PAYING THE PRICE
By D. M. Evans
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters, I make no profit from this. I'm just happy to get a chance to play

Rating - PG-13

Spoilers - Set S 6 This takes place the day after Once More With Feeling

Summary - Giles and Xander have a very serious talk.

The night air was cool, the moon bright. He would have considered it a perfect night in his younger days, days not filled with vampires, demons and Slayers. Giles let his head drop back as he stared upwards, remembering a story of how Coyote painted the sky with stars. Had he ever told that story to Buffy? Probably not. She wouldn't have been interested; Willow maybe. He had told it to Jenny once.

The hole left in his heart from Jenny's death had slowly begun to heal while he spent time back home in Bath. It was one of the reasons he had for returning to England. Giles shut his eyes. Upstairs, his Slayer was sleeping, in theory. She was supposed to be on patrol but he wasn't pushing her. No one was. They had been walking on eggshells ever since Willow had pulled her back and thanks to the demon-induced confession the day before it had gotten worse, knowing they had cost her heaven. Even before he learned the truth, Giles had suspected it. Something told him. He knew it had been wrong. He would have stopped it had he known of Willow's plan, which must have been why they waited for him to leave.

He already had spoken to Willow about her dangerous use of magic. It nearly ended in a showdown. He would have hated to surprise her. She had no idea how much magic he had. He always pretended to know less magic than he did. Giles knew nothing he could say would sway Willow from the path she was on and that hurt. He loved her like a daughter. Out of all of them, she was closest to him, most like him, even more so than Buffy in many ways. She would have to learn for herself the dangers she was setting herself up for and he could only pray that she and everyone around her would survive it.

However, there was someone he might be able to reach. No one had said a peep about the demon Xander had summoned. Xander might have been well-meaning but he should have known better. People died because of his actions and yet no one had said a word. It was as if they thought it was simply Xander up to his tricks. Maybe that had been good enough back in high school but Xander was a young man now, with a job and a marriage on the horizon. He needed to understand that all actions had consequences.

Giles feared for them all and his not being in Sunnydale full time only made it worse. He knew when he told them he was leaving and not coming back it would be bad. He had been trying to prepare himself for the look of betrayal he knew he was bound to see in Buffy's eyes and hoped he could live with it.

And what of Dawn? He feared for her most of all. What would he be leaving her with? A sister all but dead inside, an out of control witch, an ex-demon obsessed with sex and money, a construction worker with poor judgment, a vampire Dawn all but idolized and another witch who might soon leave. Tara was the most stable influence in Dawn's life at the moment and Giles knew her heart was breaking more every day with Willow's actions. He suspected that soon she, too, would be gone for good.

What to do about Dawn? Willow had threatened him. Buffy was unreachable. Anya proved to be incorrigible and Spike wasn't worth the effort. Xander, on the other hand, might be made to understand the responsibility needed to make sure Dawn would be all right. Giles went in to make a call.

Giles glanced up hearing a car approach, involuntarily tightening his grip on the stake riding in his jacket pocket. It was Xander. The young man walked toward him, a puzzled look on his face. Xander's eyes traveled past Giles to the remaining rubble and scarred earth that marked where Sunnydale High School once stood.

"What's up G-man?" Xander tossed another look at the demolished building. "Why did you ask me to meet you here?"

"We need to talk." Giles had thought long and hard about where to meet with Xander. The shouting match with Willow had soured his taste for doing it at home since that would mean they could be overheard and he didn't want to publicly embarrass Xander even though that would be a very light punishment for what he had done. Somehow, Giles found himself drawn back to the place where they all had spent so much time, felt safe, where he was in charge, where he could help make them feel there was a chance it would all turn out all right. Now the ruin in their lives mirrored that of the school's remains.

Xander's puzzled look deepened. "About what? This couldn't wait until morning?"

This time Giles looked around, half expecting vampire interruptus to occur at any moment. "You work in the mornings now and I didn't want to have this talk in front of everyone."

"I don't like the sounds of this." Xander's voice held the timbre of a boy waiting for the feel of Daddy's belt on his backside. He hunched in on himself.

"And well you shouldn't," Giles said, knowing he sounded waspish. He didn't know how to do this without putting Xander in mind of his father. "Xander, do you realize what you've done?"

Xander took a step away, glancing at the ground. "You mean Sweet?"

"Of course I mean the demon," Giles snapped, moving so Xander had to look at him.

"I didn't know what would happen. I just thought, like I said, there's be some singing, dancing, some answers, fun, you know." Xander shrugged, looking very young in the flickering light of a dying street lamp.

"You didn't think, Xander. You knew you were summoning a demon. Did you think any good could possibly come of it? Didn't you think there might be a price? Innocent people died because of what you did." Giles winced as his carefully constructed monologue disintegrated into an emotional attack. He wanted to present his case intelligently instead of this blitzkrieg of blame. He couldn't help himself; ad hominem speech making won out over reason.

Xander wilted then anger flickered across his face. "I didn't know it would be like that."

