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 three.
FourXander lay on the floor of Giles' office. He had in his hands a survey of hellmouths through history, but he wasn't reading it. Instead he was watching the rainbow kite, gently moving against the ceiling. He'd been assisting Giles with his work for two weeks now, scanning through texts in English and making notes on index cards. Cross-referencing, in point of fact, which amused Giles greatly. Xander enjoyed doing it. For one thing, he felt useful, for the first time in a couple of months like he wasn't a waste of food and water. He was a human being again.
Giles' chair squeaked, and Giles leaned back and stretched. Xander looked at the clock. Break time. Possibly for lunch, if Giles felt it was going well. If he didn't move, Xander would get up and make lunch for him. He set the book down on the floor. In a second he'd get up. He did love looking at the kite, and imagining it in the air.
"Hey. Giles. Have you flown this?"
Giles swiveled the chair around to look at Xander. "Pardon? Oh. Oh, the kite. No, I haven't. Haven't had the chance."
"Where'd you get it?"
"It was a gift from my nephew. He's eight. He'd been given it for his birthday, but-- When I came back here, immediately after Buffy's, ah, fall, I was... He said I looked like I needed to be cheered up. So he gave me his kite. I tried to refuse it but he insisted. Sweet lad."
"I like it. It cheers me up."
"You look at it quite a bit, I've noticed."
"I... I dunno, this is going to sound stupid, but I imagine flying away on it. That it's big enough to lift me and carry me somewhere. Or lately, just flying it. You know, standing in a field holding a string. I always wanted to fly a kite. When I was a kid. I never got to."
Giles sat forward in his chair and looked down at Xander. "Never? Truly?"
"Nah. My folks, they weren't into that hobby stuff. And then when I grew up, I had other stuff to do. Forgot about it."
"We'll have to fly it. When the weather gets better."
"Cool. I'll hold you to it. Lunch?"
"Mmm. Let's go out and get something. I need the exercise."
Giles stood and stretched again, then stuck a hand down to pull Xander up from the floor. His fingers tingled against Xander's palm. Xander had moved to the couch immediately after his demon hangers-on had been killed. He no longer spent his nights being hugged by Giles, and paradoxically every touch had started to loom larger in his mind. Every time Giles' hand held his, or any time they sat together with shoulders brushing, Xander was acutely aware of it. Focused on the places where they touched. Tingles and butterflies. Giles had never been a touchy-feely guy ever, in Xander's experience. Buffy was the only one of them he got near casually. Except that now, they were constantly in each other's space.
It didn't help that as Xander's will to live surged back inside him, the tides were rising on some other wills as well. Urges. He'd started guy-watching again, in a casual way. Checking out what Britain had to offer in the stud department. Which was not so much, with everybody all wrapped up in warm coats and rain gear. Maybe the spring would give him more to look at it.
He was guy-watching now, as they ambled down the street to a place that made something approximating a burrito. Xander sneered, but Giles said it was better than nothing. They ordered their usuals, and sat themselves at a window table and waited for their number to be called. Xander watched a pair of teenagers walk past. Nothing tasty there. Too young and weedy.
"Hey, haven't seen Marta in a few days."
"Mm. Been out of town at a conference."
"How's it going with her?"
Giles sighed. "Mixed. Decidedly mixed. I seem to have lost the knack of sharing my life with somebody else. I overlooked Valentine's Day. Failed to plan."
"Uh oh. That's a big one, dude."
"I made up for it well enough, I think, but the air was distinctly chilly. She said-- Never mind what she said. A comment about my priorities that was more on target than I liked."
"She still doesn't know about things that go bite in the night?"
"How do people not know? Never mind. I grew up on a Hellmouth and I didn't clue in."
Their number came up, and Giles went to retrieve their burritos. Which had lettuce in them, and a watery salsa. But at least they were spicy, and the chicken ones were okay. Xander peeled the tinfoil away from one end and bit in. He chewed for a while, people-watched out the window, and watched Giles eat. Giles ate only half his veggie burrito, then wrapped up the rest in the foil.
"Giles? There's something I've been wanting to say to you. Can't figure out how, and I kinda decided that I wasn't ever going to figure out how. So I'm just going to blurt it."
Giles looked at him with mild alarm. "All right. Blurt it, then."
"I'm sorry about Buffy. What we did to her. What I did to her. Bringing her back."
Giles' face changed and he moved abruptly in his chair, almost as if he wanted to get up and run.
