The Baleful, Ingenious, and Curious Memory-Theater of One Ethan Rayne
by Glossolalia

Oz is drifting on warm yellow-flannel clouds of almost-sleep when the phone rings. Last night was the third night of the full moon and the day before he'd spent hauling various unwieldy and strangely-shaped crates for Buffy's mom at the gallery, so he was beyond tired when he hauled himself back to the rooming-house from the crypt this morning.

"Hey," he says into the phone, blinking, checking the light in the room. Maybe he was asleep; the shadows are faintly edged with blue, though the sky's still bright, so it's got to be mid-afternoon.


"Hey, Giles." He didn't know Giles even had his new number, but Oz guesses he really shouldn't be surprised. "What can I do you for?"

"I woke you."


"I'm very sorry."

"Up now." Oz fingercombs his hair and sits up so he's not lying. Giles sounds decent, not pinched with fear or anything, but just to be sure, Oz says, "Everything all right?"

"Is Willow there?"

Oz purses his lips; it would make a lot of sense for Willow to be here, but she won't sleep over until school starts. Something about registration, Labor Day, and being out from under Sheila's eye and safely in the bosom of the UC system's loco parentis. "Nah, she's not. Can I help you?"

Giles sighs. "I suppose so, yes."

"Don't faint from excitement there."

"Pardon? No, it's simply —. Never mind, it's not important. I would very much appreciate your help. Can you meet me?"

"Crossbows or books?"


Oz swings his legs to the floor and reaches for a semi-clean shirt. "Potential for violence here or just research?"

There's a long pause. Oz likes how Giles takes his time to think things over, give them their full due consideration; he rarely rushes into anything. While he waits, he pulls his jeans up over his legs and straps on the wrist-cuff that Devon brought back from Frisco for him.

"Legwork, actually," Giles says at last. "What does Xander like to call it? Reconaissance."


Giles waits on the curb outside his building.

There have been signs. He would prefer not to call them portents, but that is what they are. This morning, on his welcome mat above his paper, he found a dead crow, rhinestones glittering where its eyes had been. In the paper itself, strange news — the top story a fawning account of the success of the town's annual fair, of which he'd previously heard precisely nothing. Below the fold, a report on a city council vote headlined GRIM — NO; CAIN — YES.

The letters floated loosely above the paper, casting tiny shadows; Giles burned the entire paper with the crow before they could rearrange themselves.

He doesn't like the portents, doesn't like the shift in the winds, and he certainly doesn't like the fact that Sunnydale suddenly sprouted a fairgrounds overnight.

He does like, he must admit (though only to himself), Oz. He's relieved that Willow is incommunicado, Xander at work, and Buffy too busy to accompany him. It would have been helpful to run through a few divinations with Willow first, but Giles is too anxious. He'd much prefer physical exertion, some sweat in his eyes, to pacing the flat and worrying about what's in the air.

This errand will probably prove to be pointless, but he has found himself missing Oz this summer. He misses their conversations over coffee after the full moon; indeed, one of his first thoughts upon hearing Buffy's plan for defeating the Mayor was not about its utility, or even the fate of the library's books, but where will Oz go?

His cheeks still prickle hotly whenever he recalls that. He hopes that Oz, should he notice the blush, will merely chalk it up to the English unsuitability for Californian sun.

Sooner than he had expected, Oz's ridiculous van is pulling up before him and Giles hoists himself awkwardly into the passenger seat. Oz smiles crookedly at Giles and Giles would like to think that Oz is happy to see him. For someone who had been asleep half an hour ago, Oz looks remarkably bright-eyed and clear.

Oz always looks fresh. Untouched, somehow, despite the gingery stubble and rumpled undershirt, but never ethereal. Always very much of the world, just a better one.

"You grew up here," Giles says between directions read from his notebook. "Do you recall a fairgrounds anywhere in this town? Ever?"

"Can't say I do," Oz says. He drives as easily, imperturbably, as he does everything else: One-handed, slouching in the seat, his other hand fiddling with the knobs on the radio. "That's where we're headed?"

Giles squints at the page; he's slightly past due for his six-month appointment with the ophthalmologist, but his inability to read his own writing surely has more to do with how his hands have been shaking all day than with the ever-sorrier state of his eyes.

