Warnings: The aftermath of character death, suicide attempts, angst, hurt/comfort. Death of another major character (not Xander or Giles).
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.
Continued from part one.
TwoThat was Xander's first day living with Giles in England. His first week was much like the first day, only without long train rides. Slow quiet days, in the warmth of the little apartment, spent reading and thinking. Calming down. Crying, sometimes, while Giles sat with him quietly. Sleeping. Watching Giles work. Some days he felt numb. Some days he felt as if everything were too much. But mostly, he felt a little better day by day.
Giles had some project he was working on, maybe for the Council, maybe for himself, maybe for some combination. He had a cellphone, which he carried around everywhere. Xander built up enough spark to mock him for it, which Giles seemed to enjoy. He talked on the phone in his office to people. Sometimes he shut the door on Xander when he did it, with an apology. Sometimes he had the conversations with Xander right there. Though the ones that he had in Latin might as well have been behind a closed door. Xander didn't ask what they were about, though Giles dropped hints more than once that he'd be willing to answer questions.
He didn't seem to be big on forcing anything on Xander. Other than the daily pill regimen, and food at least once a day whether Xander wanted it or not.
He met Giles' landlady, who lived in the main part of the house over their heads. She was weird, sort of one of those gray-haired ladies in a BBC drama, only more eccentric and dressed like she had money. She walked with a cane. She hugged Xander when Giles introduced him, saying that she'd heard his story and was so sorry for him, losing his fiancee like that. Xander flushed, and hugged back without thinking. Later Giles told him that she was from a Watcher family, though not associated with the Council. She was vaguely magical in some way that Giles didn't specify.
They went on walks through the city, one long walk a day, sometimes two. To sight-see. To go out to eat. To buy groceries. To walk the landlady's dog Puck. To spend an hour at a pub, where Giles seemed to know people. Xander drank Coke while Giles absorbed a pint of some black beer, and ate peanuts. It was strangely like hanging out at the Bronze had been, only with warmer beer and way more cigarette smoke. Xander now understood why Giles sometimes had showed up at the Bronze. He'd been jonesing for this hang out and play pool or darts with friends thing. For the first time, Xander suspected that Giles had maybe been lonely back in Sunnydale. He didn't seem to be here, at least.
Xander asked Giles once if he didn't have a car.
"I do. Garaged in the back of the house."
"So why aren't we driving it?"
"I like the walks," Giles said. He shrugged. Xander said nothing further.
The upshot was that Xander walked about two miles a day, sometimes more, in the January cold. He got used to it fast, though the scarf and gloves Giles bought for him the first week helped. He found himself feeling hungry more, and even enjoying Giles' cooking, to his dismay. He still didn't deserve it. The voice in his head that was himself, hating himself, was silent, but he didn't really need it talking to know what it would say.
Giles tried talking to him, now and then, but Xander wasn't ready to talk. He was still trying to work out a way to explain things to Giles that wouldn't give away the secrets, but would convince Giles to let him kill himself. So Xander sat on the armchair of Giles's office and watched him work, every day. Giles had given him a book to read, some thing about carpenters by the guy who wrote the Catcher in the Rye thing. Sometimes he read that. Sometimes he watched Giles. Sometimes he watched the kite swaying against the ceiling, and imagined it huge. Like a hang-glider. Big enough to carry him somewhere far away. A thousand miles away.
On Monday night Xander was chopping peppers under Giles' careful watch, because he still wasn't trusted with sharp things, no matter what he said about not wanting to hurt Giles like that. Giles grated cheese, Xander slowly sliced up veggies, and rice steamed in a pot on the stove. The doorbell rang, and Giles smiled and ran to answer it. He returned to the kitchen with a woman in tow. Short, cute, wavy dark hair, glasses, maybe a decade younger than Giles. She was nicely dressed, but gave off the same vibe that Giles did sometimes in his tweedier moments: abstracted, distracted, and conjugating Sumerian verbs in her head.
