Moonlight And Van Helsing
by Hth

The carols never seemed to go away; even the normally reasonable radio station that played all the time on Giles' stereo now had succumbed to the allure of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Giles could hear it, tinny and indistinct, from the floor below. Only a few more days, he told himself. A few more days, and the endless, dreary grind of holiday cheer — cheer in that uniquely Sunnydale sense, grim and determined — would be finished at last.

Back to ordinary life. Whatever that meant.

When Oz stirred beside him, their skin, tacky with drying sweat, stuck together and pulled apart with a sensation that was not quite pain. The house across the street was in some kind of unofficial competition with the neighbours behind them, and the constant glare and blink of red and green and white-golden lights had ceased giving Giles headaches two weeks ago. There was something fascinating about the way the colours played across Oz's narrow back, glistening off the skin, bright on blank, as striking a contrast as Oz's paleness in the soft dark. Giles reached to the bedside for his glasses, but it was a disappointment. The sudden artificial perfection of his vision robbed the sight of its elusive beauty. It was just cheap Christmas lights from the local five-and- ten, bathing Giles' bedroom and Giles' lover in colourful repeating patterns.

The clock said that it was a quarter of seven, even though it looked like midnight outside and felt like high noon. Another afternoon with Oz, gone past recovery. Slipped past him in minutes instead of hours, while they touched each other slowly and wore each other's warmth and breath in defiance of the heat snap outside, trusting the softly clicking ceiling fan and their utter fascination with one another to protect them from discomfort.

The dead of winter, the verge of the year's longest night. A Monday. Two nights before the full moon. So many ways of measuring time, and all of them meant Oz falling through his hands. Nights were so full of obligations — his work with the Slayer, Oz's music. Weekdays meant alarms buzzing appallingly early, meant schoolwork for Oz and paperwork for Giles. The phase of the moon meant that three days would pass before they could be together at their leisure like this, making love with this midsummer laziness, this infinite immaculate tenderness.

Oz straightened up, pulling his camouflage pants up over his legs though he remained seated on the edge of Giles' bed, and Giles took advantage of the opportunity to touch him, laying the flat of his hand along Oz's skull, just behind his ear. Bleached into insensibility, Oz's hair had the dry, pliant texture of grain; Giles loved the touch of it, loved even more the way Oz leaned back into his hand, petting his own head against the curve of Giles' palm.

He was tired of this lump in his throat, of the way that he never seemed to be able to say anything during those moments when he had the brunt of their intimacy filling up his rib cage. Giles wished he knew what needed saying so desperately, but his own mind sometimes seemed dark and impenetrable. He only knew that after a month of Oz in his bed almost every afternoon, of mapping Oz's body with lips and fingers and being meditated upon like a koan in return, there was something. Something between them. Something Oz had a right to know.

Something in Giles that was lost every time Oz got up to dress and disappear, born again in the flesh every time he came back. Speaking of nativities.

Not that Giles was speaking of much at the moment. It was a mathematical certainty, that the louder near-understanding pulsed in the cavern of Giles' consciousness, the fewer words he would have at his disposal.

Oz had to stand up to finish putting on his trousers, and Giles watched wistfully as he transformed without comment from naked to not naked. Not a significant transformation, at least not in the larger scheme of Oz's life. To Giles, at that moment, it seemed to mean everything.

Everything seemed to mean more when Oz was present. It was some gift of the boy's.

He turned and put one knee back on the bed, leaning over it, over Giles, to catch his mouth in a long, moist kiss. Giles caressed his cheek with the corner of one fingernail as Oz pulled away. "Gotta get to rehearsal," he said, with a note in his voice that might have been apology, or just a foreshadow of the music that was already winding through his head.

"Will you perform tonight?"

"Bronze. Yeah."

Giles ached. Everything about him ached, from the body that was reluctantly growing accustomed to being moved in long- forgotten and torturously pleasant ways to his heart, which was — well. The same, as a matter of fact. He brushed his fingers across one of Oz's nipples as Oz stood up, withdrawing from his reach, and was rewarded with a fine, delicate smile in response.

"Will you come back after?"

A silence, and the expression changed to a frown, equally fine, equally delicate. The same answer, then. Giles could hear it before it was said. "I don't like it on weeknights. It's like we're setting ourselves up to get caught."

"Oz, what element, exactly, of my relationship with any of you has been conventionally appropriate in years? No one will see, no one will care. This is Sunnydale." Giles surprised himself with the faint contempt in his own voice. "Not getting involved is what we do best."

