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Hands Down

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Hands Down
by Dr Squidlove
May 2008

"There you go. Good as new." Willow dropped the scissors in the first aid kit and sat back to admire her work. Giles thought she'd done rather a good job, considering she had to bandage each finger individually, and all the way up to his wrists, even if the end product made his arms look like matchsticks. It wasn't a talent Giles would have chosen for the children to perfect, but it was occasionally useful. "How does it feel?"

"The painkillers have kicked in," Giles lied. "Thank you." He stood, remembering just in time not to use his hands to push up from the couch, and headed for the kitchen. Tea would make this evening marginally better. He was standing in front of the kettle when he realised his problem, just a split second before Xander leaned over the counter.

"Say, Giles? What are you doing?"

"I was going to make tea," Giles said, lifting his mittened hands. Couldn't even make himself a bloody cup of tea.

"That could be a problem."

"Yes."

"Want a hand?"

Giles nodded.

Xander bounced around into the kitchen. "Teach me your English ways."

Giles closed his eyes and appealed for patience, and set about teaching Xander Harris how not to ruin tea.

Giles wandered out as they waited for the kettle to boil, to find Buffy, Willow and Oz all staring at him. This could not be good. "What is it?"

"You can't make tea," said Buffy.

"Yes, that much has become apparent."

"So... you can't cook."

"I... I suppose not."

"You can't do anything."

"I can..." Giles trailed off, and looked at his ridiculous, bandaged hands again. He couldn't do anything much at all.

"You can't live here all alone," said Willow.

He couldn't. "I guess I'll have to get a nurse in."

Oz looked around. "Your book collection could be hard to explain."

"And if you don't mind us saying," Buffy added, "as of last week's graduation spectacular, you're unemployed. So unless you've got a mattress full of cash under the bed..."

His finances could have stretched to some help, but Oz was right about the issues of having a stranger tramp through the house.

"How about Buffy's mom?" Willow suggested.

Buffy's nose wrinkled at the idea. "I guess you'll have to move in with us for a while. You could have Dawn's room."

"No." He and Joyce had just begun to mend their awkwardness when Buffy's little mind-reading incident raised it all again, and they were back to polite greetings. Sharing a bathroom and breakfasts was absolutely not on the agenda. Besides, there was a limit to how long Giles could stand young Dawn's company, and it fell somewhat short of living in the same house.

Buffy frowned. "Well, you can't move in with Willow and you definitely can't move in with Xander-"

"Of course!" yelped Willow. "Xander."

Giles choked. "I'm sorry?" The Harrises? She had to be joking.

"Uh, Will?" Xander shoved his hands in his pockets, looking particularly awkward. He'd been subdued all day, Giles realised. Giles desperately hoped he wasn't about to be put in a position of moving in with the Harris clan to coddle his feelings.

"No, I mean, it's perfect! Xander, you needed somewhere to-"

"Will."

"to, to... and Giles needs someone to help out, so why don't you move in here?"

"I don't know," Xander said, looking at Giles hopefully.

"Perfect! It's all settled."

No, it wasn't settled. There had to be someone else. Wesley couldn't have got far. Angel, even; the vampire's presence still ran Giles' blood cold, but at least he brooded quietly.

Buffy flopped back in her seat, clearly glad to have avoided having him move in with her. "That was easy."

Xander was still watching him, the only one who'd noticed that Giles hadn't said a word to embrace the idea. Slowly deflating. Giles cursed his own lack of charity. He did like Xander. He had a great deal of respect for the boy, but he really preferred to respect him in small doses. Between Xander's low esteem and the bad humour Giles was surely going to languish in until he regained his independence, this arrangement would be disasterous. Still. It was done, now. "Thank you, Xander. If it's truly not too much trouble..."

Xander beamed, sudden and bright and brilliant.

Disasterous. Giles reached up for his glasses, and only succeeded in knocking them crooked. Damned hands. Suddenly Xander was reaching at his face, gently lifting his glasses off and polishing them on his stained shirt-front with a somewhat fuzzy grin. "See? Full service care." He jabbed Giles' ear as he slid them back on.

Giles forced a thin smile of such patent insincerity that there was no possibility it could have fooled anyone but the four sitting in his living room.

"Well," said Xander. "I have tea to make."

* * *

It was only after the girls had left, and Giles had excused himself to head upstairs to prepare for bed, that he realised the full breadth and depth of what a terrible idea this was.

He'd sat heavily on the end of the bed, heaved a sigh, and reached for his shirt, only to find there was absolutely no feat of digital gymnastics that was going to get his buttons undone. He sat there for a good ten minutes, calculating ways to undress, but even if he were willing to simply pull his shirt each night until the buttons popped off, and spend the next month hunting buttons on his floor and sewing them back on again - he spent three minutes at least, toying with that plan - that still wouldn't get him dressed again in the morning.

This was why Xander was here. Giles could hear him downstairs, tidying the kitchen. They were going to get to know each other very well indeed, this week. Giles whiled away even more time screwing up his courage, until the kitchen noises stopped. He couldn't leave this so late he would have to wake Xander. He hooked his robe over his elbow and headed downstairs.

Xander was making up the couch when Giles came down. "Hey, you're still- oh." His eyes got very, very wide.

"I... Yes. I- I- I did try, but I'm afraid I can't quite manage buttons."

"Okay." Xander took a moment to take that in, and to run his eyes down Giles from head to feet, mentally working through all the fastenings that Giles couldn't manage. "Right." He blushed. "Hey, we're all guys, right?"

"Quite." Yes, that made everything better.

"Did you want a shower?"

"No." That was far more than Giles was prepared to deal with tonight. "I'd just really like to fall into bed."

"Okay, well, let's do this upstairs."

Xander led the way up, taking a good look around at Giles' loft before turning to the task at hand. He went straight to work on the shirt, mercifully without cracking any jokes, helped Giles get his undershirt over his head, pausing halfway through to untangle his glasses, and then hesitated.

Giles was already far more naked than he'd ever planned to be with Xander - or any of them - but there really was no getting around it. "If you could just, just, get the button and zip, I, I, I'm sure I could wriggle them off on my own."

Xander looked like he was going to argue, but he swallowed it and dropped to his knees. Giles really wished he hadn't. That was not an association he wanted disturbing him before bed. At least it wasn't Joyce, fiddling with his trousers.

Xander helped him with his shoes and socks first, head down, hair falling forward so Giles couldn't see if the burning red on his ears had worked right across his face when he undid the button on Giles' trousers and oh-so-delicately lowered the zip. "You're okay from here?" Xander asked, without looking up.

"Yes, thank you." Xander stood to make his escape, and Giles remembered - "If you could just get the top drawer open? It's a bit stiff."

Xander's head jerked back at Giles' poor word-choice and stopped, and Giles realised he wasn't the only one at risk of disturbing associations. Xander pulled the drawer open and headed for the stairs, and stopped again, looking thoughtful. He turned back, eyes casually staying above Giles' neck. "If you need anything, just call, okay? Anything. Wake me up if you need to, I don't mind. I'd rather you wake me up than sit up here being English, you know?" He shrugged. "I may not be head of the research squad, or the fighting squad, but I can do this."

He disappeared before Giles could find the words to thank him.

Of course, ten minutes later, Giles had to call him up again, to turn the lamp off, and he didn't find the words to thank him then, either.

* * *

It was the smells that woke him; Xander had already gotten dressed and started breakfast. Perhaps also the stinging in his fingers and palms. Giles sat up, scrubbing his face with the backs of his mittens. This was going to be a very long day. He managed to struggle hs dressing gown on over his shorts, even if he couldn't belt it, glared helplessly at his glasses, and headed downstairs.