"Hey," Oz says and touches Giles' wrist. His fingertips are warm. "You okay?"

"Park here," Giles says, but does not remove his hand from Oz's touch. "Yes, I'm —. No. Not all right."

"Yeah, this is weird."

They stare ahead; where there ought, according to every city and county map, to be a block of condemned warehouses and empty granaries, abandoned since the Sunnydale spur of the Southern Pacific was closed in 1973, there is instead an expanse of trampled grass and a peeling, flaking painted sign welcoming visitors to the 62nd Annual Sunnydale Town Carnival.


Oz sticks close to Giles' side as they make their way around the fairgrounds. Everything is shuttered and dark; the striped tents that sell tickets are filthy and sun-bleached, the rides creak rustily in a wind he can't feel, and the gravel of the path is full of straw wrappers and empty bags of chips and halves of ice-cream cones gone gummy and crawling with ants.

When they left the van, it was afternoon, warm and ruddy like good maple syrup, and you could hear the usual low-grade white noise of traffic. Here, it's silent, full of long, jagged shadows, chilly. All a little too post-apocalyptic for comfort.

"Don't like this," Oz says. Xander says that a lot, whenever Giles sends them out on pre-patrol or general recon, and it's got a good, honest ring to it. "You sure this just — appeared?"

"Sprang up," Giles says and stops at the end of the midway.

"You sure you're okay?"

"Not as such, no," Giles says, and turns a little so Oz can see his face; it's set tight and mask-like, his lips just a thin little line, and at his sides, his hands tremble and clench every so often. "Thank you for coming."

"S'cool," Oz says. He doesn't know what to say or do, but Giles is upset and antsy and that's not okay. If this were Willow, he could hold her and kiss her head until she calmed down. Devon could be wrestled into accepting comfort. Even if it was Xander or Buffy, Oz is pretty sure, he could hug them. Talk. But Giles is always the unknown quantity; he'd probably freak if Oz made him sit down and then proceeded to hug him and encourage him to talk. Freak, and bluster politely, then walk away very quickly in the opposite direction. "Look, there's a couple more things up there and then we can get going, 'kay?"

"Yes," Giles says. His hand drops onto Oz's shoulder and squeezes it.

"Good." Oz turns the corner and feels Giles' grip on his shoulder long after it's gone.

They pass a corndog stand wreathed in spiderwebs, one for cotton candy sporting a massive wasp's nest shaped like those unexploded bombs at the World War II memorial, and a tipped-over porta-potty.

At the end of the lane, a funhouse.

What's supposed to be a funhouse, anyway.

In the shape of a human skull, the doors through the nose-part, it's as garish as something black and white can be. And creepy as fuck. The skull's just a facade, a rough dome of plaster and old matte paint, built up over what's probably just a trailer with wavy mirrors and tilting floors inside. It doesn't matter; Oz still shivers a little. The path up to the entrance curves like a lolling gray tongue.

As they get closer, the skull looks more real. That's not right; it ought to be getting more obviously fake. But the bumpy stucco and peeling paint resolve into smooth planes like bone, delicately seamed, and deep shadows like holes.

Oz thinks he'd like to go home, preferably five minutes ago. But he's here with Giles and there's something about the man — a certainty beneath his usual anxiety, a quiet at the back of his eyes — that's always made Oz half-believe that everything will be all right, if they're just brave enough. Wolf, Angelus, Faith going off the deep end: Giles has always made him think that hope might not be such a stupid idea after all.

So he steps closer.


"Yorick's House of Infinite Jest," Giles reads from the tattered sign stretching between the eye sockets. "Credit goes to whomever for some measure of literacy, at least."

His mouth is dry and sour, but he finds that he must speak. Even if Oz doesn't reply, his eyes still flicker over to Giles, or he shifts his weight so their arms brush, and just his presence reassures Giles.

"Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that." Oz's voice is hushed, hoarse and solemn, and Giles turns, startled. Oz's shoulders are hunched, his head tucked down and arms crossed over his chest, and he looks — momentarily at least — for all the world like a small, scared boy. Then he looks up at Giles and one half of his mouth crooks up in a brave smile. "Used to do Drama Club."

