Giles refused to let go until they were near the entrance of the basement door.  Not in it, precisely, as that involved finding the keys buried somewhere in Xander’s pants, but close enough that he could gratefully lean on it.  Xander wasn’t a young boy anymore, and had the physique to prove it.  “Xander?  Xander, we’re here.”  The boy opened groggy eyes to stare at him blankly, only groping through his pockets when Giles mentioned it.

He carefully did not repeat his earlier offer again.  Xander had made it quite clear that he was not going to stay with Giles, despite his battered condition and the possible need for serious medical attention.  Giles hadn’t even mentioned a trip to the hospital, knowing that it would be more than just rebuffed.  So instead, they were standing in Xander’s backyard, the boy barely conscious as he fumbled for his keys.

“Give them here,” Giles instructed when Xander trembled too much to juggle the key ring.  “Xander, I appreciate your manly and grown up effort to take care of your own problems, but you are seriously injured, and I’m only trying to help.  Why you took on that demon when we expressly told you not to—”

That was the wrong thing to say, Giles could see that in the sullen twist of Xander’s mouth.  He sighed, wishing he had hands enough to clean his glasses.  Xander’s move to distract the demon had gotten him knocked around and thrown into a wall, resulting in at best several bruised ribs, a swollen lip, and a concussion—but it had also distracted the demon long enough for Buffy to regain her balance and finish it off.  Xander was very good at that kind of distraction, something they all knew—or at least, he knew—but hated, as it usually got Xander very hurt in the process.

“’M fine,” Xander mumbled, the brief flare of anger giving him enough energy to speak.

“Hardly,” Giles answered briskly.  “You’re barely standing upright.  You probably have a concussion, which means someone is going to need to wake you every hour, and your ribs need to be taped.”

A loud crash from inside the house distracted Giles from finishing his list, both of them looking up in time to see the figure of Mrs. Harris in the window, quickly replaced by an obviously drunken Mr. Harris, yanking down the blinds.

“And you are not going back in that house, Xander.”  Not waiting for the argument that wasn’t coming—all the fight seemed to have left at the appearance of his parents—Giles dragged him over to the small copse of trees at the edge of the backyard, allowing Xander to half-collapse onto the ground there.  “Give me your keys.  You haven’t moved your first aid supplies since the last time, have you?”

Handing over the keys with a tiny shake of his head, Xander’s eyes were already closed.  Giles quietly cursed, hurrying into the house to get what he needed.  Well, everything but the doctor and the high priced equipment doctors had, since not even Xander’s unfortunately impressive first-aid kit had those things.  He ignored the sounds above his head as he searched, having long practice in denying the existence of the two figures responsible for Xander’s being.  If he didn’t, then he’d have to get involved—something Xander adamantly did not want and would never forgive him for, if he did.  So until Mr. Harris decided that his son was a fair target, Giles bit his lip and thought dark thoughts.

Xander was unconscious when Giles returned, but he didn’t have the sickly pallor that meant they had to go to the hospital, and the slow, even breaths were more that of sleep than true unconsciousness.  Well, then.  Giles would let him rest for a bit and then wake him up, just to be certain.  Meanwhile, he could start doctoring the boy’s various scarps and injuries.

The bump on the back of his head wasn’t that bad, Giles discovered, not close to any of the more dangerous areas, nor even swelling that much.  His ribs were also thankfully not broken, or even that badly bruised, and the cuts were secured with simple butterfly plasters.

Giles gazed at Xander, naked from the waist up, his torso wrapped securely in beige bandages with white plasters dotting his skin.  None of the injuries were as severe as he’d thought, something Xander had repeatedly told him.  But the boy had been acting more seriously injured, favoring his left leg and grey with blood loss.

Or, Giles explained to himself, exhaustion.  Thinking back over the last few days, Giles couldn’t remember when he hadn’t seen the boy looking like he’d gone a few rounds with something large and nasty.  Which he most definitely had not been, since Willow had refused to let him go anywhere near the cemeteries or Buffy’s newer grounds on campus.

