Nancy had been right about the jewellery thing. He’d never managed to buy any of his girlfriends the right thing – although he’d come pretty close with that locket for Cordy. He’d just picked entirely the wrong time to give it to her. That bracelet for Buffy had been pretty lame, and the engagement ring he’d got for Anya had been both gaudy and cheap. She’d only loved it because it she had this idea of what being engaged and then married meant. An idea he’d totally failed to live up to. And she’d have probably ended up trading her wedding ring in for a better one, even if he’d managed to put one on her finger in the first place.
But these? These were … everything they should be, all strong style, discrete design, meaningfully enscribed and tastefully understated. Turned out that Nancy had done some trading in jewellery for a living, and she knew her stuff. She’d passed over the obvious trays of celtic knot work, and dismissed the chunky, manly rings on the front, diving into a much smaller tray at the back. Xander had found himself staring at a pair of almost-but-not-quite delicate hoops, with slightly faceted surfaces that caught the light and spun it away in flashes of gleaming gold. It looked as if a narrow band of x’s had been incised along both top and bottom edge, but looking closer revealed the decoration to be a mix of X’s and triple armed Y’s – the runes for partnership and protection.
“I can get them monogrammed if you want,” the salesman was saying. “Or you could get someone else to do it. The facet at the front there is designed to be customised. I’ve a more delicate version for the lady if you want them as matching wedding rings …”
Xander looked at Nancy, who looked back at him – and then they both burst out laughing.
“No,” he managed after a moment. “No – it’s not me and … No. These two are great. They need to match, exactly.” He took a moment to admire the workmanship, then sighed. “They’re perfect,” he said, “but they’re far too expensive. I can’t possibly ask you to pay this much.”
“You’re not asking,” Nancy said firmly, reaching for her credit card. “I’m insisting.”
“Insisting on what?” Giles’ voice asked curiously, and Xander hastily snapped his hand shut over the rings before turning to greet him with a smile. “Hi, Giles. Um – find what you wanted over there?”
Giles frowned at him – affectionately and with that look that said I know you’re up to something but I’m not sure what. “More or less. He’s reserved some pieces for me – and I have his card. It’s good sturdy work, which is what we need, of course. The girls are going to be – “ He paused, looking for an appropriately discrete phrase. “- delighted by their authenticity.”
Xander smiled, thinking of the reaction every slayer had when handed a good, heavy weapon with a sharp pointy end. Then he thought about the display that he’d glimpsed and let the smile grow a little wider. “Bought one for yourself, didn’t you.”
Giles merely raised an eyebrow at the amused accusation. “It is good workmanship,” he said. “Beautifully balanced and exactly the right length. Make a perfect paperweight,” he added with a remarkably straight face. Xander snorted.
“Yeah, sure. Although, now you mention it, on your desk …”
“All yours,” Nancy interrupted softly, stepping back from her dealings with the stall holder to smile at the pair of them. “From me to you – with thanks. It’s not enough, but then … nothing ever will be. Good luck,” she added, winking at Xander. “And – uh - send us an invitation, will’ya? We’ll want to be there.”
“You’d better be,” he grinned. “Wanna give us a minute?”
She jerked her head towards the gaily decorated lists. “We’re jousting,” she said with a grin. “See you over there.”
Giles watched her saunter away with bemusement. “Invitation? What on earth …”
Xander clenched his fist around the warmth of gold and put out his other hand to pull Giles away – leading him away from the crowd, away from the domesticity of the stalls, past the old oak and down among the trees, descending the gentle slope to the very edge of the river. The castle loomed over them with picturesque authority, a perfect backdrop for a perfect moment.
Xander’s mouth was suddenly very dry.
“Are you alright?” Giles was looking at him a little worriedly. “Did you want to go back to the boat? You’re looking a little pale …”
He probably was. Just for a moment he’d been standing in a cluttered storeroom with a much gaudier ring burning a hole in his pocket along with the expectation that he was going to die before the day was out. He’d asked Anya for all the wrong reasons, and here he was again …
“I’m fine,” he managed, finding refuge and reassurance in the warmth – and concern – in the green eyes that had sought his own. “Before you ask – I haven’t eaten anything I shouldn’t have done, and I haven’t done anything else stupid, either. What I’m about to do might be stupid, but … no,” he decided, taking a deep breath. “Not stupid at all. Really not,” he added, half under his breath. This was ridiculous. Giles had already done the hard part, hadn’t he? Publicly calling him partner and meaning it. Saying – that stuff – he’d said at the beginning of the trip. I want something honest, he’d said.
Even so, this was … this was wow.
“Xander.” Giles clearly didn’t know whether he should be seriously concerned or furiously irritated. “We’re going to miss the jousting …”
“Bear with me,” Xander asked, his fist clenching tight enough for its contents to leave lasting indentations in his palm. “Working myself up to something here. Just – admire the scenery for a moment, ‘kay?” He turned to stare out across the river, taking in the vista, a witness to the strength of stone walls that had endured for centuries. When Englishmen built something, they built it to last. “Warm day, English summer, nice castle, and – Gileswillyoumarryme? Make it – all legal and stuff?” He didn’t dare look, and wasn’t that stupid, because he wouldn’t have asked if he thought the answer was in doubt. But what if … No - this was just a formality kind of thing. Wasn’t it? “I know we kinda had this conversation already, but … I meant what I said – about wearing your ring, and …” He finally plucked up courage to turn, putting out his hand and slowly unfurling his fingers; the gold gleamed and shimmered in the sunlight. “I’d be kinda honoured if you’d wear mine too.”
There was a long silence. The sound of the fair was distant and dimmed, leaving only the slow whisper of water, and the beat of his heart, loud and pounding inside his chest. Giles was staring at him. Just staring, as if he’d suddenly been turned to stone.
The moment broke Giles practically lunged at him, one hand reaching to close over his, folding his extended fingers over the gleam of gold, and the other tangling in his shirt, both of them pulling him forward, dragging him into a firm and fierce contact. Determined lips sought his own, planting a kiss of possession, one that claimed territory … and then melted into something utterly profound as the old tiger, having pounced, surrendered himself to his captive, heart and soul.
Xander accepted the surrender and added his own, half laughing, half trembling at the intensity of the man’s reaction, not entirely sure who was holding who up, but certain that – while they had each other – neither of them was going to fall.
“The honour,” Giles assured him shakily, a long time later, still holding on, holding tight, “will be entirely mine …”
Continued in Part Thirteen