Exaggeration and Blank Verse
Battlestar Galactica
Horatio Hornblower
Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series

It's just the two of us here.

The days move in an orderly pattern- whatever time I wake up, he's been up for two hours already, and there's tea and toast waiting in the kitchen. We say good morning, and I head to the library while he goes out to walk. He walks for miles, in the morning, and miles more through the halls at night.

Lunch is more tea and sandwiches. In the afternoons, the library is his. I go to town if we need things, or wander the fields if we don't, or fix all the broken things left behind in the workshed. Not because we need them, but because they're there.

Occasionally, over dinner, we'll talk about what we read that day. Every Monday I'll tell him what Buffy and Willow and Dawn said in their afternoon phone call. But usually we're quiet.

We never talk about his breakdown, or walking after midnight, or how long we're going to stay here. We don't need to.

It's just the two of us, after all, and we've got plenty of time.
The last Council safehouse in North America was in Saskatchewan, standing alone in the middle of wheat fields that stretched halfway to forever, about an hour outside a dying prairie town. We brought our busload of baby Slayers here to rest until we figured out what to do.

He said that the house had been built for Watchers whose Slayers had died. It was a place for reflection and healing. We all needed a little bit of that.

The Slayers healed faster than the rest of us, of course, in mind as well as in body. Which was only right; they were superheroes now, after all. Buffy was free of her Chosen One burden for the first time in ages. Of course they saw the future as a sunshiney day.

Or maybe it was a girl thing, because Willow and Dawn were into the upbeat action too. They wired their laptops to Andrew's and hacked into the old Watcher's Council accounts. In a day and a half they had money, a house outside London, the names of every Council-trained person still alive, and plane tickets out of the country. All of the girls- and Andrew- were ready to move forward.

Which was when we noticed that Giles was standing still.

After three days of trying to get him to open his bedroom door, Buffy kicked it down. A week and a half of silence and dodginess and only eating what was left on his bedside table. Another four days before he'd talk to anyone but me or Willow. And by the time the rest of them took off for England, he still hadn't spoken to Buffy at all.

I think I volunteered to be the one to stay behind, but really there wasn't anyone else to choose. Andrew couldn't be the only functional one in a situation. Andrew could barely decide whether to have milk or orange juice with his breakfast cereal. Willow had a girlfriend and too much power to waste in the wheat fields of Canada. Buffy had earned her vacation.

I didn't have anything to look forward to or anywhere to go. And I've never dreamed of seeing England. So I stayed.
Fall has come and gone. The wheat fields are cut, harvested and sent off to feed the world. This opens up even more endless blue sky for our viewing pleasure. It opens up even more miles of fields to walk through.

It gets colder and I buy hats, gloves, jackets, boots on my trips to town. If he insists on walking eight or ten miles a day, which is my best estimate, he'd better be dressed for it. I've given up afternoon walking in favor of the workshed. Lots of broken stuff there. Plenty to do. Nobody can hear any cussing or crying over the whine of a band saw.

I guess nobody can hear any cussing or crying across forty acres of wheat stubble, either.

Because this house was for Watchers in mourning, not on duty, the library is significantly light on texts and tomes. There's a complete set of the James Bond novels, which I've been meandering through since we got here. Judging by which dust has been disturbed, Giles has gone back to Shakespeare. On some unspoken and completely unnecessary pact, the books never leave the library. The bedrooms are for thinking, and sleeping. Well, at least mine is. As near as I can tell, he doesn't sleep, just walks. Whatever time the clock says when I wake up, I can hear footsteps in the hallways. Up and down and around in an endless circle, never varying or pausing or taking a rest, all night long.
Deeper into the winter. Buffy and Dawn only call every other week or so now, but Willow never misses a Monday. I've gotten him to speak to her once or twice now, when she has a question about magic. He'll discuss Watcher business with Andrew. And I think I'm very close to getting him to chat with Dawn. But every time Buffy's name comes up, he flinches.

I don't really understand it, and I'd love nothing more than to nag, because this is hurting her more than anyone but Will and I can see. He has to know that, on some level. He knows her almost as well as we do. He must know how cruel this is.

But he doesn't seem to care enough to pick up the phone.
A frigid night in January and a call from Angel, routed through by some well-meaning fool at the New Council who folds under the pressure of the Broody One's yelling.

He handles it well, better than I expected. Agrees to send his "best man" to deal with the situation, whatever that situation is. Spends twenty minutes on the phone with Andrew detailing the exact cover stories he's to use, with an emphasis on the level of contempt necessary to keep Angel from bothering us again. I don't know why that's so important to him, but it's music to my ears.