So either he’d been hunting on his own, something Giles sincerely hoped was not happening, or the hunt for a job had taken Xander to less. . . concerned employers.  Probably more than likely, since he knew Xander had started a new job a little over two weeks ago, something to do with. . . meat packing?  That would certainly explain the exhaustion, and maybe even the bruises as well.  He didn’t know much about the industry except for the occasional NPR article, but he knew enough about human nature to understand employees would often be treated like the carcasses they packed.

Checking his watch, Giles allowed another ten minutes to tick past before kneeling and carefully shaking Xander.  The boy immediately popped awake, looking around wildly before focusing on Giles.  “Huh?  Wazza?”

“You may have a concussion.  I’m going to wake you up every hour.”

Xander blinked stupidly, eyes roving over the trees that surrounded them.  Pines, oddly enough.  Giles wondered how they grew in Southern California.  “We’re outside?”

“Yes.  I. . . thought the fresh air might do you good.”

It always startled him when Xander’s laughing, expressive eyes lost the goofiness and foolishness, suddenly sharp and clear and calculating.  It shouldn’t have, since Giles knew that intelligence didn’t always mean dusty books or lecture halls.   Mostly, though, it made him sad; he shouldn’t be fooled by Xander’s mask, yet whenever it came down, he always was.

“Giles, I can take care of myself.”  It would have been more reassuring if it hadn’t taken Xander three tries to say ‘Giles’ and the rest of the words were slightly slurred.  “Go home.”

“Yes, I know you can.  However, I fancy a night under the stars, myself.  It’s warm out and I brought blankets.  It shall be quite cozy.”

Xander closed his eyes, his body remaining tense and unwelcoming.  “Giles.  I’m okay.”

“I believe I said I know that you are.  Or at least, you will be by the next morning, when I’m certain you aren’t concussed.”  The ground was hard and cold underneath him, but Giles made himself believe it was comfortable.  Certainly it was more comfortable than many of the places he’d slept before this, and he wasn’t so old that a night out would make his bones ache.  There was that risk, of course; he wasn’t twenty any longer.  But it was worth it as Xander gradually stopped pretending to be in control and slumped back against the tree he’d chosen.

Giles let himself sleep for an hour or so, grateful that he still retained the ability to wake up whenever he wanted to.  Xander woke up only when Giles slapped his cheek lightly, expression almost accusing as he glared upward.  “’M awake,” he mumbled, eyes sliding back down before the word finished.

He looked so pretty like that, something that also caught Giles off-guard every time he thought it.  Xander would not appreciate being thought of that way, and Giles didn’t particularly care to think it—but it was true.  His eyes were liquid bright in the moonlight, youthful and aged the way not even Buffy’s had truly become, chased through with ever-present laughter.  Needy, yes, but self-aware and quiet despite the hyperactivity that usually characterized Xander’s behavior.

Giles realized he’d been staring intently into Xander’s face for several moments, and that Xander was looking back at him oddly.  “Yes, well,” he said hurriedly, pulling away.  “Good.”

“Giles?  Are you okay?”

Forcing a quiet laugh, Giles resettled himself against his chosen tree.  “Of course.  Rest a while longer.”  He closed his eyes, intending to take his own advice.  He was tired, and he did need to get at least some rest if he were to wake Xander up in another hour or so.  And—

—a warm shoulder pressed against his side, Xander’s head dropping into the crook of his shoulder and neck.  Giles held his breath, waiting for Xander to realize where he was and move away.  Waiting for his own body to gently push Xander away from him, with or without a lightly reproving comment.  Instead, his arm slipped around Xander’s waist, tugging so the boy was settled more comfortably.

