Slouching Towards Labor Day
by Glossolalia

As he wakes, Giles knows immediately that he is alone in bed, indeed, alone in the bedroom. The air feels off, far too still and close, for Daniel to be here. He never doubts his sensory knowledge, whether it is tingles up the nape of his neck, an ache in his knees, or this immobile atmosphere. He does not doubt that he is correct, but he is still intrigued by how quickly his senses appear to have adapted to the boy's presence.

As well as his absence.

The scratches across his torso and the incongruously gentle twinges running through his cock remind him, as if he could forget, precisely why he is alone. He would prefer to forget the previous night entirely, but knows, again with the full weight of experience and atmosphere, that he cannot.

Rather, the problem is what to do in the next moment: How to rise. And then in the next: How to start making his way through the rest of the summer. How to do all of this alone, and deservedly so.

Routine can forestall panic, but never guilt. As he washes away the worst of sleep's detritus, Giles avoids his own eyes in the mirror. He actually finds himself perching on the edge of the tub while brushing his teeth to duck any accidental glance at himself. It is yet another ridiculous stunt, the latest in god knows how many he has pulled since meeting Daniel. He would snort with laughter at himself if he saw this from the outside, in a film or onstage.

But that is precisely the problem here, isn't it? He is very much inside, and appears to have lost the ability to find the exit. He is inside his skin and responsible to it, for what it has done, for what it longs and aches to do again. Raked with fingernails and throbbing sorely, his skin persists in this longing; it is rather like Daniel in that sense, entirely innocent of any larger, more abstract consequences.

And like Daniel, his skin knows fear and knows when to flee, far better than Giles himself.

Washed and dressed, as presentable as ever, Giles descends the stairs slowly. He is reluctant, nearly afraid, to leave the ominous pressure in the bedroom. He belongs there, alone on his back, breathing in the staleness of his guilt. He does not belong here. Not here in the bright, clean light of morning that wavers liquidly in the breeze through the French doors.

The doors should not be open. He realizes this as slowly as is humanly possible, before reasoning backwards, checking his logic. This should not be.

When he reaches the last step, Giles sees why.

Daniel sits in the doorway to the garden, leaning against the sill, shirtless. A smoldering joint dangles from his finger.

He ought to be the one marked with bruises and scratches; he is the one hurt and broken last night. Yet there is no trace of how terribly Giles treated him. His skin is alive in the sunlight, nearly glowing. His hair, raked through and unruly, glows as well, shades of tangerine and pumpkin battling for preeminence. He is present, and in this moment far more beautiful than Giles remembers.

Giles grips the railing at the sight before him. He memorizes the way frayed cuffs spill over Daniel's feet, the tendons flexing as he wiggles his toes; the spray of fine hairs, caught nearly scarlet in the light, along his forearm; the blue stream of smoke rising from his broad, strong hand, dissipating into the thin gray fog hovering over his head; the sharp horizontal cord of his clavicle and the long vertical dip of his nose.

"Hey." Daniel keeps his head turned out the door as he speaks. How long has he known he was being watched? Anyone else would have let slip some gesture, some stiffening of the spine, some sigh. Anyone else would be too self-conscious to remain so still.

Tugged by the sound of Daniel's voice, managing to ignore for the moment every other impulse, Giles moves quickly across the room. He stops short just inside the doorway, suddenly conscious of himself towering over the boy, looming, unable to join him in his ease on the floor.

Daniel looks up at him, nose wrinkling, and inhales sharply on the joint. The wheeze is wet and harsh. Giles swallows rapidly. He must instruct himself to meet the boy's gaze. He cannot look at himself; how he can he do this? He has no right to look at him, take in dark nap along his hair line and the wiggly line of his upper lip. Daniel's mouth opens and the smoke seeps out.

"Is that what I think it is?" Giles asks.

"Come on," Daniel says. With his free hand he tugs at the knee of Giles's trousers, urging him down. Giles lowers himself slowly to the floor, expecting to hear the creaks and protests of every joint. "Don't tell me you've never done a wake and bake."

He hears something in Daniel's voice, an amused and perhaps hopeful note, before he forces himself to stop the process of interpretation he invariably engages in during awkward moments like this. Giles leans forward and, finally, much too late, meets Daniel's eyes. They are hooded: against the smoke, the light, Giles himself.

"Is that what we call it now?" he asks.

Daniel smiles narrowly at that and hands the scrap of the joint to Giles. He inhales deeply, grateful for the distraction from the warm weight of Daniel's hand, still resting on his arm.

"What did I do?"

Surprised by Daniel's quiet, toneless question, Giles tips his head back to exhale, much more quickly than he had intended. "Pardon?" He chokes and coughs once as Daniel thumps him on the back. "What did you do?"

Daniel takes back the joint and considers it, pinched between thumb and forefinger, before he speaks. "Yeah."

Having apparently made up his mind, he hands the joint back to Giles. His hand comes to rest back on Giles's arm.

"Nothing," Giles says, wincing at the heat on his lips as he sucks in the last of the smoke. He raises the roach, offering it, but Daniel shrugs.

"I'm good."

"Nothing," Giles says again when the smoke starts to leak out through his nostrils. He thinks of dragons. He wishes this were the kind of moment in which he could grin and tell Daniel that. He lost that chance, relegated it to the status of vain wish, last night. Instead, he buries the roach into the dirt at the edge of the flower bed and claps the dust off his hands. "You've done absolutely nothing."

Daniel lets loose a sound too soft to qualify as a snort and rolls his head around, gazing back out over the grass. Giles feels his heartbeat pause and hang for a moment. He blinks against the light that is suddenly too bright to bear.

"I can't see why you would think you had done anything," Giles says. "Truly. I am the one who — ." He hears his own voice, thick and so bloody stuffy he would like to wince, and stops. Daniel's palm travels up his back and rubs lightly while he continues to peer away. "I don't think I can — "

"It's okay," Daniel says. For all he lets on, they could be discussing the possibility of ordering in for dinner. Perhaps that is all they are doing, and Giles is teetering on hysteria again. "Forget it."

"Well, that I can't do," Giles says. The strangest feeling of laughter twines up through his chest, trembling as it branches and forks and rises. "Much as I'd like to, this is one of those things you carry to your grave."

"One of what things?"

Giles is certain that he is not interpreting too much when he thinks that he hears Daniel's familiar relaxed curiosity in the question. He can't be, because Daniel is rolling his head back, gaze sweeping over Giles as his hand comes to rest on the nape of Giles's neck and squeezes. He is partially smiling.

"I-I simply meant," Giles says, watching the ruddy lashes descend in a near parody of a blink, "that — that experience, what I did to you last night, is unforgettable in the worst sense of the word. In the sense of guilt, and regret."

"The grave?" Daniel asks. He shifts back so his spine meets most of the door jamb. "Wait. What did you do to me?"

Tendrils of laughter grip Giles harshly, latching in with their suckers. He has to sniff air in through his nose to manage a semblance of calm. "You're not serious."

"Perfectly serious," Daniel says. And he does sound serious, although with Daniel, the tones of serious and utterly uninterested tend to verge on each other.

Giles forgets momentarily everything else he has deemed inconceivable over the past few months, because the sobriety in Daniel's expression, the perfect innocence of his question are, when compared to the grotesqueries he has been put through, truly, remarkably, inconceivable.

He starts to shake slightly under Daniel's hand and manages to draw himself up straighter.

"I mean," Daniel says, "wasn't I the one fucking around?" He has stopped apologizing for the occasional curses, yet Giles still feels the impulse to cringe when he hears Daniel swear. There is something slightly too fine and austere about the boy for those words not to sound odd.

