Giles stared at Xander, aware that his face was turning red and his eyes were bulging in a way that might, in other circumstances, be described as comical. But it wasn't funny, because Xander was looking more and more nervous, going pale as Giles blushed, as if the blood were leaving Xander's face and going directly to Rupert's.
"Uh...Giles?" Xander said tentatively. "Don't I even get a 'bloody hell'?"
"Er...yes, of course," said Giles. His voice sounded reedy, and he cleared his throat. A drop of water slid down the surface of his glasses, and he was happy for the opportunity to take them off and wipe them on his sodden shirt. "Or, I mean, no, of course not. That is, er...thank you for telling me. I'm just going to...find us some dry clothes."
He turned and walked out of the room, keeping his pace measured and trying not to look like he was fleeing. This wasn't the right way to respond, and he hated to imagine what Xander must be thinking, but he needed a moment to get himself under control.
He closed his bedroom door and sat down, vaguely aware that he was going to leave a damp spot on the duvet. He was still clutching the box of Twinkies. He replayed the last several hours, trying to figure out what, exactly, had happened. Xander had flown in from Kenya that afternoon, a new fourteen-year-old slayer in tow. He'd made perhaps thirty trips like this in the past few years, and this one seemed no different than any other: he helped young Akello get settled in the dormitory, then stopped at Council headquarters to say hello. Giles had planned his day's schedule so that he was free to leave a little bit early, and the two of them had dinner at a particular pub that Xander liked. Over dinner, Xander had seemed slightly preoccupied, but Giles had assumed it was merely fatigue and the annoyance of travel; the airline had misplaced Xander's luggage, and it looked like it was going to be a day or so before his bags caught up with him.
Walking home, afterward, they'd gotten caught in the rain, and when they reached Giles's flat, Rupert had offered to lend Xander some dry clothes. And here began the conversation that had left him so rattled, though he couldn't for the life of him understand exactly why it had taken the turns it had.
"After we've changed, I'll make us some tea," Giles had said. "Oh! And I've got something to go with it. Wait right here."
He'd charged into the kitchen, feeling ridiculously proud of himself. He'd gone to some trouble to get these, and he was looking forward to seeing the look on Xander's face. He returned to the lounge, holding up a brightly colored box.
He watched Xander turn, saw the moment when he recognized the item in Rupert's hands. And his expression did change, though not quite in the way Rupert had been expecting. Xander looked--not unhappy, certainly, but intense. As if something momentous had happened. As if Rupert were holding something a lot more valuable than a box of horrible American cakes he'd bought mail-order.
"Twinkies," Xander said, his voice strangely soft. He was watching Rupert like he expected an answer, though it hadn't been a question.
"Yes," Rupert said uncertainly. "Twinkies."
Xander swallowed. "Giles, I..." He paused, looked away, then met Rupert's gaze. "Giles, I'm gay."
At which point, Rupert had apparently undergone some kind of catastrophic neurological event, possibly age-related, which prevented him from stringing words together in any kind of meaningful way. Here, in the false sanctuary of his bedroom, he sat and dripped and contemplated the philosophical meaning of Twinkies.
Xander was going to kill Faith. And then, once that was taken care of, he was going to think long and hard about the best way to take down the Hostess snack-cake company. He'd launch a campaign, dig up some dirt, organize a boycott. Possibly from his prison cell, because killing Faith was definitely number one on his list, and after that, he might find himself with a little extra time on his hands.
This wasn't how this was supposed to go. Xander had imagined this scene unfolding many different ways, and none of them had included Giles running from the room in horror before Xander even got to the part about being in love with him. Of course, it was also true that in all of those scenarios, Xander had been suave and self-possessed in a way he had to admit now was a little bit delusional. None of the Hypothetical Xanders had blurted out the first half of the news like a cream-filling junkie with Tourette's syndrome.
Damn Twinkies. Damn, traitorous Twinkies.
From his new perspective here on the other side of the Dignity/Humiliation border, Xander wondered if perhaps he and Faith had been a little bit flawed in their logic. They weren't the brainiest of the Scoobies. Or, at the time when the fateful conversation had taken place, the soberest.
