Act Of Nature - Chapter 7
written by Jane Davitt & WesleysGirl

The silence of the house settled around Giles, peaceful rather than lonely, quieting the thoughts that were chasing around his head. Deciding that going without breakfast wasn't really a good idea, and that the steady rain would probably bring Xander inside soon enough, he set about making himself some toast and topping up his coffee. As he chewed the thick, dense bread, apparently baked on the island from the wrapper, he let John's words run through his mind. They were less convincing without John right there, but after he'd listed half a dozen reasons why it would be best for everyone if he left, all answered and dismissed by an inner voice that seemed to have developed a Scottish lilt, Giles gave up trying to argue with himself.

It might well not work out, but they'd never know until they tried. Giles stood up and had a brief flash of Xander lying beneath him, coming so hard Giles still had bruises where Xander's hand had dug into his hip. Give it time? Give him space? He'd had an hour. That was plenty.

Giles walked into the hall and reached for his coat. As Xander seemed to have developed the same indifference to the weather that John had, perhaps he was still outside, in which case - a rhythmic thudding noise began and Giles frowned. He walked around the ground floor without finding the source and then saw a door he hadn't tried. He opened it and looked down a flight of stairs. Realization dawned; Xander had told him that the house had a huge cellar, surprisingly dry and airy, and perfect for a training room. The thuds took on a familiarity that made Giles smile, remembering hours of watching Buffy train, small fists slamming against a punching bag and producing just those sounds.

He walked down the stairs and stood half way down, looking around. Xander had put his heart into renovating this room, just as he'd done with the one on which it was modeled. If not for the size - this had easily three times as much floor space - he might have thought himself back in the Magic Box. Then he turned his head enough to see Xander and felt a surge of uncomplicated lust that left him breathless.

Xander was barefoot and bare chested, wearing nothing but a pair of jeans that managed to cling to him and still ride low enough for Giles to be fairly certain they were all he was wearing. It didn't take much to work out why they didn't fit. Xander had lost enough around the waist for them to be loose, but the weeks of hard work had added muscle to his body. His back was turned to Giles, darkly tanned and smooth. He was driving his fists against the canvas with enough force to make it swing in ponderous circles, forcing him to shift position every few punches. Giles could hear his breath rasping out and the grunts he made as his fists connected. Xander's long hair was damp from the rain and it clung to his neck in thick, dark strands. Giles remembered how it had felt against his hand the night before and bit his lip. God, how was he supposed to go over to Xander and produce rational, logical arguments - or even heartfelt impassioned pleas - when all he wanted to use his mouth for was getting more of those whimpery, desperate sounds out of Xander?

Then Xander turned enough to see him and Giles straightened up and walked to the foot of the stairs and over towards him.

Xander gave a small nod, acknowledging his presence before shifting to the right and hitting the bag again in a series of punches that sounded loud despite the size of the room. "Hey," he said. "Did you get some breakfast?" He sounded as if he were trying very hard to act normally, to pretend as though nothing had happened between them.

"Got some toast - you should have made it, I burned the edges a little - and coffee to wake me up. Had a brief conversation with Mrs Stewart who said I had to look after you while I was here -" Giles stepped out of reach of the bag which swung wildly after a punch that was strong but uncontrolled, "- and a somewhat longer, and considerably more frank, discussion with John in which he told me much the same thing using words I doubt Mrs Stewart would approve of."

The bag came right at Giles then and he leaned back without giving ground, and then reached out to brace it so Xander could stay still and hit it as hard as he liked.

Xander faltered briefly, looking at him as if trying to assess whether or not this was a serious conversation. "John said what?" he asked, taking advantage of the pause in movement and hitching his jeans up a bit higher.

"You're lifting your shoulder too much," Giles said, feeling that Xander's jeans had looked better where they were. "Hmm? John? Oh, nothing vital. Ferry's not running, more rain coming - no, that was Mrs Stewart. John's the one who told me you were in love with me. As you can imagine, he had my undivided attention after that. Just out of curiosity, were you planning to mention it yourself at any point?"

Instead of answering immediately, Xander rocked his weight forward again and hit the bag three times, all with his right hand and with enough force to make the tendons in his neck stand out in sharp relief. "John," Xander said through gritted teeth, "needs to mind his own business." Giles couldn't help but note that it wasn't a denial, and that gave him hope that he was on the right path.

Xander stepped back, forward again, and slammed his left fist into the punching bag, this time dropping his shoulder instead of lifting it.

"Better. Try and aim though; you're a little wild at times. Focus. Yes, I told him that too, and mentioned that I was planning to leave as soon as the ferry was running, at which point he called me a stupid fuck and we parted best of friends."

Giles realized that he was enjoying himself because this was a fight, yes, but it wasn't one he planned to lose. Exhilaration fizzed and sparkled through him, countered by an ache low down every time Xander snarled and thumped the bag. As foreplay, it was proving effective, if violent.

"Well, good," Xander said, shifting to the left before giving a quick series of jabs, narrowing his eye. "I'm glad you and John are getting along so well." He punctuated the words with swift punches, then surprised Giles by spinning and adding a kick to the mix.

Giles rode out the kick. It had hurt, but as he'd been very close to delighted laughter before most of his breath had been knocked out of him, that was probably for the best.

"You'd rather we came to blows over you? Pointless. Even if he won - and he might be younger than me, but I doubt he would, and if you disagree, I'd rather you kept silent on the matter to spare my ego - I still wouldn't let him near you." Xander glared at him and Giles gave him his most charming smile. "It'll probably wear off, but right now I'm feeling more than a little possessive. Comes of being so close to losing you, I suppose."

