Laconic

Wild Is The Wind

His alarm clock is old, and it buzzes rather than beeps. Vibrating bee-like on the bedside table, it pierces Giles' dreams and they quickly fade; false memories cast to the ether. He reaches out with a sleep-stiff hand to push the off switch, then lies back for a moment, listening to the sound of occasional traffic outside, and the hum of a washing machine in a neighbouring condo.

Next to him, Oz stirs in his sleep, turning over onto his stomach. His back is pale and smooth, but studded with freckles across the shoulders, and Giles gently runs his fingertips across the skin there, warm to the touch. He draws away reluctantly, before swinging his legs around and pushing himself up from the mattress. Yawning, he stretches, before scratching his flank just above the waistband of his pale blue boxer shorts, then pads downstairs and into the bathroom.

He answers the call of nature, then strips off his shorts. His shower is brief but hot, and he shaves in front of a cloudy mirror, washing away silver and dark bristles from the side of the sink. Teeth are brushed and then his ablutions are complete. He turns and looks at his reflection in the full-length mirror that hangs on the back of the bathroom door.

He is fifty today, a half century old. Almost twice the age of the young man in the bed upstairs.

Giles wonders if he looks good for his age. A hand runs through receding hair, brown streaked with grey. Around the eyes and on the forehead lines mark both age and injury. A paunch has developed, from age as much as excess. He still tries to keep fit, working out in the room he'd built for training Buffy in the back of the shop. Even so, he'll never attain a flat stomach again; he can only try to stop it from getting too concave.

He even finds silver in the hair on his groin.

He sighs, rubbing an eye, and lifts his robe from its hook, pulling it around his body, and goes to make some tea.

 

The washing machine is still swishing somewhere when he returns to the bedroom, working up to a spin cycle as he pulls on some clothes he selects from the neatly folded piles in his closet. Oz still lies on his stomach, drooling a little onto the pillowcase.

Giles indulges himself and leans across the bed to place his lips gently onto Oz's temple, letting hot fingers rest on the freckled back for another moment. He leaves the room and thinks of the madness; that he should share a bed with Oz for six months and yet they have never even kissed.

 

Trade is slow and the day drags, but that is how Giles prefers it.

He spends most of his time sitting at the round table, sipping green tea from a china mug, watching sunbeams slide slowly through dusty air, thinking about the last half year.

Oz had returned to Sunnydale without ceremony, just as he had the time before. This time, of course, he'd stayed; moving in with Giles as he said he would, spending a few nights on the sofa wrapped in an old tartan blanket, before taking the long vacant space on the right side of Giles' bed. He'd done that without ceremony too; Giles just woke up one morning to find Oz next to him. The older man never thought to make it an issue and so that was how it had stayed.

About a fortnight later Oz mentioned over breakfast that he'd moved what little clothing he owned into a drawer in their bedroom. Through a full mouth Giles had said, "Oh. Oh, uh, very good," and carried on eating his muesli. Oz had smiled, and Giles had felt his chest go suddenly tight at the thought that he had provoked that rare response.

After that Oz's constant, quiet presence became a beautiful and simple part of Giles' life. Oz didn't work as such, but he earned his keep by helping out in the shop and cooking some meals and generally being helpful. Giles knew that Oz felt as if he should do at least that, but the Watcher would have happily let him stay just for the days when quiet guitar music would drift down from the loft in the shop, or the nights when he would sit with a tumbler of scotch in his hand and opera on the stereo, and Oz would settle on the carpet, in front of him, flipping through an old Rolling Stone, or rolling another joint, or threading beads onto string, offering simple conversation when Giles sought it and staying quiet when he did not. Once, he fell asleep, head against Giles' thigh, breathing slowly as Giles ran his fingers through the dry hair and across the soft skin of Oz's neck.

Customers interrupt Giles' train of thought. When he gets back to his table the sunbeams have faded, and he pulls off his glasses and chews one of the plastic coated tips, which taste faintly of shampoo. Tastes like Oz smells. Or is that hair products in general? A smile lights up his face at the thought anyway.

"Oh, Rupert," he says aloud. Is he just a middle-aged man with a teenage crush? Is this just infatuation or love? Most importantly, does Oz feel anything for him? It was maddening not knowing for certain whether Oz's easy companionship was fraternal or a prelude to something more intense. He had never needed to worry before; Olivia and Jenny had made their feelings quite clear with sheer brazen seduction, taking the initiative and letting him follow in their wake. Even Joyce had been forward enough, albeit under the influence of Ethan's magick, to leave no doubt as to her intentions. Oz is so much more opaque, and Giles too scared that he will lose what he has with Oz by forcing the younger man's hand. Frightened to reach for Oz in case he discovers that Oz was a mirage all along.

