Written for summer_of_giles
Word Count: 4,120
Disclaimer: Sadly not mine, Joss own them.
Warnings: Casseroles, contemplation, bad sitcoms and excessive consumption of biscuits.
Summary: During a difficult summer, Giles receives some surprising company.
A/N: Thanks to the wonderful mods of summer_of_giles for organizing a fantastic community!
Thanks to the completely wonderful savoytruffle for her invaluable beta. Any mistakes are mine (and you're always welcome to point out any to me!)
Same Time Next Week
The sun set fifteen minutes ago.
Rupert had noted it, had pictured Buffy preparing for patrol, slipping a stake into some secret place in one of her typically impractical outfits.
She’d have headed in the direction of a cemetery, of course. Restfield’s been showing an increase in vampiric activity as of late. Just standard vampire depravity, though. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Nothing Buffy can’t handle.
For fifteen minutes he’s seen her in his mind’s eye, roaming through Restfield with her newfound focus, natural grace, and that always unexpected strength. He’s seen her punches and kicks. He’s heard her quips. He’s groaned once or twice at a particularly bad pun.
He’s kept his mind moving, quickly, from one image to the next, but reality catches him now. Hitting him with its full force, like a blunt strike to the chest.
Buffy can’t handle it.
She’s not out walking among the gravestones, she’s lying beneath one.
He presses his palm to his forehead, tries to press the thoughts back inside. Further, deeper.
The night stretches before him.
That many fewer minutes tonight than last night, but it feels endless. Like floating in outer space; an eternity of gaping blackness.
Scotch is helpful but he tries to ration it. He’s afraid of what will happen if he lets himself drink the entire bottle. Lets himself go.
He keeps a firm grip on the glass and carefully pours two fingers.
He allows himself to sink into his chair. There’s a book sitting on the edge of it, bookmark marking his progress.
Rupert runs a finger along the worn spine but doesn’t open it.
He takes a sip and stares out the window. A tree branch rustles against the pane.
The knock when it comes is loud and it startles him. He no longer expects anyone. The days of ill-mannered young Americans barging through his door are over. And he rarely has solicitors.
Definitely not who he’d have expected, if he’d been expecting anyone.
Xander stands there, a lop-sided smile on his face as he shifts from one foot to the other.
He brings that uncertainty into Rupert’s house with him, along with something in a large Pyrex dish.
“Casserole,” Xander explains, handing it over. “Anya made it. She said that’s what I should bring.”
Rupert examines what he hopes are mashed potatoes on top. “Casserole.”
“Oh! You need to heat it up for…” Xander scrunches up his face. “Twenty minutes! Twenty minutes on four-hundred.”
And with those instructions imparted, he makes his way over to the couch and flops down.
Rupert stands there, casserole dish in hand.
“Still no remote for this thing?” Xander asks as he levers himself up off the couch and switches on the television. “Gotta get with the times, the Dark Ages are long over.”
“Yes, well, some of us find the Dark Ages provided more stimulating entertainment, such as a good book,” Rupert finds himself responding.
“I thought the Dark Ages didn’t have any books,” Xander says.
“That’s a bit of a misnomer, in fact. The events of the period often seem ‘dark’ to us only because of the paucity of historical records, artistic and cultural output compared with…”
“What’s up with you and the casserole?” Xander asks mid-eye roll at what he likely considers a dull lecture. “You can put it in the fridge.”
Rupert had forgotten he was still holding the dish. He coughs to cover his embarrassment and retreats to the kitchen to follow Xander’s instructions. Once there he decides to busy himself with tea. It’s what you do when you have a guest.
Even if your guest doesn’t like tea and never drinks it.
“Tea?” he calls anyway.
“What?” Xander pulls himself away from some sitcom he’s watching. “Oh, tea. Nah. I’ll leave that to you British types.”
As he piles biscuits on a plate – something he knows Xander wants – Rupert realizes there’s a hint of a smile on his face.
It’s rather a nice feeling, even if it is fleeting.
A week later at twenty minutes after sundown, Xander shows up on his doorstep again. This time he has a pie.
“Quiche,” Xander explains, handing it over. “Anya made it. I’m not sure if it’s actually good. The making of it smelled kinda bad. Like stinky cheese.” He shudders.
