Antenna (antennapedia) wrote,

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"Substitute" commentary (gen, FRT)

psychoadept asked for commentary on "Substitute", a gen story about what happened after Xander rescued Giles from Angelus's mansion in "Becoming". It was remixed by nwhepcat as "Copper and Moonlight" (The Mimi and Rudolfo Remix)".

It's an early story: my third full-length completed fanfic. It started life as a entry for headrush100's hurt/comfort ficathon, but I was so nervous about sticking my neck out that I didn't actually sign up for the ficathon. I just wrote it and posted it on the same day or thereabouts. In my head, this has always been part of a larger storyline, and this is indicated by its presence in the "Breaking Glass" verse on my archive site.

Xander wrapped Giles' good arm over his shoulder and half-carried him out of the mansion. Giles was gasping in pain, but Xander was in too much of a rush to be extra-gentle. Once they were outside, in the early morning sunlight, Xander felt less panicked. Though getting a good look at Giles' face in better light made him nervous again.

This story is a classic fanfic missing scene in a lot of ways. It starts in media res in a famous canonical moment, with Xander pulling Giles out of the mansion, and then shows us what the show doesn't.

I wanted to write about Giles/Xander friendship, and I wanted to write hurt/comfort, and this is a great GX moment to use. BtVS never realistically dealt with the traumas it put its characters through. We see this in the two-part pilot, in which Xander and Willow show no signs at all of having lost their best friend Jesse. It's just the tone of the show: Buffy's nightlife might be grim, but her daylife is not. Fanfic is the traditional means of exploring what TV & genre limitations prevent the canon from exploring.

Xander drove to the hospital in the Citroen, which he'd snagged from the school parking lot in the middle of the night. Never had he been more grateful to know where Giles stashed the spare set of keys. He parked in the best spot near the emergency room. It was sad that he knew the fastest ways into the hospital, the secret parking spots, but he did. It paid off sometimes. Giles was having a hard time walking. Muscle cramps, or something. He was gray in the face and looked a million years older than he usually did.

Details, and a first hint of Xander's voice in the "million years older" phrasing. I also like the verbs "snagged" and "stashed". Generally, though, as I read I'm not happy with the smoothness of the prose. It's recognizably my voice, though: simple declarative sentences.

Xander got him inside, sat him down, and did the admissions paperwork. Giles had a frequent flyer card with these guys, so there wasn't a lot of paperwork. They took him into an exam room almost right away to start assessing the damage. Xander was there for some of it. He took charge of Giles' clothes when they started getting serious. He was sorry he saw stuff like them popping Giles's shoulder back into place. Giles swore when they did that, saying words Xander had never heard from him before. The nurses threw him out eventually, when they moved on to another part of the exam. Xander zoned for a while on a plastic chair in the corridor.

This paragraph became much longer and more detail-ish in the rewrite. There was just too much to say through those details. The story is still in the mode of persuading its readers that these things really happened, by building a concrete physical world in which the events are set. E.g., credible emergency room details. This paragraph, as posted, is too sketchy to be persuasive. The other thing it could be, if it wanted, is atmospheric: it could get more into Xander's headspace. But I think that would be the wrong choice. It's early enough in the story that I'm still coaxing the readers into trusting me.

It had been long enough now that if the world was going to end, it would have ended. Buffy had won the fight with Angel, or Willow's spell had worked. Xander was expecting Buffy to show up any second.

Here's what the revision of this paragraph looks like:

He sat and jiggled his knee, wondering what was going on. It had been long enough now that if the world were going to end, it would have ended already. But here he was, not sucked into a vortex. So Buffy had won the swordfight. Or Willow's spell had restored Angel's soul before he'd done anything. Buffy should show up any second now.

Hmm. Is that actually an improvement? Must think.

Some woman not in scrubs came out and asked him if he was Giles' son. Xander said yes; what the hell. Explaining the real sitch would just be too confusing. She said some stuff to him about assault, and medical evidence, and DNA testing, and police reports. Xander told her he'd make sure his father made decisions tomorrow, when he was clear-headed. She let him in to see Giles.

I like writing a father-son Giles-Xander dynamic. I don't want to go too slushy and soppy with it, though. Giles in particular has to remain his repressed self. But I want the affection between them.

They were waiting for a wheelchair so they could take him to get x-rayed. Giles was pissed off that they weren't letting him walk there under his own power. Of course, he wasn't looking like he was about to get up. They'd shot him up with something so he couldn't feel his fingers any more. His right hand had been fucked up. They had done something to it right after they admitted him, but now they had to get somebody in to set it properly or something.

