Act Of Nature - Chapter 8
written by Jane Davitt & WesleysGirl

The crying thing took Xander totally by surprise.

He hadn't cried in the hospital, not even when Willow had sat next to him holding his hand, trying so hard not to cry herself since she knew that if she did, he would, and he couldn't. It hurt too much.

He hadn't cried for Anya either. That had been more a numb, disbelieving kind of grief, a sorrow he'd kept at bay with many bottles of a strong liquor that he hadn't even known the name of, just drinking it down during the long nights in Malawi until he'd finally fall asleep just before the African dawn rose hot and bright. He'd been a mess there, but he'd never cried, and after a few weeks he'd shaken himself into something like normal and gone on with his life.

So the fact that he was crying now was, strangely, more of a shock than the fact that he was doing it with his face hidden in the curve between Giles' neck and shoulder.

He could feel Giles' hand stroking his hair and hear Giles murmuring to him; not trying to stop him crying, not even making much sense, just letting him know he was there. There was something familiar about it all and for a moment, Xander was on a hill, with the sun rising behind him, rocking Willow in his arms as she wept.

Remembering that, and so vividly, just made it that much harder to stop crying. One of his arms was still wrapped around himself and not Giles, but he was afraid if he moved it he'd just fall apart completely, so he held onto Giles as best he could with the other one as Giles' shirt grew damp under his cheek.

Crying helped. He wasn't sure why, but it did. It was letting go, it was giving in, it was accepting that something awful had happened. Every tear that fell was proof that, yes, Willow was dead, and Anya was dead, and every kiss against his hair or whatever part of his head Giles could reach without ever, for a second, letting go, was proof that life went on. Eventually they balanced out.

After a little while, Xander managed to slide his other arm around Giles' waist too, deciding to trust that he'd fallen apart as much as he was going to. His throat felt swollen from the sobs he'd managed to hold back and his bad eye ached fiercely, like it didn't know how to deal with the whole tears thing now that the socket was empty.

He wanted to say something to Giles, but he knew his voice would break if he tried to say anything, so instead he just tightened his arms around the other man gratefully.

Giles rubbed a hand down his back, as comforting and reassuring as any words, and then pulled back a fraction, tightening his grip as if to compensate, as one hand dropped away. Before Xander had the chance to feel bereft, a handkerchief appeared and Giles said firmly, "Blow, because I'm going to kiss you when you feel up to it, and I'd prefer you slightly less soggy."

A little half-laugh escaped Xander at that, but he took the handkerchief and stepped back a tiny bit so that he could blow his nose and wipe his eye. He tucked the damp square into his own pocket. "I'll just give that back to you later," he said, his voice sounding just about as bad as he'd thought it would. "Thanks."

Giles brushed his fingers over Xander's face, as if checking to see if it was dry, and then smiled. "Better." It was half a question, but he didn't wait for an answer, taking hold of Xander's right hand instead and studying the raw, scraped skin across his knuckles. "I think the punch bag won," he said. "Want to put something on it?"

Xander had to fight the urge to pull his hand back self-consciously. "Nah, it's okay." He shrugged slightly with the opposite shoulder, suddenly keenly aware of the fact that he was only wearing a pair of jeans that didn't quite fit. He wanted to kiss Giles - actually, he wanted Giles to kiss him. But first there was something else he needed to hear. "You're - you're in love with me?"

Giles nodded. "For quite some time now." He smiled, and the hand he had on Xander's bare back began to move again. It still felt good - really good - but it didn't feel comforting any more. "Want me to show? Or tell? Perhaps both." He cupped Xander's face with his free hand and said, "I love you, Xander."

That would have been convincing enough, given the way he said it, but Giles obviously believed in doing a job thoroughly, because he followed it with a kiss that started out as gentle and stayed like that for about one second before Giles made a desperate, yearning sound and pulled Xander to him roughly, with his hands sliding and grabbing and his mouth hungry and hard.