He breathed without a hitch, slow and calm. There was a stubbornness to Oz that Giles could never hope to match. "Friday."

"Stubborn — "

"You're not going to lose anything because of me."

"Bloody stubborn." Nothing but his composure, his sense of decency, his independence, his mind.

A smile flickered across Oz's lips, not delicate this time, but ever so slightly wicked. "Give it up, G. The horse is dead."



Friday. Christmas Eve. "Won't your family — ?"

Oz shrugged as he pulled the t-shirt with its faded mylar Japanese lettering over his head. "Christmas in the Holy Land."

Briefly, Giles considered assuring him that he would be there, this time. Tomorrow night, the night after, the night after that. That his first full moon transformation alone last month would be his last as well. But Oz knew that, almost without a doubt, and he didn't like to talk about the moon unless he had to. "Friday, then. Give us another kiss."

He touched Giles this time, brushing back his hair with a ghostly light touch as his tongue made a quick, lapping circuit of Giles' lips. "Night, G."

"Goodnight," he said, amazed at his own ability to speak when his body was weak and shivering like this, the relentless turn of the ceiling fan making the sweat on his skin evaporate in a rush of chill at last.

Without Oz, there didn't seem to be any more reason to stay in bed. Not that, Giles reminded himself more than a little unwillingly, there was much more reason to get up. The last of the Christmas gifts to be wrapped. Possibly a venture out to the supermarket — especially since, as he understood it, Giles had just acquired the responsibility of preparing a Christmas dinner.

Such as it was. Oz's parents, absent as usual. Giles' clan of second cousins and other assorted relations, in London where they belonged, doubtless having their own holiday. Buffy and Xander would certainly have their own family obligations, and nothing could possibly be less conducive to the Christmas spirit, even in Sunnydale, than inviting your lover's Jewish ex-girlfriend to Christmas dinner with the two of you.

So, Oz and Giles. A traditional dinner was out of the question. There was something appallingly lonely about the prospect of two men without any family to speak of staring at one another across the turkey and cranberries on Christmas. That was just courting trouble.

As he began to survey the contents of his refrigerator and make notes for his shopping trip, Giles gave himself a good hard mental shake. There was no reason to make this Friday into an emotional Gotterdamerung. It was simply dinner with Oz, and the beginning of the winter break. It should be smashing.

He fancied some kind of active, playful food, unabashedly nontraditional. Fajitas, perhaps. He could grill steak for his, peppers and onions and tomatoes for Oz's. Toast another season of holiday warmth and cheer that they'd lived to see come and go in Sunnydale with margaritas and eat leftover guacamole on everything for the next three days. There was something childishly joyful about the idea, much more so than in a dogged adherence to a faux fantasy of Yuletide bliss that had little or nothing to do with either Oz or Giles.

The voice of the Watcher in his head, almost as much of a bother to him as it ever was to his Slayer, spoke up with a concern that Giles suspected of being entirely a sham. What sort of life is this, Rupert Giles? Afternoon trysts and sleepovers on holiday — cleaning your refrigerator while he plays music you can't stand at clubs where the smoke makes your eyes red and runny? And where is it headed, anyway? Do you really think you're man enough to face the world — his parents, for example, or the Watcher's Council — and confess that you're entirely under the thumb of an eighteen-year-old guitarist who likes to watch Japanese cartoons in bed?

And on top of all of that, he still didn't have a gift for Oz. Which seemed somehow to compound all the rest, to underscore how little sense this all made, how Giles was letting it all coast on sentiment without any thought to the practicalities of turning this affair into a relationship, or even the basic issue of their compatibility, come to that. What did one buy for an Oz?

Normally, Giles wasted very little of his time on Christmas stress. He had a reputation for eccentricity, after all, that served him well in some situations. He bought a book for Willow which she would probably read once for his sake, earrings for Buffy which she would probably wear once for his sake, and a tie for Xander which he would undoubtedly never wear, but which would puff him up for days with the knowledge that it was the sort of gift you give to a man and not a boy. No one really expected to get anything worth having from a British librarian; they would be touched that he'd gone to the trouble, and then forget all about it for another year.

But Oz.... He wanted to give Oz something.

He wanted to give Oz everything.

Oz himself, Giles knew, would scoff quietly, with no words but a little ironic squint, at the way Giles was inflating the significance of material items in his own mind. He would say that he didn't need anything. Oz's desires were few and simple — his music, his independence, Giles. Oh, he bought things from time to time — compact discs and Playstation games and cheap dimestore jewelry. Nothing that Giles knew anything about, and nothing that seemed intimate enough to be the appropriate lover's gift.

