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by Gypsy Gray

Xander was staring at Giles. Spike stood beside him again; he, Wes, and Oz were watching him patiently. And he was staring at Giles. His mate's hand on his shoulder brought his attention back to the present. He wrapped his arms around the blonde and cuddled into him for a moment. A gentle kiss was shared, and then he pulled back far enough to look at his family. 
"Don't let me hurt them." 
Quick nods from three heads and a shaky smile from Wesley. And then he was turning around, walking to stand in front of Giles. And then he had pulled the ruby earring out of his ear. And then Willow was yelling, and Buffy was standing up and screaming, and even Riley was moving to get a better look....but Giles didn't move. He didn't yell or scream. He stood looking at Xander. 
Silence came after Oz snarled at everyone to shut up. From the corner of his eye, Xander saw Doyle keep Angel and Cordelia back. But Giles still didn't move. And then one hand, slow and shaking, touched his cheek. And then Giles moved. He crumpled like a puppet with the strings cut. And if the chair hadn't been behind him he would have fallen. And now tears streamed down his face and the Watcher made no move to wipe them. Didn't seem to know they were there. He just looked at Xander. 
"Don't cry Giles. I don't want you to cry, and even if I did, what good would it do?" 
"You're real. You're real?" 
"Yeah. Real, alive, fine. All those things." 
"I thought....when you didn't come back...and then Michael, Wesley said you were...I was sure it meant..." 
"I'm not dead. You weren't worth my life." 
"Thank you. Thank you." 
"Thank who?" 
"Whoever listened, whoever kept you safe."

Xander said nothing. Since they'd arrived at the mansion he'd studied the man in front of him, looking for any reason that he would've fallen so in love with him. He couldn't find it. Until now. This was why he'd pinned all his dreams on Giles. The man did care. Despite what he'd done, despite how badly he'd used Xander, he did give a damn. And that was completely screwed up, that of the life he'd left behind, the only person he was sure cared was the one who hurt him the most. Xander crouched in front of Giles and wiped the tears off the older man's face. Whatever anger he had left for this man was gone. Giles hated him self enough already. 
"Why did you it? Why?" 
Giles stood up and walked to the bookshelf. A photo album bound in plain brown leather was pulled out. And the Watcher hugged it to his chest. He carried it back to Xander and kneeled on the floor next to him. The older man opened the album with frightened reverence, as though what was inside was the only thing in the world that could hurt him. The pages were turned slowly, and Xander could see the past streaming over and through the man in front of him. And then the book was handed to him and a single picture in the middle of the page made him ready to cry...for Giles. 
A boy, 16 maybe 17, in bell bottom jeans and a t-shirt. Thin and dark haired and smiling. Eyes full of laughter and joy...and love. So much love. It was Ethan, it was Ethan with Xander's crooked smile and laughing eyes. And now he understood. And Fuck! Oh fuck he hated Giles. And he hated Ethan. And he felt so sorry for the man in front of him. Because he looked so lost. Small and damaged. And finally something made sense. 
"He left you. All this time we thought you left for the Watchers, but he left. For the magic. You never forgave him or it. You never stopped loving him." 
They were both crying now. Giles was forgiven, and they both knew it. His heart had never healed after Ethan. And what would Xander have done so many years later if he hadn't found Spike. If he hadn't been made whole again. And that was why Giles had done it. He'd looked into Xander's eyes and seen what he lost. But he couldn't get it back. He couldn't let go of the past long enough to build a future. And they'd never been alone together. Ethan's shadow had always been with them. It would always be with Giles. 
The warlock gave the album back to the watcher. He stood up and waited until the older man got to his feet. Then he helped him to his chair. Xander leaned forward and kissed Giles on the forehead. It was gentle and sad and goodbye. When the brunette left Sunnydale this time he would never be back. The older man hugged the book to his chest with one arm and stroked the boy's cheek with the other. And then Xander turned his back on Giles. And for a moment he wished things could have been different for the other man, but it was only for a moment. And it was the last time Xander would ever think about what might have been. It was the last time he would think of him as anything but Buffy's watcher.