Xander whimpered into Giles' mouth in surprise and arousal, his own hands sliding around to grab onto Giles' ass to pull him closer. The smooth fabric of Giles' shirt was soft where it rubbed against his bare chest, and he shuddered as the memory of what it had felt like to have all of Giles naked against him the night before flashed through his mind.

Giles pulled his mouth away and stared at Xander as if making sure they were both in the same place, then moved his head and began to kiss Xander's neck. "Do you have any idea what you looked like when I came down those stairs?" Giles murmured, biting down just hard enough to send shivers of pleasure through Xander's body. "How much I wanted you?"

He ran his hand across Xander's stomach as he moved back to kiss his mouth again, letting his fingers dip inside jeans that were loose enough, and had slid down far enough, to make it easy for him to curl his fingertips around Xander's cock in a brief, fleeting caress, before sliding them out again.

Xander's hips moved forward involuntarily - he really needed to have a talk with them about that - and he made a little sound of frustration when Giles' hand stopped touching him. "Please," he said desperately, biting at Giles' lower lip and fumbling with the front of Giles' trousers, not even knowing exactly what it was he wanted, just knowing that he needed more.

And then he got his hand inside the front of Giles' boxers, and Giles' hard smooth cock, the end of it wet and slick against his palm, was in his hand.

Giles' soft groan was enough to make Xander smile, even though part of him was stunned at the thought that this was the first time he'd ever held another man's naked erection like this. He slid his hand a little bit further down, feeling the weight and warmth of Giles' cock with a sense of wonder, then stroked it gently from base to tip.

"That's - God, Xander -" Giles' voice had gone hoarse as though he was concentrating on something and didn't have anything left over to make himself sound other than needy. Giles tilted his hips enough that his cock rubbed against Xander's palm and then made that sound again, the one that made Xander's skin feel tight and hot.

"Need to see you," Giles said, reaching out with one hand and dealing with the fasteners of Xander's jeans then tugging at them hard. Giles being so impatient would have made Xander laugh any other time, because usually he was caution man, look before you leap man... not today though. His jeans came off easily enough, though he had to let go of Giles to step out of them, which didn't seem fair.

"Okay, this is a little too much like that dream where I show up to work naked," Xander said, self-conscious again, aware that he probably looked really stupid standing there in nothing but an eye patch and a hard on.

Giles looked at him - and then looked at him, up and down slowly with an appreciative smile growing, and Xander stopped feeling ridiculous. "Well, you can get dressed again, if you feel uncomfortable, but would it help if I told you that you look good enough to eat?" Xander opened his mouth and couldn't manage a reply that didn't sound suspiciously like a whimper. Giles' eyes darkened and he started to unbutton his shirt. "Or I could just join you, though I don't think you'll have half as good a view as I do."

That was enough to snap Xander out of his momentary freeze-frame - he stepped in closer and started to undo the buttons on Giles' shirt from the bottom so that they'd meet in the middle. As soon as the last button parted, Xander pushed the shirt off of Giles' shoulders impatiently, his lips brushing over the tender spot he'd shed his tears on earlier.

It only took another minute or so at most for Giles to get the rest of his clothes off, but it felt like a lot longer. Giles straightened up, eyes moving over Xander's body in a way that made him even harder - and he probably would have said that was impossible. An incredible rush of love swept over him, so intensely that he pressed his body to Giles', clinging to the other man with a desperation that wasn't just physical.

He wondered afterwards if there would ever be a time when Giles didn't know what he was thinking and know what he wanted. Maybe - but it wasn't then. Giles held him close, but not so close that he couldn't capture Xander's lips in a kiss that began and ended with Giles whispering, "I love you," as though he'd been waiting a long time to be able to say it as often as he could.

Xander wanted to say it back, but he couldn't stand to stop kissing Giles long enough to say anything. Instead he ran his hands over the other man's body, loving every part of it he touched and hoping that Giles would be able to tell that was what he was thinking. He was so hard that it hurt, so aroused that he was leaking pre-come that was making his cock slide over Giles' skin wetly everywhere it touched, and he couldn't help but make an eager little sound as their kiss deepened.