What you really want, Rupert Giles, is to be perfect for him, and you are very far from it. You bother and worry and consider and dissect, while he enjoys himself. You have appearances to maintain, and he feels no need to live up to anyone's image of him. He doesn't share your passion for antiquities; you don't even go listen to him play. It's touching that you want to repay him for the kindness he's shown you, but really, what do you think you have that he needs or wants? And don't be a romantic — don't, for heaven's sake, say you. You, Rupert? Don't compound things by deceiving yourself. You're his what? His soulmate?

Desperate to escape the Watcher's voice, Giles postponed the supermarket in favor of a destination he was fairly sure no decent Watcher would be caught dead, even in pursuit of half-renegade Rupert Giles — The Bronze.


Once upon a time, following his initial arrival in Sunnydale, Giles had frequented this particular nightclub. It was, as Cordelia had been known to say, the scene — for vampire activity, as well as for all the highs and lows of adolescent socializing. He used to go, and stand in the smoking section, above the crowd, trying to hone his courage.

Because it was more than a little unnerving, being reminded that these loud, lovely boys and girls, the shy and the self-destructive, the dancers and the lovers and the mourners, all carried the mark of Cain, the curse of being young on the Hellmouth. Easier to sit in his new library, unpacking his old books, and tell himself that he'd been sent to the right place and had nothing to do but wait for his Slayer to appear and fulfill both of their destinies. Too easy.

It was harder to look down on the crowd at The Bronze and know that he was here to save some of them, and probably destroy others. Future victims, future vampires, the future of Sunnydale, clustered together like moths around the bright flame of music and romance and hope. He did it because it was hard, because it was an exercise in humanity. Because he didn't want to be the kind of Watcher he'd known as a boy himself, the kind who talked about the battle against evil but could stare right through a child, call him special and yet never once see the pain or the dreams throbbing inside him.

Now, though, it seemed like an entirely different Bronze. The decor was the same, mismatched furniture and faux Tiffany lamps and exposed pipes in the corners. The music might as well have been the same, some band Giles didn't recognize singing something about hearts and volcanos. But he knew these children now by name, and that changed it all. Cordelia, of course, with her own ghost still hovering about her, making her somehow in the center of everything and yet otherworldly at the same time. Harmony, who tried to appear so jaded, and whose voice and eyes betrayed such inexperience, a life lived almost wholly in game and fantasy. Scott Hope, apparently recovered from the inevitably, as it were, anticlimactic ending of his relationship with Buffy, flirting with another blonde girl who might better be able to comfort him in the wake of his still-recent personal losses. Amy, whose influence over Willow he still did not completely trust; with the sort of upbringing Amy must have had, God only knew what sort of gaps she might have in her understanding of the larger forces that undergirded the practice of magic. Faith, dancing like a dervish, oblivious to the bodies that drew closer to her in fascination, conscious only of her own preternatural strength and the way she might die a thousand different ways before she ever grew old enough to be tired. Larry, who had shed the pretense of stupidity and boorishness when he shed all his other pretenses, and who now seemed every bit as confident, knowing, and likeable as Harmony spent so much time trying to convince people she was.

And now, of course, many of them knew him by sight, as well. He drew a few curious looks, but most of them were here on a Monday night in order to pretend that school didn't exist, so he was quickly written out of their mental scripts and left to his own devices. Giles ordered lemon tea from the bar and obligingly cleared out of their way, retiring to a small table on the top level, where he could clearly see the stage.

"Can I sit here?" It was framed as a request, but the voice carried a bored, perfunctory note that implied Giles was about to be joined whether he consented to it or not. Puzzled, he glanced up at the broad-chested young man with what appeared to be strips of vinyl or duct tape wrapped around his thick arms up to the sleeves of his tight t-shirt. He recognized...should recognize the lad. Someone he should know....

He sat, proving Giles' theory correct, and tossed blonde hair out of his slightly petulant-looking eyes before putting out his cigarette in the ashtray by Giles' elbow. "You're the Van Helsing, aren't you?" he asked without any pleasantries in preface.

"Excuse me?"

"Look, I don't care, okay? I mean, I'm not going to report you or anything. So you can tell me."

Of course — from the chaos surrounding Buffy's ill-starred coming home party. The singer from Oz's band. Giles' eyes went immediately to the stage, as if thinking about Oz would put him there, but the other band was still playing. "I'm not sure I...follow your reference."