Hmm, right, left hand/right hand. You never see ASH's right hand on screen clearly, so when they showed Giles's bound hands in the torture scene, his left was prominently displayed. And it's the left with the splints in the closing scene in "Becoming 2". But I thought, hell with it, it's the right hand he hides all the time, so I'll just pick it up and run with it for my own purposes. Which purposes are exposed in the larger story this is part of in my head.

Giles looked pretty out of it now, in the wheelchair. Painkillers had probably kicked in. Xander bundled up Giles' clothes. He put Giles' wallet and keys into his own pockets. He took the folder the counselor had left as well. He fidgeted with it while waiting for the attendant to arrive to do the pushing. Opened it. Read a pamphlet idly. Shit. Poor Giles. Xander knew that this was nothing Giles would ever talk about left on his own.

What would Angelus have done to Giles, anyway? If BtVS were not a show aimed at teenagers, what would we know about it? And we fans love to make things extra-angsty. But I don't just want to write another emoprawn rape story. Giles himself would disapprove. So I edge around it, the way Xander might in his head as he attempts to cope.

The transporter arrived. Xander trailed after the wheelchair, feeling worse than he'd previously believed possible. Where the hell was Buffy? Giles had let the Scoobies in a little bit after Angel had killed Miss Calendar, but Buffy was the one he was really close to. Buffy was the one he'd talk to, if he was going to talk to anybody. Maybe it was too many of those touchy-feely talk sessions that Principal Flutie had run way back when, but if Xander knew anything, he knew that you had to talk about stuff like this.

He was pretty damn happy to think of Angel dying to close the portal. If that's what had happened. He was less happy to think of Angel with a soul again, running around with Buffy. Wherever she was.

Xander was starting to get a good mad going.

Xander has, in fact, been angry about Angelus for some time. Less than 24 hours ago, he was using Jenny Calendar's murder as a way to taunt Buffy into taking some kind of action. He stays angry about him for a long time, too. See "Revelations".

Now it was some more waiting, this time for the specialist to show up and splint up Giles' fingers. Giles, stretched out on an exam table, was talking quietly. Xander pulled a chair closer and sat down near his head.

"Pillocks. No need to dose me up. Nothing much wrong with me."

Xander ticked things off on his fingers. "Dehydration, dislocated shoulder, broken fingers, that stuff on your wrists and ankles, and bruises all over. Cracked ribs, right? Seems to me you deserve the good painkillers."

Thank you, Captain Exposition. Sigh. This is the kind of thing I handle better nowadays.

"No, can't. Must talk to Buffy."

"Buff's not here."

"Where is she?"

"Ah, we're not exactly sure, G-man."

Sorry about that. In my defense, I don't do it that often, and not really since those first few stories.

"Why not? Is she angry with me? Oh, Buffy. I'm sorry."

Xander wished he hadn't heard that. Giles was always in control. Always calm. He sure wasn't now. He was talking more, muttering really, saying things about how he'd failed, caved in, let his Slayer down. And then some stuff about Jenny. And then pleading with Buffy, who wasn't here to help. The drugs had ripped the lid right off Giles. Xander wanted to leave, wanted not to hear it.

Then he made his decision. If Buffy wasn't going to be here, Xander was. Giles deserved to have somebody with him. Willow would do it too, Xander knew, but Willow was in her own hospital bed. Xander stuck his hand out and found Giles' good hand and hung on tight.

The paragraph that gives the story its title, though the word itself doesn't appear there. Xander's a substitute for Buffy, and he knows it, but he's going to do the best he can at it.

"Are you real?" Giles said.

"Xander Harris here, as large as life and twice as natural. I am your source for stupid cliches!" Softer, "I got you, big guy. You're gonna be okay now."

"They showed me Jenny."

Xander wasn't sure what that meant, and didn't know what to say. He settled for squeezing Giles' hand.

Knowledge gap: Xander doesn't know what happened to Giles. Giles isn't entirely coherent. Part of the task of writing in a single point of view is confining yourself to what your POV character can think or know. And here, Xander is flying blind in several ways.

"I thought-- I believed-- I told her. I told Jenny the secret. But it was Drusilla. I should have known. I failed. I always fail. Never good enough. Buffy deserves a better man."

Giles in S2 has some serious survivor's guilt and some self-esteem issues on display.

"Buffy has the best man there is," said Xander.