Rupert eyes it, but places it in the fridge beside the casserole with one small piece removed.
He looks up at Xander who’s hovering on the other side of the pass-through. “Please tell Anya ‘thank you.’”
Xander waves him off. “Please! She’s thrilled to have the store to herself while you hole up here like some hermit.”
Rupert blinks at him.
Xander’s brain catches up with his mouth. “Oops, I mean, um…”
“It’s alright.” He decides to let Xander off the hook. After all, it’s not like he’s said anything untrue. “I have rather resembled a hermit, I suppose. Just taking some time to…”
He doesn’t know how to finish the sentence.
He doesn’t know what he’s taking time to do.
“Yeah.” Xander flips the television on and makes himself comfortable on the couch. “I get it.”
Rupert rather suspects he does.
“Do you have more of those chocolate cookies?”
“I should, if you didn’t eat them all last week.” Rupert doesn’t try to stop his half-smile.
He puts on the kettle.
The tea is already steeping, the biscuits out on a plate when Xander arrives just five minutes after sundown.
He sips his tea and watches Xander munch on more of the chocolate biscuits he loves while taking in some American sitcom.
The show blasts out laughter every few minutes, but neither of them laugh.
Xander brushes some hair off his forehead, which promptly falls back into place, and it strikes Rupert how much older Xander is from when he first met him.
He tries to remember his first impression of Xander.
It’s jarring to realize that he has no memory of it.
He vividly recalls meeting Buffy and wondering exactly how, if she wasn’t capable of stringing together a coherent sentence, she could possibly fight the forces of evil.
And then there were those appallingly impractical shoes.
He shakes his head.
Of course he’d been wrong. So wrong. Buffy was a successful slayer, probably the most successful in centuries.
In spite of her mother having decided to call her Buffy – without even the decency to put ‘Elizabeth’ on her birth certificate.
In spite of her desire to be a cheerleader and date and eat those silly lollipops.
In spite of Rupert’s early disapproval and the council’s rigid ways.
But spite can only go so far.
And the end of that road is very painful indeed.
He realizes there are snapping fingers in front of him. “Giles. You okay?” Xander seems to float above him. “You look all spaced out and… weird.”
“Sorry, just thinking.”
Rupert takes a sip of his tea.
Thank goodness for a nice cup of tea. It may not solve everything but at least it’s comforting in its familiarity.
The following week, just at sundown, Rupert is introduced to meatloaf.
With ketchup smeared on top of it.
It’s an introduction he could have done without.
Not that he tells Xander this, he just passes along his regards to Anya as usual.
He wonders if he should return to the shop. He has no doubt that Anya is running everything efficiently, it’s whether the customers are actually being assisted or simply forced into expensive purchases.
Rupert considers asking Xander about the shop.
They watch the same American sitcom they have for the past few weeks. Or it could be a different one. It’s hard for Rupert to tell these so-called comedies apart. The pretty young people all bleed together and if he ever heard the show’s name, it didn’t stick.
Television has never held his attention the way books can. He always feels so removed, like the hard glass screen stands between him and the story. Whereas simple words on pages soft beneath his fingertips draw him into their world every time.
Until now – he’s been unable to read more than a page of anything at a stretch. Even an Agatha Christie he found under a pile of spellbooks can’t hold his interest.
He lets the voices and laughter of the television wash over him.
The next week there’s more casserole.
Rupert suspects Anya has exhausted the recipes she found listed somewhere on the internet for how to deal with grieving people.
For once Rupert is actually hungry. He’s surprised when Xander eagerly takes him up on the offer of casserole. It had never occurred to him in all these weeks that Xander could still be hungry; it’s not unusual for him to finish off an entire plate of cookies in one sitting.
What is unusual is Xander’s quiet.
It’s taken Rupert a while to notice. It’s not the sort of thing that draws one’s attention, especially when it’s the usual around here.
Especially of late.
But now that he has noticed, his house feels even more somber.
It’s odd not to have Xander making the jokes and saying the incomprehensible things that inevitably annoy Rupert.
He hasn’t snapped at Xander in… actually he’s not sure how long.
He misses it.
For some reason, the casserole tastes better today. “This is quite good.”