The singer — Devon, if Giles recalled correctly — gave him a quizzical look. "Dude, it's from Dracula. I thought you were supposed to be all literate and shit."

"Yes, I — well, I suppose I follow the reference, but I — still don't know what you're talking about. Sorry."

"See, this is the thing. Oz is all the big gentleman and shit, won't kiss and tell, doesn't name names. So we have this thing, like a game, where when one of us hooks up, we'll talk about it, but with some fake name like from tv or something. It's like, someone's dating an Elvira or a Spock or a Cher or like that. Whatever. Only Oz is Oz, you know, so it's always something crazy with him, some book, and you gotta figure out what he means. So I know there's this Van Helsing now, and you've got this kind of Anthony Hopkins groove, and he's always in the fucking library lately. So, are you the new guy?"

It was back, the silence inside of Giles, the certain knowledge that out of all the words in his vocabulary, none of them were the correct ones. He fidgeted with his glasses, opened his mouth, made an indistinct noise, closed it, opened it again.

Devon smiled, a strangely feline smile for someone so big and blunt, someone who looked like he couldn't keep a secret for love or money. "Yeah. I thought so." Giles felt himself blushing like fire. "Look, don't freak on me or anything. It's cool. I mean, Oz is an adult. Shit, he's been living by himself ever since I met him. Oz just — he just takes care of himself, he does his own thing." His smile widened, genuine affection showing through his rock-star veneer. "He takes care of everybody. Dude is, like, totally the Dingoes' parent-or-guardian. He never does stupid shit like the rest of us do, and I never saw him hook up with anybody who wasn't good for him."

In spite of his discomfort, Giles could feel a little thrill prickling along his arms, raising the beginnings of gooseflesh. This talkative young man surely knew more about Oz than anyone else did; Giles felt as though he were slipping in under radar, gathering information that maybe he wasn't even supposed to have. Glimpsing a side of Oz that didn't belong to him — and, like anything illicit, it was compelling. Exciting. "He is very...responsible."

Devon laughed, a wide-open laugh that was as different as possible from Oz's half-silent chuckle. "Dude, tell me about it. He's always like, eat breakfast, it's good for you, and drink lots of water while you're getting smashed so you won't have a hangover, and that's hard on your brakes. So I'm always like, dude, you're one to talk, at least I graduated, you know? But he just doesn't, I don't know, doesn't give a shit about himself. He's only responsible for the rest of us. He gets all flower child, does that if it feels good, go for it thing. Only you know how most people do all these things that sorta feel good, but mostly seem to fuck them over and make them more miserable than they started out? That's totally not Oz. He really knows what's good. So that's what I'm saying — if Oz says you're the good, you're it."

"Does he — did he — say that? About me?"

"Oh, well, you know. Say. Oz doesn't say much. But he's in the happy box. It's like he's the same, only different. Some of the guys think it's a rebound thing, like he's just wiggy about being single guy again, but then, some of the guys are dicks. I've known Oz since the fourth grade, and whatever you're doing to him, more power to you. "

Giles hoped he wasn't blushing. "Well, I'm happy to hear that Oz has at least one friend who cares enough about him to be understanding."

Devon looked puzzled for a minute, then grinned. "No big. You're a long way from the weirdest thing Oz has ever been to bed with."

Instantaneously, Giles' taste for confidences was entirely gone, and he leveled his best member-of-the-faculty gaze at Devon from over the top of his glasses, and it seemed to subdue his friendliness. "Thank you, that will be enough of that."

"Okay. Dig."

"Very good."

He flicked back a shock of blonde hair again, then thumbed a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and lit one. As he did, Giles noticed for the first time a silver charm bracelet on his wrist, hung with numerous small skull icons. Devon followed his gaze, and raised his hand to make it easier for Giles to inspect. "Oz gave me this." Giles nodded, and Devon moved his hand to pull the ashtray closer to him. Without meeting Giles' eyes, he added, "Got one for everybody I know that died. Thirteen — lucky thirteen, huh?"

Oh, and this was it exactly, the seventh veil, the culmination of all those vigils at The Bronze. His eyes met Devon's, and for a moment their respective age, wisdom, and status meant nothing. Giles was still an outsider, and Devon was the Hellmouth's own child, veteran of a day-in-day-out siege at the walls of his innocence. Nineteen years, thirteen deaths, and one handsome, somewhat vapid boy who knew how to laugh, why to sing, and who his friends were.