The floor was carpeted, but in a thin, hard-wearing matting that just wasn't going to be comfortable to lie on. Xander wanted to be able to do more than this with Giles - even if he wasn't quite sure what more was - but he knew he'd never be able to make it up two flights of stairs to a bedroom; his legs felt as if they were about to give way completely. There was an old couch in the corner that he'd dragged down from upstairs, and sat on when he whittled stakes, which as hobbies went was boring, but it kept him busy and the Slayers would need an ample supply when they arrived and started training.

"Giles - couch?"

"Hmm? Oh, right...." Giles gave him a look that promised he'd make the endless walk to the couch worthwhile, and they reached it in a controlled stagger, because neither of them wanted to let go for even that long and to stop kissing each other just wasn't an option.

He sank down onto the familiar couch gratefully, pulling Giles along with him, and kissed him again, even more thoroughly. Kissing was - well, this kind of kissing was amazing, and Xander wasn't sure he ever wanted to stop. What were things like food and sleep when you could have these talented lips on yours?

Xander slid his hand down Giles' chest, pausing at one nipple and letting the edge of his thumb rub over it roughly.

Giles arched his back in wordless encouragement of that, thrusting his tongue against Xander's and letting his hand stroke across Xander's stomach, lightly enough for it to make him shudder, needing more. Giles repeated the caress, this time more insistently, dragging his nails over the sensitive skin. Xander broke the kiss to gasp for air and found himself being pushed back a little against the couch as Giles bent his head to lick, and then bite at first one, then the other, of Xander's nipples, teasing them to hardness.

This new position meant that it wasn't as easy for Xander to touch Giles in the ways he would have liked, but he was so distracted by what Giles was doing with his mouth that he couldn't find it in him to complain. He had to content himself with running a hand through Giles' hair, curling his fingers in and hanging on as Giles flicked his tongue over sensitive skin.

"God, Giles..." He hadn't even known he was going to say anything; the words just came out.

Giles lifted his head and drew his hand up to tease at the damp skin he'd been tasting. "Tell me what you like. What you want." His eyes were the same green as the sea off the island, but warm where it was icy. "There's so much I want to do with you - to you - and we will, but right now, tell me what you want."

He eased back a little and Xander let his hand slip around until it lay against Giles' cheek. He rubbed his face against it before drawing it to his mouth, kissing the palm and then separating out Xander's index finger and sucking on it gently while his tongue swirled around it.

Xander groaned. There were plenty of things he was willing to let Giles do to him, but right at that moment he had a raging erection and, in the spirit of horny young men everywhere, he didn't want to wait. Giles sucked a little bit harder on his finger and his cock throbbed in sympathy, making him groan again. "I want anything you want," he said. "But basically, at this point I don't think you're going to be able to touch me without making me come, so..."

Giles bit on the very tip of Xander's finger before taking his mouth away, and arched his eyebrow. "I just get one touch? Then I'd better not waste it." He kissed Xander again and as he did, moved him so that Xander was half sitting, half lying in the corner of the couch with Giles between his legs. "God, you look so good," Giles murmured, stroking his hand down the side of Xander's face. His eyes narrowed. "One touch...."

"Or maybe not even one if you keep looking at me like that," Xander said shakily, feeling his control slip another notch. Heck, forget slip - it was plummeting, like everything was falling away and all that was left was the sound of the rain and the look in Giles' eyes and the painful longing to be touched.

"You think it's any different for me?" Giles said, sounding intense. "It's not. I've been hard since I walked over to you thumping away at that bag as if you wanted to punch right through it. I'm amazed I managed to get out any words at all, when all I was thinking about was how much I needed to touch you, hold you, stop you hurting...."

He slid back, going to his knees and placing his hands high up on Xander's thighs, rubbing them slowly backwards and forwards, never taking his eyes off Xander's face until his hands framed his cock. Then he curved his right hand around the base of it, glanced down and lapped gently at the top, too lightly to be counted as a touch, but only just. He shivered and looked up at Xander without moving his head away from where it was. "Xander? Let me?"