“Mmyeah,” Xander says around a mouthful of food. “The trick is to sauté the ground beef and onions in spices. Well, that’s what Anya tells me anyway and I don’t bite the hand that feeds me. Sometimes feeds me literally. Um, pretend I didn’t say that last part.”
Rupert is more than happy to.
It strikes him that Anya is holding things together right now. Running the Magic Box as well as ensuring that Xander and Rupert are fed. He’d suspect her of seeking some sort of reward if he weren’t certain that this sort control was its own reward for personalities like hers. And she’s left Dawn’s care to Willow and Tara – a clear sign she’s not simply trying to gain the most points.
He wonders if she’s sustaining Xander emotionally.
He considers asking Xander.
But that would open too many doors – doors he’d rather pretend don’t exist right now.
They continue to eat, pausing only for the occasional sip of water.
But water isn’t what he really wants to be sipping, so he breaks out the Scotch and pours Xander and himself generous servings. He doesn’t ask if Xander wants some, just hands him the glass.
It’s accepted without complaint.
Xander does pull a face or two as he starts drinking, but he doesn’t push the glass away. “Whew,” he says. “I guess I’m more of a beer man, ’cause this stuff? Hard core.”
The stern look Rupert had been cultivating to react to Xander’s faces transforms to a partial smile. “That’s how you know you’re drinking Scotch. Strong is good.”
Without thinking he settles onto the couch beside Xander instead of taking his usual seat on the chair. He’s close enough that he can hear the “blech” that comes after each of Xander’s sips. For some reason, that just makes him smile more.
“Did you always drink this? Is that what they do in England, teach you how to drink this stuff? Like do they spike your baby bottles?” Xander chuckles. “I can see the country’s slogan now. ‘England: Home of the Queen and Scotch-drinking Babies.”
“I hardly think that those are our only distinguishing qualities,” Rupert replies dryly, but it’s a dryness without its special Xander-edge. “But to answer your question, in my youth –”
“Baby youth or scary demon-summoning cult youth?”
“In my youth,” Rupert repeats with the special stern look he reserves for Xander, “I did enjoy knocking back a couple of pints at the pub.” Xander snickers. He continues undeterred. “But vodka was my drug of choice. Besides black magic, of course.”
“Guess it makes my love spell wackiness seem like small potatoes in comparison now, doesn’t it?” There’s a gleam in Xander’s eye. “Not even on the same level as demon worshiping freakiness, is it?”
This time Rupert is the one who chuckles. “I rather think you’re right about that.”
A few drinks later, Rupert wonders why he’s been curtailing his liquor consumption. He hasn’t laughed this much – or really at all – in weeks.
He’d wager that it’s the same for Xander.
Which is hard to believe now, what with Xander sprawled out on the couch, one arm brushing the floor and his shirt riding up enough to show a hint of skin above his waistband.
With a yawn, Xander squirms a bit to rest his head on Rupert’s leg.
Rupert takes a sip, swallows.
He takes another sip, swallows.
It’s about all he can do right now.
So he keeps right on doing it.
And forgets why he’s drinking. Other than that he feels very good, and admittedly a bit fuzzy.
His leg is warm where Xander’s head is resting.
He finds himself smiling.
Then, as if on its own accord, his hand reaches over and runs through Xander’s hair.
Rupert watches the wavy brown strands slip through his fingers.
He watches Xander sigh and close his eyes.
With his other hand he picks up his glass and finishes his drink. He stares at the black television screen, and realizes that he must associate it with Xander because normally he hardly spares it a glance.
His hand keeps moving as he continues to gaze at the screen.
As his eyes begin to focus, he sees that its not empty blackness after all. The room is being reflected back at him. The glow of the lamp, the couch, Xander and himself.
It strikes him how well everything fits together. Xander head in his lap doesn’t seem out of place at all.
His chest clenches in a way it hasn’t in a long long time.
Suddenly he can feel himself in his body. He looks down at Xander and feels that he is the one running his hand through Xander's hair, the source of the soft smile and relaxed features.
Rupert's gaze is drawn to Xander's lips; red and surprisingly smooth-looking.
A police siren sounds in the distance. They both start.