"As if I had any claim on you." Giles rolls his shoulders, suddenly aware of the tension gathering there at the base of his neck, as if Daniel's statement had lodged right there. He hears himself slip into what he has come to think of as the voice of a lecturer at a second-rate university in the Midlands, eager to prove how much better he is than his student audience. "No, Daniel. You are your own person. Responsible for your own actions."

"Never said I wasn't." Daniel's mouth twitches up at one side and he tilts his head slightly, as if Giles had just suggested that he was purple.

"Let me finish, please?" Giles knows he has too little time to explain this, and he resents having to explain it at all. It would have been so much easier for both of them if Daniel had slipped away in the night. He squeezes his eyes shut against that thought, regretting it as soon as it forms, wishing physical gesture was capable of clearing his mind. Of course he does not wish Daniel had disappeared; he wants him here, wants him for as long as he can have him.


"Don't apologize," Giles says. Weariness starts to creep along the spaces left behind the vanished laughter. "Please, whatever you do, just don't — "

Daniel grips Giles by the neck and wrenches his head over until their faces are nearly touching. His eyes are narrow, his cheeks flushed pink. "What if I am sorry? What then?"

Giles licks his lips and feels his face tighten into a mask far too small for him. "B-but — "

"Seriously?" Daniel says harshly and drops his hand. "I don't know what happened. Last night, whenever. Nothing new there. But then you start talking about regrets and graves and shit, and what am I supposed to do?"

He wonders for a flash, less than a moment, if this is how those crisis negotiators feel just before the suicide falls or the hostage is shot. His body is tingling sharply, painfully, bathed in pure alcohol and dipped in dry ice. Giles fumbles for Daniel's arm, any part of him, overcome with the urge to find contact and hang on.

"Do you know?" Daniel demands. "Because I don't. I don't know shit."

"Daniel — " Giles manages before finding a hold on his bare shoulder and pulling him against him. "No."

The boy shakes in his arms as Giles finds himself trying to comfort him. He does not know what to do. He does not know what he is trying to do, what broke inside Daniel and made him seek this comfort. He questions the length and pressure of every touch, evaluating their usefulness and judging their efficacy. Confronted by collapse, he suddenly doubts his own ability to feel. Everything, all sensation and emotion, seems to have flooded away from him, leaving him empty and brittle as worm-burrowed driftwood. Daniel trembles beneath his touch but is silent.

"What did I do?" Giles whispers, stroking the sun-warmed skin on Daniel's back, fingers skidding through the damp sheen of sweat. The question is just another ridiculous stunt, it occurs to him, just as bad as the literal inability to look into his own eyes. He doesn't want an answer, he simply wants to have said it and have it done with. If he wanted an answer, he would have spoken so Daniel could hear.

One of Daniel's arms creeps around Giles's waist and he feels the fingers latch into the muscle in the small of his back. Giles's palm slips around Daniel's rib cage; the bones and muscle there are delicate and fine. If he squeezes too tightly, he can imagine Daniel shattering like porcelain.

"You — " Giles tries again, and swallows whatever he meant to say. "I'm sorry."

"Nothing," Daniel whispers, the breath of it spreading hotly over Giles's chest. "Not sorry. Don't be sorry."

Giles feels certain of something at last. "I am sorry."

Daniel tightens his hold and rubs his forehead against the buttons of Giles's shirt before tipping back his head and looking up. His expression is twisted, beseeching. "Don't, okay? Sex is just — . It goes weird sometimes."

In an instant, weak, nonsensical laughter blooms again within Giles, just under the pressure of Daniel's chin, spreading fast and feverish through his chest, up his throat. This time he fails to stiffen against it.

"Weird?" he manages to get out before the laughter flutters into full hysteria. This is the extent of his boy's wisdom and accumulated experience? The full content of his knowledge of human relationships is that sex gets weird.

Daniel's grip on him slackens as his eyes close. Giles knows he should not be laughing, and he does not intend to be cruel, but the sheer absurdity of it keeps striking him again and again. Weird, eh?


"Yeah, weird," Daniel says. "What I said. Mr. Fucking Eloquent."

The laughter wracking his chest and throat slows for a moment and Giles takes the chance to hug Daniel against him again. "Please," he chokes out, "I'm sorry. Can't help laughing. Not at you — "

Daniel's head swivels and he nods shortly. "Don't see anyone else."

"I'm sorry," Giles says, hearing himself wheedling again. "Truly. I'm not laughing at you. I know how much that hurts. I — " His throat tightens, his voice going higher than it has since he had to leave the choir's alto section. He blinks rapidly as he tries to breathe. Whatever hysteria and weariness had colonized his chest like kudzu, they have died and withered, and he simply feels tight and panicked.

"It's okay," Daniel says. "Just overreacted. Sorry." Before Giles can say a word, Daniel shakes his head and shuts his eyes briefly. "And I'm sorry I said sorry. You know." He pats Giles on the back softly and presses dry lips against his throat.

The conversation is not over, Giles can at least be sure of that. All the same it feels as if a moment has passed, become irrevocably lost. He simply does not know whether to mourn its passing or to feel relieved.


Oz doesn't know what he expected the morning after he came to Giles straight from Devon's. It's been a week now, and he still can't figure it out.

Maybe he figured they'd just wake up and hang out like always, and it wouldn't be a big deal. Maybe that's all he expected, and it's not like that was too much to imagine.

He definitely wasn't expecting Giles freaking out and laughing at him, then crying. And the freakiness only grew afterward, after they both calmed down. The mood turned into this kind of tortured gentleness with each other. Like they are twin bruises, barely swollen but dark as night and incredibly tender. And they don't really seem to be healing.

Giles is the grown-up, though, and Oz guesses that he expected something more typical. Less weepy-hysterical, painfully awkward, and overly apologetic. More of a talking to. A 'where the hell were you' speech, with maybe a tangent on 'what the fuck were you thinking' thrown in for good measure. Except he doesn't want that, not from his stepdad, and definitely not from Giles. He never would have liked Giles in the first place if he was any good at aping that grown-up shit.

He likes Giles, among many other reasons that don't really have names yet, because his record collection kicks some serious ass. He can lie down here on the floor and listen for the rest of his natural life.

He has his arms crossed in front of him, his head resting on them, turned towards Giles, watching him read. The man reads like — well, nothing he can come up with sounds right. It's like he's doing chemistry experiments, giving head, playing the piano, and a couple other things all at once, things that require passion and seriousness and a hell of a lot more concentration than most people can summon up. And he manages to do it while remaining totally still.

It'd be nice to hear his voice, though. And feel Giles looking at him; sometimes Oz gets the feeling that he's not really here unless Giles is looking at him. He doesn't know if that's anyone's fault, and it's not like he can ask. Probably he's just insecure, because when Giles is looking at him? Spotlights. Bat-signal strong spotlights.

"It's true, though. About villains blinking," Oz says, pushing himself up and sitting back on his haunches. The skin on his arm's gone all pebbly and weird from being pressed into the rug.

"Hmm?" Giles blinks but doesn't look up.

Oz shakes out the pins and needles in one hand, which just makes the tingling worse. He holds the dead weight in his other hand and squeezes more gently. "Sorry. Lyrics."

Giles smiles kind of vaguely as his eyes flicker up and he sees Oz. "Ah, yes."

"Don't worry," Oz says. He's embarrassed suddenly, nervous he might have flubbed this chance to get Giles talking. He thinks of the way kids think the TV's talking to them, or those girls who thought John and Paul were singing just to them, only to them. "I'm not finding the meaning of life or earth-shattering significance in the lines to a song."