There's so much that Giles doesn't know about Oz. What he does know, in bits and fragments of admission that came in the midst of their sleepy conversations — his seventh-grade science fair project on caddis-flies, his shameful love for some songs on the first album by someone called Johnny Cougar, his conviction that the world very well might have hatched from an enormous tortoise — Giles hoards carefully and reviews often. Oz is a strange, thoughtful boy, not at all a boy except in looks, and Giles thinks, more frequently than is strictly healthy, that they might become friends. Or might have been friends, if their ages weren't quite so drastically different, if there wasn't a Hellmouth and a Council of Watchers and various other, much more mundane gulfs between them.

Oz blinks and shrugs, and only then does Giles catch himself and realize that several moments have passed. He clears his throat and says, "We should be going. I don't think any —"

Oz has turned, picking his way up the path.

"Oz —" Giles hastens after him.

Two holes for the nasal passages. A small sign, swinging in the breeze, above each one. Oz stands still, head tilted back, and points to the signs when Giles joins him. "Look."

The painted letters hover just above the sign's surface, just as the headlines did in the newspaper. Giles blinks once and the letters arrange themselves until they read "Rupert" and "Daniel".

"We should go," Giles says after he manages to take a full breath. His ribs have become iron bands, slowly crushing him from within.

Oz nods shortly, squares his shoulders, and moves forward.

"Go away, I meant —" Giles starts, reaching for the boy, but Oz is already disappearing into the dark. He hurries forward, tries to follow, but something stops him from stepping over the threshold. Slaps him back as surely as a private home rejects a vampire. "Oz!"

Giles tests the invisible boundary with his fingertips. The tingle of magicks that has been crawling up and down his backbone at a steady, plodding pace speeds up and he feels his stomach twist with an old, familiar revulsion.

He passes through the entrance marked with his name easily enough. He's not entirely comforted by that.


The air's heavy and kind of stale in here, like every funhouse he's ever been in, but it also smells a little like rose-hips and sandalwood incense, which is new. Oz walks slowly down a narrow passage, breathing lightly through his mouth, squinting against the silvery dark. His elbows knock the walls every so often, and he's gone at least twenty-five paces when he comes up against a tall mirror.

He reaches out to each side and grazes the walls with his fingertips. Dead end.

The mirror's a pretty sophisticated trick for a small-town carnival, even a mystical one: Oz is reflected there next to someone else. A tall, handsome dark man in a green shirt open at the neck.

Oz checks to the left and right, just to be sure, but he is alone in here. The dark man in the mirror laughs at that and slings his arm around mirror-Oz's shoulders. Oz's skin twitches, half-expecting to feel the weight, and he wants to laugh at himself.

The man in the mirror really is pretty handsome — about Giles' age, but slighter, sleeker, like an otter, all quick sinewy movements and huge, shining black eyes. Oz watches for a while; they make a nice couple, his mirror-self and this man.

The dark man palms the top of mirror-Oz's skull, his fingers moving over the hair, and Oz watches as his reflection's hair begins to change color. Today it was its normal red, but it passes into the blond it was at graduation, then the dark chocolatey auburn it was the first time he ever dyed it, then the short-lived grass-green — Snyder suspended him for three days pending a re-dye — and finally the glossy black he usually does for the winter months.

He looks at himself with black hair. The black he had when Willow's double tried to take over the Bronze. The black he had the first time he changed into the wolf.

The black of his mirror companion.

Mirror-guy nods, apparently satisfied, and kisses mirror-Oz's head, then takes him by the hand and leads him away.

Oz turns to follow. Where there had been a wall, there's another passage. He leaves the mirror behind, half-certain he can feel the warmth of the man's hand in his.

He comes into a red-walled room, hung with gold and purple tapestries, the cheap cotton Indian kind, filled with a party. Layers of smoke shift gently in the air, like kelp on the tide, over the heads of partiers as they lounge, make out, pass drinks and cigarettes around. Some are dancing to the damn good music — just acoustic guitar, but powerful stuff, slow as honey. A blonde girl with amber beads hanging from her neck to her navel dances toward Oz, revealing the guitarist in the corner.

"Giles?" Oz asks, then more loudly. "Giles!"

No one — not even the blonde who's shimmying against him and plucking at his shirt like it's bothering her — seems to hear him.

It is Giles, with darker, softer, longer hair and no glasses or wrinkles, but Giles. Cradling his guitar in his lap, gazing into space as his hands move fluidly and confidently.