It was the first time Xander had seen anybody other than the two of them in the house, and it felt strange. She seemed surprised to see him, too, which was odd.
"Marta, I'd like you to meet my friend Xander Harris. We were close when I was in the States. I mentioned him to you, yes? And told you about his fiancee?" Giles completed the introductions and Xander shook Marta's hand.
Sure enough, she was a classics professor at the local university, which seemed to involve the Greek and Roman thing, and Giles had been dating her since the fall when he was out here the first time. And Giles had warned him she was coming to dinner, but Xander had zoned out for that or something. He resolved to pay more attention to life around him from now on. He'd missed quality Giles-teasing time, it seemed.
Giles poured wine for Marta and for himself; Xander declined. He was still taking the Xanax often enough that he didn't want to risk it. He finished cooking the dinner with occasional nudges from Giles. He'd done a lot of the cooking when he lived with Anya, enough that he could follow a recipe and maybe even stray from it now and then to make things better. Giles sat at the table with Marta, and they talked shop. Students, badly-written papers, some kind of mistake in translation a student had made recently that had Giles giggling as Marta told the story. She seemed nice, and Giles seemed relaxed with her.
Xander hadn't seen Giles with anybody since Olivia, who had shocked Xander and Buffy both by being so good-looking and so obviously into Giles for the sex. They'd marveled over it until Willow had told them to wake up and look at Giles. Xander hadn't needed to be told that, had already taken a good long look at that face and had a few good long fantasy sessions, but he covered it well. That hadn't been it; it had been more wondering how a guy who acted like total tweed-man could meet model-chick in the first place. And get her interested.
Later he'd figured out why a model might go for Giles. He was handsome enough to get a second look, and then if you talked to him you discovered more. Women liked nice guys with a streak of darkness. Men liked... anything that said yes. This was his current working theory, anyway. But Marta seemed more like a long-term kind of choice. Like she'd be the one Giles married, or shacked up with.
Xander wondered what he'd do if Giles wanted to move in with her while he was still all messed up. Would they stick him in the basement, so he could play the crazy uncle for their kids? His stomach started feeling strange.
And just at that moment, Marta asked him, "Where are you staying, Xander? Do you have a flat in town?"
"Naw, I'm staying here. Crashing on the big guy. Until we figure out what's what."
"You're much younger than I expected." Marta laughed. "When Rupert said he'd have a friend visiting, I was expecting somebody closer to his age. Some one more, ah--"
Xander pasted on a grin. "More tweedy? Yeah. It's an Odd Couple deal, ya know? I was a friend of, of Buffy's, and when she spent a year distracted, we hung out a lot. Discovered our mutual liking for dan-dan mein."
Giles spooned rice onto his plate. He looked flustered. "Buffy. The, er, the young ward I mentioned to you."
Which made Xander flash on images of Buffy as Dick Grayson, complete with Robin outfit, which cheered him up. But this also moved him to deduce that Marta had no clue about Watchers and Slayers. Hadn't Giles gone that route with girlfriends once before? It never worked out. Xander met Giles' eye and made a face at him.
"The flat's a bit small for two, I'd think. Are you looking for something more permanent? I have a student who's looking to sublet."
"Oh, jeez, no, I'm living with Giles for the duration, I think."
Xander and Giles both flushed, then Xander felt like an ass, because turning so red his ears glowed made it look like something it wasn't. "It's not--" he started to say, then he sighed, and looked at Giles. Giles gave him a tiny shrug, then turned to his girlfriend.
"The part I didn't tell you is that Xander attempted suicide, just before he came here. I'm, ah... We're getting him through a bad patch."
Marta looked puzzled, but polite. "Surely you should be in hospital, then? Forgive me, but you need professional help, not--"
"The trouble with the hospital is that once they got me in and heard my story, they'd never let me out again. No, I saw some doctors and got some meds. Before I flew out here."