He looks different after the phone's hung up and the house is quiet again. There's a flush to his cheeks, his eyes are brighter, he cleans his glasses with a hint of the old flair. It's almost like having Giles back again.

But it's late and this house doesn't have a TV, so I go up to bed.
Sleep doesn't seem interested in dropping by tonight, though. And lying there listening to the footsteps in their cycle, staring at the ceiling, my mind goes back. Maybe it's hearing from Angel, I don't know, but I start thinking about Sunnydale.

Of course I've thought of my hometown over the past months; it's the reason we're here, after all. But I've kept it to shreds and flashes, casual references, superficial memories. Lying here in the dark, all that floats away, and other things start to rise from the depths. Or maybe I'm sinking down to meet them, the heavier things.

The footsteps lose their rhythm, and pause. Right outside my door. There's a long moment of silence, with me holding my breath, before the long slow creek of old hinges.

"Xander?" he says uncertainly, looking at me across the empty space. "Were you crying?"

"No," I say immediately, petulantly, even though the evidence is all over my face and in my choked-up voice. "Yeah, I guess, maybe."

He takes a few slow, hesitant steps over to the chair in the far corner and sits down awkwardly. "What were you thinking about?"

Talking about feelings is the one thing we've both been trying to avoid, all these months. We've tried so hard we barely speak at all. But here it is. And somehow, for the first time in my life, I don't have a deflecting quip or a handy lie. "Anya. Joyce's grave. Miss Calendar's grave. Jesse's. The high school. The Bronze." The words come faster, and I tick them off on my fingers as I speak, leaning forward in the dark so he can see me. "Your place. Buffy's house. My apartment. All the houses I helped build. All the houses Buffy helped destroy." I let my hands sink back down into my lap and stare at the pattern of the sheets twisted over my legs. "The house I grew up in."

"So Sunnydale in general," he says dryly, and if it weren't after midnight I might feel relieved at the return of his wit.

"I hated that house," I say quietly, lacing my fingers together and watching how perfectly they fit. "I couldn't wait to leave it. But I miss it now, you know? Now that it's gone."

He doesn't say anything else, and after a few minutes I lay back down again, bury my face in the pillow, and eventually fall asleep.

When morning comes, he's still there, sitting in the chair facing me. It's the first time since we came here that I've actually seen him sleeping. His face has a certain air of peace.
It becomes a little ritual, a sacrament of the early hours.

He'll appear at my door, lost and alone, and we'll talk about Sunnydale. In the daylight, we still hold back to the news from Europe and our adventures in literacy. The Hellmouth can only be mentioned in the dark.

It's an ancient desire, primal and achingly simple, the one that sends a heartsick child to his parents' bedside in the dark. I learned early on not to give in to it, and I somehow think that he did too. I guess certain things won't be suppressed forever. The nightmares of our childhood didn't get whispered out and soothed with a kiss in the dark, so the demons of our adulthood demand it.

It's the frozen heart of February, and the gallant efforts of the furnace can't heat this rickety old barn. The third or fourth night of our shared memorial, I tell him that he doesn't have to sleep in the chair; he can come lay down and share my blankets. He doesn't argue, just slips in and lies very still next to me.

That soothes another ancient aching hurt, the one that doesn't want to be alone in the dark.
Days and weeks of sleeping side by side, trading memories of a certain coffee shop, the way the afternoon light hit the grass in the park, the various and sundry times we rebuilt the Magic Box. Sometimes quiet laughter, sometimes tears, always the steady comfort of another body, the reassurance of life.

He sometimes answers the phone when Willow calls. He speaks to Dawn regularly. His biting corrections must be making Andrew's ears burn all the way across Canada and the Atlantic. But he still won't talk to Buffy, and he still won't tell anyone why.

"I think he's getting better," I tell her one afternoon, when her call comes earlier than usual and he's still busy making lunch in the kitchen. "I really do, Buff. I'm sure he'll be ready to talk about…whatever the problem is, soon."

"I hope so," she says, and she still sounds just as wounded as the first day she reached out to him and he turned and walked away. "I don't understand."

Neither do I.
It's a ridiculous, slow, gradual thing, from chuckling over stories to squeezing hands under the blankets, to waking up pressed against each other, to awkward and fumbling kisses and caresses in the dark. It's another thing we don't talk about in daylight, and one more thing I'm not really ready to think out. Something else to tell the band saw.

But one morning he absently kisses my forehead as we rinse the breakfast dishes, and asks if I'm expecting a call from Buffy that day.

"Perhaps she could come and visit," he says, staring out the window over the muddy fields. "I'd like to see her. I'd…I'd like to talk to her."