Oz feels an upsurge of love, hot and toffee-sweet, at the sight of Giles. He swallows against it and frowns; since when does he love Giles?

Since the first moment you saw him: The thought weaves right into Oz's mind in a stream of hot smoke, a thread of red silk, as if it's always been there.

Oz turns and stumbles away, into the dark, down a rocky path, rubbing his arms against the night-chilled air. Vines and branches smack his chest and face as he runs. When he hits the bottom and the ground flattens, someone seizes him by the shoulder, pushes him back against a prickly hedge.

Oz realizes he is laughing. He can hear it, no more music, just his own raucous laughter as he wraps an arm around Giles' neck — that is Giles in front of him and somehow they're nearly the same height now — and kisses him.

Kissing Giles feverishly, hungrily, chants and laughter passing back and forth between their mouths like water, smoke, honey, come. Giles grinds his hips against him. Oz — it is Oz, he can feel himself thinking and doing, even if his skin feels as if it is wrapped in cellophane, as if there's a thin, invisible film separating him from the world — grabs Giles' waist with his free hand. He hasn't kissed a guy since hooking up with Willow, but his body remembers this like it was yesterday, rubbing his cock against the other's, kissing with teeth and plunging tongue.

He's tilting his hips up and grinding back against the ever-present bulge in Rupert's jeans as he licks and chews a wavering path down the side of Rupert's neck.

Rupert, of course; that's his name. Rupert, Rupes, Ripper. His father, that uptight prick, is Giles.

His skin tastes faintly spicy, papadums and ghee, and Oz slides his hand into the soft waves at the back of his head and tugs Rupert's face down against his neck. Whispers into his ear as he wraps one leg around Rupert's and pulls him closer, "Playing with the natives again, Rip?"

Rupert groans against him, cursing him and his mother, and Oz is laughing again, twisting free and running into the line of trees that edges the park. Rupert'll give chase; he always does.

He thunders down the avenue of beeches and oaks, night air breaking like rain over his face, and he's breathless, nearly hysterical, when his toe catches a root and Oz goes flying forward.

The floor rises, smacks him against his palms and chest, as Oz lands face-first on a thin blue carpet. His whole body throbs with the impact as he pulls himself to his feet and looks around the small, bright room. White walls decorated with ducks and piggies in flat boater hats and short pants, friendly, but the air here smells sick. Sour as cheap red wine and weeks' worth of sweat.

Oz turns in the direction he came and finds a narrow iron bed. A woman lies beneath heavy blankets, shivering despite the warmth that's already sending sweat trickling down his back and into his eyes.

"Stupid, worthless boy. You can't know how disappointed we are," she says, then begins to cough. Long and deep, the cough seems to rattle every pane in the window and every nerve in Oz's body. He puts his hands behind his back and clenches them into fists. "We'd so hoped you'd make something —"

"You don't know anything about me," he hears himself say and swallows the brine filling his mouth.

Her eyes, red-rimmed and smeared with poorly-applied mascara, widen and she grimaces as she tries to sit up. "You filthy little bugger —"

"Just die already, would you?" Oz backs up against the window. He grasps the windowsill and tips back, somersaulting into the warm blue air. Tumbling end over end, he remembers how to laugh again, and reminds himself to save some of whatever he just took and remember the spell he managed to cast. It's going to blow Rupert's sweet little bougie mind.

Landing on all fours like a cat — if he ever acquires a familiar, it's going to be a cat — he inhales deeply and savors the diesel exhaust and fish odors of London.

Home. Home, its filthy cement scraping his fingertips and ruining the knees of his best (only) black velvet trousers with the interminable puddles, and he grins still as he sweeps back his hair, grabs his bag, and hurries to catch the others before they turn the corner into the alley.

Randall, Philip, the odious and whinnying Deirdre, and Ripper, all knocking elbows and debating where they'll locate their new tattoos. He shifts the bag of needles and ink he and Ripper stole from the tattooist's off Tottenham Court Road and links his arm through Ripper's. Kisses his cheek with open mouth and sucks in the vibrations of Ripper's laugh.

In the flat, he heats the ink, mixing it with some monkshood for staying power, over the flame Randall cooks up his horse on while the others trace the demon's symbol onto each other. Everyone is stripped to the waist, and Deirdre's passing some crumpled tinfoil and a straw. The smoke off the hash thickens the air, smears his vision until it's all shifting wetly, ink running in the rain, flesh and smoke doubling and melting.