"Not worried," Giles murmurs. He looks up again and the smile is a little stronger this time.

Oz wants to know what Giles sees when he smiles like that. It's almost sad at the edges, but mostly just affectionate. Maybe a little indulgent.

"Okay. It is true, though." The nerves are gone, thankfully, but now Oz just feels bad for bothering him.

Giles sets aside his book and rubs his chin.

"Sorry," Oz says as Giles removes his glasses and holds them up to the light from the window. They can't possibly be dirty, not with all the rubbings they get.

"Don't apologize," Giles says. He folds the glasses and puts them on top of the book. Okay, so maybe Oz isn't bothering him. "You feel like talking?"


That gets a completely non-sad smile of Giles, and Oz feels all tingly for a second. Not pins and needles, either; it's the whooshing, falling-down-the-well tingle he gets when Giles is touching him. Except he's all the way over on the couch, so this is new.

But once he scoots back against the couch and Giles's leg, Oz doesn't want to talk. Not with Giles slowly rubbing his scalp like that, trailing his thumb down his neck, around his ear, back to the crown. He leans back into the touch, resting his cheek against the side of Giles's knee, trying to remember whatever bullshit topic he'd come up with this time. It's hard.

Blinking villains? Just that stereotypes or whatever aren't the same as what we do. Something like that. Labels versus action, he thinks, before bracing his hands against the floor and lifting himself up between Giles's legs and settling in.


Giles is on the edge of the bed, lacing up his shoe. The sun has nearly set, and he has not eaten since lunch. Daniel promised to accompany him to dinner, but he seems to be taking his time in the shower.

A warm cloud, fragrant with the herbsy shampoo Daniel favors, precedes the boy into the room.

"I'm on to you, Rupert Giles. If that is your real name." Daniel scrubs at his wet hair with a towel, smiling, speaking lightly.

"Pardon?" His fingers go still on the laces.

Daniel stands in front of him, hands on his hips. "You're not really a librarian, are you?"

"Excuse me?" He forces himself to finish tying the knot, to kick out his leg and adjust the fall of the fabric.

"Nah," Daniel says, stepping forward, forcing Giles to fall back on his elbow. "You're like this incredibly evolved being, here in disguise, working your mojo. Superhero."

Giles attempts a smile. It is difficult, to say the least, while Daniel's words reverberate in his mind and Daniel's body is pressed against his. "I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth."

Daniel's smile curves slowly over his face.

"I'm serious," Giles says.

"So'm I." With one hand, he pulls Giles up by the shoulder so that he straddles his lap.

And Giles knows as well as Daniel does the single sure way to change the subject. He links his hands around Daniel's back, nudging the towel off his waist, and tugs him closer.

"Like that, don't you?" he whispers, just over Daniel's ear, inhaling the heat radiating from the boy. "The way you always go for my lap?"

Daniel nods, running his palms up and over Giles's shoulder.

Giles closes his eyes, deciding to join the shivers wracking Daniel's torso, to ignore the black haze of guilt blooming within him. "Makes me feel like a dirty old man," he whispers.

"Yeah?" Daniel whispers. The room is quiet, their breathing barely audible, and darkening steadily. "Cool." His voice is thick and breathy, and it does not normally sound like this until he is a few moments away from orgasming.

Giles shifts back and attempts to frown.

"Come on," Daniel says. "Kidding. Well, kind of." He reaches out, running his fingertips over Giles's face more lightly than a breeze. Giles turns his head, following the touch until it slips down and behind his neck. Daniel brings him back up, kissing around, never actually on, his lips in quick little pecks.

Giles presses forward, running his tongue around Daniel's mouth until something drops or shifts, and he is inside, pulling himself up higher, straining, pressing Daniel's head farther back, sucking out every trace of mint and soap and salt in his mouth.

Daniel breaks away and runs the back of his wrist over his mouth. "Don't tell me you haven't pictured it," he says. "Library. Lunch period. That tiny little office. No, wait. The cage."

Giles lifts Daniel at the waist so he can move back into the center of the bed, legs outflung, Daniel kneeling between them. He trails his fingers over the lump of Giles's erection. "You do," he whispers.

Giles watches the arc made by Daniel's hand as it sweeps slowly to his own cock. "I — "

Daniel touches himself lightly. Giles knows how that feels, has been treated to precisely that teasing, glancing pressure, and it is all he can do not to grab the boy himself and relieve him. Save him from his own torture. He fancies himself falling, or floating, somewhere outside of gravity, eyes locked on the steady, hypnotic motion of Daniel's hand. He can half-hear what Daniel is saying, long phrases, exquisitely detailed and utterly crude. "Up against the cage, right...standing up, quick and fast, pants around my ankles, your fly open just enough to fuck..." His body certainly hears them as he rocks his hips, desperation building, yet he cannot seem to move his hands to do anything about it.

Daniel unzips Giles's fly with his free hand and reaches inside, never faltering in the rhythm of his voice or touch. "...hide in the stacks and suck me off after gym...like that, don't you?....drive me to school, Giles? Park at the end of the lot under the lemon trees, push my head down in your lap and start the day off right?..." Giles gasps as Daniel squeezes his testicles, tugging them away from his body, the knuckle on his thumb rasping against the veins in his dick. "Sounds good, huh..." He is nodding and watching and gasping and almost past coming when Daniel stops talking. Just stares at Giles, wide-eyed and shocked. His hand a blur on himself, faster on Giles, and then he's brought them both to the edge. His hands drop away and he whispers "coming?" just before they are both spasming and jerking, shooting hard and blind.

Daniel teeters on his knees as Giles lies there frozen, and manages with a groan to fall on his side, covering his eyes with his forearm.

"Shit," Daniel mutters, much sooner than Giles feels capable of speech. "Oh, fuck."

Long, aching moments pass. The room is completely dark.

Breaths scrape in and out of Giles's lungs as the blindness lessens, breaking apart at the edges until he can move and feel again. "Daniel?" he asks. The boy has not shifted, but grunts in reply.

"Yeah?" he says at last, rolling closer to Giles, wiping his wet hand on the already-ruined trousers. "Wow."

"How do you do that?" Giles asks the ceiling.

"What, jack off? It's easy."

Despite himself, despite everything, Giles laughs. Given how dry his mouth and throat are, however, it sounds more like rusty hinges than amusement. "Talk like that," he says. "So — "

"What?" Daniel props his head up on his elbow. "Dirty? Years of porn, my friend."

"Honestly," Giles says. "I was going to say honestly. As if there's nothing stopping you."

"There isn't." Even in the dark, Giles knows Daniel is shrugging; it is in his tone, in the small shy hitch to his breathing. "Not here, anyway."

"With the dirty old man?"

"Shut up." Daniel inches closer, aligning himself neatly and firmly against Giles. "Not here. You know. You."

"So you can talk at length about every twisted fantasy, but you can't tell me why? Or how?" He feels Daniel shiver against him, and manages to untangle his arm and slip it around his shoulders. Daniel allows himself to be drawn in, and gradually the shivers slow.

"Yeah, pretty much," he says at length. "Sex? Easy. Most of the time anyway."

Daniel's skin is cool to the touch, and Giles finds himself content just to touch, rather than continue talking. Daniel, however, rests his chin on Giles's chest and exhales noisily.

"Yeah, easy. Easier. The other stuff's not," Daniel says.

"I see," Giles replies. This moment is quiet and cool, and he feels absolutely no urge to disturb it with words or soil it with analysis. He smiles into the dark, at the ceiling, content just to be.