It was strange that Faith was the one he'd chosen to confide in about Giles. Or maybe not so strange--once you've been through frenzied deflowering and attempted murder, there's not much you can't say to a person.
Anyway, he'd figured he'd talk to Willow about it, he just hadn't gotten around to it yet. Willow would get excited, make it into a project. And while he was sure he would benefit from a whirlwind seminar in Queer History and Identity, it was going to take a little more energy than he had at the moment. He really just wanted to talk about the guy he had a crush on.
So when he and Faith found themselves in the same dusty corner of Mozambique--Faith on Slayer business, Xander on...well, different Slayer business--and they spent the evening together, getting sloshed in an open-air bar, somehow it just kind of slipped out.
Her first response hadn't been entirely encouraging; she'd burst into explosive laughter, spraying a mouthful of dark lager across the table. "Giles?" she said. "You mean...Giles Giles?"
"He's hot...for an older guy," Xander said defensively.
"Oh, I'm not arguing with you," Faith said. "It's just...I don't know, it's funny. Enjoy the scorching hot Librarian Sex."
Xander shook his head. "Fine. I shouldn't have told you."
"Aw, come on," Faith said, reaching across the table to give him a friendly and temporarily incapacitating punch in the arm. "Don't be like that. Okay, you like Giles. So what are you gonna do about it?"
Xander leaned forward, putting his weight on his elbow, which turned out to be a mistake, since his elbow was resting in a puddle of condensation and spilled beer. "Nothing," he said once he was upright again. "He's straight, and he thinks I'm a doofus."
"Oh, he's not straight," Faith said. "Trust me on this one. He and Wes had a...thing. It's ancient history, though. I'd say you've got a pretty good chance."
"Huh," Xander said. And then, to further clarify, "Huh."
Faith motioned to the bartender for another round. "Exactly," she said. "So stop mooning around and go for it."
Xander considered it, then shook his head. "I really can't. Not unless I have a pretty good idea he likes me, too. We have too much long-standing...stuff together. I don't want to fuck it up."
"Okay, well, how does he act around you? What's his body language like? How often does he email you? Does he do nice things for you?"
Xander shrugged. "Last time I was in London, he bought me Cheetos because I said I missed them and couldn't find them in Africa."
"Well, that's something," Faith said.
"I doubt it. He probably does that for everyone."
Faith shook her head. "I mean, maybe I'm not the right one to ask, I'm kind of, like, the Prodigal Slayer. Giles isn't going to go out of his way to..." She waved her hand in the air. Beer sloshed out of her bottle. "...you know, kill the fatted Cheeto for me or whatever."
Xander's eyes narrowed as he tried to figure out what, exactly, was wrong with that analogy.
"But that sounds to me like something that means something." She took a swallow of beer, then thunked the bottle down on the table. "Here's what you do. Next time you email him, mention some other food you miss. Something totally American, something he's not going to be able to get easily in England. Don't make a big deal about it, just throw it in there. And then wait and see if he does anything about it."
It had seemed like a solid plan at the time, and it had continued to seem like a solid plan right up until the moment that Giles ran off and locked himself in his bedroom. Xander could see he'd been stupid. Twinkies, it turned out, did not necessarily equal love or lust. Sometimes, apparently, a Twinkie was just a Twinkie.
Rupert was appalled with himself. It had been...a surprise, yes, certainly. The announcement itself, the non sequitur nature of it, the vulnerability in Xander's face--Giles hadn't been expecting any of it. But that was no excuse for behaving the way he had.
It was just that in that moment, he'd felt a flash of hope; and then, just as quickly, it was extinguished. He could see it all so clearly--how this news would change everything and yet nothing at all. Instead of watching Xander date beautiful young women, he'd watch him date beautiful young men. Rupert had carried these feelings for so long; he'd long ago decided that he would never pursue them, and he thought he'd resigned himself to it. But to know that Xander was attracted to men was going to make it a hundred times harder to accept that he wasn't attracted to Rupert.
