The blow was hard enough
to snatch at his breath but he’d had worse.
The pain spreading out from the point of contact until his ribs ached
in a dull, insistent throb, was, well, painful, but again, pain wasn’t
new in his life. He couldn’t really say what it was that brought him,
metaphorically, to his knees, but he knew the physical discomfort was
the least of it.
Shock maybe. Giles had brought the quarterstaff whistling through the air, attacking on his blind side, slamming the thick, solid wood against his ribs with no attempt to hold back.
And he hadn’t seen it coming.
The thud of it, the sound it made as it hit, froze him in place. His own staff fell from his hand and he doubled up, hands scrabbling to touch the injured flesh, mouth wide open in a silent scream, like a baby gathering in air for a shriek of outrage, the uncanny silence the first sign of trouble.
So, it might have been surprise. Because really, he hadn’t thought Giles would do that; attack on his weak side, in that slice of space that Xander saw as blackness no matter what lay within it. That wasn’t fair. That was cheating. Giles wouldn’t do that. Not to him, not to Xander, not to the man he’d watched grow, grieved with, laughed with, played and fought with. No way.
“Pick it up, Xander. You’re not badly hurt.”
“Excuse me?” Anger was a salve better than anything the chemist could sell you and Xander felt as if it coated him, thick and slick. “You just caved in my ribs there, Giles! This is supposed to be –”
Giles didn’t drop his guard, green eyes watching, always watching. “It’s an assessment, Xander. You have to have it. I can’t play favourites. Before you go back out into the field –”
“Not Africa. Not going there again.”
Giles’ eyes flickered. “I wouldn’t ask that of you.” It was a lie and they both knew it. Truth be told, in the time before Xander had woken up in the dusty, stinking alleyway, bleeding from more places than he’d had dates with women, he’d more or less finished what he’d gone there to do. That he’d come so close to dying with his return ticket in his pocket was bad luck, no more. And if Giles thought there was still more he could do out there, Xander would go back. Eventually.
“I’m ready to go back to work though, Giles. The healer says so; I’ve been training; point me and step out of my way.”
Giles spun the staff, making it look easy, and Xander sneered. “Cordy used to do that twice as fast.”
“Really?” Giles sounded mildly interested, no more, but the jab aimed at Xander’s stomach had enough force behind it to wind him, if he hadn’t stumbled back just in time.
“I’m not armed, Giles.”
“Perhaps that will teach you never to drop your weapon until your opponent is defeated.”
“’Cheated’?” Giles tossed the staff away, sending it skidding across the floor and slamming into the mirrored wall. “Now we’re equal, Xander. You’re younger, stronger – and I’m still going to win. Tell me why?”
“Don’t have to be a brain like Willow to answer that one, Giles. You’ve got two eyes. I’ve got one.”
Giles nodded, his head moving fast. “Right. Of course. Foolish of me not to notice. Silly of me to think that you’d have stopped whining about it by now.”
“Just a fucking minute –”
“Shut up. You’ve been trained, Xander. Trained to compensate. Trained to adjust. My hand vanished from sight; doesn’t mean you couldn’t track it. Doesn’t mean you couldn’t have heard the sound that staff made. Buffy can do it blindfold –”
“I’m not the Slayer. I’m not special. I’m not one of Willow’s Chosen.” Couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice so he didn’t bother trying. That was getting to be a habit.
“- and so can you.” Giles waited and then added gently, “Given the desire.”
Xander shook his head. “You’re insane, Giles. I’m blind in one eye and you want me to take away what little sight I have? Where did you come up with that idea? Tell me Andrew didn’t rope you into a Star Wars marathon or something? Forget it.”
Giles sighed. “For that alone, I should just leave you on the sick list another month.”
“Then I’d die of boredom.”
“No. But if your behaviour the last few weeks continues, I think most of the medical staff will resign.”
Xander shrugged. “I want to go back out again.”
“No, you don’t. You’re scared, Xander. Scared stiff. Literally; you fought as if you’d forgotten how to move, how to flow. Rigid and unbending –”
Giles bent and picked up the staff. “Watch what happens to something like that.” Giles brought the staff down over his knee and winced. “Ow.”
Any amusement Xander felt was lost in automatic concern as Giles went down on one knee, face twisted with pain. He crouched down, reaching out to him to support him. “Giles! Are you – ”
The staff Giles had never let go of twisted and bucked in his hand as if it was alive and Xander fell back, jabbed and stabbed in three different places.
“Did I say we’d finished?” Giles’ voice sounded curious, as if he really wanted an answer but Xander wasn’t giving him one and it wasn’t just because the breath had left his body with the final thrust into his stomach and he was sucking it back into him in noisy, desperate gulps, good eye watering and closed tightly.
Over the sounds he was making, he heard Giles sigh and felt a cool hand rest briefly against his cheek. “I’m taking you off field work, Xander. Even if you scrape through the assessment, you’re not – your heart’s not in it for some reason. And there’s work to be done here. I could use someone I can trust, someone who knows what’s needed without it all having to be explained. No need to decide now. Take your time, think about it.”
Xander stared up at Giles, blinking away the moisture, suspicion growing. “You couldn’t have said that before you reduced me to a mass of bruises and made me listen to you trying to be deep and meaningful?”
