The rain felt good on his face, washing his tears away. Not that he had really cried at all since they'd left Sunnydale, but every once in a while, a tear would find it's way out of his eye and trail down his cheek.
It was kind of disturbing that the only one who noticed was Giles. He never said anything, but he stayed by Xander’s side, sometimes putting his hand on Xander’s shoulder, for support.
But Giles wasn't there right now; there was only the rain to keep Xander company.
And what company it was. England’s rain was nothing like South California’s rain. Where Californian rain was soft and cleansing, English rain was harsh and cold and unyielding.
Xander never felt lonely under the rain. It was the first friend he’d made in England, and a good friend at that. It came to him almost every day. And he could always pretend that the water on his cheeks was only from the droplets falling from the sky and not those falling from his eye.
He was going to Africa the next day. Nothing to worry about, except that for the first time in four years he would truly be alone. But it was a big opportunity for him. Travelling to find the new slayers and report their location to the New Council of Watchers. He wasn’t going to actually approach the slayers until the Council – in other words, Giles – thought it necessary, but it was still a pretty important thing.
But yes, he’d be lonely there. No one was following him. Faith and Robin had decided not to tag along with them to England and had settled in Cleveland not even a week after they’d left Sunnydale. Buffy and Dawn were already roaming through Continental Europe, and would probably settle there, somewhere, when the school year started again. Willow was leaving the next day for South America, with Kennedy, almost at the same time as Xander. And Giles… Giles was staying in England, to man the fort, continuing to rebuild the Council, contacting old retired watchers to see if they were interested in working with them. He would be their ‘port d’attache’ as he had said, the place – person – they all came back to during breaks and holidays. Andrew was to stay there too, study to be a watcher. He was already contemplating the job of ‘head of special projects’. Silly boy.
Xander would miss him. Not that they’d become real good friends or anything, but Andrew understood him in a way none of the girls did. Xander had gone from ‘totally annoyed by the guy’ to ‘he’s not that bad when you give him a chance’. Maybe he would send him something when he got to Africa.
There was no rain in Africa. At least, not from what Xander remembered of his less than perfect studying of geography. It was mostly desert: sand and sun and heat. And yes, Xander did miss the heat – it wasn’t *normal* to be this cold in summer! – but he knew he’d miss the rain even more.
But not as much as he’d miss Giles.
Giles understood Xander better than anyone else. And that was a freaky thought.
Xander could still feel Giles’ hand from the last time he’d squeezed his arm. Earlier that evening, when they were all sitting in the living room of the little, but cozy, house they’d rented, Willow had summoned a vivid memory of Anya without meaning to and Xander had felt the first prickle of tears stinging his eye and he’d looked down, trying to push the painful feeling that tore his heart apart away. Again. And Giles had been there. He’d just put his hand on Xander’s forearm and had gently squeezed in support. He’d said nothing, he was just there and Xander wished that he could lean on him, bury himself in Giles’ embrace and never have to face the world again.
But he couldn’t. He didn’t want to face all the repercussion of doing such a thing. There’d be stares from the girls, questions he wasn’t sure he could answer, and Giles… Giles would be there and hold him through all of it and that was possibly frightening him more than anything else. Because Xander had never thought… never dared to believe…
And that was the problem, wasn’t it? Giles was his friend, friends were supposed to comfort each other when they were in pain, but there was something else, something Xander didn’t want to acknowledge, something that made his stomach twist in anticipation every time Giles would touch him. And it hadn’t started just a mere few weeks ago. No, it had been there for years.
He felt so much safer under the rain.
“Xander? Maybe you should come inside. You’re soaked.”
Giles’ soft voice tore Xander away from his thoughts.
“I love the rain.”
Xander could hear Giles stepping out of the house and closing the door behind him, but Xander didn’t turn around. He wasn’t sure he could look Giles in the eyes.
“It can be a nice companion indeed.”