Xander sits up and blinks, looks down at Rupert’s lap. A blush spreads across his face and he eases himself up, shifting so there's a distance between them.
Rupert is at a complete loss. If he could flip open a book and find instructions he would, in a second, but sometimes even the best library only takes you so far. In dedicating his life to supernatural research he’s allowed more natural intuitions to wither away.
He just sits there, his empty glass still in his hand.
Xander, however, seems to know what to do. He stands up and stretches. “It's late, I'm... um, yeah. So bed. I mean home! I should go home to bed.”
And with that he's out the door and gone.
It occurs to Rupert that this is the first night since Buffy died when he has absolutely no idea how many hours it's been since sundown.
It's a strange feeling.
The next week, an hour passes after sundown and Rupert is certain that Xander isn't coming. So the knock on the door is that much more surprising when it comes.
It is Xander, with more quiche.
It's clear that Anya is now cycling through her recipes.
“Sorry, sorry. Late day at work. Can't stay long,” Xander says as he breezes in.
He flops onto the couch, managing to sprawl out and effectively take all available seats.
Rupert reverts to tea and biscuits and his usual chair.
They watch the usual sitcom. Rupert doesn't really watch, so doesn't laugh.
Xander does, but it sounds forced, like he's trying to demonstrate how okay he is with everything. That everything is normal.
At two hours and fifteen minutes after sundown, he leaves.
Rupert picks up the book on his chair and begins to read.
As the weeks progress, Xander's visits become sporadic, until one day Rupert realizes it's been at least 2 weeks without Xander coming by.
They still see each other at patrols, but they're a large group so they rarely talk. And afterwards Rupert normally has such a headache from being paired with Spike that he has no interest in speaking with anyone ever again.
Rupert has returned to the Magic Box so he sees Xander then, but normally he just picks Anya up and goes.
One night in late August, Rupert begins to reorganize his books, a half-full glass of Scotch close at hand. They haven't been properly sorted since he paid Xander to organize them in the first place after leaving his post as librarian and they've fallen into severe disarray. Numerous apocalypses and a hell god or two will do that to a collection.
He sorts them into categories and then alphabetically within categories. It's soothing to bring order to something. To be able to put everything in its correct place.
To have control.
There's a knock at the door and Rupert cleans his glasses before answering it, preparing to buy Girl Guide biscuits he has no interest in eating.
Somehow Xander still manages to be a surprise.
There's no casserole or quiche or meatloaf, just a young man shifting from foot to foot and staring somewhere off to the left of Rupert.
The awkwardness continues into the house, especially when Xander sees the Scotch. He coughs and quickly makes his way to the couch.
Rupert digs out the last batch of biscuits he bought from little girls in blue uniforms.
“Mmm.” Xander sits up, a grin on his face. “Girl Scout cookies! I haven't had these in years.”
He takes a stack.
Rupert can't help but smile. It's nice to have a bit of excitement in the house. It's been a long time.
He settles back into his chair and keeps his Scotch – he's safe in his chair.
Xander finishes his first stack and grabs another. He munches away, a contented smile on his face.
“So, Giles...” He places the biscuits on his lap. “I have a question for you.” Rupert straightens up. “Maybe you're not the right person to ask about this but I'm sorta low on male role models or…. Okay, let's face, there's really a shortage of any men in my life – which just came out way gayer than I meant it to sound. Not that gay is bad.” He takes a breath. “I just mean that I don't know many guys.”
Rupert lifts an eyebrow. “I'm honoured you chose me then.”
Either impervious to or undaunted by the sarcasm, Xander continues, “So how young do you think is too young to settle down? Like, is it crazy to be doing that at twenty? 'Cause things with Anya are going really well – have been for a while – and it seems like it's the right time. But how do I know that it's really the right time and not just what I think is the right time – you know,right right and not like fake right, like there’s really another right out there for me, you know, later.”
Xande looks at him expectantly, like he must hold all the answers and couldn’t be at a loss and isn’t nearly overwhelmed just trying to sort through all the 'rights' and find the heart of the question.
“I think...” Rupert removes his glasses and takes his time polishing them, “that it's important to seize the day and take advantage of the time we have with those we love.”
He takes a long drink, blinking back a bit of moisture – from the strength of his drink, of course.