"It was wrong. And it started all this. I figured out later how much it hurt Buffy. And I've only now figured out how much it hurt you."
Giles wasn't looking at Xander. "Why? Why did you agree to do it?"
Xander shoved his burrito away from him. The smell was making him sick. "Willow. Willow talked us into it. And made us wait until you were gone. Keep it a secret. We knew you'd flip. And Anya. Anya knew what the spell was. I think... Giles, I think she was unsure, but she talked herself into it. When we were all sure there was no other Slayer called, she decided. I think she wasn't surprised to learn Buffy was in heaven."
Xander shook his head. "Duped by Willow. She lied to us about what the spell needed, and what was going to happen. We only found out when we were in the middle of it. And then it was too late to stop."
"It was evil."
Giles was whispering. "Evil and arrogant. An act of pure hubris. And like all acts of hubris, the result is tragedy. Pain. Death."
"More than she ought to have. Willow is alive, which is more than she deserves. She's been given God's grace, to recover and build a life and make amends. Buffy--"
"Is Buffy going to be okay?"
Giles shook his head. "We don't know. Ethan is there now. Angel called to say he had some information. He's noticed more demons appearing in LA recently. He suspects Buffy is the focus, either their target or attractive to them in some way beyond the usual."
That was interesting. Giles had once told him that it was normal for vampires to be attracted to the Slayer, like moths to a lightbulb. Lemmings to a cliff. It was a gift, he'd said, from the Powers to the Slayer, to make her job easier. Though Xander had deduced from the expression on his face that it had a downside.
"How is she doing?"
"She's patrolling every night. Bravely. As always."
"God, I love Buffy."
"As do I," very softly, from Giles. As he said it, Xander knew it was true, and that he'd stopped hating her, and that Giles never had, not even when she had an axe raised over him.
"Not, I mean, it's just... It's 'cause she's so... she's really fucked up right now, but she still does the important stuff. She'll slay vamps every night until she dies again."
Giles made a little sound. His eyes were closed. But Xander couldn't stop.
"No apocalypse, next time. No hellgods or master vampires. I want it to be a regular fight. Quiet."
"Not gently. Blazing. Raging. Falling at the moment of victory. Oh, God." Giles hid his eyes with a hand.
"May it be years from now. Many years. Please, Lord."
Xander didn't say anything. Something about the way Giles said that was scaring him.
Giles wiped his face. "I need to be there, with her. Now. It's getting dangerous. She needs a Watcher. She has Wesley, but he's not hers, not enough. Quentin tells me he's waiting for the final report. When he's reassured she wasn't the one who killed Robson, when he admits she's safe, he'll stop interfering. I'll go."
"Can I come back with you?"
Giles touched his arm. "Xan. Of course."
"Let's go get it done." And at that moment, Xander believed there was nothing the two of them couldn't figure out together.
The next weeks saw the days lengthen, the air warm, and the weather turn blustery. March was rainy and argumentative and muddy, Xander learned. Spring didn't ease in; it was dragged into the south of England fighting all the way.
The news from Angel in Los Angeles was neither good nor bad. Buffy was definitely suffering the effects of some kind of black magic. It didn't appear to be the Hellmouth curse that Xander, Tara, and Willow had all been cleansed of. It was something else, something resistant to Ethan's attempts to cleanse it. He'd brought in a specialist, a woman whose life's work was curse-breaking, but she had eventually shaken her head and gone away defeated. Buffy had lost patience with all the magic being cast around her and announced she wasn't sitting still for it any more. She wasn't going to worry about anything she didn't need to stake.
She and Angel had become involved again, which Ethan reported upset Cordelia greatly. It upset Giles nearly as much, and he spent an hour on the phone with Angel, spitting tense words into the mouthpiece, eventually pleading with Angel not to allow himself to risk the gypsy curse again, for as much his own sake as Buffy's. This Buffy would stake him and not even notice. When she was on the hunt she was pure Slayer, with no humanity left. And she was on the hunt more and more often as the weeks past, driven by the increasing numbers of demons in Los Angeles.
She was, in Ethan's words, burning away. But not quickly. They had time.
Giles came home early from his date with Marta one night. Xander had been stretched out on the couch, doing some reading. An translation of an account of a hellmouth near Rome, first century. Giles hadn't thought it would have much, but it was worth scanning through anyway. And Xander had found himself interested despite himself. He finished the paragraph he was on before he looked up and saw Giles standing in the doorway of the sitting room. He was leaning against the doorpost, hands in pockets.
