Brave New World
by Meg


Riley was taken when Oz was twelve. Riley was older, stronger, wiser, better with the ladies and just starting high school. He had Midwestern good looks and a charming personality that had drawn Oz and countless freshman girls. He and Oz had been best friends since Oz was eight and Riley was eleven. Despite the age difference, they had settled into a quiet routine in their playtime: explorers in the forests, drag racers on their bikes in the streets, Olympic swimmers at the beach at night. That was how Oz would always remember Riley: pale against the moonlight at the beach in early twilight, laughing and running into the ocean, jumping back up and spraying Oz with an armful of water. Oz clumsily wiping his eyes as Riley began to freehand out past where his toes could touch, and Oz calling after him, begging him to come back.

Oz always tried to look after his friends.

He had been quiet at the funeral. Watching Mrs. Finn curl up against the cold pine, hand grasping and finding no purchase as she sobbed.. Her husband gently picking her up and carrying her out of the church into the harsh sunlight. Oz had waited for everyone to leave until he was the last one in the room, empty pews and empty prayers surrounding him. He had walked to the coffin, kneeled before it, and said a prayer, as empty as the rest. Standing, he had risked a glance: waxen face, eyes glued shut and tight against the brightness of the room and the concept of death, two clean bite marks almost but not completely concealed. Oz would have to be ready.

The Finns were standing at the bottom of the stairs outside, seeming hunched and small. Their hands clutched at each other, fair skin burning in the summer sun (that's why Riley had only been allowed to go to the beach at night, his delicate skin). They were surrounded by a small crowd, anxious to get away but unwilling to leave without first saying the meaningless words that had become so familiar to them. Oz left the church behind without saying anything to Riley's parents. He had to be prepared for what was going to happen. And that was worlds more important than comforting two people so clueless their only son had been killed because they had let him stay out past curfew alone.

He should have been there. Maybe, if he had been there, he would have been able to help fend them off. Call for help, or find a decent hiding spot. Instead, he would have to wait for the inevitable knock on his door, the pale imitation wearing his friend's skin. The thing that would talk a little too smoothly, move a little too surely, act a little too hungry.

He broke off a chunk of Mr. Parson's wooden fence on his way home. He certainly needed it more than the old man did. Next order of business was a cross. He could do this.



The first day of high school was something that had both intrigued and frightened him. The potential for so much more knowledge, weighed against the potential for so many new friends who would only die, killed by their own stupid actions. After Riley, he had become much more of a loner, preferring the company of books and his guitar to other people who were flawed with mortality. Words lived forever.

And after awhile, his mother had finally given up on asking what the little jar with the dust in it was. Eventually, she had stopped asking him anything. And that was the way he liked it.

During his free, after English and Geometry, he had decided to investigate the library. His locker was close by, and after watching a boy of similar size and stature get beat up by a unambiguously insecure freshman named Larry, the library seemed warm and inviting. A place to hide in the stacks and forget about nighttime, dust covering the tops of his sneakers, twelve year old hand shaking and a splinter deep into his thumb. Digging it out and watching it bleed, remembering he was alive. Here, the largest risk was a paper cut. That was one that Oz felt safe with.

Some days he didn't mind the fact that all he knew how to do was hide.



A week into the school year he finally met the librarian, having mustered enough courage to walk straight up to the desk instead of running straight up the flight of stairs into the relative darkness of the stacks. He was willing to put aside his dislike of any sort of closeness or intimacy to find a certain Dante volume. The cards had proclaimed it was with the classics, but Oz had spent a full hour searching, and it was most definitely not present.

The man had looked up from his book with an absent expression, starting to say something but cutting himself off when he realized Oz was not the person he was expecting.

"Buf—. I apologize. Can I help you find something?"

"Yeah, I was just looking for a book. I think your cards are a little outdated."

Tight smile and nervous gesture of smoothing down the front of his shirt, even though the shirt looked like it was fresh off the ironing board at one in the afternoon.

"I have rather been meaning to fix those. It seems my predecessor became rather careless with their order in her final days."

"It's cool. Looking for Dante."