"Hey! I made scrambled eggs. I figured it's easy enough to eat. and it's also the only thing I know how to make from scratch."

"Thank you."

Xander looked wide awake and in his element, even if that element seemed to be using far more cooking utensils than strictly necessary to beat and fry eggs. Giles felt like someone who hadn't showered or shaved or brushed his teeth in a week. He obediently took a seat at the counter and started experimenting with ways to hold his fork. Xander was going to be cutting his food, but he drew the line at being hand-fed.

Xander slid a cup of tea across to him and dropped in a straw. "I figured breakfast, shower, re-wrap your hands, mall. Pick up some extra bandages, and some stuff to make it easier for you. They've got these cheap lights you can get, that push on and off. No fiddly switches."

While Giles had lain awake dreading the coming week, Xander had been downstairs plotting. He was far more ingenious than Giles had given him credit for. He'd found some plastic bags to tie over Giles' hands so he could shower independently, much to their mutual relief. He'd created a little rubber finger-cover out of the grip for unscrewing jar-lids, so Giles could turn pages himself. Not how Father taught him to handle books, but it was certainly forgivable for a few days, and vastly better than having Xander sit beside him all the time he read.

* * *

Xander bagged GIles' hands and got the shower running, and then left GIles to undress. The bags were quite effective. Giles dropped the soap with irritating frequency, but it was infinitely better than having Xander charge in with a washcloth.

Afterwards, he clumsily half-dried himself with the towel and let the air do the rest. He could skip shaving for a few days; he wasn't having Xander come quite that close. He managed to work on fresh shorts and his robe.

Finally the savouring of his privacy was overruled by the guilt of wasting all that water, and Giles headed for the door. And the handle he couldn't turn. Giles sagged. Bloody useless. Couldn't knock, either. He tried knocking with his elbow, but it wasn't nearly loud enough. Giles contemplated kicking it, good and hard. He heaved a sigh. "Xander?" Louder. "Xander!"

Xander threw open the door, looking panicked. "What's wrong?"

Giles raised his hands. "I couldn't open it."

"Oh. Yeah." Xander looked past him into the bathroom. "Next time, why don't you just push it so it doesn't latch, and drop a towel in front of it? I promise not to come barging in unless you call, and you'll be able to get it open."

"That's a good idea." Giles stood aside, as Xander headed past to turn off the water.

* * *

Xander sat on the coffee table, knees between Giles', and took a deep breath before reaching for Giles' hand. "You'll tell me if I hurt you?"

"I assure you, I'll make it quite clear."

Xander found the end on his left hand and gently started unwrapping. More than gently; there was a tentativeness that suggested Xander forgot he'd survived years of beatings from Buffy, not to mention countless head-conkings and a night of Angelus's pleasures. He opened his mouth to tell Xander not to worry so much, and stopped. It was rather pleasant, this kind of care.

Xander had little furrows between his eyes, lips pressed tight together as he concentrated. Nose wrinkling as he came down to the last, sticky layers. Giles jammed his teeth together as he peeled them away.

'Gross,' Buffy would say. They both stared at the raw, red wounds.

"That must hurt."

Giles nodded. It stung like hell. Even more now he could see it.

"Do you want - should I finish this and then do the other one, or unwrap them both?"

"Unwrap both. It would be a relief to be free for a few minutes." His hand felt strangely light, and his muscles ached to stretch his fingers. The bite of the air reminded him that was a bad idea.

Xander tenderly unwrapped the other, and they both heaved sighs as the last bit of gauze came unstuck.

"How are you doing?"

"Fine."

"Ready for this?" Xander had the tube already in hand.

Giles braced himself. "Go ahead."

Xander supported Giles' hand in his own on his knee, and with the other, gently started stroking the cool cream down Giles' little finger. "Is that okay?"

"It feels quite good, actually."

"Okay." Xander sounded more relieved than Giles did. He worked his way slowly over Giles' hands, tenderly smoothing in the cream, looking up nervously every time Giles tensed. Which he did out of anticipation, rather than actual pain. Xander was perfectly gentle, more careful than Willow, in fact.

* * *

The mall wasn't nearly so traumatic as Giles expected. They picked up one of the lights Xander had been talking about, where the entire face of the lamp was one big push button.

Xander dragged him into a baby goods store, of all places, and found some toddler spoons and forks. "Try these - they should be easier to hold than normal ones."

They really were, the fat rubbery handles designed for awkward hands. "I don't suppose there are any without Disney characters on them?"

Xander skimmed through the collection. "Pink princesses?"

"I'll take Tigger and Pooh."

* * *

Giles was just finishing up the chapter, feeling relatively good about the world, and particularly his little rubber page-turner, when Xander came out of the kitchen, flopped on the couch, and switched on the television. Giles walked around in front of him. "What are you doing?"

"Next Gen marathon."

Giles sat, hoping to seize control of the situation. "I usually watch the news, now."

Xander eyed him, and then looked at the advertisements flickering across the screen. He tossed the remote into Giles' lap. "Feel free to change the channel."

Giles' mouth opened, and closed.

Xander wasn't bothered at all. "All day, we can do the boring Giles-stuff. At seven-thirty, we're watching Star Trek."

And so they did, Americans (and one English actor, who should have known better) in ridiculous jumpsuits, battling extras in ridiculous make-up.

"You really enjoy this?"

"Yes."

A little later, "Why did she say that?"

"She's empathic."

"No, I meant, isn't it obvious?"

"That's Troi. Just go with it."

Later still, "French? I thought he was English."

Xander finally turned and glared. "Do I sneer at all your hobbies?"

"Frequently, and with vigour."

Xander turned his glare back to the television.

Giles smiled.

* * *

The next day, Giles got to truly appreciate a day in the life of Xander Harris. He had never realised just how much rubbish was on the television, until he suffered a full morning of cartoons.

He was taking his novel outside to read. He slid the book into the crook of his arm and headed out, grabbed the door handle just as Xander's "Giles!" came to warn him.

Jesus. Giles leaned his head against the door and cursed through gritted teeth, until Xander came up behind him, one broad hand on Giles' back, the other pulling his elbow as though he might see something through the wad of bandages.

"You okay?"

Giles didn't move. "Bloody wonderful."

"Can I do anything?"

"You can open the door."

"I meant your hand, do you need me to-"

"Just open the door," Giles said, careful to keep his tone light. "I'd like to read outside."

He took a step back, and Xander opened the door and went out himself, pulling the chair out to a comfortable distance from the table, and making sure Giles was settled properly, before catching something in Giles' look that sent him back inside. "I'll just leave this door open. Call if you need anything."

* * *

Xander changed his bandages twice a day. Giles was rather growing to like this ritual, but it wasn't until that second evening that he understood why. Xander was looking down at the hand he was holding, hair falling over his eyes, and Giles realised he couldn't look away. Suddenly he was uncomfortably conscious of Xander's thighs against his knees, and the faint dampness of Xander's palm.

It had been far too long since Giles had adult company, if Xander playing nurse could start pushing those buttons. Giles hadn't had thoughts like this while Willow bandaged his hands. Of course, he'd never had Willow undo his trousers, either.

"How's that?"

Giles hadn't seen him look up, too absorbed in watching his hands. Xander had very good hands. "Oh. Er, good. Very good. Thank you."

