The Sweet Hereafter
written by Sajinn

Rating: FRAO
Spoilers: Buffy, season 7.
Summary: Death as the beginning of a beautiful relationship...
Thanks: Thanks to Lawrence for betaeing.
Author's Note: WARNING: Character death. Joyful violence.
Feedback Author: Sajinn
Author's Website: The Quill Queue

Xander tried to duck. Really, he did. Unfortunately, the sword aimed at his neck interrupted his evasive maneuvers, with fatal consequences.

He was dead before his head hit the ground.

* * * * *

Xander shuffled forward as the line slowly advanced, trying to avoid the blood dripping off of the guy in front of him. Somewhere farther down the line, a child cried. The noise called to him, but Xander didn't turn around--he didn't dare. The place he was in scared him; he wasn't sure how long he'd been there, but he thought it had to have been at least a... well, he couldn't think of that either. Thinking about that got him to thinking about other things. Here was too much like where he'd been before... well, before the gaping hole in his memory that covered the last few days. Still, he did recall lots of darkness, shadowy figures, and pain.

Tall, obsidian columns rose high above his head. Arches as graceful and threatening as bat's wings flew across the ceiling, casting even darker shadows on the ground below. Every once in a while, someone wandered out of those shadows to harass those in line. Xander had come face to face with one of those ghouls and the memory made him shudder. Sunken eyes, gory teeth...

The rustle of paper caught his attention. "Alexander LaVelle Harris." Xander looked up, finding himself at the front of the line. A tallish, dark-haired man with a youthful face peered down at him from a huge throne. "Died at the hands of the first vampire, fighting alongside the Slayer."

A slippery, snakelike sound to his left had Xander jumping. A wraithlike figure moved closer, black-feathered wings twitching. "No, Thanatos, he has done enough. The Elysian Fields."

Xander opened his mouth to ask what was going on when the ground beneath his feet lost its solidity and he fell.

* * * * *

For some reason, the grass underneath Xander's hands scared him more than the dismal place he'd just left. The young man jumped to his feet, staggering wildly for several minutes until he found his balance again. His eyes were momentarily blinded by the perfect, bright blue sky. Once he was able to see clearly again, Xander took in his surroundings. He was standing in a huge, sprawling meadow. Soft grass, sprinkled here and there with flowers, rolled right up to an equally idyllic forest. Xander could see stately oaks and maples, interspersed with pines and firs. A slight, warm breeze caressed his cheek. Songbirds flew past, chirping merrily.

Xander began to relax, just a little. The place was so peaceful, so quiet. The sun shone down warmly, lulling him into a pleasing state of contentment. He wouldn't mind staying here forever.

The young man was just about to amble over to the edge of the meadow and take a seat under one of the broad-canopied trees when a ululating wail broke the smooth placidity of the air. Xander watched in horror as two mobs of screaming, sword-wielding men burst from the woods on either side of the field, joyfully attacking each other. He swore he heard as many shouts of laughter as battle cries; and much to his disbelief, every man who fell to the ground almost immediately got up and congratulated his attacker.

One man landed a bit too closely to Xander's feet and he took off running, angling away from both groups. He slid on the soft grass, but kept his feet and made it to the forest. Soon he was dodging between trees, breath rasping painfully at his throat, lungs burning. He had to get out of this nightmare, whatever it was. First that dark but stagnant place, and now this brightly lit hell.

After about half an hour, Xander found himself in a small clearing. A small group of men was crouched in its centre, focused on the ground below them. All of the men were wearing fatigues and their faces were covered in dark greasepaint. He heard murmurs of tactical procedures and munitions. With a groan, he changed directions and began to run again, hoping he hadn't caught their attention.

Xander ran on and on--right up until the moment he ran into someone standing in front of him. He hit the ground with a thud and stared up at a stern-faced man in ancient-looking clothes. "Er..." Xander began, wondering if he was about to get killed. The sword in the man's hand looked like death to him.

"Are you ok?" The man asked, holding his hand out to help Xander up.

Xander looked down at himself. "Everything's still in place, so I'd say yeah," He replied. "Other than not knowing where I am or why I'm here, and not wanting to get beaten up like everyone else around here seems to want."

His newfound companion laughed. "Ah, yes. Newcomers rarely know this place. You are in the Elysian Fields."

"That's what the tall guy said," Xander muttered, suddenly remembering standing in front of a dark throne and being stared at by a couple of freaky guys. "What're the Elysian Fields?"

The man shrugged. "Now? It is where warriors are rewarded for their hard lives. At one time, it was where all the worthy people went, so there are some children and others here as well. Most of us are warriors, though."

"Rewarded?" Xander echoed. "Um..."

"You do realize you're dead, don't you?" The man asked curiously.

Xander's eyes widened comically. Dead? He wasn't dead; if he was dead, he'd be in heaven or hell, not in some forest talking to some guy wearing a leather skirt.