The next punch went wild, striking a glancing blow that caused the bag to rock awkwardly and made Xander bring what were presumably skinned knuckles to his mouth briefly. "You never had me," Xander snarled, shaking his hand and stepping in to slam it into the bag again. "Trust me, I'm doing you a favor."

"'A favor'? Not from where I'm standing. And what about last night, Xander? Was that a favor too? Show me what I could have had? Send me away with a happy fucking memory? Remind me to thank you properly for that little Christmas present."

Giles was getting angry now, losing the fine edge that had let him goad Xander so effectively, and discovering what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a few well-chosen words.

"Last night was because -" Xander started defensively, then he cut himself off and shook his head. "It doesn't matter." Two more punches that weren't nearly as effective as they should have been. "This is... it's just better this way, okay? Just let it go."

Giles schooled his voice back to the cheerful breezy tone he'd been using. "Oh, I'm sorry; did I miss the part where that made any sense at all? Let's see. I come here, desperately in love with you, find out you love me too from someone you've apparently been boring to death by talking about me, have sex that, yes, was over just a little too fast, but I'm sure with practice we'll improve, and if I let my mind wander just a little bit, it seems to default to a picture of you on your back moaning my name for some reason, can't think why that stuck with me, and - go on, tell me again why I should walk away from that? From you. Because I just can't see it, Xander."

Giles moved back and punched the bag savagely, stepping past it as it swung to the side, and pushing Xander back out of the way of the return swing with a hard shove.

The expression Xander turned to him then, little as Giles liked knowing he'd had a hand in putting it there, seemed to be the first honest one he'd seen all day. Desperate, haunted, hurting. "I can't do this again," Xander said, his voice raised. "I can't. Giles, I -" He turned away, his back to Giles, visibly trembling beneath the fine sheen of sweat on his skin.

"Do what, Xander? Tell me? Please?" Giles' voice was calm now and as gentle as he could make it. He lifted his hand and then hesitated and let it drop back. Not yet.

"Can't -" But Xander stopped himself again, turning to drive his fist into the bag so low and off-center that it rocked on its chain and spun in a lazy spiral. "I'm not stupid, you know." He reached out and steadied the punching bag with his left hand, then hit it again with his right.

"You're hurting yourself for nothing," Giles said. There was a red sheen of blood across Xander's knuckles now and the skin was fretted and raw, but that wasn't what he meant. "Sorry, but I can't see that as being particularly clever."

"For nothing?" Xander turned to face him, fists clenched. "I'm trying to - you think I can just stop? Well, sorry to have to tell you, Giles, but it's not that easy."

"Tell me? You're not telling me anything, that's the problem. Just what exactly are you trying to do? Give me details, and forget the not rushing, need space crap because that's all that is."

Giles didn't take his eyes off Xander's face, searching for something amid the confusion and pain that would make sense of all this. John had said Xander was scared of losing him - hadn't he made it clear he wasn't going anywhere? What was stopping Xander from seeing that?

"I'm trying not to lo-" Xander stopped, looking down at the floor. Giles began to think that he'd gladly give any sum of money for Xander to just finish a bloody sentence, but he waited, hoping that his continued silence would allow Xander to complete his thought. Finally, Xander said roughly, "Everybody dies, right?" His gaze flickered up to meet Giles' for the briefest instant. "Or maybe just everybody I love."

"Everybody dies?" Giles grasped that dangling end and began to tug at it, trying to unravel the knot Xander had made. "Yes. Everybody does. It's what happens. To some people - Willow and Tara, for instance - it happens sooner than we'd like. Sooner than they deserve. Agreed. But you love plenty of people who are still alive, Xander, so don't make it sound as if you're some sort of jinx - oh. You do, don't you? You think there's a connection. You love them; they die." Giles felt the surge of satisfaction he got from knowing he'd translated something correctly; an unshakable certainty. Then it was lost in anger. "Of all the arrogant, idiotic assumptions! You're scared I'll die if you love me? Is that it?"

Xander didn't respond, just stood there with one arm wrapped around his torso, hand gripping the opposite elbow. He looked for all the world like someone waiting for a lecture that he was determined not to listen to, but there was something about the way he was breathing - just the tiniest bit unevenly - that let Giles know that Xander was more upset than he appeared.

"You loved Willow all her life, Xander. You saved her life, if it comes to that. You didn't take it from her. Her own -" Giles forced himself to say it, knowing Xander wasn't the only one who'd been hugging guilt to him like a comforter. "Her own actions did that. You had nothing to do with it. Loving me won't doom me. It'll make me happy. Make me proud. God knows, we've earned some happiness." He stepped close to Xander, still not touching him, and stared at him, willing him to understand. "Do you think Willow and Tara would have chosen not to have loved each other, if they'd known how short a time they'd have together? I don't. I can't promise you years, I can't swear I won't die, but I can tell you whenever it happens I'll die loving you and you can make all the decisions you want, but you can't make me stop wanting you, needing you."

Empty of words, Giles stood and waited for Xander to speak. Outside, the storm was sweeping over the island, and the cold rain was whitening to sleet, but here, protected by thick walls, built to withstand worse than this, there was nothing but an expectant, charged silence.

Xander's breath hitched, his arm tightening around himself. "It's not fair," he said in a small voice that clearly revealed his misery. "Giles..."

To Giles' relief, Xander stepped forward, allowing himself to be wrapped in a comforting embrace.

"I need you too," Xander whispered against Giles' shoulder, and then he began to weep almost silently.

Read: Chapter 8