* * *

Dammit, this wasn't the book he wanted, either. But he'd got Xander up five times in as many minutes, and he wasn't going to disturb him again. Especially now that Xander had settled in with an actual book he'd found on one of his trips to the shelf, instead of the idiot box.

Giles stared at his useless page. The Latin was what he wanted. A few days ago, he would have fetched it off the shelf without a thought. Giles was never going to take his hands for granted again.

"What do you need?" Xander had closed his book around his finger and was sitting up, expectantly. Rather like a dog awaiting the order to fetch its master's slippers.

"I don't-"

"I can tell."

"I'm sorry."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Don't be sorry. Ask. It's why I'm here, remember?"

"Sor... I wanted the Latin of this."

He fetched the book and rearranged the desk before sliding it in front of him. "This is what you want?"

Giles got Xander to help him find the pertinent chapter to save changing his mind and getting the boy up again. But when Xander sat down and opened his book, Giles found himself watching him instead. "What are you reading?"

"Solz... Looks like one of your demon names." Xander held up the book.

"Solzhenitsyn?"

"Yeah. A day in the life of someone whose day sucks worse than any of mine. And I gotta tell you, that's not a small achievement."

It wasn't at all what Giles would have expected Xander to read. "Why did you choose that?"

"It was the thinnest one there. Also, 'one day'. I figured I could get through a day of something stuffy enough for you to own." He glanced at it. "It's pretty good. Y'know, for a cesspool of total misery."

He slid back into his seat and opened it, so Giles got back to his own books, only allowing himself occasional breaks to watch Xander read. He'd never noticed, in all those nights at the library, just how absorbing that could be.

It couldn't have been much more than an hour later that Giles sat back. "God, I'm done with reading."

Xander looked back from the couch. "Need something?"

"No. I don't know. No." He rubbed his forehead with his little rubber page-turner. "I really had no idea how hard it is to read without distraction."

"I thought that's how you liked it."

"So did I, until I spent a whole day reading without being able to break for two minutes to make a cup of tea or to fetch a book."

Xander was already on his feet. "You need tea?"

"No. I need to be able to make tea. I need to have an excuse to get up and have a wander around."

That got a grin out of him. "Ha. You are more like us procrastinating mortals than you realised. Wanna do something else for a while?"

"Like?" Xander seemed to have all the ideas.

"I don't know. Got any board games?"

"Erm. Scrabble, somewhere, I think."

"Scrabble. Sure. We could just unpack the board and declare you the winner."

"Considering I can't pick up the tiles..."

"We could chop off your arms and handicap you with three tiles in your tile-holder-thing and you'd still humiliate me. Let's nix the Scrabble. How about a walk?"

That... actually wasn't a half-bad idea. Stretch his legs, get some air. Relax his eyes.

He hardly needed company on a walk, but Xander pulled on his own sneakers before helpng Giles with his, so it seemed he was coming. To Giles' surprise, he truly didn't mind. He rather looked forward to it, in fact.

"How are your hands?"

"Fine."

"Not hurting? You don't want something for them before we go?"

Giles wiggled his fingers, to test them, Uncomfortable, not painful. "They'll do." Xander locked the door and pocketed Giles' keys. Giles led the way up the stairs. "Shall we head to Main Street?"

Xander's eyes widened, and then he got a worried look. "Nah. Let's stay on this side of town."

Giles wondered what that was about. Avoiding the girls? They'd all seemed on good terms, of late.

Xander was rather stuck with Giles now, though. He'd have to find a way to push Xander out of the house to go dancing with the others, or whatever it was they were doing these days. Xander was likely going crazy, spending all his time with a forty-five year-old. It was likely worse for him than it was for Giles himself.

Particularly since it wasn't proving so very awful for Giles at all.

They walked in silence at first, just soaking in the afternoon sun and fresh air, but eventually they started talking, and it turned out Xander wasn't avoiding the girls, exactly.

"Buffy's kind of holed up in her misery, and I'm not really the best person to offer comfort in the Angel department, you know?"

"I know," Giles replied, not quite able to keep the dryness from his tone.

Xander shrugged, not seeming to feel particularly guilty. "Willow and Oz are... I mean, more than before, and especially after me and Will... you know about that, right? Oh god, of course you don't-"

"I knew." He really didn't know how the rest of them had missed it.

"Great." Xander stared down at his feet.

Giles wasn't sure what to say, but he hated the turn in mood, and he'd reached to squeeze Xander's arm before he remembered that his hands were bandaged, or that he didn't pet Xander, as a general rule. "I don't think any less of you." They were seventeen and hormonal and confused, and he'd rather felt for them, cringing as he saw past the lustful looks to the disaster approaching.

"Can't think less of me."

That hurt, a surprising amount, and they passed a couple of houses before Giles could reply. "Is that how you see me?"

Xander looked up at his tone. "I thought we were talking about how you see me."

"Do you really think, after everything you've done, I would sit back in judgment?"

Xander looked utterly surprised. "I didn't mean it like, I mean..."

"It's a difficult life we lead. I wasn't merely running from it at your age; I was creating havoc, and I didn't spare a thought for anything so trivial as other people's feelings. I certainly wasn't showing the sort of courage, loyalty or good humour that you shrug off on a daily basis, and I'm hardly going to criticise you for letting your emotions rule you for a few weeks." The expression on Xander's face made Giles realise just how overdue such words were. What was he doing, that this lot all saw him as the disapproving patriar ch?

It was a good few minutes, before Xander asked, "Is this a post-graduation thing?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Talking like adults."

Giles wanted to argue, but when had he and Xander ever spoken like this - or about anything of personal significance - before? "Perhaps it's both of us. Perhaps it's having you dress me."

That got a grin out of him, to Giles' relief. He really didn't want to dwell on such emotive topics. It was true. There had been a shift at some point - not on a single day, but over months, possibly drifting ever since Xander and Willow pitched in to stop the Harvest - and they weren't children in his eyes, as they were the first time they followed Buffy into the library. It was convenient language, an easy way to maintain his distance, but it really wasn't how he saw them.

It was just as true for Xander as it was for Buffy. He wondered if that was a legitimate enough excuse for the stirring he felt each time Xander smoothed cream along his fingers. There had been no denying it this morning, now he was conscious of his underlying desire, and every gentle touch was erotic. He didn't know how he'd suppressed it before.

* * *

Giles couldn't sleep. He felt warm and hard, and he had a new addition to the list of things he couldn't do.

Wonderful. Perhaps Xander could lend him a hand with this, as well.

... Damn.

That thought wasn't likely to go back in its box. Giles squeezed his eyes shut. He wasn't going to think about it. He was going to think about something else. What would he do if Xander came up the stairs just now to ask if there was anything else he could help with and saw him in this state? Giles' libido answered the question and now he was imagining Xander sitting on the edge of the bed, chiding Giles that this was why he was here, as he pulled the sheets away. Giles banished the thought, and it was replaced with Xander opening his trousers, looking up through those long lashes as he slipped a hand around Giles' heavy cock. The shape of his hands. Xander's hand on his own... Now Giles was thinking about Xander's cock. Young, very young Xander, though you wouldn't know it from the way his shoulders and chest had broadened, and it wasn't how he pictured Xander's cock, standing thick and hard from dark curls.

He absolutely wasn't going to think about it, and yet he could see just how Xander would look, bobbed down in front of him, opening his fly. He could feel the gentle fingers sliding down his zip, knuckles brushing his erection. And it would be the easiest thing in the world for Giles to bury his hands in Xander's thick, soft hair.

