch beside him. "Anything broken?"
Giles is bruised and a little bloody but not in any kind of last rites way. He coughs, looks past Oz at the axe still buried in his wall.
"It didn't work," he says. "The world is still --"
"Shitty?" Oz says. "Yeah."
Giles blinks like he's just realized Oz is there, reacting maybe to something in his tone.
"What happened?" he asks, sounding world-weary already.
"It's bad," says Oz.
Way later, after he's gotten through telling Giles everything he can manage, Oz sits on the couch and listens to him make a phone call. He's got a blanket wrapped around him and still he can't get warm, somehow. The blanket is heavy, wool, kind of scratchy. It smells like Giles: clean in a way that has nothing to do with bright detergent and fabric softener.
"Yes, by the Master," Giles says. "A member of the Order of Aurelius."
Outside the windows the sky is getting vaguely pale. Oz's eyes and throat are burning with the kind of bonedeep tiredness that comes from being up all night.
"I'm afraid I have visual confirmation," Giles tells the telephone, and after a minute his voice softens. "I'm so terribly sorry."
Oz doesn't want to close his eyes because every time he does he sees Larry, looking away from him, falling.
Behind him the telephone clicks into the receiver.
He can't get warm.
There's no real point to patrolling the next night, but they go anyway. Force of habit, Giles' even-edgier jitters. Just the two of them rattling around in the van, and the last time they were in here Larry was looming behind the driver's seat, thumb slipping around to stroke the back of Oz's neck when he thought no one was looking and Nancy was curled up in the back listening to the police band radio. Now the empty space behind the front seats seems cold, physical, terrifying.
Giles is tense, silent, ragged. Oz knows what he wants even though he hasn't said so. Is glad he hasn't said so, because he doesn't want to have to be the one to say it's impossible.
That's all rendered moot when they see what's been done to her body.
Visible from the road, from the van, strung up over the Bronze, a warning sign. Once upon a time, it might have made him sick, but now Oz just keeps on driving, keeps on scanning for movement to the left and the right, keeps on clutching the cross in his lap. From the corner of his eye he can see Giles' head swiveling to look back and back until they finally turn the corner that blocks it from view.
None of this is surprising, really. He might have imagined it, seen it coming it if it hadn't been such a very long time since he let himself think beyond the next few hours. It's one thing to be silently aware of how everything is falling apart around you but if he knows any thing at all it's that you can't actually think about it, only around it. Like how to see the faintest stars you have to look for them with the corners of your eyes. Never dead on. So yeah, there was a trajectory, a kind of running subtraction equation, and it kind of pointed here. Except for the fact that it's him left, he's somehow the one person still here with Giles, carving stakes and soaking them in holy water like it's going to make some kind of difference.
He doesn't understand why. This isn't how it was supposed to be.
They get his parents a week later. He comes home to find the house burned down, smoldering and black, and he didn't even know. Everything smells charred now, like he thinks autumn might in a place where the seasons actually change. It leaves the air permanently heavy with strains of burning, death, and so he doesn't know until he actually sees it. Stands in the middle of the road and stares.
It could be a warning. It probably isn't.
He lasts half the night on the couch. Wide, wide awake, staring into the darkness, and he's halfway up the stairs before he's really aware of what he's doing. Giles is asleep, looking strange and vulnerable and naked even though he's nothing of the sort. Oz crawls in beside him, rests his fingers on Giles' lips and says "it's me" when he starts awake. Waits for Giles to relax that half step from battle mode into normal 'someone just crawled into my bed' tenseness before swinging a leg over Giles' hips to sit facing him. He'd kind of like to curl up and be spooned but he wants to be clear right from the start that this isn't a surrogate parent thing.
Giles blinks up at him, eyes still squinty from sleep which widen in the instant before Oz kisses him. Giles is rough with stubble, tastes like sleep and old alcohol and loneliness. Oz skitters his tongue across parting teeth, feels the sudden twitch of Giles' cock through the thin fabric of his boxers. He pulls back before Giles can do anything and rests his hands on his own thighs.
"Oz --," Giles says. "This isn't right."
"Do you want this?" Oz says. "If you don't want it, I'll go. Just tell me. That you don't."
Giles is frozen for a moment, blinking, mouth open and if Oz wanted he could twist his hips just so to make him gasp, but he doesn't. Waits, instead, for the slightest of defeated nods and quick as he can closes the space between them 'til there's nothing but hot skin on skin, no more aloneness.