Achilles stared down at the boneless puddle that was Xander post-faint. "I guess not," He murmured, kneeling down to pick up the unconscious boy. The Greek warrior knew where many of the younger warriors stayed, so he began to walk in that direction. They could help this one out with understanding where he was and why.

* * * * *

"Oh shit," Xander murmured, looking around himself. Once again, he was in a different place than he had been before. The last thing he remembered was trees, a leaf-strewn forest floor, and a guy in a metal breastplate. Now he was in another meadow, lying next to a big campfire, surrounded by policemen, soldiers and a few children.

"Hey, he woke up!" One kid shouted, pointing at Xander. All of a sudden, he was the centre of attention.

"Er, I can go back to sleep, no problem!" Xander offered. A few men laughed, leaving him to himself. One, though, took a seat next to him.

"Hi," The man said. "Achilles carried you over. Said you fainted when you found out you died."

Xander cringed. "Not getting the dead thing. If I'm dead, why am I not in heaven or hell?"

The guy grinned. "Because you didn't promise yourself to that deity."

"Huh?" Xander mumbled. "I didn't?"

"You tell me," The man replied, shrugging. "Heaven is only for followers of that religion. You mustn't have done enough to get sent to hell, so you're here. The Elysian Fields, resting place of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and pretty much anyone who's unaffiliated but a fairly decent warrior."

"I don't understand," Xander said slowly.

"None of us do either," His companion replied. "But so what? It's nice enough; we lack for nothing."

"Uh huh," Xander muttered, unconvinced. "So I'm dead and now I get to spend eternity wandering around a bunch of fields and forests with warriors? And if this is where good people go, why is everyone fighting?"

"Because it's fun, and it doesn't hurt," The guy said. "Didn't you like being a warrior? It's the same thing, really. Oh, and I'm Ajax."

"Xander," Xander said. "War games." He'd died, somehow, and now he was stuck playing soldier forever. Maybe he *was* in hell.

* * * * *

"Look, Ajax, I don't *want* to plan another raid on the Marine Corps!" Xander shouted, backing up. "I'm *tired* of chasing them around. And no, I don't want to sneak up on the Trojans, or skirmish with the Corinthians, or play catapult with the Vietnam vets." He stomped off into the forest, taking no particular path. He left behind a somewhat confused Greek warrior, scratching his head and wondering what he'd done to run off the handsome young man with the odd clothes.

Xander walked through the woods, muttering about war-obsessed men and stupid games. Yeah, there were people here besides warriors, but not many, at least where he was. The kids were all into war games too, as were the women. He just wanted to have a nice, peaceful conversation and take a nap in the sun--without having to worry about pulling a few arrows out of his gut when he woke up. No, they didn't hurt. It was annoying, though.

He knew he'd been a bit childish with Ajax. He actually liked keeping company with the man, as well as Achilles and a few others. Hector wasn't bad either, although he did get annoying occasionally. The group of ancient warriors got along well enough, although they still split off into Greeks vs. Trojans now and then. He played along, since it reminded him of the stories he used to read in the Magic Box. Mythical battles between city-states, gods and monsters.

Xander found a fallen tree and sat down on its trunk. He felt like curling up into a tiny ball and crying. Everyone here said that the place was a reward for living a good life. Perfect weather all the time. Even the nights were perfect. No one got really tired unless they wanted to, injuries didn't hurt and he never had to go to the bathroom, no matter how much of the always present wine he drank. He'd begun to learn a little about how to manipulate the place, mostly by making himself some more clothes and creating a few of his favorite comfort foods.

However, he had a niggling feeling that most of the people here fought so much to keep their minds off other things. Xander couldn't help remembering his life. Buffy, Willow, Dawn, Giles. Warriors far stronger than him. Some still stood, some did not. He hoped that Buffy, Willow and Dawn were still alive and kicking vampire ass, and that Giles was... well, he was almost selfish enough to hope Giles was here. Xander had been keeping one eye on everyone who wandered through, looking for any familiar faces. So far he'd only met a few famous people he'd seen in books. Lao Tzu was a real neat guy, very nice if a touch condescending.

Fat, warm tears welled out of Xander's eyes as he dwelled on his comrades. He missed them so much; Buffy's endless Slayer-fed self assurance. Willow's feisty magicks and winsome smile. Pretty much everything about Dawn, even the stress-induced kleptomania. Yeah, he was safely away from all the really evil fighting, now that he'd somehow gotten himself killed. Where did that leave him? Wondering if his friends had survived, and where they'd go when the did get killed. Buffy, he knew, would be back in heaven, so he wouldn't see her again. Willow was Jewish, so he doubted he'd see her. Dawn, well... she'd follow Buffy of course. Giles? He'd preceded Xander in death, but the young man had no idea about Giles beliefs. Did he end up in heaven, or was he in this big 'not otherwise specified' dumping ground?

