Bleeding By Numbers
Giles was silent, staring down at the body lying in that cold metal drawer.
The attendant was looking at him expectantly, waiting for Giles to identify
the person lying there. Giles examined the body, cataloguing the familiar
features - the rich, dark red hair, the pale skin now tinged blue in death,
the slender body as familiar to him as his own - but refusing to put them
together into a picture that he knew.
He refused to believe. After everything, he refused to believe that something
so mundane as a car accident would leave him alone again.
A memory surfaced, pushing past the shock and confusion warring for dominance
in Giles' mind. A sensory memory, drowning Giles in the feel of arms around
his shoulders, offering silent comfort after the death of his Slayer. Green
eyes that matched the grief so apparent in his own. She had been taken too
soon; barely more than a child. A soft voice whispered that she had lost that
childhood long before he had come into her life and ruthlessly he shoved it
down, preferring to take the blame onto his own shoulders. He could have -
should have - done something more, found a prophecy, trained her
Giles had left Sunnydale then, returning to England and burying himself in
meaningless work for the Council. Giles was afraid. Terrified that if he
stayed, he'd lose another one. Bury another person he loved; watch them put
into the ground like Jenny, like Buffy. Better by far to leave: to not know,
to believe that everything was well and that they had all moved on, to hope
that they had reclaimed the normal lives that had been theirs before all the
things that went bump in the night became real.
He really should have known better.
There came a pounding on his door several months after he left. Giles opened
the door to find an angry, sad young man, gazing at him evenly, a new and
still healing scar bisecting his eyebrow. They stood, staring at one another
in silence, until Giles had moved aside, allowing entrance into his home and
back into his life.
"It stopped, after you left," Oz had said calmly, voice soft and distant. "So
we stayed, thinking that it was safe. Cordelia left for LA, Willow headed to
Berkeley. Xander attended the local j.c. and I focused on the band. But we
stayed, except for Cordelia." He paused, drinking the water that Giles had
offered. "We got sloppy. Stopped carrying crosses and holy water, that sort
of thing." Oz looked down at this hands. "We thought that there wouldn't be
anymore trouble. The vamps were disorganized and a lot weaker after Buffy
killed...what was her name?"
"Esperanza," Giles said.
"Right. Well after Buffy offed Esperanza, they needed a leader. So they took
Willow. Vamped her." Oz looked over at Giles. "She...she didn't make it to
unlife in full possession of her sanity. Being dead does that to you, I
Giles bowed his head, wanting to weep for the people he had left behind. "I'm
sorry...I didn't...I should have been there."
"Yeah, you should've."
Giles looked up at the anger in Oz's voice, meeting the younger man's bright
green eyes. "The Hellmouth was closed," he said quietly. "I had no reason to
believe that there would be any more danger."
"No reason except experience," Oz snapped. He took a deep breath, trying to
regain his equilibrium. "Cordelia and Angel said I shouldn't come here. I
think, maybe, that they were right." He stood up, setting the glass of water
onto the coffee table. He looked at Giles, mouth set in a grim line. "I
thought you'd care."
Giles was moving before he could think, grabbing Oz's shoulders and turning
him around. "What happened?"
Oz shrugged off Giles' hands and moved back. "Willow tried to reopen the
"Oh my God."
"She failed, obviously. We went down underneath the library and she was
there, her followers with her." Oz pressed his hands against his eyes and his
voice grew softer. "Xander...Angel and I tried to hold him back, but then we
all got attacked and we couldn't worry about him anymore. He went to her,
tried to talk to her. He couldn't, wouldn't, believe that his Willow was
Giles touched Oz's shoulder. "You don't have to--"
"Yes, I do." Oz moved back again, pushing Giles' hand away. "I looked up,
and she was smiling at him and I could swear it was Willow - the Willow we
knew - and I thought that maybe Xander was right. That she could be reasoned
with." He laughed then, a brief, angry sound. "Then she pulled out his
heart. Literally stomped on it."