"Sorry, so sorry. I should have refused to come, let them send somebody better. Buffy, please."

"Hey, hey. It's okay. We know she came through. No vortex sucking in everything. It's okay now, big guy."

"Big guy" is in fact my favorite Xanderian nickname for Giles. I have no idea any more if he uses it in canon or not. My own writing coexists with canon in my head these days. Scary.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure." Xander stroked Giles' shoulder through the hospital gown, the one without the ice pack. "Relax, okay? We'll hook up with Willow and Buffy at school." Xander kept stroking until he felt Giles' good hand go slack in his. Giles was asleep, and thank God for that.

Xander wandered out to the vending machine and got himself some Ho-Hos. Maybe Will was still in her room. She was just a couple corridors over. He popped his head in, but the room was obviously empty. Will was sprung. Back to keep an eye on Giles, then.

A Xandery moment, I think. Take the opportunity to grab some food. I also tie the story to canon again for a moment and prepare the reader for Willow's appearance later. I'm not sure I was aware enough of craft back then to know that this was why I had to mention Willow early, but I sure know that now when I write. Setups and payoffs.

Xander plunked himself back down in the chair next to Giles' exam table, still chewing on his second Ho-Ho. Giles was zonked. Xander considered him. He didn't look like a librarian with the glasses and tweed out of the way. Giles looked tough. Something about his shoulders, and the muscle he had in his back. His face looked a lot better than it had when Xander had pulled him out of the mansion. He wasn't gray and sweaty any more. He looked like he needed about a week of sleep, all big dark smudges under his eyes. And one actual black eye, which made him look even tougher.

Giles is Ripper is Giles. It's just a nickname. The librarian takes off his glasses to fight.

Xander fished the pamphlets out of the folder and started reading. He had nothing else to do, and maybe they'd help him not be insensitive guy, which he had a feeling he might be anyway out of sheer ignorance. He thought, though, that nothing mattered to Giles as much as thinking he'd failed Buffy. Xander wondered how long he'd have lasted, in Giles' place. Probably five minutes. Giles, no matter how superhuman he'd been, was beating himself up anyway. What was the guy's story? What had happened to him to convince him he was no good?

I provide no answers here, but the reader might be thinking about Giles's disastrous side-trip into dark magic.

He pulled Giles' wallet out of his pocket. Might as well do some snooping. The guy was never gonna volunteer anything. Nice leather, worn just enough to have comfortable creases. California driver's license, decent photo. 1957, huh. Resident alien card. Sunnydale High faculty ID. ATM card, a couple of credit cards, AmEx gold. A wad of cash, way more than Xander had expected. Photos, just two: a shot of Buffy grinning in sunshine, then to Xander's surprise, one of him and Willow mugging for the camera. Then a pile of other stuff, like insurance info, a stamp card for a local cafe, a card for some library at Oxford, one for the Sunnydale public library, and an ID card for the Watcher's Council of Great Britain, with a photo of a younger Giles looking sadly into the lens. A UK driver's license, which looked like the worst sort of fake ID cobbled up by college students. Then, in a pocket, a couple of green guitar picks and a condom. Xander could identify, though it was a little weird to think about Giles hoping to get lucky. Xander hadn't seen him make moves on anybody other than Miss Calendar. He somehow thought that Giles hadn't. It was just Mr Caution Man in action. The guitar picks, now that was new intel. They looked used, the turtle logo mostly worn off.

One of the things I most want fanfic to do is tell me secrets. Tell me things I don't know already about the characters. This paragraph is me doing the same for you. I make some stuff up about Giles, mix it in with things we already know about him, and tie it all to specific details. This sequence where Xander thinks about Giles and what he knows and doesn't know about him is my favorite part of the story.

Put 'em together, and they spelled... Xander wasn't sure. Watcher guy who played guitar and cared about the three of them. A brave guy, who let himself get tortured to save the world but hated himself for not being perfect. Maybe plain hated himself.

Where the fuck was Buffy? Why wasn't she here fussing over Giles? Probably she was off cuddling up with Deadboy. Xander had really hoped she'd just killed him, that she'd let rip with the fighting before Will's spell could fire off. But if that had happened, she'd be here with them all now.

The guy finally showed up to take care of Giles' fingers. They woke him and showed him the x-rays. Xander sat there and steamed at Buffy. It distracted him from watching them set the bones and put splints on and tell Giles he was lucky not to need surgery.

