Family | Part One | Epilogue to Doomed

He hated the smell of hospital rooms…nearly as much as he hated cheerful nurses…almost as much as he hated himself

Why they couldn't have put him back together and let him go home, he was sure he didn't know. Of course on most of the previous occasions someone, Xander at least, had been around for them to release him to. This time it had been drop and run.

True he'd told them to leave him at the ER and go…saving the world being rather more important than the results of his own stupidity…

He tried to turn over and gasped. There were few things more damnably uncomfortable and inconvenient than cracked ribs. A few minutes later he'd drifted into a light doze. There was nothing else to do while he was waiting for the attending physician to arrive and clear his concussion. The light doze became a much-needed deep sleep.

…Until the deep sleep turned into a demon-and-death filled nightmare where his mistakes had cost Buffy her life, Xander and Willow permanent injury and a terminal hatred of him.

He woke miserably, jarring his ribs and peeling his battered face off the pillow into which it had bled and stuck, and curled up into the tightest ball he could manage. He rarely, if ever, wept…He hadn't shed a real tear since Randall died, not even for Jenny, as much as he'd wanted to…but he did now, in a spiralling vortex of self-doubt, rage and fear…

It was as though he were outside himself looking on, unable to control the desolate despair that gripped him while his defences were still down.

When had he become old and useless? When had he stopped being Buffy's last line of defence against the darkness, against her own destiny? When exactly had he stopped having a purpose…any purpose? And when in God's name had he ever done anything as stupid as he had today…?

“Giles…?”

A hand rested on his shoulder.

“Xander,” he managed, after a few beats to organize his voice to sound somewhere near normal. It was going to take longer to organize his face before he turned.

“I-I thought you were asleep at first, but you kinda moved…and…” Xander bit his lip, unwilling to mention the small sounds he wished he hadn't heard.

“Giles, are you okay?” he asked, very softly, worry, even fear, underpinning the gentleness of his tone.

“No,” the older man whispered and drew a deep breath, rubbed a hand surreptitiously across his face and turned over very slowly.

Xander immediately supported his shoulders and helped him to a half-sitting position against the pillows.

Giles looked beyond the boy to the doorway. “Where is everyone?”

Xander followed his gaze, in a studied pretence of not seeing the moisture still in the older man's lashes. “Anya's at the mall. Uh, Willow's meeting me later to watch TV, but she had to meet someone first. Something she was late for…because of the Hellmouth and all…and Buffy…well, she had to take care of some stuff…but she said she'd come by the apartment and check on you later.” He had turned back to the bed, but somehow couldn't meet the older man's gaze.

“You didn't have any pressing engagements?” Giles asked in a tone that would have been dry, if it hadn't sounded so hollow.

Xander's dark brown eyes looked up to meet the green ones then, and forewent mentioning the flaming row with Anya over his insistence on visiting Giles instead of going to the mall with her.

“Nothing that was more important than being here.”

Their eyes held for a long moment, then Giles' softened and a ghost of a smile flickered on his lips.

“I take it the end of the world is no longer nigh?”

Xander grinned sheepishly. “We took care of it…at least Buffy did. Spike helped. The demons were the sacrifices.”

Giles' eyes closed, his face contorted in self-loathing. “Oh God…them too…” he whispered.

Xander frowned. “Giles, what's wrong? I've never seen you so hard on yourself. A-At the apartment…it was almost scary. Did we do something—?”

Giles opened his eyes and patted his arm. “No, no, you've done nothing. It's just…it doesn't matter.”

But Xander wasn't buying it. “It's hard isn't it?” he said softly.

“What is?” Giles asked gruffly.

“Being irrelevant.”

For a moment the word hung in the air.

“Four syllables…pretty good, huh?” Xander added, breaking the deafening silence, in a half-hearted attempt at his usual self-deprecating humour.

“Very good,” Giles agreed dryly, though his eyes were bleak. “Is that what I am?”

“What we are,” Xander qualified, not smiling this time.

“Yes, it's hard,” he said quickly and looked away, giving Xander a full view of the scratches on the side of his face. “But you'll find your place, Xander. Your life is just beginning. Be patient.”

Xander could feel the uncharacteristic despair radiating from the older man. There had to be more to it than being forty-five and between jobs…

“And you?”

Giles turned back reluctantly. “Me? I could have a job in London tomorrow…or New York…or even Toronto…or Sydney, Australia.”

“But not Sunnydale…?”

Giles shook his head. “ It seems I'm rather over-qualified and not quite the up-and-coming type…” He closed his eyes. “Oh Christ, what the hell…I'm just too old.”

Xander's eyes widened. “You mean old old? As in grey hair and wrinkles old?”

Giles scowled. “Must you labour the point?”

“But…but that is the point. You're not old. God, compared to me maybe you're…well, kinda mature, but you're…you're Giles. Hugh Grant with a crossbow…Liam Neeson…uh…without the accent.”

“Quit while you're ahead,” Giles advised, half smiling in spite of himself, wincing when his scratches pulled. “And thank you.”

Xander sat down slowly on the side of the bed and searched the familiar face. “What will you do?” Again there was a strange note in the young man's voice.

“Aside from watching the employment pages in the morning paper? In all likelihood, nothing,” Giles replied unexpectedly. “I have some reserves and a significant amount of capital tied up in the apartment.”

“Then you aren't considering leaving?”

The green eyes flicked up, surprised, and about to say so until he saw the boy's face. Instead they gentled.

“I have no intention of leaving,” he said very softly. “This is my home…This is where…” His expression faltered a little. “Where my family is…”

Xander's dark eyes widened then dropped to the shabby hospital blanket. “Yeah, well Buffy said she'd probably be over around dinner time, maybe even cook for you,” he said awkwardly.

Giles' eyes grew sad, glistening in the fluorescent light.

So young to be so fragile, so easily bruised.

“Xander…” he said, and waited for several moments before the dark head lifted. “Look at me,” he commanded, when the tousled head didn't lift any higher than shoulder level.

The dark eyes flicked up, found the gentle green ones.

“It isn't Buffy wasting an afternoon in a hospital room, and it wasn't Buffy who was there when I woke up in a room like this eighteen months ago. Nor was it Buffy who visited me daily for the first week after I came home, using, I might add, some of the feeblest excuses I'd ever heard. Neither was she present at either of my last two birthdays, though I do seem to recall a young man with a voracious appetite annoying Willow by eating almost everything she'd made for me, at each of them.”

Xander blinked rapidly. “God yes. Willow's brownies are to die for…and those knish things…” He looked away quickly, still blinking.

Giles reached out and rested a large hand silently on the back of the boy's neck, until he collected himself and looked up.

“You're not irrelevant,” Xander said hoarsely.

Giles tousled his hair. “I know,” he said. “And neither are you.”

Xander grinned, his colour high. “And are we going to remember this Kodak moment when I'm driving you home in your wonderful car and it stalls when I can't get it back into second on the first corner?” he wisecracked in a voice that was anything but steady.

“Not bloody likely,” Giles retorted, his eyes overbright, then smiled back. “I had the gearbox reconditioned last month.”

Xander chuckled damply and covered the hand still resting on his shoulder for a long moment before letting his slid away.

Then he grinned mischievously. “My hero,” he drawled, “but wouldn't that actually have cost more than the car is worth…?”

“Smart arse.” Giles flicked his ear and he ducked away, laughing.

“Last time I looked your ass was a lot smarter than mine,” Xander shot back, but his eyes glowed with undisguised affection.

“I should jolly well think so,” Giles snorted gruffly. “Now be a good lad and go find out what's holding up that blasted doctor, so we can go home…”



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