Pretending he wasn't thinking these thoughts was a waste of time. Giles rolled over and thrust against the mattress, almost groaning aloud in relief at the pressure. Xander's hands reaching in to take out Giles' cock, just as gently as he did everything. Giles wanted to be fisted hard, but Xander started rubbing in cream, just with his fingertips, an inch at a time. Looking worried, like the slightest pressure might do Giles an injury. His mouth was so close Giles could feel each heavy breath.

Giles tried to breath silently, pushing into the mattress, grateful the bed didn't creak. Why in god's name had a leased an apartment with a wall-less bedroom? Eventually he'd have to give a tug on Xander's head, a little pull so his lips brushed the tip of Giles' cock, and he'd look so surprised as he took the whole length in his mouth, and it would be the sound he made that finally pushed Giles over, the sight of Xander eagerly drinking him, dark eyes closed.

Giles sagged against the bed. He was going to hell. He was going to the special hell, for middle-aged men that fantasised about teenagers, and now he needed to struggle off his soiled shorts and hide them behind the drawers, like he'd done back when he was a boy of twelve.

* * *

Giles sat on the edge of the bed, obediently lifting his feet into his trouser legs as Xander directed, resting his useless hands on Xander's shoulders as he stood for them to be pulled up. Standing over a kneeling Xander, and last night came crashing back through to Giles' consciousness. He snatched his hands back, and started praying Xander would do this quickly.

Xander wasn't doing it quickly. He was taking his usual care, hand resting easily for a moment on Giles' hip, sending threads of heat weaving through his body, and down, to thicken in his cock. Giles held his breath and willed himself down, but Xander looked up and the battle was lost. Giles stepped back and hit the bed and sat down. "I, um, I..."

"What's wrong?"

"I'll just go to the bathroom once more before you belt me in." Giles felt a surge of pride at his excuse as he hurried downstairs, and then he remembered he was lusting after someone young enough to be his son. The boy still owned a skateboard, for pity's sake.

He pushed the door shut and leaned against it, staring reproachfully down at his shorts tenting through his open fly. Ordinarily he could have taken care of this himself. Of course, ordinarily, he didn't get aroused by eighteen-year-olds. Eighteen, he told his cock, and it just sent back all sorts of obscene ideas about things he could teach an eighteen year-old.

This was some kind of horrendous mid-life crisis. To boot, now he had to worry that Xander had seen or god forbid felt him stirring, and knew that Giles was a dirty old man. No, he hadn't felt it. Giles was utterly certain he'd have noticed if Xander's gentle thick fingers had brushed his cock.

Giles crossed to the sink, reached for the tap before he saw his bandages and remembered splashing water over his face was out of the question. He leaned on the basin on his elbows instead, leaning forward like he could simply wish it on. He had to get himself under control. Xander would be horrified, if he knew. And Buffy... Dear lord, Joyce. Giles thought about standing trial for making sexual advances to a minor (or near enough), and that wilted his arousal quite effectively.

And now Giles had locked himself in the bathroom. He sighed, wishing for the hundredth - thousandth? - time that he'd made friends in Sunnydale his own age. Or that there was anyone he could reasonably ask to take over from Xander.

There wasn't. "Xander?" he called.

The door opened immediately, as though Xander had been waiting outside. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"I could go do the shopping for you, if you'll be all right on your own for an hour."

Xander do his grocery shopping? Absolutely not. Xander put his hand on Giles' forehead, and Giles realised he thought he was ill. "Truly, I'm fine, Xander. And I'd really like to do my own grocery shopping."

"All right." He shrugged, and bent forward to do up Giles' trousers, and Giles barely had time to summon the image of police at his door before he was done, and leading the way out.

* * *

"See?" Xander said, "Gilgamesh. Trek is full of the good quality learning stuff."

Giles had to admit, this episode was rather better than the previous two, ridiculous alien make-up not withstanding. He hadn't expected intermediary-level semiotics to make it as a theme. "I don't suppose they're going to take their metaphor to its obvious conclusion?"

"Say what?"

"Gilgamesh and Enkidu were lovers."

Xander's head spun to face him. "*Really?*"

"It's one of the world's great love stories." Now why did he have to bring that up?

Xander turned back to the television. looking thoughtful. "Really."

* * *

Giles heard Xander's voice as he came out of the bathroom. The girls were here?

No, he was on the phone. "Yeah, Ma. Every day. Yeah. No, I'm not doing drugs. I don't know where to buy them at the Grand Canyon anyway. I told you about the Grand Canyon, right? How it's really big? No, I won't sleep with any cheap women. I don't know where to find them, either." Xander turned, and saw Giles, and went red. "Yeah, Ma, look, I have to go okay?" He ended the call. "Sorry. I should have asked-"

"Of course you can use the phone, Xander. There's no need to ask."

"Thanks." Xander disappeared through to turn off the shower and hang up the bathmat, and returned. "You ready to get dressed?"

"Long distance calls from the Grand Canyon, however..."

Xander went even more red, but he shrugged it off. "Dad kept saying I'd never get past Oxnard, so when the car fell through, I kind of didn't tell him."

"That's what Willow meant about you needing a place to stay."

"Yeah, I don't think Mrs Rosenberg really wanted me underfoot all summer. And sleeping on Will's floor with her and Oz getting all..." Xander blushed again, and mercifully left the sentence incomplete.

"You're welcome to stay here."

"Really?"

"I... uh, yes. You've certainly earned a large favour, and I, I," say it, man, "I have rather enjoyed your company this week." A little too much, and having Xander linger was not going to help that. Not unless Xander finally started getting on Giles' nerves. Giles brightened at the thought.

* * *

Xander clearly hadn't noticed a thing, and he still wasn't questioning Giles' jumpy mood. He grew more at ease, no longer hesitating to slide Giles' glasses off if they steamed up, or if Giles seemed to be frowning as he read. He even carried one of Giles' own handkerchiefs. When he heard Giles sniffling over a curry, he reached across with it and ordered Giles to blow, like a two year old.

Giles began to relax as well. What was the harm in enjoying the company, as long as Xander didn't know precisely what thoughts were wandering through Giles' head? If Xander was comfortable sitting close enough on the couch to look over Giles' elbow when he was taking notes from the text Giles was studying, then Giles wasn't going to argue. Xander smelled good.

The more he looked at Xander, the less he could see a child. Young, yes, but with a gravity few were privileged to recognise, and physically, not at all. Not at all.

Xander's mess of dark hair was inches in front of Giles' mouth as he copied the diagram into Giles' notebook, for him.

"It's seven-thirty," Giles said.

"Okay?" Xander said, absently. His left shoulder was pressing against Giles' chest as he leaned across, fingers resting on the image. If only they could take the book away.... No, it was not the time to entertain such thoughts.

"Seven-thirty? We could pick this up later."

Xander looked up, eyes narrow, and very close. "You want to watch Star Trek."

"I thought you would want to."

Xander looked at the blank television. "Nah. This is okay."

He leaned in again, and Giles swallowed. "Are you sure you don't want to watch television?"

"You do want to watch Star Trek."

Giles gave him a stony glare, and Xander's eyes lifted. Laughing at him. God, he was beautiful.

A smile crept slowly across Xander's lips, and Giles couldn't tear his gaze away. Heat coiled in his gut, and he realised, Xander likes me, just a moment before Xander leaned in and Giles was surprised by how sweet he tasted. Not surprised by how gentle he was. Very surprised they were kissing.

Giles jerked back. "What are you- I'm sorry." He stood up and ignored the book falling from his lap - that was a problem for his second, more useful pair of hands - and headed for the front door, but he wouldn't be able to get the handle so he just turned and hurried upstairs.