"Light reading?"

"I try."

The man had walked off without a word into the stacks, feet hitting the stairs lightly. He had come back scant minutes later, holding three books, all looking well past their prime.

"I'm afraid that's all we have."

"No, this is the one I was looking for. Thanks."

"Checking it out?"

"Oh, yeah. Osbourne, Daniel. I think the number is 69252. I'm pretty bad with them though. Like words better."

"Here it is. Daniel. It's due back in three weeks." He handed the book back and their hands hit clumsily, awkwardly, but with enough contact for Oz to feel the heat in the other man's hand, to feel the bend of fingers and parchment texture of his skin. He felt like a librarian should feel: dry but well taken care of. Loved even.

"Thanks, Mr.—"


"Right. Mr. Giles."

And that had been the end of that.



Oz had always been an aficionado of routines. So that November, after Mr. Giles had walked by him at 7:24 exactly on the 61st morning of the school year for the 61st time, Oz had finally given up and investigated what, exactly, was bringing the man to the high school at such a precise time every morning without fail. He had looked through the library window: the lines on the glass creating shadowy counterparts on his face that divided him into pieces. But he watched, dumbstruck, as Mr. Giles headed into the caged-off portion of the library and opened a large chest of weapons.

Maybe there was someone in this town who knew what the hell was going on besides him after all.



"Oz, the crossbow? I should take another glance at it, since Larry said it was faulty during his last patrol."

Oz had paused from the dull repetitive task of whittling a new stake, and reached for the crossbow on the other end of the table. He passed it to Giles, who was sitting next to him, quiet as ever. Right at that moment it had been just the two of them, working silently in the library since Larry was at class. Three men, though he found it hard to classify himself and Larry as men instead of boys, or teenagers, or smaller versions of adults who truly should have fewer responsibilities. Soldiers in an impromptu front line, causeless and weaponless. With very little keeping them motivated.

This war had wearied them to the bone.

Oz had been watching a new girl, Nancy, and Giles had already cleared her acceptance into their little ragtag band of brothers. She had lost both her parents to a vampire attack, and apparently she had lived to tell the tale. Though she certainly wasn't telling much of anything to anyone. Oz sighed, and Giles looked at him, smiled a tired and entirely unenthusiastic smile through his five o'clock shadow. He knew Giles had given up, he knew they all had. But Giles had the largest part to lose: This was his calling, his destiny. And when instead of a slayer, a skinny white boy with baggy pants and an irrational fear of people had knocked on his door, that's when the giving up had started.

Between the two of them, they could have turned defeatism into an Olympic sport.



Oz, of course, had been the one to make the first move. They had patrolled together, which was rare enough, but Giles had faltered midfight and clutched at his ankle before remembering where he was and reaching for his sword. But Oz had been there fast enough, and staked the newly risen vampire before it got too close to Giles. Still, a fine coat of dust had covered the injured man. He had tried not to watch Giles's hands shake. Tried not to notice that maybe Giles was a little slow reaching for his sword because he was ready for it to be over.

Oz had driven him back to his apartment in the van, radio off, silence except for the sounds of labored breathing and the engine sticking whenever Oz attempted to push it above forty. He had half-carried Giles to his door, apartment courtyard green and glittering in the vacant night, door imposing and looming. Locked up as tight as Oz. He was trying overly hard not to notice the smell of fear and dirt on Giles, and the underlying familiar scent of tea and books and Giles himself. About how he was trying even harder not to pinpoint every bit of pressure on his body from where Giles was leaning on him.

It was stupid: hopped up on adrenaline and the thought he might have lost the one person he seemed to care anything about (never mind words like want, like, love). It was inappropriate, against all the rules: the law, the unspoken friendship they had.

Well, fuck the rules.

If they were going to die, at least he was going to do one thing in his life right.