His stomach growls, and he realizes he's not going to eat until morning.


Oz wishes sometimes he could split Giles into two like Captain Kirk. That way he could have his Giles, the one whose fingers are stroking Oz's leg gently as he reads, and then another Giles who could tell him everything he needs to know. Wants to know, whatever.

But telling's not really Giles's style. He's more an ask lots of leading questions and then take you through your answers kind of guy. Okay, then, with Giles II, they could sit down at the big library table and figure out if Oz is okay. Maybe get one of those portable rolling chalkboards and use it for notes and flow charts, stuff like that. It might look as bizarre as geometry does at first, but they'll figure out a couple theorems and take it from there.


"Mm-hmmmmm?" Giles draws out the sound until he's finished the sentence, then closes the book. And Oz can't believe his patience; the guy's practically a saint, considering how much he's bothered and interrupted all the time. He shifts a bit and blinks tiredly at Oz. "Hello."

"Hi," Oz says. He's scrunched up in the opposite corner of the couch, legs stuck out, pushing against Giles's thigh. He digs his toes in against the fabric a couple times before Giles swats him lightly.

"Ticklish," Giles says. "What's on your mind?"

"Got a question for you."

"Fire away."

"How come there's so many rules? Like, laws and stuff. Jaywalking and shoplifting. Not the big stuff, murder and rape. I get why there are laws against that. But how come almost everything's defined all the way down to like what color your shingles can be and can't be?"

As the question goes on and on, Giles kind of slides down a bit until he's almost lying against Oz's leg, propped up on his elbow. Oz doesn't want to talk this much, but he wants to be clear. It's a stupid enough question he's working up to that he doesn't want Giles thinking he's any stupider than he actually is.

"So you're asking about civilization and social systems of order?" Giles asks. He rolls a little and brings his free hand up to rest on Oz's thigh. So, god, now with the touching; Oz is never going to get where he wants to go with this.

"Not really," Oz says. He tries to pull his legs up to his chest, but that just lands Giles's hand in his lap. Giles almost smirks at him and that's a definite improvement from being bruise boy. His eyes go all crinkly and dark green when he smirks. "Okay, I'll make this fast."

"Take your time," Giles says. "I'm not going anywhere."

No, he doesn't seem to be going much of anywhere. His hand's not even moving, but Oz can almost feel his pulse ratcheting up through his shorts.

He coughs, takes a deep breath, and says, "How come there's all those rules for stupid shit, but there's nothing that tells you how to name what you're feeling?"

Great, that's out of the way and Giles can think about it later. Much later, because right now Oz is bracing his hand behind him and launching himself forward into kissing and groping.


Giles owes all his gratitude to Daniel for allowing the oppressive tension to evaporate, simply by studiously ignoring it. He often wonders if Daniel even notices the emotional states of others, but for the moment, he is grateful. He owes the boy.

Gratitude or an enormous load of guilt.

He falls a bit behind Daniel as they walk toward the coffee house. He could be guilty right now, but he cannot be sure. Perhaps he does not want to embarrass the boy in front of passing acquaintances; perhaps he does not want to be embarrassed, although he has so few acquaintances himself that were they to pass, he would see them coming from a mile away. Something nasty and more than a little crass tells him that he is simply admiring the view back here. Tiny waist he could span with his hands with a little effort, and incongruously broad shoulders. A gentle rocking bounce in Daniel's step that is at odds with his flat and tattered trainers.

Daniel pauses at the door and holds it open for Giles. "You sit," he says. "I'll get the java."

Giles would like a secluded table, but the restaurant seems to have been designed by a professional hostess, one who knows exactly how to get strangers to mix and make nice with each other. He settles on the booth farthest from the door.

At the counter, Daniel appears to be deep in conversation with a tall, sharp-featured redhead. Giles occupies himself with trying to decipher the menu options scrawled in garish colors on the chalkboards over the counter. It is slow going, but fascinating; the lettering reveals influences of both the Arts and Crafts movement, particularly in the serifs, and Warhol's later Pop pieces, especially in regards to the squat spread of the lines and the blocky uprights.

Thanks to the squeaking of the wooden banquette, which rivals some of the worse church pews he has had the misfortune to occupy over the years, Giles finally registers Daniel's return. He looks down and finds, much to his relief, a simple mug of coffee in front of him.

Daniel, on the other hand, has set about preparing a huge cup of something that, beneath the froth and sprinkles and cinnamon sticks, may once have been coffee.

Daniel tilts his head as he stirs the concoction, his lips tight with concentration. "What?" he asks without looking up.

"That's quite a — " Giles begins. He does not want to hurt Daniel's feelings. "Quite a drink."

"Gross, huh? All I wanted was a half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon, and look what she gave me."

Giles finds himself goggling while Daniel sets down the spoon and smiles at him.

"Kidding. Not about it being gross, 'cause it is." Yet he leans forward and sips it gingerly. A white scud adheres to his top lip and Giles schools himself into stillness. He is at least conscientious enough to remember where he is and keep his hands in his lap. Daniel licks the froth away, the tip of his tongue sharp, and peers at Giles. "Good boy."


"Nothing," Daniel says. "You're really on your best behavior today, aren't you?"

Giles reaches for the jar of sugar and tips a short stream into his coffee. When he has stirred it sufficiently, sipped, and set it back in its saucer, he rests his hands on the table. "Have you received your class schedule for the fall?"

Daniel slurps at the now muddied froth. "Yeah. Why?" he asks, somewhat distractedly.

"Just like to be sure that you will be challenged," Giles says.

"Yes, Dad." Daniel pushes away the drink, grimacing, and picks up the dirty spoon, rapping it on the back of his hand. He nods along to the rhythm and looks back at Giles, smiling not a little beatifically. "I'll be challenged. Highly challenged. And I'll never go near the sweet jane again. And I promise to go to church every Sunday."

"I'm serious, Daniel." Giles wants to snap at him, or cuff him on the head. It occurs to him to demand that Daniel act his age, except for the fact that he is acting his age. Giles is the one misbehaving.

"So'm I. Completely — totally — crossing my heart, hoping to die — serious." Daniel sits back, drumming his palms on his stomach. "I am. Big time."

"You don't care for school, do you?"

Daniel turns his head to look around the nearly empty restaurant. He keeps up the beat on his belly as he starts to whistle under his breath. His attempt to avoid the subject rivals Giles's own stunts in its complete transparency, and Giles feels himself softening. So often these days he slips from anger and impatience to an almost overwhelming sense of indulgence and affection.


"Yeah, Giles?"

"Ready to go?"

Daniel looks back at him, and the smile with which he graces Giles is truly beatific. For an instant, that is, before it slides into a rather grotesque leer. "Got some plans?" Daniel asks hoarsely.

That is precisely the issue: Giles does have plans. But he finds himself increasingly unable to see them coming to fruition.


Oz is pretty flexible. Adaptable. It comes in handy in a town where kids sometimes just don't come back to school on Monday and stores close in the dead of night. To hear his mom tell it, though, he's always been this way. Calm baby, sweet toddler, pretty dreamy kid.

Okay, so the dreaminess probably isn't good when it comes to school, but that's just a little part of life. In the long run, anyway. In like a week or so, school's going to be a very big part of life for at least another year. He's getting the feeling, and this probably shouldn't surprise him, that Giles is going to be the ultimate hardass about him doing his homework.

So he's not about to waste any time. He heads for Building 4616 every chance he gets, skipping rehearsals, ditching Dev, leaving a mess of notes for his mom. He's gorging himself on this the way bears eat more salmon than they want and get so blubbery they can hardly move. Storing up for hibernation.