What had he done? No, Xander had done it - he was sure it was Xander who'd kissed him, and not the other way around. Xander kissed him. Giles couldn't help but to take a moment for an adolescent 'He likes me!' And god, he could kiss. Giles' mouth tingled. This was a mess.

Giles wondered if Xander was going to follow him up here, and what he'd say if he did. He didn't. After a few minutes, there was a click of the television coming on, and the Star Trek theme broke in on the silence.

That had been handled badly. Giles should have stayed down there, said something to the boy, but even now, nothing came to mind, except a load of blatant lies, like, 'I couldn't possibly be interested in someone your age.'

Xander was likely packing his bags, preparing some thin excuse for why Buffy or Willow should take over. After a while, Giles heard sounds from the kitchen, cupboards and taps, and eventually Xander called up, "Dinner's in five!"

So not leaving, then. Giles still didn't know what he planned to say, but he dragged himself downstairs.

"Lasagna. My mom's recipe." He gestured to the frozen dinner box on the sink, before pulling the tray out of the microwave. He hacked up half for Giles, and slid a fork between his bandaged fingers. "Mom's more about the Stouffer's, but I hear cooking's all about putting your own stamp on the recipe."

"Xander-"

Xander picked up the bowls and carried them out to the table, his back to Giles. "Anything you're about to say, you should save it because it's all forgotten."

"Xander-"

"Didn't happen."

"I'm sorry that-"

"Didn't happen."

Giles swallowed. He didn't have any words of wisdom to share, anyway. "All right."

Xander looked at him, face unreadable.

Dinner was an altogether new level of awkward. Xander didn't look up, except to ask every two minutes if Giles wanted something. Cracked pepper? A napkin? A drink? Extra cheese? That was the extent of the conversation. Giles devoted every ounce of his concentration to balancing his fork.

Forgetting the kiss was ludicrously unlikely. Xander didn't sit so close, when they retired to the couch, which only made Giles realise that their earlier proximity hadn't merely been for convenience. Xander had been flirting with him.

Is that why he'd agreed to help out in the first place? Giles should have disapproved, but he only found himself watching Xander in odd moments, wondering how long this had been going on, and wishing he could kiss him again.

Xander looked up, and Giles jerked his attention back to his book.

* * *

Fantasy-Xander wasn't surprised, that night. Fantasy-Xander wanted Giles and wasn't taking no for an answer, kissing him, touching everywhere, and Giles was helpless to push him away, with his ridiculous bound hands. And there went another pair of shorts, to jam behind the drawers.

* * *

Giles greeted the day with more trepidation than he'd had since the first morning. He wished they'd hashed it out last night, said something to clear the air a little. Now it seemed too late to raise again.

Xander had breakfast ready and had already eaten his own when Giles came down. He awkwardly excused himself to shower while Giles ate. It seemed he didn't wish to raise the matter, either.

Giles touched his mouth, as he watched Xander go.

Xander returned just as Giles finished his cereal, looking damp, smelling fresh and warm as he reached over for Giles' bowl. "I'll just get this to the sink, and then we can do your hands."

Oh, no. "They're coming along. It wouldn't hurt to skip it for today."

"No way." Xander pointed couchward. "The doctor said every day. Sit here while I get the first aid kit."

When Xander came back, they both fumbled about, trying to sit without their legs touching. Finally Xander grabbed his knees and pushed them apart, sliding his own legs between as they had every time previously. "I'm sorry about... Let's not be weird, okay?" He said it softly, without meeting Giles' eyes.

"All right," Giles replied. He offered his hands. Of course, it was impossible not to 'be weird', with Xander's handprints on his knees and the sure knowledge that Xander was thinking about how well they fit together yesterday.

"Are they still hurting?"

"Just twinging a little, when I bend them."

Xander had grown fast and neat at rolling the bandages off. The skin had begun to heal, which meant it was scabbing over and turning rather grotesque. Xander didn't seem to notice, working just as carefully has he had from the beginning. He smoothed the cream everywhere and then slowly worked it in, focused like it was open-heart surgery. Working the joints and stretching his fingers just slightly as he went, using his thumbs on Giles' palms and the tips of his fingers up the length of Giles' own fingers. For the rest of his life, Giles was sure he'd find the scene of this particular antiseptic cream arousing.

Now, Giles was painfully aware he wasn't the only one feeling the contact. It would have taken a far better man that he, to resist casually sliding his eyes south to take in the outline in Xander's jeans. A far, far better man. The thought of it made his mouth water.

Unfortunately, it also led Giles to realise how much more exposed he was, himself, with his legs wedged apart. He hoped Xander was too absorbed in his work to let his own eyes wander. He hoped a little, that Xander was measuring him up and planning to kiss him again.

* * *

GIles hovered for a good few minutes outside the bathroom door, wondering if it would be acceptable to interrupt. The shower had stopped a while ago, but Xander was still in there.

"I can feel you hovering out there," came from inside.

Giles pushed the door open - Xander had taken to leaving it ajar, out of empathy or just in case Giles needed to barge in, Giles wasn't sure - to find Xander wearing only low-riding jeans, and a towel slung around his neck, as he shaved. Damp hair, warm damp skin, the scent of fresh soap in the air; this is why Giles shouldn't have interrupted.

"What's up?" Xander turned to face him properly, so Giles could see his face still half-lathered, his broad chest and the trail of hair creeping south from his navel to the open button of his fly.

"Giles?"

"I, uh." He swallowed. He'd come in for a reason, something other than ogling Xander's body, and he didn't have the foggiest what that reason was. "Never mind."

"Don't go far."

Giles froze. "I'm sorry?"

"You're next. The scruffy look is way too weird on you." Xander stepped up and casually ran a hand down Giles' jaw, which was bristly enough for a fairly loud rasp. Xander had turned back to the mirror even before the shiver made it through Giles' body. They were back to being casual? Giles hadn't agreed to that.

"How, err, how long?" He should have thanked Xander and insisted scruffy was perfectly acceptable under the circumstances and walked away, but he didn't move, didn't protest.

"I'm almost done. You may as well wait." Xander jerked his head towards the toilet, and then reached over to drop the lid. "Have a seat."

He absolutely shouldn't have, but he did, crossing his bandaged hands self-consciously in front of him. He was mesmerised as Xander leaned in towards the mirror, stretching and turning his face to catch the stubble. "What cream are you using?" It barely looked like shaving cream.

Xander shrugged. "I don't know. Store brand."

"Try this." Giles was up and fumbling to open the cabinet before he'd thought about proximity or bandages. He wasn't sure which posed the greater problem.

Xander took over opening the door, even as he shrugged again. "What I've got's okay."

Giles pointed to his own. "Try it." Which somehow left Giles standing at Xander's shoulder while Xander lathered up again, close enough to drag his fingers up the muscles of Xander's back, if only he'd had fingers to drag. If only he'd had no concerns for Xander's well-being, or Buffy's reaction, or all the rest of the consequences. Xander's chest swelled, as he inhaled the scent of Giles' cream.

Somewhere beneath all Xander's casual actions was the man who kissed Giles yesterday, and the thought of it shortened Giles' breath. If he were to let his ridiculous mittened hand brush down Xander's spine, Xander mightn't do a thing to stop him. More likely he'd turn, and kiss him again like yesterday, and Giles' self-control would tumble, quickly followed by all the threads of his nice, stable life.