Swallowing hard around the lump in his throat that felt like it was the size of... well, something really big that he couldn't think of right now because Giles' mouth was inches from his cock, Xander whimpered.

Giles' eyes closed for a second and then flickered open again. "If you do that again, I'll come," he said, in a conversational tone of voice that did nothing to disguise the feeling behind it. "But I want to hear you too much to care...."

He kissed where he'd licked, kissed with closed lips that parted slowly to let his tongue flick out and across the slick head of Xander's cock, then let the involuntary jerk of Xander's hips - because he couldn't have stayed still if he'd wanted to, and he didn't - do the rest, so that Xander felt himself slide into Giles' mouth in one smooth surge.

"God... oh God, Giles..." Xander trembled, wanting to hold back because this felt so amazing and if he came it would be over, and he didn't care if they could do it again in half an hour, or every half hour - he wanted it now. The wet heat of Giles' mouth around him, the feel of Giles' tongue swirling around the head of his cock just like it had been doing to his finger a few minutes before, only this was so much better... Xander took a careful, deep breath and let it out, trying to find even a little bit of control as his hands closed around Giles' wrists just for something to hold onto and, okay, maybe as a way of letting Giles know to take it slow.

He felt Giles' wrists flex as though testing the strength of his grip, and squeezed just a bit harder. That meant that the hand Giles had curled around his cock, holding it steady, tightened too, but he hardly noticed because Giles moaned when he did that and it sent a quiver through him that nearly shattered his determination to hang on just a little longer.

Giles raised his head slowly, letting Xander's cock slip out of his mouth, and the cool air brushed over the wet skin that was left exposed, making it tingle. Without looking up, he tilted his head and started to lick and kiss at the sides of the cock he held, which felt good, but not as intense, giving Xander the chance to breathe again.

Which didn't mean he wasn't panting just a little bit, even if he was doing his best not to squirm. But then Giles licked the ridge of skin just under the head of his cock and Xander's hips rocked slightly, which in turn pushed his shaft forward against Giles' teeth in a vague scrape that felt so incredible that he whimpered again. He needed Giles' lips around him again, needed to be inside that slick warm mouth, and all he could do was whimper and bite his lower lip and squeeze down on Giles' wrists again in a wordless request for relief.

As if Giles couldn't wait any longer either, he took Xander back inside his mouth, not even trying to be gentle now, as though some restraint had been snapping, thread by thread, and that last helpless, hungry sound Xander had made had broken the last one. Xander felt his cock slide past teeth and tongue and nudge against the back of Giles' throat, and then Giles was moving his head up and down in a relentless, steadily quickening rhythm, somehow managing to use his hand too, so that every inch of Xander's cock was being touched, licked, sucked....

"Oh yeah, Giles, God, please, I - God, yes..." Xander came, snapping his hips even as his back arched, feeling the pulsing hot waves roll through him and trying not to hurt Giles' wrists with the strength of his grip.

Giles stayed with him, swallowing in a way that coaxed out one last jerk of Xander's hips, and licking gently at him as he moved away, timing it perfectly, neither rushing nor lingering, because right then Xander wanted holding and he wasn't sure he could move enough to go to Giles. In an hour or so, maybe.

He looked down and saw Giles drop his head, resting it against Xander's leg, his shoulders rising as he took a long, shuddering breath.

Jesus, Xander thought, I can be such a selfish fuck.

Letting go of Giles' wrists, Xander slid down off the couch onto the floor next to him, pulling the other man into his arms and kissing him. "That was... well okay, 'incredible' somehow seems pretty inadequate." He ran a hand up and down Giles' back while the other twisted in Giles' hair to tilt his head for another long kiss, one that Xander kind of let take over, lips parting and tongues meeting. The inside of Giles' mouth tasted different now, and Xander thought he kind of liked that.