"Need to tell you —" he tries to say, tasting red syrup and tugging at Ripper's arm, but Ripper grabs him by the back of the neck and shotguns a mouthful of smoke. Oz inhales, lapping like a kitten at those intelligent, knowing lips, then coughs against the bitterness. That's not hash smoke, that's exhaust, and, sputtering, tears springing up, he pulls away.

"I wanted to say —" he tries again. But, dressed in his Sunday best, stiff-necked, Rupert stares balefully at him, shaking his head, Randall's blood still staining his hairline, doing his very best disappointed-headmaster face, then punches him in the jaw and sends him sprawling.

When he opens his eyes, he's freezing.

He is alone.

He is alone in a wide, pale green field. Above him, the sky is the same endless green. He is naked, huddling, his knees to his chest, and fog is rolling in. Rolling around him, tugging at him tidally, and everything is wet and heavy, like washing just pinned to the line.

He's alone and this is no field. This is the sea.

He can survive anywhere, even here. Here, all is changeable and mercurial, a world of its own, absolutely free and perfectly beautiful. He kicks off from the bottom, rising, twisting, rolling through the currents. The surface hovers above him, bending and brilliant, like the skin of a lover, just out of reach.

He will break through. Birth himself, both Venus and Athena, eros and wisdom.

He'll be fine by himself. He doesn't need anyone.



Giles makes quick work of a pathetic array of trickster mirrors — He's seven feet tall! He's squat! He's wider than he is tall! — and survives the rolling floor of the nausea room by learning the rate at which the planks rise and fall.

After that, he finds himself in a small, plain room. It smells like cat piss and there is no light. He has been calling Oz's name at regular intervals, but there is no reply.

"He'll be here when he's here," a quiet, sneering, all-too-familiar voice says behind him.

Giles turns slowly, the tremor in his hands and heat on his back both increasing nearly past bearing. "Ethan."

"Hullo, Rupert." Ethan takes a careful step back. His face is lowered, tilted to the side — he learned coyness so early you can hardly call it an affectation — and he regards Giles from beneath his heavy lashes. "Nice of you to drop in."

"What imbecile scheme are you up to now?" Giles attempts to school his rage, keep his voice steady and even. He doesn't know where Oz is and finding the boy, keeping him safe, is far more important than thrashing an old lover who never managed to accept that things end.

Ethan shrugs and shoots the cuffs of his moss-green shirt. It's a fairly sedate shade for him, actually. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

"You —" Giles grinds his teeth. "Where's the boy?"

At that, Ethan looks directly at Giles, raising his round, almost alien eyes — it always was difficult to discern the whites around the perfectly black irises, let alone the distinction between iris and pupil — and smiling. A secretive, smug smile, curving like a loose vine of ivy over his slightly haggard face. "He is a lovely one, isn't he?"

Giles rushes at Ethan, fist leading the way, and punches through air, then the cheap plasterboard wall. Sunlight streams in and he blinks, turning, looking for Ethan.

"Didn't fancy a thrashing," Ethan says from the opposite corner. Or Ethan's avatar, it would seem; black, green, sallow smoke streams upward, separating out until Ethan's figure is visible again. "I do think through these things, you know."

His ribs cramp again and Giles realizes he is coated in sweat, thick as frying oil. He cannot quite breathe. "Ethan —"

"Unlike some people," Ethan says, "I'm more than willing to adjust my methods, employ new approaches, test out novel experiences. It's easy, isn't it, Rupert, to fall back on the good old thrash and kick?"

Giles shakes his head. The edge to Ethan's voice, wires over linen, waspstings in cream, reminds him all too well of another cruelty, another dark-haired arrogant fool, whispering and joking to him. Angelus, desperate to raise Acathla.

"As usual," Giles says, his mouth dry and tongue thick and uncooperative, "you don't know what you're talking about. Tell me what you've done with the boy."

"Why should I?"

The most horrible thing, Giles thinks, is that Ethan's question is sincere. He honestly would not understand why putting Oz, or any other innocent, in danger might possibly be viewed askance. "Because he's of no concern to you."

