One Such Story
by Meg

Most nights in bed, when the sheets collected in small breaking waves around their ankles, and when they would heat each other with straying hands and flushed skin, Oz would ask him what he was thinking about. Most nights the answer was simple: eyes, or lips, or stars or the Romantic Era or human nature. Some nights, he'd tilt his head and pause, words caught up against his lips. Those nights, Oz knew it was too complicated or too sad to put into words that at these times it was better to let it all build up into little blocks in his brain, ones that he could deconstruct later when it wasn't so dark and quiet. So Oz would bend his head up, and kiss Giles's neck, where it was warm and already stubbly and scratchy, where oxygen and carbon dioxide passed each other and vocal cords waited for use and red and white blood cells oscillated about in tight veins that bulged with their passage.

Other nights they would tell stories. Giles would stretch back against memories and tell him about London, growing up. If he was lucky, Oz could prompt him into a discussion concerning fighter planes or the Beatles, or his mother in the morning cooking him fried eggs and slightly burnt toast that he would cover with marmalade. Once, Giles had spoke of Ethan, and then never again. The similarities between the two wiry bodies had been too much, and his voice had stopped rumbling out from under Oz's ear, his chest had steadied only with breathing, and the words stayed pinned in against his ribs, tight and guilty.

Oz's varied. They weren't always his own. Most weren't in fact. He told Giles whatever he fancied, perhaps a story on the news that night or the plot of an old comic book he hadn't read in ages, so he had to make most of it up. Speaking to Giles was soothing in a way. This is how they fell asleep, to the lullabies of the spoken word, repeating the ones that alien to their ears. Giles treasured the stories that he knew to be Oz's own, this is something Oz understood. But he was young. There were better stories than his own.

One night, one special night he told the story he had been saving up since they started their nighttime rituals. The words he held close to him, as if he could keep them in the room, in the bed, only between him and Giles and then Giles would understand him that much better than anyone else, as long as they stayed there, thick and heavy sloping down his shoulders, because they were his words, and this was his story.

It had happened when he was a little boy, before monsters were real but still resided under his bed and around dark corners. It is an image he will never forget: a monarch butterfly lilting through an open car window and resting on an outstretched hand. Then, pulling away, red blood cells clinging to its antennae. Skittering across the driver's side door, leaving what Oz now imagined to be tiny red checkerboard prints across scraped white paint. The hand, locked into constant stillness (more still than Giles underneath him, who still beat with life and stirring need). Two cars meeting in an obscene embrace, metal kissing metal. Slack jaws and slick road and shock of red. And amongst the last shudders of machinery, a monarch passing through on its migratory path to Mexico. Seven shells, empty cocoons, and one lone monarch stuck with blood and then gone forever.

(Giles had sighed, long, because he understood.)

Here was the finite line between presence and void, Oz told Giles. Here, Oz said, the creeping stain into hot pavement. Rescue crews had come, pushing aside the tiny boy with sticking lips and forgotten candy at his side. But they had left with empty ambulances, silent sirens and quiet lights, hushed voices reserved for libraries and death, and the slow roll of tires. The place reeked of the ending of seven lives. And here, Oz said, here: seven bodies lying on a sunny neighborhood street, covered in anonymous blue blankets, just shapes and no longer people. Just a collection of blood and tissue and collapsed vital organs and broken bones.

Here, Oz said, here: one outstretched hand, while yellow and black fluttered against cold flesh.

They were both old men in a way, one with the scars and lines to prove it, the other with tainted blood and an allergy to the full moon. This was just one such story, one that made them sink into the bed with the weight of gravity, and when they slept, it was restless and full of dreams.

Soon after, they stopped telling stories. Pushing back against memory proved too much, there was already too much in the present, when they went to bed weary: Giles from training or research, Oz from patrol or band practice or getting high with Devon and the rest of the Dingoes. Bedtime stories, they had discovered, were not for grown men.

Oz retreated back to asking Giles what he was thinking about, when sheets were breaking over them like waves, and the muscles in his back ached but his hands ached to touch more. And more and more often, Giles would pause. Soon, they would only have the silence left.