What Oz learns: Giles' pre-cum is saltslick against the roof of Oz's mouth. His hands hover around Oz's head like a halo, like he's not sure whether he wants to push him away or pull him closer. The strangled, grudging noise he makes when he comes sounds like heartbreak.
Giles' fingers and mouth and eyes are too sure for this to be his first time doing any of these things. Oz keeps his eyes closed, afterward, feeling his limbs slacken, the sweat on his skin dissipate. When he opens them, Giles drops his, looks away, shoulders heavy with shame or regret or something else Oz doesn't want to think about.
"Don't," Oz says, and falls asleep.
Way in the back of Oz's closet were the clothes he hadn't worn in a couple of years. Bright, bizarre things, the occasional ill-advised patterned shirt. Bottle of fluorescent blue hair dye he'd given himself streaks with once or twice. Remnants of the hazy past and now he doesn't even have those anymore. They?re gone now, smoke and ash and he?s left with no distractions, just the somber-colored clothes he had on his back, a few stolen items from Giles' wardrobe. No going back, no before.
What he really misses is his guitars. There?s nowhere to actually perform, of course, but just the heavy, comforting feel of them in his hands helped. He's poking around the back of Giles' closet one day, looking for something to wear that won't absolutely hang on him when he finds it. A honey-colored acoustic, badly out of tune but underneath the dust it?s obviously quality, well cared for once upon a time. He crawls backwards out of the closet with it, sits down right there in front of Giles' shoes and tunes it by ear, tightening each key carefully and willing the old, dried out strings not to break. Giles comes in and finds him there, picking out something simple just to feel the familiar tingling in his calluses again. He looks at Oz, stands and doesn't say anything before walking out again, but the next day there's a newer pack of strings tucked inside one of Oz's shoes.
Oz mostly plays when he's alone, though, because it makes Giles look closed and gray and distant. Seems too loud. After a while it starts to seem too loud even when he's alone, too bright and pointless.
It's kind of a turning point when they take the school. The last thing the administration does is send out a memo saying classes are indefinitely postponed. As if anyone would actually come. As if anyone had been coming anyway, for the most part; Oz only went now because Giles did and he spent most of the day sitting cross-legged on one of the library tables or dangling his legs off the checkout counter. Something tight and immobilizing in his gut, his back. Looking at books, sometimes, or sharpening stakes but mostly just watching the daylight fade through those special, high library windows. Remembering when it used to be more than just him-and-Giles in here.
No more of that now, though.
Of all things, he can't help wondering what the vamps are doing with the lockers. Did they find the master key, carefully open each private little world? Rip the metal doors off to get at what was inside? Or have they not even bothered, left everything exactly the way it was, rows and rows of shelves holding abandoned textbooks, crumpled notebook paper, old gum, rotting sandwiches, glossy ripped-out magazine pages scotch-taped to the inside of each door?
He remembers back a long time ago, how when a kid died they'd come and open his or her locker and clean it out and it'd stand empty for a bit before getting reassigned to someone else. After a while it got to be kind of moot, though, and he's pretty sure they stopped bothering. Kind of like how they stopped having separate funerals; easier to have a single big one each week, and in exchange the only individual monuments the kids got to leave behind were those lockers, sealed away, time capsules sent to nobody.
None of it really matters. School was always a bust and lately a pretense and it's safer not to have to worry about getting there and back. It makes things feel kind of like summer vacation, except without anything resembling carefree.
There are moments when Giles brushes his thumbs over Oz's hipbones like he doesn't believe he's real. Everything he does starts hesitantly: returning Oz's kiss or pushing inside him. Ends up different and hard and messy, though, which is the way it should be.
"This is wrong," he said after the second time, lying on the living room floor in a tangle of both their discarded clothes.
"What isn't?" Oz said and kissed him before he could say anything else.
Giles has this look like the world is closing in on itself with every passing day and he can feel it. Oz can feel it too, but all he sees is the way Giles' shoulders slump every time they find another body, like every bit of it is his fault. And Oz hates that, in a nameless, wordless place behind his gut. Finds himself doing everything a little harder, a little faster every time Giles closes his eyes until he's forced to open them with a gasp, to look at Oz, to see him and not any of the things that might, that must be playing out on the back of his eyelids.