Not enough detail and too much detail all at once. Canon really was sort of unrealistic on this one, but I had to work with it here. Giles gets out of the hospital and is off at school mere hours after all this happens. In the rewrite, I move away from canon and more into what I think might have "really" happened. I put that word in quotes because it's ridiculous, but it sort of works like this: Given the setup in the Buffyverse, grounded in my version of reality, what would have happened that night? And afterward?

Another way to look at it is that this incident is unimportant to the Buffyverse writers, who are far more interested in the Tragic Love Story of Buffy and Angel. Therefore they feel okay with shortening it, minimizing it, so that it doesn't distract from the storyline they want to focus on. I, as a typical fanfic writer, want to direct my attention elsewhere. I'm interested in the story of Giles who survived a night of torture, and the story of Xander growing up a little bit in the aftermath. So I don't minimize it.

They discharged Giles pretty soon after that, probably just to get rid of him. Once the rush of whatever they'd shot him up with had faded, he was itching to go and grumpy. Xander went off to get his prescriptions filled while Giles was harassing the staff, and came back in time to see the IV getting taken out. Giles had a little trouble dressing because of the shoulder. He flinched away at first when Xander came near to offer help. Xander thought about that a second. Then he pretended he wasn't there, was just happening to hold out the shirt for no particular reason without looking at Giles. That seemed to do it. Giles' back and ribs were looking pretty bruised, all the colors starting to turn dark. He covered them up with the shirt, which had dried blood on it. Ugh.

By this point, the rewrite has diverged seriously from this original version, so I'm going to focus on the original now. Here I start trying to show (sketchily) what kind of mental effects this sort of experience might have on Giles. He's going to have triggers, and he's going to hate that he does, and he's going to try to sit on them and not talk about them. Because he's Giles, and he's meant to pull up his socks and carry on. Xander can't question this directly, but he does what he can. He's sensitive enough to allow Giles to keep his pride.

Giles did his own buttons, slowly. "I think," he said, "the fool believed I was right handed." He said nothing more. Xander helped him into the tweed jacket, then again with the sling.

The Citroen got them back to Giles' flat again. Xander always got a kick out of driving the Citroen. It was so funky. Driving it smoothly, which Xander could do, was a real display of skill. Giles had let them all drive it on weekends while they were in the learner's permit stage. He'd sat in the passenger seat and mostly kept his cool. Willow was too timid to be any good, too bollixed up by the stick shift, but Buffy was plain scary. Xander had overheard Giles muttering something about how Slayers were never any good with machinery.

Out of place details, though I guess they're fine. Distracting from the main flow of story, though.

He got Giles into the house. He was still pretty shaky on his feet, and Xander stuck close to him. He guided Giles to the bathroom. The guy needed a shower and fresh clothes, stat. Xander wasn't sure he was going to be able to step into that tub on his own. Getting Giles through this was going to be tricky. He might go all stiff-upper-lip at Xander and refuse to be helped. Xander had a plan for that. He'd just ignore whatever Giles said and do the right thing.

Giles ended up not complaining all that much. He'd kinda freaked when Xander had tried to help with the trousers, so Xander just backed off and made himself busy adjusting the temperature of the shower. New, improved, sensitive Xander. He got Giles in and left him to it. When he heard the water shut off, he handed in a towel, then accidentally made an arm available for Giles to grab. Then he just happened to walk up to the loft, very slowly.

More with the face-saving. Oh, Xander. The danger here is making him too sensitive and insightful, more reasonable than the canonical Xander might be. But he is the group's heart, and I think it's okay if he gets the caretaking role right.

Giles came down the stairs afterward, hanging onto the railing. He was dressed in fresh layers of tweed, a shirt that wasn't bloody. How he could wear that sweater vest in this weather was beyond Xander. He moved over to his desk and stood looking at the phone, kinda hunched in on himself. His collar was open, and he hadn't done his tie. Xander went over and kinda casually did it. Or started to. He made Giles sit down, then reached around from behind and did the easy half-windsor. Giles probably usually did a four-times-windsor traveling overhand clove-hitch with his eyes closed.

Heh. I love the jumble of knot jargon. Giles in that last scene in "Becoming 2" is all wrapped up in layers. As a defense? It's a character trait present in him through the entire series, though the specifics of what he's wearing shift. Baggy sweaters, three-piece suits, the tweed: he's hiding. Compare with the canonical moments when Giles strips off ("Band Candy", "Revelations").

Xander found the duffle with clean clothes he kept in Giles' hall closet for the times when he found it better not to be at home. "Gonna take a fast one," he told Giles. "Be with you in a second. We can be in school by sixth period." Giles just nodded.