Ethan smoothes a lock of hair from his eyes. "But he is to you?"

Ethan's intelligence was always Socratic, infuriatingly so, and Giles has to close his eyes for half a moment. "Of course he is."

"One of your little warriors," Ethan says, "dragged into the mess you've made of your own life?"

Arses and fools, like stopped clocks, are sometimes right and accurate. Giles nods, the skin on his face tightening with effort. "You could say that."

"I could," Ethan says, then taps his lips with his index finger. "I could also suggest you might have more than a professional interest —"

Giles starts to speak, but he can't think of anything to say. Ethan's already guessed; trust him to twist the truth into something nasty and insinuating.

"But that'd be cheating. Easy enough to swaddle yourself in your beloved duty," Ethan says, and he approaches Giles, puts his hand on Giles' shoulder. Pats him like a teacher consoling a particularly thick-headed pupil, except he's a shade and Giles cannot feel it. "Cheer up, Rupert. Think of all the guilt you can wallow in when this is over. It ought to do you for months."

His backbone sags suddenly, as if snapped or twanged, and Giles fights to keep his balance. "Ethan, please —" He hears the wheedling in his own voice and hates himself for it. "Ethan. Where is he?"

Ethan's back in the opposite corner, half-turned away, fingers absently tapping his chin. The light from the hole in the wall shines through him, revealing the lie, picking out the semi-transparency of his form. "Hmm?"

"Ethan —" Giles can't continue. "Please. Where —?"

"Oh," Ethan says, turning, twisting — water over rocks, vines up a broken column, snakes giving birth — and waves his hand dismissively. "He'll be along. I'd be more worried about getting out of here, myself. That's the real fun, if I do say so."


He's rising. Past undertows, around riptides, rising and rising.

Someone is calling Oz's name.

He remembers, faintly, the images clattering like slides from a spilled tray, passing him by and fading into darkness as he rises, being Oz.

There was a girl with red hair who laughed like carbonated soda, and a tall man, bespectacled and stooped and kind, and another girl, blonde and stronger than the world. There was music, blue-gelled lights and his friend with toffee-colored hair who danced like a geek and made it look sexy.

There was a wolf, and cages, and the hunger for blood.

Now someone is calling Ethan's name. Yelling it, hollering angrily, and he looks up, smiling. He knows that voice, knows that the rage shredding the man's throat is simply what becomes of love when it is rejected, punched aside, repressed in favor of stability, duty, sinecures.

Milk sours, flesh rots, love goes to rage, and all that's left are bones for the worms to sport in. The order of things is cyclic and below the brilliance of chaos's skin, things are as sparse as desert plants and just as simple.

His head pierces the surface of the sea and the first breath is always the most painful. Air like swords, plunging into him, but he is laughing even as he coughs.

And Rupert's there, kneeling beside him, embracing him and tipping back his head, lips opening over his own. Medicine and kiss intermixed, Giles breathing desperately into his mouth and pounding at his — at Oz's — chest.

"Giles?" Oz asks, tears stinging his eyes. Everything's blurry and he's not sure Giles will be able to hear him. "Giles!"

"Yes," Giles says, helping Oz sit up. "I'm here. Are you all right?"

Oz touches his mouth, his throat, his forehead. He feels like himself again — there's no longer any cellophane enfolding him, and his thoughts don't hurt, don't feel misshapen — but he can't be sure. "What do I look like?"

Giles pets the top of Oz's head. His hand is almost as gentle as his voice. "Yourself. With black hair."

"There's something I'm supposed to tell you," Oz says, squinting. The shape of the thought is there, but it's an empty space that just keeps receding the harder he tries to concentrate. He realizes that he's trembling and Giles must, too, because he squeezes Oz more tightly against him. "Giles, it was important—"

"Sssh," Giles says. "You're all right. Safe now."

Oz leans against Giles's shoulder and looks up at him. He's never been this close, for quite so long, to Giles before, but it feels familiar. He touches the side of Giles' neck and tastes lentils and capsicum on the back of his tongue.

He is Oz again, his own size, so he has to crane his neck to reach Giles' face. Giles turns, mouth opening around a question, and Oz kisses him.

His trembling stops, but the room starts to shake around them. The kiss is shallow and soft, reacquaintance and shyness, and tastes nothing like magic. Sighing, Oz rubs his cheek against Giles' and draws his finger down Giles' face.