“It’s not that I need to be away from you guys, but…”
“Of course you do, Xander. We overwhelm you. You’re mourning. You’ve lost someone that meant more to you than anyone else in your life ever did. And here we are rejoicing and planning for a future that you can’t seem to care about yet. The rain is your escape.”
How the hell did Giles always manage to make him feel like this? Like someone really did understand his pain. Maybe Giles did. When Miss Calendar had died, they didn’t even have time to mourn, instead they fought for their lives until Angelus was finally beaten. Even when Buffy was gone afterwards, they had all been happy to be alive and with school over, they had a carefree summer ahead of them. Free of school, but also free of monsters.
Maybe Giles had taken refuge under the rain too.
And there it was again, that hand, gently squeezing Xander’s shoulder in a show of support, of comfort, of understanding that Xander had never thought Giles would ever show towards him.
“Thank you.” He wondered if Giles knew how much he really meant it, but Xander couldn’t think of any other words to let him know.
“I’m sorry to be sending you away so soon. Do you wish to stay in England a while longer? Just to get yourself back together before…”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I can put myself back together while staying here. And I don’t know if I can put myself back together when I’m alone on another continent, in countries I know next to nothing about. I just don’t know.”
Xander knew Giles was probably the only one to understand this feeling, this utter confusion that came from losing someone you loved so dearly Yes, he and Anya had had problems, but in the end, they loved each other and that was the only thing that Xander remembered. The only thing he wanted to remember.
“Lets get you back inside, at least. It won’t do to have you catch a cold just before your departure.”
“The rain… it’s like…”
“Like the whole world is mourning with you? I know. It’s comforting in its way. Except it can also make you sick, Xander. I’ll not leave your side if you wish for company, but please, do get back inside.”
Leave it to Giles to have all the reasonable arguments. Xander stood up and followed Giles to the door, turning once as if to say goodbye to the rain, before stepping inside the house.
Xander watched as Giles closed the door and shrugged his raincoat off. “Stay here for a moment, I’ll get you some towels. You have to change into warm clothes or you’ll get sick.”
Giles stopped and stared at Xander, looking puzzled.
“Get sick I mean. You didn’t have anyone to… to take you out of the rain when… when Miss Calendar died and…”
“Yes. I did get sick.”
Xander nodded and waited. It didn’t take Giles that long to come back with the towels and some warm, dry pyjamas. Possibly Giles’ own, because Xander didn’t think he owned pyjamas.
Xander let Giles help him to dry off. The feeling of Giles’ hands on his skin, if tempered by the towel and Xander’s clothes, was even more comforting than the rain as it slid down his arms, mussed his hair and gently removed the drops of rain still lingering on Xander’s face. He missed the touch when Giles turned around to give him some privacy, but at the same time Xander was moved that Giles had done so.
Giles’ pyjamas felt strangely comforting against Xander’s cold skin. The warmth and dryness of course, but also something else, like he belonged there, wrapped up in Giles’…
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah, you can turn back now.”
While Giles gathered Xander’s soaked clothing and the now wet towels, Xander made his way to the couch. It didn’t have that comforting feel of an old, broken in couch, but it served its purpose.
Xander leaned his head on the arm and struggled not to curl into a tight ball. He knew he couldn’t let his guard down, he couldn’t… wouldn’t… he would break if he did. If Giles showed the smallest attempt at wanting to comfort him, then Xander wouldn’t be able to hold himself together.
But maybe he needed that. Needed to break down into a bazillion pieces before he could put the scattered puzzle pieces of himself back together.
Giles was back now. He sat down beside Xander, his weight making Xander slip dangerously close to him.
The hand was there too. This time, on his back, just below his shoulder blades. This was new. It had always been a shoulder or an arm, never his back. This was too… too intimate. It felt good, strangely more comforting than the hand on his shoulder or forearm had felt earlier.
Giles was closer now and his hand wasn’t still. It was moving in circles on Xander’s back, soothing, calming.
Xander didn’t want to be calm. He would NOT break.
Yet he couldn’t stop himself from leaning into the touch. He moved gently to the rhythm of Giles’ hand and he could feel himself relax.
