Pale Brows, Still Hands, And Dim Hair
by Glossolalia

Oz peels off from the rest when they're several blocks past the firetrucks and paramedics. The sky is the color of old brass, air heavy with smoke. His eyes water and the muscles across his shoulders, down his back, ache like kindling.

He finds Giles at home, standing uncertainly amid the boxes, rubbing his arms in the halflight. Oz leans against the door, wondering if he should offer his overshirt. Sirens, panicked faces, flames swim before his eyes.

"We won." Giles weaves through the maze and touches his shoulder. "Shouldn't you be celebrating? Why aren't you smiling?"

Oz doesn't wince at the touch, but fights to maintain eye contact. "I don't know."

"I think I do." Arm around Oz's shoulder, paternally and all the sadder, more uncomfortable, for that, he guides Oz to the couch. "To belong, to truly be a part of something —"

"Not my way."

"No." Giles sits, so Oz does, too. "You have to surrender to it — completely."

Oz knits his fingers together, flexes and reverses. Church, steeple, people waving. "Like you?"

"Resignation's hardly surrender," Giles says. Pulls Oz closer, past paternal into something not-quite friend. He smells like he always did, limes and tea, but overlaid with sweat and cinders. "But, yes, something like that."

Oz looks around the room, piles of boxes, loose books, everything looming and tilting. Closing in. When he looks back, Giles has taken off his glasses and autumn eyes, dark and trembly, are looking back at him.

"Felt good," Oz says softly. "When — when it burned. Couldn't smile, though."

"Not with your friends?"

"Especially not them." Oz slumps back against the couch and takes Giles' hand between both of his own. Soft palm, littered with scrapes and bandages. They're all hurt. "Banged up pretty bad."

Giles relaxes next to him, shoulder to shoulder, and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Superficial, really."

Whorled skin over his knuckles, brickdust scrapes and crimson gouges. "Surrender, huh?"

Giles frees his hand, touches Oz's face: jaw, temple, length of his nose. "It's what I've always been taught." His hair is grayer now, clouded and dulled, and Oz's chest hurts as the realization lodges there. How long?


He cups the back of Oz's head; length of his hand matching the width of skull. Fingertips in his hair. "Well. Hasn't gotten me very far, has it? Unemployed twice over."

As he tips his head against Giles' shoulder, soft cotton on his cheek and exhaustion in his eyes, Oz wonders if asking for comfort counts as surrender.

He'll ask later.