Merry Christmas, Sunnydale. Giles had come empty-handed to the party, like the Little Drummer Boy himself. Ba-rum-pa-pum- pum, I have a number of books and speak ten languages fluently and I can fence, and here I am. No gift, just me, but I want to help. I love music. I believe in each of you. To hell with the manger; you were born in a bomb shelter, my Zen-digital-wolfen-watchdog lover, and I've come all this way just to see you.

"Hey, I gotta hit it. We're on in half an hour, and they just dick around back there whenever I'm not watching them." Devon stood up, utterly unaware that Giles was having something that might be either a crisis or an epiphany right in front of him. "Look, you wanna come backstage?"

Giles remembered his own days as a young musician well enough that he had to smile a bit cynically at that. Imagine Rupert Giles, a Dingoes Ate My Baby groupie. "That's very generous."

"Yeah, well, you're bad for our image, sitting out here. Someone might think you like the music."

"Can't have that." Giles caught himself smiling a little less cynically. There was something warm about Devon's good-natured bluster, his undefensive simplicity. Giles liked him, and it was easy to trust his erstwhile secret identity to the boy. Van Helsing, indeed.

"Come around to the back door," Devon instructed him, and then headed down the stairs, long legs jumping them three at a time. Giles followed more sedately, and left through the main doors, to the obvious relief of a few of The Bronze's jumpier patrons, who probably suspected him of being some sort of spy, a public-school agent provocateur. If only they knew.

The alley door was half open, and although the lamp back here had a broken bulb, in the light of the nearly full moon Giles could easily recognize Oz's pale arm and plaited bracelets holding it for him. He quickened his steps and slid through the door, quite naturally into the crook of Oz's arm.

The door made a dull banging sound as it fell shut, and Giles was in a narrow brick hallway with an air-conditioning unit humming somewhere not far away. Oz's thin fingers anchored with quite uncharacteristic possessiveness in the back of Giles' cotton shirt, and Giles slid his fingertips appreciatively down the distinctive contour of Oz's cheek. Oz was breathing deeply, rhythmically, his eyes lined in stage makeup and hence showing larger and brighter than usual, or possibly just large and bright with emotion. Like Devon, Giles now spoke yet another language, the gematria of symbol-to-meaning on Oz's inscrutable face. The same, yet different. He could feel Oz's warm breath on his face, Oz's warm body brushing his, Oz's heel tapping in steady, even time on the concrete floor, all of it the same, yet different from every other time they had come nearer and nearer and then together like this before, and all of it betraying something that few people besides Giles would have been able to decipher: pleasure, surprise, even gratitude.

"You look like you're thinking." How like Oz, to inquire so graciously, a question without the need for an answer, unless Giles chose to give one.

"As a matter of fact, I am. And you?"

"About kissing. Does that count?"

"I think surely."

Oz was staring at him, into him, hypnotized; Giles could almost feel the beating of his heart, cranked up to autobahn speeds. He leaned down, slowly, placed a deliberate kiss on Oz's forehead, let his fingers nip gently into Oz's throat to help lift his chin higher. Oz's hands on his back slackened as the boy relaxed into his touches.

Blood pulsed through him, and Giles could hear it in animal counterpoint to the roar of the air-conditioning and the dim thunderstorm of music coming from the stage. His fingers sank deeper into the tendons along Oz's neck, holding him firmly between the wall and Giles' body. There were words — something he had to say.

Carefully, Oz worked a hand up, reaching to remove Giles' glasses, and some swordsman's instinct made Giles spring to block him. He had Oz in a restraining grip around the wrist before Giles himself knew what had happened, the back of Oz's hand pressed to the rough wall. His fingers curled casually, that dexterous hand utterly relaxed under Giles' rough treatment, and the sight made Giles almost painfully aroused. He licked his lips and bent his head, and Oz tilted his own lips up for the kiss, half-closing his eyes in contentment.

A touch, light like wet English fog. Oz's silent and sinuous tongue, shaping its movements to the curve of Giles' lips. Their breath like the heat from a stoked furnace, coming from their ready mouths in waves. Giles needed — he wanted — to speak, but instead he cupped his hand around the back of Oz's skull, pulled him fiercely closer, felt the long sigh expand and contract the boy's slight body.

Suddenly Giles was spun like a carnival ride, everything wrong-side-up, and he lost his breath as he smacked against the wall on the other side of the narrow hallway, flinging his arms out like a crucifix to keep his balance. He blinked, and for a moment it seemed that Oz had disappeared, until Giles felt the tug on his belt buckle and looked down to see Oz on one knee, working Giles' pants open, the tension of the muscles through his shoulders the only visible sign of his intensity.