Giles flinched at the image.
"I think we all went kind of insane then. Angel, and Michael and Amy and me.
We killed all of the vampires. Magic and holy water and plain old stupidity."
Oz turned around, resting his hands against the door. "We killed Willow too.
Stake through the heart. Nothing fancy; we wanted to be sure she was dead."
He turned back to Giles, smiling slightly. "Did you know that silver nitrate
will kill a vampire? It won't dust them, but it'll kill them."
"No, I didn't know that."
Oz shrugged. "Anyway, that's what happened. A decidedly pyrrhic victory."
He opened the door and stepped outside, then looked back at Giles. "Angel,
Cordelia and I decided to have Xander buried next to Buffy. It seemed
fitting. Willow's there too. Check it out if you ever go back." The door
swung shut behind him.
Giles was left staring at the door as shock and grief washed through him. He
staggered forward, sliding down the door until he sat on the ground. He
buried his face in his hands and cried.
He returned to the United States not long after, sending his resignation to
the Watcher's Council from the airport in Los Angeles.
Giles went to see Angel - and Cordelia, by default - first. Angel had taken
one look at him and led him to the couch, sitting him down. They talked all
through that night, and into the early hours of the morning; Angel filling him
in on details that Oz had left out. It had been Oz who staked Willow, earning
the scar on his forehead in return when Willow had used a ceremonial knife in
her defense. Angel had covered his back, keeping the other vampires away
until the deed was done. Cordelia had hugged him tightly, sharing his grief
as Angel refused to. As Oz had refused to.
It was Cordelia who went with him back to Sunnydale to visit the graves of
their friends, and to pay their respects to Joyce Summers, who had remained in
that small town after the death of her daughter. Joyce had cried on Giles'
shoulder, as he patted her back and offered quiet words of comfort, the
awkwardness between them forgotten.
It was also Cordelia who told him where to find Oz, telling Giles what little
she knew from the sporadic letters Oz sent to her and Angel as well as what
she had found out from Devon. Oz had left Sunnydale, moving to San Francisco
and focusing on his music, earning enough from solo gigs and events with the
band to keep him comfortable. He lived alone, except for the occasional -
and brief, she told him, a slight frown on her face - times with a lover.
"I worry about him," she told Giles. He and Cordelia were at the cemetery his
last day in Sunnydale. "He denies it, but I think he's lonely."
"What makes you think that?"
Cordelia shrugged. "Devon says that he's withdrawn almost totally. It's not
healthy, Giles. It can't be." They walked side by side through the cemetery,
stopping at Jenny's grave long enough for Giles to put a bouquet of white
roses down by the headstone.
"Does he talk to you at all?" Giles asked.
"Not really. I went up to visit him a few weeks ago, to make sure he hadn't
done anything stupid, and 'cause either Angel or I tries to spend the full
moon with him, and he looked terrible. Thinner than he used to be, and we
both know he wasn't Mr. Hefty to begin with, and tired."
Giles frowned. "I see."
She stopped, tugging on his arm. "No, I don't think you do. As long as I've
known him, and I've known Oz for longer than anyone else except Devon, he's
been content. He takes whatever life gives him and he just kinda absorbs it.
Not the healthiest way of dealing with things, but a way at least. He's not
dealing with anything anymore." Cordelia looked up at him. "I've tried, and
Angel's tried, to get him to talk about what happened and he won't do it. As
far as either of us knows, you're the only person he told anything to."
"Why are you telling me this, Cordelia? He's made it very clear that he wants
nothing at all to do with me." Giles tried, and failed, to keep the hurt out
of his voice. He had genuinely liked Oz, seeing in him a younger, happier
version of himself. Seeing Oz again, hearing the anger and blame in his
voice, had tarnished what few happy things Giles had taken from his time in
Cordelia put her hands in the pockets of her coat and looked at him
reproachfully. "We looked up to you, Giles. You know that none of us had the
happiest of lives at home, and we all kind of adopted you. It hurt when you
"I...I am sorry for that," he said quietly.