Thinking about Giles brought up other not-so-pleasant memories. Xander found it hilarious that it took death for him to make male friends. Here, in the Elysian Fields, he could actually be himself, and not the goofy little boy he'd always played in Sunnydale. No one here cared about who he was attracted to; in fact, he'd been shocked at first by how casual people were with physical affection. Hugs, kisses, and a whole lot more were the normal mode of operation. It had taken him a few weeks to get used to being touched so often, in such a non-threatening, friendly manner. Now, though, he relished it. He'd spent his entire life hiding who and what he was, cowering behind Cordelia, Faith and Anya; being the loudmouthed, obvious heterosexual. What had it gotten him? A series of bad relationships and little else. He'd managed to suppress his feelings for men, Giles in particular, hiding them behind a thin veneer of semi-respectful hero worship. All his friends were women, save a guy he'd do anytime. Yeah, he was gay. He was *so* gay it wasn't funny. Actually, Xander wondered why no one else noticed, or if they had why they hadn't said anything. His life was almost a cliché, it was so damned obvious. He had to admit, this place had done him some good in that regard; at least now he was easygoing and relaxed. He didn't talk as much either, since he no longer had to hide himself behind corny jokes and fake smiles.

Eventually, Xander wiped off his face and got up. He might not want to play war games, but that didn't mean that he wanted to sit on a log all day. Even in this supposedly perfect place, they weren't that comfortable. Besides, he'd passed a rather lovely stream earlier, one that would be perfect for swimming.

* * * * *

Giles waved at his companions as they departed. He'd just had a lovely conversation about slaying strategies with some of the other Watchers who resided in the Elysian fields, comparing training techniques and outcomes. It was very gratifying for him to finally meet others in his home organization who appreciated his ideas.

Now, though, it was time for him to retreat to a quiet place and relax. As much as he enjoyed the many discussions and playful battles that went on, he relished his private time even more. Here, in this place, he finally had the calm and quiet he so craved. Giles could spend as much time in thought as he wanted without annoying or ignoring someone who wanted something.

He soon reached his favorite thinking rock and took a seat on it, watching the slowly bubbling stream pass by his spot. Occasionally a fish would jump, splashing water around and startling the birds. Giles just smiled and lay back to stare up at the greenery above him.

"I'm sitting here in the boring room, it's just another rainy Sunday afternoon."

Giles sat up quickly. He swore he recognized that voice. A quick look around showed no one, though. He scowled, hoping that some half-cocked soldier wasn't planning an ambush.

"I wonder how, I why; yesterday you told me about the blue, blue sky... And all that I can see is just a yellow lemon tree." A series of splashes accompanied the voice. "I'm turning my head up and down; turning, turning, turning around...and all that I can see is just another lemon tree."

Giles slid off his rock and approached the stream's bank. Someone was in the water. "Stepping around in the desert of joy, and anything will happen, and you wonder..."

Xander. It was Xander, swimming up the creek, splashing merrily and singing as he did so. "I wonder how, I wonder why; yesterday you told me about the blue, blue sky, and all that I can see is just a yellow lemon tree." Giles rubbed his eyes, just to make sure he wasn't hallucinating.

"Xander?" Giles said, voice shaky. "Xander?"

Xander heard his name and turned. Of course, since he was in the middle of rolling over, he ended up with a snootful of water. He stood up in the shallow water, coughing and sputtering. "Er, what?" He asked, figuring it was either Achilles, Ajax, or one of their friends.

"Xander, how did you... what happened?" Giles asked desperately. If Xander was here, then he was dead. What did that mean? What had happened to Buffy, that she would let her best friend get killed? It broke Giles heart to think of Xander's life cut so very short.

Xander blinked. "Giles?" He stared up at the older man. Yeah, it was definitely Giles, looking a whole lot better than he had for years. One of the first things Xander had learned about the Elysian Fields was that everyone here was in the prime of their lives. Children remained children, but no adult arrived here old. Thus, Giles was looking rather... Ripperlike, Xander figured. About two seconds after realizing that Giles appeared to be about twenty-five, Xander also realized that he was standing in thigh-deep water. He immediately sank back down until he was covered to his chest.

Giles fell to his knees on the mossy bank. "Xander..."

Xander grinned. Giles was here! He finally had someone he knew to talk to. "So, G-man, long time no see."

Giles grimaced. He didn't ask what happened again, having remembered that no one in the Elysian Fields ever remembered exactly how they'd died. "Have you been here long?" He asked, watching Xander paddle around in the stream.

Xander shrugged, still grinning madly. "I'm not really sure, although I'm sure I've not been here as long as Achilles."

"I should think not," Giles replied. "You've met Achilles?" He asked incredulously. "My word."

"Yup! He's pretty cool--he and Ajax play a lot of practical jokes on Hector," Xander explained. "Where have you been hiding out? I know I've been here for a while now."