So, in my mind, the much later story "A Short Rest" maybe also takes place in this 'verse and is the starting point of the Giles-Xander friendship. Giles himself would then be the person who was Xander's role model about how to take care of other people. I'm not sure, though.

The shower made him feel a lot better, though he still found it tricky keeping his wrist cast out of the spray. What a week. All of them all battered up. He emerged pink and fresh and smelling like woody Giles-soap. Giles was standing again, looking at something in a notebook on his desk. "Did you eat anything? No? Need some tea, English guy?" Giles gave him a ghost of a smile then. "Look, there are a few things I have to tell you. I need to get you caught up. Sit down, okay?"


"Buffy's okay. She came into the mansion with me."

Xander got Giles settled in his armchair. He told Giles how the attack had ended. about Kendra being dead, about Snyder thinking it was Buffy who'd done it. About Willow's second try at getting Deadboy's soul back. And that when he'd last seen Buffy, she was fighting Angel.

Now the information exchange is complete, and Giles knows what happened while he was in the mansion. The reader already knows this info. I do this in summary because I don't have anything unusual to say about that information. I might, for instance, need to show the readers something interesting about what Xander tells and doesn't tell, e.g., if he omits details or lies. But in this case, he's not doing anything surprising, so I skip over it.

Giles said, "Mansion. We must check the mansion. Buffy might..."


Why did they go back there? Trying to find out what happened. Looking for Buffy.

Xander grabbed some fruit from the kitchen before they left. He handed Giles a banana. Giles held it for the whole drive up to Crawford Street, like he'd never seen a banana before. He left it on the dashboard when they got out.

I like that detail. Giles is still half somewhere else in his mind.

Xander looked around the main area. Pretty quiet. A couple of piles of ashes. Some bloodstains on the floor, maybe some other stains as well. The statue was there, looking pretty much like it had looked in the morning, only without the sword sticking out. That was on the floor right in front.

I need to rewatch this episode. Angel yanked a sword out; Buffy stabbed him with the one Whistler gave her. Did that one end up stuck in Acathla? I end up knowing absurd trivia about canon because I have to research it enough to get tiny things like this right.

Giles was retching in the corner. Xander got there fast and held him up. There wasn't a lot in Giles' stomach to bring up. Giles finally stood under his own steam and wiped off his mouth with the ever-present handkerchief. His face was white again. Xander wished he could do something. "The sword," Giles said. Xander ran and grabbed it, took it back to him. "This was in Acathla. The portal... "

"Yeah," said Xander. "Let me take a look around. You stay right here, big guy." Xander didn't want him going into the room where that chair was. He did a quick spin through the house but couldn't find anything. No sign of Buff or Deadboy. He said as much to Giles.

"School," said Giles, who was obviously stuck in some pre-verbal mode. When they were pretty close to the school, he spoke again. "Xander. My boy. Thank you." His voice was closer to normal, though still too quiet. It must have been nine kinds of hell to be in that mansion again.

Yeah, we didn't need that underlined. Nuke that last sentence! Here, the closest Giles gets to expressing affection is saying "my boy". Might be too soppy, though, unless there's a pre-existing relationship.

"Hey, no big. You'd do the same. You have done the same, come to think of it. C'mon, let me get that door for you."

Canonical near-final scene of "Becoming 2" starts here.

They walked from the parking lot to the front of the school. Giles wasn't walking quite right. Xander could see a wheelchair with Will's red hair sticking out above it. He steered them in that direction. Giles seemed to come a bit to life when he saw Willow. "Are you sure you should be out of bed?" he asked her.

"Look who's talking."

Giles actually worked up to a smile in response to her. Xander knew Giles had a major soft spot for Willow. But however soft that spot was, it was nothing compared to how Giles felt about Buffy.

"You guys haven't seen her either?" he said. Cordy and Willow hadn't.

Oz said, "But we know the world didn't end, 'cause, check it out."

Giles said, "Well, we, uh... we went back to the mansion. I-it was empty, um... and Acathla was, was... dormant."

"I think the spell worked. I felt something go through me," said Willow. Cordy said something about the orb glowing. Xander was torn between being happy for Willow doing a pretty tough spell, and sad that it might have worked.

"Well, maybe it wasn't in time. Maybe she had to kill him before the cure could work." A guy could hope, anyway.

"Well, then, she'd wanna be alone, I guess." Oz made one of his little faces.

