Act Of Nature - Chapter 6
written by Jane Davitt & WesleysGirl

Xander knew as soon as he started to wake up that he wasn't in his own bed, because there was someone else with him, warm and actually really comfortable. Then he remembered that it was Giles, and simultaneously realized that the reason he'd woken up was because someone was standing in the doorway to the room.

And that someone was Mrs. Stewart.

He only thought about trying to hide for like a second, he told himself.

"Imph." It'd taken him a while to get used to that sound, which had about as many meanings as she wanted it to. Today it seemed to be disapproving. "There's food on the table, and I see you left me a sink full of dishes and not put them in to soak, either." Giles stirred beside him, all sleepy murmurs and hands in all the wrong places. "And if that poor gentleman catches his death from those damp sheets, I'll nae have it on my conscience and that's a fact."

With great strength of will, Xander resisted pulling the covers up over his head. "Right. Sorry. I'll, um... what time is it?"

Mrs. Stewart made that sound again. "It's nearly nine or I wouldn't be here."

He groaned slightly, then immediately felt guilty even despite the distraction that Giles' hand was providing. "Okay, sorry. I'll... um, we'll be right down."

She swept out, closing the door behind her with a firm click, grimly victorious, and Giles, without even opening his eyes, said, "I take it that was the redoubtable Mrs Stewart? I'd have introduced myself, but I'd prefer to meet her when I'm dressed and shaved. First impressions are so important, don't you think?" His eyes opened and he grinned at Xander, looking relaxed and rested.

Xander smiled back and leaned in to give Giles a quick kiss because somehow it seemed rude or something not to, noting that the power was back on, the bedside clock flashing. "I'm just gonna go take a quick shower before she comes back up and starts asking what's taking us so long."

Giles quirked an eyebrow. "I think if we failed to show up, she'd know perfectly well why, and not come anywhere near us, but by all means, go ahead." There was a faint trace of disappointment in his voice and the laughter had gone from his eyes.

"You just don't know her yet," Xander said, like he was being reassuring, and got up, pulling on his sweatpants quickly so that he could go across the hall to his own bathroom. "Go ahead and grab one too if you want - there's plenty of hot water, and clean towels and everything."

He was grateful to be able to disappear under the spray of hot water, to try to pretend like the night before hadn't happened. But he couldn't completely manage it. He kept thinking about the way Giles smiled, and the way Giles touched him, and how John had said something about the reason Xander wasn't ready had been because John wasn't the person he was ready for.

And then he thought about how everyone he cared about died. Jesse. Anya. And now Willow. Heck, even Buffy had died, more than once. Him caring about people - loving them - was like a death sentence. Thinking about how something could happen to Giles made him feel sick, and scared, and sick again.

Xander spent way too long in the shower, dried himself off while repeating that the night before had been a one night thing and that was all, that it wasn't going to happen again, then pulled on some clothes so that he could head downstairs.

So of course he met Giles in the hallway right outside his door.

"I was hoping I'd catch you before we went downstairs," Giles said. "My courage fled at the last moment when I thought about meeting Mrs Stewart by myself." He stepped closer and touched his hand lightly to Xander's face. "You're looking a little stressed yourself. She really didn't seem all that bothered, you know. I'd say she was the unflappable sort."

"Oh, she's flappable," Xander said, wanting instinctively to lean into Giles' touch, but reminding himself that it wasn't a good idea. "It's just hard to know what's going to make her flap."

"From what you've told me, making a mess might do it... oh. We're doomed then." Giles smiled, smoothing Xander's damp hair back. "Kisses aren't terribly messy though."

He leaned forward and kissed Xander with a confidence he hadn't shown the day before.

You have to protect him, Xander repeated to himself, letting the kiss happen. God, this was harder than he'd thought it would be. When it had ended, he said, "Look, Giles... about last night. It was good... great, even. But... I don't want us to, you know, rush into anything." There, that was good, right? Breaking the news gently?

So how come it hurt so much?

Giles didn't do more than step back, but suddenly it was as if he wasn't there anymore, not the way he had been. He looked as if he was working something out, and Giles was good at that, so it didn't take long for his eyes to go distant. Then he said quietly, "I think you told me that yesterday, didn't you? I'm sorry you had to remind me." He moved to the side and nodded at the stairs. "After you."

God, he couldn't do it, couldn't let Giles just....

Xander reminded himself that he'd walked on out Anya on their wedding day to protect them both. Somehow, even though it seemed like it should have been, this wasn't any easier. "I think I'm going to skip the breakfast thing - there's some stuff I need to check outside. The supply shed, make sure everything's still okay and..." He was babbling, and he knew it. "Go on and eat, I'll find you in a little while, okay?"

Knowing that it was probably totally obvious that he was running away, Xander fled.

* * * * *

Giles watched him go and resisted the urge to slam his fist against the wall - which wasn't plasterboard and would hurt like hell. That wasn't why he didn't though. He'd have welcomed the physical pain if it would wipe out the emotional, but he was old enough to know it wouldn't.

