The Giles Thing
by Dr Squidlove
drsquidlove @@@ livejournal.com

It begins when Xander meets the teenaged Ripper, as kind of an ode to that look Xander gets in his eye when his life is imploding. Months later, having survived graduation and a summer in Oxnard, Xander comes back home with Ripper on his mind. Only it's not Ripper on his mind so much as, well, Giles, the here-and-now edition. Surprisingly, getting together is the easy part. Making a relationship work is way more complicated.

The Giles Thing poster by katekat
Fucking awesome poster by katekat. See more of her beautiful posters on katekat's livejournal.

Pairing: Giles/Xander. You could also say Ripper/Xander. And we'll delve into some Giles/Ethan.
Begins in season three, right after Amends. Before Helpless. Everyone experiencing any kind of sexual gratification is eighteen.

Rated R, for porny goodness. Also contains a dash of fisticuffs, mild drug use, and one scene of dubious consent. No serious violence, no sexual violence, no underage sex... mild drug use; I don't warn for anything else.

I am a feedback whore.

Wordcount: 128 000

The complete Giles Thing is on the drsquidlove livejournal,
or as a complete file on my website http://members.iinet.net.au/~tentacles/squidfic.html.

Everything comes from Joss, and Mutant Enemy. Everything returns to Joss, and Mutant Enemy.

Grovelling thank yous to gloriana & antennapedia, who offered a whole lot of advice along the way, and mmmchelle & mireille, who offered great advice on earlier chapters. And massive thanks to everyone who left kind comments in livejournal along the way. No way would I have finished this without them.
Originally posted from March 2007 to November 2009.

Also archived at No One Knows.


The Giles Thing I
by Dr Squidlove
March 2007


"Earth to Xander."

"Mmmm?"

"Are there two beautiful women making out in the corner?" Buffy's tone was amused, and Willow craned her neck to see what held Xander's attention on the other side of the Bronze.

He hurriedly turned back to the table, before Buffy used some heretofore unknown Slayer sense to detect the exact direction of his line of sight. "If there was sexy girl-on-girl action, d'you think I'd still be watching from all the way over here?"

"You've been staring for ages," said Buffy.

She was still trying to see, so Xander threw an arm over her shoulders, turning her away from the corner. "Of course, if you and Willow want to give me a show..."

"Nice try."

Willow was frowning at him, though, and then she angled her chair a little further away and stared up at Oz on the stage. It made his chest ache. It felt like things were never going to be right between them. It was better now she had Oz back, but it wasn't better-better. Not fixed. Which was completely unfair, because he could pretty much look at her now and not want to kiss her.

It was completely unfair because somehow she'd come through it and landed on her feet, life back to normal, while Xander - as usual - landed on his head, repulsive to women everywhere. Welcome to 1999, already looking a hell of a lot like 1998. He should make a new year's resolution, or something. Xander Harris was gonna find someone, some non-demonic, non-evil person, to be all boyfriendy with, before 2000 hit. Ideally sooner.

"Xander?"

"I was listening," Xander said, desperately clawing back to the thread of the conversation. "You were going to head back to the library to see if Giles had found out more about the First Evil thing that messed with Angel."

"Well, your ears were here, but your eyes were somewhere over there."

Xander very carefully did not look over to see if, yep. He was still looking. It was a guy, about their age, with short brown hair and a black leather jacket with a too-wide collar. He was half-draped against the wall, with a surly expression that flashed attitude in big whirly lights with a Tarantino soundtrack.

He'd been staring since not long after they came in. At first Xander had thought the kid was biding his time to pick a fight, but he hadn't moved, and as the night progressed his angry look took on the shadings of a permanent state of un-Zen manner of worldly being, rather than a particularly Xander-directed-ire. And there was something familiar, faintly...

"I have a feeling it's gone back to the hell from whence it came, but... I don't know. Something about that one gave me a definite sense that there was a really bad sequel on the way."

"Coming soon, to a hellmouth near you," added Willow.

Xander blinked, looking back at Buffy. "Giles is back in the library? He hasn't spent enough of his Christmas break in there?"

She shrugged. "Guess he doesn't have anything else to do."

"I remember when Christmas was the time of year when we *weren't* in school."

"You coming with?"

"After Oz is done," Willow cut in.

Yeah, Xander really enjoyed hanging out with Oz, these days. "Uh-" He slid off the stool, about to make his excuses about going to the bathroom so he could wander a little closer to the stranger, try to figure out his issue, but as he stood he saw the boy's dark expression warm into a devilish smile, and his mouth went dry. No way. "Uh. No. No, I'm, um, gonna call it a night." He grabbed up his jacket and pulled it on.

Buffy glanced awkwardly between him and Willow, and Xander almost sighed aloud. For once their indiscretion was going to work in his favour.

He didn't know why this guy was staring at him - or maybe he did, but he didn't really believe that - and he didn't know why he didn't want to tell Buffy and Willow - unless it was that same maybe that he didn't really believe.

If he *had* believed it, then that would mean that when he looked the boy boldly in the eye as he moved away from the table, he was inviting him to follow, or something. And he wasn't, because Xander Harris may have had occasional male guest stars in his jerk-off fantasies, but he certainly didn't make eyes at guys in the Bronze.

Not even to prove that Willow wasn't the only one who could get a life back.

New year's vague resolution or not, he certainly hadn't been inviting the guy out, but sure enough, thirty seconds out of the Bronze he heard footsteps behind him. Of course, that was when his good sense decided to make its occasional - but consistently tardy - appearance, to ask if the stranger with the intense glaring gaze might just perhaps, maybe, might, be a vamp.

Buffy was gonna kick his exsanguinated ass.

A subtle movement had his handy pocket stake tucked in his hand as he turned. "Hey there."

Yes, crap, it was a vampire, it had to be one because it had Xander in one of those thrall things, that was the only possible reason why he was pinned to the spot as it sauntered closer, all seductive and cool in its overly-tight jeans and white t-shirt and really expensive black jacket and one earring and hadn't Buffy warned them all about bewaring out-of-date wardrobes?

It arched an eyebrow as its glance flickered down at Xander's hand. "Won't be needing that," it murmured when it was close enough. Fingers were slipping the stake from Xander's loose fingers, sliding it into its own back pocket as it leaned in for the kill, but there was no hideous wrinkly face and he wasn't quite aiming for the neck.

Sweet Jesus, he was kissing Xander. Definitely not, no way was this a vampire. His mouth was burning hot, blowing breath gently inside Xander. He tasted of cigarettes.

So this, this was kissing a guy. It was pretty fucking good. An arm wound around Xander's waist and a hand slid into his hair, dragging him deeper. He was smaller than Xander, not shorter but leaner, somehow tighter and entirely in charge, and when he pushed Xander backwards, Xander went back until he hit a wall. In a moment between shadows he got another look at his face: green eyes? hair curly on his collar, lean, handsome, familiar but not... brother of someone at school, maybe? Or someone he'd just seen in passing?

And then the guy's body was full-length against his own, and teeth were tugging at his lip as a hand pushed between them and was - whoa - undoing Xander's fly. This was surely a bad idea, but not for any reason Xander could remember right now. He gasped and groaned as a hot hand closed around his hard dick. All of a sudden he'd gone further, way further with this guy than with he'd gone with anyone, ever, and he didn't even know his name. Xander moaned.

"That's it, yeah. Knew you'd be a player. Saw it 'cross the room, prettyboy like you 'mong the girls." English, he was English, Xander wanted another look at his face, but the boy was whispering in his ear as his hand worked magic on Xander's dick. "Fancied shagging you 'cross the table, let your girlfriends watch, maybe."

Xander whimpered, and the hand moved faster, pumping him harder than Xander ever did himself. He probably should return in kind, but he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to get his fingernails out of the bricks behind him.

Thank god, because his fingernails were all that was keeping him up as his hips chased that hot damp grip.

A hand was sliding up under his shirt, flat against his stomach, and that was somehow more shocking than what the other one was doing.

Xander made a noise he'd never made before, and then nails scratched down his stomach and Xander's vision went white, and he held onto the wall for his life.

A sticky hand was stroking him slowly as he came back. He just got a hand job from a stranger in an alley. From a guy-stranger, in an alley, right outside the Bronze. Holy crap.

Xander was panting, eyes closed. That was like nothing ever. He opened his eyes to see his partner waiting, smug. His familiar... English. And looking just like...

"Oh god. Giles?"

The guy stared at him, eyes flinty. "Who the hell're you?"

"Oh god!" Xander jerked away, shoving himself back in his pants and fumbling up the zipper, taking three tries to get the button through. He'd just been jerked off by Giles'... nephew? cousin? illegitimate love-child? Oh god. "Who are you?"

The boy snarled. "Who's askin'?" Apparently the romance was over.

"Are you- Do you know Rupert Giles?"

"The name's Ripper," the other guy snapped.

He was...? Oh god, he was. Same eyes. Earring. Barely-there dip in his chin. Pursed mouth. He was Giles exactly but not-old. Xander looked around in panic. Modern car parked on the corner. And the door to the Bronze looked just the same. Xander was definitely still living in the now. So his new friend, if it was really Giles, wasn't. "What year is it?"

"Are you barkin'?"

"Am I what? What year is it? How old are you?" Xander grabbed his arms... Young Giles was buff under his jacket. No, don't notice that.

Giles tipped his head, still annoyed, but curious now. "Eighteen."

"And what year is it?"

"It's 1972, you pillock."

"No, Marty McFly, it's 1999. You're in California."

Giles took a few steps back. "No way."

Xander grabbed his sleeve and dragged him out of the alley to the street, to see all the shiny new American cars.

"Far out." A reaction at last, wide eyes as his gaze swept over the cars.

"You didn't notice the distinct lack of flared trousers and wing collars back in the Bronze?"

"Just thought they dressed crap. Like they danced." He looked back at Xander, eyebrow raised. "Should've figured they were American."

Surely 'You just rocketed a few decades into the future,' should have got more of a reaction. Xander pulled him around. "Did you do this? Have you been messing with dark mystical powers?" Curse the hysterical note in his voice.

"No, I fuckin' haven't. This your doin', mate?"

"No! Look, Giles- oof!" Xander found himself back against the wall, struggling for the breath he'd only just regained.

"Name's Ripper, hear?" Yes, and Xander knew that expression exactly. That was Scary Giles.

Never argue with Scary Giles. "Ripper. Okay. We have to fix this. We have to go find-" Xander swallowed the first name that came to mind, "Buffy."

"Who?" Ripper didn't look impressed.

Xander was pretty sure he'd seen enough Trek to know you didn't mix up past and future, and so he had to keep his Giles out of this. Nothing upset Starfleet captains more than time travel anomalies. Not to mention the other reasons. So he just had to get back into the Bronze, tell Buffy, and let her take care of it. "We have to get someone to send you home."

"The hell." Ripper snorted and bounded back, looking around the dingy alley like he'd just landed in Wonderland. "Ninety-fuckin' nine, eh? Don't look any different to me. Come on then. Show me where the fun's at."

"Fun?"

Ripper was already strolling off towards Main Street.

Xander knew Giles' past. At least enough to know he didn't want to know a lot about it. Enough to know that Sunnydale didn't need Giles Junior roaming its streets.

Xander froze. Oh god. He'd had intimate relations with Giles. Third base in a dark alley with Giles. "Oh god."

Ripper turned back, lifting up his hands to ask why Xander wasn't following. And then he came back, threw an arm over Xander's shoulders, and led him towards... towards something guaranteed to be bad.

This was going to be very, very bad.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It started okay. Wandering Sunnydale with Ripper's arm slung comfortably over his shoulders was weird, even disturbing, but not in the bad category. At least, as long as Buffy and Willow and Oz headed straight to school, and didn't detour through town. It would even have been kind of nice, being held like this, if not for the Giles thing.

Ripper - and Xander was totally ready to embrace not calling him Giles - felt good. Stronger, firmer than Cordy or Will. And he was parading Xander around in a way the girls never had, like he was happy to be seen with him. Like Xander was someone to be happy to be seen with. It was kind of cool. Except for the Giles thing.

There were still a few people milling around on Main Street - not many, but enough that Xander's new charge couldn't seem to help colliding with a few of them as he passed, jarring Xander every time, never pausing long enough to collect their death-ray glares, let alone issue apologies.

"Doesn't look all that different to me."

Xander looked around. Sunnydale was kind of retro, he supposed. Typical small town. But did retro American suburbia really compare with seventies... London? "Where did you come from? I mean, where do you live?"

"I was in London. Got a couple of weeks before I get locked up at Oxford."

As much as Ripper tried to be too cool to be impressed, Xander could see his eyes were taking in everything. The buildings, the cars, the shops. Ripper unwound from him and made straight for the first shop window under a street light, using the reflection to check and groom his hair.

"So..." Maybe if Xander went along for a while, he'd have a chance of dragging him back to safety. "What do you want to do?"

Ripper smiled, a mean smile that didn't meet his eyes. These days it tended to indicate that the smilee was about to get staked by an angry Slayer. On Ripper it was... sexy. Ripper seemed to be well aware of its power, as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket and slipped two in his mouth. He flicked his lighter with a flair that... actually made him look like a poser. But a sexy poser. His arm slithered back around Xander's neck as his free hand offered over one of the cigarettes.

"Uh, no thanks."

Ripper's nose wrinkled in contempt.

Usually Xander didn't bow to peer pressure, as evidenced by his total lack of cool, but usually he didn't hang out with juvenile delinquents who'd time warped in from the other side of the planet, either. So he took the cigarette and inhaled and promptly bent double, coughing like the proverbial girl. Even through the hacking and wheezing, he could feel Ripper's amusement.

"Not a smoker, then?"

Xander shook his head, eyes watering.

"Slow breaths, mate." A hand rubbed Xander's back, gently, up and down the spine. It felt good, and eventually Xander got himself back under control. His lungs, at least. Not so much other parts.

With Ripper's own caught between pursed lips, Xander's cigarette was plucked from his fingers and flicked into the gutter. Ripper pulled at his elbow to get him going again, then fished in his jacket for a wallet. He frowned as he flipped through. "Guessing you don't know where to get weed."

"No... No! No weed! No drugs! And - hey!" That was American money. "Where did you get that money?"

"Found it."

Xander snatched the wallet from his hands. California licence, not Rupert Giles. In fact the photo looked remarkably like one of the people they just brushed past. "You *stole* that man's wallet? You picked his pocket?"

He shrugged. "Don't freak out. I'll split it."

Xander almost dropped it. A stolen wallet with his fingerprints all over it. "No! You have to give it back!"

Ripper looked at him with utter disbelief, and waved his arm. "Gone now, isn'he?" And he snatched it back, plucked the notes out, and tossed the empty wallet with perfect aim into a trash can on the other side of the street.

"That's it. We're leaving." Xander grabbed the leather jacket by the elbow and pulled, getting a good four feet before Ripper leaned back, a seductive spark in his eye.

"Ooooh. Gonna make me, Yank?"

"Yes."

"Can't be leaving yet. Not square, are we?"

"Square?" Xander squeaked, knowing exactly what he meant.

Ripper crowded up to him, warm body and hot breath and burning green eyes. "What's your name?"

"Xander." And he ought to be moving back, except he wasn't.

"Got interrupted back there. You gonna do something for me, Xander?"

Do something. For Giles. Xander shook his head, violently. Accidentally being jerked off in a dark alley by a stranger before you realised it was Giles who had his hand on your dick was apocalyptic enough. To... with his own hand on... Right now, Xander could still grasp the tenuous threads of denial that Giles had anything in his trousers at all, except for the protrusion sticking into Xander's own thigh. And maybe that was a stake. A really thick, blunt stake. Oh god.

"No more touching!" He shoved Giles - Ripper - back, and got a snort of contempt in return.

"Liked my hand down your trousers well enough."

"That's before I realised I was being felt up by the ghost of Christmas past."

"Then I'll just have to go find me own fun, won't I?"

"What? No!"

But Ripper had already danced off the kerb like he was in a damned musical, and was making his way down the street.

Xander pushed both hands through his hair. Maybe it would be best just to get Giles. Go to the school, get Giles, let him deal with Ripper. He was responsible for him, after all. Dealing with the little criminal degenerate was just about as perfect definition of justice as anyone was ever likely to come up with.

If they could find him again.

Ripper had stopped dead in the middle of the street. Probably not a good sign. Xander traipsed after him, until he realised what had captured his attention, and then he broke into a jog. No way was he leaving Ripper alone while he tracked down Giles.

"It's a magic shop," Ripper explained eagerly, as though Xander didn't know, as though it wasn't the exact reason Xander was still here.

"It's closed."

"Good one." Ripper was looking around now, hands flexing like he wanted just the right projectile to hurl through the storefront. He grinned at Xander. "I know a few spells."

"Good for you. I'm sure your parents are very proud."

That pissed him off, at least enough to get his attention. "You're a boring little shite."

"Fine. Can we go?"

"Go then." Ripper shoved him backwards, hard enough that Xander almost lost his footing.

This was not getting Ripper on his side. And the only thing in this whole disastrous night that Xander was absolutely certain of was that if anything happened, everyone was going to blame him. Especially Giles.

"It's a bad magic shop. I mean a stupid magic shop. Not spells." Yeah, that was pretty good. Even had Ripper listening. "Magic tricks. Cards and rabbits, and boxes to saw through, not wolfs bane or crystal balls. Not a newt eye in sight. And absolutely no powerful 5000 year-old demon-summoning books in Latin."

"Oh." Ripper looked so disappointed that Xander felt sorry for him for about a third of a second. Then he got his rebel-without-a-cause look back in place and clapped Xander's shoulder. "Come on, then. You're supposed to be showing me your shiny futuristic world. Where are the flying cars and robots and 3D TVs?" He suddenly looked up, and peered at the sliver of moon. "They got a colony up there yet?"

"Moon colony?"

"Yeah."

Xander laughed, and then he realised, 1972. Ripper must have seen Apollo land just three years ago. A moon colony was probably just around the corner for him. "I don't know if I should be telling you stuff."

"I'm learning stuff anyway, aren' I? California's still here, so I guess Russia didn't nuke you. And your cars have wheels, so I guess no flying."

"No flying cars," Xander confirmed.

Ripper gazed over the cars parked along the street. "Nice cars, though." He tipped his head at one a few lengths up, and wandered over, pressing his face against the driver's window.

Xander's stomach plummeted to his feet.

"You like it?" Ripper asked, forgetting his attitude and running his fingers along the metallic paint like it was a woman's thigh. Or, Xander supposed, a man's thigh. "It's like a Mustang, but it's not." He shifted, trying to find a better angle to see through the tinted window. "How's it powered? Solar? Atomic?"

"Um. Gas."

"Hydrogen gas?"

"No. Just... gas. Gasoline." Xander shrugged, somehow embarrassed that the nineties weren't cooler.

"Oh." Giles turned back to the car, and brightened. "I've never driven anything built in the nineteen-nineties. Bet she goes like the clappers."

"*No*."

"What's your deal?" He glared, and then his voice shifted from a growl to a low purr. "If you're such a pansy, why don't you just sod off?" He stretched back against the car, arms spread along the roof, groin thrust forward, those jeans way too tight to disguise what was definitely not a stake. "Have you ever shagged in the back of a... whatever the hell this is? Leather squeaking, crammed into sloping seats, head bang, bang, banging on the window..."

"Well, no." Xander didn't really fit in his own jeans, right now. "Though, truly, you've painted such a vivid picture that I feel like I have."

"We'll take it somewhere quiet." Ripper raised a wicked eyebrow, then turned, bending over to examine the lock. Or to show off his really, really great ass. Which Xander wasn't watching because, oh yeah, this was Giles. Giles, Giles, Giles, he chanted in his head.

Xander was running out of ideas. Badgering him didn't work, challenging him didn't work, and the only thing that did work to distract him was the only thing that could possibly be worse than a Ripper-style crime spree.

Which was looking like it was about to kick into high gear because Ripper was slipping something down the window-gap. "Ripper, no!"

An alarm shrieked in the silence, sending Ripper stumbling back into Xander's knees, and the pair of them went rolling on the sidewalk.

"Soddin' hell! What the-" Ripper stared wide-eyed at the screaming car, now flashing all its lights like a really angry Christmas tree.

Xander grabbed his arm and hauled him up. "Come on!"

Ripper was with him, though he hadn't turned from the show. "Can't fly but your cars have fuckin' air raid sirens now?"

"We have to go!"

He followed for about two more steps, and then broke Xander's grip to jog to the next car along. He gave it a solid kick in the door, and horns blared, a grating counterpart to the shrill wailing of the first.

Xander wanted to cover his ears, but Ripper laughed and bounced about like a little kid. He hurried to the next, pouting when it met his kick with silence. He kicked it harder, leaving a bigger dent, and then rushed on.

He seemed to know Xander wasn't chasing him to join in, and he ran up the hood of the next car to its roof, giving it an extra jump for good measure, throwing his head back to laugh when it joined the cacophony, and running down the trunk. Up and over the next car, darting across the street to leap up on the hood of a Mercedes.

The alarms were piercing and grating and thudding and driving Xander crazy, and cops were gonna show any minute. Xander managed to catch him around the waist and yank him down, just as a shout broke through the noise, and thank god Ripper ran with him, the pair of them racing through streets and down alleys, long after Xander's legs were burning and his lungs were bursting, until the alarms were a distant whine, and Xander had to stop, had to drop his hands on his knees and gasp painfully for air.

Ripper was laughing, wild and carefree, which was totally unfair because Xander was pretty sure his heart was going to beat itself right out of its chest, pulse ringing like a big vampire dinner bell. He couldn't stand straight but he turned his head to glare.

It was wasted on Ripper, who was slouched back against a wall, panting as hard as he was laughing. "That was wild! Fuckin' alarms on cars!"

But Xander wasn't glaring anymore. Ripper was... Xander skirted over 'beautiful' and settled on 'unbelievably sexy'. His eyes were dancing in the dim streetlight, and the grin on his face was totally genuine. He was clutching his stomach as the chuckles continued. Giles never laughed like this.

Ripper was watching him now, innocent grin turning dirty, but still the same honesty in it. It made Xander's stomach feel funny in a way that wasn't totally unlike the still-lingering fear.

He didn't move as Ripper pushed off the wall, casually meandering closer. Couldn't move at all, except to let Ripper edge him back against a chain link fence.

Better than a crime spree, Xander told himself, only way to distract him that worked, he thought, but neither of those was remotely the reason why he was tipping his head and letting his mouth open.

Ripper's lips settled gently over his own, just brushing for a tantalising moment, and then a tongue slipped over Xander's, sweeping up behind his teeth, tasting him inside.

A hand pressing his chest so the fence dug in his back, and a hand sliding down his thigh, Xander was pinned under the sexiest kiss of his admittedly short life. Giles kissed like this? Wet and slow and now Xander imagined his Giles, very old, tweed-wearing, bespectacled, librarian Giles, pinning someone with a kiss like this, and somehow that almost gave him the power to send this boy sprawling, except he was just bracing against his solid, leather-covered shoulders when-

"Xander?"

-and Xander's stomach, which had been residing in his shoes for most of the evening, plummeted further down, possibly tunnelling straight through to the Master's now-abandoned lair. And Xander's hands, which had been pressed to push, now grabbed the leather and held on for dear life.

He swallowed. "Angel." His voice hadn't hit that octave since he was fourteen.

Angel was staring with a look that made his usual expression seem positively animated.

The jacket in Xander's clenched fists pulled as Ripper tried to turn, and Xander jerked him back.

"Are you all right?" Angel asked, which was positively the most stupid question Angel had ever asked. Xander had just been caught making out with Giles. By Angel. What could possibly be right? Nothing was ever going to be right, ever again.

"Your boyfriend?" Ripper whispered hotly in Xander's ear, with a lewd little grind of his hips.

"No!"

Xander realised too late he'd answered two questions, and he threw up a hand to stay Angel as he wrapped a hand tight around Ripper's slim waist to keep him from turning. They were in shadows here but vamp vision... oh god, vamp smell! Bad enough that Angel had seen this at all. If he recognised Xander's partner, Xander was going to have to stake him as a matter of honour. And Buffy would want to know why, and Willow would wheedle out of him that Angel had caught him necking with Giles, and the world as he knew it would be over.

"It's fine. Angel. Go away."

Angel relaxed and smirked, letting his gaze roam down their locked bodies and back up again. Amused. The undead bastard was laughing at him. "This is a bad part of town to be... necking in."