"Hey. It's only eight. Wasn't sure you'd be home at all tonight."
Giles came into the room. Xander sat up and made room for Giles on the couch. He flung himself down in the corner and lay there, head tilted back.
"You guys have a fight?"
"You could say that."
"Flowers. Chicks melt when you apologize with pretty yellow things."
"She doesn't like 'em? Candy?"
"No point getting anything. It is rather definitely over." Giles pulled his tie off and tossed it at the coffee table, to punctuate.
Something inside Xander leapt. "Oh. Um. Sorry to hear it. You or her?"
"It was mutual. I told her... I would never want to marry her. Not in so many words. Bloody stammering Rupert took five minutes to say that he didn't think we suited. God."
"You're smarter than I was. I said yes. I bought a ring. And all the time my stomach was telling me no."
Giles sat up and rubbed his hands through his hair until it stood on end. "Yes. Well. I was experiencing a similar sensation. I'm not in love with her. And... I knew I had to tell her about, ah, my vocation before I could even consider it. I couldn't bring myself to do it. Destroy her innocence."
"Don't get involved with civilians." Xander said this with the air of a wise old man giving sage advice to kids, and Giles made a face at him.
"I ought to have told her straight away. The fact that I didn't... Well. I couldn't even offer her a decent, face-saving excuse. Idiot." Giles let his head thump back again.
After a while, Xander said, "Hey. It's traditional to go drink beer after something like this. You are even entitled to one roaring drunken binge. I promise to roll you home and not take pictures."
Giles laughed, a sad little sound. "I'll skip that, thanks, but wouldn't say no to a pint. Can't stand to be cooped up just now. If there were any vampires in Bath, I'd-- Well. Shall we? Let me change out of this jacket."
Xander was nervous that it would turn out to be one of those morose sniffle into your beer things, but Giles didn't seem to be all that bad. Down, yes, but not crushed. He was even talked into a round of darts with one of the people they knew in passing from hanging out here.
Xander drank his bitter ale and watched Giles over the rim of the glass, throwing darts and making conversation. Laughing at jokes. He was in baggy corduroys and one of those dark over-sized sweaters he'd worn so often during his slacker year in California. They didn't look so out of place here, now, in the pub. Giles was in place, comfortable, at ease. He wasn't slouching too much, or slumping his shoulders to make himself look smaller than he was. Broad shoulders, like Ethan had said, yes. Completely masculine, strong chest, strong arms, and that jaw. He was, so far, Xander's favorite bit of British eye candy, his favorite guy-watching target. It was easier to enjoy some quiet lusting now he knew Giles was bi and wouldn't freak. Had, in fact, dropped more than one hint.
Xander worked his way down his pint slowly and considered those hints. Considered his tingles. Giles had been giving him a message, in an oblique way, the whole time.
Giles won his game, was stood a pint by the genial loser, and returned to Xander looking happier than he'd been before he played. So he was going to get over Marta pretty fast. And that would leave the field open. Maybe a couple of weeks of mandatory cooling off period. And what the hell was Xander doing thinking those thoughts? He needed his own cooling off period. It had only been two months since Anya died. No. Be clear. Two months since he'd broken up with Anya because he was gay and had finally admitted that it couldn't work. That it hadn't been working. Two months since his friend had died in a really nasty way that he still had nightmares about sometimes. The old-fashioned non-demonic kind, that he could at least think about the next day.
There was rebounding going on with both of them. Xander knew he had to wait. And if in a month or so he still wanted the guy as much as he did at this moment, then it would probably be real, and he could be patient. As patient as he could manage to be. He'd never gone more than about half an hour from lust's first mutual stare to first grope. He'd never deferred desire before. Never allowed himself to be in love with another man since Jesse. Xander watched Giles drinking his third pint, throat working as he swallowed, hair sweaty and face flushed, and began to learn that the slow simmer had its pleasures.
Giles had four pints and went home drunk after all, but a singing drunk, walking under his own power, one arm draped over Xander's shoulder, his hip against Xander's. Not too much to handle, and he was half-sober again before they got home, but that hip and that high breathy voice did nothing to cool Xander's blood.
He lasted another week before he broke down, convinced that he was boiling alive with the lust and the heat and the little thumps his heart made when Giles smiled at him. Which he did a lot, though he was also frowning at his research more and more, and frowning at his cellphone, and frowning at the letter that arrived from Dawn.