There was a knock at the door. "Xander, please, come in," he called.
Xander opened the door but didn't enter. He leaned against the door jamb. His clothes were, of course, still wet; in addition to everything else, Rupert was being a terrible host.
"Hey, Giles," Xander said. "Listen, I..."
Giles raised a hand to stop him. "Xander, I owe you an apology. I'm not sure I can explain why I reacted the way I did, but I want to tell you that...that I'm constantly impressed by the kind of man you've become, and that I don't in any way take this to be bad news. I'm happy that you've figured out something so important, and I'm glad that you trusted me enough to confide in me. I hope you'll forgive me for...for being taken by surprise."
Xander nodded, though he didn't look entirely convinced. "Yeah. My timing sucks."
"No, Xander, I...I just wasn't expecting it. But you know that I've never had any problem with Willow's sexuality--well, apart from the 'bloody hell,' but in my own defense, I was quite spectacularly pissed at the time. And I should tell you that I, myself...well, I've had relationships with both men and women. So I hope you'll understand that my poor behavior doesn't reflect any kind of...discomfort or...condemnation of homosexuality..."
Xander was smiling, finally. "Don't worry, you're forgiven. Why don't you just give me a t-shirt or something, and we can start fresh in the morning."
"Of course." He stood up, and realized he was still holding the box of cakes. "Er, can I offer you a Twinkie?" he asked, smiling ruefully.
Xander laughed, looking slightly embarrassed. "Sure."
Rupert tore the perforated tab to open the box and pulled out one of the soft yellow ovals. As he handed it to Xander, their fingers brushed, and he was sure he was blushing again. For an odd moment, their eyes met, the Twinkie being passed between them like a baton in a relay race. Rupert let go of the Twinkie and found another reason to clean his glasses.
When he looked up again, Xander was watching him speculatively. "Why did you buy the Twinkies?" he asked.
"Oh," Giles said, surprised again. Good lord, was he capable of any state other than "flustered"? "It was because you mentioned them. In one of your emails. You said you missed them, and they reminded you of home."
Xander nodded. "Right." He was still smiling slightly, watching Giles with an expression Rupert couldn't quite decipher. Affection, certainly. And a hint of confidence that was new for Xander. "And so you went out and bought them, because you're Nice Watcher Guy, and that's what you do."
Rupert hesitated. He wasn't sure what Xander was getting at. "I suppose. It seemed like such a small thing to do to make you happy."
Xander nodded. Somehow, he'd moved closer to Rupert without Rupert's being aware of it. "And they were easy to find? You just picked them up at Sainsbury's during your weekly shopping trip?"
"Well, no. They don't sell them here. I found them on a website that sells American snack food."
"That's good," Xander said. He was standing close enough that Rupert could feel Xander's breath as he spoke. "So you'll know where to look, if you want to buy anything special when Buffy visits. Or Dawn, or Willow, or anyone else."
"I...I suppose. I hadn't really thought about it."
Xander reached out a hand and touched Rupert's cheek. "Just a friendly gesture, right? Something you'd do for anybody."
Rupert didn't answer. He was afraid to say the wrong thing. Afraid he was somehow misinterpreting this.
Xander slid his hand around until it was resting on the back of Rupert's neck. He pulled him in until their bodies were touching.
"No other reason," Xander said; he was nearly whispering. He paused for a moment, watching Rupert, waiting perhaps to see if he was going to pull away, which he emphatically did not. Rupert was mucking a lot of things up this evening, but "not pulling away" seemed to be something he could manage.
And then Xander's lips were on his, soft and firm. The kiss was slow and sweet, and then Xander's tongue brushed his lips, and it hit Rupert like a jolt of electricity. He parted his lips, moaning softly, and slipped his arms around Xander, squeezing tight. When they pulled apart, they were both breathless.
For a moment, they just looked at each other. Then Xander said, "Um, Giles? You're not going to get all quiet on me again, are you?" For a fraction of an instant, he looked uncertain, that appealing new confidence starting to dissolve.
Rupert couldn't have that. "Bloody hell," he whispered. And leaned in for another kiss.