Oz was stronger than he appeared, and Giles had to grimace inwardly; if anyone should be able to remember that, surely that person was Giles. He had certainly caught Giles entirely off his guard, and now he was helpless against the hand that stroked Giles' throbbing erection through his khakis, the suggestive sensation of that high forehead rubbing against Giles' pelvic bone. He pressed his hands to Oz's head, feeling for the warmth of his scalp underneath the sharp spikes of his hair.

Warmth, the warmth of Oz's open mouth circling his crotch. Giles pressed back against the wall, his only other option being an entirely tasteless, not to mention useless, thrust forward against Oz's face. Giles whimpered, and Oz brushed his nails comfortingly down the side of Giles' thigh. "Oz — do you have the time for this?"

Glancing up at him, Oz raised his eyebrows with the faintest tinge of amused satisfaction. "I'm not sure we're talking about all that long."

"I love you."

He hadn't expected much of a response — Oz's responses were so often muted, enigmatic even to those who knew him best. But there was something, something definite if undefinable, in the sharp way Oz's chin jerked up, the dense overdrive of ideas thinly veiled behind his eyes.

And then the taut, measuring look was gone, and Oz curled in with a completely unfamiliar weary grace, leaning over his knee, bracing his elbows on it and looking down to scratch his own fingers roughly through his hair. His face was thoroughly hidden.

"Oz?" he hazarded.

"Gilligan's Island...."

Now that was the muted, enigmatic Oz that Giles knew best. He brushed Oz's temple with the back of his hand, nudging his face upward. "Oz...talk to me."

Giles could see his eyes now, but they were like virgin pages, with nothing at all to be read on their still, opaque surfaces. "You know how every episode starts with the chance to get off the island, and then half an hour later, pretty much square one? You ever feel like that?"

"Square one..?"

"Twenty-five chances per year to get the hell out of here, and something always comes along at the eleventh hour to pull you back in. With occasional laugh-track."

He had to swallow a few times before he trusted himself to speak, deliberately carve the knowledge into his brain that there was more compliment here than insult, that he was receiving a confidence and not reproach. "You're young," Giles said, his cool turning to ice on his tongue. "You'll have all the chances you need to leave, I'm certain. And to be quite honest, I wouldn't blame you at all for taking one of them."

"But — " Oz stopped with a little frown and cocked his head, as if trying to remember his next line. He looked up to Giles again, and it was an eerily...young look. Solitary Oz, undisciplined and directionless, but generous and trustworthy, looking for the good, finding only Giles. Looking for his chances, then letting them pass by — how many times had he considered leaving Sunnydale? All those months that he wasted, the senior year that slipped through his fingers, the summer school he never chose to attend — had all of that been easing back, a preparation for leaving the only home he'd ever had in favor of a whole different life? Maybe he'd been ready, ready hundreds of times, keeping his passport updated, cash on hand, a duffle bag in the floor of his closet for the few possessions he cared about that did not already reside in his van. Maybe he'd put it off because of Willow. Maybe he'd put it off because of Giles.

Paranoia or intuition told Giles all of this, purred it into his ear with the sugary sweetness of too much truth. A deep river of desperation ran invisible under Oz's unruffled calm, the never-named fear of the abandoned child. There was only one logical extension of Oz's habitual non-attachment to things, feelings, obligations, and it certainly was not love. Oz couldn't afford to be in love; he was much too afraid of being left one more time to be anything but the one who did the leaving.

Bloody hell. It had taken a month and more, but Giles had finally cracked the surface, found Oz's banked fires. And now he knew — knew what he needed to say, and knew exactly how much was too much for this seemingly endlessly brave young man to endure. Giles stumbled a little as he moved toward the door while trying to buckle his belt again. Bloody hell....


Giles shook his head. The only words that meant anything to him now had already been spoken and answered. Now he had to sort out his confusion, these conflicted needs to be with Oz and to protect this wounded part of him that only Giles knew about. For the time being, Giles knew he could only think it through after he'd withdrawn.


It sounded like the preface to a sentence, but the rest of the words never came. Oz's eerily eloquent silences, turning his very restraint into a plea that gouged Giles deep. "No, I have to go. I — no."


The stage door shut behind him with an angry sound, leaving Giles in the heat, in the night.


