by Sarah T.

Oz hadn't been night-blind in two years, not since he'd changed, but after the relentless bright lights underground, his vision was vague and grey when they reached the surface. He could hardly see the others at all. Willow, Willow was glimmering somewhere at the edge of his sight, but he didn't even dare look in her direction. He could hear the voices of Buffy and Xander, and he tried to concentrate on them instead. Those were good voices, friendly voices, not the crisp, precise ones of scientists and military men with tasers and scalpels. But they were talking about Riley, how to hide him, what he was going to do now. That was a conversation he probably should care about a lot more than he did — after all, the guy had tried to save him — but he kept wondering how long Riley'd known what was going on down there. How many other people he'd seen tortured and just looked the other way. Oz felt dizzy and cold as he stumbled along; the voices slowly slipped into some other language he didn't understand, and he began to wonder if he was even there at all, or only dreaming of escape inside his cell.

Then they were standing outside Giles's house, still talking and planning, and all he wanted was to go lie down in the back of his van for a while. He was about to slip off back to Devon's when he felt a light touch on his shoulder. Giles had somehow materialized next to him. He said, very quietly, so the others wouldn't hear, "You're injured. Let me see to it." And Oz was only too glad to follow him and let the others hurry on to wherever they were hiding Riley. Even Willow. Maybe even especially Willow.

So he ended up sitting on a stool by Giles's breakfast bar with his shirt off as Giles brought out antiseptic and bandages. The lights were turned down to a soft yellowish glow, and everything was quiet. "Tell me if this hurts," Giles said as he moistened a cotton ball.

"It pretty much has to, doesn't it?" he said, looking up, and was surprised to see Giles flinch. He didn't really think of Giles as the squeamish type.

He recovered in an instant, though. "True," he said in a neutral voice and gently wiped the ball across the cut on his shoulder.

It did hurt. A lot. It was funny; it didn't seem like minor pains should even matter, after what he'd just been through, but somehow being braced against agony left him completely vulnerable to little stings and aches. When Giles moved on to the next cut, he yelped and jerked his arm, knocking over the bottle of antiseptic. "Sorry," he said quickly, hopping down and grabbing a towel. At least he hadn't wolfed out.

"It's all right. If there's one thing I've a large supply of..." Giles went off to the bathroom to get more.

Oz wiped up the puddle and threw the empty bottle in the trash. He was just getting back up on the stool when he heard a noise, like somebody punching a wall, and froze. "Bastards," he caught Giles hissing under his breath. "Damn it, damn it, oh, damn it!" It probably shouldn't have made him feel better — after all, you generally relied on Giles to be calm and together — but it did. Because he'd just been drugged and shocked and caged up in the name of science and the U.S. government, and he had to sit there and fight not to be upset about it. But it really seemed like somebody should be.

When Giles came back downstairs, the knuckles on his right hand were scraped and bleeding, white around the new bottle of antiseptic. "I'm sorry, Oz," he said, starting again and swabbing even more lightly this time. Oz wondered, briefly, why he hadn't bandaged his own hand first. "We should have rescued you more quickly."

"You did your best. Breaking into the Initiative, that's a pretty serious proposition."

"We didn't — we knew they were experimenting on demons, but we had no idea they'd do such things to humans. If I'd known, I would never have..." He trailed off.

"Waited a minute. I get it. It's okay."

Giles gave him a surprised look, like that hadn't been what he was going to say at all, but just nodded and returned to his work. A few minutes later, he smoothed the last bandage into place and handed him his shirt. "I think I'd like a drink," he said wearily. "Would you care for one?"

He was going to refuse, but then he thought of having to face Willow again, still so keyed-up, and said, "Sure."

He slouched on the couch, waiting, feeling the ache creeping through his muscles. He didn't even want to think about how sore he was going to be the next day. Or the way the bruises were going to floresce on his skin. Giles brought him a glass of Scotch and settled down next to him with his own. Oz took a deep swallow. The smell was a little too medicinal, a little too reminiscent of the place he'd just left. But the alcohol washed through him almost at once (when had he eaten last?), and though it didn't numb the pain, it did give the edges of it a certain blurriness. Oz needed to keep some lines very sharp and clear, but he could welcome this kind of blurriness, at least.