Willow said, "Or maybe Angel was saved, and they want to be alone together."

In retrospect, I should have skipped this canonical dialog insertion, or done something surprising with it. If it conveys significant new information for the reader, it's got an excuse for existing. But this doesn't. NUKE IT!

"Perhaps." Giles didn't sound like he thought it was so. He was looking around oddly, as if he sensed something. Then he slumped down again. He put his glasses back on, wincing a little as he did it.

"Let's get you an ice pack for your shoulder," said Xander. "You have some in the library, right?" He led Giles off, walking slowly. He didn't actually touch him, since Giles still seemed to flinch a lot when Xander got too close without warning.

By the final bell, it was clear that Buffy wasn't going to be showing up. Xander met Willow at her locker. She was standing up. He leaned in to her.

If revising this now (and not doing the big changes I ended up doing) I'd jump right to this paragraph here from Xander's dialog "let me get that door for you."

"Hey," he said. "Look. We gotta take care of Giles. It was pretty bad. He's gonna be okay physically. Nothing really serious there. But Angel messed with his head something fierce. He's kinda fucked up. Thinks it's all his fault. I'll tell you more later. Not here." He looked around nervously.

Too insightful? Or just too on the nose?

"Library, in about ten minutes," Willow said. "I'm supposta meet Mr Bentley to get my physics assignments right now."

I'm generally against doing dialect in dialog. I go for the word choice and sentence patterns that the character might have, and let the rest of it be supplied by the reader. I do like to call out the unusual-- a hint about Giles's stammering when he slides into it, for instance. All this is a long-winded way of saying that I'd write "I'm supposed to" now instead of "supposta".

Xander nodded and booked. Library check time. Nobody there, as per usual, just the hush and the smell of books. And some small sounds coming from Giles' office. Xander tamped down his body language, trying to seem calmer than he felt. He went to the door and looked in. Giles had his head down on his folded arms on the desk. His shoulders were shaking. Xander touched his arm. Giles flinched, then controlled himself. He turned away from Xander, handkerchief out.

Giles and his grief over Buffy, only allowed visible expression because he's exhausted, in pain, and doped up. It's interesting how on the re-read I wince away from this and wonder if it's too much emotion on display here.

"What's up, big guy?" Xander said, gently. It was horrible to see this man, the guy who took care of them all, who had all the answers, such a mess. Xander didn't like it, but he knew that what he'd have to do was pick up the slack.

Oh, jeez, self, stop with the underlining of the points. Trust your readers!

Giles turned back. "I just spoke to Buffy's mother," he said, stammering as badly as Xander had ever heard him stammer. "Buffy left her a note. She's run away. I think, I think, we may conclude that Angel did not, um, survive." He looked up at Xander. "Mrs Summers blames herself. She apparently told Buffy not to come back home right before, before... She also learned about the Slaying. She's very angry with me. For encouraging Buffy's delusions." Giles' voice went funny at the end there.

I go back and forth on the topic of Joyce. She kinda did have a lot to take in during "Becoming", but... ugh. She really shouldn't have been surprised when she told Buffy not to come back and Buffy didn't come back.

"Yeah, that's one popular self-defense mechanism," said Xander.

"I shall have to find her," Giles said. "It's not Mrs Summers' fault at all. It's mine. For failing. For telling the secret."

Guilt-man again. Drusilla did break him in the end.

Xander was having a hard time keeping his mad down. He knew it would be bad to show it to Giles. Giles would just get freaked out and flinch again.

"It's not your fault. Buffy should have come to you," Xander said. "Didn't matter if her mom threw her out. Buffy should have run straight to you. You need her. She needs you."

"My dear boy," said Giles, with that funny voice again. "She doesn't see it that way."

Too much. Too gooey. Omit.

Xander shut up, then, and concentrated on getting Giles a fresh pack for his shoulder. Giles had a little dorm fridge in his office, for Buffy's sport drinks and those blue reusable cold things and milk for the ever-present tea. Xander left him in the office and went out to talk to Willow. They sat at the end of the table farthest from the office and whispered. He told her everything he knew, and she told him what had happened with the spell. Xander badly needed some Willow time. Just quiet, no stress, no demands, Willow talk time. His wrist was aching a bit, and itching under the cast. He felt like he hadn't had a peaceful moment in years.

I hate phrases like "aching a bit". Just say "aching" or find another verb if "ache" is too strong. Down with qualifiers! I like the last line, though, which I think gets across what Xander's going through. He's under his own kind of strain. And he was also injured in the attack on the library. He's got his own limits, and he needs support from his bestest friend.

