The Harvest was six months gone, passed into the annals of time and the diaries Giles still stubbornly kept. Ethan had laughed at the habit. "Do you really think those pillocks will ever want to read anything their prodigal son has to say?"
Giles could hear him even yet, the mocking, cajoling, and endearing tone drifting down from the loft, as Ethan would try to coax him away from his writing and up to their bed.
Giles had hoped to be assigned a slayer, once, and the Council's warriors were certainly replaced on a frequent enough basis, but Ethan had reappeared one day and said, "Come to California with me, mate - let's frolic at the mouth of hell." Giles couldn't let the impetuous fool embark on such a dangerous escapade alone. Ethan's plan had had them in town just long enough to wreak his usual brand of havoc and then scarper before his uneasy vamp allies could turn on him.
Giles didn't make plans anymore. He just fought alongside other survivors. Xander shared his pain, losing one friend after another. He'd gotten close to Giles and Ethan after Willow's death, close enough to spend a few nights crying quietly on their sofa when the thought of going home to drunken blows and imprecations was untenable.
When Ethan was gone, Xander was a comfort to Giles, listening to stories of younger days and ill-considered schemes and camaraderie lost and found again. The imprint of losing a friend left tracks furrowed deep in young and old alike, after all. Giles concentrated his tales on his youth with Ethan, clubs and music and seeing the world in altered states, preferring not to speak of that which came after, Eyghon and the Council tearing them apart. Sharing painful memories didn't lessen them. And taking up the title of Watcher when he'd left all that behind seemed pointless, so some memories Giles kept unspoken to those fighting the mediocre fight.
One Friday night in autumn, Giles and Xander leapt out of Oz's van to save a weeping girl from a leather-clad vampire. Giles bundled her into the van while Xander held the monster at bay, the creature hissing at the cross held high. But it took the opportunity to leap at them when Xander dropped the cross in dismay.
"Willow! No, it's not real. You're dead! I saw you die!"
Giles grabbed the stunned boy, pushing him back towards the van, turning his back on the vampire in an amateurish blunder in a moment of panic.
Suddenly her fangs were in his neck, and the sharp sensation was soon replaced by a remote feeling akin to sinking in still water.
Giles had given at National Blood Service drives back at Oxford, of course. He was familiar with the floating sensation of losing a little blood. But she didn't seem to be stopping and offering him a biscuit. Terribly inconsiderate, this creature was, as were the municipal workers around here. There was a fair amount of rubbish blowing about in the street and drifting up before his eyes. Or possibly that was an arm, a hand with a cross coming into view. Hard to say, really. He should ring up the Sunnydale City Council, see if they could organize a tidying-up effort.
There had been something in the Watcher training about how quickly a vampire could drain the blood from a victim. Giles was fairly certain that the writer of that particular text had never felt this rushing sensation, the reddish black wash over one's swiftly-narrowing field of vision, the feeling of being terribly far away from the action, from a boy driving Willow-Not-Willow away with a cross. Perhaps these were hallucinations, wishful thinking, since the dark-haired boy turned an impassioned lover's gaze on him and Giles knew Ethan couldn't still be that young, not after the ravages of time and memory had had their way with him.
The whisper-soft touch of hesitant, inexpert fingers roused Giles. He swam up out of the blackness to find Xander cleaning the ragged edges of the wound on his neck. Giles grimaced at the sting of the disinfectant, relaxing against the familiar cushions of his sofa only when Xander finished with a bleached-clean bandage.
"This is gonna scar, you know," Xander murmured under his breath. Strangely enough, Giles felt a warm, unfamiliar stab of hope. Xander believed he would live long enough to scar. Splendid. Now if the boy only held forth the same hopes for himself. A glance at his eyes showed a fierce resolve, marred by creeping lines of worry that made him look older in the half-light.
"That thing wearing Willow's face - it needs to pay. For looking like her, and doing this to you--" Xander broke off abruptly, reaching for a drink box that might contain some small percentage of actual orange juice, tearing off the attached straw, and stabbing it through the cellophane.
Giles accepted the not-quite-juice gratefully and drank deeply, squeezing the box, not even objecting much to the syrupy undertone of the corn syrup that seemed to be in every comestible here.