I wonder why my stomach clenches so badly as I say of course and put the plates away.
The night before she's supposed to arrive the phone rings and again it's Angel, frantic and shouting and making demands that I can hear from across the room.

Giles plays it cool, deflects his questions, hangs up at his first chance. When I ask him what's rotten in Los Angeles this time, he shrugs and says it never really came clear. He just doesn't feel like dealing with Angel's problems at this point. He's got other things on his mind.

He doesn't come to my room that night, and I hear restless footsteps until morning.
She's here, she's gorgeous, and after many hugs all around they go out to the garden. I'm disappointed that she didn't bring Willow or Dawn. The balance of the house has been upset, and it's strange to know that there's a conversation I can't hear.

I watch them from the library window, hiding back behind the curtain. They're sitting on a bench, close but not quite touching, and he's talking the way he used to, slowly and clearly with gentle flicks of emphasis with his hands. I can just see her face in profile. At first she's crying, but then she begins to smile. He opens his arms to her, and they hug in the late afternoon sunlight, and I let the curtain fall back over the glass. There's an ache in my stomach and a lump in my throat that I can't quite name and don't want to try.

I grab my jacket and run for the workshop as they walk toward the house hand in hand. I lock the door behind me and turn the band saw on high. No one can hear anything over that.
He's standing in my bedroom doorway, looking at me with puzzlement because I'm not in bed. I'm sitting in the armchair, staring at the sheets I didn't bother to smooth and tuck away that morning, not looking at him.

"Buffy's going back in the morning," he says carefully, trying to read my face. I tuck my chin a little deeper and keep my eyes obstinately on the sheets, knowing it's childish but not giving a damn. This was the advice from the band saw. "She could only get two days away from her job."

Curating at an art gallery, just like Joyce. Joyce who Giles had loved, in his fashion. "I guess you're going with her?"

"What on earth makes you think that?" He leans against the doorframe, open surprise on his face now.

I shrug, drawing my knees up close to my chest and wrapping my arms around them. "You've fixed whatever was wrong between you. You love her. You've always loved her. Why wouldn't you go with her?"

"God, you really are an idiot, aren't you." Even with the weary affection in his voice and so many years of hearing it, that still stings. "Is that why you've been sulking? Think I'm going to run off to Rome and leave you here?"

"Why wouldn't you?" I ask pointedly, glaring at him over my knees. "You spent your whole life training to be with her, to help her. You only got stuck with me because you were kind of crazy and I'm kind of useless."

He sighs and walks over to sit on the bed, dipping his chin and looking at me over the rim of his glasses. "Xander. I do love Buffy. I always will. I always have. From the day my father told me I was to be a Watcher, I thought about the girl I'd guide. Over the years, of course I fell in love with her. And Buffy was so much more than I ever thought she'd be…" He trails off, staring at the fall of moonlight through the bedroom window, then looks back over at me. "But because she was more, I wasn't enough, do you see? I failed her. Over and over again, I failed her." He shrugs, a weary and graceful gesture, and tugs his glasses off to rub at his eyes. "I ran from that, for a long time, until we got here and we all stopped running. Then it caught up to me. That was the source of my…difficulty."

"But now you're better," I say, exercising my constitutional right to point out the blindingly obvious, "and how is any of this supposed to convince me you don't want to leave with her?"

"Because it isn't that kind of love," he says simply. "It's friendship, and pride in knowing an amazing person, and admiration for all she's done and all she is. It's cherishing the fact that she's forgiven me for all my follies and imperfections, and that she cares enough about me to want my forgiveness in return, although I believe there's nothing to forgive." He leans forward, staring into my eyes, and holds out his hand. "But it isn't that kind of love, Xander."

"But this is." I wave at the bed, the tiny room, the creaking house. "This is what you want to stay for? We don't even talk to each other."

"I thought it was rather amazing that we didn't have to," he says quietly.

"I don't even know what this is," I say, but I can hear the whine in my own voice now and know that I'm being ridiculous.

"I'd like to figure it out." His hand hasn't wavered. "Because I know that it's something good."

Slowly, I reach out and press my palm against his. He gently draws me out of the chair and over toward him. "Yeah. Okay."

He pulls me down into a kiss, and I hear the early spring wind outside sighing over the still-sleeping wheat fields. Soon they would be rising into acres of baby green, starting their long journey to feeding the world. Life was coming up again, after its winter of rest and healing. Never the same life twice, but still vital and strong and worth living. I only have to be hit over the head with a metaphor two or three times before I get it.

"Oh geez," I said, breaking off the kiss. "Willow's going to take all the credit for this, you realize that?"

He just laughs out loud and kisses me again.

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