Every bit of hate that Xander had ever felt for Angel came back, and was multiplied by a bazillion. "Go. Away."

Angel didn't move an inch.

Xander squeezed his eyes shut, resting his chin on Ripper's shoulder. "Please?" Ripper's hair tickled his ear, which was kind of nice, except not right now. He reopened his eyes, to see Angel strolling away. Xander sighed and loosened his death grip.

"Not your boyfriend." Ripper was amused, too, as he finally got a look at the departing intruder. Was anyone not laughing at him? "Just some mate you don't like seeing you with other mates."

Xander ran through the forty different ways to describe Angel, and settled on "I kinda hate the guy."

Ripper's eyes lit. "Then let's go kick the crap out of him!"

For a shining moment, Xander considered the merits of that one. Giles might even appreciate the poetic justice of it. But while he suspected Ripper was a better fighter than himself, the pair of them were hardly a match for Angel. "Tempting as that sounds, he'd kick our asses."

"Didn't look so tough."

"You didn't see him."

"Didn't sound so tough."

"He's a vampire."

"Vampire!" Ripper stumbled back, fumbling Xander's stake from his pocket. "And you just fuckin' stood there?" He clenched the stake in his fist as he watched Angel's distant retreating back, and then looked at Xander, fear turning to awe. Or at least certifiably impressed. "Man, you just stood there."

Suddenly Xander realised he wasn't fully briefed on Giles' early introduction to the demon world. "You've never seen one?"

"Not so close. Not standing four fuckin' feet away with my back to him." He stared at the stake in his hand, as though he'd just realised what it was. "You know about 'em."

Xander lifted his shoulders. "I've fought a few."

"And won?"

"Well..." Xander considered lying, but honesty sadly prevailed. "No. I wouldn't say I won. I'd say I had the crap kicked out of me. But I've been known to land a punch or two before being pitched into a tree."

Ripper was standing well-back now, examining the whole of him. "Didn't tell me that," he purred. And then he came back and he reached a hand around to tug Xander forward to meet his lips, those amazing lips, who knew English people could kiss like this?

They were turning, until Ripper was leaning back on another car, which meant Xander could stop this any time he wanted. Any time. Any... No, he was helpless. And there were two hands sliding down his back now, to the inevitable conclusion. Giles grabbed his ass the way Aunt Katy grabbed his cheeks at Christmas, but produced an altogether different effect.

Xander groaned. He didn't know when his own hands had wrapped around Ripper, when he'd buried his own fingers in Ripper's hair, but he wasn't going anywhere any time soon. He pushed his groin forward, against Ripper's rocking hips, starting to wonder if he was going to come right here, on the street, in his pants. He kissed Ripper harder.

Ripper broke the kiss with a smile, and then there was pressure on his neck, pressing him... downwards. In the direction of his knees.

"No. No way. And even if I was going to, which I'm *not*, but... here?"

Ripper licked Xander's lips, with a devilish smile. "I like cars."

To be honest, the idea of going down on his knees here, in the street, and learning the fine art of fellatio on this young proto-Giles was starting to sound like an incredibly good idea, and that was how Xander knew that he needed to get back to the library and stick this guy in Giles' hands ASAP, temporal rips in the time-space continuum be damned.

With an effort, he managed to stay on his feet and summon a glare that would have made Willow proud.

Ripper held out for a few brief moments, then sagged and pouted. "Fine."

"Come on." Xander grabbed Ripper's hand and pulled. "We're going to my school library."

One eyebrow shot up, in a perfect impression of Giles. "And you think my thing for cars is perverted."

"Shut up."

But Ripper threaded his fingers with Xander's, lit a new cigarette with his free hand, and was willingly led towards Sunnydale High.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Of course, Xander thought, it would never be that simple. Because somehow, he'd ended up in his math classroom, propped against Mr Harper's desk, arms full of lean, writhing Ripper, nuzzled by a chin that was shaved smooth but bonier than a girl's, and those hands were wandering where Cordelia's had never ventured. Xander's own hands had somehow graduated their way to squeezing Ripper's ass, as a whole list of two-participant sexual pleasures that yesterday had been far off dreams for the distant future were suddenly here, literally, in his lap.

Xander pulled Ripper closer, kissed him harder, gasping when Ripper bit his lip, feeling the triumphant grin against his mouth. It was like a battle, kissing this guy, like wrestling to the death, like - hey. How did they end up so Ripper was the one against the desk? Of course, this was good too, Ripper's hand tangling in Xander's hair to tug him deeper, then sliding down, pushing down on his shoulder.

Sometimes you did stuff, knowing it was going to end with nothing but bad. Kissing Willow. Casting that spell on Cordelia. Something about this most definitely had that flavour of impending disaster. And yet, just a little more pressure, and this time, to hell with it, Xander went.

"That's it. Maths'll never be so boring after this, mate."

Of that Xander was pretty much certain. And math was way easier to think about right now than what he was about to do. Or, damn, how much this hurt his knees.

Ripper's jeans were crazy-tight. The view from behind had been pleasant, but now, up close and personal with the front, Xander couldn't help wincing. It was a wonder Ripper hadn't sprained himself.

His shaking hands reached up to pop the button and slowly slide the zip, and Ripper's dick pushed its way through like it was desperate for air. No underwear. He wasn't wearing any underwear.

Giles' dick. Xander swallowed. Whoever imagined that Giles was hung like... like someone who wouldn't be intimidated by some of the more unwholesome illustrations in his demon books?

He tugged the jeans a little lower to give himself more room. And more time. Brown hair grew around the base, much lighter than Xander's own, thinning back on his balls. His dick was a good length, but damn, it was thick.

...Was it still, Xander wondered? Did Giles have a baby's arm tucked in his tweedy trousers?

"You havin' trouble finding it?" was growled thickly from somewhere above him.

That was hardly likely to be the problem here. With one last waver between the lust instinct and the fear instinct, Xander went with lust and licked it from balls to tip. It tasted pretty good, and it earned him a long, warm groan that sounded exactly like Giles would sound having sex, if Xander had ever imagined such a thing.

Fingers tangled in his hair, dragging him forward, and Xander breathed deep, dizzying musk as he let Ripper slide inside.

Oh yeah. Xander was gay. All the see-sawing he'd ever done over how much he liked looking at girls, kissing girls (a pleasure already seriously overtaken by the kissing he'd done tonight) was entirely sunk by the amazing homecoming of dick in his mouth. So very gay. Xander had to squeeze his own dick painfully hard, to keep from going over.

"Fuck, yeah," drifted down from Ripper. Xander heartily agreed.

No one had ever sucked Xander's dick, but he felt he had a pretty good grasp of what might feel good, and Ripper's groans seemed to be bearing out his theories. And it wasn't uncomfortable or dirty or difficult like he'd worried it would be. It tasted good, and it felt good to have his mouth full like this, his jaw stretched wide.

Xander took him as deep as he could get and then let him slide out, in and out, god, the smell of him, and here was Xander Harris on his knees in Mr Harper's classroom sucking dick, doing a fucking great job of it, and he felt like he'd shaken something loose.

"Fuck yeah," Ripper said again, and his hips rocked as a hand settled in Xander's hair and the other settled on Xander's where it rested on Ripper's hip.

Xander was harder than possibly any man had ever been before, harder still when the hand in his hair pulled a little, dragging Xander further. He almost choked, mouth starting to close in reflex and his teeth caught Ripper's dick. He almost apologised before he remembered he couldn't, but Ripper moaned, and he realised he didn't need to.

Another experimental graze of teeth and Ripper didn't exhale at all, and somehow Xander knew that all he had to do now was suck hard, until the back of his throat filled and he swallowed and swallowed.

Afterwards he just knelt there, staring at Ripper's soft dick. He was in some meta-state beyond mortal arousal. Painfully, crazily hard. Could he... Would Ripper do the same for him? Could he do it to Ripper again? He wanted to do it again. For longer. He wanted to be the best, most talented mouth Ripper had ever been in.

Hands under his elbows hauled him up, and he realised how much his knees hurt, and then forgot again when he saw Ripper's flushed, bright-eyed face. He did that.

Ripper brushed the corner of Xander's mouth with his thumb, just like Xander's mom cleaning- oh. Oh.

Xander wiped the back of his hand hard across his mouth, blushing - did he ever stop? - at Ripper's grin.

He wanted to object when Ripper zipped up, but that was the reminder he needed. This wasn't why they'd broken into the school at night. He pictured Snyder jerking off until everything had subsided, and then headed for the door.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"This is the way out," Xander lied, as he led Ripper towards the library, checking for the hundredth time that all their clothes were in place. The taste of Ripper was sharp on his tongue and probably on his breath, and almost certainly written all over his face, but he was just going to have to live with that. And not breathe on anyone.

Because he'd just sucked off Giles. Holy librarian, Batman.

It was getting easier to think of them as two separate people, which was probably some sort of psychological adaptation to protect his own sanity, except for little moments when he remembered they weren't. Like now. He'd just sucked off Giles.

Light still shone through the windows, so Giles - Xander's Giles - *Buffy's*, official, 1999, Sunnydale Giles - was there. Probably the girls, too. And Oz. So all in all, kind of like walking unarmed and already bleeding into a vampire nest.

Maybe they'd made a breakthrough. Maybe there was a new supernatural crisis so huge that they wouldn't have time to make a big fuss about Giles' evil twin. Xander wondered how heinous a crisis would have to be to trump this.

"You hadn't done that before, had you?"

Xander stopped in his tracks. He could actually feel the temperature of his cheeks and ears rocketing. Oh god, was he that bad at it?

Ripper slithered around him, arms sliding up his body, chest pressing to Xander's back. Just a few feet from the library doors. "Chill out. You did all right for a beginner. Just seemed a little more raw talent than honed technique." Ripper cooled his burning ear with a wet lick. So kind of him. Xander closed his eyes, gathering himself as a sharp knuckle drew a hard, ticklish line down his spine to press right in the middle of his ass, and Ripper's voice went lower still. "Does that mean I get to be first here, too?"

Xander barely spared time for a glance through the porthole before slamming through the library doors, dragging Ripper behind him.

Everyone looked up in surprise. Buffy, Willow and Oz moved on to a deja-vu-type bemused curiosity when Xander swung Ripper to stand alone in front of him, as if they knew there was something they should recognise, but they couldn't quite put their fingers on it.

Giles' surprise turned pretty much straight to comic horror. Little did he know how bad it was.

Xander glared straight at him. "Do you have an explanation for this?"

For someone who'd all but left claw marks on the walls when Xander first tried to drag him here, Ripper seemed to come to terms with the attention awfully quickly. He slouched in the middle of the room, one hand casually draped in his pocket, the other smoothing his hair, attitude turned up full. He ran his gaze over the girls and Oz, forehead creasing slightly as he took in Giles, and then he reached back to fish out a cigarette. "These your friends, then?"

Xander stalked forward to snatch it out of his hand. "Well?"

Giles' mouth was wide open. "I have no idea..."

"You're me!" Ripper exclaimed. He strode up for a better look, examining Giles from highly-polished spectacles to tie and red suspenders down to sensible shoes. In profile, they were uncanny. Ripper gave his own black jacket a tug. "Sodding hell. I think I'll top myself."

The girls stared, slack-jawed. Even Oz was tipping towards a full-blown facial expression.

"This isn't possible." Giles was more shaken than Xander had ever seen him. "This must be some kind of mystical illusion. Time travel - that's utter nonsense."

Buffy looked at Giles Junior, and then back to her own. "Uh, last week, it snowed. And now you're getting all James Randi about time travel?"

"The evidence is pretty compelling," Oz agreed.

Giles and Ripper were staring at each other, Ripper's initial fascination edging closer to matching Giles' dismay as he took in the wardrobe. From here, the similarities were striking. Giles' hair was grey and Ripper's was sandy brown, but their ears: exactly the same. And their noses, and the slight dip in the chin that wasn't quite a cleft. Xander had no idea how he hadn't seen it immediately. Giles had some wrinkles, but he was a pretty good-looking guy, really. If you forgot that he was a school librarian. And old.

"Could he be a demon who just looks like Giles?" wondered Buffy.

"He's not a demon," cut in Xander, suddenly wondering if that would be worse or better.

Willow had come closer for a better look, to stand beside Xander with folded arms. "This is easy enough to test. Ask him something."

"And what would you suggest? My middle name?" Giles asked, without looking away for a second.

Willow considered a moment. "Which teacher did you have a crush on in high school?"

"None," replied Giles.

"Miss Fenwick," drawled Ripper.

Giles shifted backwards.

"Fine." Willow folded her arms. "You ask him something. Something you've never told anyone."

Everyone waited quietly, until Giles cracked a tiny, sly smile. "Christmas break, when I was fifteen. The year Aunt Martha brought her family. Upstairs, in the-"

"Shut it!"

Giles straightened up, and then backed away to sit on the edge of the table. "He's me."

Buffy leaned in. "Oooh, I want to hear about-"

"Shut it," retorted Giles.

Buffy huffed. "This isn't like the movies, is it? Where if the two of you end up in the same place it makes the universe go boom?"

Giles and Ripper both leaned back.

"I'd be more concerned with the grandfather paradox," Oz put in.

"Yes!" Willow agreed, with a little too much enthusiasm. "What happens if Young Giles coming here somehow causes our Old Giles to disappear?"

"Name's Ripper," Ripper snapped.

"And I'll just stick with Giles, if it's all the same to you, Willow. A little less of the old."

"So what now?" Xander asked.

"Now we find a way to send him back."

"I say we interrogate him," Buffy suggested.

"C'mon Giles," Willow begged. "Can't we keep him a while? This could be so much fun! We could learn all about what you were like when you were our age." She turned to Ripper. "What music do you like? What's your favourite class? What do you do for fun?"

Buffy tipped her head, puzzled. "You're wearing something kind of cool. For the seventies. Not a stitch of tweed in sight. Jeans. Sneakers. Are we sure this is Giles?"

Willow giggled. "He's kinda cute. Not in a want him to be my boyfriend way." She added the last for Oz.

"No, he's kinda cute. I can see it," Oz agreed.

Ripper cast a smug look back at Xander, and smoothed his hair.

Giles adjusted his glasses with that look that said he was tuning everyone else out. "Do you have any idea how you came to be here?"

"I was hangin' out. Then I was here. In that club."

"You were at the Bronze?" Buffy frowned at Xander. "Is he what-"

"Found him, didn't I?" Ripper drawled. No way in hell the girls could *not* see the sex in that look, and yet, score two for obliviousness. Giles, though, was narrowing his eyes. "Me and Xander here met up outside in-"

"I found him. And you know. It's Giles. So I brought him here."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Buffy pouted.

"You left the Bronze ages ago." He could always rely on Willow to sniff out the lie of omission. "We listened to the end of the set and then helped the Dingoes pack up and still got here a while back."

"Xander took me for a little tour of your piece-of-crap town."

Giles balked. "You did what? For goodness' sake, Xander, there's no telling the... ramifications of such an escapade-"

"I'm guessing it'd start with a jump in car insurance premiums," Xander retorted.

"Now look here-"

"Do you think I could control you?" Xander exploded, throwing up his hands. "It was all I could do to keep your hands out other people's pockets!"

"Other people's... You picked pockets?" Buffy exclaimed. "You're a pocket picker?"

"I have to say, Giles, you're a man of hidden depths," Oz added.

Giles seemed hard-pressed to decide whether to press his thin-lipped glare on Xander or his own young self. Unsurprisingly, Xander won.

Ripper was loving the chaos. He pulled a chair from the table and sprawled in it. "Saw you two girls in the club." Tipped his head at Oz. "And you. Your band is crap."

"Ripper!"

"It's a fair assessment," shrugged Oz.

"He's Oz," supplied Willow. "I'm Willow."

Ripper spared her half a glance.

"And I'm Buffy."

She stood, and that got a raised eyebrow out of him, as he took a good look at her very small pink and green floral dress. He looked at Willow again, clearly taking in her pink sweater and mustard tights, and gave Xander a nasty smile. "Americans."

"I think you'll like Buffy," Xander replied. "She burned down her last school."

That got a growl from Buffy, but as expected, Ripper looked a little more respectful, now. "Cool."

"It wasn't the whole school. It was the gym."

"Best place to start."

"Perhaps we should see about solving this," Giles said, pointedly.

"I'm in no hurry," purred Ripper.

"Time travel could have all sorts of dangerous side effects," warned Buffy. Then less sure, "Couldn't it?"

"You can't imagine," Xander said, exactly in time with Giles' "I'm quite certain."

"Research. Books." Willow waved a random tome. "Shouldn't we be researching?"

Giles shook his head. "I very much doubt it. My books are on demon lore, apocalyptic signs. Not temporal physics."

"It must be a spell. You have spell books."

He frowned, thinking. "It would take an incredibly powerful caster. The spirits of time do not take kindly to interference."

"A demon?" suggested Oz.

"A Watcher-turned evil?" asked Willow.

"Ethan Rayne?" Buffy said it softly, but Giles flinched.

"Who's Ethan Rayne?"

"Absolutely nobody."

Xander shifted, uncomfortably. "This does have that chaossy-fresh scent. And you in the centre of it."

"This isn't his style." That was somehow the end of the subject, and no one was welcome to ask for details. "In any case, there's no reason to assume the cause is here, now, with us. You all forget my father was equally embroiled in the mystical world."

"Somebody trying to get at your dad?"

"Quite possibly."

Ripper put his feet up on the table. "Let's find 'em, see if there's anything we can do to help."

Buffy stood, ready to move past humiliating everyone and into marshalling the troops. "Xander and Oz, you start with the library books. Willow-"

"Computer," she responded, crossing to sit at the terminal.

Ripper sat forward, and then bounced over to join her. "A computer? You have your own private computer? Can I see?"

Willow gave him a shocked, sceptical look. "Are you sure you're our Giles?"

"Giles, do you have any personal diaries from back then, day planners, anything that might give you clues about what you were doing in...?"

"Seventy-two," supplied Ripper, not moving from the monitor. "Christ. This thing is a computer?"

"1972. Wow."

"Does the Council give 'em to all the Watchers, now?" He grinned at Willow. "My grandmother took me to see a mini-computer in Manchester, but it was the size of a closet. You calculate dates and stuff on here?"

"Um. Yeah. Calculations and stuff."

"The guy's an impostor," Buffy decided.

Giles clenched his jaw. "I have papers at home. There are some books worth trying as well." He didn't look pleased at the idea of leaving.

Buffy turned to their guest. "Ripper, if that's who you really are, you can help us research here."

"He's coming with me," Giles argued.

Ripper finally pulled himself from the PC. "Not bloody likely."

"I'm sorry?"

"Not your bleedin' anorak. C'mon, Xander. Let's have some more fun. You can show me where you have your English class."

"No fun," Giles and Xander replied in unison, and Giles added, "You know, study wouldn't induce such blind panic if you wore your glasses."

"I'm obviously waiting to find a pair as sharp as those."

"You just sit right down and keep quiet."

"Can't tell me what to do. But you'd know that, wouldn't you, old man?" Ripper's look was challenging, and in Giles' steely gaze, Xander thought he could detect the first shadings of panic.

If this got out of control again, it was going to get a lot out of control, and fast. And since Giles had seemingly forgotten how to control himself, it was coming back to Xander to do the dirty work.

"If you have more books at home, why don't Ripper and I both come with you to your place?" As the words left his mouth, somewhat before the relief and glee reached old and young Giles' respective expressions, Xander began to profoundly regret opening his mouth at all. This was a bad, bad idea, and surely someone - Giles, or Ripper, or the eagerly curious girls - would veto-

"Fine." Buffy looked disappointed, but she was already heading up to the books. "The three of you there, the three of us here. Call us if you find anything." She gave Ripper a piercing look. "We'll grill you for dirt later."

Giles yanked on his jacket, ignoring Ripper's disgust at the fresh tweed, and led the way out.

Xander followed him through the doors, mentally cataloguing all the ways in which the next few hours could lead to disaster, leaping away when he felt a hand snaking into his back pocket. He pointed a warning finger at Ripper, checking to see Giles' back was still turned before he mouthed 'No touching.'

Ripper just smiled as innocently as he clearly didn't know how, and headed on forward, leaving Xander to watch the backs of the two Gileses. Could this truly, possibly be the same person? Ripper was sauntering, hands in his black leather jacket pockets, head slightly cocked, ass perfectly moulded into his ridiculously tight jeans. Giles was striding down the corridor, briefcase clutched to his chest, eyes directly ahead, ass... ass invisible in staid straight trousers. And please, please don't wonder if the ass inside those shapeless pants is still as shapely as... dammit, too late. Which meant now Xander was imagining Giles' dick, and if he still liked guys to suck it.

Xander and Willow had kind of guessed about Giles and Ethan Rayne after the whole Eyghon demon incident, but that was vague speculation about Giles' vague and theoretical past, in a kind of 'Do you think he likes guys?' kind of way; it wasn't *knowing*, in a first-hand, evidence seen, Giles really has a dick and he liked it when I grazed the tip with my teeth kind of way. And would he still?

Ripper glanced back with a knowing smile as they stepped out into the cool night, and Xander flushed all the way down to his toes. And then Ripper saw Giles unlocking the car and bounded forward. "You got a... I get a Citroen?"

"Yes."

He smoothed a hand over the mottled grey undercoat that had been its topcoat since Giles bought it. "Nice. Must be an old car, these days. You doin' it up, like?"

Giles' smile became a squirm. "That was the idea."

"You haven't-"

"Do be quiet, Xander."

As Giles circled around to the driver's side, Ripper turned to lean back on the back door, facing Xander. With a smile, he laid his hand flat on his own chest and let it slide gradually south.

Xander yanked open the front passenger door and manhandled him in, claiming the safety of the back seat for himself. This was the worst idea in the history of all ideas that had ever shot out of Xander's traitorous mouth.

Giles gave his young self a wary look, and a longer one to Xander in the rear view mirror, and then put it in gear and drove.

The trip was mostly silent, but Ripper kept twisting to look back at Xander with a gaze that Giles would have been blind and stupid to misinterpret. The way he hunched further and further forward, gripping the wheel tighter and tighter with every turn, kind of indicated that he was neither.

It made Ripper smile, and turn further, for a long, considering examination of the back seat, sizing it up for fucking Xander in. With the leather squeaking and the heads banging and whatever the other thing was.

So Xander curled deeper and deeper into his seat, and stared determinedly out the dark window, praying all the way that Giles would remember that Xander was perfectly straight, and just think this was all one-sided.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As soon as they got in the door, Giles was scrambling for the stairs, muttering about things kept in his room. Xander took one look at the lustful gaze being turned in his direction and escaped to the bathroom.

So. This was bad. Trapped in a house with Giles and Giles' lusty, sexy-as-hell childhood. Xander leaned heavily on the sink, staring wide-eyed at his own reflection. What the hell business did Giles have with being young once? Or horny, or this damned sexy? Xander peered closer. Were his lips swollen? Oh god. Was he in the library with the girls with kiss-swollen lips? Had they been able to tell? Were Wills and Buff and Oz now madly gossipping about Xander and his whorish lips? Well okay, Oz would just be with the random pithy comment, but the girls would make up for him.

Oh god, could Giles tell? Giles had shot him a few looks. Did Giles *know*? Surely not. Surely Giles would never have agreed to Xander coming home with them if he even remotely suspected that there was anything more humiliating going on than Ripper's searing gaze.

Unless he was quite reasonably worried about the others realising. Then it would make perfect sense to get Xander and Ripper out of their way.

Xander dunked his face in handfuls of water. The sooner they got Ripper out of here, the better, and the traitorous little voice that kept reminding him of the way Ripper had sounded laughing in the alley, and how good Ripper had tasted in Mr Harper's classroom, could damn well shut up. Giles, whatever edition, was not the person to be road-testing his newfound gayness with. This could stop right now, and when they got Ripper back to the evil dimension from whence he came, Xander could try figuring himself out. With someone who was not Giles. Somewhere that was not Sunnydale. Far away from Buffy and Willow.

Plan locked, Xander rinsed his mouth and braced himself, before heading out to the living room.

Into the smoky sweet smell of... "What in the name of god are you doing?"

Ripper was sprawled along the length of the couch, sneakers propped up on the arm, considering Xander thoughtfully over a generously-sized joint. "Makin' myself at home, aren't I? My home, i'nnit?"

"You can't smoke in here! You can't-" Xander lowered his voice, "You can't smoke pot in Giles' house!"

