Written for tamingthemuse prompt: In Absentia
Characters: Giles, Xander
Warnings: little bit of angst
Disclaimer: Joss and Mutant Enemy et al own all. I own nothing.
Summary: Giles contemplates his choices
Word Count : 1479
Beta extraordinaire: thismaz
Rock and a Hard Place
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be at the wedding. God knows, he wanted to see Xander happy. With all his heart, he wanted to see Xander happy. He just couldn’t face feeling his own heart shatter at the same time.
Giles sighed and took another sip of Laphroaig. He was usually a Glenmorangie man, but memories of illicit drams in the library office while supervising a group of teenagers; where he’d watched a boy become a man, were too close to the surface, so he’d gone to the off-licence and bought another brand. His fingers drummed out a short, staccato rhythm on the side of the crystal tumbler as he glanced for perhaps the hundredth time at the scrying stone sitting innocently on the cluttered book shelf.
It was a test. A test of strength and determination and self discipline. It had sat there for the last two days, tempting him - sending out a siren call that only he could hear. But he’d been strong, he’d won the battle, he could be proud of himself and he tried not to listen to the small voice in the back of his head whispering that he’d lost the war.
One of the advantages of being a bachelor was solitude. He told himself that in the small hours as he checked the windows and bolted the doors and made sure that the phone was still unplugged. Solitude and peace - the acceptable face of loneliness and silence. The small voice whispered again.
Giles dragged his eyes away from the stone and took another sip of the malt, savouring the flavour and the afterglow, trying to convince himself that happiness could be found in the smallest of things. It was true – the chuckle that followed the sound of a silly nickname, the feel of a strong arm around his waist helping him to stand, a badly made cup of tea when his own mangled fingers refused to function. All moments of happiness, unrecognised at the time, but now pored over, studied and dissected until the memories threatened to crumble and turn to dust.
He shook his head at the man he had been at the start, had felt he’d had to be – stiff and stern and starched, like one of his father’s dress shirts. But he’d softened over time, the stiffness and stuffiness worn way, like water eroding stone, by laughter and jokes and boundless courage. They had all played their part in the change – Buffy with her joy and grace, and her stubborn refusal to allow being Chosen to rule her life; Willow with her brain and her insatiable curiosity, he’d watched her flourish in the sun. And Xander, annoying, frustrating, funny, brave - he’d crept up on Giles when his heart wasn’t looking - suddenly no longer the irritating boy, making inappropriate jokes and getting in the way. Giles closed his eyes, letting himself drift back, picturing the scene, and there he was, sitting on the stairs, wearing a ludicrous pirate costume, talking about life and love and getting married. That’s when the thunderbolt hit – the boy was a man and the jokes and the banter were just another costume, another way of covering up, like the patch over one brown eye.
That’s when he knew he couldn’t put it off any longer. That he had to leave. He couldn’t stand there and watch the prize slip through his fingers before he’d even known he’d wanted to win it. So he’d made his excuses, ignoring the hurt looks and turned his back, not trusting that he wouldn’t revert to a younger self, destroying others for the sake of his own selfish desires.
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose, willing the growing headache to disappear. A pounding noise had replaced the voice at the back of his brain, and it took him several moments to realise that it was a steady knocking on the door. He considered not answering, but the noise continued and he realised his visitor wasn’t going away. He put the glass down carefully, not wanting to spill a drop, moved though the dimly lit hallway and unbolted the heavy front door. The hinges squeaked theatrically as he pulled the door open and he froze, staring at the figure backlit by the harsh glare of the streetlight.
Xander raised his head at the exclamation, and a look of exhaustion was replaced by a grin. “In the cold and soggy flesh. Hey, Giles – surprise!”
“You’re…you’re wet.” Giles blinked, his brain still trying to process that Xander was standing on his doorstep.
“Yeah, it kind of comes with the whole walking two miles in the rain. Don’t they have cabs in England?” He paused and the slight grin faded as he looked at Giles’ expression. “I’m sorry. Turning up like this, I mean. I did try to phone, but couldn’t get through.” He looked down at his feet and then back up, but Giles just stood in the doorway, staring, and Xander felt something inside him start to break. “Look, this was a mistake. I don’t know what I was thinking. Would you mind if I just came in and dried off. If you’ve got a number, I’ll call a cab and be out of your hair as soon as I can.”
Giles started, Xander’s words finally penetrating the fog of confusion in his head. “What? No, sorry, forgive me, Xander. Please, you simply took me by surprise, that’s all.” He stood aside in unspoken invitation and couldn’t help noticing Xander’s slight smile of acknowledgement as he picked up his bag and crossed the threshold. Sunnydale might be half a world away, but old habits die very hard.
Closing the door, Giles carefully turned the key in the lock and slid the bolts at the top and bottom into position. They both creaked, so he would know if Xander decided to leave without telling him, and from the look on the other man’s face Giles could tell he was moments from turning tail. He wracked his brains for the right thing to say; the right way to ask the reason for the unexpected visit, but then Xander raised his head and looked at him. “I left her, Giles. I left her standing in her dress and her veil with a hall full of guests. I…I couldn’t do it. I left her so I wouldn’t hurt her more. How screwed up is that?”
“Xander…” He had no idea what to say.
“I didn’t know where to go and I couldn’t face the girls. I couldn’t face any of them. I just needed to get away.” Pausing, he ran his fingers through his hair then wiped his soggy hand on the front of even soggier trousers. “I don’t really know what I was thinking. I just got on a plane.”
He sounded so lost and Giles kicked himself for not having been there when he was needed. It was something he could remedy now. “I’m sorry. Let’s get you dry and warm and fed. Then you can tell me more – when you’re ready, yes?” Giles watched as Xander nodded wearily, his whole frame seeming to droop like he’d finally given himself permission to stop. Whatever had happened, Giles needed to make it better, but practical matters came first. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you want, that goes without saying.”
Smiling faintly, Giles bent down and picked up the wet duffle at Xander’s feet and set it down carefully outside the bathroom, before pushing open the door and turning on the light. “Go and have a shower, or a bath if you’d prefer – there’s plenty of hot water. You’ll feel better when you’re clean and warm. I’ll make you something to eat.”
Xander stared at Giles like he didn’t know what to say, but then realised there was only one thing he could say. “At the risk of repeating myself, thank you.”
Giles shook his head and shooed Xander towards the bathroom, watching the young man pull off his jacket before shutting the door. He heard the water for the shower start and listened for a moment to the sounds of Xander moving round the bathroom, until the rattle of metal rings and the noisy slide of plastic on porcelain told him that his guest was in the shower.
Giles stood for a moment more, before turning and making his way back slowly through the study towards the kitchen. He picked up the abandoned glass of malt and saluted the scrying stone still sitting innocently on the bookcase, wondering idly what he would have seen if he’d used it.
But the time for that was past. This was the present and Xander was here, and needed him. If Giles couldn’t tell him how he really felt, the least he could do was be his friend.
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