A month had passed since the debacle with Spike had outed Willow’s relationship with Xander. Giles had watched the fallout from the painful revelation with silent anger and sympathy. The group had been split, probably permanently so. Willow and Xander both seemed honestly remorseful for what they had done, and they were getting the support they needed from Buffy. Cordelia’s plight was much worse. Hospitalized, emotionally crushed, and ostracized by her popular “friends,” she had become bitter. Giles had made an attempt to see her, only to have a vase of tulips thrown at his head, shattering against the door, as she yelled, “I don’t want to see any of you freaks!” He had not attempted a repeat visit.
But the one left squarely on the sidelines, the one no one seemed to think about, was Oz. Maybe it was because of his quiet nature, his lack of histrionics or internal bleeding for that matter, but no one noticed that the young man was obviously in pain. Except Giles, of course. The watcher had been trained to notice small things others passed over, and when he studied Oz, it was plain to see how damaged he was. It showed in a dozen little ways: his band no longer played the Bronze, his rainbow-colored hair had lapsed to its natural rusty state, but more than that his posture had closed in on itself, making him blend seamlessly into the cement block high school.
Giles wouldn’t have that.
Oz didn’t know what to make of it when the note on school stationary was delivered to him by a school runner in his third hour music class. It was the only one he showed up for with any degree of regularity anymore. However, instead of Snyder’s cramped handwriting telling him to clean out his locker for shirking responsibility, it read “please meet me in the library during lunch. G.”
Oz blinked slowly, stuffing the paper into his ratty spiral notebook and considering his options. He could ignore it, and a large part of him wanted to do just that. He didn’t want to see Willow yet. Brief glimpses of her in the school corridors were already almost too much to handle, and if Xander was there he wasn’t sure what he’d do to him. Seeing him brought out the wolf’s most dangerous aspects. Still, a nagging part at the back of his mind whispered that maybe people’s lives were at stake, and if anybody died because he decided he didn’t want to show up, it wouldn’t be right.
The clock ticked. Music led into history, which he realized he hadn’t been to in over a week, and then the bell rang for lunch. With the smooth ability of a long-time practitioner of the art of simply becoming part of the background, he edged his way towards the library, hoping he hadn’t made a mistake in coming. He stood for a moment outside the swinging doors, taking a deep breath and readying himself before walking in.
The library was completely empty. No Scoobies were grouped around the main table. There weren’t even any large, dusty books sitting around in haphazard piles. Instead, there was only a white plastic bag on the counter along with a red and white-checkered tablecloth.
The sound of a door shutting nearly made him jump, and he looked up to see Giles locking his office door.
“Oz, oh, yes, good afternoon. I see you got my note.”
“Yeah. What’s up? Where are the others?”
Giles pocketed his keys and shook his head. “No others. We’re taking a lunch break.”
“Lunch, Oz. It’s a custom common in most civilized countries. Rather like tea,” he said, picking up the bag and the tablecloth, “only for some reason the Americans got hold of this one.”
“I don’t really… follow…,” Oz said, baffled.
Giles sighed, then said, “I should like you to have lunch with me today. Is that all right, or do you have other plans?”
“No. I mean, no other plans. Yeah, we can do lunch,” Oz said, shifting his backpack.
Giles nodded as he put a sign in the library window saying he would be out for an hour. Then he led the way out through the stacks and to his Citroen, fumbling with his keys once more to get into the car. Oz watched him thoughtfully.
“You have a lot of keys,” he finally said. “Must be hard to find the right one, especially in the dark.”
“Yes, well, it’s an occupational hazard, I’m afraid,” Giles said, finally unlocking the door. “A watcher does tend to have to keep a lot of things locked up.”
“Yeah, I get that,”Oz said in a flat tone. “So, where we going?”
“You’ll see when we get there,” Giles said, hoping to coax a smile out of him but failing.