Ripper just smiled, took a long drag and then wiggled the joint at him. "Stashing it in the same place after all these years. Maybe the stick up 'is arse isn't wedged so tight after all."

"You can't- where did you get that?" Xander hissed, looking desperately up the stairs, fearing Giles would be down any moment, or maybe poke his head over the edge of the loft, and they'd be busted and somehow Xander would be to blame. Couldn't he smell it already?

"My weed, i'nnit?" Ripper beamed.

His weed? As in... "Giles has pot?" Xander exclaimed.

Giles clattered down the stairs.

Xander took three steps back, bracing for impact as Giles stared at them. Xander and Giles were both frozen in place. Ripper was tipping his head back, attempting to blow smoke rings.

He must have confiscated it from someone at school and forgotten to destroy it. Kept it from Snyder to protect some kid from being expelled.

And then Giles sagged, and turned a weak glare on Xander. "Tell no one."

"You think they'd believe me?" Xander's world had just fallen over. Giles being a degenerate in his dim and dusty past was one thing, but this was now. This was their Giles. Their Giles smoked pot.

Giles strode across the room to snatch up the odd little wooden box lying open by the couch. He checked the contents and snapped it shut, then locked it in the desk. Then he looked at Ripper's bland expression, unlocked the drawer and pulled it out and carried it upstairs.

Ripper lifted his joint in offer to Xander. Xander waved it off and rubbed his face hard. Were there limits to how much bizarreness a person could handle before they got carted away?

Giles came back down with an armful of papers. He dumped them on his desk, then crossed to the bookshelf, picking out titles seemingly at random until he had a stack. "You can start with these. They cover unusual occurrences, and some of the more obscure spells." He hesitated, with a wary glance at his former self. "Xander, you take the spell books."

Okay. So, they were going to just pretend everything was normal. Okay. Denial, Xander could do.

Ripper took a long drag and lifted his legs off the couch to make room, obliging Xander to sit beside him.

Xander dropped the heaviest book on the boy's lap. "Read."

"Didn't pick you for a bleedin' swot."

"Perceptive," Giles muttered.

Xander twisted his head to level his best glare. No way in hell was he going to be playing his usual role of black sheep when Rupert the Pocket-Picking Car Thief was sitting beside him.

They settled into research mode: Giles shuffling through papers, Xander scanning through books, Ripper watching Xander through sultry eyes and randomly flipping the page whenever someone glanced in his direction.

"Ah-" Xander looked up but Giles had trailed off mid-sentence, still reading, a finger raised. "...no." Giles smiled apologetically. "Keep reading." He headed for the shelves for more books, dumping them on the desk and then carting the papers back upstairs.

When they were alone, Ripper dragged the last bit from his joint and leaned over to stub it out in an antique-looking metal dish that didn't look anything like any sort of ashtray. "So who am I to you?"

Xander sat bolt upright. "What?"

A huff. "Him. Who's he to you?"

"My librarian."

"The librarian you go to when you've been cocksucking time-travelling would-be watchers. How'd he suck you into the mystic gig?"

Xander winced, praying sound didn't travel too well up to the loft. At least this led into a somewhat normal conversation. "He didn't. I mean, I guess Buffy did, and he was stuck with us. We're Buffy's best friends. Me and Willow and Oz are the Slayerettes."

Ripper's mouth was open - rather a good copy of the expression Giles had worn half the evening. "Slayerettes? Wait. The little blonde one's the Slayer? She's- I get saddled with the actual Slayer?"

"Yeah..."

"No bloody way." Ripper jumped to his feet, throwing the book hard at the wall. Xander winced as pages flew everywhere. That was a really old book. "They said I'd be a bleedin' Watcher but not *the* Watcher. No bloody way."

Xander stood as well, unnerved, making calming gestures. Uh-oh. "It's not so bad. You've saved the world a couple of times. That's pretty cool."

"That's a bloody lie." Ripper shoved him, face twisted in anger, and then a punch to the gut almost threw his dinner on the carpet. Ripper grabbed his shirt and Xander was off his feet, swung dizzily into the wall, head bouncing hard off the plaster with a white flash.

"I'm no fuckin' Watcher, you hear me?" He stomped off to the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

Giles hurried down the stairs. "What happened?"

Xander rolled awkwardly to sit, rubbing his head and clutching his stomach. He might puke. He hadn't decided. Something had broken his fall, and shards of it were now sticking into his ass. And his gut really, really hurt.

"Xander!" Giles' tone could have used a little less impatience and a little more concern.

"Apparently you weren't too hot on the idea of being a Watcher. Or at least on the idea of being *the* Watcher." He swallowed delicately against the rising bile.

Giles gave him that daggers look he reserved specially for Xander. "Why on earth did you tell him?"

"It. Came. Up. I didn't say, 'Hey, so you're going to be in charge of Buffy, who by the way is the Slayer, and hey, feel free to take it out on me.' I thought you knew since you were in diapers." And, hello, *ow*.

He backed off, rubbing his forehead wearily. "I should have thought of this. I'd avoided saying anything, but I suppose I should have warned you."

"That would have been helpful."

That earned Xander another scowl, until it was overtaken by a worried expression as Giles finally realised Xander was on the floor, in a nest of broken table. "Are you all right?"

Xander gave him the evil eye until he looked suitably contrite and offered a hand. Xander ignored it to stand without help, screwing up his face against the twist of his stomach muscles.

"Did he-"

Xander jerked back as Giles reached for him. Not for anything was there gonna be any physical contact with Giles today. Or ever again. In fact, this was way too close. A couple of steps back, that was better. Nevada would be better still. "I think I should check on him."

"I think perhaps I should," Giles suggested, with a pained look at the broken table. Fine. Let him get hit. He headed down the hall to knock on the bathroom door. "Ripper?"

No answer.

"Ripper?"

Was that a thunk?

Giles hurried back. "He's gone."

"Gone?"

"Out the window. I suggest we find him."

"Maybe he needs some cooling off time."

Giles' jaw worked as he made a careful examination of the air above Xander's left shoulder. "Do I need to tell you what sort of things I used to do to cool off?"

"Let's go."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Where is he likely to go?"

"I can't imagine." Giles stopped at the Citroen, contemplating his keys.

"Watcher, know thyself," Xander muttered under his breath.

"Xander..." That was the familiar tone of the end of Giles' patience, but he cut it short with a sigh. "Somewhere familiar, I suppose. Where did the pair of you get to earlier?"

"Kind of everywhere. Look, why don't you drive around, check the school and the Bronze and I'll check Main Street?"

"As good a plan as any. Do be careful."

"Hey, you know me. Bravery is not my middle name."

"It's hardly a matter of danger. I was- he is..."

Yeah, neither of them wanted to follow that sentence to the terminal. "I got it."

Giles looked grateful, and didn't attempt to explain any further as he dropped Xander off in town and headed towards the school.

The people were all gone; the street was empty, and it didn't take long after all. Xander just followed the crashing, banging metal.

Ripper never saw him coming, and Xander had time to watch the show for a few minutes. Ripper was mounting an assault on the refuse of Sunnydale's business district, sending one trash can flying after another, plenty of cursing between angry puffs from his cigarette.

"You smoke, you lift wallets. Now you kick over trash cans. Where will your dastardly wickedness end?"

He jumped, and made a poor show of covering it. "Sod off."

"That's not gonna happen." Another trash can went flying, bakery bags splitting open and bread rolls rolling happily along the gutter, the lid clattering in noisy circles until it finally fell flat.

"What are you doing?"

"Looking for somethin' to top m'self with."

Xander took in the long stretch of spilled trash. "There's a banana peel in that pile that you could slip on. Could be both wacky and fatal."

Blinding pain, and Xander was on the ground before he knew he'd been hit. Again. "Whoa." And *ow*. Xander put his hand gingerly to his jaw.

Ripper at least had the grace to look mildly guilty, though not like he wouldn't do it again if presented with an opportunity. "Don't you take anything seriously, Xander?"

Xander fought his first response, which was to stare around the mess and snort dramatically. Instead he climbed carefully to his feet, keeping a good distance between them. "I'm not the one putting the fear of god into innocent trash cans over his distant future career decisions."

"Not a bleedin' decision, is it?" Ripper kicked the empty can. "Gonna turn into a dried-out husk just like the rest of them."

That was exactly how they would have described Giles, Xander realised guiltily. "He isn't so bad."

He gaped. "Have you seen him? Crusty old fart..."

"Yeah. I've seen him." Xander folded his arms, indignant to hear an outsider judging Giles the way they would. Did. Loudly and often. Even if he wasn't an outsider, exactly. "I've seen him fight vampires and I've seen him save my life a few million times. He's got some moves. He's totally cool with a sword. He's funny. He's better than any other adult I know. He knows pretty much all human knowledge in existence."

Ripper snarled. "I don't know everything."

"Well, not yet. I'm assuming you're going to learn it somewhere."

"Yeah. You wanna send me back so they can hoover out my personality and stick a fuckin' Encyclopaedia Daemonica in there. You can save your fuckin' research. I'm not going."

Okay, getting seriously irritated now. "Man, I don't get why you're so upset. If I got to see myself in the future, being someone actually worthwhile, being that smart and that important, I'd be checking off the days in a calendar. I'd go tweed-shopping tomorrow."

"Good for you. You be him. I like who I am."

"Would you rather be fifty-something and still kicking over trash cans?" Xander dared to move closer and lay a hand on his chest. "You're gonna be the coolest old guy I know. You kick demon ass on a regular basis. You're one the good guys." He looked into eyes that were softening. "You're kinda what makes the rest of us good guys."

"I don't fuckin' want it."

"I remember." Softly spoken, but Ripper spun around, Xander forgotten. Giles was approaching slowly, with a depth of compassion in his eyes that left Xander more shaken than his earlier collision with Ripper's fist. He'd seen a look like it rested on Buffy once or twice, but never this bare. Giles stopped a couple of feet away, and slid his hands into his pockets. "I didn't want anything to do with it, but I thought if I went along for a while, I'd find a way to escape, when I was older."

"But I'm not gonna escape."

Giles snorted, softly. "You will. And I have more regrets from those years than you can yet imagine. Eventually, you'll choose to go back."

Xander could only see Ripper's back, his hands clenching and unclenching. "Why?"

"I realised I wanted to make things better, not worse."

Ripper didn't respond.

"Buffy isn't like the other Slayers, and she won't let you become like the other Watchers. She's an amazing girl. She's doing incredibly well, and she didn't have twenty-five years to get used to the idea."

"And when she gets picked off?"

Giles flinched at the crass words. "It's going to hurt."

That was met with a long silence. Eventually, Ripper's head turned slightly. "Xander's okay."

A dry glance in Xander's direction. "He does more than his fair share of ensuring I don't become a dried-out husk."

"And Willow," Xander added, because she shouldn't be left out.

"Willow as well," Giles confirmed.

Ripper looked back at Xander, one eyebrow raised, and then turned to Giles again. "Isn't it all supposed to be a secret between you and the Chosen One?"

Giles' mouth curled up in a tiny smile, and he shrugged. "I'm not like the other Watchers." He laid a hand on Ripper's shoulder. "You're not ready yet, but you will be."

There was a long quiet, that seemed almost comfortable. Though now the distraction was gone, the swelling in Xander's cheek and jaw was making itself known. And, *ow*.

Giles blinked when he saw him feeling out the tender spots. "Come on. Let's go home. Get some ice on Xander's face."

After a moment Ripper nodded, sparing a glance for Xander and a mumbled, "Sorry."

Xander shrugged. "You wouldn't have had the full Sunnydale experience if you hadn't had something to totally wig you out."

That got a smile from Giles and... not quite a chuckle, but it definitely ranked as something approaching one. Rare score for Xander.

Ripper lit a cigarette, blowing the first lungful of smoke out hard, and followed them to the car. He kept his hands blessedly, unfortunately, to himself and his cigarette. They were running out of time. Xander wished someone would talk, to drown out the little voice in his head that was begging him to ask if they could keep Ripper around just a little longer. But he kept his mouth shut, and they drove home in silence.

When they got in, Giles pulled an ice pack from the freezer, wrapping it in a towel before he offered it. Smiling in thanks was a mistake, and his wince brought both of the Gileses closer. "I'm fine. Had worse." Not much worse without losing consciousness, but that didn't really need to be said aloud. Ripper had a hell of a swing.

Ripper tried to tug the pack away for a better look, so Xander shoved him off. "I'm going to the bathroom."

Xander-in-the-mirror's eyes went wide. Wow. That was going to stay with him. The whole right side of his face was already swelling, red taking on a bluish cast. No need to worry anymore about his lips looking swollen.

Xander sat on the toilet seat with a sigh. He totally understood the way Buffy sometimes resented being the Slayer. He would have hated that responsibility. But he'd never imagined that Giles once felt the same way. Or maybe still did.

He felt like he'd been spying. Or like he'd accidentally read Giles' diary, and any minute Giles was going to storm in and yell at him, or worse, give him that steely disgusted look.

This reached new heights in uncomfortable. Giles didn't usually share with Xander. Xander knew the guy had rare heart-to-hearts with Buffy, and Willow seemed to have won a confidence or two, but Xander was the comic foil. Like he was for everyone. Of course, now Xander was the one who'd performed lewd acts on him in Mr Harper's classroom, so it was likely he wouldn't even be that ever again.

And that pretty much sucked, because now he really wanted to know Giles better. Not just the Ripper part, though he really, really wanted to know Ripper better. He was going to grab the first moment they had to tell him that, and maybe kiss him again, while they still had time. It was just a matter of finding an excuse to shoo Giles into another room.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles was sitting on the couch when he came out, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. Ripper... wasn't. A bad feeling settled in Xander's gut. Somewhere deeper and to the left of where Ripper had sunk his fist. "Where is he?"

"I sent him back."

"What?" Already? "How? I thought we didn't know how."

"He's here by accident." Giles slumped back into the couch, and ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it up. "My father left notes - a simple incantation - for sending him back. I found them as soon as we arrived home."

"You couldn't have warned me?"

Giles looked at him strangely. "I didn't see the point, and I definitely didn't want to warn him. We may have calmed him down but I can assure you he wasn't fine in the least with his future."

"But..." Xander was struggling to think of something - anything - to say rather than to take Giles and shake him. "What have we been looking for all night?"

"I was organising a memory-wiping spell. He mustn't remember us, his future."

So Giles wouldn't remember. God. Xander hadn't even thought of that, Giles remembering what Ripper and Xander did. Thank all the small gods that had been fixed before it ever occurred to him, and Giles would never know.

Xander's throat closed, suddenly. Giles would never know. Up against the wall outside the Bronze, and laughing in the alley, and Ripper's sly suggestion that he could introduce Xander to more than sucking cock, and everything Xander had told him about how much he liked Giles... "He won't remember what you said, out there."

"He mustn't remember. There are mistakes I don't have the right to unmake, however much I wish I could." There was a rawness in his voice, and Xander's eyes were drawn to the inside of his elbow, where the tattoo was.

Xander wished he had something comforting to say, like he'd said to Ripper, but Giles was way ahead of him in the wisdom department. It wasn't like Xander could tell him stuff wasn't going to be as bad as Giles knew it already had been. So he just sat down beside him, and said nothing.

Eventually Giles drew a sharp breath and sat up, ready to move on. "I'll get these books back on the shelves. Thank you for your help, Xander. I'd forgotten what a trial I could be, at that age."

No, no, this was not okay. He couldn't just... "I didn't get to say goodbye."

Giles stopped and rubbed his neck. "It's irrelevant. He didn't... *I*... don't remember you." His gentle voice did nothing to soften the way that hurt.

"But I remember you." Xander didn't know why it mattered, but it did. It mattered a lot. Just because Xander dreaded Giles knowing what happened with a cold and fearsome dread, was no excuse for Giles not knowing. How didn't he know? Was he blind?

Maybe not entirely, because dull realisation was dawning in Giles' expression. That maybe yes, Xander had kind of liked Ripper, too. And Xander stared at the floor, not wanting to see when the realisation became one final embarrassment to cap Giles' night.

Giles pulled off his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. "What would you have said, Xander?"

"I don't know..." Xander hated the whine in his voice. He lifted his chin and stopped, startled, staring.

He looked just the same. Younger and confused, and vulnerable - hair ruffled, without his glasses, Giles looked just the same.

Giles huffed, exasperated, and lifted his glasses but Xander caught his hand before he could replace them, not-thinking as hard as he could as he leaned in and kissed Ripper, just lips, and a hand in his hair.

When he pulled back, Giles was gaping, speechless, for the second time of the evening.

"That's what I would have said. You should call the girls, tell them it's over. I'll see you in school." Xander hurried out the door, before it could really sink in, what he'd just done.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander wasn't nervous about going to the library. No. Not nervous at all. Why would he be nervous? Just because he kissed Giles over the holiday, and maybe his usual post-break opener of "What's up, Giles? What crazy British hi-jinks did you get up to over the vacation?" was entirely off the table. No reason to be nervous.

"You coming Xander?" Buffy asked, not waiting for an answer before she hauled him by his elbow towards the library.

"No, um, actually, I was going to hang out with my other friends today."

"You don't have any other friends," Willow scoffed, taking his other arm.

"So it would seem, what with me never hanging with them."

"Come on," urged Buffy. "How often do we have such prime material to torment Giles with? Make with the hay, I say."

"Hey!" Willow's fingers touched his jaw where Ripper had left his fist-print. "What happened?"

He jerked his chin away. Damn her eyes. He'd worked hard to avoid her while it faded; another day or two of vacation and he would have escaped. "Minor accident. Nothing worth mentioning."

But now Buffy was pawing at him, too, trying to see. "Ouch. That must have been a doozy."

"Embarrassing story. I'm not sharing."

Willow pouted. "You're no fun."

Buffy resumed dragging him towards the library. "Lucky for you, we've already blocked off today for making fun of Giles."

"All day?" Xander winced.

"It's Gilespalooza. For now, at least. I told Angel I'd stop by this afternoon."

"Well at least... Angel? You've seen Angel?" Xander couldn't remember how to inhale. "You spoke to him?" He'd completely forgotten about Angel, and the whole Angel seeing them thing...

Buffy was looking at him strangely. "Yeah. We see each other. And we talk. It's a seeing-talking thing we have going."

"Oh-oh-oh!" Willow made with the crazy hand-waving gestures. "Did you tell Angel about Giles Junior?"

"Yeah." Buffy frowned, perplexed.

"And?"

Xander's head whipped from one to the other. This was a nightmare. This was a Hellmouth-proportion nightmare from which there was no waking.

"His eyebrows crawled up really high, and then he just folded his arms and said, 'Well. I'll be damned.'"

"That's all?"

"Yeah." Buffy was deeply disappointed. "It's kind of hard to wow someone who's 240 years old. He's pretty much seen everything."

Xander sagged. Little did she know. He owed Angel big time. Another one to throw in the 'shocking and unexpected' file.

They pushed through the swinging doors as a single unit. "So Giles," Buffy announced, before the doors had closed behind them, "turn over any lemonade stands lately?"

"If there's anything you need to tell us, it's always best to own up straight away. Your mother and I won't be angry if you come to us," added Willow.

The girls didn't seem to notice just how much Giles wasn't seeing the funny. "If you're quite finished?"

"Are you kidding?" Buffy pulled the book out of his hands and closed it on the desk, ignoring his stuttered objection as she lost his place. "We haven't even started."

"Yeah, we want to hear all about your wild delinquent youth."

"I think you've heard quite enough about it, thank you." He hadn't looked up yet, gaze focused entirely on the book he'd just had confiscated, which was good, because it saved Xander from being the one who avoided eye contact.

Buffy poked his chest. "You whisked him back to the land of polyester flares without letting us interrogate him. You must be punished."

Their needling continued, while Giles did his level best to direct the conversation back to scheduling Buffy's training. The girls were having far too much fun to notice that the usual master of mock was sitting this one out, curled quietly in a chair.

Giles was being especially Giles-like; the nervousness and exasperation that had been gradually fading since he arrived in sophomore year were back in full force, and he cleaned his glasses three times in the hour they spent there. When his hands weren't cleaning, they were always moving, shifting books and tugging at his clothes.

Buffy and Willow didn't let up until the bell went for next period, and they were still poking fun as they wandered towards the doors. Xander tried to sneak out unnoticed behind them.

"Xander."

It had been a slim hope. Xander stopped, letting the girls leave without him.

A smart person would have spent the rest of the holiday break trying to figure out what to say in this conversation, but of course, the world wasn't exactly lacking for evidence of Xander's stupidity.

He braced himself and walked back to the table. Maybe Giles would be as eager to avoid the subject as he was. Maybe Giles was going to ask him about... late fees.

Giles tapped his fingers on the book he was clutching to his chest. "Xander, we, uh, we need to discuss what happened on Friday night."

Or not.

Xander forced a nervous grin. "Did they trace the fingerprints on that wallet?"

"Oh, do be serious for five minutes."

Xander stepped back. Damn.

Giles glanced up and saw his expression, and immediately looked contrite. "I'm, I'm sorry. I just... I've been rather thrown for a loop."

Xander nodded. "Loops all round."

"I'm quite sure. I... I need to know..." Giles took a long breath, and then came closer. He considered for a moment, and then pulled out two chairs, indicating for them both to sit. Very... formal. It did nothing at all to put Xander at ease. "I need to know what you meant by it."

"I don't know."

"Xander-"

"No, really." If Giles could just give him a minute to figure this out, then maybe he could have a better answer. "I liked him. And I know you're not him. Except you are." That wasn't the better answer.

"So it was about him. My younger self."

Relief was flooding through his tone, and it would have been easiest for them both just to leave it at that, but once again, Xander's mouth led the way. "I don't know."

Giles' eyes really were astoundingly wide. And, as Xander had noticed in Ripper on Friday, very green. He could see the hole where his earring used to be.

"Oh."

Because it had been about Ripper, when he did it, but now he was sitting here, one step away from Giles, and he really wanted to do it again. And maybe it was still about Ripper, and how Giles' eyes were just the same, but maybe it wasn't.

He couldn't look at Giles' mouth now, and not think about what it was like to kiss him - either version of him. "It doesn't matter, does it?"

"Doesn't matter?" sputtered Giles.

Xander squirmed in his chair. "Even if it did mean something, and I'm not saying it did, but if it did, then it still wouldn't mean anything to you, obviously, and all that aside, it still wouldn't matter because librarian, student." Xander really wanted to stop talking before he actually digested his own feet.

"Of course."

"So I'm thinking we pretend it never happened."

Giles sat back and rubbed his forehead, examining Xander the whole time. "Can you do that?"

Of course he couldn't, and probably Giles couldn't either, but if there was another option, Xander really didn't know what it was. "This is Sunnydale. We have the national trophy for forgetting freaky stuff. If the rest of the town can forget being held hostage by vampires on a regular basis and getting attacked by zombies and being turned into teenagers by magical chocolate bars, then... I figure we can repress one..." Xander was not going to say kiss, "...moment."

"Of course." Giles continued to sit there, all serious and thoughtful, until Xander began to think it would be up to him to end the conversation. He was just making to stand when Giles spoke again. "I hadn't really wanted any of you to know that I was..."

"Bisexual? Yeah. Well, Willow and I figured it out ages ago. Well, Willow figured it out. She has pretty sharp gaydar. I agreed. Ethan Rayne was kind of..." Stop talking now.

Giles stared at him. "I was going to say 'wary about my Watcher duties.'"

"Oh." Xander could feel the stupid embarrassed grin laying siege to his face. "Not so much with the wisdom on that one. Willow's career-dysfunction-dar fails us every time."

Giles blinked and smiled nervously. "Buffy has some idea, but I can't imagine it's something she needs to know in detail."

"I get it."

At last Giles stood, and Xander figured he was dismissed, making a bolt for the doors.

"Xander?" Giles was standing awkwardly by the check-out desk. "I heard what you said to him. Out on the street."

It took a moment, and then Xander smiled. "I meant it."

Giles looked - glared? - at him. "Forty-something."

"Sorry?"

"I am not fifty-bloody-anything." It took a second to see the warmth in his eyes, and then Xander smiled again. He had a hand on the door when he heard, "Xander? Thank you."

He wasn't sure what he was being thanked for, but it seemed to encompass everything, so Xander simply nodded and made his escape.





The Giles Thing II
by Dr Squidlove
December 2007


Xander nodded in thanks as his mom dealt him a serving of lasagne from the tray. He'd been dreaming of a home-microwave-cooked meal for weeks. Or anything that would cover at least fifty percent of one of the food groups. "You know, I could've moved my own stuff down to the basement." Would have wildly preferred to have done it himself, in fact.

