"I don't...I'm sorry," he choked out, and turned away to lean against the wall by my kitchen, the muscles of his shoulders straining under his shirt as if he were about to burst its skin. My hand lifted by some instinct of its own as if to palm the curve of one shoulder blade, then paused, hovering a distance of two inches I wasn't sure I cared to cross. One became wary of any casual physical contact after working around children in an American public school, and even now habits of reticence remained, a newer layer over my own natural tendency to aloofness. And I felt no great fondness for Riley. We were not close. I'd always considered him a fairly unremarkable member of his species, the young American male. Corn-fed and homespun, and rather hulking. Milk and meat at every meal, one would suspect. Willow and Xander had taken up a form of residence in the small, private room of my heart over the years, but Riley had never been more than an auxiliary to Buffy, interesting to me only as he influenced and affected her.
But here he was now, a wet presence in my living room. And I was terribly, utterly blotto. Pissed, embalmed, arseholed, bladdered, hammered. Drunk, rather. Which sometimes made me merely tired, but now and then raised a streak of everything in me that was nasty. Even as I thought about touching him in comfort, I felt stirrings of cruelty. As if I might do or say something to him to stop that bloody, insufferable weeping. Something that would chop it short, because what on earth did the poor, silly sod have to cry about? Rather a good question, actually...I'd half forgotten. Something about Buffy and vampires and his own hygienic, unrequited love, not that he'd used such words, nor any requiring the articulation of more than two syllables. Smart man. He was fairly plastered himself.
My hand made contact with his cotton-clad back. "There, there," I said without enthusiasm, continuing to pat with absent distaste as I took a sip of my whiskey. "It can't be all that bad. Things will look...brighter tomorrow." I didn't have to hide the faint, dry curl of my smile, since he was still huddled against the wall like a quarterbacker, or pounder, or whoever those brutish fellows are who herd their fellow cattle through games of what Americans so deceitfully call football. It had a certain empty humor though--being subjected to his rude, oafish misery at such a time, when my own life was falling to pieces unnoticed. Stupid man. He had no idea what real pain was.
"She doesn't love me, Giles." When had he started calling me Giles? I felt a tightening of irritation in face and fist.
"She's young," I said. "Love doesn't know itself at that age." I'd somehow begun speaking to my glass, my gaze fixed on the sloppy tumble of ice and liquor within. Time for a refill, I noticed. As I was contemplating that, he turned under my hand and I let it slide away, taken aback by the reddened upset of his face, but inebriated enough that it seemed an almost fascinating spectacle. Another man's pain, not my own.
"I love her."
Yes, thank you. We've had the news flash. Impatient with him and the unwanted scene, I dipped my gaze. Small reflexes of self-control and manners remained, preventing me by a hair's breadth from slapping him soundly. "You must realize," I said, raising my eyes with deliberate aim, "that your feelings don't oblige a response." Watching his face was like watching some previously solid architecture detonate and crumble, from a distance of years. I felt pity, of course, but it was just a trace. The glass was empty. I was a terrible man. Age was leaching warmth from me. I'd had my spring and summer, and I was deep into the chill of fall, descending into a winter from which I would never unthaw, because the seasons of the world cycled, but man had only a single turn.
Christ, I was poetic.
"What do I do?" he asked, carrying the dialogue more or less by himself at this point, reciting lines from some tedious script I'd memorized decades ago that no longer held interest for me, at least not when the players were so wooden. 'Young Love', I think it was called.
"Go home," I suggested. "Sleep, get up, work. Get on with your life." I wasn't sure I'd modulated my tone; I'd tried for detached, but may have achieved careless, perhaps even cold.