He slid a hand down between Giles' thighs, gripped onto his cock and stroked it lightly, and he liked how that felt too. Warm and hard, with a tiny drop of fluid at the end that he rubbed a fingertip over before moving his hand lower to fondle Giles' balls.

Giles' head went back and he cried out, a soft sound that contained so much need it made Xander want to hurry up and make him come... and at the same time go slower, tease out more of those sounds and make Giles' eyes go dark with arousal again. "Please, Xander," Giles said, as near to begging as Xander had ever heard him, "Please... so close...."

Xander shifted his position enough to be able to wrap both hands around Giles' cock, one stroking the shaft, manipulating the foreskin over the tip while the other tugged at his balls. Then as Giles tensed and shuddered, Xander lowered his head and licked just the tip, a quick swipe of his tongue to see what it would taste like, to see what Giles would do.

It tasted, well, familiar. It'd been a long while since he'd had that strong, slightly bitter taste in his mouth, but you didn't forget it. Made a difference when it was your own though, and you were curious, and a little embarrassed, but you just wanted to know...

"You don't... have to," Giles said, stumbling over the words as he reached out and ran his hand through Xander's hair, keeping his body still, though Xander didn't know how he was managing that, "but, God, I wish you would."

Xander gave another lick in reply, still quick and kind of experimental, and the taste was less noticeable this time, so he did it again, more slowly. It was fine once you got used to it - and the way Giles responded made it all worth it, the way he twitched and shivered and made those little sounds. Xander circled the head of Giles' cock with his tongue, trying to remember what Giles had done to him, then slid his lips down the shaft. Not too far, because he was afraid he might choke and he knew that would ruin the mood, but enough so that he could use his hand to stimulate the rest of the shaft and basically have the whole thing, well, covered.

Giles still had his hand in Xander's hair, but he let it slip down until it was cupped against the back of his neck, a light, reassuring touch until Xander got brave and tried using his teeth, just a little, and then it clamped down hard and sent shivers over him because Giles was being very careful and that wasn't, that was Giles getting to the point he'd just been at, where the house could have fallen down and all he would have cared about was coming before the rubble hit. He might have worried if it'd stayed there, but he eased off, licking instead of biting, no matter how gently he'd been doing it, and the hand moved again, this time to his shoulder.

There was a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach - good-funny, not bad-funny. A little fluttering sensation. It happened every time Giles made one of those sounds, and it made Xander want to coax more of them out of him. He pulled back far enough so that he could flick his tongue around the head of Giles' cock, then he slid it inside his mouth deeper and sucked, hard.

He did choke then, just for a second, because Giles' hips jerked and lifted as he groaned out something that didn't sound like words but did sound like 'more' and 'please', and that meant his cock pushed forward too much for Xander to cope with. He fought back the instinctive urge to pull away and swallowed instead. The hand on his shoulder squeezed in what might have been an apology, and he did it again, this time ready for that answering surge.

The sound Giles made was higher-pitched this time, more desperate, and Xander couldn't help but respond by sucking harder, concentrating most of his attention on the tip and foreskin as his hand caressed and squeezed. He wanted to say something encouraging, to let Giles know that it was weird but okay, that he could handle it, but he couldn't talk without pulling back and he definitely didn't want to do that.

Instead, Xander took Giles in a little bit deeper and groaned in the back of his throat, hoping that would get his message across.

He wanted to see what Giles looked like, but it was easier if he kept his eyes shut, concentrating on what he was doing without letting himself think about it too much, because then he'd probably lose this rhythm he'd fallen into, and it was working too well for him to want that to happen. Giles was panting now, both hands on Xander's shoulders, gripping him hard enough for it to hurt, but nothing hurt right then.

And suddenly, impossibly, Giles' cock got even harder and everything paused. He heard Giles gasp and then he felt him come, felt the ripple and spurt, felt his mouth fill, and swallowed fast, with the smell and the taste heavy and thick in his throat.