Of course, how stable was his life, really? Giles eyed the smooth, tan skin, watching it shift over muscles as Xander turned his head one way and another. They all kept bigger secrets than this. Worse secrets, than one man's wandering hands. Worse than an illicit affair between a man and a... a very young man.

"You're right, that was way better." Xander ran his hands over his face, and Giles wanted to follow them, but Xander bent to wash himself clean and Giles was left with his own face in the mirror, rough skin and wrinkles and grey stubble. He went back to sit on the toilet seat.

Xander rinsed out the sink and filled it again. He lifted his towel and patted himself dry, cocking his head as he took in Giles. He leaned forward, the towel around his neck swinging forward so Giles could see his tight copper nipples, and then he was overwhelmed by the scents of shaving cream and mint and fresh soap, as Xander slid two fingers under his chin. This was a terrible idea.

"Too low," Xander muttered, and hooked a hand under Giles' arm to haul him up, against the sink. "Better." He slid his hands down Giles' bristled jaw, like he was just testing his task, except they both knew he wasn't. Xander was flushed, as though at any moment he planned to take this further.

His fingers were gentle as always, smoothing the cool cream over Giles' chin, just like with his hands except with this it was nearly impossible not to meet each others' eyes.

Xander picked up his razor and their eyes met, and neither of them moved.

"Just remember we're both on the same side," Giles managed with a glance at the razor, startled by how low his own voice had dropped.

Xander grinned, suddenly. "I'll show mercy. Gonna be weird, though, doing it from this way." He shifted the razor in his hand a couple of times, before settling on a way to hold it.

The razor scraped down Giles' jaw, leaving a cool line in its wake. More confident, Xander worked his way around the easiest lines, close enough for Giles to feel his breath on the newly-cleared skin. The other side as well, slow and thorough, smooth strokes and the splash of the razor in the sink behind him. Xander nudged him to lift his chin, and Giles realised that Xander had been leaning in as Giles slowly leaned back, until Giles was arched backwards over the sink, Xander over him. Which, aside from being desperately arousing, left his groin pressed forward against Xander's hip. "Let me just..." He pressed his hand against Xander's chest, sure he could feel the heat of him through the bandages, and found a safer position. Safer being a relative term, when Xander was dragging a razor up his throat, under his chin.

That, for example, was relatively safer than Xander honing in on his lips and chin. "It's funny," Xander said, narrowing his eyes as he experimented with angles for the cleft, free hand cupping Giles' jaw. "I always thought you were taller than me." And he was, but not by much.

"You've grown." Taller. Broader. More desirable.

Xander watched him, about to kiss him- Or to catch the last few bristles on the razor. He grabbed a wet cloth he'd already had waiting and gently wiped the rest of the shaving cream away, then tossed it on the sink and lifted the ends of the towel hanging down his chest to pat Giles' face dry. "There. That's our Giles." It sounded possessive, like the 'our' was a 'my'.

* * *

That night, Fantasy-Xander bent Giles back over the bathroom sink, pressing a thigh between Giles' as he nuzzled his way up Giles' throat to his sensitive, freshly-shaved jaw.

Perhaps tomorrow, Xander could help him research which circle of hell Dante reserved for the corruptors.

* * *

Giles was amassing a collection of soiled shorts behind his drawers, and he was starting to worry that his bedroom smelled like a brothel. He was sure of it, when Xander suggested washing.

"I'll do it. Just sit back. Relax. Take advantage of me."

Wonderful. Thank you, for that image. "I'll, uh, just help you to get started."

Xander brought up the wash basket and helped Giles sort through the hamper, checking pockets while Giles searched for an excuse to send him ahead so he could smuggle his secret stash of stiff shorts out and into the wash.

Xander stripped the sheets off the bed and picked up the basket, waiting. Right. Giles followed him downstairs. Maybe he could double-back for the towels. "I'll just grab the towels," said Xander, "and my bag."

Damn. Giles led the way out to the laundry, stood uselessly by while Xander handled his clothes, dividing them into a couple of machines, throwing his own clothes in on top. Eventually he left him to it, trudging back to the flat, scheming like a child in the first throes of puberty.

Of course! He'd learned a thing or two as a boy. He hurried upstairs, knocked a shirt off a hanger... Too crisp. He dropped it and kicked it around a little to look worn, before scooping his underwear collection out of its hiding place and rolling it all up inside the shirt.

He jogged down the stairs, passing Xander on the way out. "Forgot my shirt." He hurried around to the laundry, glad they were top-loading machines so he only had to wedge a bandaged thumb under the lid and drop in the evidence.

He grinned to himself, entirely too proud. This was how criminals felt, evading the police. It was how he used to feel, evading the police, a very long time ago.

"You got it in okay?"

Giles jumped half a mile.

"Giles?"

Xander could bloody-well wait, while he got his heartbeat back under control. "Just fine. Thank you."

* * *

While he browsed through a journal that afternoon, Giles had the distinct pleasure of watching Xander fold his underwear and socks, an act that seemed well beyond the call of duty. He was surprisingly neat with it, everything stacked and bundled into a pile for each of them, until there was only Giles' button-shirts and good trousers left in the basket.

"Um. What do you want me to do with these?"

"Just leave them in there, to be ironed later."

"Oh." He looked uncertain. "Did you want me to do that?"

Giles leaned back in his chair, smiling. "Do you know how?"

"Yes, I know how to iron. I'm not a hick. I just think it's a total waste of time."

Giles cringed. "It's really not necessary. But thank you for offering."

"Sure. I'll go put this stuff away."

Giles opened his mouth to object, but Xander was already halfway up the stairs. The line between what was necessary and what was using Xander as a free maid was a fuzzy one. And since every time Giles tried to mind it, Xander got offended, perhaps it was best just to keep his mouth shut.

He turned back to his book, that he'd somehow forgotten he was reading while he watched Xander work. He was tired of sitting at his desk. He wanted to move to the couch. Not for any particular reason, certainly not because that was where Xander was likely to sit when he came back down.

He just had to get his book over there. He could do that himself. He nudged the book to the edge with his forearm, and then bumped it into the crook of his elbow. There. Definitely capable. He reached to straighten the pile he'd bumped, but it tipped and he jumped to save it and a crash shattered the quiet.

"Fucking goddamn fuck!"

Lamp everywhere. And there was Xander, standing on the stairs, staring. "I didn't know you knew those words."

"Just... save it." Giles bent to start picking up the pieces, and Xander leapt over, diving across the desk to catch his elbow.

"Leave it."

"I can't just-"

"Yeah, you can."

Giles let himself be pulled up. "I feel a right twit."

"That's because you tried to do something instead of just asking me, and broke your lamp."

"I'm sick of being useless!"

"Yeah, well." Xander gave him a look of genuine sympathy. "Deal." He shrugged, and tugged Giles away from the mess.

Just... deal. He supposed he had to.

"See?" Xander said, pushing him down on the couch. "You get to be Xander Harris for a week. A quarter-mile in my shoes." What an awful thing to say. "Got a scoop?"

"Under the sink. Xander..." Once again, he didn't have the words to magically cure a lifetime of self-flagellation, but Xander wasn't waiting to hear it, anyway. He made more noise than he needed to, picking up the frame, sweeping up all the glass. He was careful, chasing around corners and under furniture to catch everything that had scattered. Bending over, and Giles couldn't have torn his eyes away if he tried. He didn't try.

When he stood up, Giles came around to admire his work, stumbling for some way to sound appreciative. "Thank you."

"No problem."

"No, I mean, thank you. For all of it. This week. Your care, your patience. I haven't been the best patient, but I do appreciate... You've been extremely generous, and you don't deserve my ill-humour."