"Ah, I found some Watchers and a good number of British soldiers from the World Wars," Giles said absently. He felt a brief pang of jealousy; Xander had been befriended by some of the most enduring mythological figures, and he'd gotten stuck with a bunch of stuffy Watchers and still shell-shocked soldiers.

"Sounds fun," Xander murmured unconvincingly. He was suddenly rather glad to have made Achilles' acquaintance. The young man thought for a moment, and then climbed out of the water, taking a seat next to Giles. The presence of the Watcher was just too perfect. He knew it was a bad idea, one of his worst. Xander couldn't seem to stop himself, though. Riling up Giles sounded like a real blast. And if the Watcher didn't get it, so what? It wasn't like the British man understood half of what Xander said anyway. "So... you were just in the neighborhood, huh? What a coincidence," Xander commented. "You come this way often, soldier?"

Giles' jaw dropped. If he didn't know better, he'd have thought that Xander was flirting with him. However, Xander perpetually lusted after women. Xander liked to joke around, although Giles had never seen him step outside his normal role of childish mascot. "Er... I like this spot. It is quite... calming."

"Really?" Xander murmured, smiling. "I'll have to come this way again. It's certainly attractive enough." He couldn't believe he was being *this* obvious, but what the hell... If only Achilles could see him. Giles looked about ready to pass out.

"So, wanna come with me? I'm gonna catch up with Ajax, see if he's figured out how to use a water balloon yet," Xander mentioned. "I think some of the vets are planning a pig roast this evening." He stood up, still naked, and reached for Giles' hand.

Giles let Xander help him up. "Water balloons?" He frowned. "You introduced Ajax to water balloons?"

Xander grinned evilly. "The Trojans *hate* water balloons." Well, they did now. At first, they'd just found them funny--just as they'd found Xander funny. Of course, he'd been unable to keep from giggling whenever he saw them. Once he'd explained about his world's Trojans, and the actual identity of the water balloons Ajax and Achilles preferred to use, the Trojan warriors quickly became unamused.

"This I must see," Giles said, nodding to Xander. He wasn't sure why he wanted to witness Greek warriors lobbing water balloons. Well, he *did* know why. His mind was filled with images of the Iliad, only with water balloons instead of spears.

Xander led Giles through the forest, easily finding his way. Giles was not so lucky; he'd not really ventured into the areas where they were going. The stream itself was as far from his usual haunts as he ever went. He made sure to keep close to Xander, so he didn't get lost.

And so that he could keep an eye on the rather enticing sight in front of him. Xander hadn't bothered to materialize himself any clothes, nor had he stopped to pick up whatever he'd been wearing before. Giles couldn't keep from watching firm, sculpted muscles flex and stretch as the young man bounded off rocks and tree roots, easily navigating the forest.

Since he was distracted, Giles didn't immediately see the man who stepped into their path. Xander did, though, and pulled to a stop. The stranger hugged Xander tightly, uncaring of the young man's nudity. Xander pressed a quick but open-mouthed kiss upon the man's mouth before stepping back. "Xander," The man said brightly, smiling. "Are you in a better mood now that you've had your walk?"

Xander grinned. "Yeah, Ajax, I'm fine. Hey, you remember me telling you about Giles?" He asked, glancing over his shoulder. "This is him."

"Ah, Giles!" Ajax exclaimed. "Xander says many great things about you. Will you join us?" The ancient warrior's expression was reserved, noting how severe Giles looked.

Giles realized he was glaring at Ajax and corrected himself. If Xander was... intimate with this man, so be it. Giles' brain had been having problems wrapping itself around the idea of Xander as not-straight, and now this... "Ah, yes, I would like to accompany you," He murmured quickly. Ajax nodded and turned to walk next to Xander.

"I'd put some clothes on," Ajax cautioned Xander. "Hector is rather... unhappy at the moment."

Xander materialized a pair of blue jeans. Very tight, faded blue jeans. "What'd you do, Ajax?"

"Er... what's that stuff you showed us yesterday?" The warrior asked.

"Shaving cream," Xander said. "You didn't... You know, Ajax, you really are evil." Both men laughed at their shared mental image. Hector, covered in shaving cream, piercing eyes staring out of the foam. Giles tamped down another spurt of envy at their camaraderie. He also wanted to grab Ajax and drag him off somewhere to grill the man about what had really happened during the Trojan War.

"Hey, they started the pig roast without me!" Xander said as the three men reached the edge of the forest. The sky was dimming with the coming night and warriors of all types were gathering around the scattered fire rings. Giles saw that while many types of soldiers and fighters were present, most of them belonged to Ajax's era, and dressed the part. Xander seemed very much at ease among these exalted men, embracing them as old friends. Many called him by name, inviting him to join some conversation or planning session. He turned them all down in favor of dragging Giles over to one fire ring. Once there, he pressed a mug of some beverage into the Watcher's hands and disappeared.

"So you're the Watcher," Ajax said, settling down next to Giles. "Xander speaks fondly of you."