"It was no trouble at all," she replied. At least she looked a little guilty, which proved that she knew that he knew that she'd liked having the excuse to go through his stuff. Which scared him way more than anything hellmouthy.

His dad laughed as he came in. "Afraid we'd find your collection of titty mags?"

"Tony!"

Xander let out the breath that had been lodged in his throat since his parents broke the news of his new sub-ground address. His dad hadn't found his stash. There wouldn't be jokes if he had. He kind of suspected his stuff would probably be on the street, not stacked haphazardly in the middle of the basement. Welcome home, son.

"Quit it, Jessica," his dad retorted from the refrigerator. "He's a man now, and a man needs his space. Beer, son?"

"Uh. Sure."

His mom looked annoyed, but she pursed her lips and forced a smile as his dad cracked open a second beer for himself and sat at the head of the table. She'd cleared all the junk on the kitchen table down to one end in honour of his return, and they were going to have a whole meal here, no TV, no laps. "So, Honey. Tell us about your trip." A conversation, even. She smiled like an interested mother.

"I told you. Nothing to tell. Oxnard, so not the world's best secret tourist destination."

She pointedly filled a glass with water, and placed it between Xander and the beer before bringing her glass of sherry over from the counter. "You must have got up to something. Did you meet any nice girls?"

"I met dishes, Mom. None of them nice."

The conversation lapsed as they ate, his mom working through a few glasses of sherry, his dad a couple of beers. After so long away, wolfing down McDonald's and cold sandwiches in a motel room by himself each night, it felt weird being home, where nothing much had changed.

"Will you be going out to see your friends tonight?" she asked, at last.

"Nah. I've been driving all day. I could sleep to next week."

"There'll be none of that, now." His dad waved his beer. "You've had your fun. Time to start contributing to this household."

"Technically, I had no fun-"

"Don't you back-talk me, boy."

"Sorry." Xander took a long drink from the water glass. Nothing had changed at all.

"We let you finish up through senior year. Your free ride ends now. Starting next Friday, I'll be expecting you to contribute to this house. Rent on this day, every week."

Xander swallowed. He hadn't been expecting that. Obviously he was going to have to get a job, but he hadn't realised it was going to be that urgent. Or half of it already spent. He hadn't even thought about what he was going to do, except not wash dishes.

"You listening?"

"Rent. Yeah. Um, I'm pretty beat, still gotta unpack some stuff before I can crash. Do you mind if I...?"

His dad waved him off, and his mom glanced at his half-cleared plate. "Of course, Alexander. We don't want to keep you if you have more important things to do."

Xander stood, carrying his dishes to the sink. "Thanks for dinner, Mom."

The basement was dim and depressing, and there was something faintly damp beneath the overwhelming scent of Lemon Tide. Xander closed the door behind him - he ought to get a lock for it, so long as he was paying rent - and hurried down to his drawers. Third drawer, a few layers of Babylon 5 and Next Gen comics, looking pretty much undisturbed, and then, thank god, the Other Magazines beneath, bursting with naked girls. The real danger hadn't been his mom seeing these. It had been that his dad might see them, pull them out to borrow them, and find the Other Other Magazines at the bottom of the pile. Hot girl-on-girl action might be proudly added to the collection in the upstairs bathroom, but Unzipped, not so much. Xander had never worried about being caught skipping school, or flunking science, or fighting creatures of the night, but since he slid his first 'blue' under the girl mags his dad gave him for his fourteenth birthday, he'd held his breath every time he came home.

Xander shut the drawer and stood. He really was tired. Post-apocalypse kind of tired. The sort of tired where he'd usually still want to head over to Willow's and be tired at her place, but she wouldn't be there now, and he actually had no idea where to find her room on campus yet.

He'd missed them all summer, but right now he wasn't especially eager to see her or Buffy or Oz. It was going to be weird. It was going to be the first time him and Willow wouldn't be sharing everything, since they used to have baths together as kids. He'd always had that first-tie with Willow. Now it was going to be Buffy and Willow and Oz all together at college, Xander not.

He'd be glad in the morning if he unpacked his laundry now, if he even got so far as making piles for the machine, but just unzipping his bags sounded like too much effort. Much better to flop back on his bed, and stretch his arms over his head until his shoulders creaked.

Ah. Like that. Maybe he'd close his eyes and go right to sleep like this tonight, and worry about putting the sheets on and taking his shoes off and all that complicated stuff tomorrow.

Complicated stuff, like thinking about Giles. And about how much Xander thought about him. Washing dishes made for a lot more not-talking time than Xander was used to, which had led to way more thinking time than Xander was used to, and a whole lot of it had been spent picking apart the second half of last year. Mostly picking apart the talk they had after he kissed Giles, and the goodbye Giles bid him for his road trip. Which wasn't even a talk; it was just the way Giles had looked at him and seemed to hold the handshake too long. Just long enough to put Xander's imagination into overdrive.

Not like his imagination had needed the Acme rocket launcher strapped on. He had a few thousand happy endings in mind that began with coming home to find Giles had spontaneously recovered his memories of Sunnydale visit 1.0, realised Mr Harper's classroom was home to the best blowjob of his life, and had only been holding out until Xander graduated, roadtripped, and came home a man.

Xander should have been obsessed with Ripper, and what they did, and what they could have done, but he wasn't. Or not completely. It wasn't like Ripper had totally dropped out of the late-night-visuals catalogue - there were plenty of pages in there starring Ripper, and the feature fantasy reserved for special occasions was still Giles and Ripper all at once - but more and more, it was Giles that kept showing up naked and horny when he let his brain wander on its own.

The real goal of the road trip was supposed to be San Francisco, though he hadn't told anyone that. Of course he wanted to see everything else too, but top of the list had been going to San Francisco, far from Sunnydale, and... trying it out. Maybe he could meet some guys - who weren't Giles - and sort of experiment a bit. Find out what he liked aside from middle-aged British librarians. He didn't know what he was looking for, except he was sure it would have been easier to figure it out far away from here, and from everyone that knew him, but he ended up in Oxnard, and if there was any gayness in Oxnard then he had definitely been missing the pride flags.

He'd just had dishes, and time to think.

So now he was back, just as full of unenlightenment as when he left. He'd hoped at least to find out how to find out if a guy liked you, so he could come back and find out if Giles did or if that was just something crazy he'd made up in his head. Crazy was the flavour of the month in Xander's brain, because Xander really liked Giles. He'd had sex with Faith, followed by some deeply intimate attempted murder, and he'd expanded his horizons with the scariest prom date in the history of proms, but through all the Ascension research time it was Ripper on his mind, and he always ended up staring over the books, watching Giles frown through various volumes. Thinking about kissing the tension from his mouth. Thinking about going down on him in his office. Thinking about other things, that Xander was somewhat fuzzier on. Xander had become pretty much obsessed with wondering what Giles liked in bed. Or if Giles even liked it in bed, or if he still had that weird thing for cars.

A few times, Giles had caught him staring, but he'd never said anything. Sometimes he got flustered, and once he blushed. Of course, the whole time, a large portion of Xander's good sense was telling him he was nuts to even imagine it. Or want it. It was Giles. Snappish librarian who thought Xander was the Scooby idiot. Like a village idiot, but more specific.

Even if there was vague, theoretical interest, Xander wasn't deluded enough to believe that Giles would ever be actually interested, in the practical relationship sense, in any eighteen-year-old kid (no matter how much Xander's inner voice wanted to insist he was) but he'd realised he'd at least like to be friends with him. Adult friends. So somewhere high on Xander's agenda was seeing Giles, and finding out if things might be different now that he was out of school.

Xander squirmed up and around until his head and feet were pointing in the right directions, which left him just enough energy to toe off his shoes and kick his jacket off the end of the bed. Tomorrow. He'd face all of it tomorrow.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He'd unpacked his bags, done all his laundry, rearranged the furniture, made the bed. He'd put it off in every way possible, but his early night had made for an early morning, and everything was done, except to head out to Giles'.

He hadn't been procrastinating, at first. He'd even been kind of eager, to start. It was just early, and there was stuff to do, so he did it while he waited for a reasonable hour to go over. But somewhere between breakfast and trying to decide if he had four loads of laundry or five, he'd started to wonder what he'd say. Giles was going to look up from whatever he was researching, and he'd ask what brought Xander to visit, and what was Xander going to tell him? Giles would ask about the trip, and that was going to be humiliating, but at least it was five minutes pre-planned.

By late afternoon, when he finally got himself to the stairs to Giles' house, Xander's stomach was somersaulting. He needed to just dive in. No more trying to plan out every possible conversation and every possible response Giles could make. That way lay madness. When he reached the front door, he'd think of something intelligent and fascinating yet charmingly casual to say. Something not, "Hey Giles, can I kiss you?" He'd need a couple of moments at the door, maybe just the time it took to raise his hand and knock. Then he could apologise for interrupting Giles' reading, and it would go from there.

Xander jogged down the stairs just to prove he wasn't worried, and almost tripped over his feet when he jerked to a stop on the landing.

There was Giles, sitting at the table in the sunny courtyard, drinking tea with a middle-aged black woman, the pair of them not dressed like you dressed when you were going *out* to visit a friend for tea, so much as how you dressed when you were staying *in*. He had a grey t-shirt on. Xander hadn't thought he even owned t-shirts. She was wearing a man's button-down - a familiar button-down shirt. Right then. Lucky Xander hadn't spent a lot of time testing out pick-up lines.

Giles looked really good. Better than Xander remembered. Sprawled in his chair with his legs stretched out and smiling at whatever she was saying, eyes warm without his glasses.

So what now? Xander considered creeping back up the stairs, but then, he hadn't been planning to bed him anyway. Friends. That was what he was aiming for. Could a friend interrupt a cosy lovers' tea? Maybe he should come back later.

She solved the problem by seeing him. "Hello?"

"Xander!" Giles stood, smile widening and then turning nervous when he glanced between Xander and the woman. "It's good to see you home," he added lamely.

"I'm just checking in. Passing by on my way to find Will and the Buffster. Thought I'd let you know I was back." Because obviously, he wasn't here to tell Giles that he hadn't stopped thinking of him all summer, and he certainly wasn't here to tell him that he hadn't yet decided if it was just misdirected lust aroused by Ripper's talented hands, or something stronger and deeper for Giles himself, but to hell with it, why didn't they just find out? No sirree. Xander was just checking in. On his way past. To see the girls.

Giles shifted uncomfortably on his feet, and turned back to the woman. "Xander's just returned from a grand tour of the United States."

"Really?" She smiled up at him. "Why don't you join us? I'd love to hear about it. I've always wanted to see more of this country." She was English, like Giles. Forty-something like Giles, too.

"Not much to tell. I really should-"

"Stay." Giles sounded like he really meant it, and Xander's feet made the decision for him, carrying him down the last few steps.

The woman offered her hand. "I'm Olivia. Ripper and I go way back."

Xander blinked at the name. "Me too," he replied. "Sort of." There were only two chairs.

"Xander's one of my former students," Giles explained, and then seemed to realise why Xander was still standing around like an idiot. "I'll, uh, just fetch a chair." He headed inside.

"You were popular," she called, loud enough for her voice to follow him. She seemed amused.

Popular? Giles returned with his desk chair under one arm, an extra teacup and saucer in his other hand. Actual teacups for Olivia. She must be special. "Buffy was here earlier," he explained to Xander, as he filled everyone up. "You haven't seen the girls yet?"

"I figured I'd give them a couple of days to settle in."

"To finish moving boxes?"

"Exactly."

Giles shook his head with a smile as sat down and picked up his cup. He looked totally at ease, sitting there in his kind-of-tight t-shirt, drinking tea with Olivia. She must be good for him.

"Tell us about your trip," she asked.

"Really. Nothing to tell." And Xander launched into what was the second of no doubt many more long explanations about just how much there really was nothing to tell, until he could finally move the subject off his own shortcomings. Shortgoings, in this case. "So how was the summer here? Quiet as usual?" He wondered if Olivia had been admitted to the secret club.

"Very quiet." Apparently not. Petty as it was, Xander was glad. As if he had any place being jealous when the idea of him and Giles was so ridiculous.

"Olivia, what are you doing in the land of the free?"

"I have a conference in San Diego."

They talked for a while. Olivia had gone to Oxford with Giles. She was nice, and funny, much as Xander wished she wasn't.

"I should fill the pot." Giles made to stand, but Olivia beat him to it.

"I'll get a fresh pot and more biscuits. I need to duck in anyway." She let her hand slide up Giles' arm to his shoulder as she left, earning a shy smile. They watched her head inside in silence, and then they proceeded not to talk at all.

Xander drank to fill the gap, even though he was remembering he didn't really like tea all that much, and Giles squinted up into the sun, looking relaxed and casual and... like the lines and dips of his throat probably tasted pretty good. This adult-chatting thing was turning out to be less awkward than Xander had expected, but as his total self-consciousness faded, other things got harder to ignore. Like how much he'd been kidding himself that the chatting thing was all he wanted. So much for being realistic.

"She calls you Ripper."

"Hmm?" Giles glanced toward the door. "Oh, yes."

"I thought that name was left behind with your unruly youth." Xander trod carefully. He wasn't sure where the lines were, anymore.

Apparently the ground here was solid, because Giles wasn't bothered at all. "It's what everyone calls me back home. I've always rather loathed Rupert, but it's difficult to ask people to call you Ripper when you're in your forties."

"Even your parents?" Giles must have parents.

The corners of his eyes crinkled, and his mouth curved, and Xander swallowed hard. "No. My family call me Rupert."

It wasn't often that Xander got a chance to watch Giles without his glasses on or twisting about in his hands. A new opportunity for comparison to Ripper, and Xander wasn't surprised to find he liked Giles' eyes more with the lines. Maybe a little surprised at how much he wanted to reach over and trace the creases with his fingertips.

Giles sat up and put his teacup on its saucer, turning it to line up neatly, and then running a finger around the rim. "I want to... That is, I hope finding Olivia here hasn't..."

Xander leaned back in his chair, where he could better see the door. It was probably a good idea to get this out of the way, before Olivia came back and it became one of the things they didn't talk about. "No concern required. My little hiccup is entirely behind us. You don't even need to bring it up."

"Oh." Giles sagged. "That's... good to know." He watched Xander, and then glanced over to the door and back. "Olivia is an old friend."

"So I hear."

"No, I mean..." He took a sip of tea, before he looked up. "I mean she won't be staying long."

Xander really had no idea what that meant, or what sort of response Giles expected. Xander had no idea what he was doing himself. Giles was a well-established resident of his forties, a man whose idea of a great night consisted of a cup of tea and a book of ancient prophesies in Sumerian, preferably with footnotes. What on earth would he want with an eighteen year-old who didn't have the attention span to see Frodo out of the Shire?

Sure, so Giles in his juvenile delinquent years dug Xander, but it was tending towards high probability that his tastes had changed along with his fashion sense, morals, hobbies, and the intervening thirty years. On a brighter note, maybe the man Xander would be in thirty years time was exactly the sort of man that Now-Giles might consider commitment-material. And by then, Future-Giles would be around the age when a good catch was anyone with a full set of teeth, and it wouldn't be much of a commitment at all.

Giles was still watching him intently, but then the door to the apartment opened and the moment was broken. Giles' fingers touched the back of Xander's hand. "I'm sorry I'm no longer that person."

Xander's hand tingled where he'd touched it. What was that supposed to mean?

Olivia laid a plate of cookies on the table, sliding into her seat and lifting the teapot to pour another round of drinks. Xander put his fingers over his own cup. "Thanks. But I should be going. Didn't mean to stay this long. I was just checking in."

"Let me walk you down."

"You don't need to-" but Giles was already standing, so Xander said goodbye to Olivia and led the way up the stairs, and then down to the street. He didn't know why Giles had come with him; they weren't saying anything.

Giles followed him all the way to his car, and when Xander opened his door he turned to find Giles right there, breathing distance, hands bracing the door open. "There is an antidote."

"What?" The last time Xander stood this close to Rupert Giles and a car was exactly the last thing Xander should think about while Giles was trapping him up against a car. Giles was not about to push Xander to his knees and unzip here on the street in broad daylight. Or anywhere else in any other circumstance.

"An antidote to the memory spell."

It took way longer than it should have for Xander to realise what memory spell Giles was talking about. When he realised, goose bumps prickled down his arms. "Oh." He knew. Everything. And he was standing this close. Up against the car.

"I've been wondering all summer whether to track down the ingredients. I almost did, a great many times, but it seemed an invasion of your privacy."

Xander swallowed, and tried to move his brain back up. He hadn't taken the antidote. He didn't know. This re-enactment was a coincidence. But he could know. Xander liked the shape of Giles' jaw. "They're your memories."

"It doesn't really seem like they are."

He should have been right. Ripper should have seemed like one of those things Giles begged not to know about, like he did when Buffy and Willow discussed their boy issues in the library. He should have been standing ten feet away, shoving his hands in his pockets and clearing his throat and changing the subject, but Xander didn't want him to. He wanted Giles to have at least brief, distant memories of Xander being - meaning - something more than a useless jokester friend of Buffy's. And standing here, this close, feeling pinned against his car, Giles felt awfully familiar in a very non-Giles way. "They are. Yours."

Giles was watching him, with his patient green eyes, waiting for more. "It's just that I... I'm not sure..." There was a definite flush to his cheeks. "I don't know what I'll find."

"Or if you want to find it?"

With a tiny snort, Giles dropped his gaze. "I used to be good at this."

"I remember."

Giles looked back at him. Giles was about to kiss him. Xander definitely wanted him to.

Giles stepped back. Suddenly he was tweed man again, looking away and reaching up to adjust glasses that weren't there. "Yes. Well. I should be getting back. Olivia will, will be... I, I should get back." That was more like it. Xander hadn't seen Giles this flustered in a long time, not since Miss Calendar.

Since Miss Calendar. Xander sat heavily in his seat. He wanted to just sit there, and process that, but Giles had stepped back on the kerb and was waiting, hands in pockets, for Xander to go. Xander tried to read something in his expression, but it was bland and friendly, just seeing off one of the gang. Nothing special.

Xander had to grope for the door a couple of times before he found the handle to pull it shut, and he fumbled the key into the ignition. Had to take a long breath before he could put the car in gear and drive.

Giles had been flirting with him. The conversation resorted itself in his head - Olivia not staying long, the way Giles touched his hand. It made sense if Giles was trying to tell him something, but Giles hitting on Xander... that was ridiculous.

His dick, though. His dick had a real appreciation for the ridiculous.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Another dinner with the parents back in front of the TV, the prospect of yet another night wasted in the depressing basement, drove Xander out of the house for the evening. He was kind of ready to find Buffy and Willow now, except for having no idea where they were. They hadn't even left a forwarding address or phone number for him. He idly considered stopping by to ask Mrs Rosenberg or Mrs Summers, but he didn't really want to seem that pathetic. He should have asked Giles while he was there.

Maybe he should stop by now, and while he was there he could prod Giles a bit, find out if... Olivia was still there. No, no nocturnal visits to Giles. Way better to stay away and focus on that imminent-death-like feeling of terror that hit his gut every time he wondered if Giles had done the spell yet. Giles had said 'track down' the ingredients, so he couldn't have them yet. Probably. Surely wasn't chanting and burning things at this very moment while Xander watched Jeopardy re-runs with an empty plate in his lap.

The Bronze. Xander was going to the Bronze, see who was there, hang out, listen to music, fake a little relaxation. Tomorrow, he'd find the girls, and see what he could do about clawing back a little reality.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Of all people to find in the Bronze, Xander hadn't been expecting to find Buffy, even more miserable than he was, with her not-so-shiny new college life.

When she threw her arms around him, it was the first moment since he got home that went totally right. He needed a welcome home like this, where his best friend's face lit up to see him, and she needed him, and he helped. Dada-ist pep talk, sure, but it did the job and dumb old Xander Harris earned himself a smile that plenty of guys would kill for.

The Mayor was dead and Sunnydale High a pile of ash and ruins, but Xander could still be Buffy's key-guy. He could pick Buffy up off the proverbial floor - or the literal booze-soaked Bronze couch - and he could find the lair of the new vamp-bitch, and he could be the one she trusted for back-up. Team Scooby had survived the Master and Angelus and Mayor Wilkins, and it could survive the girls moving five miles east. Buff and Willow were still his best friends, and he loved them like crazy.

Of course things had seemed off. How could he have expected to feel at home, without a welcome-home dusting party?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Willow bumped her carton of Buffy-possessions against Xander's side, making it incredibly difficult not to drop the weapons chest. "So tell us about it! The big trip! Did you see the Golden Gate Bridge? Mount Rushmore? Niagara Falls? The Atlantic Ocean? Did you eat a hot dog in New York City?" She bumped him again, and his fingers started to slip on the chest's handles. "You stopped sending postcards! I should put a hex on you!"

Xander sighed. "Oxnard. Car died. Washed dishes. And while I will never tell you the full story, I will save what little remains for a day when your self esteem could use a little boosting by comparing it with the inevitable and eternal comic misfortune of Xander Harris."

Willow grinned. "I'll drag it out of you somehow, mister."

"Not tonight. Tonight you are going to tell us all about the wild rollercoaster of fun that is college life."

Like he knew it would be, that was all the distraction she needed. She was pretty much bouncing over all the new classes, and all the new people, and all the new social life. It was enough to warm even Buffy out of her earlier funk. Okay, maybe twenty percent of the mood-improver was Willow's infectious enthusiasm, and eighty percent was the satisfaction of a vampire nest well-slayed, but however it worked, Buffy was now smiling and throwing in the details. Even Oz managed the occasional input.

Giles trailed quietly after them, obviously having realised that the evil was on the done list. He hadn't really looked at Xander since hurrying up to Buffy's non-rescue. He hadn't done the antidote spell. If he had, there'd have to be some sort of reaction. Horror, or, maybe, no, it would have to be horror. Xander had been crazy to tell Giles he could go digging back there, for things that could only lead to mutual embarrassment.

Maybe Giles had realised that all paths of remembering could only lead to badness, and he'd decided not to do it.

Xander kept trying to make eye contact, but he didn't manage it until they tried to fit through Buffy's dorm door at the same time, bumping elbows, and it wasn't so much the accidental touch as the shy smile that made Xander stick to the spot, until Willow ploughed into him from behind. Now Giles was in front as they climbed the stairs, and Xander wasn't going to feel guilty about trying to x-ray through his pants to see if Giles had taken up wearing boxers or briefs.

Xander hoped he was gathering his ingredients for that spell.

"I'm wide awake," Buffy announced, as they dumped the boxes in her room.

"Me too," chorused everyone else. Everyone else meaning Willow and Xander. Oz simply made that minute shift in expression that generally signified agreement for him. Giles was staring around the room, probably realising they'd just been lugging everything Buffy owned, and wondering how the room got emptied in the first place. They hadn't exactly got around to explaining it to him.

Buffy propped her parasol neatly on the drawers, fiddling until it didn't look so totally stomped, and then she faced them all. "Bronze? For old times' sake?"

"Sounds good!" Willow said.

"Magic Pudding are playing the late set, trying out a new thing with an accordion backing," said Oz. "Should be a good night."

"But..." Xander looked at Giles, who was paying attention now, smile seeming forced. He'd come all this way, and he'd hardly want to hang out at the Bronze.

"You all go along. Much as I'm sure I would enjoy the lyrical strains of Magic Pudding, I should be getting home."

Buffy looked up at him through her lashes, the first time she'd noticed him since he arrived outside the ex-lair, babbling about self-reliance. "You know, the Bronze is a halfway point between here and your house."

"Yes, I think I can manage to fit you all in."

"Yay! Thanks Giles!"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It wasn't until they were settled at their usual table, with the not-at-all-mellow strains of two guitars and an accordion, that Buffy swept her hair back and rested her chin on one hand to level a piercing gaze on Xander. "You're being awfully quiet."

Xander debated whether to open his mouth, for all of two seconds. "That was pretty rude back there."

"What?" He had to give her this; she looked all remorseful even without knowing what he was talking about.

"Giles came all the way out to help, and we just ditched him like a bad date. He's hardly gonna want to hang out here."

Willow looked hurt; Oz nodded in agreement. Buffy just wrinkled her nose. "Why would he want to hang out with us?"

"We're his friends."