Sometimes when Giles is busy or asleep, Oz just wanders around the apartment, checking it out like he's visiting for the first time. He's not sure what he's looking for. He doesn't find it, anyway. He just wants to get a good sense of what the place is like, how it feels when it's cloudy versus sunny, whether things are different at midnight than they are right before dinner or after breakfast.

Maybe he's not looking for something so much as getting the feel of the place, storing it up inside his skin and behind his eyes. Giving himself enough material to use for the times he'll have to be in class before he can get back here.

There's sharing space, he gets that, but then there's spending time. How come space can be shared like food, but time is wasted like money?

Makes no damn sense.


Daniel is kissing him quite thoroughly. Giles has only been out for less than two hours, but the boy slipped quickly against him as soon as he opened the door. Tugging him inside, Daniel reached behind Giles and shut the door with the flat of his palm before pushing him back against it.

His shirt is open, and Daniel's, tossed on the floor, as Daniel grips him, one hand at his waist, the other on his shoulder, humming around Giles's tongue. He tastes like tomatoes, hot from the sun and almost unbearably sweet. When Giles captures one hand and brings it between them to his mouth, he tastes the sticky juice on Daniel's fingers, undercut with the tang of salt.

"Chopping," Daniel says simply as he nudges his finger between Giles's lips. "Last of the toma — "

Giles sucks the finger hard into the back of his throat and Daniel breaks off into a gravelly sigh, sagging alarmingly. Giles holds him up by the waist. Daniel tightens his arm around Giles, rocking back on his heels, then forward onto the balls of his feet, bringing his lips up against Giles's chest. A low, heady thrum builds around Giles's spine as Daniel presses closer, and he worries at the finger with his teeth until Daniel nips at his clavicle and pulls away.

"Get that?" Daniel asks.

Giles hears the phone ringing for the first time.

Daniel crosses his arms over his chest. "'Course, I could, but maybe you — "

It is an idle threat, Giles knows this, yet panic spangles his vision and he races to pick up the receiver.

It is worse than even his guilt-soaked imagination could have predicted.

"Rupert? Travers."

Giles collapses onto the nearest surface; the side table, it turns out, which creaks ominously beneath him. "Yes, sir, of course — " He realizes he is trying to tug his shirt closed and smooth his hair as if suddenly exposed to the glare of police torches.

"I wonder, Rupert, how long you thought you might prolong this charade."

Daniel wanders over to the steps and sits, leaning back on his elbows, knees knocking open and closed.

"You may be very far away," Travers continues. Giles closes his eyes. Strange that when the moment comes, he is this calm. Shouldn't his chest be heaving with something other than the remnants of lust?

"But, really, Rupert. Do you think us utter fools? Falsifying documentation, defrauding the Council on numerous occasions: These are serious offenses. Offenses that require severe consequences." Travers is savoring this, Giles can tell. He lingers on the final syllables of "consequences" as if testing wine, rolling them on his fat pink tongue.

"I understand that, sir," Giles says. When he opens his eyes, Daniel is out of sight. He twists around, tracking the boy's movement, finding him in the kitchen, filling a glass of water.

"And they pale in comparison to the real problem," Travers says with utter satisfaction. He is nearly breathless with it.

"What is that?" Giles sounds bored to his own ears, and wonders if he feels it, or if it is for Travers's benefit. Or Daniel's.

"Where is she, Rupert?"

"Who?" Giles stands from the wavering table and moves towards the dining area. Daniel slips past him and Giles trails his knuckles down the boy's back.

"Droll. I can see you haven't lost your charm. The girl. Where is she?"

"Buffy?" Giles says. He nearly whispers her name, as if it is a curse or a charm, laden with power. He clears his throat. "She's currently in Los Angeles. Due to return any day now."

"How can you be sure of that?"

"I can't, you're right. But I am. Buffy will return shortly. And then — " He falters as he catches sight of Daniel. The boy wraps an arm around his narrow waist and twists in the opposite direction, his head lolling. The movement is entirely innocent; he is, most likely, just working out a kink in his back. Yet Giles suppresses a gasp at the seductive twist of muscles, the way the motion lifts Daniel's small, pale nipples and drops his saggy waistband, revealing for a moment the thatch of hair below his navel. Daniel shakes out his arms and moves on; Giles squeezes shut his eyes and licks his lips. "Then all will return to normal, I assure you."

"Odd, isn't it?" Travers says. "How you can assure me so blithely, as if your word meant anything."

"Buffy is coming back, sir." Giles opens his eyes to see Daniel's bare feet disappear up the stairs. "When she does, I will be myself again."

"You're speaking of the boy." Travers exhales raggedly. Giles hears, beneath the croupy sound, a squeak and sigh of leather, and he knows that Travers is tipping back in his chair, a smug little grin widening on his face.

"I-I don't know what you mean."


Oz wants to be around Giles. Wants to be touched — although he can get that anywhere; wants to talk — although his voice works elsewhere; wants to hang.

He's having trouble finding the space between himself and Giles. He doesn't think they're the same person or anything. He wouldn't want that, first of all, and anyway that whole soulmate thing is pretty creepy. He's not thinking like that. It's more about whether he can find where he is just Oz, outside of the space he shares with Giles. This problem of space, what it's like being with Giles — hell, what it's like when he's alone, thinking about Giles. It's all wavery and unfolding, this sense of constant development without any end.

And he knows how stupid he is, because that's how he pictures time, too. He probably got it from A Wrinkle in Time, this idea that time's a stretch of fabric or string. He always kind of pictured the tassel that hung off his grandma's good drapes; it was twisted and braided, the color of old brass. Anyway, time's this unending undulating cord, and it can be bunched up, wrinkled, bringing distant events together. So the picture in his head? Not even his own. He could lie to himself and pretend he's just recycling the image, that it's some kind of mental-imaginative conservation thing, good for the soul. But maybe, more likely, he's just dumb.

So Giles has a girlfriend, name of Buffy. That's something right there that shows how dumb Oz can be. And she's been away for the summer. But she's coming back, probably from something for smart people in the city, like at the Getty, where you learn how to read those inscriptions in stone that Giles is always poring over in his books. Or maybe she's an actress, and she's been away on a shoot.

Oz can see that, easy. Bit younger than Giles because, hey, he seems to like 'em young. Smarter than your average actress. Stage training, not just commercials and shit; and how does he know the hierarchy of acting anyway?

He's running to the end of the cord, and wasn't the whole point of it the fact that there wasn't an end? That it could get twisted or wrinkled or whatever, but it would keep going on and on? Except it seems Giles has a big old pair of pruning shears, and he's about to snap it off.

Nice of him to share.


About the boy, Travers had said. He is not so stupid after all. Or, perhaps, Giles is not nearly as intelligent as he would like to think. He truly is as transparent and easily-read as anyone else. He may be better at inventing circuitous routes of logic, justification, and self-loathing, but when all is said and done, he is no better than, just as bad as, everyone else.

He cannot, however, say the same of Daniel. The boy is unique. Giles's first mistake was believing that being able to see that made him special, too.

He wants very much to look forward to September, past the next several days, through the last long weekend. Toward the first sight of Buffy's upturned, laughing face, just after her first joke at his expense.

It is safe to love her: That is his job, and, more than that, his vocation. In her presence, he may fade to the status of cultural cliche, but he can, at least, be certain of his permanence. He would never go so far as to maintain that she is nothing without him; that would be utterly absurd and foolishly arrogant. But he is something with her.