Giles smiled briefly. "Ah. I must say, I was... surprised to find him here, and in such good spirits," He said slowly. "He has adapted well."

One elegant eyebrow raised up. "Adapted?" Ajax laughed. "He hasn't adapted, he's become who he really is."

"Who he really is?" Giles echoed. "The Xander I knew was nothing like this man."

Ajax said nothing more, simply staring into the fire and drinking his ale. Xander had been very open with him and Achilles, describing to them a miserable life full of pain and repression. Xander had slowly but surely come into his own. What Ajax suspected this man Giles considered childishness was, to Xander's new friends, wide-eyed wonder and pure joy. When he didn't feel like he had to hide himself, the silly jokes and self-deprecating humor fell away, leaving a man who hadn't left his mischievous playfulness behind with his immature naivety.

Xander found Achilles talking with Hector. The Trojan didn't look too upset about whatever stunts had been pulled on him that day, so the young man approached him casually. "When you're up to getting back at them, Hector, let me know," Xander offered by way of greeting.

Hector hugged Xander warmly. "I'm holding you too that. It won't be for a while, though. We're planning to raid the French tomorrow."

Xander rolled his eyes. "I see. So, do you guys want to meet Giles?" He asked. "We met up today in the forest."

Achilles studied Xander. So that was why the young man was flushed and sparkling. It looked as though he and Ajax were going to be losing their lovely companion, at least for the time being. "Of course we do, Xander," He replied pleasantly. "This Giles, the Watcher? Is he adjusting well to the Elysian Fields?"

Xander walked between the two warriors. "I think so, although he hangs out with some other boring Watcher types," He said. "Maybe you guys can loosen him up a bit. He's still walking around in his tweed Watcher clothes."

"As opposed to..." Hector began.

"Hey, I wear the leather skirt thing sometimes!" Xander said, smirking.

When they reached Giles, Xander saw that the man hadn't moved. Ajax was standing a few feet away, talking to Patroclus and Menelaus. The Watcher looked positively miserable, staring at the ground as he gingerly sipped at his ale. Xander sighed and grabbed a chunk of meat from one of the boars roasting nearby.

Giles jumped slightly when Xander appeared beside him. "So, the ancient Greek crowd not to your liking?" Xander asked as he carefully deboned his meal.

"Ah, no, I was simply thinking," Giles murmured, watching as Xander wrapped a denuded bone in fat and toss it into the fire. "When did you begin to give offerings to the gods?" He asked curiously.

Xander handed Giles a handful of savory flesh. "Since I decided that since I liked this place, I might as well say thanks once in a while." He ate slowly, watching the dancing flames and listening to the murmuring roar of people laughing.

Giles tried to ask Xander about what he was doing here. However, each time he opened his mouth, nothing came out. Xander started conversations with him time and again, but Giles fumbled them, unable to grasp communicating with this new person in Xander's skin. Achilles talked with Giles some, regaling the Watcher with tales of what the Trojan War had really been like.

Finally, Giles torture came to an end, although what he got in exchange was no better. Ajax and Achilles led Xander away for a night's rest. As he watched Xander leave, pressed between the two men, Giles felt his stomach drop. He was alone in this strange place, without the drab if comfortable people he'd come to know.

* * * * *

"So that's Giles?" Achilles asked as the three men stripped down and piled onto a bed of soft furs.

"Yeah... Well, I'm used to him looking a lot older," Xander admitted.

"And you lusted after that for most of your adolescence?" Ajax inquired. "Why?"

Xander threw a pillow at him. "He's not that bad, usually. I think he's in shock."

"You walked around naked with him," Ajax replied. "If he's anything like most people of your century, that might have bothered him." Xander was one of the few modern men the ancient Greeks really liked--mostly because he embraced their culture as much as they took in his. While most warriors in the Elysian Fields interacted on a regular basis, there was always some amount of distance--fighting together was one thing, but camaraderie was something else entirely.

"Then he needs to loosen up. We're not in Sunnydale anymore," Xander muttered as he curled around Ajax and closed his eyes. "No one expects us to keep being who we're not."

A short distance away, Giles listened silently.

* * * * *

"Damn it!" Xander held his chest, keeping his ribs together. Once again, Menelaus had gotten past him and struck a killing blow. "What did I do this time?"

"You overbalanced when I blocked your thrust. That left you exposed, and I struck," Menelaus explained. Xander nodded and healed himself.

"Remember what we discussed yesterday morning," Ajax told Xander. "He's not a bacchae; there's no charm to deflect his attack."

"Yeah, I keep remembering that right *after* he guts me," Xander muttered. "And tell me again why I'm learning this?"

"Because you like surviving battle?" Achilles murmured. "Without constantly healing yourself, that is."

"Ok, ok, we'll try it again," Xander said. Soon he and Menelaus were engaged in battle, blood flying in tiny droplets as they managed only to nick each other occasionally.