"And I forgave you already. But Oz hasn't. Yeah, he's angry at you, and I
kinda think he has reason, but under that, he still hurt that you left.
Willow was too, but you know how she was, all forgiving and stuff. Not the
best apologizer in the world, but she forgave easily."
Giles smiled faintly at the memory of Willow's cheerful energy and enthusiasm.
His smile faded as he focused again on Cordelia. "That doesn't change the
fact that he won't want to see me," he said gently.
"I think he does," she replied. "He wouldn't be nearly so angry at you
otherwise. Besides," she added, "if nothing else, at least he'll yell at you
or something and maybe that'll help."
"You always were immensely practical."
Cordelia grinned at him. "And tactless." They continued walking. "Will you
at least try, Giles? At worst, he'll just refuse to open the door."
Giles took her arm and smiled wryly at her. "It seems that I have little
choice in the matter."
"Good," she said, a highly satisfied expression on her face.
And it was in this way that Giles found himself standing in front of a
pristine white door, staring at the numbers typed neatly onto a small label
and placed just below the peephole. He glanced up, noting the nearly full
moon and wondered what he would do if Oz was reluctant to see him. Cordelia
had dropped him off, waved cheerfully, and tore down the street, driving in
her usual brazen style.
Giles took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
Oz opened the door and gazed at Giles, no flicker of emotion crossing his
face, no hint to what he was thinking lurking anywhere in his eyes. He
inclined his head politely in greeting. "Giles."
"Oz." His voice came out steadily, for which Giles was profoundly grateful.
They stared at each other silently, each lost in his own thoughts. Oz
wondering how quickly he could get rid of the former Watcher, and Giles amazed
at the changes that a month had wrought in the young man before him. Oz
finally opened the door wider, motioning Giles inside for the sake of
propriety. He murmured his thanks and stepped inside, looking around for some
insight into Oz. There were several pictures on the walls, framed posters and
advertisements of various things. Everything was quiet, understated and very
Giles turned around and offered a tentative smile.
Oz leaned back against the door and crossed his arms. "I was expecting
"You've gotten me instead."
"I see that." Oz stared at Giles, then pushed away from the door in an abrupt
motion, good manners prompting him to offer his guest a drink and a ride to
the nearest hotel. "Would you like anything?"
"I would like to talk to you," said Giles quietly.
Oz smiled, a feral grin that didn't reach his eyes. "I don't particularly
feel like talking, so it looks like you're out of luck." Giles placed a hand
on Oz's shoulder, and Oz pulled away violently. "Don't touch me, okay?"
Giles frowned, barely, at the obscenity. "We will talk, Oz."
"No, we won't." Oz glared at him, lifting his chin stubbornly.
"You staked Willow," said Giles, harshly, past the despair that was tightening
his throat. Blatant honesty had always worked for Cordelia. He felt a brief
spurt of amusement - bordering on hysteria - that he had sunk to borrowing
methods of confrontation from someone with as little tact as her. But then,
Cordelia seemed perfectly happy with her life at the moment. So perhaps there
was something to blunt and painfully honest.
Oz shuddered, closing his eyes for a moment. "I see you've been talking to
Angel and Cordy. Was this their idea too?"
"Yes, actually, it was. They're worried about you."
"Well fuck them. I don't need caretakers. And I definitely don't need you
here when you obviously don't want to be, so how about I call a cab for you
and you can go back to hiding in the wilds of England?" Oz walked to the
"Sit down, Oz." He spoke quietly, a vague note of command tingeing his voice.
Oz walked back over to him, body moving fluidly beneath a pair of baggy jeans
and an old _Blue Velvet_ t-shirt. Dennis Hopper glared balefully from behind
an oxygen mask, the text below the picture reading "Don't you fucking look at
me!" and Giles wondered at the aptness of the sentiment. "You have no fucking
right to be here, Giles. You gave that up when you ran away and left the rest
of us behind. So kindly leave, and take whatever false pretense of caring you
have with you."