Xander smiled, deliciously warm and sincere, and it started a simmer in Giles' stomach.

This time, he couldn't pretend he didn't see it coming. The best he could say was that he didn't move, that it was entirely Xander right up until their lips touched.

He unravelled inside, and Xander's hands were on his shoulders, and Giles' hands couldn't be anywhere. He wanted to run his fingers through Xander's hair, feel the muscles in his arms, trace his spine. All he could do was kiss that beautiful mouth. Xander's tongue moved slow and steady inside him, like afternoon sex. They shouldn't be doing this, but he wasn't going to step away this time. He'd rather be damned. Xander wanted him.

Xander pulled back, and Giles' gut clenched, but he went no further. "See how much better it is, without the unstrategic retreat?" He smiled again, and Giles lost that much more control of the situation, ready to surrender entirely.

Xander's hands dragged down Giles' back as he let go. "I'm gonna get this broken glass out to the trash."

He wasn't serious.

He was serious. Giles was left standing there, as Xander sauntered out the door. He wasn't entirely sure what just happened. Wasn't Xander supposed to be seducing him? Xander was the teenager with the runaway hormones, and Giles was the steadying influence, who was going to - at any moment - push Xander away and let him down gently. Someone needed to drag Xander back here because Giles couldn't prove he was just about to put a stop to it if Xander didn't come right back and kiss him exactly like that again. Giles' hands were tied.

He was still standing in the same place when Xander came back and breezed straight past him to the kitchen. "I'm feeling brave. How about I tackle that steak?" He poked his head over the counter. "This may surprise you, but I do a mean pepper sauce."

Not particularly surprising, considering he'd watched Xander throw the pepper sauce sachet in the shopping cart. But also hardly the first topic of conversation on Giles' mind. He didn't move, as Xander dragged out pans and pots, and a chopping board, and stood in the middle of the kitchen, thoughtfully working his lush lower lip between his teeth for a long moment, before he started raiding the crisper drawer.

Giles really, truly, didn't give a flying fuck about dinner. He was more aroused than he remembered being in a very long time, and he wanted to make it utterly clear that he absolutely wasn't going to stand for any more of this. No more touching, or almost kissing, or kissing, or lying awake at night picturing things that would get him a jail term, if Xander were six months younger.

While Giles simmered, Xander chopped onion and slid it hissing into the pan, losing a few pieces to the floor. He bent to pick them up, and Giles found himself leaning forward to watch, and he exploded. "Xander, I hardly need to tell you how inappropiate this is."

"Onion?"

"You're eighteen years old, with plenty of reason to be searching out a surrogate father-figure."

Xander gave the pan a quick stir and faced him, folding his arms, raising an eyebrow. "Seems to me I've been looking after you, this week. Maybe you're the one with the father complex."

"Xander, do be serious."

"Call me Daddy."

"Xander-"

He leaned on his elbows on the counter. "Yes, son?"

This was the irritating side of Xander that GIles had been waiting for. "I can't talk to you like this." He stormed up to the loft.

Two minutes later, Xander was at the top of the stairs. "You want me."

"That's hardly, that's not..." Giles was falling into the gap between acceptable answers and true ones. He wished he'd sat on the other side of the bed, so there'd be a barrier between them. Not that a bed was the best candidate for a barrier, just now.

"I was gonna back off." Xander put a hand on his hip, looking utterly sure of himself. This really wasn't the time for him to be discovering self-confidence. "I was gonna back off to another continent where nobody knew me, where I could change my name and never have to look you in the eye again, but you couldn't hide it. You didn't even try very hard."

Giles opened his mouth, but Xander went right on going. "I saw the way you looked at me when I was doing your hands, yesterday. Contrary to popular opinion, I'm not completely stupid. And even if I was, I would have figured it out for sure when you were watching me shave." He lifted his chin, triumphant, like he'd just unveiled the murderer in an Agatha Christie mystery. "You have a big dirty crush on Xander Harris."

And there he was, Rupert Giles unveiled. He shook his head, hard.

One step closer. Two. Giles held his breath. Close enough for Xander to say, quietly in Giles' ear, "Tell me you're not wishing like crazy right now that I'll keep right on coming, push you backwards, climb over you on the bed and kiss the protests right out of you?"

He was a bloody mindreader. Except Giles' imagination included stripping naked, somewhere in there, and persuasion that had more to do with what Fantasy-Xander would do with his cock.

The 'Yeah, I thought so,' was written so clearly on Xander's face, he might as well have said it out loud. It was the perfect time to move closer, and push Giles back, and do all the other things he'd suggested. Giles wouldn't have resisted for a second. Xander shifted away. And then he turned and went back downstairs.

Giles stared after him.

The gall of the boy. The disgraceful, smug, insolent hide of him. Giles was going to throttle him, just as soon as he had use of his hands. It would the first thing he- well, the second thing he did, right after he spent an hour or two in the bathroom, working off days of frustration.

He jogged down the stairs. "I'm afraid this isn't working out."

Xander looked out from the kitchen. "Looks to be working just fine to me."

"Stop it. I'm quite serious." He had to be serious.

At last, Xander wavered, and shut his mouth. Good.

He had to be the adult, put a stop to this. It would only take five minutes of thinking with his mind instead of his cock. He could manage five minutes. "This isn't working. I'll make other arrangements, get somebody in, or something. It will only be a few more days. I'm sure you can find somewhere else to stay." The lingering smugness in Xander's eyes faded, and it wasn't anywhere near as relieving as Giles had hoped. "Thank you for, for everything. I've enjoyed your company this week more than you, you, well, perhaps not. But you've been very attractive- I, I, I mean, attentive..."

The spark was returning to Xander's eyes, fairly much in time with the flush rising up Giles' neck into his cheeks, and burning his ears.

"I'm, I'm sorry about dinner, but I'm, I'm going to bed." It was barely dark, but Giles had suffered enough humiliation, and the sooner this day was over, the better.

He headed for the stairs once more, freezing at Xander's gentle, "Giles?"

He almost kept going, but he couldn't. Not when there was the possibility that Xander had found the words Giles needed to be convinced. Or - he turned back, to find Xander approaching, and a shiver ran up his spine - the actions.

Xander stopped barely a foot away. "Need me to get those buttons for you?"

Buttons? Oh. The buttons. Giles nodded, and Xander efficiently undid the buttons on his shirt, and then dropped to his knees to open Giles' fly.

The door burst open, Buffy, Willow and Oz traipsing in on Xander on his knees opening Giles' trousers.

Giles slapped his hands over his opened clothes. "This isn't what it looks like!"

The lot of them stood frozen in the doorway, startled.

"Well, said Oz, "it looks like he's opening your pants, which you can't do yourself, since you've got the whole bandages situation. If it's not that, then I'm intrigued."

Buffy and Willow grinned.

"Oh. That's, that's what it is."

Xander zipped him back up and stood to get his shirt buttons, shooting him the sort of 'what kind of incompetent are you?' look Giles usually aimed at Xander.

"Don't even joke about it, guys," Buffy said, continuing in. "I can't afford the therapy."

Willow laughed. "Can you imagine, Giles and Xander, boyfriends?" They both giggled. "Giles'd have to learn to love Hong Kong movie marathons."

"Ooh!" Buffy poked Xander as she passed. "Xander'd take up wearing braces and waistcoats."

"Where do you think they'd go on dates? Giles could take Xander to a cross-referencing seminar."

"After romantic candlelit pizza!"

They both laughed, plopping themselves on the couch.