A door slammed, caught by the wind perhaps, as Giles could hear that the storm hadn't blown itself out yet by any means. He stood in the hall, torn between confusion and dawning knowledge. He should have expected this. What had he been thinking would happen? That Xander would wake up, all over Willow's death, and ready to spend the day in bed fucking? Giles forced himself to put it like that, bringing everything down to the simplest level he could, trying to see....

He walked into the bathroom he'd just left and took off his glasses, staring into the fogged mirror. Then he splashed water over his face to give himself an excuse to wipe it dry with the towel.

Through the connecting door to his bedroom, he could see the edge of his suitcase. Just as well he hadn't unpacked.

Meeting Mrs Stewart alone proved to be easier than doing it with Xander would have been. She was about Giles' age, perhaps a little older, a short, slight woman who bustled about the kitchen with an efficiency that was more than a little intimidating. As Giles walked in, she glanced around and met his smile.

"Good morning," said Giles.

"Morning," Mrs Stewart said. "You'll be Mr Giles then? I thought you weren't expected for another day or two."

Giles hesitated and then shrugged mentally. Willow's death wasn't a secret after all and he could save Xander the ordeal of telling people. He could do that much at least.

"There was bad news, I'm afraid. A friend of Xander's - a childhood friend. She died -" Giles tried to control his voice so it didn't shake. "She died abroad. I was notified as she... I knew her too. I didn't want to tell Xander over the phone, but the news couldn't wait so I changed my plans. I got here late yesterday."

He gave her an assessing look. Kind beneath the snappiness. Xander would need that. "Unfortunately, I have to leave again right away. Funeral arrangements -" That was a lie. Willow's body was to be cremated, and the ashes scattered. Kennedy had been sent to Buffy, and all had been smoothed over in a matter of hours. The Council still had influence, and in these early days Giles was using it without caring that he was seen as ruthless in some quarters. "But I can see I'm leaving him in good hands. He's told me how kind you've been to him. Thank you."

"He's a good lad. I thought there might have been something wrong - this is the first time I've known him to miss a meal." Yes, definitely sympathetic, and obviously concerned. Mrs Stewart finished wiping off the countertops, dried her hands on a towel, and nodded. "I've another house to take care of, so I'll be off." She looked at him speculatively for a moment. "I'm sorry for your loss," she said formally.

"Yes. She was - I'm going to miss her more than I can say." Giles took a deep breath. "It seems to have stopped raining; do you know if the ferry is running again? I really should make an early start."

Leave. Leave Xander before he did any more to hurt him, before Xander had to spell it out that he'd no interest in the man who'd killed Willow, and then try, at a safe distance, to salvage something from the ruins of their friendship.

To his dismay, Mrs Stewart shook her head slightly. "Winds are supposed to pick up again - this is just the eye of the storm, as it were. Don't imagine the ferry will run again before tomorrow afternoon." She finished putting on her boots and paused to tie her hat firmly onto her head with a scarf. "You have a good day, and be sure to look after that young man while you're here."

She opened the side door, and then paused with her back to Giles. He heard her say something to someone and felt his heart stutter briefly with the assumption that it was Xander, but then John McIntyre slid past her and entered the kitchen.

"Good morning. I just came by to see how you and Xander weathered the night, what with the storm and all."

Giles gave in to the inevitable and abandoned all hope of a quiet breakfast. It wasn't as if he hadn't got used to people barging in when he lived in Sunnydale, after all. Mrs Stewart had started off a pot of coffee, and it had just spluttered out the final drops, so he walked over to it, snagged two mugs from the drainer and lifted an eyebrow at John. "Coffee? Xander's outside, but if you have a minute perhaps we could talk."

He wasn't quite sure what had prompted that; John was the last person he felt like talking to right now, but he owed the man an apology if nothing else. And yes, he was curious. He hadn't felt comfortable asking Xander much about John; none of his business, not really - but he still couldn't see why nothing had happened between them. It didn't make sense, and he realized that at the back of his mind he'd been trying to work it out without success.

John and Xander had kissed. A lot. That meant it hadn't been a disaster, and now Giles knew first hand how well Xander kissed, that didn't surprise him. It wasn't unlikely that they would have left it at that on that first night, but why never try again? They were clearly still close and comfortable enough to hug without - Giles forced the memory of Xander in John's arms out of his head and waited for John to answer.

The other man accepted the cup of coffee and nodded cautiously. "I suppose that depends upon what you want to talk about."

"The weather?" Giles said sarcastically, setting his cup down on the table and sitting down. John sat too, still looking cautious. "No, perhaps not." Giles made an effort to control his temper. He'd liked John and he could appreciate the loyalty that had made John speak of Xander as no more than a casual acquaintance, but he still felt somehow betrayed. Foolish. Which was ridiculous. "Look, I wanted to just - I wanted to apologize. Last night, I was tired and you know why I came here. Xander told you about Willow. Seeing you and Xander was - a shock. One too many. I had no right to be so - I'm sorry."

Giles wondered how many times he'd said that since he arrived. Too many.

"I'm sorry. About the lass," John said, as if he was still testing the waters of the conversation. "I know Xander cared for her a great deal, and I'd the impression that you did as well. That you were all... close." It sounded as though there were multiple layers of meaning to his words.