Giles clenched his jaw, grabbing Oz by the shoulders and shoving him down onto
the couch. He knelt in front of the young man, gazing steadily into his eyes.
"I am sorry I left."
"Fine," Oz said evenly, eyes glittering angrily. He leaned forward, ducking
his head until he was at eye-lever with Giles. "You've said what you came to
say, now leave."
Giles sat back on his heels. "You don't believe me."
"What can I do to convince you that I mean it?" he asked softly.
Oz frowned at him. "You can't. So leave."
Giles closed his eyes tightly, struggling to rein in his temper and falling
miserably short. He moved quickly, pushing Oz against the back of the couch,
using the strength and speed gained from years of training to his advantage.
"I apologized for leaving. I'm sorry I wasn't here when Willow was taken.
I'm sorry, Oz. You will never have any idea how sorry." He released Oz,
sitting back again. "I'm sorry."
Oz drew his knees up to his chest, resting his folded arms across them and
gazing at Giles silently. After a few moments, he spoke softly. "There was a
prophecy," he began, focusing on something just past Giles. "In the Codex.
We missed it before, 'cause we figured the Codex was useless to us since we
had no Slayer. Simple Latin. Willow or I could have translated it easily."
"And it foretold what happened?"
"Yeah. I keep thinking that if I had looked there, been as thorough as you
always were, she wouldn't have been taken. That maybe I could have stopped it
all; kept Xander from dying, kept Willow from being changed, the whole thing."
"You can't blame yourself, Oz. There was no way you could have known." Giles
spoke gently, trying to reassure him.
Oz focused on Giles. "I also kept thinking that you wouldn't have missed it.
That if you had been there, it wouldn't have happened either. And I hated you
Giles looked at him helplessly, not knowing what to say.
He smiled grimly, continuing. "I hated you more than I've hated anything or
anyone else in my life. I go to bed every night wondering if you could have
saved her, and then I hate you even more for making me wonder. I hold on to
it, and nurture it, and use it as a shield against the nightmares I still
have. Every time I go to sleep and I see myself shoving a stake into Willow's
heart, every time I remember her looking up at me with this puzzled look on
her face before she explodes and turns to ash, I wonder if things would have
been different if you hadn't left. You took away my certainty, Giles, and I
can't forgive you for that." He stood up quickly, beginning to pace across
the living room.
Giles looked down at the ground and spoke softly. "Nothing in life is
certain, Oz." He stood up, brushing himself off and walking over to the
smaller man, who watched him warily. Giles smiled sadly, mourning the loss of
the Oz he had known, the one filled with an odd mix of idealism, practicality
and calm acceptance. Oz was more like Giles had been in his youth, before he
found hope again. He reached up to touch Oz's cheek, dropping his hand when
Oz flinched away. Giles sighed. "I'm sorry. I can't do anything more than
Oz remained silent, trembling slightly in what Giles assumed to be rage, and
Giles sighed again. "I think, perhaps, it would be better if I left." He
turned and began to walk to the door, weariness showing in every line of his
body. Oz watched him go, wanting desperately to say something, anything to
keep that man from walking out again.
The door shut quietly behind Giles and Oz crumpled to the ground, grabbing the
end table and sending it crashing to the floor. He huddled in on himself,
rocking back and forth as he tried to hold everything inside. He would not
lose control. Would not lose...
He felt hands on his back, gathering him close and holding on tightly,
stroking his hair and whispering soft words of comfort.
The sympathy undid him, and Oz began to cry, burying himself against Giles'
shoulder and taking comfort in the familiar scent of tweed, and old leather
and books. Giles held him through it all; being there as he had not been
before, letting Oz hit him and rage at him and cry on him as the younger man
finally grieved for fallen friends and a lost love.