Xander pulled back as soon as it was over. He rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth, unable to keep himself from wondering if he looked like a complete moron. "Sorry," he said, keeping his gaze mostly down, even if he did have to glance up at Giles just once. "I mean, I know that wasn't a master craftsman kind of job. Although if it's any consolation I've been told I'm a fast learner."

Giles sat up and stared at him, then shook his head. "Come here," he said, reaching out and pulling Xander to him, letting him snuggle his head down against Giles' shoulder. "You really do talk the most utter nonsense sometimes, you know." Xander looked up at that and saw Giles smiling at him. "You were... God, Xander, I'm still seeing stars." He grinned and kissed Xander, a quick, hard kiss. "But feel free to practice on me as often as you like."

He grinned back and ran a hand down over Giles' chest slowly. "Is it just me, or did we somehow end up on the floor?" It was kind of cold underneath his naked ass actually, but he wasn't sure he wanted to move just yet.

 "We did, and though I'm sure this carpet's very practical, it's not exactly soft." Giles gave a resigned sigh. "And our clothes are out of reach. Typical." He rubbed his hand down Xander's arm. "You're shivering. Want to get dressed?"

"Not really," Xander said, wrapping both arms around Giles and holding on instead. "Well, I mean, yeah. But I don't want to get up."

Giles hugged him back. "At the risk of sounding besotted, I don't want to do anything that means letting go of you, but I think once my legs feel less like rubber, I'll start to notice that my backside is numb."

Xander managed not to make a comment about backsides, despite the fact that having orgasms with Giles brought other thoughts of what would make asses sore to mind. This was helped by the fact that he was suddenly painfully aware that he'd skipped breakfast. "Clothes first, food second," he said, reluctantly letting go of Giles enough so that he could haul both of them to their feet.

"Yes; Mrs Stewart seemed more shocked that you'd missed breakfast than the fact you'd spent the night with me." Giles walked away and retrieved their clothes. "You've really settled in here, haven't you?"

"Yeah, I guess I have." Xander went over and took his jeans from Giles' hand, starting to pull them on. "I mean - there's something nice about having a job to do, and... knowing it has an end. You know?"

Giles sighed, sitting on the couch and pulling on his socks. "I do know - but mine hasn't. I never thought I'd say this, but I understand Quentin a little better now. Still think he was a prat, but there's a certain fellow-feeling mixed in with the dislike. But what I meant was the way you've made friends. We've all been such a tight group for so long; it's good to see you doing that."

"I've been lucky," Xander said, fastening the front of his jeans and going to get the rest of his clothes that he'd abandoned just inside the bulkhead after having come in from the rain outside. "Everyone here is great. I mean, they could have played that whole 'you're the outsider' game, but they didn't."

Giles smiled, smoothing back his hair and walking over to the stairs. "Have to climb up your family tree; with a name like yours, maybe you're not an outsider so much as a long-lost relative."

Following, Xander nodded even though Giles had already started up ahead of him and couldn't see. "Yeah, I have an island," he said. "Not to mention the whole Harris tweed thing." He frowned to himself. "You don't think that means I should be wearing it, do you? Tweed, I mean?"

Giles stopped climbing the stairs, turned around and stared down at him. "I don't think it's obligatory," he said carefully, with his lips twitching. Xander had figured out that meant he was trying not to laugh a long time ago; in fact, it was what had started him liking Giles, when before that he'd seemed a little scary - the man who was making Buffy go out there and risk dying every night. Hard to think back to a time when Giles hadn't been a friend.

"What? You don't think I could pull it off?" Xander asked, mock-offended, even though he was pretty sure he was grinning and obviously that would spoil the effect.

Giles finished climbing the stairs and looked at him, serious suddenly. "I know you could. If you wanted to, that is. I've seen you dressed up, remember, at the prom." The smile returned. "And now I've seen you naked, and I'd better stop thinking about that, before you miss breakfast altogether because I've dragged you back to bed."