"I don't know," said Oz. "I can see it, in a crazy kind of way."

"No way," said Buffy. "They'd be the weirdest couple ever."

Willow leaned against her, giggling crazily. "Like... Larry and Snyder!"

"Cordelia and Jonathan!"

Willow howled. "Wesley and the lunch lady!"

"Me and Spike!" They laughed even harder.

"I hardly think it would be all that ridiculous," Giles snapped.

Everything stopped, including Giles' heart, and four pairs of eyes turned to him, round and unblinking. Dear god, what had he done? "I, I, I, I, mean, I mean, if we were, of course we aren't, but if we were to, I mean, Xander's a, a very good catch, and if I were to, which of course I would never, but, but if circumstances were different, very different, then, then..." One by one, the others were turning their gazes on Xander, until Giles finished with a pitiful, "Would it really be all that ridiculous?"

Only Xander was watching him now, and with such a look of abject pity that it achieved the impossible, of making Giles feel even more embarrassed.

"It really wouldn't," Xander said, and stepped closer.

Giles stepped back, but Xander kept coming, and once he caught him, hands skimming up Giles' back, leaning in, mouth sure and hard and insistent, Giles surrendered. He should have surrendered days ago. They should have been kissing like this every minute since that first time.

Giles couldn't look away as they parted. Xander's lips were swollen and shining. Wherever Xander's confidence had come from, Giles wanted it. God, he wanted him.

"Um," said somebody, "Okay." Buffy. Buffy was here, and the others. Oh, no.

"Congratulations?" said Willow, in a small voice.

"Wow," Buffy added. "That's, uh, yeah. Congratulations."

Giles was still staring at Xander, waiting for the world to fall in.

"Just checking," said Oz. "He was just helping you with the clothes when we came in, right? Because if it was something else, we could, like, go and walk around the block a few times, 'til you're done."

That sounded like a marvellous idea, and Giles almost said so, but Xander beat him to it. "Nah, you were right. That was just a helping thing."

That didn't mean it wouldn't be a good idea for them to go away.

"So what brings the Scooby team to Chez Giles?" Xander asked.

Giles finally looked around, wondering what Xander was doing, encouraging them to stay, right now.

Buffy pulled her legs up under her. "Thought it was time to stop by, see if either of you went crazy and killed the other. Which I guess you haven't. Killed each other."

Xander gave Giles a little shove, pushing him into the armchair, and headed for the kitchen. Giles sat.

"How are your hands, Giles?"

Willow was talking to him. Right. His hands. "Er, better. Much better. Thank you. I'm, I'm hoping the bandages can stay off, soon." First thing, he was going to touch Xander, learn every inch of that delicious broad chest. He'd lie on his back, Xander kneeling over him, letting him feel the lines of muscle, letting him scratch and flick his nipples until he caught Giles' wrists and pinned them to the bed as he kissed him again, just the same.

"That's good."

Yes. Good.

Xander settled in as host, offering drinks and snacks from Giles' pantry, being far more hospitable than Giles particularly wanted him to be. The longer they stayed, the better the chance of one of them standing up and asking what in hell's name just happened, and calling Giles a filthy pervert.

Willow looked from one to the other as she accepted a Coke from Xander. "So, uh, how did you two become, um, you two?"

Giles quite honestly had no idea.

"It's been building for a while, Will."

It had? Willow didn't seem to think that merited any further questions, which was surprising because Giles could think of dozens right off the top of his head, and the first half-dozen or so were 'Since when?' He almost asked it aloud.

None of them asked anything more, or dragged Xander out of the room to ask if he'd been coerced in some way. They talked about who they'd seen around since school finished, and where their surviving agemates seemed to be headed.

All perfectly normal conversation.

As they filed out, seemingly a few ice ages later, Giles managed to stand up and bid them farewell. Buffy doubled back, and he braced himself.

"Sorry about all that stuff we said." She smiled. "I totally didn't see this one coming, but if you're happy, then I guess I'm happy for you. I'm glad you've both got somebody."

She was glad. "You don't, you aren't... but he's eighteen!"

"Eighteen's a good age. I'm definitely shopping the 'born in the twentieth century' bracket for my next boyfriend."

God, yes. He'd utterly forgotten Angel's age. God, how had Angel felt about lusting after a sixteen year-old?

"You're both human. Your both good guys. I rate this a good match." She smiled, and followed the others out the door.

Happy for him. She wasn't going to hold him back. Nor was Willow, nor Oz. And certainly not Xander.

The door clicked, and Giles' heart squirmed up into his throat. Nobody was holding him back.

Xander leaned back against the door, eyeing him. "So, are we done, with the protests?"

Giles nodded.

"No more running and hiding?"

Giles shook his head.

Xander pushed off the door, and wandered closer. "Then I think I was in the middle of taking your pants off."

"Yes." Giles said, through a dry throat.

"How about we do it upstairs, this time?"

He'd never made it upstairs so fast.

Xander opening his shirts was old hat by now, but not this time. Giles' skin crackled as the air reached him, and it didn't seem to be an accident that Xander's fingers brushed his nipples as he pushed it off and followed it down Giles' arms, to lift it over the bandages. Xander's palms dragged down his chest, over his stomach, to his hips, as Xander slid to his knees at Giles' feet. It was no accident at all, that Xander's hands rested against his erection as he twisted the button and slowly lowered Giles' zip.

This time, Xander hooked his fingers into the waistband of his trousers and his shorts, pulled the lot down to his knees. This time, Xander was gazing openly at Giles' cock, mouth inches away and open like an invitation. Giles couldn't breathe.

"Kick these off," Xander said, touching Giles' hip to balance him - or perhaps just to arouse him more - as Giles kicked his pants into the corner. Naked, except for the bandages, and hard as hell, and Xander was still fully dressed. "Gonna tell me you don't want me?"

"No."

Xander slid a hand down his cock and Giles gasped, hips bucking forward into the touch.

"Gonna tell me you don't need me to help with this?"

"No," Giles rasped.

"All right, then." This wasn't like the shaving or the hand cream at all, not the least bit gentle or tentative. Xander's hands were firm and sure as they squeezed Giles' cock, thumb dragging up the soft skin beneath the head. Giles wasn't about to deny him anything. And certainly not when he smiled like that, up through long dark lashes. "Gonna call me Daddy?"

A laugh burst out of him. "Absolutely not." Yes, he could deny him that.

Xander grinned. "Maybe later." He stood and pushed Giles back onto the bed, pulling his own shirt over his head, sending his jeans to the floor, and yes, he was well and truly a man, cock deliciously fat and tall, and that trail of hair from his navel grew thick around his cock and down his balls. Giles wanted to touch him, desperately, reached until Xander caught his useless hands. "Nuh-uh." He pushed them over behind Giles' head, and Giles submitted, boneless.

Those wonderful hands slid down Giles' chest to his hips. "I could barely sleep for thinking about this," Xander said, dipping his eyes to Giles' erection. "Lying down there on the couch, cock in my fist, wondering how you were doing, without hands. Used to think about coming up and offering to lend you a hand."

"I could use one now." He was perfectly willing to beg.

That hand was heaven. Strong and sure.

Perhaps Giles ought to have considered reciprocating but if Xander had been curled up on Giles' couch, cock in hand every night, while Giles' pushed helplessly against the mattress above him, then to hell with it, it was his turn.

And dear god, so much better to just feel this, let his hips push up so they could be pushed back down. The only way to make it better was to hook his hand around Xander's neck and pull, see the flash of grin before Xander took his mouth.