"Nah. he doesn't want to hang with us. He'd hang out with people his own age. In fact..." Buffy's eyes went wide, and she leaned in to the group like she was about to impart all the secret wisdom of slaying. "Giles... has a girlfriend."

"Really!" Willow practically dove across the table. "A girlfriend? Did you meet her? Is she nice? Is she pretty? Does she know about-" Willow waved her fingers and waggled her eyebrows, "-things that go bump in the Hellmouth?"

"I don't know." Buffy slumped back, happy to be the bringer of the gossip. "I didn't stick around. They were... not wearing a lot." She shuddered.

"Ooooh, Giles!"

"Score for Giles," Oz threw in, looking pleased.

Buffy screwed up her face. "Giles isn't supposed to score. He isn't supposed to take his clothes off, ever."

"I think it's cute," retorted Willow.

"Last time he was 'cute' it was with my mother, and I'm still in therapy over that one."

Xander watched it all, bemused. Is this how they always treated Giles? Like a pet, to be taken for walks when it suited them? Is this how he'd been treating Giles?

Aside from Miss Calendar, he'd never seen Giles with any adults, and he was reasonably sure he didn't have any other friends. Not in Sunnydale, anyway.

And okay, maybe it was okay for them to be self-absorbed in high school... more than okay, it was pretty much a rite of passage, but, hey, graduated now. Xander wasn't quite ready to embrace the joys of gainful employment, paying rent or developing a 401K, but the being friends with Giles part he could do. And if embracing could ever be part of the deal, then so much the better.

Of course, that was all going to depend on how well Giles embraced the five hours of Xander-featuring back-time he was about to introduce to his teenage years.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next afternoon, he firmly steered everyone to Giles' house. This way, Giles could be included, and more importantly, if Giles was all brimming with spell-induced revelations, having Buffy and Willow and Oz around would protect Xander from sitting-down-in-chairs kinds of conversations.

Willow made no attempt to be subtle as she scanned the apartment. "Where's your girlfriend?"

Giles' glare slipped straight past Xander to rest on Buffy.

"What? You're the one who was all 'I'm not supposed to have a private life?'"

"Olivia has gone home. To England."

"That was quick." Willow ducked her head. "Sorry."

Anyone but Willow would have earned a glare, but it was Willow, so she only got a wry look. "She was visiting, not setting up house. She's an old friend."

"Well. Good for you."

"So glad you approve."

"*I* don't."

"I'm well aware of that, Buffy." Giles adjusted his glasses, and then folded his arms. "Is there a purpose to this visit?"

The girls looked at each other strangely and shrugged, as though they weren't sure how they'd ended up here. "Nope. No purpose."

"Just thought we'd hang out with the Giles," added Xander.

There was dry disapproval beneath the "Splendid," but beneath the dry disapproval was definitely a glimmer of pleasure, which was entirely too many layers to be dealing with. Damned English.

Xander made his way into the kitchen. "What you got to eat? I suppose it's too much to hope for decent candy?"

"'Decent candy' is an oxymoron. If you want something decent, then what you are looking for are sweets. Top cupboard on the left."

Xander reached in and pulled out a small box, with what looked like a foil-wrapped baseball inside. "Chocolate orange?"

"I'm going to regret this."

But Xander had already peeled back the foil and broken off a piece, and was biting into... oh lord in heaven. That was good. "Thatsch good!" he mumbled through his mouthful of orangey chocolaty goodness. The others stared at him, and he hugged the box close. "It's mine! I found it!"

"I advise you, Xander, never to get between a displaced Englishman and his Terry's Chocolate Orange."

"I'll share with you," he offered.

Giles tugged the box out of his hands and dealt him a paltry two pieces, before claiming one for himself, offering it around to the group, and putting it back in the cupboard. Xander's skin tingled where Giles had grasped his arm as he rescued his candy. He was standing really close, which made everything tingle, a bit.

"If you want to overrun my kitchen, Xander, why don't you get everyone drinks?"

"You have soda?"

"Yes. I have soda."

"Did you do the spell?"

"Did I... No." Giles broke their stare to look over the counter at the girls and Oz, who were busy rifling through Giles' stuff. "No," he added more quietly, cautious green eyes studying Xander's face. "It didn't seem... No, I haven't."

They both just stood there, staring at each other. They needed an interruption, or Xander was going to do something stupid. Like reach out. Or open his mouth.

Oz saved them. "Giles, is this a first edition?"

Giles jerked away to see what Oz was holding up, and didn't look back when he headed out there to talk music. Xander stayed right where he was, talking down his erection.


By the time Xander had got himself together to pour drinks, Willow was talking about the meditation studio her mom had made out of her old bedroom, and Buffy was mumbling about her childhood being turned into a warehouse. Nice to know Xander wasn't the only one with an eviction notice on the nest.

He passed drinks to Buffy and Willow and Oz. "At least you guys have windows that allow you to gaze upon the outside world, and all of nature's majesty. I have a sliver of glass, painted permanently half-open, that provides almost all the evidence I need for an educational guess whether it's night or day." He grabbed his own glass and headed for the couch.

Really, he had no idea how it happened. He'd managed not to do anything completely stupid for a whole ten minutes, but as soon as he got everyone's attention headed his way, his foot caught on the rug, or his karma, and a stumble and a twist and Xander had upended pretty much his entire drink down his front.

Better, he supposed, than destroying Giles' carpet. What an oaf. No, Giles, I'm not too young for you, if you don't mind having a partner who drinks from a sippee cup. "Shit." He stared down at his shirt.

Willow had jumped up but Giles beat her across the room. "Come on, we'll find you a towel." He dropped his glasses on the counter and Xander was being hauled down the corridor by his elbow.

Around the corner just short of the bathroom and Xander was pressed hard against a door being kissed. Being kissed - hard - by Giles. Giles was kissing him. A lot.

Xander's hands flailed. He should be doing something. He should be... something. Doing. Something back? Giles was kissing him, the full length of him pressed to the full length of Xander, a thigh pressed between Xander's legs and up against Xander's dick; there was a hand in his hair and a hand on his jaw, holding him still as Giles kissed him. Xander couldn't remember how to breathe, except Giles was drawing the breath out of him and blowing it back in, with his strong, wet mouth.

Giles had him pressed up against a cupboard, just out of sight of the gang, kissing him. Well. All right then. This, he remembered, was exactly what he wanted.

Xander's fingers sank into Giles' shirt like claws, and he kissed back, drinking him, grinding against that hard, long thigh, grunting when a shift pushed Giles' hard dick into his. This was... Were they going to hump to a finish right here? Because Xander was just fine with that. Pretty much in favour, in fact.

Two palms on his cheeks, and the kiss was slowing, withdrawing, leaving them panting, noses barely two inches apart.

"You kissed back," Giles whispered, straight at his mouth.

"Yeah, I guess."

"Was that about me, or who I used to be?"

"That was entirely you. Can we do it again?"

A grin spread across Giles' face, and it took the little breath Xander had left. "They're going to wonder-"

"Do you guys need a hand?" Willow yelled from the other room, and they sprang apart.

"We're good!" Xander called back, surprised that he could. He gasped as Giles reached for him, but he was only peeling him off the linen closet door, to pull out a towel.

"You're soaked," Giles said, looking down to see that he himself was almost as damp, now.

"Maybe I could borrow a shirt?" Even with everything pretty much tingling already, Xander felt a charge at the idea of wearing something of Giles'. "Not tweed."

"I'll find something," Giles responded, gravel-voiced.

Xander closed his eyes and there was a kiss; he tried to follow it but Giles was already gone, footsteps thudding up the stairs. God. His heart was racing, his lips were tingling, and he couldn't swallow properly. Giles just kissed him.

He stumbled through to the bathroom, and went to the mirror. Looking rumpled, but surprisingly not as debauched as he felt. Giles had kissed him. Kissed? That was... There hardly seemed a point to willing his erection to subside. As long as he sat in that room with Giles, he was going to be sporting a full salute.

Ripper had never... never been... Giles had learned a lot since he was eighteen. Was there a way to just shove all of them out of the house and follow Giles upstairs and find out what else he'd learned? He hoped Giles was picking a shirt that was long and baggy.

Giles appeared behind him in a fresh knitted black pullover and Xander watched the reflection. He looked disgustingly, deliciously smug, but he had the good sense to just throw a deep blue shirt over Xander's shoulder and head back out. Xander didn't know if he could have stopped a second time.

Thank goodness. It was a very big button-up shirt, that hung safely past Xander's relentless hard-on. When he lifted the collar to his face, it smelled like Giles. Which unhelpfully contributed to the hard-on.

Xander made it back out to the main room, where Giles was folded demurely in the armchair, just like he would if he was an ex-librarian who couldn't kiss a guy to his knees. Xander took the desk-chair, safely away from everyone else, and somehow managed to look like he was participating in the conversation, even though he had no idea what it was about.

"I heard Fairview's taking most of them."

"That'll be a blow to the Razorbacks."

How did the others not know? The air swam with sex, and surely any moment Oz was going to smell it with his werewolf nose and bound over to pin Xander down before Xander threw himself across the room to pull Giles' sweater over his head and taste his neck...

"Their library won't need reinforcements, Giles?"

...and Xander met Giles' smug gaze and knew, almost certainly, that if he did just that, Giles would let him. Hell, Giles would probably like it, putting on a show, shocking the others, making Buffy's world fall in. There was more mischief left in him than they'd imagined. Xander wanted to find it all. Right now.

"Has anyone heard if there are plans to rebuild?"

"Would it be too much to ask them to scout for other sites?"

Xander tried to concentrate on the future of Sunnydale High, but Giles was sitting back, attention on Buffy, so Xander let his gaze drift down, to see the bulge, standing out from Giles' pants.

"They might have some trouble lining up a principal."

"You gotta wonder how they'll advertise that position. 'Wanted, school administrator; indigestibility a bonus.'"

Xander's eyes widened, and he stared, and then he stared at everyone else. How did they not see it?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander stayed in his seat, tucked safely behind the desk, while Buffy and Willow and sometimes Oz talked about a bunch of stuff. He didn't quite catch any of it over the chanting in his brain reminding him not to stare at Giles' crotch. It didn't help that Giles shifted to adjust himself every few minutes. Or that Xander had to squirm twice as often.

He held on until the others stood up, presumably having had some conversation where they decided it was time to head out. He waved goodbye like they did, and waited until they reached the street before stopping them. "I forgot my shirt."

"Do you want us to wait for you?"

"Nah, I think I'll head home. Still tired. From the driving." Two days ago. "Got unpacking to do. Stuff. Jobs to search for. You go."

They were climbing into Oz's van before he'd finished his list of excuses. Fine by Xander; that meant he could hurry - but not run - back up the stairs. Maybe sort of a jog as he went down into the courtyard, but he reached Giles' door, stopped to prepare a casual stroll, and pushed the door open.

Giles was lounging against the kitchen counter, hands in his pockets, like he was wondering how to fill his evening. He straightened, pulling his hands out and wiping them on his pants as Xander came through the door. He'd been waiting for Xander to come back.

What now? What came after a stolen kiss against the linen closet? Was Xander supposed to sit down with him and have some sort of adult discussion? Or was Giles going to pull him upstairs for some adult sex? He didn't know which sounded more terrifying. What was he doing here? Was he breathing too loud? Should he have said something already?

Xander's hands were caught in Giles' soft, damp hands, and he was pulled forward into another one of those kisses. Except this was all kiss, no groping, no desperate press against a wall or car or fence. Giles held his hands by their sides and he just... kissed. And this time Xander was up-to-date and kissing Giles, and the terror was subsiding to a perfectly manageable level of not thinking a single second beyond how sweet Giles tasted right now, how his lips were smooth and his tongue was lazily tracing magically arousing patterns through Xander's mouth.

Giles' hand squeezed as the other let go, to fit over Xander's cheek, and then slide back into his hair. God yes, the man could kiss. He tasted... like tea and heat and the lingering sweetness of chocolate and just a trace of the kid Xander remembered.

Ripper, laughing in the alley, chain link fence carving into Xander's back as they kissed exactly like this, and Xander had wondered back then if Giles could feel as good, because he hadn't figured out that Giles could be a thousand times better.

When he finally drew back, Giles was flushed and blurry around the edges, and he was smiling at Xander like he was happy or something. It made Xander's throat stick.

He looked around like he didn't know what to do next, like he was just as clueless as Xander, but then he seemed to figure it out and he pulled Xander to the couch, sat down and tugged Xander to sit straddling his lap. This was something Xander might have done with Cordelia, except she would have been on his lap. Here he was in Giles' lap, in Giles' living room, close enough to count the lines on Giles' face. Xander wanted to do something, take the lead somehow, but his brain was taking way too long to catch up to where he was now. And everything Giles was doing - like right now he was sliding his fingers up under Xander's shirt, heavy hands trailing sparks up his stomach - was more than all right. Still smiling, as he pulled out and used both hands to grab Xander's hips to tip him forward into more kissing.

Xander made a sound and Giles pressed his tongue inside again, slowly stroking Xander's tongue and it was so dirty and hot that it took Xander a second to realise buttons were being unbuttoned. As the last one went, Xander was nudged back, and the way Giles stared at his chest, spreading his hands over his skin, made Xander tingle all over. This was surreal. Xander's fantasies had never been so... silent.

Xander didn't want to be left behind, so he slid his own hands from Giles' shoulders (and when did they get there, anyway?) down his arms, to his waist. He could feel the hard line of belt under the soft wool of his sweater. He worked his fingers underneath, under the t-shirt. To warm, smooth skin.

Giles' breath caught at the touch, like he was surprised, like he hadn't just felt Xander rummaging his way in. Xander traced the skin of his waist, around to the small of his back. Skin. This exciting sliver of hot skin - not exactly X-rated, but no ordinary person could touch Giles here.

Xander screwed up every scrap of courage he had and bunched the hem of sweater and shirt in his hands, pushed them up, up Giles' sides, up his arms, over his head, holding his breath when Giles' face disappeared, letting it go when he came out the other side still smiling, glasses askew.

It wasn't like his fantasies. He'd pictured the shape of him, the flat, leanly muscled chest, the scattered grey hair, the two tight, sharp nipples. His imagination had left out the ugly marks that were left by Angel, ugly marks that weren't. Giles let him look, his own thumbs making tiny, intimate circles in the curves of Xander's hips. This wasn't just the guy who pressed him up against the cupboard. This was their man of eternal patience. There was time to breathe.

Xander inhaled. He couldn't have named this smell a year ago, but he would have known it was familiar. Maybe it was soap or deodorant or washing powder, but it was Giles.

The sweater coming off had gone well, so he slipped off Giles' glasses and stretched back to lay them on the coffee table, and when he leaned forward, Giles parted his lips in welcome.

The kiss was slow, molten, all lips and just brief tastes inside, Giles' hands resting on the small of Xander's back, Xander's hands cupping Giles' shoulders. He'd never kissed like this, felt this from a kiss, all liquid inside like the lingering comedown from a really long, really good jerk-off. If this was kissing, Xander wasn't sure he'd survive the comedown from whatever he was about to do with Giles.

He sat straighter at the thought, breaking the kiss. He was about to do 'whatever' with Giles. Who was puddled back against the couch, looking up at Xander with that warm expression he usually reserved for Buffy. Which was great, but suddenly god, it was quiet in here. "This is good," Xander said, which was a little bit stupid but not too bad, and better than silence.

Giles' smile widened. "Very good."

And now Xander wasn't sure whether he should keep talking, or go back to kissing. "Do you mean what we're doing, or me not talking for ten minutes?"

That bought him a chuckle, and Xander felt the vibration right through his body. "I'm enjoying both." His hands squeezed Xander's hips and then he was pushing Xander's shirt - his own shirt on Xander - back over his shoulders and down his arms to settle on his wrists, closed his hands around the cuffed wrists in a silent request to keep them there. Okay. Anything Giles wanted was okay right now. And now Giles watched his own hands explore Xander's chest, feeling the shape of his shoulders, tracing his ribs, dipping to sweep over his stomach. There was a full stunt-action team of butterflies in there. Vampire butterflies, sucking the blood out of him to make him dizzy.

Giles scratched his fingernails around his navel, sending the butterflies into a feeding frenzy. "I don't remember you looking like this a year ago."

Xander grinned. "Thank goodness you were wrapped up in all that tweed, or you would have had one embarrassing student crush to deal with."

Giles' face smoothed, and his gaze dropped, finding their groins and skittering off to the side. "I would never have taken - or wanted to take - advantage."

"You could have made a young man's-"

"No." Giles was almost angry, staring Xander down hard. "It matters. I don't want you thinking I'm the sort of man who... looks at children. Who might have looked at you or the girls that way."

"You think that's what I think?"

Giles heaved a sigh, mood rapidly slipping away. "Some might, and not without reason. I don't know how clear the line is between when this would have been wrong, and when it wasn't. I just hope I'm on the right side of it. I hope I was harbouring nothing... subconscious."

Xander wanted to ask how overwrought a man's guilt complex had to be, to batter his conscience about things his subconscious had never shared with his conscious, but while he was here, somehow having made the fantastical road into Giles' lap, trying to navigate towards making both of them very happy, that seemed like a wrong turn. He shook his wrists out of his shirt-sleeves and laid his hands on Giles' chest, feeling skin under his fingers. "I remember the unspeakable horror in your expression, in the car, the first time you saw young you making eyes at me. I think it's safe to say you weren't harbouring anything."

Something eased. "It wasn't unspeakable horror. It was... surprise."

"You've watched Buffy dismember slime demons with less distaste."

Giles ducked his gaze, knowing it was true. Xander liked this nervous, worrying side of Giles. As long as he really did want Xander, and they were starting to amass some pretty good evidence that he did, in fact, want Xander, then the concern was... Xander had never used the word 'sweet' to describe a guy, like Buffy and Willow did, but he was starting to see what they meant by it.

"You're still young." He wanted to be persuaded, and Xander happy to play along.

"I'm older than Buffy was, and you're a hell of a lot younger than Angel."

His smile turned wry. "Truly the model romance of my dreams."

Xander grinned. There was nothing better than Giles taking a dig at Angel. "Also, he's a vampire. And he had a curse on him that would turn him into the world's worst ex if she gave him a happy." Xander wrapped his fingers around Giles' wrist, searching until he found the slow, steady bump of his pulse. "Not a vampire. Are you cursed?"

"To the best of my knowledge, no. But I am a high school librarian."

"Not currently." Xander still had Giles' wrist in his hand, so he curled the fingers closed and kissed the knuckles. Each knuckle, and then the thick ring on Giles' little finger. He opened his hand, and kissed the palm, and pressed it to his own chest. "Don't stop this."

That, to Xander's relief, was all Giles needed, and they were back on the make-out highway, doing ninety. He pressed up to nuzzle Xander's collarbone, nudging Xander's chain with his nose, hand smoothing over his chest as the other settled well up Xander's thigh. "Do you have sensitive nipples?" was asked into his neck, fingers lightly testing for himself. Yes, yes he did, and Xander answered in the affirmative with a high strangling sound.

"Good." Giles' lips latched on and he sucked hard while the other one was rolled and tugged, and sensitive yes, he'd figured that for himself while flying solo but who knew? Who knew?

Xander scrabbled for grip on the couch, but a hand directed him to hold Giles' upper arms.

"I won't break. I want to feel what I'm doing to you." Giles wanted to feel it. It mattered to him, how good he could make Xander feel.

And he was doing amazing things, sharp and almost too much. Xander dutifully squeezed Giles' arms as he gasped and moaned, not capable of anything more. Maybe Giles wouldn't break but maybe Xander would, somewhere between his burning nipples, where Giles was twisting ever-harder, and starting to chew a little with teeth, and his dick, which had ceased to fit in his jeans many hours ago.

A moment of relief. "Not too hard?"

"Don't stop! Just right. Just there."

He went just a little harder, a painful pull and a scraping thumb, a sharp nip and the swollen point teased with a flicking tongue, and then a hand settled whole and firm on Xander's crotch, squeezing the denim and Xander cried out, thought he'd snap Giles' bones when Giles rubbed him hard through the thick fabric, the bump of fly pressing sharply against the head of his dick and when Giles bit down Xander shouted and came, throbbing hard in his pants, breath wheezing, body shaking, and arms were gathering him gently against a familiar chest.

For a long time, Xander simply panted, and enjoyed being held. "Wow."

He was squeezed. "That was good?"

Xander almost laughed. "Very good."

"Too sudden?"

"Very good."

But sudden. Now he was a kid who'd come in his pants in front of a man with great big realms of experience, and knowing he shouldn't be embarrassed about being exposed like this didn't make him not.

It only took a little nudge and Xander gladly tucked his face into Giles' neck where Giles couldn't see the blush, or too much of anything in Xander's face.

Hair tickled Xander's chest, and he tingled at all the extra skin-contact. Arms circled him, pulling him closer, and it warmed over the draught under his open shirt. He probably should be moving to do his share, but Giles seemed content to sit, and Xander wasn't going to fight it. A hand was stroking up and down his spine, and it was so, so relaxing, Xander was tempted to simply close his eyes and drift off.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Hm?" Shifting woke him, and Xander struggled his way up to opening his eyes. "Sorry," he managed muzzily.

"No apologies. It's just my legs are falling asleep."

"Oh. Sorry." Xander twisted to spill across the seat beside him.

Giles didn't seem to care. He looked as happy and relaxed as Xander felt, as he rubbed the circulation back into his thighs. Happy being with Xander.

"How long was I out?"

"Perhaps a few minutes. I don't suppose I would be remiss in guessing you are in need of nourishment?"

"That's a big sentence."

Giles stood. "Hungry?"

"Starving."

Xander accepted the hand up, Giles' grip lingering as he started leading the way to the kitchen, before it loosened, and let go. Probably there was a lot of stuff they should be having a discussion about, now. Since he opened his eyes, Xander had been waiting for Giles to say, "We should talk," and that he'd turned to food instead was, for this particular moment, Xander's very favourite thing about Giles.

With whom he'd just rounded second base, heading for third. Giles was so comfortable with it, like making someone come and then fixing dinner was no big deal. It probably wasn't, for Giles. He probably did this stuff all the time. He did it two days ago for Olivia. Xander wondered how often all the time could be. And then he very deliberately stopped wondering. Trust Giles. Think about food. "What do you eat, anyway?"

"Black pudding."

Xander stopped. "What?"

"It's made with pig's blood. It's quite delicious."

"I know what it is. The pig's blood, that is. I don't believe it's delicious. And I generally have an aversion to consuming anything Angel would class as a square meal."

"I was joking. Though not about it being delicious. One eats black pudding for breakfast, not dinner." He opened the fridge, considering a moment. "I could throw on a couple of steaks."

"You da man."

"There's leftover salad, too."

"Less exciting, but acceptable."

"I imagine you'll be eating your steak raw, like a Californian?"

"I like to wrestle it on the plate. You don't burn good steak, do you?"

"No, I don't burn it, but I do like to make a passing acknowledgement that my ancestors discovered fire."

Giles tossed a bag of meat on the counter and started digging about for a pan. For a moment Xander just watched, enjoying the view. When Giles looked up, he smiled and shrugged. "Guess I'll go clean myself up."


Giles seared Xander's steak, seared his own a little more, and they settled on opposite sides of the kitchen counter to eat. Giles had pulled his sweater on to cook, but skipped the undershirt, and there was a tantalising arrow of chest hair in the vee. Ogling chest hair was kind of new, but Xander felt he was mastering it pretty quickly.

Xander poured a good lather of ketchup over his steak, taking Giles' disapproving sniff as a bonus. Now they were going to find out if they really had anything to talk about. If there wasn't going to be some sort of conversation about what just happened, there ought to be a conversation about something. Otherwise, this was all just going to be cheap, meaningless sex.

Xander grinned. Kind of a win-win situation.

"Do I want to know?"

"Would you object to being used as a sex object?"

Giles chewed and swallowed. "It's not something I've ever felt a particular need to consider."

"You have time."

"Alternatively, we could hold a conversation."

"No! You can't say that! Now we're doomed to both sit here trying really hard to find something to talk about until we're so self-conscious that we think everything to death before we say it and it all gets unnatural and awkward, as if everything in Sunnydale isn't unnatural and awkward enough so ungkkh-" Xander almost-choked on the piece of steak Giles had just shoved in his mouth.

"Chew."

Xander chewed. It was good steak, way better than he'd ever had at home, the three or four times his mom stumbled over a frypan. Needed more ketchup.