Perhaps he is simply too old to tolerate willingly the possibility of impermanence. Perhaps he has grown to the point of knowing with what level of dependence and responsibility he is comfortable, beyond which he cannot pass. Perhaps he is simply too scared to try.

"So, grand hurrah," Daniel says, pulling the van up to the curb. "Plans for Labor Day?"

He has no plans, or he has too many. Even Giles is confused at this point. He lingers in his seat, hand on the latch, waiting for Daniel to take the key from the ignition.

"No," Giles says. "What do you normally do?"

"Feel bad for Jerry's kids," Daniel says mysteriously. "Get stoned. Fuck around like a degenerate."

He has been making comments like that, harsh and bilious, for several days now. Giles had originally thought he was simply nervous about school starting, or that there were problems with the band. As they accumulate, however, like pebbles in Giles's shoes, they become more and more difficult to ignore.

"Is something on your mind, Daniel?"

Daniel shakes his head and shrugs. "You going in?" He lifts his chin at the sidewalk.

"I thought you might join me," Giles says.

"Sure you have time?"

Giles does not press the issue. He simply unlatches the door, slides out to the ground, and leans back in. "I'd like it," he says, "if you joined me."

Daniel follows. The tilt of his head and shoulders is meek.

It is only after the dinner plates are washed and dried and a second bottle of wine opened that Giles notices the tremors in Daniel's hands, the relative quickness to his pace as he wanders the living room, the rapidity of his breathing.

"Something is on your mind," Giles says, pushing his chair back from his desk.

Daniel stops in front of the window to the garden. He puffs out a breath to fog it and draws looping spirals on the glass. "So you staked out the summer, huh?" he asks quietly, addressing the patterns he has drawn. "Surveyed with your little tripod and binoculars, got the lay of the land, and found yourself something to play with?"

Giles's fists clench. Words will not form on his tongue.

"That's great," Daniel continues. "The new conquistador, huh? Laying claim, moving on when it's exhausted."

"That's just not true," Giles says.

"No?" Daniel turns suddenly and advances on Giles until he reaches the desk. It is his turn to loom, and he does it well: arms stiff at his sides, eyes narrowed to points. "What, you think I'm lying?"

"I'll be here, you see. I'm not moving on." Giles does not bother to ask how Daniel knows any of this, where the clues were dropped, how badly his lies were taken. It is enough to hold still and make it through this conversation. "But you are."

"Oh, Daniel, you have so much to learn, so much to see — " Daniel mimics fairly well Giles's own accent, but his quiet, characteristically vague anger torques it into something sing-songy and effeminate.

Even Daniel, it seems, can find the cruelty everyone harbors somewhere in their heart. Some twisted paternal part of Giles is proud of him for that, even as the rest of him winces.

There is knife-sharp cruelty and more than a little deliberation in their argument. Giles finds that he can argue best with something resembling complete detachment.

"Got news for you, Giles. It's not just you. Not your summer, either."

"Since when do you care about your time?"

"Didn't have any, didn't care about it. Never thought about it."

"I know."

"Shut up, Giles. Never thought about it, 'til you decided to mortgage it and go for Park Place."

"You've lost me there."

Daniel inhales sharply enough that Giles shakes himself away from the cool embrace of detachment and checks his face. He is looking away, hugging his arms around his chest and completely still. "Never had you."

"That's not what I meant." Giles slides back into monitoring mode, knowing that if he does not, they will find themselves in a conversation that begins with semantics and slips into honesty. Better to argue now.


They argue. Then Daniel shoves him upstairs to bed.


Oz could give a flying fuck about some chick who's coming back. That's not the problem, and Giles is smart enough to get that and not offer any stupid apologies or explanations.

"Hey, here's something," Oz says, stripping off his tee shirt and throwing it on the bed. Giles is so tense and quiet it's almost funny, like if he makes too much noise he'll crack. He's got himself backed up against the headboard, posture just as perfect as it always is, but his jaw's tight and his eyes are little slits like he's afraid he's going to start crying. "How come I've never fucked you?"

Giles glares at him but licks his lips all the same. It's kind of hot. Creepy as hell, but hot. "Well, you see, when a pederast takes a catamite — "

"Fuck you, Giles."

"No, you're not listening," Giles says sadly. "Such a thing would be inconceivable."

Oz hasn't felt this hot and flushed, soaked with sharp little feverish pinpricks, in a hell of a long time. When he climbs up over Giles, bracing his arms on either side of his head and looking down, Giles's eyes are glittery and black, his mouth all thin and snaky. "Rules, right? All those rules in your head."

Maybe this is where he's separate from Giles. Right here, a couple inches above him, their cocks rasping against each other, so close he can feel Giles's breath like wind on his face. That would be ironic.

The thing of it is, Oz hates irony. Loathes it. It's probably easy to make the mistake of thinking he's big on it, what with the wry monosyllabism and all. Irony is about knowing something someone else doesn't know, and finding that amusing. He picked that up in English class somehow, and the whole concept bothers him. Why not just tell the other person? Laughing at them because you know something is just wrong.

It's also making him really fucking hard. Combined with the little squeals Giles is making, little moans and whimpering pleas. Jagged thrusts against Oz's stomach, nails raking his sides as one legs comes up and wraps around the back of Oz's thigh.

He'd rather not be separate right now, thanks all the same. Oz pushes away and sits back on the bed.

"Nope," he says when Giles reaches for him. "Sorry, man."


Daniel left Giles in bed and slept on the couch that night.

When Giles finds him in the morning, he kisses him chastely and hands him his orange juice. "Drink up," Daniel says. "Don't want scurvy."

If his first mistake was thinking he was special, Giles had plenty of time last night to work through the mistakes succeeding that one. Taken together, they all point to his reluctance to acknowledge the boy's inherent kindness. He is young, and more prone to anger than Giles originally thought, but he is more gentle and kind than Giles, monstrous and greedy as he is, ever deserved.

"Eat," Daniel says and hands him a bowl of Weetabix decorated with peach slices. "Milk's on the table."

Giles wants to ask why he is being subjected to this, but at the same time he knows that it is the best possible, most well-deserved torture anyone could conceive. He carries his bowl to the dining table and sits like a good boy.

"There's a carnival today," Daniel says when he joins him. He pats Giles's shoulder. "Eat, would you?"

Giles obeys mechanically. Twigs and slugs would taste better.

"There's rides. Dorky little midway and horse shows or something. Wanna go?"

He looks up to find Daniel smiling at him, brows raised. Giles swallows the mess in his mouth and attempts to remember what he should say in this situation. There are hundreds of words from which to choose, yet he would like nothing more than to retreat upstairs and hide under his duvet like the coward he is.

"Not going all repentant again, are you?" Daniel asks. "'Cause, you know? Already did that."

Giles swallows and keeps his gaze steady on Daniel's face. "Be quiet for a moment, will you?"

"Sorry," Daniel says. Giles holds up his hand. "Right. Not sorry."

"I've said this before," Giles says. "But be patient with a doddering old fool, will you?"

Daniel nods. "Not old," he observes. "What? It's true."

Giles cannot speak and see Daniel at the same time, much less have to endure his kneejerk kindness. He stirs the remnants of cereal and watches the threads of peach flesh waver in the milk. "The parts we have to play, roles to be assumed. You recall that? I was wrong — deeply, terribly wrong."

Daniel pushes away his bowl and places the spoon next to it. "I don't know, it kind of made sense."

"It's sensible, to be sure," Giles says. He feels words align themselves in his mind, subdued and obedient as pauper children awaiting gruel. "That does not make it any less wrong, or pig-headed, or hideously arrogant."