He looked down at his plate, then up again at Marta. "Giles calls it an intense phase of grief. Survivor's guilt. I saw the, um, assault. So, hey, lemme get the dishes. You two kids can sit in the living room and watch TV."
He stuck a grin on his face and bounced up to carry the dishes to the sink. Giles touched him on the elbow on his way out. Later Xander vanished into the office, door closed, to read and give them some private time. Marta stayed for a couple of hours, then a rumpled-looking Giles appeared in the office doorway, looking sheepish.
"Thank you, Xander."
"Hey, no problem. Gave me a chance to finish this." Xander held up Catcher. He'd been baffled by Roof beam, and decided to start over with Salinger. "I was supposed to read it sophomore year, but vampire stuff happened and I didn't. Willow wrote my paper for me. The great thing about Willow was that she wouldn't just write papers for me, she'd write them in my style. With the spelling mistakes I always used to make. So nobody ever caught on. Now that was genius."
His voice started wanting to hitch, remembering a Willow pre-magic, pre-drugs, pre-whatever the hell it was she'd been doing to herself. He tried to cover. "So. Marta seemed nice. Your type."
Giles flushed. "Oh. Yes. Rather. I'll, ah, head to bed, then. I'll be sitting up with a book. Um. Xander? If you feel you'd like to try sleeping on your own again, I, ah... I'll support you. Not that I'm pushing you out in any way. Just if you felt... Right, then."
Xander wondered if Marta had said anything to make Giles feel awkward. He had to admit it was weird, and Giles was being entirely normal to want his bed back to himself. Or for himself plus girlfriend some time. So he set himself up on the sofa again. This time at least he was clued enough to know that the knocking and groaning was just the steam radiator. But nighttime was when the voices woke up and spoke, when the temptations were worst. The self-hatred.
Xander made it until four before he broke down and moved his nest of blankets to the hallway outside Giles' door. When Giles tripped over him in the morning, he told Xander to get into bed and stay there. There was no more talk of Xander sleeping on his own.
After that, Marta started coming over every couple of nights. On her third visit, Marta appeared in the early evening, more casually dressed than before, with a book bag slung around her neck. The plan was an evening at the local, which Giles had kindly explained meant his usual pub, that was, the Bronze plus warm beer plus cigarettes experience.
They were pulling on coats at the door when the bell went. Giles looked puzzled, but pulled it open.
Giles stopped himself and stepped aside from the doorway politely. Xander watched as a man stamped through the doorway and then shuddered delicately. Flakes of snow clung to his hair. He was slim and dark-haired, a few lines on his face, maybe Giles' age. His eyebrows quirked, and he smiled at Giles in a way that bugged Xander. It was an insulting smile, a mocking smile. He smelled like cigarettes and bitter herbs. Like magic.
"What, no hug?"
Then, to Xander's shock, Giles hugged the guy, who went on to hug Marta. Xander felt the man's eyes on him, evaluating him. "You must be Xander."
"Yeah. Who are you?"
He stuck his hand out and Xander reluctantly shook it. The guy had a strong grip. He remembered that name. Buffy'd had a lot to say about him, and about what Giles did every time he saw him. It did not involve hugs, as Buffy told it, more like boots to the groin. But as that was not happening at the moment, Xander had to guess there was some part of the story he hadn't heard. Or that things had changed.
"We're about to pop out for a pint or two. Come along, Ethan, and we'll, ah, catch up."
Giles and Ethan looked at each other, and Xander swore they talked without moving their lips. What? He was starting to get curious, and for the first time in ages he wished he had one of his other friends with him so they could elbow each other and compare notes. But who could he do that with now? Tara, maybe, and she was busy demonstrating that Spike wasn't entirely evil after all, and doing the college thing at UCLA, and not about to hop all the way over to England just to hang out with him. But he really wanted to talk to somebody about Giles, and Ethan, and the funny feeling in his stomach he got sometimes.