Giles cut and ate a small piece of steak himself, as he thought about it. Eventually, he sighed. "You're right."

"Tell me about you."

"Me?"

Xander shrugged. "You already know pretty much everything about me. Percentage-wise, comparing years knowing each other to years actually lived, you-" and he pointed with his fork, in case there was any confusion about who he meant, "are a mystery. I want to know... something."

Giles contemplated a moment. "Liverpool supporter since birth. I prefer being devoured by fire ants to sitting through a cricket match, though I was a passable bowler in my youth..."

If they'd been at a proper table, Xander would have kicked him under it. "Something real. How old were you when you stopped wigging about being a Watcher?" Way to hide what had been secretly on his mind for the past seven months.

Giles looked uncomfortable, but he didn't back off, which was good. Xander didn't want to go peeling open old wounds, but he wanted to know that at least some of the barriers were down. Giles knew all of Xander's biggest humiliations, and somehow that wasn't quite fair.

"I left Oxford when I was twenty-one. That was when I met Ethan Rayne and..." He trailed off. "I went back at twenty-four."

"That doesn't seem too long."

Giles pushed his fork into a piece of tomato, but didn't lift it to his mouth. "Three years getting up to what we got up to... It was a long time."

Xander shuddered to imagine what Giles would have been like, young and angry as Ripper was, but armed with the sort of knowledge he had now. "It must have been hard going back."

His voice got even softer. "Oh, you can't imagine. My father opposed it. I thought he was punishing me, but knowing what I know now... He probably thought it wasn't safe to put more knowledge in my hands. It's more likely he was trying to protect me."

Xander ate for a while. He wanted to know about his father, but that could wait. There were plenty of other things to learn. Like... "You said - Ripper said - that you knew you were going to be a Watcher, but not 'the' Watcher. How do you know? Who chooses, anyway?"

"Fate. Much as with Buffy herself. There is a Watcher for every Potential, entwined somehow in her life from an early age-"

"But you didn't know Buffy."

"Buffy had slipped through the cracks. A few do. When she was called, they found her, and Merrick became 'the' Watcher, so to speak."

"So... you didn't have a Slayer."

He raised his glass, like he was making a toast. "To the Council's relief, I'm sure. My youthful irresponsibility was not forgotten. I worked for the Council, keeping an eye on powerful artifacts in the British Museum, studying them. I had time to complete what would count as a doctoral thesis, if Oxford didn't classify it as horror fiction."

"Dr Giles." Sexy.

A half smile. "Of a sort."

"What mother doesn't want her son to bring home a doctor?"

The half smile disappeared at that.

Stupid. Surely that was a pile of issues that could have waited until, at least, they'd had one meal together, or a date, or after their fiftieth anniversary.

"So Buffy."

Giles nodded at the yank back on subject. "Merrick was killed, and I knew."

"You knew it was your turn?"

He shook his head. "I knew he was dead. I... felt it. I packed my bags and caught the next train up, and I was the one to break the news to the Council."

"Wow," said Xander, quietly.

"It was probably less of a 'wow' than your own introduction."

"Probably." At least Giles had had some warning.

Giles laid his knife and fork neatly on the plate. "You lost a friend."

"Yeah." Xander poked at his steak, appetite suddenly zero. Don't go there. Not tonight.

"I remember."

He let that settle into the silence. Sometimes it seemed like even Willow didn't remember Jesse. It was good to know he wasn't completely forgotten, but how did they get to this? Xander had wanted to know a little about Giles, not drag them into an extended showing of 'This is Your Miserable Life.' But now, they were here, and there didn't seem to be a way to escape. "I bet you never imagined back then that you'd get fired by the Council." Instead of escaping, Xander could always open his mouth and make it worse.

Giles stood, and collected their plates, turning away to stack them all by the sink. With his back to Xander, he said, "They may see it that way, but being a Watcher is not a day job. It is a sacred duty. It... hurts to be disowned by the Council. But they cannot change who I am." He turned around to face him. "I couldn't leave Buffy any more than Buffy could choose not to be a Slayer, and they are well aware of that fact." He tossed a sponge over. "And now I believe you know more about Watchers than Buffy does." Subject gently closed.

"I probably should have started with something less depressing."

Giles lifted his shoulders. "You can ask me anything you wish." Before Xander could test that out, he started packing the dishwasher, leaving Xander to shut up and wipe down the counter.

When that was clean, Xander headed in to do the stove. They'd run out of conversation, but that was all right. They moved around each other as they tidied up. He could get used to this, boring chores with Giles. Wasn't much different to boring research with Giles, except this was likely to end in Giles' bed, not some hell dimension. And this was much quicker; they were done already.

Which meant next came...

Giles was bending over the sink, and that decided him. Xander put down the sponge, and moved close enough to lay a hand on Giles' ass. Close enough, but in the time it took to reach, he lost his nerve and touched a little higher, on the small of his back. That was a pretty nice place, too. Giles straightened and Xander's hand slipped down to the solid curve of Giles' ass. Except on Giles, he supposed, it was arse.

"Do you want to stay tonight?" Giles asked softly, looking down into the sink. After all this, he actually sounded unsure.

"I really, really do." Xander squeezed Giles' ass, just because he could.

"Your parents won't wonder?"

"I live in the basement, now."

Giles turned and slid a hand down his arm to catch his fingers, and then he was pushing them back, pulling Xander after him, to the stairs. Suddenly Xander was more nervous than he'd been all day. After that kiss, he'd flown back in the door in a cloud of blind lust, and everything they'd done was very, very good, and really not even as far as he'd gone with Ripper. He'd gone further with Faith, but that night brought new meaning to 'just along for the ride'.

Now there was something cold and clinical about the way they were heading up the creaking stairs to the bed. An appointment for sex. Unlike a couch, which, orgasm and all, was really just advanced making out. Giles clearly knew things, liked things, well-beyond Xander's imagination. Was Giles going to want to fuck him? Xander wasn't sure he was ready for that, because while his dick sprang at the thought, his ass was clenching madly. And Buffy had muttered something about her mother and handcuffs after the band candy bar incident, and Xander definitely wasn't ready for that.

And while Xander knew for damn sure that Giles didn't want to have any demon possession orgies, ever again, the fact remained that he had, and who knew what manner of sexually-deviant things were in between?

They reached the landing, next to Giles' Bed, and Giles kissed him, skilfully undoing buttons. He laid warm, strong hands on Xander's chest and gradually slid them up to push his shirt from his shoulders again, following it down his arms with light fingers. Xander shivered. Was Giles going to ask him, or just... Or Xander could be an adult. If he was going to get in bed with one, he should probably be one. Look, he was maturing already. He pressed Giles back gently, just far enough to give their groins some air. "I haven't... you know. Done a lot."

Giles' eyes widened, and a second later he snatched his hands away. "You're not a, a, a- You have, I mean- Oh dear lord tell me you're not a virgin."

Uh-oh.

"Um. In some things?" Xander felt like a little kid, as he folded his arms across his naked chest. "I'm sorry."

Giles sagged, covered his eyes with his hand and then waved it around. "No, no. Don't, don't apologise. I didn't mean to, to imply..." He was working himself in knots. He took a breath, licked his lips, and met Xander's gaze head on. "There's no shame in, in, inexperience. I just meant that your first time should be something more than-"

"-a cheap motel with a Slayer who'll kick me out before I've finished dressing and later try to choke me to death? Check. Noted."

"Oh." Now Giles looked even more like he was about to make Xander dress and drag him downstairs for cookies and milk.

Xander shuffled closer, brushing a finger along Giles' collarbone, trying to look mature and... tall. "Not everyone's first time is in the back of a steamed-up car in the hold of the Titanic with Leonardo DiCaprio."

"With who? The Titanic?"

"Okay, for the first time ever, I'm jealous of your total pop culture illiteracy."

"I'm sorry?"

Hailing Giles across the generation gap was not going to help. "Yes, I've had the sex, so now can we get on with doing it better?"

Giles was calming, but not nearly enough. "This isn't too soon? I don't want to-."

"It's good. So far. I mean, I don't know yet." Xander's face burned. "Everything so far is very, very good." Yep, he sounded twelve years old.

"I don't want to push you. If you want to slow down-"

"I know. You don't need to say it."

Giles smiled, just a bit. "I think saying it is a necessary part of the ritual."

Xander grinned. "Consider the reassurances made."

Giles wasted a couple more seconds thinking about it, and then put his hand on Xander's shoulder. He watched it slide down the length of Xander's arm. "Why don't you show me what you want?"

That seemed safe, except now the ball was in Xander's cart, and a veritable pornographic library of gay-Penthouse-letter fantasies were galloping through his head, way too fast for him to actually see how any of them started. "Why is it I can imagine it in detail, but I can't seem to find a way to say I want to suck your dick?"

Wait. Did that come out out loud? Judging by the way Giles was opening and closing his mouth, yep. He did.

"Say that again."

"I want to suck your dick?"

Xander was pretty sure he actually saw Giles' eyes get darker. "You're doing very well."

Okay. Not so difficult. In fact, if he leaned in to talk in Giles' ear, where he couldn't see his face, "I want you on the bed, naked, and I want to taste it, and make you come," was incredibly easy. Also, it made Giles yank his sweater over his head and drop his jeans and boxers in one moment, and stand, with his back to the bed, waiting. "That was easy."

Here was all of Giles. Way more than he saw before. Soft in places and pale, like an older guy, but nicely muscled, hair from his chest trailing down to the curls around his dick. Which was every inch what it was last year, or all those years ago. Just as hard as Xander, which was shocking even after getting all the way to here. More scars than Xander had known about, though some were familiar, and Xander's stomach clenched at the memories.

"Not too old?" Xander looked up and realised Giles looked nervous, which seemed only fair.

Xander was having trouble finding words. "Look at you," he breathed, and that made Giles blink and look away, embarrassed but kind of happy.

"A little worse for wear."

Xander fingered a white line on his abdomen. He remembered that one. "Angel."

"Yes."

Xander lifted his foot onto the bed, pulling up his jeans to show his shin. "Skateboard."

Giles stared at him, and then chuckled, shaking his head. "That must have been terrible for you."

"I'm a survivor."

Xander pushed at his shoulders, but Giles stayed, tugging meaningfully at the button of Xander's fly. All right. Moment of naked truth. Xander shucked off his jeans and shorts fast, like a Band-Aid, and pushed Giles back before anybody could make a big deal about it. Of course, Giles didn't exactly hide that he was looking as Xander crawled up to kneel over his hips, bobbing around in the fresh air, and totally self-conscious. He didn't know where to put his hands.

"Look at you," said Giles. His fingers skirted ticklishly over Xander's knees. "You are beautiful."

Xander felt a flush creep over him. He could scrub up to a passable cute, but beautiful was for girls, and guys in art photos. Then again, there was a wonder in Giles' tone that made it tempting to believe him. Tempting enough that Xander had to stretch forward and kiss him, entirely conscious of Giles' hands sliding up to his now-bare hips, very close to his bare ass, and his bare erection. It was enough that he considered just settling straight down, body to body, so they could finish naked and horizontal what they'd started against the linen closet door a couple of hours ago.

But no, Xander wanted to see and taste Giles' dick, the one act where he figured he had some idea what he was doing, and might not make a total idiot of himself. Sucking Giles off had been the top of the fantasy pile, and he was well and truly prepared, if not flat out greedy for it. He broke the kiss, let it trail over Giles' rough jaw and down his throat, past his chest - Xander would have to find out later if Giles liked his nipples bitten like he'd done to Xander - along his soft stomach, to his huge, hard dick rising from wiry hair.

It wasn't like Xander had a lot that he could have compared from this close, but it was a really nice dick, skin stretched tight over the thick, smooth length of him. He poked Giles' knees apart and knelt between, pushing them wide so he had a good view of his thighs and balls, and a little of the crevice behind. Giles let him do whatever he wanted.

"Are you having trouble finding it?"

Xander burst out laughing, a little giddy with it all. "That's what you said last time."

Giles lifted his head. "We did this?"

"In Mr Harper's classroom."

"Good lord. Is there anything else I should know about?"

"I can't believe you haven't done the spell."

"Sod what happened thirty years ago when I was a foolish boy. I wanted to know you now. But we did this?"

"This will pretty much bring you even with your younger you." And to end the conversation, Xander took him straight down as deep as he could go.

"Christ!"

Yep. That was good. Xander sucked hard, rubbing up and down Giles' thighs. Giles was enormous in his mouth, not leaving much room for art, or breath, and this angle was way more awkward than on his knees in Mr Harper's classroom, but gradually he got used to it and managed to take more and more inside. Not nearly all of it, but the sounds Giles was making were more than pleased. He tasted almost exactly how Xander remembered, sweaty and salty and male, and Xander was full of him. He let his hands explore, squeezing the base and scratching his nails through the hair and rubbing his balls, loving the way Giles' thighs squeezed around his ears. Xander let his thumb slide back, to the soft place just behind his balls and Giles' whole body lifted off the bed. "Yes! Like that!"

So Xander rubbed circles, not quite back to his asshole - that was something to tackle when he was feeling way braver - but this seemed to be enough for now. He slid his other hand up Giles' flexing stomach, until it was captured in a vice-grip. Giles' hips began to rock and Xander let him, this was good, Giles taking what he wanted, Xander enjoying the ride as the rhythm built and Giles' grip tightened, until he was riding right on the edge, his cock rubbing Xander's lips in time with his harsh pants, soft desperate sounds on every shaking exhalation, grasping for the crash. These were the sounds of Giles having sex. Giles fucking. This was through the looking glass stuff. Xander moaned and Giles froze, suddenly silent, the moment hanging until Xander felt something hitting the back of his throat, and he had to pull back a little to swallow.

He stayed until he was pretty sure Giles was done, and then wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and crawled his way up to see what effect he'd had. Giles was dazed, and that was pretty good. He dazed Giles. He could live with that. A fluttering hand found Xander's mouth and traced his bruised lips, until Xander lay down on him and a light kiss turned hard as Giles swept his tongue deep, exploring all the crevices of Xander's mouth. And Xander realised he was after his own taste, which was bizarre but totally hot.

Giles rolled them over and with no fanfare at all took Xander's dick in his own mouth - "Giles!"

Giles sucked harder, and it struck Xander, that calling him by his last name right now was kind of weird, so he tried, "Rupert..."

Giles stopped, and they looked at each other.

Xander squirmed. "That sounds weird."

A nod. "My friends at home call me Ripper."

Xander shook his head. "Ripper's the guy I... last year. Which is you but-"

"I do understand." Giles licked up the length of him. This was an incredibly stupid time to talk about- Well, anything. "I really don't mind Giles."

"Oh good. Giles."

That got his dick sucked very hard indeed. Xander had had no idea mouths really felt like this, hot and wet and all the cliches. This was how his mouth had felt to Giles.

Giles pressed his knees to his chest and dove down to taste his balls, buried his nose in Xander's groin and breathed him in, never closing his eyes until a wet lick made Xander gasp, and then he opened them again. He seemed to want Xander in all his senses, like this was his only chance to do this. If Xander could talk he would have told him he was free to do this as often as he wanted until it was all down by heart, and then a few times more. Giles drew back to do stuff with his tongue and his teeth and his sandpapery jaw that made Xander's eyes roll back, and then he swallowed Xander down again, all the way down, Giles' throat closed on him and Xander turned inside out and upside down and it had never, never been like this.

Afterwards Giles gathered him close and kissed him, and now Xander pushed his own tongue deep, looking for his own taste. Much the same. Giles, tasting like Xander's come. This was going to take some getting used to.

Giles was stroking him, his hair, his back, settling him down, and Xander squirmed to lay his head on Giles' shoulder, sprawled half on him, half beside him. He felt like he'd just been for a ride in a tumble dryer. Except without the dryer.

A finger drifted over his nipple. "Ow."

"Sensitive?"

"They're going to need a few days off."

"That was... acceptable, I hope," Giles said, tentatively.

Xander wanted to tease him for the 'acceptable', but to hell with it. He was too comfortable. "As soon as they don't hurt, you'd better do it again." He rubbed Giles' stomach, pressed his nose into Giles' collarbone to breathe him in. This was post-sex snuggling. Xander was going to vote in favour. Glowing in the warm after beat the hell out of clutching his clothes on a motel kerb, or stumbling into a library interrogation "So. How come you didn't do the spell?"

Giles' fingers drew circles through his hair, while he took his time to answer. "I realised I didn't want to. If I... If I wanted this, I wanted it to be what I wanted now, not..." His chest rose and fell. "What happened may be recent for you, but I haven't been that boy for a long time."

"Are you going to do it?"

"Perhaps. Not yet."

Xander didn't know how he felt about that. He wanted Giles to remember jerking him off outside the Bronze, and being impressed that Xander fought vampires, and all of it. But at the same time, Giles hadn't needed it. This was their Giles, and without any of those memories, he'd still decided Xander was worth his time. Who could complain about that?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A arm lay heavily across Xander's chest, and his teeth were growing moss, and the sheets were soaked with sweat and he couldn't feel the lower half of his right leg. And he'd slept so deep, it was possible he'd drooled on the pillow.

"G'morning," was murmured in his ear.

Xander grinned. "Morning." Giles' body was pressed against his back, prickly chest hair and sticky hot skin. From behind, lips pressed to his jaw near his ear, stubble rasping against stubble. "You really don't want to kiss me right now," Xander warned, voice still thick and sleepy. He could feel the smile against his neck.

"Believe me, it would be no picnic for you either." Giles stroked Xander's tangled hair. "Are you all right?" No second thoughts, Xander could almost hear him ask.

"I've never woken up with someone before." Xander squirmed happily. "I like it."

"Good." The arm over Xander's chest squeezed.

Xander wanted to roll over and have more fabulous sex, but his gums ached for a toothbrush and last night's sweat clung to his skin, and if Giles was going to taste him, he didn't want to taste like this.

He sat up, dislodging the arm and rolling the kinks out of his shoulders, and realising he was gonna have to pee real soon. He looked down, and paused. Giles looked rough but in a sexy way, shadow-beard defining his cheeks, hair mussed, bare eyes still half-shut.

"Look at you."

Giles covered his face. "Disgusting."

"No." Xander held his morning breath and leaned over to press a dry kiss to the mouth peeking between Giles' hands. "I want a shower more than I've ever wanted one in my life."

"More than after graduation?"

"Yeah. More." Xander slid out from under the damp sheets and headed for the stairs, grinning to himself when he felt Giles' eyes on his naked ass.

Downstairs in the bathroom, Xander heaved a happy sigh as he pissed. Oh, yeah.

Most urgent matter taken care of, he looked longingly from the sink to the shower and back. Tough choice, but teeth won.

Of course, he hadn't brought his toothbrush, had he, because yesterday's plan had been to hang out with everyone and then go home, not stay, have sex and wake up with morning mouth.

And he was just gonna take a moment to reflect on how much better it had turned out than he planned.

Okay, he'd read, and kind of assumed, that things went quicker between two guys than a guy and a girl, Faith the obvious exception to any rule, but he hadn't really applied that to Giles. He certainly hadn't imagined... Xander had fantasised about this happening one day, maybe in a year or ten, not an afternoon. But he hadn't had to persuade Giles at all. Giles just... liked him. Liked who Xander was, not who Xander wanted to be.

Xander eyed the lone yellow toothbrush in the cup, shrugged and picked it up. Wasn't like they hadn't shared plenty of other stuff already. Xander loaded it up and stuck the brush in his mouth and shook his head. Sex with Giles. Wanted by Giles. If someone had told Xander a year ago that one day he'd wake up tangled with Giles in Giles' bed, he would have laughed. And if he was really honest, he probably would have thrown in some retching noises.

Xander grinned a foamy grin. Turned out everyone was right after all. He was a moron in high school.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Hey, college girl!"

"Xander!" Willow squeezed out of the door to her room, along with an explosion of noise that made the Bronze sound like a library. A normal library, not a hellmouthy one. She grinned, delighted to see him, and slammed it shut. Interesting roommate, she had. "I didn't think I'd see you today."

"Well, I was in the area, figured since I was nearby..."

"On campus?"

"California."

"Well. Lucky you took the opportunity," Willow responded in her most serious voice. "Come on."

She led the way back down the stairs and out into the sun, to the wide lawns and criss-crossing paths of the campus. They were surrounded by college kids hurrying, shouting back and forth, sprawled about on the lawns: hardly private. There had to be somewhere better to go, and maybe in the time it took to get there he could figure out what he could and couldn't say. Which was crazy. Rehearsing conversations with Giles was one thing, but this was Willow.

She was shooting him looks like she was trying to gauge whether it was time to start poking, or if this was one of the times when silence would make him blurt it out.

"Will, you know I'm gay, right?"

She stopped and stared at him. Had he misjudged? He knew she didn't have a problem with gay people, but maybe she wasn't ready for this... And then she threw her arms around him. "You told me!"

He was so relieved it took him few seconds to realise there was a problem. "Choking..." Plus, her breasts were pressing against his bruised nipples, but he wasn't about to explain that one.

She eased up, and eventually let go. "I was wondering if you were keeping it secret, or if you were still figuring it out yourself."

She was wondering? She knew? Obviously, he should have just asked her. "Well, the final counts are in, and the judges are awarding it to the team from Castro."

Willow squeezed his hands. "Soooo? Does this mean there's a guy? There must be a guy. Unless you found a gay bar in Oxnard and you're talking lots of different guys, and that's a valid lifestyle too, if you're practising safe sex - you're practising safe sex, right?"

That was loud. Xander smiled and waved at all the people staring at them. "Hey there." That would be great. Giles, I don't know if you wanted to keep our thing private, hope you don't mind that I just came out to UC Sunnydale. How was your day?

Willow ducked her head in apology, so Xander dragged her off the path to the lawn, where the crowd was at least a little thinner. "No. No hordes of horny men."

"One horny man?"

If only she knew. "Look, there's... someone I like, but I'm not ready to go all Ellen on the world, yet, or to tell Buffy or anyone else, so can we just sort of leave it for now?"

Willow smiled and nodded; maybe she'd heard the unspoken part about how he couldn't keep it from her. "All right. But I want to meet him soon." She couldn't help pouting a little. "Is he a good guy?"

"A very good guy."

"And cute? Is he cute?"

Giles? "Yeah. Yeah, but I don't think that's one he'd like to hear."

"Human?"

"One hundred percent Homo sapien."

She squeaked and threw her arms around him. "I'm so happy for you."

"Ooh, can I get an invitation to the hug party?"

"Oz!" Willow's face lit to see him strolling up, and they met with a brief kiss, Oz's hand slipping comfortably around her waist.

"Oz."

"Xander. How's it going, man?"

"Good. Nothing much going on." He was trying to imagine greeting Giles like that, wrapping an arm around him like it belonged there, and drawing a serious blank.

"Good to be home in your own bed, I'll bet."

"Uh. yeah." Please let Willow not read his thoughts on that one.

"Did you ask?" Oz asked Willow.

"Oh! No! I was getting to that. Or actually I forgot, but I was going to remember."

Oz gave her an affectionate squeeze. "Xander, we were wondering if you'd do watcher duty tonight."

"What?"

Oz glanced up at the clear sky. "Full moon."

"Grrr time," added Willow. "We wouldn't ask but I've got a group presentation tomorrow and the others wanted to meet tonight..." She blinked. "Oh! Unless you have a thing! If you have a... thing that you need to do tonight, you should do that. I could ask Giles. I'll ask Giles. He's not doing anything these days-"

"It's fine. I'm free." He couldn't spend every night at Giles'. One night wasn't really grounds to move in. Besides, Xander didn't turn down any chance to do favours for Oz. He had no idea how Oz had forgiven him for what happened with Willow last year, or how he was okay with them staying friends, but Xander was under no illusions about how much he owed the guy.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander tossed his book down on the table. It wasn't even midnight yet, and he was bored and that was making him tired. "You know, this job'd be easier if you could carry a conversation."

There was a growl from the cage.

"Well, if you're just going to bitch..."

"Don't taunt the wolf, it's bad form."

"Giles!" Xander bounced to his feet. "And you brought me food! If there's a burger in there, I'm going to find some X-rated way to reward you."

"No, no M-E-A-T, I'm afraid," Giles replied, getting a snarl from the cage anyway. He came down the stairs, and handed over the paper bag. "Hot chips. Coke."

"Good enough." Xander crammed in a fistful of salty potato goodness. He chewed and swallowed, and then there was a moment of quiet hesitation, and they both looked towards the pacing werewolf.