"Thing is — " Daniel rises from the table and rearranges the bangles on his wrist. "It's really easy to say that now. Apologizing later? Always easy."

"You like easy," Giles hears himself say. "Don't you? You have no taste for the complex."

Daniel is at the door, sweatshirt in his hand, when Giles looks up. "I'm out of here."


Days pass, and Oz sleeps a lot.

He's been keeping bad hours in addition to all his other bad habits this summer, and he's going to need all the rest in the world when school starts on Tuesday.

He'd like to pretend that this is the way the end of summer always feels. Like you woke up from a coma and everyone's gone, everyone you ever loved and trusted. He pretends pretty well for his mom, even for Dev, the one time he calls.

But he's never figured out endings. Sure, there's graduation. Funerals. But they're all made up, you know? They tell you what to do, tell you how to feel, and when. That's why they're called ceremonies. You don't even have to be there, and they'd still be held.

He's right here, though. Not going anywhere.


Giles knows now that is too easy to believe in the myth of multiple selves, in his old vision of the wardrobe. As if he could separate experiences and decisions out into virtual people, shrug on Ripper when he felt frisky, button up the librarian when circumstances called for restraint and analysis, exchange any of them at will. It is so easy to believe that it can't possibly be true. It is a tale cleaned up for children, tidied to the point of habit and cravenness, and he has to be better than this.

And it is habitual and craven to blame Ripper for every revolting action and stupid decision. But it's also easy. He would like to believe that when he touched Daniel, every single time, that he had entered a fugue state, had given way to someone stronger and crueler, to Ripper. And even if that were not true, he wishes to God that it had been Ripper at the breakfast table the last time he saw the boy.

He remembers sitting on the edge of his bed that evening before the concert, wearing only old chinos and his undershirt, never dreaming that he had arrived at some sort of fork in the road. He would have thought he was well past such moments. They belonged to young men, antsy with possibility and brimming with doubt. Sitting hunched there, however, he was more naked and unformed than any infant.

He should have listened to the doubt, and poured himself a drink. Settled onto the chesterfield for a good long read, dozed off, and woken to the early morning, glasses twisted up his forehead.

He should not have risen, pulled on a shirt, and left the house.

As he does now, holding a scrap of recycled paper on which Daniel had scrawled the address of the band's new rehearsal pace. There is no chance in the world that he will find Daniel there, but he goes anyway.

The storage spaces are arrayed in a bewildering maze of outbuildings and former warehouses, and Giles wanders for nearly an hour before he finds the right one.

Of course, only Devon is there.

Giles pauses in the entrance and clears his throat. Devon looks up from the pad in his hand.

"The hell you doing here?" he asks.

Giles raises his hand in a gesture that is part supplication, part greeting. "Hello, Devon. Have you seen Oz?"

"Lost your boy toy, huh? That's rough." Devon shakes his head, smirking, and goes back to his notebook. Giles leans against the wall, hands in his pockets, knowing that he can outlast any of this child's obnoxious behavior.

"You still here?" Devon says without lifting his eyes from the page. He has spoken far more quickly than Giles was expecting.

"Yes. I believe I asked you a question."

Devon rakes back his hair and tosses aside the notebook. Bracing his hands on his knees, he rocks back and forth, still smirking, eyes narrowing as he takes Giles in. "No, haven't seen him. That all?"

"I suppose so," Giles says, but he makes no move to go.

Devon licks his lips so slowly that Giles knows the gesture is deliberate. He just cannot tell whether the deliberation is supposed to be seductive or rude, or some combination thereof. Giles shifts until he is more comfortable, crossing one ankle over the other.

"You didn't fucking listen," Devon says.


"You're really smart," Devon says. "But that's your problem. No one's as smart as they think they are. Not Oz. Not you."

Giles crosses his arms, pretending to give this due consideration. "I'm afraid you're going to have to explain. I'm not quite following you."

"So smart, think you don't have to listen," Devon says, standing up and starting to pace. "That clear enough?"


"I told you not to fuck with him."

"You have a point," Giles says. "But I don't recall ever being told — especially by you — anything about what and what not to do with Daniel."

Devon blinks and runs his thumb over his lower lip. "Didn't I?" he asks. He actually looks a bit concerned and confused. "I must have."

Giles starts to think that his former panic was misplaced, a simple matter of overreaction. It's going to be all right. He starts to believe this ridiculous interview is drawing to a close, that Devon is calming down after his initial, obnoxious jitteriness. That any moment now he will learn where to find Daniel.

"But I always have that talk," Devon protests. "Whenever Oz hooks up."

"Hooks up?" Giles cannot resist the snideness.

Devon shrugs, and Giles does admire his stubbornness, even if it is truly exasperating. "Yeah. The talk. Goes a little like this: Don't fuck with him. Don't hurt him. Have fun. Anyway, it must've slipped my mind — "

Giles nods and even smiles politely as Devon resumes pacing, shaking his head, disappointed and contrite.

"I've been smoking a hella lot of weed. Maybe that's it."

Giles continues nodding and smiling as patiently as he can manage.

"Or maybe — " Devon says, turning towards Giles and grinning widely. "Maybe it's because it never would have occurred to me that a nice smart old guy like you would, you know, molest my best friend."

Giles is on him instantly, hand on his chest, driving Devon back into the metal wall. Devon's head bounces back, and the metal thumps and rings, but he never stops grinning.

"Dude," he says, grasping Giles's wrist. "Personal space, okay?"

Giles pushes him back again, sliding his hand up to the boy's throat. "Don't you ever say that word again."

"I'm sorry. I'm not on NAMBLA's mailing list. Is there a better term for molesting someone?"

Two fingers laid against Devon's windpipe; pressed gently, they make the boy's eyes widen and dim the worst of the grin. "What did I just tell you?"

Devon's pupils are dilated, his cheeks flushed in his otherwise rapidly paling face, and his breathing jagged and harsh. For a flash, Giles remembers with his entire body just how good this feels, having someone under your hands, wriggling, about to start pleading. The border between sex and violence cannot be discerned with the body.

He eases the pressure of his fingers slightly. "Do you understand?"

Devon nods, his eyes darting everywhere. Giles shakes his head and knocks him back again. "I didn't hear you. Do you — "

"Giles. Stop it."

At the sound of Daniel's voice, Giles wheels around, off-balance, releasing Devon as he turns. He hears him slide down the wall but does not take his eyes off Daniel. He stands slumped, hands deep in his pockets, in the entrance. A skinny silhouette against the white glare.

"Dev? You okay?"

Devon coughs and sputters behind Giles, but Giles cannot move.

"Yeah," Devon says. "Wind knocked out, is all."

Daniel nods shortly and turns away. Unmoving, cemented and more shamed than he ever thought possible, Giles watches him fade into the glare of the sun.

When he is gone, Giles turns, offering a hand to Devon.

The boy flinches. "Don't fucking touch me, man."


Oz waits by Giles's car. It was pretty obvious he was here, since it's not like anyone else drives anything remotely resembling this thing. He's been waiting for a while now, starting to wonder.

He doesn't know what he's doing. Definitely doesn't know what he did that made Giles jump Dev like that. To be fair, though, Dev probably pushed him into it; he's talented like that.

But mostly Oz is just wondering. He doesn't know what he's doing. Let alone feeling. If he's feeling anything. Days in bed kind of tend to numb you out like that, so you have to wonder if you're even awake. Everything's just majorly out of whack. Just all shoved around and out of order, except he never noticed there was an order to things before. Now it's different and he's so mixed up it's not even funny.