Willow cried a little when he talked about what Giles had said about Jenny. And about the counselor. "I think we're supposed to be non-judgmental and supportive. Give him space to talk," she said.

"Like he's going to talk to us."

"He might. I could try. Maybe a girl would be easier for him."

"What he needs is Buffy. Who's taken off."

"Do you think maybe some of that mad belongs on Angelus and not on Buffy?"

A very good question, Willow.

"Oh, I'm mad at him too. But he's dead now. Which is good. Buffy should have killed him in January. Buffy shouldn't have been screwing around with him to begin with. Buffy should be here. Now. To clean up her mess."

Xander's right and yet he's not.

"You're not being fair, Xander. I think it was probably pretty hard on her, to have to kill her boyfriend."

"Not her boyfriend. Not. Just like Jesse wasn't Jesse when I staked him." Xander realized he was crying. He leaned up to Willow and they cried together for a while. He felt better afterward. Less angry. Less stressed out.

Ah, the nature of vampires. They aren't the person whose body they stole. They're what killed that person. Also: I tend to think that Jesse would stand out for Xander for so many reasons. His friend, killed by a vampire, and perhaps his first experience of grief.

"Come on," he said. "Let's get Giles home. I'm gonna camp on his couch for a bit."

"Won't he feel hovered over?"

"Don't care," said Xander. "He needs help because of his fingers. And he needs somebody making sure he doesn't lost-weekend it to cope, like he did before." He looked at Willow. "I'm pretty sure Giles would like it if you were around, if you want to hang out. Maybe he'll talk."

"I'll get Oz to drive me and that stupid chair," said Willow. "Meet you there."

Giles's apartment was weird. First there were the books, no surprise there, but then there were the contraptions on the walls. And if you got near some of the stuff on his shelves, Giles would start throwing nervous glances at you, not saying anything, but just making sure you weren't going to do anything with that jar of strange sand. Or the lump of crystal with the shifting patterned blob in the center. But it was the homiest place Xander had ever been in. It smelled good, like incense, tea, plants, leather, cookies, Giles.

This is the sort of thing I'd like to just soak into and write more of. Tell me the secrets! Giles's flat is full of fascinating set dressing, and it's lots of fun to invent even more of it.

It felt homey even now, when its owner was sitting hunched at his desk in front of a bottle of whiskey and a glass. As far as Xander could tell, Giles hadn't actually started drinking yet. He was just sort of staring at it. Or at the address book open next to his phone. Or maybe just at the desk.

"You can't drink that stuff and take your pain pills," Xander said. He picked up the bottle and the glass and stuck them way up in a cabinet that Giles was going to have a hard time reaching for a while.

Giles drinks when under extreme pressure. He needs better coping strategies.

"Don't need the pills," said Giles.

"I've had broken bones before," said Xander, holding up his wrist in its cast. "And I say you do. You gotta take 'em with food, though. When did you eat last?"

As far as they could find out, Giles hadn't eaten since way before he was taken by the vamps, which made it almost two days. Willow rummaged in his fridge and found some stuff and started clanking around in the kitchen. She was okay on her feet for a little while. Xander knew what sort of cook he was, so he concentrated on what he could do with Giles. Which was, pretty much, bug him. He got Giles moved from the uncomfy desk chair into his cushy armchair and plunked himself at Giles' feet.

Now this is Xander being clever.

"Tell me about crossbows," Xander said. "What makes your good crossbow good?"

Giles stared at him for a few seconds. Then he started talking about composite materials and the shoulder-cock mechanism. Xander grinned, and kept the questions coming. How long did it take to reload? What could you put on the bolts to make them more harmful to vampires?

"Will you teach me to shoot with them?" Xander asked.

"I... Yes. Of course."

"I have some more ideas," Xander said, a little embarrassed. "About weapons. I need to understand how some things work first. Like holy water. Can you put it into anything? Or does the container have to be special in order for it to stay holy?"

Careful, here, or we slide over into GaryStu!Xander. But I see this as Xander taking the first steps toward the little band of walkie-talkie toting Scoobies who did their best to fight vampires while Buffy was gone between seasons 2 and 3. He's brainstorming how to do it.

Giles launched into a discussion of the properties of holy water, on the impact other sacred materials had on vampflesh, his voice still much quieter than usual, but not shaky any more. He was in full swing when Willow appeared with the pasta she'd put together. Willow handed Giles a plate, which he took with an actual, real smile. Willow grinned at Xander, and he nodded back. He knew it would take a lot more than one distracting conversation, but it was a start.

