Vital Signs
Rated R for sexual content.

As he bent over the papers, a twinge of pain passed through Rupert Giles's head, and he pressed his fingers to his brow anxiously, holding his breath. Was the room getting blurry? He blinked, then frowned and took his hand away. He had a touch of headache. It was too dim in Buffy's living room to read comfortably. That was all. He readjusted his glasses and turned up the lamp. But three paragraphs later, he found himself rubbing his forehead again, somehow sure that the pain was about to sharpen and his eyes go out of focus...

Disgusted, he got up and went into the bathroom. The house was quiet; the wails from Dawn's room and the much softer, but far more excruciating, muffled sobs from Buffy's had finally ended an hour earlier. He would have liked some music--anything to break up that deathly silence, more still than the morgue had been earlier that day--but he was afraid of disturbing the girls. He turned on the light and stared at himself in the mirror. His hair was rumpled, not quite hiding the fact that it had begun to recede. The grey which had only been a hint before now spiderwebbed at his temples. Was it his imagination, or was the scar on his forehead more prominent than it used to be? His face was certainly fuller than it had been when he had come to Sunnydale, more lined with care and pain. The Giles men had always tended to the jowly in their older age. He would really have to start a more vigorous program of exercise if he didn't want to end up looking like his father. Not that he wasn't already halfway there. Still, it was not an old face.

No older than Joyce's had been.

He grimaced and turned away from the mirror in determination. He knew he could finish looking over Joyce's papers in the morning--there wasn't exactly a rush--but he made himself go back into the living room and pick up the life insurance policy and a calculator. For five minutes, he nearly brought his traitorous mind to concentrate. Then he heard the creak of the back door.

He scowled and pulled a stake from the desk drawer. "Spike, now is very much not the time," he called, heading to the kitchen. "Shove off before--"

But the figure standing in the doorway when he entered the room was not the blond vampire. It was Ethan, looking enormously pleased with himself. "Spike? Who's Spike? Anyone I should know about?"

"Ethan." Giles came closer, staring. He'd been, quietly, oppressed with worry about the wisdom of turning the other over to the Initiative ever since they'd discovered the true nature of the institution, but Ethan looked hale and hearty, as if his recent imprisonment had been nothing more than a vacation. His heart bounded with relief. "How--how did you get away?"

He smirked. "I just persuaded them to let me out. For...well, you couldn't really call it good behavior, I suppose."

He was almost bouncing where he stood. His eyes were sparkling with energy, the breeze behind him ruffling his hair. It was the way he always used to look after the first spell of the night, the first drugs, with that first flush of power still resounding in him and the utter certainty of more to come. Giles knew he should be worried about his plans, but all he could think about was the invincibility in the curve of his grin. He dropped the stake and kissed him.

He could feel the start that came from deep within the other man's body, and the tremble, but then Ethan relaxed into the kiss, chuckling in his throat. When it ended, he said softly, "If I'd known you felt this way, I'd have arranged a conjugal visit."

Giles pushed him a step backwards, out onto the porch, pulling the door closed behind him. "Shut up and hide us, Ethan."

"Whatever you say." He began murmuring the spell as Giles tugged at his clothes, pausing only to plead once, "Do stop--when you pull on my shirt like that, I can't make the proper gestures!" It was quickly done, the air around them filling with a weird shimmer, but then he put a hand on Giles's chest, holding him away. "Ripper, what's the matter?"

"I don't want to talk about it." He couldn't talk about it, because talking meant thinking and if he thought at all--He tightened his grasp on Ethan's arms, pulling him back to him, and the other man gave up and wrapped himself around him eagerly.

He obviously thought they were going to use the porch, but other ideas were seething in Giles's brain. He wanted him in the backyard itself, surrounded by the smell which promised that green was not too far off. He tumbled him down into the mud, which squelched in a most satisfying way, and then Ethan was warmth and movement everywhere. His breath was in his ear, dry and sharp as always, drawing shivers down his neck. The lean muscles were rolling against his insistently; he could feel his heart pounding through his whole chest. His skin was pink and supple even in the darkness of the yard, resisting when he dug his fingers in, and his blood--his blood welled up where Giles bit his shoulder, flowing freely, coppery and full of life, and Giles was flowing too, surging, plowing him right down into the mud, and if he closed his eyes, it was just like the last time, when they were twenty-three and would live forever--and he came with a cry much louder than he'd intended and subsided against him, keeping his eyes closed.

It wasn't the most comfortable position in the world, but there was something appealing in the very roughness of the conditions. He wanted nothing more than to lie there and luxuriate in the raw sensation of being spent, of having had something to spend. A moment later, Ethan finished himself, and the warmth across his thighs, the hitching of his whole body for him, was perfectly acceptable, too. But too soon after that, the other man giggled uneasily and spoke. "Well, that was...epochal. I don't believe the earth's ever literally moved for me before."

He said nothing, keeping his eyes closed. Dismay had already begun worming its way into him, and he wished fervently that Ethan would just be quiet for once.

And he was, for a few minutes. Then he sighed and traced a finger along his brow. "All right, are you going to tell me what's wrong?"

"I told you before, I don't want to talk about it." Giles rolled away.

"So, I'm good enough to fuck, but not good enough to talk to afterwards?" he demanded, sitting up.

His voice had an edge to it now. There was a pressure in Giles's chest that made him want to say quickly and coldly, "Yes." To end this incident as rapidly and decisively as possible, before it got any messier. But looking at Ethan, pale, streaked with mud, and starting to shiver against the chilly ground, he could not do it. "Joyce Summers died today."

His eyes widened slightly. "The Slayer's mother? She was killed? Why aren't you two out pursuing vengeance against the creature that did it?"

"Because she wasn't killed. She just...just died. She'd had surgery earlier this year, and she had an aneurysm. Buffy came home and found her dead in the living room. She and Dawn have been in shock ever since. And everyone else is tearing themselves up over how little they can do for her."

"Oh. ...But, surely, you do have things you can do for her. That is the Watcher's job, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. I've done everything that was decent, fulfilled every duty to the letter..."

"And yet I don't hear a hint of the traditional self-satisfaction."

"Self-satisfaction." The corner of his mouth twisted. "Not likely. I...I liked Joyce, and I'm sorry she's gone. It's horrid to see Buffy in such pain, worse than you can realize. That should be plenty and to spare to occupy my mind. But I haven't been able to stop thinking..." He fell silent.

"That she was our age," Ethan said simply.

"Yes." Giles looked away. "It's terribly selfish of me. Despicably selfish."

He reached out and touched his cheek, smearing a little mud across it. "It seems perfectly natural to me."

He looked back. "And so was this. I--"

Ethan curled his fingers over his mouth. "Oh, no. I'm not going to have you taking that line. I didn't hear myself saying no, Ripper."

Giles waited until he took his fingers away, then said, "And I didn't hear myself saying that I was interested only in seeking my own comfort. That I, I don't love you, and haven't changed my mind. That you can't stay, not even for the night."

The other man laughed softly. "Really, do give me some credit. Do you think I've never been in a situation like this before? Do you think I didn't work all that out from the moment you grabbed me in that manly yet desperate way of yours?"

"Then why--"

"I believe I'll leave you to puzzle over that. At least that way, I'll know you're thinking about me." He leaned over and kissed Giles on the cheek. "You realize you're a sight. You can't go back into the house looking like that," he murmured into his ear. "The spell should last long enough to get you home."

And, with that, he was gone. Giles got up. He'd have to get back quickly; he didn't know how long the spell would last. He thought, perhaps, though, he'd wait a little longer before he took a shower and washed it all away.

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