“You couldn’t have handed me your application for Andrew’s job in person and told me why you wanted to stay in London all of a sudden?”
Xander bit his lip. He didn’t think that it would have worked its way up to Giles’ in tray that fast. “No.”
He sounded puzzled and a little hurt, but Xander wasn’t falling for it twice. “Prefer not to have you give me that patient look while you wait for me to realise I’m making a fool of myself.”
“Do I do that?”
“All the time.” Xander risked a glance. Giles’ face had closed down and his eyes were clouded. “Sometimes. Not recently.”
Giles stretched out beside him, propped up on one elbow. “Very well. The assessment is officially over and the job interview is now in progress. Tell me what you have to offer as my second in command, my right hand. Andrew left things in a little bit of a mess, enthusiastic though he was; do you think you’re up to sorting it all out?”
“You want to do it here? Not go up to your office?”
Giles shrugged. “Good a place as any.”
Xander took a deep breath and reached out, grabbing Giles’ hand and bringing it down against his body where his cock lay heavy and full. “It’s not going to be appearing on any job application form, but it’s why I want the job, Giles. I want you. Want to work with you, be near you. Simple as that.” He let go of Giles’ wrist and waited, expecting the hand to be snatched back, for Giles to stammer out some flustered words and – well, he hadn’t thought much past that point. Instead, the hand stayed against him, curved against his hardness, holding it firmly.
“That’s not going to get you the job, Xander.” Giles dipped his head and Xander found out how Giles kissed, after wondering about it for years. Gentle and assured, slowly getting to know how Xander felt and tasted – that was what he’d imagined. Maybe Giles could kiss like that but right then he was doing it so hard their teeth grated and his hand had tightened –
He’d made Giles lose his cool. That was all Xander needed to know to stop feeling awkward. He pulled his mouth free, panting. “It won’t?”
Giles’ eyes were bright with arousal now, not angry or hurt. “No. You’re on a short list of three but I –”
“Not asking you to give me special treatment because I’ve been thinking about how you’d feel in my mouth, Giles. Or because I’ve been jerking off thinking about you for months now.”
“You’re not?” Giles slid his hand inside Xander’s sweat pants and Xander saw his mouth tighten with pleasure as he discovered Xander was naked underneath them. Xander lifted his hips enough to wriggle out of them a little way and glanced down just as Giles’ hand moved into place without hesitation.
“No. Though if one of the people on your list is Johnson, got to tell you, he’s a 9 to 5 man. No chance he’ll stay behind late, when the office is deserted and bend over your desk, ass up and waiting.”
“Well, if that’s really the case, perhaps I should reconsider. Dedication is important in this line of work.”
Giles ran his thumb over the head of Xander’s cock and watched it jump and Xander watched Giles and moaned.
“Did you say something? Being articulate is an important quality too, and your remaining rival, is very gifted at oral presentations. I’ve seen Simpson hold a room of Kraythor demons spellbound.”
“Think they’d all committed ritual suicide rather than listen to him explain another flow chart, Giles. And if you roll over, I’ll show you what orally gifted really means...”
Giles grinned and pulled Xander to him, kissing him exactly as Xander had imagined this time. “Show me later. At home. I’m too old to be rolling around on a wooden floor.”
“Later? Why can’t we go to your place now? And no, you’re not.”
Giles stood up in one smooth movement and folded his arms. “If you’re serious about the job, there’s a six page written exam. And I don’t mark it so there’s no point in offering me any interesting inducements. More’s the pity.”
“Who does mark it?”
Giles smiled. “Someone you can’t seduce into turning a –” His voice faltered and then he continued, “ – a blind eye to your spelling mistakes.”
“Tell me you don’t mean that old bat you brought out of retirement? The one who scared Quentin to death?”
“Delightful lady. Used to sneak me peppermints when my father brought me into the offices as a child. You just have to know how to get on her good side.”
“Going to give me a clue?”
“That would be favouritism again, Xander.”
“Are you using that stern voice because you know it gets me hard or because you mean it?”
“Compliment her knitting.”
Giles began to walk towards the door, leaving Xander to adjust his clothing and follow him. “And if she tries to tell you any stories involving me, a pot of glue and a chair, tell her she’s fired.”
“I can do that?”
“As my second in command? Oh, I’d think so.”
Giles raised an eyebrow, “You didn’t check your in box before you came down here? Oh, dear. Not very professional of you.”
“I got the job? You’ve been playing games the whole time? Giles, did I ever tell you you’re a bastard and –”
Giles turned back and pulled Xander to him for another hard, bruising kiss. “Suppose you think about calling me, ‘sir’ in office hours?” he suggested.
“Plan on it. Later. Work first.” Giles paused before leaving. “I’m glad you’re staying, Xander.”
Xander waited until the door had closed and then picked up the quarter staff. He hesitated and then broke it across his knee with a satisfying crack.
The door opened again. “That’s coming out of your wages.”
“Not out of my hide?”
“Are you going to keep this up all day?”
Giles sighed. “If we take an early lunch, will you behave this afternoon?”
“It might help.”
“My office. Ten minutes.”
Giles gave him a swift glance. "We'll make it a long lunch."
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