The Purpose Of Photographs
by KindKit

YOUR PHOTOS! is emblazoned on the yellow envelope, and Giles starts tearing it open before he's properly inside the door. All afternoon he's been pinpricked with anticipation. He almost came home early, but he's trying to maintain a little self-discipline this summer, despite Buffy's holiday. Every day, he sits in the empty library in the mostly-empty high school, and reads. General research is valuable, he tells himself, but the truth is that if Oz weren't working Monday to Friday at the Tru-Note Music Emporium, Giles wouldn't bother.

The envelope shreds, scattering pictures over the floor, and there's a good deal of stooping, cursing, and rearranging before Giles can sit down at the desk to look.

The topmost picture (the first picture he's ever taken of Oz, the first picture he's seen of Oz except his school ID) is so perfect that it's worth all the waiting — nearly two weeks of it for mail-order developing, since he can't take even these innocent pictures to the one-hour photo shop in the mall. Oz leans against the van's driver's-side window, faintly smiling, waiting (they'd stopped for petrol, a couple of hours from Sunnydale in the foothills of the mountains), and looking more solidly peaceful than he's ever looked in Sunnydale, before or since.

That was the moment their holiday began. Peering through the viewfinder at Oz's half-smile, Giles finally stopped worrying about delays, difficulties, the possibility of getting caught, and felt happy. It was like stepping out of a too-small pair of shoes and wriggling his toes.

This, Giles thinks, is what photographs are for. They're frozen slices of time, holding emotion intact, apt for resurrection, long after the event has decomposed into fragments. The bit of heavy paper in his hands isn't just an image of Oz in a brown shirt, it's the slow-settling relief of leaving the town behind, the freedom of anonymity, the lush joy of being alone together with a whole week before them.

It's such a beautiful picture that Giles is almost reluctant to set it aside and look at the others. But the rest, as he slowly works through them, are just as full of pleasure. There are none of the tourist photos he might ordinarily have taken, picturesque uninhabited landscapes. Instead, there's Oz. Bleary-eyed and rumpled, he drinks tea in reddish dawn light; he stands ankle-deep in the river, light falling on his sunburnt face; in one dim photo, he pokes at the fire, eyes narrowed and mouth set in concentration, as though he's defusing a bomb. There are a couple of Giles himself, hoisting his rucksack or perched awkwardly on a stump playing his guitar, although he rarely surrendered the camera.

Oz will want those, but Giles isn't sure he ought to have them, even though his mother isn't the snooping sort. If anyone should see them, they'll transform in an instant, from evidence of happiness to evidence of crime, from memory-markers to State's Exhibit A.

Giles would like to frame the first picture of Oz, tack some others up on the refrigerator, put his feelings on display like a normal person with nothing to hide. But perhaps it's better that he can't. If he could put the pictures out, he might stop noticing them. But if they're locked away like diamonds, if he has to make an effort to see them, they'll never lose the glint and shock of preciousness.

Maybe it's better, too, that there are things they daren't photograph, daren't show even an anonymous development lab in another city. There are no pictures of them together, even in the sort of friendly arms-about-the-shoulders pose that anyone (perhaps a father and son) might adopt. Certainly none of the laughing-and-kissing photos proudly exhibited by every couple Giles has ever known. Everything between them is hidden, secret as some Dionysiac cult, secret as magic itself. Kept safe, hidden from the vulgar, from prying eyes and quotidian minds.

Consolatory lies, all of it, making the best of a bad and sordid lot. It's not mystery, not sacredness that even now in the relative freedom of summer, he and Oz spend every evening in the flat with the curtains drawn. It's constraint, deception, skulking.

They've had real freedom or something close, for a week in the mountains, but it's not a freedom they can keep. Not yet, not with Giles' obligations and the brute pressure of the law. That's why they need photographs, slivers of freedom that they can hold until there's opportunity for it again.

In the meantime, Giles slips them back in the envelope, to show to Oz when he arrives.