Giles saw a group of men standing around, cheering excitedly. Knowing that there was some sort of violence at the centre of it, he went to investigate. What he found, though, was well beyond what he could have imagined.

Xander and one of his ancient friends were engaged in battle. They circled each other, striking glancing blows as they sought out each others' weaknesses. He winced as Xander took a fierce hit to his midsection, right against the leather guards of the traditional Greek clothing he wore; but was amazed when the young man recovered quickly and struck back, bringing his foe to his knees. Xander's sword came up and arced down towards the man's neck, stopping right at the juncture of throat and shoulder.

"Better?" Xander asked Achilles and Ajax.

"Considerably," They said together. Menelaus smiled and accepted Xander's hand.

"If you continue to improve, one day you may even fight me to a draw," Achilles intoned, his voice facetiously serious.

As Xander turned to reply to that jab, he saw Giles. Sighing softly, he handed his sword to Ajax and pushed through the crowd. "Sleeping late these days, Giles?" He asked the Watcher.

"I've found the joy in not having to rise early," Giles commented. "They're right, you know. You have improved, considerably."

Xander smiled. "I know. Believe me, I do. It's not hard to do better than I used to." He motioned for Giles to follow him. A short distance away was a small pond. Xander waded right in, washing sweat and blood from his body. "But mostly, it's fun. A challenge, you know? And I *am* good at it."

Giles watched hungrily as Xander cleaned up. He did know what Xander was talking about. Finding something you enjoyed doing, as well as the freedom to learn it well, was a rare thing indeed. "You do seem to excel," Giles admitted.

"So why the disapproving glare?" Xander asked bluntly. "You'd rather I stayed a bumbling, clumsy idiot? That's what got me killed."

"No," Giles said, cringing. "Not at all." He sighed in frustration. "I am simply surprised," He admitted a moment later. "This place has changed you." They both knew that Giles wasn't just referring to Xander's significant improvement in combat.

Xander stepped out of the water, shaking his head. Sparkling droplets flew everywhere. "Maybe," He replied. "Or maybe I'm just more 'me' here."

"You?" The Watcher murmured. "You hid yourself when you were alive?"

Xander led Giles through the meadow and back towards the woods. "Of course," He said. "Buffy could get behind Willow being gay, what with the whole magickal energies thing going on between Tara and her. But me? Nah. She wouldn't have understood. I was the Zeppo. Straight and useless but funny." When he saw Giles' disbelieving expression, the young man continued. "Buffy and Willow gave me something I didn't have--family. They were my moms and my sisters, you know? I couldn't risk losing that, and I would've if I'd tried to step outside the role I'd set for myself."

"You give us very little credit," Giles remarked. "I would have thought no differently about you, and neither would the others."

Xander spun around on the path, facing Giles as he walked backwards. "Really? So, if I'd come up to you one day in the library and told you that I thought you were hot, you wouldn't have acted any differently? Wouldn't have wondered if I was staring at your ass every time you turned around? Wondered if all those times I fell against you were *really* accidents?"

Giles' jaw dropped. His brain tried very hard to wrap itself around the idea of Xander finding him attractive. "Well..." He blinked a few times, almost stumbling over a tree root. "The issue never arose, so it matters not."

Xander shook his head. "That's not an answer." he stopped suddenly, causing Giles to run into him. He caught the older man in his hands, holding him still. Xander could see the pulse pounding in Giles' neck, the older man's eyes dilated. "Would you have treated me differently?"

"Did you really want me?" Giles whispered, staring at Xander's harsh expression.

"Did I want you?" Xander said roughly, pulling their bodies together. Giles couldn't avoid noticing that his arousal was matched by Xander's. "Oh, hell yeah, I wanted you." He leaned forward. "Used to watch you read, fingers touching those old books like they were lovers. Gods, that thing you did with your glasses," He murmured. "And yeah, I stared at your ass. All the time."

Much to Xander's amusement, Giles squeaked. "I-I..." The older man stuttered, gaping like a fish. Would he have treated Xander differently? He knew the truth--yes, he would have. How could he have not done something? An adolescent's raging hormones would have wrecked havoc on his life. Xander, however, seemed to have directed those energies elsewhere, since nothing had ever happened.

Xander saw Giles' answer in his face. "Yeah, that's what I thought," He muttered, pushing himself away from Giles. "Look, it's pretty obvious you don't like the Iliad crowd," Xander said, running his hands through his hair. "The stream's about a quarter of a mile along this path. I'll come see you in Watcherville, alright? I'm sure one of the guys knows where it is."

Giles stood frozen in place as Xander took off the way they came, returning to his friends. What should he have done? The truth was that he would have changed his behavior had he known about Xander's interest in him. He'd just found the boy, and now he was gone again, because Giles couldn't adapt to change.

The walk back to the stream, and then on to his usual haunt with the other Watchers, was a long and slow one.