After a drive of perhaps ten minutes, the Citroen rumbled to a stop in a suburban section of Sunnydale. Actually, all sections of Sunnydale seemed to be suburbs, but this was a place where it was particularly difficult to think of vampires and werewolves and the rest of the creepy cavalcade that made up their daily lives. It was green and lush, with large trees and a small brook running underneath a stone footbridge. On closer inspection, Oz found that a small sign declared the open space before them to be the Wilkins Nature Park.
By this time, Giles had exited the car and looked over his shoulder at the teenager still slumped in his front seat.
“We’re here,” he said, rather pointlessly.
“Yeah,” Oz said. “Okay.”
To Giles’s relief, he opened the car door and followed him over the bridge. The path led them over a small hill, and on the other side nestled a shaded picnic table as well as a children’s play park. It was deserted now at mid-day, though it was easy to imagine kids climbing over the monkey bars and daring each other to go higher and higher on the swings in a few hours after school let out.
By this time, Giles had neatly covered the graffiti painted and weather-scarred wooden table with the cloth and had taken several small, white cardboard containers out of the bag.
“Chinese?” Oz asked, sitting across from him.
“No, actually,” Giles said, opening one of them. “Sushi. There’s a small restaurant not far from my home. I’ve developed something of an obsession over it lately. Ehm… do you like sushi?”
Oz regarded the boxes with a slightly suspicious expression. “Depends what kind it is.”
“No California rolls, though I admit a perverse fondness for them regardless of their being labeled for amateurs only,” Giles said, and the tiniest upturn of Oz’s mouth rewarded him. “I have some unagi, kani, tekkamaki, kappamaki, edamame, soy sauce, pickled ginger, and, of course, wasabi.”
By now the table was littered with small boxes and containers, and Oz’s eyes were wide.
“Man, they actually let you order that as take out?”
“I know the itamae quite well by now,” Giles said, wincing slightly at the number of times he had been to that sushi bar by himself in the last year. “It’s highly irregular, of course, but he did me the favor. I do hope it won’t be spoiled.”
Oz picked up the chopsticks and snapped them apart like a pro, immediately threading them through his fingers. Giles hid a sigh of relief. At the very least, he hadn’t guessed wrong about Oz’s experimental nature when it came to food.
"Thanks. This is really cool of you,” Oz said, deftly picking up the unagi and popping it in his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully. “Eel. Not bad. You know, for it being… eel.”
“I rather prefer not to think about it prior to its current form,” Giles agreed. “The kappamaki is quite good.”
“Not exactly the kind of cucumber sandwiches I picture you eating normally,” Oz said, and there was a definite smile now.
The meal continued in relative silence, but it was a silence that wasn’t at all as leaden as the one in the car had been. The crab and tuna disappeared as well, Oz taking almost insanely large portions of wasabi on his sushi.
“You ever have fugu?” Oz asked out of the blue.
“What? Poisonous blowfish? Yes, actually,” Giles said between sips of green tea. “When I was in college, I had some on a dare.”
“Worth risking cardiovascular and nervous system shutdown for a piece of fish? Not particularly, no. However, it was worth it to see the look on Ethan’s face when I faked gagging halfway through. The itamae nearly had a heart attack. We were thrown out and black listed from every sushi bar in London,” Giles laughed. It was only after he’d done so that he realized just how long it had been since the last time he’d laughed.
Oz quirked his head to one side and regarded the librarian. “You’ve got layers.”
At last, the emptied boxes were piled into a nearby garbage bin, and Giles simply stared at Oz. He had no idea how to say what needed to be said, or if there was even any point in saying anything at all.
“That was good,” Oz said. “Thanks.”
“Yes, well, I’ve been concerned about you, you see,” Giles said, stammering a bit. In a movement that was now so ingrained into him that it was becoming cartoonish, he slipped off his glasses and cleaned them on his pocket-handkerchief. “Since things have happened.”
“Yeah. Things,” Oz said, and Giles immediately regretted having said anything as his face became tense again.
“Have you, ehm, spoken with Willow?” Giles asked as delicately as he could.
“Did she ask you to talk to me?” Oz said, his head whipping towards him abruptly.
“No,” Giles said softly.
Oz nodded, trusting him. “No. I’m not… ready yet.”