Desperate kisses, hard and bruising, lips swollen but waiting for more. Oz had wanted to put his hands everywhere, but settled for using them to push Giles back onto his bed, to awkwardly unbutton Giles' shirt while trying to claim his mouth as a new territory. But Giles had given back as good as he got, biting at Oz's lips and divesting Oz of his jeans. Heaped together on the bed, it was an act of the dead trying to claim one solitary minute of life. When Oz came, it was long, shuddering, and he had become hyperaware of his limbs and how heavy they were. Through the aftershocks, he had leaned over and sucked at Giles's neck, marking him, and ran his hand over the erection pressing into his thigh. Giles had come with a hoarse shout and collapsed in on himself and into Oz.

They had stayed, unmoving, for awhile. Unwilling to let the night reclaim them, unable to let go of the other.



"Sometimes it's hard to forget. Who we are, what we do."

Giles had nodded. Curled his hand up against Oz's side, pulled him a little tighter.

"It seems like we don't have much sometimes."

His voice had rumbled out from under Oz's ear, pressed against Giles's chest (he was listening to Giles breathe, to the rhythm of his heart, like clockworks, all it did was remind him that time was passing and there was nothing he could do). "We have this."

"We do." A lapse into silence, filling out into the corners of the room.

The quiet moments were all they had left.



One girl had changed everything. And surprisingly, it wasn't the Slayer that Giles had hopelessly been waiting for. It was Cordelia, bright clothes and bright red blood against her neck. Tiny necklace that apparently held the key to their tiny form of existence, their off-kilter universe. She had wished for that.

And as hard as Oz could try, he still couldn't understand who would wish for something like this. Not that it was exactly working out for Cordelia right at the moment, of course, but hell, he had expected to see her obituary freshman year. She had made it a lot longer than he would have given her credit for.

Even if Oz was internally reeling from this new knowledge, it was nice to see Giles back in old form, flustered and excited to be able to research, to know that he had been able to do some good with his mind for once, instead of pushing his worn body past its limits in patrol every night.

Giles had left, telling them to get some rest. Oz could feel each cut on his body, each sore muscle, every protest his body was registering against him. All it did was remind him that he was alive, while others were not so fortunate. He had chased after Giles, wanting to kiss him goodnight, and only half heard Larry's shout of "Catch your boyfriend, Oz!" as it echoed down the lonesome and forlorn halls, its approximation of teenaged exuberance out of place.

He had caught up with Giles right before he had walked outside into the dark, and while they certainly weren't any safer in here, it was at least better than out there where the stars could fall upon their shoulders and where the darkness could separate them.

"Love you." He had murmured into warm neck and beating arteries, hoping the blood would carry it to Giles's heart, to his brain. He was just a slip of a boy, clinging to tight to his all-too-human savior. But his savior was clinging back. Whispering the words back into his hair, hands rubbing at his arms and back. They were trying to find their faith again.

"Love you too."

And then Giles was gone, slipping through the night and into his ancient car (the one that they had kissed across the front seat on the way to school, when Giles had pulled over because Oz had his a infuriatingly shameless smirk on his face and his hand on an entirely inappropriate place for safe travel).

Oz wondered if he would ever see Giles again.



He had always chosen to fight each battle as if it could be his last, but in this case, despite the presence of the Slayer (when had she shown up?), it looked as if it would be. There was a master vampire in the room, plus at least fifty other vampires. And there were fewer than half a dozen people to fight them off.

That didn't mean he wasn't going to take as many vampires as he could with them.

The sounds of battle flooded his ears and blocked out any conscious thought: He had spared glances whenever he could to watch the girl, the tiny one with the scar across her mouth and a larger one across her heart.

He and Larry had slammed the powerful girl vampire against the broken bit of wood hanging from their cage. Oz had briefly thought of how asinine it was that vampires built anything with wood, but stopped in horror when something caught his eye. History was unfolding before him in their brave new world, and he feared that soon there would be no one left to retell it.

He had watched as the Master snapped the slayer's neck and she seemed to fall forever, eyes hollow and jaw slack. Ponytail twisting around and slapping the side of her head gently, cross twisting around broken bones and lifeless flesh.

But his last thought, desperate and aching and nearly as painful as his wounds, was of Giles, if he was safe. If Giles would be the one to find his body. If Giles would cry, or if Oz would be just another casualty, faceless and nameless.

The world faded to white.