They walked the few blocks to Giles' pub, which had a name more like something he'd expect from California than from England. The pubs mostly had names like The Old Green Stag or the Rose and Cudgel or whatever, not the Rifleman's Arms. Whatever it was, it had a room where people didn't smoke, and beer Giles approved of, and that Marta didn't mind, and a dart board that Giles sometimes did scary things with. They sat at their usual spot, in the non-smoking section, because Giles and Xander had major aversions to clouds of stink. Marta and Ethan both insulted them for being delicate Californians, but they wouldn't budge.
They started in on the first round of beers. Giles usually had two, slowly over a couple of hours, then called it quits. Marta would have one, and Xander would drink Coke. Sometimes he had lemonade or water, but tonight he wanted the sugar-caffeine rush. He wanted to keep an eye on this Ethan guy. Who was not drinking at all.
Instead, Ethan stood. "I need a smoke. Come with me, Xander."
Xander looked at Giles, who was busy looking at Marta and fiddling with her hands. No help there. He stood and followed Ethan to the other side of the room, where there were some other people smoking. Ethan flagged down two pints; drinking after all. Just not with Giles and Marta. Xander didn't want to get into explaining why he was reluctant to drink, so he tasted it. It was less horrible than he expected. Bitter, warm, opinionated. So little like Bud that Xander wondered why people called them both beer.
Ethan downed half of his pint in the time it took Xander to have two sips.
"Ah. That's proper. I've just been in LA, and everything is served damn near frozen. Beer slush. I wonder Ripper stood it as long as he did."
"You visited him a few times, didn't you. To liven things up."
"Mm, yes. The glower you've been giving me has the distinct aura of someone who's heard my name before. You needn't worry. Ripper and I are on good terms these days. We've been on good terms since his Slayer died and he turned up on my doorstep in London, sozzled out of his mind with a great hole ripped in his side."
When? Oh. Giles had made a quick trip to England right after Buffy's big jump. To tell the Council. Nice time in all their lives, that first week without her. Xander had a healthy gulp of warm bitter opinionated memory. That had maybe been the worst week of his life, until Buffy had given him a week that beat it hands-down.
He had another gulp, then wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "Why the hell would he go to you and not to one of his friends? You're the guy who turned him into a demon, right?"
"Oh, surely you know. Surely you must have guessed. I'm more than a friend. We've been lovers all our lives, Ripper and I. Off and on. Every few years we meet, and either Ripper beats me into a bloody pulp or we spend a night shagging until we're senseless. Only that visit we did neither. I called a doctor and got him patched up while he sobbed into my best shirt." Ethan's voice was mocking.
"No way. No. You're lying."
Ethan had another deep swallow of beer, then lit a cigarette. "I'm not, my boy, and if you asked him the right way, he'd confess to you."
"Can't be. Giles is straight."
"You're sleeping with him, and you say that?"
"It's not like--" And how the hell had Ethan known that? Had Giles told him?
Ethan lifted an eyebrow. "Whatever you say. He's never cared whether his lovers are men or women. He likes them dark-haired and free-spirited. Wicked in all the ways he's not. You're exactly his type."
Ethan kept the eyebrow up. Xander knew what he was thinking. Xander shook his head. Even if it was true, it didn't matter. It wasn't that way. Giles thought of him as Buffy's friend, not as a possible boyfriend.
"Look at him over there, big masculine Ripper, broad shoulders, strong jaw. Arm around his bird. Wouldn't think to look at him that he's a bottom in bed, would you? Likes being turned face down and ridden hard into the mattress. Ah, and how sweet it is to ride him."
Xander turned away from Ethan. "Shut up."
"Why are you being such a jackass?"
Ethan blew out cigarette smoke. "Am I?"
"Yeah. You are."
Ethan chuckled, in a smoke-roughened wheeze. "Want to let you know who your friend really is. But you didn't know. You truly didn't. Well-disguised, is that man. You think he's a simple thing, books and training and tea to finish up, milk in first, dear. He's not. He's complicated. Layers. Did you know, for instance, that Marta wants to get married but he won't?"