"He never remembers anything, does he?" asked Xander.

"There has never been any indication of werewolf memory transfer, no."

"Well then."

They stepped together for an awkward kiss. Kind of how Xander might have imagined a kiss between them before Giles rewrote the script yesterday.

He looked over; Oz was up against the bars, black eyes unblinking.

"It's most likely the smell of the chips," Giles offered, but they both moved back to sit shoulder to shoulder on the little stone bench.

The fries were really good. "I didn't expect you to come."

"I'm not overwhelmed with other ways to occupy my time. I thought you might be able to use some food and-"

"Someone to keep me awake?"

"-and a break from your comic."

"Graphic novel."

"Picture book."

"'Road to Perdition' is going to be a classic."

"I'm quite sure." He stole a fry. "So what is Willow up to, that she had to draft you in?"

"Group project. College thing. I didn't ask the details."

Giles looked around. "This is quite the place Oz found."

"Yeah." It was just another strangely roomy Sunnydale crypt, but he'd welded together a way more sturdy cage than at the library. "We're keeping an eye out for a couple of full moons, just to be sure it's secure, then he was talking about getting a combination lock for the door, and he shouldn't need a babysitter anymore."

"I'm sure that will be a relief for him." Giles had stretched back to rest his weight on his hands, open in a way that made Xander want to lean across to kiss him. Or rest a hand on his thigh. Maybe kneel over him so he could watch his face as they talked.

"I told Willow."

"Told her?"

"That I'm gay. Not about you, but she figured there was someone."

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Xander didn't know how to fill it; seemed like it was Giles' turn to speak.

"Did you, er, want to, to tell her?" Jeez. He sounded more reluctant than Xander. No offence taken, or anything.

"Some of me does. I don't usually keep stuff from Will." It was too far to reach back for Giles' hand, but he wanted something, so he put a hand on his leg. He could even feel the tension there. "But... this is pretty new. I don't... I don't know what we're doing, yet. I want it to be... something." Great. That explained it. "I just really liked last night, you know?" He wanted a lot more of last nights, and he wanted this, but he wasn't quite ready to go around introducing people to 'Giles, my boyfriend,' and he felt like an asshole for thinking it, so no way was he going to say that out loud.

Giles leaned forward to lay a hand on Xander's. "I did as well." Something in his look said he understood at least some of the stuff Xander hadn't said.

"And if I tell Willow, we have to tell Buffy."

"Yes," and that 'yes' was ominous.

"I can't imagine Buffy breaking out the champagne." She had her own ideas about what people should and shouldn't do, and she could be possessive of Giles, and she thought Giles was too old for people his own age, let alone theirs.

"I'm not certain it's an idea she would embrace."

"Not because of the gay thing. I mean that'll wig her out but she won't- she's not- I mean, she wouldn't like Willow dating you either."

The corner of Giles' mouth was curling, and okay, well, fine, Giles laughing at him was better than wherever that conversation was going. Also, Xander had said 'dating' and Giles hadn't wigged, which was the first real proof Xander had that last night wasn't a one night thing. Not that Giles would, Xander thought, at least not with him, but it was a relief anyway.

"Can we just say 'not tomorrow' and leave it at that for now?"

Relief washed across Giles' face. "I can live with that. I don't... I'm simply not prepared for the taunting."

"They won't... Yeah, they will. Of course, usually I'd be the chief taunter, so at least I'm out of the way."

There was a lull, and then Giles squeezed Xander's hand on his knee. "So what did Willow say?"

"She said it's about time I came out."

One eyebrow lifted. "As reactions go, that's not a bad one."

"It's pretty hard to wig out Willow. She dates a werewolf."

"What about you?"

"I don't want to date a werewolf." Xander could actually see the glare Giles was fighting to contain. Apparently it was no-jokes time. Xander didn't really do well in no-jokes time.

"I meant, how are you doing? Not... wigging out?"

Xander prickled. "I haven't changed who I am." It wasn't snapping, but it wasn't exactly gentle, either.

Giles didn't blink at his tone. "Of course. Though it isn't always as easy as it ought to be."

Xander turned to face him a little more. "What was it like for you?"

Giles shook his head. "I revelled in it. It was one more rule to break, one more way to upset the system. One more way to upset my parents, though they were never as upset as I wanted them to be."

Xander stared at some vague point beyond the bars. Was this where he was supposed to talk about his own parents? Even without looking he could feel Giles giving him one of those penetrating stares. Yeah. It was time to say something. He might be old enough for Giles to take to bed, but he wasn't old enough that Giles wouldn't worry about what his parents would say. He'd never really talked to Giles about his family, but it only took knowing Xander to see he wasn't raised by the Cleavers.

"My ma'll be crushed, but she might forgive me if I bring home an Oxford graduate."

There was a quiet snort. "Your father?"

Xander couldn't even imagine considering the vaguest possibility of telling even an alternate reality version of his dad. "He'll be disgusted, but he'll think the Oxford thing is worse."

"Worse? He dislikes the English?" Yeah, in a million years, Giles'd never get the Harris family.

"He doesn't like smart people. He'd hate you." That got him a long, bemused silence.

"Charming. He's... He's not an easy man to get along with, is he?"

Xander tensed. "He's okay. He doesn't beat me or anything."

"That's not my measure of a good father."

Xander stood and ran a hand through his hair. "Look, whatever this is, we're not at a place you can start talking about my dad, okay?"

"All right," Giles replied, quietly.

"I'm sorry." He wasn't, but Giles looked hurt and he felt he should say it.

Giles shifted, summoning something, obviously trying to find his way into a conversation Xander didn't want to have. If he touched his glasses, Xander was going to take them off him.

"I worried a great deal about you through school, though I felt my duties left me in a precarious position to intervene."

There was a boatload of guilt in his voice, and Xander folded his arms, taking another step away. He didn't like the idea of people wondering about his home life, and he hated the idea of Giles being all concerned teacher at him.

"He's okay, all right? He's no prize-winner, and I can't imagine either of you liking the other too well, but he's okay. Definitely not someone anyone needed to be calling social services about."

Giles nodded, looking a little bit relieved.

"And you did help. You and Buffy and Willow. I mean, Willow and Jesse were there since we were kids, but you and Buffy came along and it was different. Home wasn't different, it was the same, but it wasn't who I was anymore." He'd never really thought about what the difference was before, but that was exactly it. It hadn't mattered quite so much that home sucked because there were other things that were way more important. "And I've had enough soul-searching for one night, and you brought me fries, and you're sitting there looking all understanding and with your shirt only buttoned most of the way so can we just make out?"

He hadn't really been ogling him this entire time, but making out sounded better than talking. Maybe being gay wasn't such a burden, because the touching part of this thing with Giles was the only part he was clear on. He didn't know what Giles saw in him and he didn't know where it was going and he didn't know if he really needed to be having conversations like this, but if they were kissing, he could stop caring about all the other stuff.

But Giles was still sitting on the bench, watching him. Xander took a couple of steps closer, and Giles reached, just able to catch his fingers and draw him forward, and down to the seat. "There are limits," he murmured.

"Huh?"

Giles glanced toward the cage. "There is a reason why werewolves head for Lover's Lane." Oz was watching them intently, hunched at the bars like he was waiting for curtains-up on a Broadway show.

"You're saying we shouldn't get too turned on. Strictly a hands above the belts operation. I can do that."

Giles' eyes darkened behind his glasses. "You don't need to put your hands below my belt to turn me on, Xander."

Like apparently Giles didn't need to put his hands anywhere to turn Xander on because his voice when it was like this did it plenty. Xander twisted so he was awkwardly facing him. This felt like how teenagers made out, but Xander couldn't figure out a more adult position to sit so to hell with it. Giles didn't seem to care. He slid off his glasses and laid them on the seat beside them, resting his fingers on Xander's cheeks as he leaned in to kiss him.

Surely, kissing Giles ought to be less weird by now. But like this, without the mad-crazed lust, on the tail of a conversation, mid-Oz-watch, this felt like kissing Giles, the Giles he knew. Not bad at all, just... this was the first time he'd been so conscious of the click and smack of tongues, the quiet sounds around them - Oz brushing against the bars - the awkward angle his neck twisted to meet Giles' mouth. It made his stomach flutter the way it hadn't last night, more like the way he'd felt around Giles in the first few weeks after Ripper. There'd been plenty to distract them: Giles being fired, Faith and that night in her hotel room, Faith and the other night in her hotel room, the looming Ascension... Enough going on that it was easy for them to pretend nothing happened, but not so much that Xander hadn't sometimes had time to look up from whichever enormous research book he'd been assigned for the day, and watch Giles putter about his shelves, and imagine Giles calling him back there, and kissing him behind the stacks. When he'd imagined it, his stomach had fluttered exactly like this, nervous and self-conscious and...

Giles let his mouth trail over Xander's cheek and jaw. "What is it?"

"Just thinking about last year. After Ripper. How I used to watch you and wonder what it would be like."

Giles tipped his head. "So what is it like?"

Xander grinned, watching Giles' tongue trip over his lips. "Good. This is how I imagined. Not last night. Last night was kind of a surprise."

"A good surprise?"

"You're fishing."

Giles grinned back, eyes crinkling, and kissed him briefly. "You rather tipped my world over the day you kissed me. I never..."

"Never thought anyone with any taste would be seen with me?" Xander asked, lightly.

"I never imagined myself, until I saw the way he looked at you, and I tried to see you through his eyes."

This was a way better conversation than the other one. Xander kissed him, deep and slow, and then drew back to see him, fuzzy-eyed, wet-lipped. "What did he see?"

"Now who's fishing?"

"That would be me."

"Your kiss helped enormously with the seeing," Giles added.

So Xander kissed him again, just the same but longer, rubbing his back and lifting a hand to curl around his neck.

There was a whine from the cage, and Xander tried to pull back but Giles held him steady. Still against his mouth, Giles murmured, "The way you kiss..." and then they did again, slick and warm, Giles always a little more forceful than Xander, always seeming to want to be inside him while Xander was entranced by the soft meeting of lips, the way it was and wasn't like kissing a girl.

This was kissing Giles.





The Giles Thing III
by Dr Squidlove
December 2008


Xander let Oz out of his cage in the morning, headed home for a catch-up sleep and a quick lunch, and was back at Giles', ready for something a little more hands-below-the-belt, by mid-afternoon.

Giles was hunched at his desk, rumpled and sexy in a dark green shirt he hadn't buttoned all the way, books piled seven and eight high around him, more stacks on the kitchen counter, four open in front of him and he seemed to be reading all of them at once. He didn't even look up as Xander let himself in, too busy frowning through his glasses and muttering as he cross-referenced with quick fingers.

Xander waited awkwardly in the doorway a while, and then told his hurt feelings to shut up. It wasn't rude; this was Giles with his books, which was endearingly Gilesy, not to mention it had saved his hide on many occasions from certain death. So he'd just have to work on not taking it personally. First step was not distracting him, so Xander resisted the very strong urge to slide his hands over Giles' shoulders and link them on his chest and nuzzle his ear until Giles paid attention to him.

He went to the kitchen instead, found the kettle cold, and set to muddling through tea. Boil water, tea in teapot. Definitely swishing involved somewhere in the process. Giles didn't even hear the kettle whistling, which Xander had always assumed was to an Englishman like waving a bone was to a dog. He should probably worry - Sunnydale wasn't a place to be that oblivious.

Eventually Xander had a cup of tea that he thought was pretty okay. It was the right colour, at least. He came up behind Giles and touched his arm. "Giles?"

Giles jumped, making Xander glad he hadn't simply reached over his shoulder to put the mug in front of him. And then he focused, saw Xander, saw the tea, and the warm smile made Xander very glad he'd crushed his inner child. Maybe his inner adult was finally growing a voice of its own. Giles accepted the drink and took a sip and his face twisted.

"Not good?" Why did this suddenly feel like a botched attempt to please his father?

"We'll work on it. Thank you for trying." Giles valiantly took another sip.

"Whatcha workin' on?"

He slumped again, looking back to his books. "A contact in London called. The Medallion of Temakra is missing. Could you pass me the Pergamon Codex?" He waved towards the kitchen counter.

That was one Xander knew, brown leather and heavy pages, kind of small, so you'd never guess how important it was with the Master.

Giles took it without looking up, already absorbed again.

Maybe Xander was gonna need a basement to keep that inner child in. "Well, I have jobs to hunt," he announced, into the air. Apparently, the 'you don't need to put your hands below my belt' phase was over.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Alexander honey, is that you?"

"Yeah, Mom." He followed her voice into the kitchen. "Thought I'd pay a visit."

She looked up from the sink. "You're always welcome, you know that. Just because we've moved you down to the basement..."

"I'll try to keep in touch." Xander took a towel and started drying. When he got a job, maybe he could see about paying to get the dishwasher fixed, since it looked like his dad was never going to get around to it.

She was rubbing at a cup, building to something, so Xander waited. "You didn't come home the last two nights."

Oh. He'd assumed she wouldn't notice. "I thought, with living downstairs and paying rent and all, I didn't have to check in," he replied tightly.

"Two nights. You could have been dead in a ditch. Something could have happened to us; did you think of that?"

"Leave the boy alone, Jessica. That's my boy, oats to sow." A heavy hand clapped Xander's shoulder, and Xander gritted his teeth in what was supposed to be a leering grin. Wondering how proud his dad would be of his oat-sowing if he knew it was with his forty-something year-old male school librarian. Suddenly, telling Buffy he was practising intimate relations with her ex-Watcher didn't seem so daunting.

"You got yourself a job yet, son?"

"Got a paper." Xander tipped his head at the newspaper he'd dropped on the table when he came in.

"A paper's not a job."

Xander turned away, slid a plate into the cupboard. "I'm looking. Trying to decide between cabin boy and chimney sweep."

"You need to be pounding the pavements. Nobody's going to make you head of the company. You take what you can get, start at the bottom. That's how it works."

He turned back, twisting the towel in his hands. "I know, Dad."

"You're a good kid, Xander. You may not be the smartest, but you work hard, they'll see your worth."

Nodding, Xander started drying again. His dad never climbed. He'd worked his ass off for years and then got laid off, and hadn't held down anything for more than a few months since. His grandad never climbed. And Uncle Rory... well, okay, Uncle Rory wasn't really a good comparison for anything.

Maybe Uncle Rory could get Xander into the taxidermy trade. Could probably make a killing out of some of Buffy's best non-poofing left behinds.

That wasn't a bad idea.

It was a ridiculous idea.

But not a bad idea.

His mom let the water out of the sink, rinsing her hands under the tap. "You've had enough time catching up with those girls."

"They're my friends, Mom."

She just sniffed, which was short-hand for 'Willow's parents look down on us and that Buffy girl is trouble.' "Well, I'm sure I wouldn't want to impose on your time with your friends."

"No need to nag, Jessica. When he starts earning himself a living like a man, he won't have time to trail after all those professional students he hangs out with."

Xander put the cup down a little hard, and reached for another. He knew Willow and Buffy were going to grow away from him. He didn't need the reminder. Giles, though. Giles had already done his growing, and he still had time for Xander. Now Xander was kind of growing towards him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After two hours sprawled on his bed, sifting through want ads, Xander wasn't so sure. Giles was a doctor of demonology, had read every book ever written before 1800 and all the pictureless ones since, and spoke a bazillion languages. It was hard to see how eight hours days of janitorial duties would enrich Xander in his eyes. Xander hadn't thought particularly deeply about what he was going to do now he was done with school. Just figured he'd end up... something.

He flopped onto his back. What did Giles see in him, anyway? They hadn't ever talked about it. Ripper saw sex, and hadn't seem interested in much else. Maybe Giles was the same. He had his books, and he had Buffy. It could be that sex, someone to curl up to at night, was all he wanted.

It wasn't as though Xander had any strong ideas about what he wanted, himself. A straight man was supposed to find a good job, get married and make a home for his wife and kids. Ideally, with less drinking than his dad did, and with a wife who drank less than his mom did. Which was vaguely what he'd imagined, in the very far-off future. What did a gay man want? What could Xander do for Giles, of all people? The only thing Xander knew for certain was that he didn't want to be like his dad.

He stretched out his hand to push the classifieds off the bed. He didn't want to deal with jobs right now. And he shouldn't be thinking about Giles like they were getting married, or something. One night of amazing sex hardly proved Giles was going to start warming to Xander's sense of humour, or that Xander was going to stop screwing things up. Maybe this would last a while: weeks, maybe even months. If it did, and they finished up on a good note, Xander could chalk it up as the most successful relationship of his life. Maybe he'd end up an 'old friend,' like Olivia, knowing he could always stop by for another night like that first one. That'd be all right.

It made him think maybe he should head over there tonight, make the most of however long they were going to have, but considering the vacuum of a reception he'd had this afternoon, it was probably time to spend a night at home.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Buffy, Willow and Oz were there when he went over the next afternoon. In hope, he'd brought a change of clothes, in a bag that he dropped quietly in the corner. Giles didn't notice him. He was absorbed in explaining something to Buffy, and seemed to have a rhythm going.

Xander flopped on the couch next to Oz. "What's up?" As if the piles of books wouldn't give it away.

"Big bad," replied Oz. "Or possibly a medium-sized bad. It's not yet clear."

"Something's missing from the British Museum," Willow explained.

"That isn't a little out of our jurisdiction?"

"It's a medallion," said Giles, finally tearing himself from Buffy. "It can be used to focus curses on the Slayer, among other things."

"Curses like giving her a soul? Or curses like turning her into a teenager who steals stuff and makes out with Buffy's mom?"

The last bit slipped out before Xander remembered that he shouldn't be making jokes like that anymore, and Giles' glare was scathing. Oops.

"It could be any curse. Weakness, illness, memory loss, hair loss..."

"Hair loss?" Buffy wailed.

"What else can it be used for?" asked Oz. "You said 'among other things.' Maybe it was taken for one of the other things."

They all looked at Giles, who pursed his lips and muttered.

"Say what?"

"Gardening!" he snapped. "It repels snails."

"So it might not be someone out to kill me and destroy the world as we know it. It might be a horticulturalist who can't find the pesticide section at Wal-Mart."

"Slayer-cursing is its primary purpose."

"And the Council leave that kind of thing lying around?" Willow frowned.

"That would be the question of the evening," added Buffy, with a piercing look at Giles.

He took off his glasses, pulling a cloth from his back pocket to clean them. "It's quite possible the Council weren't aware of the exact nature of its power."

"Sounds like something they ought to know about," said Willow.

"Yeah, well, I'm wondering more and more what the point of the Council actually is. They judge me, they test me, they yell at me, they fire my Watcher, but they've never actually done anything to help."

Willow gathered her skirt and climbed up to sit on the arm of the couch, where she could see everyone better. "Well, poohey to the Council. We've never needed their help anyway. Well, except for when we wanted to know how to cure Angel, and they still didn't help, so... poohey to the Council. We can take care of this. What do we do?"

They all looked to Giles.

He rubbed his neck. "There is little we can do, I'm afraid. I've put together a list of possible curses and their reversals, and I'm compiling a second list of objects that may connect, things to be on the look-out for, but otherwise we wait."

Buffy folded her arms. "You called us here to tell us something may or may not be going on, and even if it is, there's nothing we can do about it."

Giles' mouth thinned. "I don't want to keep things from you. At the very least, I want you to be more aware than usual." He sat down at the desk, lifting a book which bumped another book, which bumped the pile behind it, and Xander leapt up to catch the mug that was tipping precariously behind that pile. It was the cup of tea he'd made for Giles yesterday. "Have you eaten?"

Buffy and Giles both looked at him, confused.

"Yeah," said Buffy.

"Today?" said Giles.

Pointedly ignoring Buffy, Xander lifted the mug at Giles. "I'll get you something."

"I could eat," Willow offered.

He headed into the kitchen to forage. "Strictly a favour for anyone who's been so buried in books he hasn't eaten today." He realised the others were looking at him strangely. Not a good cover. He stuck his head out over the counter. "Or anyone who could afford to employ me as a butler."

"I believe the butlering arts pay well," said Oz.

Xander reached into the cupboard for a plate, and a hand touched his back, just above his hip. Barely out of sight of the others. "Thank you," Giles said quietly.

Xander froze, careful not to shift closer. "No problem. What do you want?"

Giles waved vaguely with his other hand, as the hidden one lifted and drifted down Xander's spine, stopping just short of his ass. Xander shivered. "I'm in no particular mind. Anything here; I bought it all." He started back into the living room, taking his wandering hand with him, but he stopped halfway. "But if you put peanut butter and jam on a single sandwich I will throw you out. And possibly summon some form of enchantment to keep you out."

"One day you will cave to our ways."

"A man must have some standards."

"Why?"

"To demonstrate that he is not an American."

The last was fired off as he rejoined the others, leaving Xander to soak up the lingering tingle from Giles' secret touch, and wonder how one made a sandwich that wasn't PB&J.

Willow popped up on the other side of the counter, leaning so far forward a stiff wind could have blown her clear over it. "So?" she stage-whispered.

It took every ounce of willpower Xander had not to look at Giles. Just a quick glance around the room at everyone and no one in particular to make sure everyone else was distracted. "I saw you two days ago. How much do you think can happen in two days?" He turned away and rummaged through the fridge. Ham, didn't smell, that would do. He should put it with peanut butter or jelly, just to teach Giles a lesson. Mustard, check, and there was the bread in the corner.

Willow was waiting, sceptical-faced when he dumped his ingredients on the counter.

"I spent all night with Oz, and all day looking for work, and all last night at home."

She pouted. "If you won't let me tell anyone, the least you can do is keep feeding me juicy details."

"You have your own juicy details, and I have no wish to exchange."

Oz stepped up, resting his hand on Willow's back, just like Giles had on Xander's, except anyone could see it. "Sorry to kill the party, guys, but it's getting late, and I have a cage to lock myself in."

"Go," said Xander. "You too, Buffy. I can probably help sort books here. Not for long. Early start tomorrow. Jobs to find." If he packed any more excuses in, he might manage to make a bigger idiot of himself, but he seemed to be done for now.

"Do you need, you know, help, with that?" asked Buffy, sounding like she was offering to do his chores for a month.

"No. You're Slayer-girl, Willow's spell-girl, Oz is werewolf powers and Giles is the brains. I'm fetch and carry guy. Do I tread on your turf?"

Buffy was already halfway out the door, dragging Willow, whose glares made it clear she thought Xander had engineered the full moon to avoid her interrogation. Oz saw Willow's glare and gave Xander a shrug, following them out.

Giles closed the door behind them and approached the counter. "I'm sorry. I won't be much company tonight."

"I don't mind."

He rubbed his eyes. "I've a lot more reading to do. I can't simply put my work aside."

"I'm not asking you to." Is that what Giles thought he wanted? "I'm a hundred percent in favour of keeping Buffy in one piece. It's one of my hobbies too, remember? I just... I can't help?" Xander couldn't take a hint, and go home?

"Really, Xander, I'm following half-formed thoughts and vague connections; I'm not sure I'll know what I'm looking for until I find it."

"Okay, then, so I'm not good for that. Can I sort books, or something? It's getting chaotic in here." He didn't need Giles to forget what mattered, but if he could help, be useful, somehow, maybe he'd still exist.

Giles looked around, like he was seeing it for the first time. "I suppose it is." He stared down at the open books on his desk and frowned. "Actually, it would be terribly helpful if you could fetch some things from the garage for me. I haven't finished sorting everything from the library, and finding things has been..."

"No problem. Gimme a list, just as soon as you've finished your sandwich." With that, Xander slid the plate across the counter at him, earning a smile that lifted his eyes and made Xander remember why he was hanging out here in the first place. How had he never noticed before last year what a good-looking guy Giles was?

Giles smiled wider, like he was reading Xander's mind, all smug and sexy, but he took a bite of his sandwich. His eyebrows rose, like he'd just realised how hungry he was, and he wolfed down the rest. "Mm. Thank you."

"One day I'll make you a Xander Harris special."

"I'm not the least surprised to learn that there is such a sandwich, though perhaps somewhat afraid."

Xander grinned. "Enough? I can make you another one."

The plate was pushed aside, and Giles leaned across the counter to squeeze his hand. "I'm fine. Thank you."

He pulled over a writing pad, and started jotting things down. Xander put the plate in the dishwasher, brushed the crumbs into the sink and came around just as Giles finished his list. Xander reached for it, and Giles pulled it away, standing up and leaning in to give Xander a soft kiss. Barely pulled back, so his eyes were inches from Xander's. "I am sorry for the distraction."