“Will you ever be?”
“I’m just not… I need time to think,” Oz said, gazing off to some horizon Giles couldn’t see.
“Fair enough,” Giles said. “But in the meantime, I’m still worried about the effect this has had on you. You’re isolating yourself.”
Oz glanced back to Giles’s face. “And you don’t?”
“Giles, you’re about the most isolated person I’ve ever met. When was the last time you didn’t eat alone before this?”
Giles blinked uncomfortably. “I don’t recall.”
“Right. So have you got room to throw stones? Because I’m thinking no,” Oz said, a trace of irritation in his voice.
“I’m not throwing stones,” Giles said, exasperated, pushing his glasses on again. “I’m saying that I’ve done what you’re doing, and I assure you, it will not make you happy.”
Oz remained silent for a moment, then looked back at Giles. “Saw and we talk.”
Oz nodded towards the empty seesaw.
“You want me to sit on a child’s toy in broad daylight to have a conversation?” Giles asked.
“Distraction. I don’t have glasses to clean,” Oz said as he got up and walked over to the old wooden plank, seating himself on the low end pulling the beam up so that it was level. “On?”
Giles squinted his face together in discomfort, then muttered, “Oh, why the bloody hell not?” before sitting on the other end.
“Kay,” Oz said, beginning the slow, soothing motion. “It’s like this. I still love Willow.”
Giles nodded, not wanting to break Oz’s tentatively begun words.
“But it hurts, you know? Trust got broken, and then Xander was a friend, and now that’s messed up too, right?”
The seesaw continued its movement, making them switch back and forth between low and high, worldviews changing and then slowly moving back. This method of communication wasn’t easy for the boy, and Giles knew it. Music, perhaps, but words were not his friends.
“What do you want to do?” Giles asked him, risking breaking the quiet.
“See, that’s it,” Oz said softly. “I don’t want this to have happened, but it did.”
“You could try forgiving her,” Giles suggested softly.
“I could,” Oz said. More silence followed.
“Do you want to forgive her?” Giles asked.
Oz didn’t respond for a long minute, stopping their progress with him at the seesaw’s lowest point. Giles could see the conflicting emotions warring on his face: betrayal, anger, fear.
“Yeah,” Oz finally said, moving again, the board going upwards.
“Then do it,” Giles said. “I wish I would have sooner with Jenny. We’re on a Hellmouth, Oz. Anything can happen. It’s not a place to waste time.”
Oz didn’t say anything, and the soft movement of the seesaw continued unabated.
“Okay,” Oz said. “I’ll talk to her today. Thanks. I feel clearer.”
“Good,” Giles said, and though the conversation had ended, they continued to seesaw in silence for a few more minutes.
“You ever wish you were a kid again?” Oz finally asked.
Giles thought of all he’d seen, all he’d lost, all the scars that had accumulated since he had become a watcher. “Yes,” he said frankly.
“Me too,” Oz said, then patted the seesaw fondly. “School?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, I suppose we should be going, shouldn’t we, before Snyder sends out the police or some nonsense,” Giles agreed.
It took them a moment to work out how they could both dismount the seesaw with some level of dignity, but they managed it. The drive back to the high school was predictably quiet, and as the parking lot came into view, Giles had a strangely heavy feeling come over his heart. For an hour or so, they’d been away from this place and all the strain it symbolized, but now they were back. Life continued.
The Citroen’s motor died away, and they fumbled open the car doors, Giles vaguely wondering if he should even bother to lock the ludicrous thing. They went through the back door of the library and through the stacks to the site of so many evenings.
“Do have a good day, Oz,” Giles said, as the boy began to go through the swinging doors and back into the whirlpool of teenage life.
Oz stopped and turned around. “Giles, what’s your first name?”
“Ehm, Rupert,” he said, surprised.
“Rupert,” he repeated. Oz looked at him. “Daniel.”
It took Giles a moment to realize that Oz had just told him his first name as well, to take in the fact he’d never even realized Oz wasn’t his first name, but by the time the thought had traveled all the way through his brain, the doors had swung shut.