And there it was, the itch. That itching feeling that meant tears were coming. He fought against it. He couldn’t cry. He wouldn’t. Not here, not with Giles.
Who else then? No one understood him like Giles did, no one was there for him the way Giles was. No one else had even so much as acknowledged that Xander was still in pain.
“No. I can’t.” He moaned out loud. He hadn’t meant to.
“Let it go Xander. Just let it go.”
Soothing, soothing voice that swept through Xander’s barriers and he felt himself unwillingly inching closer to Giles and Giles’ hand was now on his opposite hip, as if he was about to… he was going to…
“It’ll only hurt you more if you keep it all bundled up inside your heart. Let it go.”
And there it was, Giles’ hands linked on Xander’s hip and Xander found himself awkwardly held in those sturdy arms. Arms he’d only felt around himself on two occasions before, but he had often dreamed of being surrounded by them again.
“I can’t.” He tried to force himself out of Giles’ embrace and knew Giles would let him go if Xander really wanted to, but he didn’t. Giles didn’t let go; he clutched Xander closer to his chest and held on.
“Yes you can, Xander. It’s hard and it’s painful, but you have to let it go. You miss her. You miss her so much that you won’t even talk about her and it hurts you. It’s eating you up from the inside and if you don’t let go, it’ll just keep on hurting until there’s nothing left.”
“But I’ve never… I’ve never.”
“Shhh, it’s all right. Shhh.”
The first tear hurt. It stung his eye like a needle. The second one didn’t hurt as much and neither did the third, nor the fourth.
“Shhh. I’ve got you. Shhh.”
And soon, it was like the rain: it flooded out of his eye and ran down his cheek.
Giles didn’t let him go. He manoeuvred them into a less awkward, more comfortable position and kept on holding him tightly.
Xander had never felt so utterly safe before. Safer than he felt even in the rain. Maybe that was why he was crying. Because for the first time in his life, there was someone right there with him who could maybe, probably, help him redo the puzzle once it was all scattered. Someone who would hold him while he rode through the pain and wouldn’t laugh at him or pity him or ask him so many questions about what he felt. Someone who didn’t need to ask the questions because he already knew the answers.
He hadn’t even cried when he killed Jesse. Hadn’t cried when he found out about Miss Calendar. Hadn’t cried when he thought they’d lost Cordelia. Hadn’t cried when Mrs Summers had died. Oh, he’d shed a few tears, but he hadn’t cried. Not like this. Never like this. Not even for Buffy. He’d been close, so close, but they all needed him to be strong, especially Anya. So he stayed strong, built barriers around his heart that were now crumbling down under the pressure and the comforting feeling of Giles’ hands.
Giles hadn’t been there then. Not like this.
Giles’ arms tightened around Xander as the waves of despair became harder and harder to bear. As if he instinctively knew they were going to be.
Anya was gone.
Nothing was going to bring her back, Xander couldn’t even tell her one last time how much she meant to him.
But maybe she knew. Maybe she’d known all along and that was why she stuck around when she got her powers back. Not just to hurt Xander, but because she knew deep down that despite all his confusion and his dilemma, Xander loved her deeply. More deeply than he’d ever loved before.
“It hurts.” His voice was harsh as if he hadn’t used it in days.
“I know. Shhh, I’m here.”
“No… it’s not that. It’s my eye socket. It hurts.” Xander almost giggled, but it ended up in a sniffle. He untangled himself from Giles’ arms and quickly dried the remaining tears from his eye. “God, what a mess. I…” He pointed to the wet spot his tears had made on Giles’ shirt.
“It’s nothing really.” Giles gently pressed his fingers under Xander’s eye patch.
“It itches… like it burns.”
“I think it might be trying to cry.”
Xander couldn’t help the smile from spreading on his lip. He didn’t know why, but he felt like smiling.
He felt calmer, more relaxed than he had in months and Giles hadn’t stopped touching him yet: he was probing gently around Xander’s bad eye, his face showing deep concentration.