Riley swallowed and looked down, looked lost. "I don't know how." His hands moved slightly, fingers spreading outward from his sides. "To get on with my life--"
Anger sparked through me, flamed out in my voice with horrifying force. "Then learn!" His head jerked up, eyes widening, and I threw my glass across the room. Its shatter was physically exciting. "For god's sake, man, don't come whinging to me about love. Do you think any of us get what we want? What we deserve? Grow up." The words left a scathing taste in my mouth, and I stared him down fiercely until those massive shoulders slumped into the shape of submission, or perhaps not quite, as he'd made two fists. Some mirrored anger there, I sensed, but I'd burned off any possibility of fear and the last of my civility. I'd have welcomed any violence.
"You think I don't deserve her," he said, mouth pinching as he spoke.
"I don't know a man who does."
We met gazes and there was some acknowledgment in his. "You're in love with her," he said then, and seemed nervous, as if gearing himself up for some kind of challenge or negotiation.
I stared back in astonishment a moment, then laughed and laughed, until I nearly cried, until I was half bent over and gasping. One could still be surprised by the stunning ignorance of youth, the sheer oblivious assumptions, the harboring of inane certainties. "Oh, lord," I finally said, straightening. "You are so immensely stupid."
Bristling, chest puffing, he might have been giving thought to punching me. "Is that right?"
Poor boy. "Shall I tell you who died today?" His eyes took on the blankness of shock, and I had to look away. Time to pour another drink. "My first lover. He died of cancer." I hated the word 'lover' and the way it dressed one's feelings in vulgar idiom--a word that fancied itself daring, like some pansy in a frock--but a digression to clarify that old, complicated relationship would have been pointless. I didn't care if he understood what we'd had, or what I was feeling, or how each death you survive rips a little more of the skin from your soul. He'd been given a mere taste of that. It would come to him in time.
"I'm sorry...Giles. I'm sorry." And then he--*he* reached out touch *me*, to give comfort with one big, clumsy hand. I looked down at it, sidelong, as I stood at the bar. And then I looked up, the way you raise the shade on a window to stare out. You want to raise it slowly but it snaps up, out of your hands. I felt a sickening, vertiginous thrill, the kind you get when you're contemplating something so wrong that its very wrongness makes you feel alive. So I grabbed the back of his neck and hauled him down to my level and kissed him. Bitter, hot, slick. A ludicrous kiss. Aged man, young boy. A frolic that Gerard Manley Hopkins would have swooned for. I'd done it without thinking but once I had him, I felt scorn and mockery and the determination to make him writhe in embarrassment. Quite a lovely feeling, heating the balls with malice.
"Giles," he gasped when he managed to break away. Terrified expression on that wholesome face. And of course I'd have let him go then, with an apology and a dismissal, each of us tacitly agreeing never to speak of it again.
But he licked his lips. Wasn't even aware of it, the bloody yob, and my god, is there anything more offensive than some bullock-browed, cow-eyed ponce who doesn't know he's dying to be shagged? I abandoned the drink I'd been mixing and grabbed at him again, putting my strength and skill into holding him. He might have been Army, but I headlocked him for long enough to make that next kiss count, and then he broke away again, breathless, outraged disbelief written all over his face.
I raised one eyebrow, still mocking, and something in his face changed and hardened. He kissed me then, as if he'd taken a bet and wanted to prove himself packing enough to do manly, foolish things. I would have laughed at him, if I hadn't been busy. He didn't kiss well, but I didn't need him to. We were headed for a wrestling bout of rotten, regrettable sex, and the important struggle would take place below the neck.
My glasses clattered off somewhere, and he fumbled to unbutton my shirt, and I ripped it, and he pulled his off over his head, and while he was doing that I unzipped his jeans and took his prick out and thumbed it with short, merciless strokes. Boys used to call that sharpening a pencil, and he stiffened right up, going glassy-eyed as his shirt fell to the floor behind him. "Oh my god," he said.
Whereas I had nothing to say. I dropped to my knees and took him in my mouth, and sucked with a kind of vigorous cruelty while his paws clung helplessly to my head, and then he came with a sharp cry. It was all I'd really needed, somehow. Already my desire was flagging. He was just a boy. American. Bland. Buffy's.
That was enough.