* * * * *

"Although I am, as always, impressed with your ability to incorporate the werewolf into your group, the experiences you had with the vampire are ample proof that Slaying belongs in the hands and minds of humans."

Giles nodded absently as one of his colleagues mulled different Slaying techniques. "She has lived far longer than any other Slayer," He murmured in defense.

"Perhaps the vampire was a bit much," Another watcher said, "However, I can easily see how utilizing neutral species like the were and some of the fey would be of benefit. After all, we do use their writings as fundamental reading."

"Yes," Giles replied. He wasn't following the conversation very well, since it was the exact same one he'd been having for aeons. He hadn't really noticed how repetitive and, well, boring his life was until he'd spent a day with Xander. Now that he'd seen something besides this interminable discussion, Giles was desperate to escape.

He wanted to be back with Xander, watching the Greeks play war games and enjoy their afterlife. He didn't bother being resentful that the ancient warriors could keep on doing what they'd done all their lives and be interesting and fun, while the Watchers could do the same thing and be maddeningly boring.

Giles didn't know what to do. He knew there were other groups out there; besides the Greeks there were several wars' worth of soldiers and a plethora of individuals. The only group that even remotely interested him, though, was the one that had adopted Xander. If only his pride would let him walk through the forest and rejoin the boy.

He hadn't been able to keep his mind off their last conversation. Xander had always been easy on the eyes, despite his regrettable tastes in clothing and women. Giles' appreciation of the young man, however, had never really ventured farther than an abstract consideration of his beauty... until Xander had baldly stated his own past feelings for the Watcher. Giles couldn't help but want Xander; he might have died in the throes of middle age, but in this place he was at most twenty-five, and probably a bit younger than that. His body told him that Xander was an excellent specimen, willing and hot. Giles' mind was wont to agree, which left the Watcher in something of a lurch. How did he patch his relationship with Xander? Did he risk it? An eternity with most of the combined warriors of every Greek city-state chasing his arse didn't sound very appealing.

The alternative, though, was sitting in this clearing, discussing the Council with others of his ilk--something that was losing its appeal very quickly. The longer he sat with his compatriots, the more welcome the idea of being killed repeatedly by Achilles was.

When the Watcher directly to his left began yet another discussion about whether it would be a good idea to start letting Slayers have a child at the age of 14, before they were called, Giles got up and left. The very idea sickened him, although he vaguely remembered agreeing with the concept a few weeks ago.

Giles didn't hurry back to the Greek encampment, spending his time in thought. When he did reach the field, he walked right into the middle of an epic battle. After narrowly avoiding being disemboweled by a Trojan warrior, Giles accepted the sword handed to him and randomly picked a side.

The first time he took a sword to his head, Giles fell to the ground with a curse and a shower of blood. After the tenth time, he simply shook off the wound and jumped right back into the fray. He saw that Ajax's advice to Xander was accurate; fighting humans was different than fighting demons. He didn't want to kill his opponents, because they weren't the enemy.

Those thoughts were out of place here and would get him killed--again. Giles tried to change tactics, swinging killing blows as he tore his way through the opposing side's forces. After he got used to actually killing people, he began to enjoy himself. It helped a lot to see his defeated enemies stand back up and give him a respectful nod.

Xander was joyfully hacking his way through a throng of Minoan foot soldiers, fighting at the left hand of Achilles, when he saw something very out of place on this battlefield--tweed. Giles was working with a small contingent of Lydians to ambush Ajax's men. Xander cried out a warning to Ajax, which resulted in Giles getting sliced across his belly. Xander would have felt worse if Giles didn't look like he'd been killed a few times already. Still, he couldn't suppress a jolt of lust and relief at the sight of the older man. When he'd left Giles in the forest, he'd figured that if Giles came back, they'd work things out, and if not, he wouldn't. Despite his casual offer to visit Giles, Xander wouldn't ever do it--he wasn't about to go crawling back to someone who didn’t want him. However, if Giles came to him, that was something else entirely.

After making sure that Achilles didn't need his assistance at the moment, Xander went over to where Giles was picking himself up. "Thought you didn't like this sort of thing," Xander commented.

Giles dusted off his shirt and retrieved his sword. "It has its charms," He muttered, swinging his arm around to behead a Trojan. "And ever so much more entertaining than listening to another round of 'if only my Slayer hadn't died at the hands of Ichabod the Irrelevant."

"I can see why," Xander replied, grinning. "So, why are you fighting with the Lydians? They're the bad guys today."

Giles shrugged. "No particular reason, why?"

Xander's grin widened and he reached forward, grabbing Giles' shirt. The Watcher whimpered softly as Xander devoured his mouth, hot tongue thrusting inside to tangle with his own. When the boy pulled away, Giles was left panting and flushed. "'Cause if you don’t switch sides, I can't fuck you tonight after the party." With that, Xander lifted his sword and began to rejoin the fray.