"Love you," he says softly, finding the thought like butterflies find the nectar, delicately probing, then drinking deeply. "So did he."

"Yes," Giles says.

The room shakes apart, the skull's seams crack open, and they stare at each other, eyes and skin bright against the darkening evening sky.

"Bugger," Ethan's shade mutters without much heat as it pulls apart and starts to steam away. "Bloody smart boy. You really don't deserve him, Rupert."

Oz smiles, and Giles returns it, his face transformed, broad and handsome and relaxed as he touches Oz's ear, tracing its curve.


Giles settles gingerly on the edge of Oz's wide, low bed, hands clasping his knees. Oz is in the rooming-house kitchen, getting them some tea, and Giles appreciates the chance for some solitude even if he fears that tea will prove to be microwaved water and a bag of something herbal and sweet. He doesn't need his books to work out what Ethan did, although he's curious to know how.

"That's comfortable?" Oz asks, entering the room and handing Giles a mug. It smells like tea, at least.


"Said to make yourself comfortable." Oz sets his own mug on the floor and crawls up the bed until he leans against the wall. He opens his legs and pats the space between them. "C'mere. Do your explanation thing."

Giles just watches him for a moment. Strange, thoughtful, lovely boy, with rather overwhelming powers of adjustment. With the black hair, Oz looks even paler than usual, his eyes large and ocean-deep, fastened on Giles. "My what?"

Oz ducks his head. "You know. That thing where you explain what just happened, and you kind of pace and fidget with the books, and talk about just how close we came —. That thing."

"I can be quite tiresome," Giles admits.

"Nah." Oz pats the bed again and Giles shifts until he's sitting between them and Oz is sliding his palm over Giles' chest, pulling him closer. "Like it."

"Well, then," Giles says. It's fairly difficult to concentrate with Oz's lips meandering down his neck, but he tries. "It was fairly simple, actually. Ethan built a memory palace, a theater for his past. They flourished in the Hellenistic Age, and the Roman Stoics were quite fond of them. Only as metaphors, as far as we know, of course. They survived through the Renaissance, and Ethan's version was very much in the vein of Bruno's sort of memory theater. Before printing, one had to rely much more heavily on the memory. It's one of the five arts of rhetoric, in fact. Scholars and others devised imaginary theaters, spaces in which memories were deliberately placed. Orations were given by strolling through the space, retrieving each memory in order —"

Oz nips lightly at Giles' earlobe and hugs him more tightly. "Why'd you stop?"

"Because you're distracting me," Giles says.

"I am?"

Giles places his hand on the inner curve of Oz's thigh. He has changed, irrevocably passed into a new stage. He's moved from the anxiety-ridden, dutiful self he was this morning to lounging in the arms of a man more than half his age, squeezing his leg and making him gasp, and Giles grins. "You are."

"Oh," Oz says and blows softly on Giles' ear. "Sorry?"

"Strangely enough, I don't believe you."


"Shall I continue?"

"Yes," Oz says. "Wait, can I try?"

Giles tips back his head against Oz's shoulder and smiles upward. "Please."

"So he wanted to trap you in his memories, make you remember what it was like for him?"

"I believe so."

"Or trap someone you cared about. Make you feel doubly guilty."


"Figured you'd never admit the love part?"

Giles nods.

Oz sighs. "That's —"

"Malicious, selfish, and rather horrifying?" Giles suggests.

"Nah," Oz says. "Well, yes. But also sad. He really loved you."

"And I loved him."

"Yeah," Oz says quietly, crossing his other arm over Giles' chest and laying his cheek against Giles' skull. "You did."

Their mugs steam, forgotten, on the floor, and Giles drifts a little within Oz's embrace. The room is dark, indigo and black-ink shadows blooming out of the corners, and he relishes the quiet. The soft rise and fall of Oz's chest against his back, the whisper of Oz's breath in his hair, the reassuring thud of his pulse against Giles' ear.

There are legions of questions to be asked, circumstances to be worked out, if this — this relationship, Giles supposes is the best word for it — is to work. They all feel miles and leagues distant, though. Their time will come soon enough.

"Are we finished?" he asks, meaning with his tiresome explanations.

"Hmm?" Oz murmurs. "Nope. Getting started, more like."