When it was finally over, and Oz was curled into an exhausted heap in Giles'
arms, Giles led Oz to the bedroom, settling him onto the bed and turning off
the light. He walked quietly out the door, looking at the small form huddled
on the bed for a moment, backlit by the light from the dining room. Oz lifted
his head and frowned slightly. "Giles?"
"Don't go away again."
Giles smiled faintly. "I won't."
"I promise." He watched Oz settle back down and waited until he thought the
younger man was asleep before leaving the room and sitting on the couch. He
must have fallen asleep, for the next thing he knew, sunlight was streaming in
through the eastward-facing windows and he had a cramp in his neck from the
awkward position. He glanced over at the bedroom door, noting the silence
from inside, and went in search of the loo.
Giles emerged fifteen minutes later, hair damp from the shower and barefoot.
He stopped when he saw Oz sitting silently on the couch, watching him.
"Good morning," he offered hesitantly.
"I thought you were a dream," Oz said softly.
Giles' lips lifted into a sort of half smile. "A good dream or a nightmare?"
"Ah." He sat down on the couch, next to Oz but far enough to be non-
threatening. "Do you want me to leave?"
Oz looked down at his hands, clasped loosely in his lap, and remained quiet
for several minutes. Then he looked at Giles, calm, face unreadable. Oz
nodded once, slid off the couch and knelt between Giles' legs. He reached up,
pulling the glasses gently away from Giles' face and staring at him.
Giles looked down at Oz, feeling mild panic at the idea of what was to come.
He didn't know if he wanted this to happen, or if he was ready for this to
Oz brushed Giles' hair back from his forehead, eyes still locked with Giles'
own. His hand dropped back to his side and he hesitated for a moment. Oz's
eyes closed and his lips moved silently for a moment before he opened his eyes
and leaned up, brushing his lips lightly against Giles'.
And Giles found that it didn't matter. He could give Oz this comfort, and
take comfort for himself. Oz wasn't offering, or asking for love; just the
knowledge of not being alone in the darkness anymore. Giles wanted that just
as much, if not more, than the young man in front of him. He lifted his hand,
curling it around the nape of Oz's neck and pulling him closer, deepening the
For two scarred, and battle-weary people, it was enough. It had to be.
The morgue attendant cleared his throat and Giles blinked at him, feeling the
memories fade back into the recesses of his mind.
"Can you identify him, sir?" asked the attendant quietly. He hated this part
of his job, hated watching the bleak realization that a loved one was not
going to come home ever again. The man in front of him looked suddenly tired,
and old, almost fragile.
"Yes," Giles said quietly, swallowing hard. "His name is Oz. He...I
can't..." He touched Oz's cheek with trembling fingers, feeling the waxy
texture of his skin, mind screaming that it wasn't Oz lying there. It
Giles stepped back, taking a moment to regain control of himself before he
looked up and asked, "Will that be all?"
The attendant nodded, drawing the sheet back up and hiding Oz's face from
view. "I'm sorry for your loss..."
Giles nodded and walked away, mind and body numb. He got into his car and
drove until he reached the beach, finding a deserted spot to sit down and
think. He had a brief flash of memory; one quiet night spent talking about
everything and nothing, content and at peace for the first time in a long
while. Giles suppressed the memory, fighting a wave of panic and nausea.
He stared out at the ocean, matching his breathing to the rhythmic crash of
waves against nearby rocks, diving deeper and deeper within himself until he
found a place of stillness and quiet. Giles sat on the beach for hours,
ignoring the growing chill as he ignored the wind ruffling his hair, waiting
patiently until he could do what needed to be done, distancing himself from
the latest in a string of lost people.
Giles had chosen to risk himself again, knowing full well what might occur.
Never mind the selfish hope that perhaps, for once, he wouldn't be the one
left behind. He walked back to the car, hands shoved in his pockets and lost
It had been worth it.