Summer nights this far north are short. Even so, once in a while, they still get to him. There is no safe cave to barricade himself in, no expanse to ground him, humanize him. So he fights it. Change means changing back, and it's too easy to get lost up here.

Oz suspects sometimes that he's lost anyway.

The trap surprises Oz. Maybe he wasn't paying attention--he should have smelled the guns and metal and been more wary. Or maybe he wanted to get caught, wrestled back into that other shape. He planted his left foot square in the center of it, hidden by pseudo foliage, and now it's too late.

The smithy isn't always dark, with the metal-melting fire the only light. The forge itself isn't even that big--it only takes up a corner of the workshop. Oz still pictures it that way though, particularly as fall approaches and mountain winds try to bluster their way into any cracks they can find in the old wooden building. Less day, more night, and Oz finds himself turning toward any brilliance he can find, like a morning glory twisting on a string.

Oz doesn't wait for his friend to come across the lawn, runs to meet him instead. As the sun has been peaking through the clouds all morning, he doesn't wait for Hellmouth-formalities, just grabs Xander and hugs him. Loosens his grip almost immediately when he scents bandages and antiseptic and realizes that Xander is hurt.

Status Quo
Oz nods. Waits. In the morning Xander will go back down the mountain, back to the good fight. Healed and hale and healthy as Oz and the empty sky and clear water and dancing stars can make him. Back to watching and fighting and helping and giving and filling holes in others' lives with pieces of himself until there's nothing left. Until he comes back again.

Feast and Famine
There are times, now, when Xander grows quiet that don't worry Oz. Like when he sharpens the blade Oz made for him, the whet stone droning out a steady chant. Or on the rare warm afternoons when the wind has died down enough to make sunbathing possible and Xander toasts his skin to a golden-honey color. Those times Xander is quiet as well, drifting like the ever present clouds.

This silence is full of shattered iron and broken stakes, though, tears never ghosting skin but drowning hearts instead.





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