Giles knew that there were several lines he must never cross when it came to Buffy and her friends.  No matter how tempting it might be, there were certain things he could not ever do—Buffy’s comments about Olivia being just one of the reasons why.  But Xander was warm and comforting against his body, the smell of bandages and disinfectant mild compared to the more familiar scent of slumbering boy.  It was so very tempting to just reach over and trace a simple pattern on the skin right above the bandages, bruise free and washed out by the shadowed moon.  And his eyes could not help but wander downward—only briefly, just to check.  That was all he would allow himself, that one touch and that one glance, knowing that if he were to go further. . .  He valued Xander’s friendship too much to risk doing this.  That was the most important reason, he reminded himself.

“Can’t sleep.”  The words were clear, not a hint of slurring, and quiet, breath gusting against his neck.  “You woke me up too soon.”

“You rested an hour.”  When had his voice gone so soft and hesitant?  This was wrong.  This was entirely wrong, and an abuse of trust at best.

“But I can’t sleep now.  And I don’t have a concussion.”

The slight hint of a whine made Giles feel less like a man and more like a father.  Thank god.  “Something you’re eminently qualified to determine, of course.  Your degree in medicine is from which school again?”

Xander’s chuckle undid the paternal feelings instantly.  “The Slayer’s School of Hard Knocks, graduated top of my class,” he quipped, pushing further into Giles’ body.  “And if you’re going to wake me up, you can at least help me fall asleep again.”

Giles eyes immediately dropped down to Xander’s crotch, tracing the outline bunched jeans made very clear.  No.  He was not.

“Giles?  C’mon, tell me a story.”

The realization of what Xander actually wanted made him cough in surprise, Xander moving away obligingly and holding his shoulders with that immediate, tactile instinct Xander always displayed with his friends.  Xander caught and held and touched and tickled, all without really realizing he was doing so, too busy supporting and reassuring his friends to determine how he did it.  But Giles noticed.  Giles always noticed and called himself a fool each time.

“You okay?”

“Of course.  And don’t think I’m going to forget your implication that I put you to sleep.”

Xander grinned and melted against his side again, one hand resting comfortably on his belly.  Giles tried very hard not to breathe deeply.  “Nope,” Xander’s voice buzzed into his ear.  “You don’t put me to sleep.  Lectures about demons and where they come from, put me to sleep.”

“That’s clearly not at all insulting, Xander.”  The hand on his belly rubbed in lazy circles, occasionally dipping lower without going too low.  “But, fine.  I’ll tell you a story.  I suppose I could tell you the tale of Dracula—the real tale, not the concoctions Hollywood has come up with.  Or were you looking for more information on demons?”

The flippant tone was another step too far, although this was a less obvious blunder, since Xander usually bounced right off his quips and lobbed a few back in return.  This time, though, Giles could feel the disapproval and that bone-deep weariness robbing the moment of any amusement.  “Giles.  Stop it.”

He immediately located every centimeter of his body, certain that wayward limbs had moved where they were not supposed to—a leg shift too high, perhaps, or maybe his hand dipping too low to run along the rim of Xander’s jeans—but he found nothing out of place.  “I thought you wanted a story?” he tried.

“I’m not stupid.”  Low and aching and god, how had this innocent little boy become so old without Giles noticing it?  Or was this something older, something that Xander had successfully hidden all these years, only now coming out when his defenses were lowered with pain and exhaustion?  Whichever it was, it made Giles’ stomach twist and his hands glide over bandaged skin.

“No, Xander,” he told the boy in his arms.  “You aren’t stupid.”

“Then why won’t you?”  The choked-back sob was due more to stress, Giles was sure, but it made his stomach tighten further.  He couldn’t be asking what Giles thought he was.  He couldn’t be. . .  “Please?”

The hand on his belly slid downward to rest just above the area it clearly wanted to be.  Giles stared at it, unable to see more than just a bare outline in the moonlight, and listened to Xander’s uneven breathing.  “I didn’t know,” he said eventually.

“Didn’t want you to.”