"No. And it's not my business, either."
"I think it is. And mine. Because we're his mates."
Xander glanced over to the corner of the pub where Giles was sitting with Marta and some friends. Giles had his arm around her, but he was looking over at Xander and Ethan. Xander gave him a thumbs-up sign, and Giles nodded. He turned back to his girlfriend. Whom he didn't want to marry. That was odd. And how was it his business? He and Ethan were Giles' friends, as Ethan said.
"Why won't he marry her?" Xander said, blurting. "I know he likes her a lot."
Ethan shook his head. "He might have, once. If he'd met her before Sunnydale. That's what surprises me. Now, now he knows he can't. Good thing, too. He shouldn't marry her. She's not wicked enough for him, that one. Too domestic."
"He's pretty domestic."
"With fits of being quite the reverse. Ripper has shown himself again, for some reason I can't make out. He can't be himself with her, can't show the half of himself that likes to brawl with demons. He can't settle down. If he does, it'll be bad."
Xander knew how that went. You obediently built bookshelves and put up wallpaper and bought a refrigerator. And every couple of weeks you went out of your skin and fled to the skankiest bar you could find, or to the highway rest stop, and gave blowjobs to strangers. Or went to flea-ridden motel rooms with them, because they didn't want their wives to know either. Or you did it on the cheap, in parks and empty cemeteries, bent over a sarcophagus by some guy while you wondered if you'd live through the night or if this would be the time the vampires caught you. Better to end it than get stuck like that.
Though that had been the choice he made, and look where it had gotten him. Giles should marry her. Keep her happy. Or she'd die. Xander shook his head. That was magical thinking, pure nonsense. Maybe sanity was starting to return, despite everything.
Ethan was staring over at Giles, chin on fist, another cigarette burning in the corner of his mouth. Xander coughed and waved the smoke away. He considered pointing out that those things killed you, but he was pretty sure that Ethan knew that already.
Ethan's spoke, and his voice was far more serious than before. "Is he all right? Seem on an even keel to you?"
Now Xander was sure Ethan was nuts. "Yeah. I mean, yeah. He's Giles. He's solid as ever."
Ethan shook his head. "No, he's not. He's not the same man he was before he went out there. Something happened to him, something worse than losing his Slayer. Wouldn't have thought that was possible, but it's true. He hasn't been right. And he won't tell me."
"Jenny Calendar," Xander said, before he could stop himself.
Ethan spoke around the cigarette in the corner of his mouth. "Who?"
"His girlfriend. Deadboy snapped her neck and left her in Giles' bed to find."
"Angel. He's a vampire who--"
"We've met. Recently." Ethan had that faint smile on his face on his face again. He'd just been in LA, he'd said. What was he doing talking to Angel in LA? "Do continue."
Xander pressed on. "Then... some other stuff happened. Angelus got Giles. Look, this is complicated and a total soap opera. Most of the time Angel has a soul and he's okay. But Buffy slept with him and he lost his soul and he was really amazingly evil. And about twice as smart as most vampires are. He got to Buffy through her friends. Giles got the worst of it. Angelus tortured him."
Ethan wasn't smiling that crooked smile any more. He look grim, and faraway. "Explains a great deal. He changed so much in the time he was there."
"I never understood why he didn't just stake Angel when he came back, soul or not. I wanted to, for Giles, so bad."
Ethan ground out his cigarette and thought. Then he said, "I understand. It's his Slayer. Quite a bind for poor Rupert. Caught between self-preservation and his training. They're taught to put the Slayer first, you know. Over themselves in all ways. It was one of the reasons I wanted him out of the family business. I couldn't see how a teenaged girl was worth more than Rupert."
Ethan watched Xander carefully. Xander watched him right back. "This is where you protest that your lovely Buffy is worth everything."
Xander shook his head. "Maybe. Once. Not any more."