Yet Giles feels time slipping away from him. Maybe it's a reaching-fifty crisis, but he knows better. His birthday has merely been a catalyst, he decides. He doesn't want to linger in this limbo, not knowing where Oz's feelings lie. "Dammit, man," he whispers under his breath, as he rises from the table, leaving the mug half full of cooling tea, and though fear knots his stomach he closes the store early and drives home, hoping that his resolve will last.

He tries to compose his thoughts in the car, tries to decide what he will say, but mentally all he does is throw balls of paper at a wastepaper basket. His words all sound too stilted or passionless or wrong in his mind and he needs this to be perfect.

There is jazz on the stereo when Giles opens his front door. He stops and rests a hand on the doorframe, wetting suddenly dry lips. He hears movement from the bedroom and climbs the stairs. Oz is in jeans and nothing much else. His hair is freshly damp and Giles can smell shampoo. Giles looks at the bed, and on it all of Oz's clothes are laid neatly out, and a bag open on the dresser.

Oz turns to him, a shirt in his hands. "Hey. You're early."

"Yes, I Oz, what are you doing with your clothes?"

Looking a little guilty Oz replies, "I was kinda hoping that we'd talk about it later, but I think I need to do my own thing."

Giles' chest goes tight and he blinks rapidly, as the sum total of his fears becomes real. "Please . . . don't."

Oz creases his brow, a little uncertain at this reaction. "I just don't think it's fair on you if I hang around without . . ."

Giles interrupts him. "Oz, please listen. I don't want you to leave."

"Giles, I . . ."

"Please, let me finish. I need to say this."

Oz puts the shirt down and nods. "Ok."

"I tend not to be very eloquent when it comes to talking about my feelings. A mixture of being male and being English, I suppose. So if this isn't as poetic as it should be that's why." Giles pauses, summoning courage for the next few words. "I . . . I love you, Oz." He'd finally said it.

Oz blinks and inhales. "Sounded poetic to me."

Abashed, Giles' cheeks redden and he looks at the carpet for a moment before returning his gaze to Oz. "I'm very glad you're here, Oz. The last few months I've been . . . happy. For the first time in a long time, because of you. And I know I'm a silly old fool who shouldn't be using this sort of emotional blackmail to get you to stay, but . . . I'd miss you. Terribly. Please consider staying."

Oz remained silent for a moment, looking out of the window. Then he looked at Giles. "I didn't mean to stay in the first place."

The Watcher's shoulders slump a little at this revelation. It didn't bode well, he thought.

"This was supposed to be me coming back to Sunnydale to prove I didn't need to, y'know? Let me put some ghosts to rest. But when I got here and you were so lonely Giles, I knew what that was all about, 'cause I realised that was me too. And now, since I got here, happiness has been a thing that I do. A thing I do with you."

"Then why leave?" Giles was pleading.

Oz smiled. "I'm not. I never was, I'm just looking out some clothes for an interview at the Sun, try and get myself a job in the box office. I feel bad for letting you pay for everything, I want to pay my way."

Giles breathed out, and felt suddenly giddy. "Oh. Oh, I see. I was a little forthcoming then, considering the situation. Sorry."

Oz shakes his head. "I never wanted to rush you Giles, didn't want to say anything that would make you uncomfortable. When you didn't get the hint in the beginning I didn't want to force anything. And I guess I'm scared."

"Of what?"

"Willow was the last person I felt this way about."

Giles blinked this time. "I'm sorry?"

"I love you too, Giles." And Oz has rarely looked so serious.

The words hang in the air for a moment, and then Giles laughs. All this time . . . "We're idiots, aren't we?"

"We would seem to have missed the obvious."

A sigh. "It's my birthday today you know."

Oz's eyes widen. "Shit, I didn't know."

"That's alright. I never told you."

Oz closes the distance between them. "Well, happy birthday."

Standing on tiptoes he reaches up and slides his arm around Giles' neck, pulling the older man's head towards his own. Their lips meet, and it is rough and smooth, barley sugar and lemon drops, release and captivation.

Giles lets his fingers rest on the freckled back. "Thank you."

Oz smiles, and reaches in for another kiss.



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Oz