"Oz..." Giles set down his glass after a few minutes, his expression guarded. "This may be painful for you, but I have to ask. Did you see or hear of...of any other prisoners while you were there?"

"Other prisoners?" He looked at him blankly.

"I mean...humans. People we might need to rescue."

He tried, dutifully, to remember, pushing past images of glass walls and demons writhing and inhuman voices screaming, always screaming. "No, I don't think — Giles, I can't — I can't — "

He was shaking so hard that he nearly dropped the glass. Giles rescued it, then put his arm around him. He had a moment for a flash of wonder — Giles wasn't usually so touchy-feely — then all he cared about was touch, soothing touch that didn't wound or bruise or burn at all. Positive stimulation, the kind that could keep the wolf down, if nothing else. He'd hardly been near anyone on his travels, pulling away from all that was not Willow, but he needed it now, and he knew he couldn't get it from her anymore. So he leaned against Giles, shut his eyes, and let the shakes slowly work themselves through him.

When he'd stilled again, Giles said, "Perhaps I shouldn't have asked."

"No, you had to know. You couldn't leave any humans in there like that."

"Of course not." His arm tightened around him, and there was a long silence. "Where will you go now?"

"Canada, I think. Feeling strangely unpatriotic at this point."

"Do you want me to tell your parents anything?"

"No, they're cool."

"Do you need any money?"

"No." And this was getting strange. Giles was always so...Buffy-focused. Not that he ignored the rest of them, exactly, but he never gave them the kind of comprehensive attention he gave to her. Oz had never minded; he'd never really craved the full Giles-caretaking experience, the way he suspected Xander sometimes did. Now he was getting it, though, and he wasn't sure why. Whatever the reason, he decided, it couldn't hurt to luxuriate in it just this once.

"What about magical supplies? To suppress the wolf?"

"I'm set." Just this once...and, he realized, feeling the slow rise and fall of Giles's chest under his cheek, there was something he wanted. That was strange, too. Giles was a good-looking guy, but he'd never really thought of him in that way before. But then he'd never been kidnapped and tortured before, either, so he couldn't really say what his normal reaction to that was. Still a bad idea, though. There was Willow, and there was Olivia, and he was leaving...

But Giles seemed somehow to know what he was wanting. He dropped a kiss on the top of his head, and though Oz suspected it was meant to be paternal, the way his fingers were stroking along his shoulder was anything but paternal. That was enough invitation for him. He turned in, sliding himself astride one of Giles's legs, and kissed him back.

A moment of warmth, the taste and scent of the Scotch, and then Giles pulled away. "Oz," he said, "I'd like to give you whatever you need right now, but this...this is a very bad idea."

Which he already knew, so he managed to push himself back down onto the couch without too much internal resistance, though his skin still ached for more. "Right. I'm a student."

Giles smiled, a sad, distant smile. "And you're you."

"Oh." That did sort of sting.

Giles came back to himself. "That sounded dreadful, didn't it?"

"Since you mention it..."

"That's...that's not not what I meant." He grimaced. "It's not to do with you at all, really. But it's much too complicated to explain."

"You could try." Because Giles was upset about something more than him. It wasn't easy to judge people's feelings by their scent, but, having been so close, he was sure: anxiety was coming off Giles in waves. Tired as he was, Oz believed that turnabout was fair play, and if he didn't do it now, he might never get the chance.

Giles's mouth tightened. "No. No, I don't believe I could." He patted Oz's leg. "Go see Willow. She said she'd be waiting for you."

Willow. The need to talk to her again, which had lulled for that quiet half hour, rose up in him again at once. "Right." He got up. "Thanks, Giles."

Giles stiffened, looking away, and said nothing. But when Oz was halfway to the door, he did speak. "Oz?"


"If you see Riley again..."

"Yeah?" He didn't let himself growl it.

"Try not to hold it against him too much."

That made him stare. But Giles was looking at him with such sudden earnestness that Oz knew he must be asking for something important, something way beyond the obvious. Well, he'd gotten used to the barter system on his travels. He'd never been great at forgiveness, but he could give Giles that in exchange for kind hands and sympathy, this once. "Okay. I'll try."

Giles relaxed a little, and that was probably all he could do. So he slipped out into the night. Already, he was starting to see things clearly again. He tried to hold onto that as he hopped in his van and started for Willow's.