The worst part? Can't ask Giles about it because he's obviously a hell of a lot more mixed up than Oz. And isn't that just so beautifully ironic.

When Giles finally appears, Oz meets him and takes his hand. Feels grateful that Giles lets him and doesn't even look around first or anything. They walk past the end of the parking lot into the weeds and down the hill to the where a stream used to run. It's cemented over now, thanks to flood warnings and LA's need for water and all that Chinatown stuff. When he was a kid, he used to lie on top of the hot cement with his ear pressed up against it. If you could hear the ocean in shells, he figured, it should be cake to hear the stream under the cement.

This time, though, he takes Giles just to the edge of the streambed and sits down across from him.

"May I ask you something?" Giles says. So polite it hurts.

"Told you already."


Oz pulls one knee up to his chest and puts his chin on it. "Ask me anything. That's not going to change." Giles looks pale, even with the sun starting to lower and go all rusty.

"Can you try to tell me what's bothering you?" Giles asks. "I know, you can't. I just — "

"'Sokay," Oz says. He'd much rather just sit here for a while, but Giles is fond of the words and the talking, and this is the least he can do for him. "Um, see, it's weird."

"Weird." Giles is gentle again, but this is different from their super-bruise days. It's like he's being gentle with himself, like he broke all his ribs and has to move — speak, whatever — without straining anything. "All right."

Oz runs his fingers up and down his shin bone for a while, trying to figure out what to say. "I'm not upset that you thought it had to end, you know," he says. Giles's eyes go a little wide at that. "That makes me sad, but it's not what's bothering me."


"Yeah," Oz says. "I mean, yeah, you could have told me. That would have been polite."

Giles nods. "Fair enough. So what is it?"

Oz wants to take this carefully. He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but that doesn't mean he can't try. "I'm starting to see why people hook up sex to love. Starting to get the point of the whole tunnel-vision thing. It's not like it's natural or anything. But it's safer. It's what you do in the dark when you don't know what's going to happen next. I get that now. Way easier to focus on one body and forget about the others. If you screw that up, well, fine. Tunnel's already dug. Just look for another light."

Giles brushes his hand over Oz's and squeezes. "I don't think you actually believe that."

"Prob'ly not. But it's better in the long run. Maybe I'll luck out. Stumble across someone magnificent. Maybe not. Probably not. Doesn't matter."

Giles drops his hand at the same time his head kind of tips forward until he's looking down into his lap. "You're shutting down."

"Yeah," Oz says. "Learned a lot from you, haven't I?"

"It would appear so."

He can see all the crinkly lines around Giles's eyes, and all of a sudden Oz gets scared. Really scared, not afraid like when Dev was dangling against the wall, or when Giles was glaring at him, daring him to fuck him, not even as scared as he felt the time he invited Giles to the concert. But really scared. Because, god help him, if Giles cries, he doesn't know what he's going to do.

He hisses out a breath, trying to stop whatever's about to happen. Which is really helpful, isn't it? Like whistling in a hurricane or whatever. "Giles?"

Giles looks back at him, eyes not so crinkly, but his face is all pale and tight, and that's even worse. "I can understand that, you know."

"I know," Oz says. His heart's skipping around like a gerbil on crack and he tries to smile, tries to get a smile or little look from Giles, some tiny thing he can hold onto, just for a second, while he calms down.

Giles, though, isn't giving anything away. Just gazing steadily over Oz's shoulder. Voice all quiet and librarian-y. "But you're going to need to remember a few things. Can you do that?"

Oz wraps his hand around his shin and leans forward. "I can try."

"I mean for me," Giles says. Then he shakes his head like he's made some horrible mistake. "You don't owe me anything, I know that. But I'm going to ask anyway. Indulge the old man one more time?"

"Not old," Oz says. "But go ahead." Giles needs to talk because he's afraid; he gets that, and that's okay. He can talk as much as he wants.

"Don't forget that you're choosing to shut down. That it's a move you can change later. If, when, you need to."

Oz has to smirk at that. Like moods were like hats or something, and they can be changed if you just wanted it hard enough. "Sure."

"I'm serious. The worst thing you can do to yourself is forget that."

Oz nods slowly as he runs his palms up and down his forearms, shivering slightly in the twilight chill. "Okay."

"One more thing," Giles says. "Is that all right?"

"Yeah. Of course." Only one more? He's kind of hoping Giles had some huge list of demands, all sorts of stuff, big and small, that it would take weeks to work through.

Giles reaches out and strokes Oz's cheek. It feels really nice, warm and soft. "The next time you feel like this — "

Oz jerks back. "Not gonna happen."

"Believe me," Giles says. "It will. Just do me this favor, all right?"

"Yeah." He sighs. Sometimes Giles can be almost as dense as Oz. Like he's ever going to put himself in this kind of place again.

"The next time, call it love. Even if you don't think it is, try to call it that. At the very least, it will make him or her very happy."

"Fuck, no. Not love."

Giles shakes his head and removes his glasses. "As you wish."

He can't take this much longer. Just — No. He's shivering and his lips feel chapped, and the ache in his knuckles is kind of throbbing and jerking around like he's suddenly come down with arthritis. Oz leans forward.

"My turn?"

Giles cups his cheek, and maybe this is the last time Oz gets to wonder what he sees when he looks at him like that, and that sucks more than anything, because it's getting dark so he can't make out all the green lights and flecks and little spangles in the eyes.

"It wasn't like Dev said. Like toying with someone," Oz says. "Getting your rocks off with a warm toy or something." He's embarrassed now, which he probably should've been earlier; maybe that would have kept him from opening his mouth. "Fuck buddies, or whatever."

"No," Giles says. "Not that." And that's bizarre, because Oz wasn't asking anything. He was trying to tell Giles something. Giles thinks he's a slut, and that's okay. But the point of it was that he let Giles know that's not what was going on. That's all. But here Giles is, agreeing with Oz like they're trying to answer a problem set and checking their work against each other's. Like Oz was asking him something yet again.

Oz takes Giles's hand. It just kind of lies there like something dead. A fish or a slab of meat. He trails his fingertips over the back of the hand. He can't look up. "But I could do that, you know," Oz says. If he has to spell it out, he will, but it's not going to be pretty. "If you wanted."

Giles chuckles dryly. Not laughing. Just rocks moving around against each other. "I can, as well. In fact, I will. Whenever you might want me."

"Huh?" That can't make the sense Oz thinks it does.

"As I said. Whenever you want," Giles says. "But you? You deserve better than that."

"All or nothing, right?"

Giles nods.

Oz holds his breath, but nothing else happens.

They stop talking.


Giles will promise Daniel anything. He will do anything the boy asks of him.

He is certain that Daniel knows this.

Hence the silence.


It's quiet now.

And now goes on for a good long time. Lasts longer than Oz ever thought it could.

The dark seeps around them. Couple of locusts trill. A frog hoots and burps in the weeds. Chilly, getting chillier, as they walk back to the parking lot, their fingers, hands, arms entwined.

Against the side of the van: One deep, rapid kiss, totally wanton and wet that sets them both grinning and moaning, liquifying hands and limbs, liberating zippers and hems until their hands are twined around rigid cocks, fingers interlaced, thrusting together in this long fluid rhythm while they stare at each other, beaming, almost singing as they come.

Then one dry hard kiss, all stubble and teeth, a swipe of sticky palm on crappy paint-job, and Oz moves to the van's door. Giles stands there, smiling back at him.

"Should get going," Oz says. Giles nods as Oz scratches the back of his head and squints. "Later, huh?"