Giles blinked, staring down at his own sword. It took about two seconds for him to make up his mind. "Consider me switched," He murmured, joining Xander in a gleeful massacre of Lydian warriors. The sooner nightfall came, the better.

By the time Achilles called a halt to their merry battle, sunset had long since past. The battlefield was a sinister, shadowy place, black but for the flickering light of torches and bonfires. Giles wearily picked himself up from the ground where he'd fallen, having slipped on some blood. A short distance away, Xander was assisting the last of the wounded as they healed themselves and congratulated each other on a war well fought. Giles joined in the aftermath, joking happily with the other warriors. No one had ended the day without some sort of wound, fatal or otherwise. Somehow, that made Giles feel better. There were no winners or losers in this eternal battle, simply the thrill of the fight, over and over.

"Gods, you're a mess."

Giles spun around to find Xander standing just behind him, streaked with sweat, dirt and blood. "Yes, I suppose I am," He replied, glancing down at his destroyed clothing and mud-caked body. He squeaked as Xander grabbed him by one arm and dragged him across the field and towards the forest. The young man grabbed a torch along the way, using it for light.

Xander walked as fast as he could, practically dragging Giles behind him. The party was forgotten as he plowed through the trees. Seeing Giles on the battlefield, glorying in the combat that had become the centre of Xander's world, impossibly aroused the young man. He wanted Giles, writhing underneath him, begging, demanding that Xander fuck him senseless.

Giles was about ready to force Xander to stop and explain himself when he was unceremoniously pushed forward--right into a deep, slowly moving brook. He emerged, sputtering angrily and ready to give Xander quite the verbal lashing. The words never passed his lips, though, because by the time he found Xander, the boy was stripped naked and wading into the water. Light from the lone torch illuminated that hard body, casting deep shadows amongst golden muscle. Giles' mouth watered at the vision in front of him, anger forgotten.

"Gotta get you clean," Xander murmured, reaching for Giles. He couldn't help but grin when the older man whimpered, easily letting Xander take control. When the young man tugged off his clothing, Giles simply held his arms out to assist him, practically purring at each teasing touch of fingers or palms.

Xander decided that there was no reason to torture either of them any longer. With a sharp growl, he clasped Giles' head in his hands and kissed the former Watcher deeply, delving inside the man's mouth just as soon as Giles gave him entrance. Strong arms wrapped desperately around Xander's waist, binding them together while Xander mated their tongues in an erotic dance of slick wetness. By the time he pulled away, both men were thrusting sinuously against each other, reveling in the feel of their cocks sliding together.

"Wanna fuck you," Xander whispered into Giles' ear, slowly maneuvering them towards the sloping bank. "Make you scream. Is that what you want? To feel this inside you?" He asked, thrusting his erection against Giles'.

Giles' eyes fluttered open. Xander in the throes of arousal was a glorious sight, and Giles couldn't think of anything he'd rather do than be spread out underneath this man, subject to his passions. His only answer was a rolling thrust of his own hips as he spread his legs, welcoming Xander between them. Xander growled once more and reached down to drag his fingers across the tight hole he found between Giles' thighs.

Xander concentrated briefly, conjuring up some oil to slicken his fingers. The liquid slide of Giles body as he pushed one finger inside almost brought Xander to tears. His darkest, deepest fantasies, all lay out in front of him. Giles, begging for his cock with both body and voice. The gasped pleading for more, harder, now, was driving Xander over the edge, and the tight, hot clasp of Giles body was demanding that Xander replace his fingers with something far thicker and more pleasurable.

Giles' eyes locked on Xander's face as the young man aligned himself and began to slowly push inside. A cry caught in his throat as he saw the unbridled lust and affection on Xander's face. There were no words between them, just this impossible pleasure and connection.

Xander leaned forward, finding Giles' lips again as he thrust harder and faster into the man below him. He needed this so badly, this rapid, harsh lust and desire. It was a rich, dark counterpoint to the far gentler things he felt for Giles, something he needed to round out the all-consuming emotion he felt for the older man. The siren's call of ecstasy pulled at both of them, wrenching pained screams that poured out of their own mouths and into their lovers' as their bodies shivered and quaked in completion, tightening and relaxing as orgasm spilled forth.

Giles sighed as Xander released his mouth and withdrew, moving aside slightly to collapse beside him. Water lapped at their knees, reminding Giles of where they were--and why. "Your friend will miss you," He murmured, watching the now-dying torch gutter out.

Xander grunted. "No, they won't," He replied. "Not for long, anyway." Achilles and Ajax wouldn't miss him, but not because he wasn't ever going back to them. No, knowing them--and himself--there would be more than a few trysts between the ancient couple and himself and Giles. There were many things he'd learned from the two Greeks, and many more still to be taught. And Xander knew very well how much Giles liked education. Xander's face split into a wide grin, just thinking about the possibilities.

Ah, the sweet hereafter.