"Take no rash action," he urged, fighting the nausea that threatened to overwhelm him as he attempted to stand.
"Careful, old man." Xander flashed a ruined echo of his old smile, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Everything will be just fine. I won't do anything you wouldn't do. You rest up a day or three, and we'll go after her together. But for now, let me take you to bed."
No ear for innuendo, even from his own lips, Giles reflected, lying in bed alone after Xander had helped him up the stairs, pulled the blanket up to his chin, and turned out the lights before leaving. Ethan would never have let that one slide, but Giles wasn't a playful, devil-may-care hedonist. Not anymore. The weight of responsibility for this rag-tag band of youngsters chafed.
He hadn't planned to keep the librarian position longer than his scheming lover would need undisturbed access to the chamber above the Hellmouth. But Ethan had been murdered, sucked dry for his dark power by one of the opportunistic magic-users that had flocked to Sunnydale after the demons took over. So Giles remained in this cursed town, fighting to eradicate the scourge that had claimed his lover within a few weeks of arrival. And if he thought of a slim-hipped, dark-haired boy on occasions when his hand slipped under the bedclothes, he told himself he imagined Ethan of lost memory, nothing more.
This night was not such an occasion, despite the static Xander's touch had sent rippling through his skin. Since Ethan's death, no-one but the monsters had touched Giles, and those only in blows sharp or solid but never soft and unsure. Recalling Xander's gentle and caring touch sent Giles into dreams better than he could have hoped.
Saturday morning dawned without Giles to witness it, as he dozed into late afternoon. Some refreshing tea, some writing about the previous evening's encounter in diaries no-one would know to send back to the Council when his time came, and a quick curry from a mix took Giles into evening. A call from Oz confirmed that they would be covering that night's patrol without him, allowing Giles to calm the ever-present
inner voice of worry and betake himself to bed. Alone again with painful memories, Giles bit his lower lip against the images rushing unbidden when he took himself in hand.
He roused to a knocking at his door. Blinking in the bright moonlight shining in through the flat's various windows, he opened the door to find a familiar figure in the shadowy courtyard.
"Xander. Do come --"
Giles stopped mid-invitation, appalled, as his eyes adjusted to the light and Xander came into sharp relief. The shy boy with his thrift store clothing, shaggy hair, and tentative smile was transformed. There was a predatory edge to him now, the vulnerability replaced by a swagger. Insecurities filtered through this new lens of a predator became overconfidence, though of course the monster didn't know that his erstwhile mentor was a once trained Watcher. Once.
"Didn't wake you, did I, Giles? You weren't sleeping. Not exactly," Xander - Not Xander - taunted. "Lying awake thinking of yours truly?" Giles flushed, and then cursed himself for his weakness as a feral grin broke on Xander's face.
"I'll be damned. Well, more damned. You were! The old man isn't as washed up as we thought. Bet you could get hard again for me, even still. I'm not a stupid kid anymore - now I see how you've been looking at me. Checking me out. Library-man's awfully naughty, thinking of his students like that. Course, I'm not really under-aged anymore, now that I'm dead, huh? Want some of this?"
He trailed a hand down taut stomach muscles and southward over tight leather trousers. Giles's eyes followed the movement - and ah, yes, the scholarly-detachment section of his brain reported back, apparently a lack of circulation as such didn't impair some functioning. For a moment, his lonely, cold bed and broken heart opened.
Xander leaned forward, pressing both hands against the mystical barrier and flicking it with his tongue, smouldering eyes never leaving Giles's. Sotto voce, he murmured, "You can call me Ethan."
Giles spared the vampire a bleak, pitiless gaze. "You're not Xander." He closed the door, leaning heavily against its stalwart crosses. Little pieces of wood notched together were the only barrier between him and the predator without, but they would hold.
Giles crossed the short span to his kitchen counter and tipped the ever-ready decanter towards the rim of an unwashed glass, hand trembling, amber scotch glistening where it splashed onto his skin. Ethan left scars on his soul to match the black glyph on his arm, and the monster wearing Xander's face knew just how to tear them open to seep dark blood.