"Did you even bother to check?" Giles snatched off his glasses, cleaning the lenses, only vaguely aware of the pattern he was falling into. He used the motions to try and calm himself as always.

"It's not like you haven't done the demon thing yourself," Xander shot back, his chin jutting out.

Giles flinched as if he had been slapped. His expression softened in the bright moonlight as he slid his glasses back on. "Why do you think I'm trying to make you understand how dangerous what you did was?" Giles unconsciously rubbed the spot that bore the Eyghon tattoo. "I paid for my mistake with the lives of my friends. I nearly paid for it with Jenny's. I've had to face up to those consequences every day of my life, as you'll have to deal with yours. You nearly cost Buffy and Dawn their lives."

Xander shivered, wrapping his arms around himself. "I know. I didn't mean for anyone to get hurt."

"I understand that but this wasn't the first time you've made a mistake with magic. If it were, it might be more forgivable. I would have thought you learned your lesson when you had Amy cast that love spell on Cordelia. I trust you have not forgotten how poorly that turned out. You almost got yourself killed that time. That is why it is so hard to believe you would tamper with magic you don't understand, yet again," Giles said, watching Xander's head hanging lower and lower with each word, with each painful memory.

"I thought maybe this time it would be different. I wasn't trying to change someone, just wanted to get some information," Xander whispered, ashamed.

"Magic always has a price; even the simplest things have impact. Tara understands and I'm hoping you can, too. We all have such easy access to things that might sound good at the time but could destroy us or those around us down the line. And some of the truly bad things are very tempting." Giles' voice was low as he considered what a weapon the magic shop actually could be.

"The dark side is quicker, easier," Xander muttered.

Giles resisted the urge to ask what he was talking about. He thought he actually got this pop culture reference. "Exactly. I know you didn't mean anyone to die but they did. Dawn stole the amulet you left behind and was nearly taken to hell."

"She didn't steal it. She found it," Xander broke in. The look in his eyes told Giles the young man knew he was kidding himself.

Giles wished that was true, but given some of Dawn's other behaviors he couldn't believe it. "She took it from the magic shop. She had to know it wasn't hers, but that is another matter. It's time to grow up, Xander." He winced. He sounded like his own father and he remembered how much he resented that sort of thing when he was young. From Xander's stance he could see the younger man resented it, too, and why shouldn't he? Giles was aware he had taken over the role of father to the young man, given the senior Harris' insuitablity for the job.

"You think I don't know that?" Xander grated out.

"I'm not sure you do or you would have called the psychic hotline for answers about your wedding rather than summoning up a demon to learn the future," Giles growled. "Sometimes it might escape our notice but you and I are the only men here in our little group. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, and I'm sure you'd say I am, but I think having a strong, sensible man around helps young people feel safe. You can't learn and prosper if you don't feel safe. Dawn needs that now more than ever with how things are with Buffy. She needs you to help do that for her. I'm too old for her to relate to, in some ways, but she sees you as an older brother and if you're making foolish, terrible mistakes what happens to her? As it is, she turns to Spike for guidance and I think we'd all agree that's a very bad idea."

"That's a lot to put on me," Xander said softly, turning away, a thoughtful look on his face.

"I know. I'm not asking you to do anything extraordinary, just have enough sense to know summoning demons isn't a good idea. For you, leaving magic alone in general would be good. You've never had a taste for research and with magic, in order to do it well, you have to research. I can't tell you how disappointed and angry I am with you," Giles said, hoping he wasn't just making things worse.

Xander turned back. "There's nothing I can do to fix what I did."

"No, there's not except maybe to promise to learn from this mistake," Giles said softly, running a hand through his thinning hair.

"I think I can do that."

Giles could hear the pain in Xander's voice. "Thank you. I can't hold all of this together alone, Xander. I need your help, everyone's help."

"It's bad, isn't it?" Xander kicked at the curb. Giles didn't know if he meant about Buffy, Dawn or Willow. It didn't matter. The answer was the same in either case.

"I'm afraid so. I'm hoping this is rock bottom. That's a good solid place to turn things around."

"But you're afraid there's still more down to go," Xander guessed.

Giles nodded. "That's why I need you. Growing up is never easy but it's time."

"I'm trying." Xander looked back at the remains of the school. "I can try harder. I couldn't wait to get out of there back then." He gestured at the school. "Right about now, I wish I could go back and have everyone make my decisions for me, take care of me."

Giles sighed. "We all feel like that at times." He was half afraid that was why he was running back to England.

Xander nodded and glanced over at the older man. When Giles said nothing more, Xander gave him arm a light squeeze and headed off. Giles listened to the car pulling away. Maybe he had reached Xander or maybe he was hoping for too much from him. Xander was still young after all. He could remember being that age and all the mistakes he had made, many of which he was still paying for. Sometimes he wondered where he found strength in himself to continue on. But he did, every time. With one more backwards glance, Giles got into his rented car and drove away from where the opening to the Hellmouth slumbered, wondering if this was something he should put into his journal or if it was something so painful he should just let it slide from memory.