But it was late, tonight, and the boy was hurt and tired and sleeping outside because he was too stubborn to stay the night with a friend, and too smart to sleep inside.  And Giles could do this for him, ensure he got the rest he so desperately needed.  And by doing so, Giles could open himself up to a world of difficulties neither of them needed.  He knew that Xander wasn’t seeing anyone and had no prospects or crushes to pursue.  He, himself, had long ago given up the idea of a constant partner in his life.  But this. . .this could change all that.

Giles pushed himself up slightly, taking in Xander’s tense, self-loathing expression, the way his free hand knotted into a fist, nails digging into the flesh of his palm.  Yes, he could offer both of them the hope they didn’t want or need.  Or maybe he could give a young man he respected and cared for a chance for dreamless, restful sleep.

The silence stretched and Xander tried to shift onto his other hip, turning his back to Giles.  He was unsuccessful, which made him even more upset.  “I’m sorry.”

“For wanting?  Or for asking?”

That got Xander to look at him.  “Asking.”

Nodding, Giles sat back against the tree, encouraging Xander to take up his prior position as well.  “I’m going to have to wake you in another hour, you know.  Nothing is going to change that.”

Xander bit back a laugh, acrid and brittle among the cicadas.  “Wouldn’t want you to.”

“Good.  Just so we’re clear.”  Reassurances asked for and given, Giles allowed his hands to slid down Xander’s hips, feeling surprisingly dense muscles under his fingers.  Xander didn’t move as his fly was opened, Giles hand burrowing expertly into the V of his jeans.  He just sat there, curled against Giles’ side, eyes closed and waiting.

Giles slowly drew the young man’s cock out into the open, grateful that Xander wasn’t wide enough to make this awkward.  The shaft was already hard, damp from desire and need.  He drew his fingers along the tip, soaking them in the wet he found there, enjoying Xander’s one gasp before forcing his breathing even again.  Must be wary of the ribs, then, since they had to be quite sore.  This wasn’t going to be drawn out, anyway.

With that firmly in mind, Giles allowed his fingers drag down the shaft, curling into a fist only when he was sure the entire area was as close to slick as he could make it, without lubricant.  For the first time in years, he wondered what had happened to the old, battered tube he used to carry around with him.  Probably lost with the leather jacket, which meant somewhere in the depths of London—long gone, now.

Xander wouldn’t let himself gasp or buck under Giles’ ministrations, but the whole-body shivering told him just how much the young man wanted to.  Giles sped up, not wanting to let this linger for too long.  This wasn’t about him enjoying the feel of a young man he respected and admired and yes, in his weaker moments, lusted after.  This was about giving that same young man something he obviously needed—at least, the half-moaned words seemed to indicate that well enough.

Giles moved his hand faster, twisting so that he could fondle and tug the bollocks hanging temptingly below.  He refused to look at his hands’ manipulations, concentrating on the grey-green patterns of pine-needles and earth just beyond them.  It kept a small measure of distance as he started tugging harder, responding to the swallowed cries Xander made each time.  He could hear the roar of Xander’s heartbeat and briefly wondered if vampires would find them this way, but dismissed it as of no concern, since the house wasn’t that far away.

It was hard to think of anything when there was a hard cock in one hand, a pair of bollocks in the other, that hand twisted so that the forefinger could reach down in a maneuver Ethan had always enjoyed, stimulating three separate areas all at once.  It worked this time as well, Xander grabbing his ribs while he arched and gasped and came all over Giles’ hand.

Using Xander’s ruined t-shirt to clean them up, Giles pushed Xander’s questing hand away, tucking them both out of the way while he redid zipper and buttons.  Then he carefully repositioned Xander so that they were both comfortable, noting with pleasure that Xander didn’t try for him again.  Good.  “One hour, Xander, and I will wake you up.  And every hour after that until morning, at which point we are returning to my house for a few hours of real rest.”

Giles waited for a response, smiling when he realized Xander was already asleep.