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 harder...something.

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 guess."

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 Hellmouth."

"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 gone."

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 Sunnydale.

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 left."

"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 comfortable.

Giles turned around and offered a tentative smile.

Oz leaned back against the door and crossed his arms. "I was expecting Angel."

"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 kitchen.

"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."

"Smart man."

"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 for leaving."

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 apologize."

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?"

"Both, actually."

"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 happen.

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 kiss.

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 couldn't be.

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 in thought.

It had been worth it.