The moon's coming. He can feel it, making him twitchy, anticipatory. But this time there's no library cage to lock himself inside, no Larry to be the last and first thing he sees. No tranq gun, even. Just him, Giles, this house.
He spends a day taking everything breakable out of the bathroom. Reduces it to nothing more than the molded ceramic box it is, too many bare, echoing whites. Giles has a power drill and Oz boards up the outside of the door as precisely as he can, until it's sunset and he crawls in through the gap at the bottom, while Giles waits to cover that, too.
Inside, he listens to the buzz of the drill, watches the fading colors of the sky and forces himself to breathe evenly, slowly, even as he feels the first wolfy tingles. He fights it, like always, and like always it comes over him suddenly, completely, like the biggest wave at the beach, and then he's under and gone.
In the morning, he is aching and spent but still inside. The bathroom is a wreck. The mirror over the sink is smashed, fragmentary slivers spidering out from the middle. He stands naked in front of it, looks at his image reflected a dozen times, all of them broken, none of them whole. Crooked, jagged pieces of his own frowning face.
As if it's not bad enough the monsters are outside.
Oz has an old map in the back of his van, something his dad gave him when he first got his license. A crumpled, ancient thing, covered in grease stains, but it shows the whole of the United States and bits of Canada and Mexico, too. Oz spreads it out sometimes, kneels over it and traces the routes of highways running out of Southern California. The copyright date in tiny print on the back is from before he was born. Maybe none of these roads exist anymore, or all have different names, new numbers.
When he stretches his fingers across the map?s surface there are whole handwidths of land and space between here and the Atlantic. Dozens of states, hundreds of towns, three possible countries to choose from, and that's not even counting what's on the other side of the ocean, countries where they make Giles? and all the rest. Stuff you see pictures of in history books. Unreal cities.
The second girl comes when Oz has almost managed to stop counting the days since the first one. Dark and brusque and precise. She stands with her legs apart, hands clasped behind her back like someone from an old war movie. Asks Giles to let her Watcher know she's arrived without looking at either of them.
"The Council finds the loss of the last Slayer a matter requiring investigation," she says, eyes on the opposite wall. Her words singsong as if she's talking about something far more pleasant. "Could you please direct me to the headquarters of the vampires." It's not a question.
Giles takes off his glasses, rubs the bridge of his nose. Tired, familiar gesture.
"You can't go on your own," he says as if talking to a small child. "You'll be killed. At least let us muster some kind of force."
"The Slayer fights alone," she tells him, but accepts his offer of the couch for the night.
She's gone in the morning. By the next night her body has shown up beside the first.
Giles' next phone call is shorter, angrier.
It's like the town was built for monsters to feed on. Oz can't figure out why anyone at all is still here, but he must be underestimating the human capacity for stupidity.
There's a convenience store three blocks away that opens for a few hours around noon, most days. Oz walks there in the middle of the road, watching the faded yellow lines disappear beneath his feet. In the store he buys stale Cheetos, a handful of beef jerky, some old bottles of Yoohoo. The kid behind the counter is nervous and slump-shouldered as he takes the money. He's really short, kid-sized, but Oz thinks he might have seen him at school once upon a time.
He hands Oz the plastic bag without saying anything. Oz wants, very suddenly, to ask why he's still here, so he does.
The kid shrugs, looks down. Jagged, badly-cropped dark hair, a mole on his neck.
"Don't know," he says, and looks back up. "Why are you?"
The skin on Oz's hand is turning white where the handles of the bag dig into it.
"I want to see how it ends," he lies.
The thing is, Giles always held them together, like some kind of careworn, desperate glue. Now all he does is hold Oz together, with the flicker of his eyes as he comes out of concentrating on something to look at Oz instead, the way his fingers tangle in Oz's hair, the brush of his voice against the back of Oz's neck.
Oz thinks he must be a terrible person, the very worst kind to do this, to always do this. To hang on so tightly to someone who's right where he is, like pushing the head of a drowning person underwater to save himself. To let himself get so lost in the twist and pull of limbs and teeth and the hot, dark explosions behind his own eyelids while the whole world spirals away and away.
To always just clutch and hold whatever's nearest.
Except he doesn't know any other way, anything else at all to keep himself breathing.