“Here, let me…”
Xander yelped, because without asking, Giles had pushed the eye patch away. But looking at his face, Xander could see no disgust, no pity, just the same deep concentration. And he hadn’t even flinched when Xander had jumped.
“Do you still carry the ointment the doctors gave you?” he was looking into Xander’s good eye now, possibly waiting for an answer.
“Yeah. It’s in my coat pocket.”
“Let me fetch it. Your socket seems dry.”
Xander nodded and it was with a pang of regret that he let Giles go. He felt lost now; his face red and swollen, his body shivering from the loss of heat and contact. He wanted nothing more than to be held in those arms again, against that hard chest, the hands making slow motion circles on his back.
But could he let it happen again? He didn’t think so. It was a one-time deal. He had broken down and now he felt better; the whole thing didn’t warrant a repeat.
Giles was back now. He handed Xander the ointment and sat back into his still warm spot. Xander hadn’t moved.
Giles didn’t put his arms back around Xander’s torso, but he leaned close. Close enough for Xander to feel Giles’ thigh against his knees.
With shaking fingers, Xander uncapped the ointment and put some on his fingers. This was supposed to be easy. Go in, apply the ointment, get out, and voilà! Except that tonight, it wasn’t that easy. He couldn’t stop shaking and kept missing the burning spot.
“Let me.” Finally, Giles’ hands grabbed Xander’s elbows and he pulled them down.
Xander nodded. He’d already surrendered so much of himself tonight, why not that too?
“Tell me if I hurt you.” Whispered against Xander’s cheek and that burned him even more than the pain in his empty socket did. Giles’ breath on his cheek.
Xander’s breath, his heartbeat quickened. He couldn’t… not Giles. Not now.
“Shhh, relax Xander, I won’t hurt you.”
Soothing again. Xander took a deep breath and tried to bring his breathing back to normal. He couldn’t be thinking of Giles that way. He’d never done before, so this was just because he was oversensitive right now, it wasn’t because it was GILES. Certainly not. Never.
Giles applied the ointment carefully. Xander almost didn’t feel it; if it hadn’t been for the cooling feeling in his burning socket, he wouldn’t have. When Giles finished, he placed the eye patch back over the empty socket and then, unexpectedly kissed Xander’s cheek just under the patch.
Xander’s heartbeat quickened again. No. Just when he’d finally got himself under control, Giles did this… this thing and it made it all confusing all over again.
“I believe we should get you into bed now. Your plane leaves in less than 7 hours.”
“What if I don’t want to go?”
“Then you won’t. I would never force you to do something you don’t want to do.” Giles’ thumb softly caressed Xander’s left cheek.
Xander nodded. And before he could think of any good reasons not to do this, he leaned over and placed his head on Giles’ shoulder. Without words, Giles wrapped his arms around Xander’s body once again and held him tightly to his chest.
“I never cried before.”
“I know. It’s one of the hardest things for a man to do. You probably won’t cry again for a long time to come, but I truly hope that you will have someone there to hold you once it happens again.”
“Maybe you’ll still be around. If I’m lucky.”
Giles chuckled. “Yes. Indeed. Maybe I will.”
“Thanks. For this.”
It was said in such a deep and rich voice that Xander could FEEL there was something more there; something he should – shouldn’t – possibly probe to see what was hidden behind it.
“I knew you would. Though you must believe me when I say that you can come back here anytime you feel the need for it. Anytime you need the rain.”
“Does it rain in Africa at all?”
“It does, but not as much as it does here.”
“Yeah, figured. England is like the country of rain, right?”
Giles chuckled. “Not by far. Some countries have rain storms that can last for months.”
“Ah. Don’t shatter my perfectly made up beliefs.” Xander playfully punched Giles’ chest. He knew he wasn’t making much sense now. He was so emotionally exhausted, even his thoughts were scattered.
Xander cuddled closer and closed his eye. Maybe now he could put all the pieces of the puzzle back together with Giles’ help.
This felt better than the rain.
Read the sequel to Rain, Dreaming of Rain.
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