"'Close'? Well, yes, we were all very -" Belatedly, Giles realized how that must sound to an outsider and tried to clarify it. "What I told you yesterday was true, as far as it went. I met Xander - and Willow - when I was a librarian at their school. There was a small group of special students and I had quite a bit to do with them after school -" and I sound like someone who should be locked up. God. "- helped them with...  projects - oh for God's sake. I was their friend. No more than that, and yes, I'm well aware that I'm old enough to be Xander's father -" Which was factually true, though he'd never felt like that, not really. Fathers didn't shove their children into situations where they could get killed, didn't teach them to fight demons. "It's really none of your - it's complicated."

Giles took a gulp of coffee to shut himself up, as nothing he was saying seemed to be remotely helpful.

The way John was watching him made him supremely uncomfortable. "Complicated, aye. That's one word for it." The man sipped his coffee, then offered, "I wanted him, you know. I'd imagine you'd have guessed that sooner or later, if you haven't already."

It would have been giving too much ground to splutter and choke on his mouthful of coffee, but it took all Giles' willpower to swallow, replace his mug on the table, and meet John's gaze without flinching.

"I didn't need to guess. Xander told me. Oh, not when it happened." Yes, that still rankled, didn't it? Giles wondered bleakly which night it had happened and if he could remember Xander sounding different when he called next.... "He told me last night. Said it hadn't gone far and it hadn't worked out." Giles waited for any tell-tale flicker in John's eyes that would made Xander a liar. When none came, he added, "I've known him for eight years and never realized he was interested in men. Too close to him, perhaps. You knew right away?"

"Suspected right away," John said, looking down at the surface of his coffee. "You never know for sure until someone comes right out and says it, do you." The man was holding his mug between both hands, and when he spoke next it was almost casual... but not quite. "I should have known from the way he talked about you that I didn't have a chance. But I wanted him, you see, and sometimes, when you want someone like that, you work hard at not seeing the things that are right in front of your eyes."

"The way he talked about me?" Giles stared at John in some confusion. "Xander didn't know the way I felt about him - nor did I until recently, come to that - and now he does, now we've - well, he's made it fairly plain he's not interested. I think you must have misunderstood him." Giles looked across the table, feeling unwilling sympathy for the man. "I think we both did."

But strangely, John was giving him a look that said quite plainly that he thought Giles was terribly, terribly stupid. "No. I've never heard anyone talk about someone the way he talks about you. Oh, I did wonder if he even realized it, what with the way he never came right out and said it - but there's not a doubt in my mind."

"But what did he say?" Giles felt the hope John's words had kindled flicker and die. "Not that it matters now. Willow's death - he blames me, I know he does, now he's had a chance to think about it." He paused and took a deep breath. "Last night - I woke up after a bad dream. Xander came into my room and ended up staying the night. Too soon... stupid of me, but it wasn't planned... now this morning he's telling me to back off, not rush it -" He took one last swallow of coffee and finished rather bitterly, "And Mrs Stewart walking in on us didn't help."

John set his mug down on the table. "Sounds to me as if he finally realized what I've known for weeks, and it scares the hell out of him." The man stood up and took the mug to the sink, then he turned and leaned against the countertop. "I'm thinking he's probably feeling as if he's lost a lot recently. Too much."

Giles twisted around in his chair. "He has. You've really no idea how much. Being here's helped him though; somewhere different, doing a job he loves, making new friends. Like you. Now I've come and brought nothing but trouble. I can't leave today, because of the ferry, but as soon as I can, I'm going to give him the space he's asked for." Maybe if he said he was leaving often enough, it'd stop feeling as if he was turning his back on something good, and more like the right thing to do.

"I'll ask you to forgive me for saying so if it offends you, but you're acting remarkably like a stupid fuck," John said bluntly, crossing his arms and frowning at Giles. "He's afraid - afraid of losing one more person he cares about. No - one more person he loves." Giles opened his mouth to protest, but John held up a hand to silence him. "I may not be brilliant, Mr Giles, but I'm right about Xander. And if you leave here without getting him to admit it, well... then I guess you don't care for him the way I think you do."

Giles stared at him, wanting to be convinced and, just because it was what he wanted, struggling against it. Finally he spoke. "I'm not at all offended and if I were, I'd deserve worse than that from you. I just can't believe -" He grimaced. "You're standing there wondering what the hell Xander sees in me, aren't you? Never mind. I can't say I'm as convinced as you, but I'll try and see if I can reassure him that he's not going to lose me. Given recent events, that's not as easy as it sounds." Giles stood up and looked out at the rain that was beginning to patter against the window. "I'll get my coat and see if I can find him."

John nodded without smiling, turning towards the door, and Giles said, "And you can't call me a stupid fuck and Mr Giles in the same breath, you know." John swung back to look at him and Giles smiled. "Up to you, of course, but maybe next time we meet, you could make it 'Giles' or 'Rupert'?"

"I suppose I might be able to do that," John acknowledged, then paused before adding, "He's a good man. Don't you let him get away." Without another word, he slipped out through the doorway into the rain.

Read: Chapter 7