Now Xander knew that he was grinning. "At this point it's more like lunch," he said, as his stomach rumbled in anticipation of a meal. "Plus that dragging thing is going to have to wait - I've got a ton of stuff to get done today, and then add a bunch on top of that because of the storm. We lose branches every time there's anything stronger than a breeze - you don't even want to know what it looks like out there after last night." Not to mention it was cold, and still raining. He hadn't gotten used to the rain yet - he'd learned to tolerate it, but he never managed to forget that it was there the way John did.

Giles looked pensive. "It just occurred to me that as your employer I should be applauding this responsible, industrious behavior and instead I want to give you the afternoon off." He shrugged, the humor leaving his face. "Not that I can afford that luxury myself. I - well, I left quite a few loose ends with leaving so abruptly. Unless you need me to help - are your crew working today? - I'd better make some phone calls."

Flicking a light switch on as they went into the kitchen to make it seem less gloomy, Xander headed straight for the coffee pot, not caring that the stuff had been sitting there for a couple of hours probably. He just needed to feel the rush of caffeine in his veins, especially if he was going to do a day's work on the amount of sleep he'd had. Failed to have. Whichever.

He poured himself some and took a gulp. "I've got a couple of the guys coming around this afternoon to help me with some stuff, yeah, but that's it until after Christmas. Tomorrow, for example, I'm all yours."

Giles gave him a look that did more to wake him up than the coffee. "Really? Then I'd better start planning what to do to you. With you, that is. Wouldn't want to waste any time."

Taking another quick swig of coffee, Xander set the mug down and pulled out the nearest chair so that he could put his socks and boots back on. "You're going to be a bad influence on me, aren't you. I can tell." He gave Giles a quick smile to let him know that he was teasing.

"So far, you're managing to resist my attempts to tempt and seduce you during working hours," Giles assured him. "Well, mostly." He smiled. "I'll make those calls and there's some work I brought with me - I'll keep busy." His smile faded, leaving him looking tired. "Willow - there needs to be something, some memorial service. We should all get together. I'll try and reach Buffy and see if she has any ideas where we can meet. Will you think about it? What she might have wanted?"

"I think what she'd have wanted was not to be dead,," Xander said, without thinking about how it would sound before he said it. He sighed, finished tying his boots, and stood up. "Sorry," he offered, rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah, I'll think about it. Maybe Kennedy will have some ideas."

"Perhaps," Giles said, his tone neutral. "She was barely coherent, but I'm sure she's calmed down now." He glanced at the clock that hung on the wall beside the fridge. "The Council operative should have brought her to Buffy's apartment. I need to speak to her - get some details beyond the bare facts of what happened." His face went hard. "I'm going to have to prepare a report, you see. On Willow's death. Oh, no chance of any repercussions falling on me; there are even some who'll be relieved she's gone. She frightened people a little. People who didn't know her." He turned towards the door, his movements abrupt. "I'll just unpack first. Get settled in."

"Giles. Wait." Xander went over and pulled Giles into his arms, holding him close. Felt the tension in Giles' body, then felt it relax a little bit - not enough, but a little bit. "Look, if there's anything I can do to help, tell me, okay? You don't have to deal with this alone."

"Grieving for her, we can share. The guilt I'd rather be just on my shoulders." Giles sighed and hugged Xander back, but without any passion, as if the bare mention of Willow had put them back where they'd been the day before. "And you still need to eat. Leave it for now. Please."

It wasn't like he wanted to just let it go, but the reality was they both had work to do. Plus it wasn't like talking about it was going to make it go away - it would still be there.

Willow would still be dead.

"Okay," Xander said. "You go do your stuff, and I'll go do my stuff, and we'll meet back here at the end of the day. Okay? And if you need anything, just stick your head outside and yell."

Giles glanced at the window, streaked with rivulets of rain, and grimaced. "I showered once today, thank you. I'm sure I'll manage. If not, I'll stand at a window and use semaphore or something." He gave Xander a small, tight smile and walked out of the room.

Not hungry anymore, but not stupid enough not to at least eat something before he went back to work, Xander grabbed a slice of bread, shrugged into his mac, and went out into the rain.

Read: Chapter 9