At ten-thirty, Buffy called him, obviously apprehensive about settling in to sleep after her run of nightmares, and there was nothing for it but to promise his undivided attention in the morning to searching for an explanation of Angel's strange rebirth. Oddly, agreeing seemed to lift a weight off of Giles that he hadn't fully realized was there. The passion he'd manage to invest in hating Angel had been coexisting rather poorly with the deep-seated, if unobtrusive, passion he'd somehow cultivated over the years for sacrificing himself for his Slayer.

There was more than a hint of the martyr in his personality, Giles had to admit to himself with a dark little smile that only his tumbler of Scotch witnessed. Here he sat, preparing to go to the ends of the earth to win back Angel — Angel, in the name of all things holy — just because he couldn't get those wide, sad eyes out of his head, and the way her lip quivered while she said losing him. And here he sat, alone and drinking his second Glenlivet while trying to gauge if there was enough left in the bottle to go for three, just because —

Just because of what? Because he hoped to buy some sort of karmic balance, Buffy's inevitable death in Sunnydale against Oz's future outside of it, both brought to you courtesy of Rupert Giles the Watcher? Or just because he was coming to crave the fierce clarity of pain, savoring the sense of loss that seemed to be becoming more and more integral to any fair definition of Giles' existence?

At twelve-thirty, Oz called him, and Giles let the answering machine pick it up.

"Giles?" That wind-soft, sand-rough voice could make Giles' heart rattle apart, just hearing it in the dark silence. "G, are you home? Okay, well — okay. I think I'm not coming over on Friday. God, you're really going to think this is about earlier. It's not. I just got a call from my mom, and she and my dad are coming into Santa Fe for Christmas, just for a couple of days, and they wanted me to drive out. I think I should. I haven't seen them — in a while. Plus, Christmas. So...I'll go first thing Friday morning. But I'll probably see you before then. Just thought you should know."

Giles could almost count the pause in the number of breaths he didn't take, waiting for the click of the line disconnecting or for more of Oz's voice.

So soft, low like a hypnotist's mellow, scripted intimacy. "I'm glad you came by."

He exhaled on the click.

At three minutes til one, Oz was at the door, and Giles was by no means martyr enough to keep from answering it. "Christmas present," Oz explained, holding something that looked like a small bowling ball toward him. As Giles stepped away to let Oz in the door, he realized it was in fact a coconut. Giles knew he wasn't hiding the bewilderment very well, squinting at Oz from behind his glasses.

Oz pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket and held it out in his other hand. "And I got to thinking that maybe the Gilligan's Island reference threw you for a little curve, so I sort of wrote up a little thing about the show, which I've actually started thinking has a lot of parallels to our lives. I included those, too, even though I couldn't decide who would be Ginger. And you'll have to — have to read the paragraph on the Professor, 'cause then this coconut thing, I promise, it'll seem really witty."

Bewilderment no longer quite covered it, but Giles took both the coconut and its footnotes and set them on the end table. "Thank you. This is very thoughtful."

"No problem."

Mainly in order to break the terrible silence, Giles said, "How nice that you'll be able to see your family over Christmas."

"Should be fun."

"Are you — " Giles began, but without warning Oz seized him so tightly and pulled his head down to kiss him so passionately that whatever Giles had been about to say was instantly gone forever.

And passionately almost seemed too simplistic a word. Oz had always been forthright in their sexual relationship, but this was a level of naked desire that Giles had rarely had focused on him before, and never from Oz. It was searing, the heat of Oz's need melting him down to his base elements, and suddenly there was no more confusion. Oz's mouth, claiming his own so completely, had generated the sort of fire that separated the dross from — from the good. If Oz says you're the good, then you're it. For the first time, Giles shared Devon's confidence completely. He felt...good.

Vaguely, Giles realized that Oz was leaning down over him, his mouth driving against Giles' from above, and then he understood that Oz was no longer on the floor, half wrapped around Giles and half supported by his arms, which were beginning to quiver with the strain. Oz's own arms were twined firmly around his neck, forming a bracket that gently held his head in place while Oz's tongue thrust deeply into his mouth.

It couldn't last, and at least Giles managed to pull away and give a mumbled "Look out, then" before they both dropped to the floor, borne down by their own weight. Taking this failure as an advantage, Giles immediately set about stripping Oz of his shirt; his own robe had long since come untied, and the erection beneath his boxers was showing clearly.

They made the process of undressing into foreplay as best they could, because it was glaringly apparent, at least to Giles, that neither of them were capable of much more than that. "I fucked up tonight," Oz said on a gasp as Giles' hand ran firmly up his narrow chest, making Oz's hips twitch in an unintentionally ruinous way against Giles' own hips.