When he snapped, Xander was in one of his favorite places, slouched in the armchair in Giles' office. He was painfully, and with many erasures, working on an outline for his very first paper ever, on the life cycle of a hellmouth, and the signs that might indicate a hellmouth was closing. Xander had learned far more about the history and lifecycle of hellmouths than he had ever expected to know. Enough that he'd begun to point out patterns to Giles, things the other writers had missed calling out, trends. Eventually Giles had told him to just write it up, so that's what he was doing. Slowly. Painfully. With the erasures that left his legs covered in pink rubber snow.
Periodically he'd look up to watch the back of Giles' head while he thought. And as always, when he began to feel himself truly stuck and frustrated, he looked up at the kite and drifted for a while, dreaming things over. This afternoon, the dreams bubbled up into outright fantasy. Visions of Giles underneath him, like Ethan had described him. Or on his knees, using that wonderful mouth. Or taking charge and pushing Xander onto his knees with insistent hands on his shoulders. Xander ran with that fantasy for a while, starting it out with Giles swiveling the chair around and standing up and pulling his sweater off. He'd have a tight t-shirt on underneath. But when Xander unbuttoned his jeans, he'd find out Giles had gone commando, and he'd nuzzle his nose into--
Oh hell. Xander sat up and rearranged himself inside his pants. Time to try the blurt again.
"Hey. So. Been thinking."
"Hmm?" Giles set down his pen and looked back over his shoulder.
"I was thinking that it might be nice to share a bed again. Sleep together."
"I-- beg pardon?"
"Only this time, you know, we could wear fewer clothes while we did it."
Giles flushed red right to the tips of his ears. "Dear Lord. That was... right to the point. Xan. I don't think--"
"Don't. Think. Just, you know. Do it." Xander stood and spun Giles around in the chair. Giles allowed him, but held his glasses in place when Xander tried to take them off.
"I'm flattered. More than flattered. But we can't. It would be a bad idea. The timing is..."
Now Xander's face was burning. He'd misread those signals in a very big, embarrassing way. He slumped back down in the armchair and picked up his book again. "Okay, no problem. Forget I said anything."
Giles was stammering badly. "Xan. This is not a rejection. I'm not saying no. I'm saying not now. Please, if you can wait for me, I'd like you to."
"Oh." That wasn't what he'd expected.
"This is... I'm... The last two months, I I I-- Oh, Lord, for once let me get out a complete sentence without stuttering like a fool!"
The outburst seemed to settle him, and he went on more calmly.
"It's too soon. Too soon after January. The man I met at Heathrow in January wasn't recognizable as you. You're Xander again now. Grown into a, a, a rather wonderful man. But we're both a bit of a mess still. Marta, when we ended it, told me that you had my entire attention. I had none to pay to her. That was... more true than I wanted to think, but it was completely untrue in another way. It's Buffy. I can't... I can't allow anything to distract me from her. And if you and I were, well, ah, I would be utterly distracted."
Xander now understood exactly what had chapped Ethan's hide about Buffy. Giles had priorities, and they weren't negotiable. Being a Watcher beat everything. Xander opened his mouth to complain, but then Giles flashed a little smile at him that made his heart turn over.
"We'll resolve this curse problem, and then I'll give you my full attention. I swear."
Xander absolutely could not stop himself grinning. It almost made his face hurt.
"Oh, Xan. I haven't seen you look like that since, since you got here. Since last spring."
"Sucky year. But now it's over. Gonna be okay."
Xander bounced out of the chair over to Giles and before he could react or move away, leaned down and kissed him. Giles was frozen for a moment, possibly in shock, and then he tilted his head and opened his mouth and kissed back. It didn't last long, a few dozen heartbeats of sloppy hard wet frantic snog, then Giles pulled back. He was breathing hard, and his pupils were dilated. Xander knew he looked the same.
"We have to wait. We'll know when. Maybe... when we get to LA? We'll make it a proper holiday. Get Buffy sorted, eat burritos, and, ah--"
"Kiss like that again."
"Bloody hell, yes."
Something to look forward to. It did nothing to settle Xander's resurgent lust. Every touch was now like being hit by static electricity. And no touch was accidental. Xander would find Giles' flashpoint before too long, he was betting. One of these days, right here on the floor in Giles' office.
Continued in part five.