Oz leaned over the library counter, arm outstretched, fingers grasping. It brought his head into a patch of sunlight and Giles grinned. “’Marmalade toast and a marmalade cat’,” he quoted, taking hold of the back of Oz’s shirt and preventing him from slithering over.
“Got it,” Oz said, his feet kicking as he wriggled back and turned to face Giles. “Pen. Fell,” he said.
“And walking around wasn’t an option?” Giles asked.
“Quicker this way.”
“Actually, it probably wasn’t, but no matter.”
Giles picked up a few books scattered around – Good Lord, had someone actually visted the library and returned these? Miracle of miracles – and showed Oz just how easily the counter could be navigated, giving him a smug, superior and entirely fake smile that Oz skillfully deflected with a blank look of incomprehension.
Honours even, Giles began to enter the books into the computer, glancing up, a little puzzled, as Oz showed no signs of leaving.
“You don’t need to go into the cage for another hour,” he said finally.
“I know.” Oz tilted his head questioningly. “What’s a marmalade cat?”
“Hmm? Oh!” Giles looked a little sheepish. “It was your hair,” he said. “It reminded me of a poem I used to read to my young cousins, a long time ago. There was a verse for each colour and that was one of the lines for –”
“Orange?” Oz finished.
Oz hitched up his jeans, nodded at Giles and turned away.
“What colour is it really?” Giles said suddenly.
Oz paused. “Not sure I remember. Brown, I guess. Was there a verse for that?”
“No, I don’t think there was.” Giles pursed his lips. “You sometimes have it black, don’t you?”
Oz glanced back at him. “Sometimes.”
Giles smiled with the satisfaction of one who knows he has the perfect quotation. “Oh, Willow would think that very apt!” He hesitated a second and then recited, “’Shiny boots, a witch’s hat, Black cloak, black cat; Black crows cawing high, Winter trees against the sky.’”
Oz considered that for a long moment and nodded. “I’ll tell her,” he said gravely. “Might get pissed at the stereotyping though.”
Giles rolled his eyes. “Oh, spare me! I’m old and English; I get allowances made for me.”
“So what’s your favourite colour?” Oz asked politely.
Giles shrugged. “It varies, which means I don’t have one, I suppose. If you mean in the poem, I’d have to go for green. There was this line about the grass being like a green sea...” He shook himself free of the memories and went back to work as Oz, after a thoughtful look, left for class.
The next day Oz’s hair was lettuce green, and an Irish grandfather and it being March 17th wasn’t enough to save him from Principal Snyder’s wrath.
But Giles smiled every time he saw the flash of soft colour and missed it when Oz, bored, reverted to marmalade again.
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A/N The poem Giles
quotes is called 'Colours' by Shirley Hughes