The thing about Giles is, he doesn't let go either. Still -- still! -- here in this hellhole of a town even though it should have been easier for him to get out than anyone else. But he stays like he doesn't know how not to, the same way his house is lined with dusty, humming books he looks at but doesn't touch, remnants of a mission that got lost along the way.
Underneath the calloused hands, two-day-old stubble, permanently downdrawn eyebrows, it's impossible for Oz not to see that he actually believes in things like making a difference. Enough that he stays, and so Oz stays and can't ever find the words to suggest any otherwise.
He wakes up drowsy and thinks it might be late afternoon from the light filtering through the curtains. Daytime sleeping is safer. Giles is in bed, watching him through slitted eyes, and Oz curls into him, rests his head on the warm spot right over Giles' heart.
"Had a dream," he mumbles, enjoying the smell of Giles' skin, eyes still closed.
"Oh?" Giles says, hand big and flat and soothing against Oz's spine.
"Leprechauns," Oz says. "I was looking for them."
Giles chuckles, a dry, weary sound. "No such thing," he says, and Oz mouths it along with him.
"But I found them," he persists.
"Really?" says Giles, in a tone that could be interest or just politeness. "Little men, ah, big green hats?"
"They weren't wearing hats," he says, sliding his leg up to rest atop Giles'. "But they were real. And I took three pictures of them anyway."
For a moment he's still lost in the dream, in the lingering traces of a green, foggy field that probably looks nothing at all like the real Ireland, but is good enough just because it's Not Sunnydale. And then Giles' hand slips lower to stroke the sensitive place just below Oz's ass and he opens his eyes and forgets there's anywhere else at all. For the moment.
It's night when the next one shows up. She kicks the door open with a combat boot and strides in like she owns the world. If it weren't for the lack of invitation, he'd be sure she was a vamp, and both he and Giles are instantly on their feet. She looks around the room coolly, crossbow sitting loosely in her hands, and settles on them last.
"So I'm pretty sure I can guess which one of you is Rupert Giles," she says. "You wanna tell me what's going on around here?"
Turns out her Watcher doesn't exactly know she's here, and she doesn't precisely know what's gone on. All she?s got is the weight of rumors, hearsay, some thinly-veiled kind of burning desire to prove herself. So here she is, and why why why, is all Oz can think, why does everyone care so much now? And not before, when it might have made a difference?
She's got a name like a Sunday School lesson and a tanktop cut down to here. Leather pants that make Oz kinda crinkle inside with Sunnydaler associations. She and Giles argue, the full nine rounds; she wants to attack the Master immediately, while it'll still be a surprise, scoffs at Giles when he says it's far too dangerous. Oz sits back and watches, hands under his armpits, legs pulled under him, until they've both petered out.
"So, what, you all sit here in your houses like scared rabbits, waiting to get picked off?" she yells before they come to a draw, and yeah, she's not from around here. Doesn't know the way things work, the way they've always worked.
Oz wakes up at dawn and wanders downstairs to find her inspecting the contents of Giles' weapons chest. She whips around to look at him, but doesn't say anything, just watches him with dark, mascaraed eyes. He recognizes the look, always just a tad too much makeup for anywhere that's not dark and loud, and he finds himself wondering how old she really is. Runs a hand through his hair, blinks twice and jerks his head toward the door.
"Come on," he says, and she only pauses for a second before following him.
He walks a lot more, now; habit since they banned student cars at school ("to correspond with Sunnydale's new curfew and high crime rate prevention plan?" the Mayor had said) and gas is hard to get these days. Saves it for night and leaves the van in the driveway in favor of walking through town. Easier to get a feel for it all this way, anyhow.
She walks with her head high, but stays close. Smarter than the last two, maybe, striding down the very middle of these early morning streets. They see a handful of people, or things that look like people anyway. Oz keeps his head down, avoids eye contact, lets her do the looking for both of them. He's seen it all before anyway.
They end up near the Bronze, Ground Zero. Oz crouches down in the street and draws constellations between flecks of mica in the pavement while she takes it in. Garbage-filled alleys, evil-smelling windowless building, the two bodies above.
You can still tell that they were pretty. It's probably intentional. Faith looks at them for a long time. Turns away wordlessly and it's his turn to follow her back.
When they're two streets from home, she shakes out of it. Looks him up and down, cocks her head to the side.
