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While Time Serves

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The apartment looks like a book army marched in and pillaged. Books on the floor, books on the stairs, books piled up on the toilet tank. Books lying sprawled where they fell or facedown like passed-out drunks. Oz has even found a couple of books in the refrigerator, which means Giles was reading until his brain just gave up.

One of the things Oz wonders, when he's driving the patrol van at night and stupid thoughts are like free Valium, is where Giles gets them. Mail hasn't been delivered for weeks, and it's not like you could buy this stuff at Barnes and Noble even if the mall was still open.

Maybe they're breeding, he thinks. He almost jokes about it to Giles, because Giles needs Valium worse than anybody. But Giles is really serious lately, and really literal. He'd spend a week figuring out if it was true, and maybe it is for all Oz knows, but it's not their biggest problem right now.

"Let me help," Oz says one morning after patrol, while Giles is making a pot of brute-force coffee and yawning every five seconds.

There's a little back and forth about resting, but Giles gives in fast. Oz knew he would. Giles wants to have scruples, he wants to be the grown-up and take the whole burden and keep the kiddies safe, but things aren't like that in Sunnydale anymore.

Giles writes down a word. Well, probably. Giles writes down a tangly shape, right-to-left like Arabic or Hebrew, only not. He points Oz at a stack of books and tells him to mark any page where the tangly shape occurs. It probably won't, he says, but it's absolutely vital to be sure.

After ten pages Oz would rather be doing anything else, even driving through what's left of his hometown looking for vampires to kill or victims whose bodies need incinerating. What's he going to do, though, say "Sorry, I'm tired and this isn't any fun"? Even the coffee, which tastes like mud and diesel, doesn't do much but make him need to piss. Which actually is kind of helpful, since it's hard to fall asleep if your bladder hurts.

He can't hold out forever, though. After he comes back from the bathroom his eyes start to go funny and all the tangles look alike. The couch, which is where he's been sleeping since last month when his parents didn't make it home, feels a lot softer than normal. Warm, safe morning sunshine melts him.

His head hurts when he wakes up, and the coffee aftermath coating his tongue is even grosser than the coffee was. His eyes focus, finally, on Giles's face, smooshed against the cushion with his glasses pushed halfway up his forehead. This close, way closer than he's ever been to Giles, Oz can see the soft texture of his eyelids and the red thready capillaries in his nose that people get when they drink too much. He needs a shave bad, and most of the stubble's coming in gray.

There's a book open on Giles's lap, and it's not one of the ones Oz was looking through. There's also a blanket over Oz. So, reconstruct. Giles put the blanket on him, felt lonely, decided to read here instead. On the floor, but with his head close to Oz's. He meant to go back to his desk after a few minutes, Oz thinks. Sitting crosslegged like that (his knees are gonna hurt) was supposed to keep him awake.

That's what happened. That's the seventh-grade book report version, the plot summary. That's, in other words, nothing. Interpretation is what counts. Analysis of themes and motives, and Oz can see how there might be room for dispute. It could be interpreted as sleazy, not much better than copping a feel.

But Giles isn't some pervert. He's Giles. He's trying to save Sunnydale with old books and homemade crossbows, and it's not even his town. He only came here to coach the superhero girl who never showed up, but when she didn't, he put on the cape himself.

Giles has the kind of face that gets handsomer the more you look at it. He knows about a million languages and he saw the Velvet Underground play live. Also there's the accent. The truth is, Oz has sort of had a crush since junior year. That was before the vampires, when Giles was just a librarian (with an accent) who said Oz should read Borges.

Maybe Giles was interested then, too. But it took hell on earth to wear him down enough to show it. To scrape the rules and conventions--the niceness--off him.

Giles is a good man; maybe a better man now that he's not such a nice one. Weird that the bravery it takes to fight vampires comes from the same place as the bravery it takes to make a half-unintentional pass at Oz, but it does. For Giles, anyway.

"Hey," Oz says quietly. Giles probably hasn't slept more than an hour or two. But tonight they're patrolling again. They could die. Waiting would be stupid, and once Giles knows what Oz wants, it's not like he'll mind. Oz touches him--just his hair, just a little, because somehow he's sure Giles never touched him when he was sleeping and didn't have a choice. "Hey, sleepyhead. Wake up."