Too much insight from the teenagers. Too much explanation. I'd nuke those last two sentences.

He got up and tapped out a pill from each of the bottles and handed them to Giles. Giles dry-swallowed the pile before Xander could reappear with a glass of water. Willow came out of the kitchen with two more plates. Xander watched Giles carefully. He was eating. Not a lot, but something.

Willow called Oz later on, while Xander was washing dishes. They were both going to stay the night, and she wanted to let Oz know. Giles had started to object to this plan when they'd told him, but Willow had practiced her new resolve face on him. And stroked his hair, and told him that they were going to take care of him for a little while. Xander made up the couch for Willow, and dragged Giles' sleeping bag out of the closet for himself. None of them had slept much last night, and he figured they should hit the sack soonest.

Fanon-ical "Giles has bad dreams" moment coming up.

Something woke him up. Xander sat up straight on Giles' floor and looked around. Then he heard it again, a sharp cry followed by whimpers, from over his head in the sleeping loft. He untangled his socked feet from the sleeping bag and thumped up the stairs. Hit the light switch at the top.

"No! Please! Oh, god."

Giles was hunched on the bed, knees up, hands crossed before his face. He was shaking and panting. Xander came closer, slowly, and sat on the edge of the bed. Giles flinched again, a reaction that Xander was very sorry to be getting used to.

Right on cue. There isn't enough new going on in this moment for me to be happy reading it now. I'm okay with the fanonical cliche so long as I take it and own it and put my own stamp on it.


"Yeah, big guy."

"Is that really you?"

I think questions about the nature of reality, suspicion, paranoia, and general fucked-in-the-head-ness are to be expected after that experience. I think one could write Giles really falling apart and have it justified. Full-on breakdown.

"Yeah, I'm afraid it is." The humor seemed to help Giles. Xander supposed if he'd been serious Giles wouldn't have trusted it was him. He reached out, very carefully and slowly, and stroked Giles' arm. Giles gradually relaxed his guard and put his hands down. Willow came up the stairs, then, quietly. They got onto the bed with Giles, one on each side of him, and held on. Giles rested his head on Willow's shoulder.

Giles-Willow friendship is another strong thread here, as well as in canon.

"Breathe slowly," Willow said. "Deep, slow breaths. Yeah, like that."

"You're not alone," Xander told him. "We're with you."

Even a year ago this would have been deeply weird. Sitting on his high school librarian's bed, holding him because he'd been tortured and raped by a vampire, then abandoned by his Slayer. Xander being the in control guy, the guy who knew how to make things better and help the people around him. It wasn't weird, though. Sucky, but not weird. Giles was family, the way Buffy had become family, the way Willow always had been. He remembered how it had been when it was him and Willow and Jesse, piled up on the bed in Willow's room. This was like that, only higher stakes. Instead of worrying about Xander's parents on a bender, they were worried about psycho vampires killing people. Xander knew he was doing the right thing, and it felt okay. The last time he'd decided to do the right thing, it was because he was pissed off about Jesse. It felt better this time. He was doing this not for revenge, but for the sake of a living, feeling Giles. The remedy for Giles was love, and Xander could do that.

The word "remedy" here stands out like a sore thumb for me every time I read this version of the story. It's only there because it was one of my prompt words for the ficathon. GAH. It's the wrong word for Xander's voice.

The whole paragraph is painfully on the nose. I like the detail about Xander, Willow, and Jesse, but much of the rest of it is convenient summary of points already made. Yes, we get it, this is a character growth moment for Xander and he's stepped up. Yay. No need to underline it. If revising this now, I'd work the detail about Jesse into this next paragraph, and remove the previous one entirely:

They slid Giles down onto the pillows and got the covers pulled up over him. Xander looked at Willow. She shrugged, and let Giles stay snugged up to her, with his head leaning against her. Xander stayed, too. Gradually Giles' breathing smoothed out, and he was asleep.

Xander and Willow conked out on the bed right there, with Giles held warm between them.

Aw, squishy friendship. And the moment I was writing toward the whole time. It's emoporn but I cannot bring myself to mind that. I want these people to feel better about their horrifying lives, and I want them to find comfort with each other. I am at core an optimist, which I think shows through in everything I write: the universe is indifferent, but people are not. And so Xander's character change here is a positive one, and the story ends on affection.

Tags: dvd commentary

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