Xander clears his throat a few times. “Yeah.” He sighs. “I miss her. A lot. It's all so…surreal, like some bad dream.”
Rupert nods. “If only.”
They sit there, Xander on the couch, Rupert in his chair. He considers going to sit beside Xander, slinging an arm over his shoulder or maybe giving him a hug, but that could lead to complications.
He remains seated, staring outside into the darkness, ignoring the clenching in his chest.
Xander stands up, stretches. “I should go home.”
When Xander‘s gone, he gets up and pours himself another Scotch, sits and drinks it.
It’s the night Rupert decides to return to England.
It's time for him to go home.
It's been one year and five weeks since they destroyed the hellmouth. He still can’t believe so many of them made it out alive.
That he is alive.
That Buffy is alive.
It's the kind of thing that – over a year later – still makes for an evening's worth of pleasant contemplation, which Rupert settles into with a cup of tea.
There's a knock on his door and immediately he thinks 'Xander'. Just as immediately he chides himself for this foolish reaction which started up again the day Xander returned from Africa. It's more likely Buffy wanting some quick information on killing some demon or Willow looking for a sounding board about a particularly difficult spell.
But then Giles opens the door and there here is.
Shifting from foot to foot as one hand needlessly adjusts his eye patch.
Rupert needlessly fusses with his own eyewear in return.
They stand on either side of the doorway for a moment, making quite a pair.
Finally Rupert retreats to the kitchen to make a pot of tea (even though his first pot is still almost full), asking Xander to ‘make yourself at home,’ which Xander apparently interprets as 'stand right behind me and try to give me a heart attack.'
“Geez Giles, jumpy much?” But Xander's grin is decidedly evil. “I just wondered if you still drink that Scotch. How about we skip the tea and go straight for something with a kick?”
Rupert raises his eyebrows.
“What? I can't like the stronger stuff now? It's been a long time. Trust me when I say I can handle it.”
Since Scotch is starting to sound really good to Rupert about now, he pours them both generous glasses.
He heads toward his chair, but a hand on his elbow tugs him over to the couch instead.
It's disconcerting to be manhandled by, well, anyone really. Rupert takes a long drink. So long that he ends up coughing in a most undignified way.
Xander hits him on the back. “Maybe I should have asked if you could handle it.” There's a hint of amusement in his voice.
“I'm fine,” Rupert manages between coughs. “Just a tickle in my throat.”
“Right.” There's a big smile on Xander's face but he says no more.
They sit there drinking, not saying anything. Xander hums some unfamiliar song, perhaps something he learned in Africa, but more likely something current and popular of which Rupert is completely unaware.
When their glasses are empty, Xander refills them, but only takes a few more sips before placing his drink on the coffee table. He turns and meets Rupert's eyes. No, more than ‘meets’ – stares intently into them.
Unsure of what Xander’s looking for or what he may be seeing, Rupert swallows.
Xander turns, lowering himself into a more horizontal position and placing his head on Rupert's leg.
Rupert swallows again, remembers his drink and downs a full finger. It causes him to cough again.
Xander smiles up at him. “Figured we could use the liquid courage. Sometimes even seasoned evil-fighters like us need some help.”
Rupert swallows again, looking off for a moment, then back down at Xander.
If it's possible to feel like you know exactly what you should do and completely uncertain about everything, then that's precisely how Rupert feels.
His hand remains frozen on his lap.
Xander heaves a sigh and sits up. “Sheesh, what is it with you British types? I thought you liked subtly. Fortunately, we Americans can do direct.”
And he does.
In fact, after a few more breathless minutes of kissing, Rupert’s ready to elevate the 'quite' to an 'extremely'. Or possibly an 'exceptionally'.
Xander pulls away, leaving Rupert blinking at him.
“Well...?” The confident man who'd returned from Africa has disappeared for a moment, leaving behind someone younger and eager for affirmation, for love.
Rupert reaches over and runs a hand through Xander's hair, brushing back some loose strands. Xander shudders.
Rupert clears his throat, marshals his words into order. “I do appreciate subtly but, in this case, I think I rather prefer your direct approach.”
To prove it, Rupert applies the technique.
The results are most successful.
Exceptionally, in fact.
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