"You're a demon fighter?" she asks, doubt and speculation warring in her voice.
He glances at her, back down at the scuffed toes of his sneakers.
"I'm alive," he says, and it's what she wants to hear, because she nods and looks away again. Fingers the stake in her waistband like she doesn't know she's doing it and doesn't say anything until they bang in the door and Giles wakes up and comes downstairs and the two of them start talking strategy.
So they're going to fight. Giles has that distracted earnestness again that means he's feeling tiny bubbles of hope against his better judgment. There are swords to sharpen, crossbows to oil. He and Faith are discussing the feasibility of a rooftop entrance. They're going to attack at midmorning, hope the sunlight will give them an advantage. Oz doesn't say anything about how it seems dimmer every day, against everything he learned when he actually listened in science class.
"It doesn't have to be a total victory," Giles keeps saying, "if we can just rout them, turn the tide --? He?s taken off his glasses and put them back on again three times in fifteen minutes.
"They won't even know what hit 'em," Faith is saying again. "Vamps think they own this town, gotten lazy." Her eyes are as bright as Giles' and Oz tries to remember what month this is, how recently she must have been called.
Oz sits wordlessly on a stool and helps. Tests the balance on an axe and listens to them talk. They haven't asked if he's coming. Just assumed it.
For the first time in weeks, he wishes Larry were here with an intensity that makes it hard to see. Or if not Larry then anyone, anybody else; something like safety in numbers, like the way it sort of used to be. He thinks about asking the kid from the convenience store, handing him a stake and a cross and an invitation to die. Or better yet, telling him to get the hell out of town while he has the chance. Can't do either, though; the store hasn't been open in a week and Oz doesn't know what happened to him.
That night he fucks Giles as long and hard as he can. Doesn't care if Faith hears or what Giles thinks, but spins this out and out like stretching bubblegum to its thinnest extremes. In the darkness he can't see the color of Giles' eyes, can only feel and hear and smell him, but when he closes his own he sees flashes of green on the inside of his lids.
Oz feels dizzy and sapped as he drifts off, stretched limb to limb against Giles, and sleep is like a horrible rushing wall of blackness that twists his stomach with dread just before it pulls him under.
The sun is small and white and intense when Oz looks at it, leaving color-trails on his retina, but he still feels cold. They take the van, to carry weapons and use for a quick getaway, if they need to. It's sort of hard to imagine a situation where it comes to that.
Faith is buzzing with nerves and energy beside him as they walk away from the van. Behind them, Giles is a steady, intent force. They circle the Bronze without saying anything; the vamps still consider this their main headquarters, despite the success of the factory plan. Nothing's moving this far into the day, but they still wait, listening, pausing. Oz can feel each thump of his heart in his chest.
"So what are you going to do when this is over?" Faith says from where she's crouched beside him. She's talking low and not looking at him but her head's tilted his way. He wants to laugh because he knew the kids who thought about words like "when it's over" and he watched himself kill them the second time around. The ones who thought it was all just a blip, an inconvenience.
Disneyworld would be too cliche. He shrugs, ever so slightly.
"Gonna go find some leprechauns," he says, because it's as likely as anything else, and she snorts beside him, a tiny amused sound. On her other side, Giles is waiting focused, motionless. They're all so close he can feel the heat off Faith's body, catch the twitch as she tightens her thighs.
"Well, let's do this thing," she says and kisses Oz, full and hard and fast. She tastes like adrenaline, ozone-sharp, and before he can react she's turning to do the same to Giles who inhales roughly as she pulls back.
And then she explodes into motion, fast and hard. Out of the corner of his eye, Oz can see Giles doing the same even as he feels his own body moving forward, breaking into a run, rushing into the vast darkness.
(feedback makes me giddier than is reasonably healthy: kyrac AT sympatico.ca)
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Title: Winter to Pass, The
Author: Kyra Cullinan [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | R | *slash* | 27k | 04/18/04
Summary: Oz and Giles as everything falls apart. Wishverse.
Notes: story notes: post-"The Wish", in that universe; a sequel to "What the Living Do" (http://narrowstreets.net/fic/living.html) with a title from the same Marie Howe poem; written for Mosca's Free Verse Challenge, assignment appears below
author notes: a thousand heartfelt thank yous to flowery_twat and SeraC for wonderful beta and encouragement.
Sequel to: What the Living Do
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