"Buffy mark two," said Ethan, and the grim was back full-force. "This is serious business, Harris, this thing with Buffy. Ripper has a job that he can't do, and he's trusting me to do it for him. To my everlasting surprise. But I have a hunch... Never mind that. He's my best mate, Xander. Take care of him."
And that, Xander believed Ethan meant, though he had no idea why he believed it. He thought Ethan had dragged him over here for no other reason than to deliver that message. And maybe pump him, which had worked, because Xander wasn't as smart as that twisty fellow across the table from him.
When they left the pub, Marta went off home alone, and the three men went back to Giles' flat together. Xander went to bed by himself, and lay awake for a long time listening to the muffled sound of voices in Giles' office. They weren't upset or angry with each other. He recognized the tone. They were in heavy research mode. They made frequent trips out of the office to fetch books. They were arguing with each other in an intense calm way, as if it were important but not desperate. Xander decided it was time to try asking a few questions.
He drifted off in the darkest hours of early morning, still alone in bed. When he woke up in the late morning, Giles was asleep beside him, fully dressed save for his shoes, and Ethan was gone.
Xander slipped out of bed quietly and made coffee for himself. He had every intention of pumping Giles about Ethan, and about what he was alluding to with Buffy the killer, Buffy the murderer, but he didn't have much chance that day. Giles woke up in the afternoon then was on the phone non-stop, or so it seemed. And in the evening, he showered and got dressed up more nicely than usual. Jacket and tie.
"I have a date," he said to Xander. "Sorry not to have mentioned it. Today's been horrid. I-- I owe you an explanation, Xander. And I'll give it to you soon. If you'll be all right with me gone tonight?"
He gave Xander a slip of paper with the name and telephone number of the restaurant he'd be at, and the number of Marta's flat, and of course the number of his cellphone, which made the other telephone numbers pointless. He asked Xander over and over if it would be all right. Xander got frustrated, and pointed out to Giles that he was twenty-one. He'd be fine. He wasn't going to off himself while Giles was gone. He swore it, hand on heart and eyes steadily meeting Giles'.
But it felt different once he was on his own. The demons were in the shadowy corners again, and danger lurked everywhere. Rattling steam radiators were bombs about to go off. Traffic in the street outside was going to plunge through the walls and knock the house down. Xander slept uneasily. This was the first time in several weeks that he'd slept alone. He'd grown used to Giles' presence next to him, to that warm arm over his waist. Something woke him in the middle of the night: noises in the room. Rustling. His heart raced. Threat? Vampires? He listened, tense and stiff under the blankets, then opened his eyes. A figure by the bed, unbuttoning its shirt. It was Giles. Xander blew out a breath, and sat up.
"Xan? Didn't mean to wake you." Giles finished pulling on his pajama bottoms. He slipped into bed next to Xander. "You all right?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. You smell like cigarettes."
"Sorry. We ended up at the pub. I can shower if it bothers you."
"Nah, man. S'okay. Gotta be three in the morning. Get some sleep."
Xander felt Giles' weight on the other side of the bed, pillows being moved into their usual spots. Giles smelled of more than just cigarettes: wine and perfume and, to Xander's surprise, sex. Giles smelled like he'd been with a woman. Not strongly. He'd washed up afterward. But it was distinct under the soap. Xander felt funny, thinking about Giles in bed with Marta. He didn't begrudge Giles the pleasure. He hoped he didn't. It was made him feel uneasy. A little hurt. Oh, god, jealous. That's what he was. Xander sat down hard on that feeling, and made himself say exactly the opposite of what he wanted. Because what he wanted was wrong.
"Giles? You could have spent the night."
"I worried about you."
"Thanks. But you're a grownup now. You can stay out all night. No curfew once you're past forty."
Giles snorted. "Perhaps next time."
Xander scooted back in the bed until he was snugged against Giles' chest. That arm slipped over his waist again, and pulled him tight. Giles' soft voice in his ear bid him good night, and Xander drifted away.
Continued in part three.