"I may have been hasty. This is a...complex relationship, and it does bear considering from all — "

He gripped Giles' hair roughly and pulled him down for a quick, violent kiss. "Say it again."

"This is a complex relationship?"

"No. Other thing."

Ah. "I love you," Giles murmured, and sealed it with a handful of warm, savoring kisses.

"I want to say it, but I can't. Do you understand? I'm trying, but it — it just sticks. Jesus, Rupert. I'm...scared. I don't even know what I'm scared of."

"Hush, hush." He let his hand sweep playfully down Oz's face, as though brushing those words, that conversation away. "I think if you will consider your present position, you might feel more or less forgiven."

He laughed deep in his chest and drew his fingernails up Giles' spine. "I'll let you know how I feel after you fuck me, okay?"


Collecting Oz's saliva on his hand was a pleasure, collecting his precum even more of one, but it was all simply more of that rough, functional foreplay, making it possible to make one long slide into Oz. Giles knew the moment he was fully sheathed inside that incredible tightness that this encounter was likely to be brief but memorable, and he took a tight grip on Oz's cock, working up and down it with even more speed than his body was managing as it thrust in and out of Oz's. Slow should be slow, and fast should be very fast, or at least that was part of Giles' general philosophy of sex. Trust Oz to make a person evolve a philosophy about almost everything.

In the moments like these, when he could feel the orgasm building inside his lover, beating hard along with their synchronized pulses, when he was buried inside Oz and full of him in return — the scent of his sweat, the little noises he made, half moan and half grunt, Oz's cock filling his hand and his tongue filling Giles' mouth — Giles experienced the highly cliched sensation that nothing but the two of them existed. Far from mere delirium, however, it was a gift, a moment to treasure. With Oz twined around him and breathing deep into his thrusts, Giles didn't even believe in vampires.

Even the shattering impact of his orgasm didn't quite bring Giles crashing back to reality, mainly because it loosed the steel bands around his brain enough for him to concentrate on the look and the feel of Oz underneath him, caught up in his own final throes. He went rigid as he came, and Giles rubbed his fingers deep into the tense muscles through Oz's shoulder, making the fixed, serious look on Oz's face dissolve into a softer expression of relaxation. Giles quickly licked the semen off his hand and then kissed it off Oz's flat stomach, much more slowly.

Oz smoothed the fingers of one hand deeply through Giles' hair. "A very special holiday episode of Gilligan's Island. Things we never knew about Gilligan and the Professor."

"Not Harker and Van Helsing, then, I take it?"

He seemed to give that due thought. "Did they ever meet? Cause I think I could like being played by Keanu."

"I worry about you."

Too late, Giles realized that his statement might be construed as a flippant comment about the relationship between Oz's appreciation of Keanu Reeves and his mental state, but fortunately Oz seemed to understand him completely. "I know. I would, too, except that once I get started worrying, I never know where to stop. So I usually just skip the whole thing."

"I wish I had that talent."

"Glad you don't. It's — not — all it's cracked up to be. With no one who worries about you."

Giles put all the tenderness he could into a few kisses on Oz's lips and his eyelids. "Remember that."

Closing his eyes, Oz spoke even more softly than usual, so low that Giles had to tilt his head a little to catch the words. "My parents grew up in Sunnydale. I think they're afraid to come back. They never talk about it. They actually talk a lot, but not about anything in Sunnydale. Including me."

"I'm sure they're doing what they think best."

"Yeah, but I don't know if their parenting strategy would stand up to a lot of critical analysis. Hey, here's irony: my adolescent rebellion against my parents does not consist of being a vegetarian, playing in a rock band, or dyeing my hair, all of which they think is pretty cool. I just stay home a lot."

"All in all, not terribly self-destructive, as adolescent rebellions go. I think. Or perhaps more so than usual. I'm not entirely sure."

"Glad you approve."

"Well, it is one more command I won't have to bother training you to — stay."

The laugh started out silent, as usual, but it bubbled up without warning, a rich and variable sound, like scales played lightly on a piano. "It's kind of a specialty. That and roll over."

"Now if only we can work on speak."

"You really don't want me barking at the mailman."

"I want you any way I can get you."

It was a bit of a chance, pulling in the reins on this sudden drift toward companionable lightheartedness, but it seemed to pay off, as Oz slipped his hand warmly over the back of Giles' neck, pulling him down for another of those luxurious kisses. "Drive you to school in the morning."

"Very much appreciated."

Very much.