"Just keep doing that, and we're good."

Giles drew a finger along Xander's lip, and then gave him another, faster, kiss. "I'm glad you're here."

Xander really hoped that stuff he'd read about denial making the event hotter was true, because he was already hard.

Soon Xander found himself hauling boxes around in the cramped little space Giles' landlord called a garage, though by Xander's guess, if they cleared all the boxes out there still wouldn't be room for the Citroen. Or at least not to open its doors. He tried to create some order as he dug out all the Assyrian spellbooks in Sumerian. Xander hadn't ever imagined he'd one day be able to recognise half the ancient languages. He couldn't read a word of any of them, but recognising them had to count for something.

An hour later he was back down there, collecting everything Giles had on alchemy, and this time he brought a marker so he could start all the box-labelling they hadn't had time to do when they were emptying everything out of the library. He stuck his head in on Giles every now and then, to see if there was anything else, found Giles frowning and muttering to himself. Giles barely acknowledged him, but Xander minded less, this time, even if he couldn't say he didn't mind at all. Xander just indulged in his new ogling rights, before heading back to the sorting.

It was a good few hours before he came in to find Giles leaning on his elbows, glasses tossed carelessly on the desk, rubbing his eyes.

"I don't know how your all-purpose curse-defence is coming along, but you now have the best-organised garage in Sunnydale."

"Hm? Oh, thank you." He blinked, wearily. "You didn't need to do that."

"It's got to be easier than starting every search from scratch. Who'd ever have guessed I'd miss the card catalogue?"

"Certainly I wouldn't."

"Yeah, well." He planted himself on a stool. "Now I know every book in there. Quiz me."

"Did you find a set of thin, hardcover notebooks? Handwritten, British Museum logo on the front?"

"Okay, I didn't mean literally quiz me, but yeah. A stack of them, mixed in with what looked like a complete set of Biggles adventures. Which I'm determined never to mention again."

Giles heaved a long sigh, sagging back in his chair. "I thought I'd lost them. I looked earlier..."

"You want them?"

"Please."

Xander dug them out easily, thanks to his big labelling project: twelve black notebooks, leather covers and a gold stamped Museum logo. Inside... Giles' own untidy scrawl. The sort of spidery British handwriting that was probably taught to all magically-inclined academic types.

Xander carried them up and put them on another pile within Giles' reach. "I never really thought about the fact that one day your diaries would be on some watcher's bookshelf. Suddenly I'm seeing a futuristic Slayer and her futuristic Scooby gang gathered around the Rupert Giles Chronicles, wondering why the hell you couldn't print a little clearer."

"Thank you." Giles pulled them in front of him and started flipping through, never looking up. Lost him again.

"Your garage is done, so I'm just going to sit on the couch and colour in all the dirty pictures in your succubus texts."

"Very good."

"Okay, then." Xander flopped on the couch and closed his eyes. It was easier not to mind being ignored when he was busy too, but all that box-hauling had worn him out. Giles could wake him if he was needed. Or wanted. Xander slid a hand over the leather. Giles kissed him here two nights ago. And then he rubbed him through his pants until he came in them. Xander sat up to peer over the back of the couch, to see what he could of Giles between the book piles. Head down, glasses barely hanging on to the end of his nose, mouth tight. He was pretty sure it had happened, anyway. The man was irritatingly good at switching his lust on and off. Was it an age thing, or a Giles thing? Maybe it was an English thing.

Giles caught him looking, and sat back. "You needn't stay. I have what I need."

Ouch. But Xander wasn't surrendering that easily. "Do you want me to go?"

Giles pulled off his glasses and came over to sit on the arm of the couch, a soft look in his eyes that warmed Xander right through. "No. But I really can't entertain you."

"What am I, five?"

"That's not... You see what poor company I am."

"Like it here," Xander replied. Yeah, okay, whined.

Giles reached out and tugged a strand of his hair. "You could go upstairs. Sleep in my bed."

That sounded better than going home. "Will you come up?"

Giles looked back at his desk, at least managing to look unhappy about it. "I still have work to do."

"You told the others all the research was already done. You said it was down to waiting."

"Not entirely. And now that I have my notebooks..."

Xander shut himself up. He was whining like a kid, and Giles really did look sorry. He leaned up and kissed him, reassured when Giles couldn't help kissing back. "It's not urgent. Nothing's going to happen tomorrow. There's time to sleep, at least."

Giles stood. "Soon, perhaps."

It seemed to be the best that he'd get, so Xander struggled to his feet and headed for the bathroom. He rinsed his face and borrowed the toothbrush, and then climbed the stairs. God, he did ache. He knew Giles, knew there'd be nights like this, knew nights like this had kept them alive for the past three years. He understood that. But he'd hoped for a few more nights like the first one, when Giles reinvented the meaning of sex. This was making it easier to remember the nights before that, when Giles put up with Xander because he was part of the Buffy Summers package deal.

Xander stripped off his clothes, and in a moment of perversity, threw his boxers over the rail, somewhere around where Giles would be sitting. He was pleased with the answering chuckle. Not forgotten, then. Yep, that definitely soothed the pouting Inner Xander.

He turned to the bed and paused. This was where Giles slept, and Xander had never seen it until two nights ago. Hadn't really noticed it then, what with all the sex. It was pretty bland - plain wooden headboard, alarm clock, spare glasses and a pile of books with tabs on the stand. Set of drawers. Bookshelf on the side, of course. This is what Giles came back to every night, all through high school. Which was, actually, a lot better than what Xander used to go home to.

Except this was where Angel left Miss Calendar's body for Giles to find.

God. Xander sat on the bed. He'd never really wondered about the details of that night. She was dead, and Giles found her, and that was awful enough. But now... What did she look like? Did Angel strip her, leave her naked to go with the roses and wine? Where did Giles sleep that night? How long before he slept here again? Did he think about her, when he brought Xander up here?

It was hardly a wonder that Giles could obsess like he did. It was a wonder that he could deal at all.

Xander didn't want to sleep here alone, but he couldn't go back down there now and explain why. If Giles could do it, so could he, so he climbed under the sheets and closed his eyes, lying stiffly where her body had been.

He wondered what Miss Calendar would think of this, Xander lying where she was supposed to be. If Angel hadn't killed her, Xander wouldn't be here, and that was a horrible train of thought that he needed not to be riding.

He lay there a long time, listening to the shift of papers downstairs. Thinking about Giles, and how serious he looked when he was buried in books, trying to protect them. He wished he'd come upstairs, so Xander could touch him, show him they were all still okay, for now. Maybe so Giles could show Xander he was okay.

He was drifting... not quite asleep, just floating towards it when he finally felt the bed dip beside him. Xander smiled without opening his eyes, let the dip move closer until Giles' warm, naked body was pressed against his side.

Xander stretched his neck, searching until a mouth settled on his own. Good. Firm, and strong, pressing his head back into the pillow. Like he'd missed Xander, while he was down there, researching. Xander lifted his hands, feeling out the warm solid shoulders. He wanted to do something for Giles, be good for Giles. A tongue touched his own and Xander let a soft sound escape, giving back, tasting back. He writhed, feeling out whether this was just a quick pre-nap kiss or if they could... yes, Giles was hard, beautifully hard, and his kisses were pressed around Xander's mouth as often as on it. Xander rolled on top, finally opened his eyes to watch Giles watch him watching Giles, and he ground their hips, carefully lining their dicks together. "Just this tonight? Just enough to know the other night wasn't my wild imagination?"

Giles kissed him a little harder. "No imagination." Hands slid over Xander's shoulders and down his back to squeeze his butt.

Xander had never realised what an erogenous zone his butt could be. The actual asshole had a reputation but this deep-butt massage Giles was giving him was something never mentioned in the articles of the magazines Xander bought. Giles' fingers were strong, digging and rubbing and distracting Xander from remembering, "Meant to do something for you."

"This is something for me," Giles murmured, "Handfuls of your delicious arse."

The handfuls were grinding their dicks together, Giles' hot hard dick pressing Xander's, as his hot hard mouth pressed Xander's mouth. This was different from the other night, different from sex where Xander's face was in Giles' groin or vice versa, and different from the handjob on the couch. Their whole bodies were together, their chests and their groins and when Giles groaned he did it against Xander's cheek.

Who gave a damn how distracted Giles was downstairs if afterwards he came up here and pressed his whole hot naked body to Xander's? He wasn't thinking about research now. Giles was rubbing himself against Xander, whispering "Xander," in his ear, and this was exactly what Xander had been waiting for.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles was already up when Xander woke. He found him back at his desk in his bathrobe, hair sticking up like he'd just been screwed.

"Did you sleep at all?"

"A couple of hours."

This had really gotten to Giles. Clearly Xander didn't have the whole picture, but it was something bigger than he'd told Buffy. "Do you need anything from the garage before I tidy myself up to go begging for my very own place on the hamster wheel of menial labour?"

A finger marked his place as he looked up. "You'll do fine."

"I'd settle for doing adequately, if I could just do something."

"You'll do fine," Giles said more firmly.

Xander grabbed his overnight bag from by the door, and hesitated before reaching to smooth Giles' hair, another half-moment before he leaned in and kissed him. A daytime kiss, the sort couples had, and it made him feel good as he took himself off to the shower.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Since the first time he set foot in Sunnydale High, Xander had never imagined that one day he'd want to go back. Until today. He'd be down the enrolments office right now, if only it was more of a building, and less of a pile of blackened rubble. Sure, it was four years of unendurable misery, but at least there'd been comfort in knowing that even the guys who beat his lunch money out of him in freshman year were secretly just as confused as he was, just as stuck as he was, just as totally insignificant and worthless. Lord of the Flies, sure, but at least they were all in it together. Now Xander had the ego-building experience of being condescended to by people wearing name badges and aprons.

It was only mid-afternoon but he was done, and he was heading over to Giles' to see if there was any progress.

Xander let himself in and Giles blinked up at him, and then frowned. "Xander." The only sign he'd got up all day was the line of mugs along the kitchen counter.

"Any news?"

Confusion wrinkled his forehead, and then he looked down as though waking from a trance. "Oh. No, more research." He pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes hard enough to hurt. Xander wanted to pull his hand away. "I could use your help now. I've been able to compile some references, things you could scan for."

He looked exhausted, eyes bloodshot. Still sexy as hell, with his messed hair and his rumpled shirt, but Xander wasn't going to even try making a pass. "Let me at it. I have no higher calling."

"No luck?"

"Rejection is my forte."

The frown deepened, and Giles turned in his seat to face him. "You'll find something. It may not be anything you want, at first, or anything worthy of your talents, but give yourself time."

"I have talents?"

"Do you want me to list them?"

No, that would be embarrassing for both of them. "How about you just give me your research list?"

Xander took the sheet of paper from Giles' outstretched hand. Maybe he should have leaned in to kiss him hello, but somehow the moment had been missed. Or maybe now... they smiled at each other awkwardly, and Xander looked down at his paper. He skimmed through his list: pretty specific dates, a couple of demon names. Way better than the vague eras and languages from before. Very specific, in point of fact.

He gave Giles a quizzical look, but Giles only pointed him towards a box in the corner and went back to glaring through the notebooks that seemed to have kick-started the new lead.

Xander positioned himself on the floor, leaning against the fireplace so he could watch Giles as he searched. There was definitely something going on; Giles had looked this worn when they were locked in the library every night trying to study the mayor's Ascension, and he'd looked worse a year ago when Buffy ran away, while he was struggling to get it together after what Angel did to him. But he'd never kept stuff from them.

Never except for Eyghon.

A notebook slammed shut. "Dammit!"

Giles' notebooks. From the museum. God, he was slow. "You catalogued it."

"I'm sorry?"

Xander put his book down on the bricks beside him. "That's why it's got to you like this. You knew about it, from when it was your job to catalogue artifacts."

Giles looked like he was going to argue, but the air drained out of him and he slouched in his seat, staring down at the open notes on the desk. "I've held it in my hand."

"You didn't know what it was?" Xander climbed to his feet and looked at the spread of notebooks. "No, you did know. I don't get it."

"I knew exactly what it was, but it was all theoretical. I'd never met a slayer, never coached one..."

"But you were a watcher. Shouldn't you guys destroy things that can hurt the slayer?"

"The Council's responsibilities are much wider than a single slayer." He was taking on the irritated, impatient tone that Xander remembered from high school. The one that told Xander he was stupid.

"I don't know what that means. You guys protect her, right? I mean, what happens if Buffy gets cursed, and killed?"

Finally Giles raised his head, giving Xander a cold, hard look.

It all came together. Xander felt sick. "Another rises. So who cares."

Giles flinched. "It's not that simple."

"Hey guys!"

Giles and Xander froze as Buffy, Willow and Oz piled through the door.

"But did you see the pile of books he expects us to read? That's more books than I read for any class in high school."

"Buffy, that's more books than you read in all high school. That's kinda the point of college." Willow beamed at Giles and Xander. "Are we up to the magic part yet?"

It was the first time Xander had ever really seen the way Giles pulled himself together for Buffy. The way he took a little breath and blinked and set his shoulders back, as though he and Xander had just been building a plan of action. "Do come in and interrupt and dislodge our carefully disorganised books."

"Okay." Buffy wandered into the kitchen to grab a drink, while Willow and Oz claimed the couch. "College is supposed to be about parties and not living at home. Grown up stuff. Not high school all over again."

She'd put her life on the line more times than Xander could count, saved his hide more times than that. She'd gone willingly to her death and killed her dumbass lover and raised an army, and they thought she was disposable. Xander wondered what the slayers before her had given, and if the Council had cared about them, or if they just closed one file and opened the next. Disposable. Even Giles had once thought so.

Buffy stopped mid-drink. "Do I have something on my face?"

"No."

She frowned and looked at Giles, and frowned some more. "You two have been doing some serious research. You should step out in the sunlight. Or-" she took in the room "-clean. You're getting kind of slovenly, Giles. Maybe you could hire Xander as a maid."

She reached down to demonstrate, picked up a piece of laundry - oh god - and then jumped halfway across the room, flinging the boxers in the other direction.

Giles was beet-red, and Xander was redder, and Buffy was wide-eyed and open-mouthed, hand held far from her body like it was infected.

Oz, of course, decided this was the moment to exercise his verbal talents. "Gotta say, Giles, never picked you for a novelty print kind of guy."

Xander finally managed to look at Willow. She was staring straight at the shorts with her mouth making a perfect, round 'o'. Yep. She'd made the leap. Secret out. Cartoon space-rocket print glared at them all from the floor. It could have got up and danced, with less reaction.

Giles and his enormous brain recovered enough to snatch them up and snap, "Thank you, Buffy. Yes, I do have laundry, and I apologise if that fractures your precious belief that I am sewn into my clothes."

Buffy pulled in at the unexpected anger. "Sorry." But she had that little pout that said she wasn't really, and Giles wasn't mollified. In fact, Xander would have ranked his expression somewhere around abject humiliation.

"I'll just..." He waved his hand, realised he was waving the shorts and snapped his hand back to his side, ducked his head and hurried upstairs.

Nobody moved. Giles didn't come back down.

"Touchy," Buffy muttered.

"A man's underwear are a personal thing," chided Oz. "Not a thing to be waved about in company."

Except they weren't his and that wasn't what had Giles upset. Xander had been embarrassed and panicked, too, but the complete horror on Giles' face... Well, it made Xander long for Cordelia's open disgust. Welcome Giles, just another float in the 'ashamed of dating Xander' parade.

Willow was staring at Xander, now, the same expression like the wind had changed and maybe she was stuck that way forever. Was it really that unlikely that Giles would... okay, that thought was done.

"Oh!" she suddenly cried. "I just remembered I have to ask you. About that thing."

She grabbed his sleeve, looked about at the lack of privacy Giles' house offered, and hauled him outside, slamming the door on everyone's curious stares. "I'm supportive girl, you know? I accept your decisions without judgement."

"I know."

She hesitated, and then yanked him a few feet further from the door. "Are you insane?" That was a whole new octave for Willow. "No, no, I'm supportive girl." She put out her hands in a calming gesture. "But are you completely nuts?"

"You wanted to know if I had a good guy."

"He's our teacher!"

"No, he isn't."

She screwed up her face, and at last begrudged, "No, okay, he isn't. But he's our librarian! And he's forty-six. And he's, he's... Giles! Giles is your horny man?"

Wow. If this was the reaction from Willow, then Xander was a million miles from ready to face the others. By which he meant Buffy.

Xander put his hands in his pockets. "C'mon, Will. Name one person in the world who'd be better for me than he would. Okay, he's not getting the best end of the deal, but he's an adult, a bona-fide grown-up. He can decide for himself." Decide for himself, live with the shame.

Willow suddenly looked terribly sad. "I think he's getting a pretty good deal." The smile bloomed slowly, but at last it lit her face completely, and she threw her arms around him in what totally ranked in the Top Ten Willow Hugs of All Time. Xander squeezed back hard. She'd never thought Xander was beneath her.

She didn't let go until she'd mastered a dramatic pout. "How did I not see it?"

"Not the likeliest couple in the world, are we?"

"But how? When?"

Two questions that were never going to be answered, ever. "I'm just making my way through the gang until somebody'll have me. You better hope this works, 'cos Oz is all that's left on the list."

Xander smiled, but Willow didn't. "Why didn't you tell me? You weren't going to tell me." Will brought the guilt like no one else.

"We're still figuring things out for ourselves. I don't... I don't even know what this is." And maybe it wasn't what he'd thought it was.

Willow saw straight through him, and she took his hand to pull him over to the table and sit him down. The last time he'd sat here, it was him and Giles and Olivia, and he'd thought his chance with Giles was gone. Which had hurt, but not so much as having Giles and realising how embarrassed Giles was to have him. And yes, he knew it wasn't exactly that way, but it was a little bit, and that hurt. Buffy had made it sound like Giles preened like a porn star when she caught him with Olivia. So what did it mean that he dove for cover when Xander's underwear made an appearance?

"Talk to me." She held his hand in her own, waiting. This was the Willow he talked to when his mom made off-hand comments about swallowing a handful of pills, when Larry pantsed him in the locker room, when Jesse died. Best friend in the world. And Xander was dying to tell someone.

"He's something else, Will. We had this amazing night, and then he got caught up in this medallion and we've barely spoken. And I get it, you know. It's important. I'm not ever going to come before Buffy. But I don't really know what's going on. Should I stay tonight? Do I just stay sometimes? And if that's how it works, when? Should I be inviting myself for dinner? Should I be making him sandwiches while he's researching, or-" and maybe this was most likely of all "-is he wondering how I moved myself in and trying to find a polite way to boot me out?"

God, it was a relief to get that out.

"Have you talked to him?"

"Are we up to a 'where is this relationship going?' talk? I don't know. I don't even know if we're kiss-each-other-hello people. I seem doomed to only attract people who wouldn't be seen with me in public." He tried to say it jokingly, but it fell completely flat.

"Giles wouldn't treat you like that."

"You didn't see his face when Buffy found my boxers?"

"You think he's like Cordelia and Faith?"

"And you."

Willow's expression turned wounded, and Xander hurried to smooth it over.

"I don't mean you're like them. I just mean, you didn't parade me around either."

"That was different."

"Of course it was. And maybe Giles' reasons are different. For starters, the shame of being with a dumb kid."

Willow considered, staring at their joined hands. "I don't know. I don't know what I know, when I didn't even know you were together, didn't even have a whisper of a hint of a vague clue. But I can't imagine Giles would have started anything with a friend of Buffy's without some pretty darned serious thinking about it."

"He is Mr Consider-All-Angles Guy." But was that before or after he jumped Xander against the linen closet?

"Exactly." She settled her chin on her free hand. "So what do you want?"

And that was the question he was really avoiding, wasn't it? He traced the design on the table with his finger. "I don't know. I really like him. As in, I really, really like him, like, a lot."

"I get it. You like him."

"Yeah, but I'm having trouble envisioning Mr and Mr Giles-Harris."

She started laughing, until she realised just how much he wasn't. "Okay, now you're getting ahead of yourself. I love Oz, but I'm not sending wedding invites just yet. There's some in between, you know. There's a whole lot of in between. Thousands and thousands of square miles of it."

Xander heaved a sigh. He did feel better, even if it was simply for having Willow back in the know. "It's just early days." He hoped. "Early days are confusing."

"And fun. Don't forget fun. The buzz of figuring it all out, of kissing someone new..." Willow flashed a look at the closed front door, and her hand tightened on his. "Is he a good kisser? I always imagined he was a good kisser."

Xander's jaw dropped. "You imagined?"

"I kinda had a crush..."

"Wow. Didn't need to know that."

"Well, is he?"

What would she think of Giles pressing him against the linen closet just out of her sight? Grasping his arms and taking his mouth like he had a right to it...

"He is!" Willow squealed. "I knew it!"

Xander flushed, and his ears burned. "C'mon. Let's go back in, before they send a search party." Or before Willow started asking for an itemised replay of the other night. Willow crushed on Giles? How did Willow notice Giles before he did?

He was grinning when he led Willow back inside, but one look at Giles' sour expression wiped it right off his face. Oh yeah. He was mad at Giles. Giles who was now glaring at Willow as much as he was at Xander. Giles who thought slayers were replaceable. Or he used to, and sure he might feel guilty about it now but that didn't mean Xander was ready to forgive him. And Xander definitely had a right to be pissed about Giles being embarrassed about being outed so he was perfectly justified in making Giles stew on that.

It wasn't logic, in the sense of being logical, but right now it worked for Xander. "So, are we Bronzing it tonight?"

"Not me," Oz replied.

"Oh." Xander sucked at holding high ground. "Sorry, Oz."

"And I'm on Oz duty. Tomorrow, though."

"Buffy?"

She shot him a look, and then a look at Giles, and suddenly Xander's prim lecture from their last trip to the Bronze was back to haunt him. "C'mon, Buffy. I've been locked up in here for days. Using my brain."

She smiled. "I can see how that would be a problem. All right, then. Early Bronze, and then you can come keep me company on patrol after."

"I got your back." He said it very clearly, and extra-distinctly. He wasn't going to look, but he imagined the glare with satisfaction.

"Will you be okay with the research, Giles?" Damn her, being understanding when he was trying not to.

"I'll be fine." He said it very quietly.

Willow grabbed Xander's arm after they left, as they were all traipsing up the stairs. "What's going on? You could have stayed."

"That's the part I forgot to tell you."

"What part?"

"That I'm mad at him." He hurried to catch up with Buffy before she could grill him more.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What a miserable night. Xander was miserable. The music was miserable and it sucked. And worst of all, it seemed Xander had at last reached the age when he thought the sophomores were way too young to be hanging out in clubs. Still, something he could have in common with Giles, when he stopped being mad at him.

They'd claimed a table; Xander had fetched drinks, and then they'd pretended to be absorbed in the band. Or Xander was pretending, because he couldn't think of a single thing to say that wouldn't make him feel like a lying creep. Maybe Buffy was enjoying the funeral dirge.

"So whatcha up to?" Buffy asked, loud to be heard over the band of depression. "It's so weird having to ask you, instead of hanging out all day."

What was he up to? Mostly his time was divided between having sex with her watcher, trying to prevent a curse on her that said watcher had chosen not to prevent, and trying not to find the hellish niche that would define the rest of his life. Xander took a long swig from his bottle, wishing it was beer. Or rubbing alcohol. "Not much. How's college? Getting better?"

She had a little frown when she looked at him. Perturbed, and it had only taken three years since he learned the word in Miss K's English class to find a use for it.

"It's okay. Still figuring it all out."

He wanted to know how she was really going. If she missed high school, and training, and Angel. If she thought much about Faith in her coma. If she'd wig if he told her right now about him and Giles. "Great," he said, and turned back to the band.

He hoped Giles was sitting at home alone, feeling miserable. Except Xander hated the idea of Giles being miserable. Especially for being the cause of it. He wanted Giles to come looking for him, and apologise for... following the rules years ago before either of them even met Buffy, and for keeping his mouth shut in exactly the way they'd both agreed.

When Xander thought about it, it was far more likely that Giles was sitting at home, feeling miserable, and realising that he was too old to be dealing with an eighteen year-old's stupid insecurities.

Buffy was looking around, trying not to be too conspicuous about it. She didn't look happy. "Buff?"

She froze, caught.

"You okay?"

"I'm fine."

No, this was way better than focusing on his own problems. "You can talk to me."

"You don't want to hear it."

"Of course I do. That's what buds do."

She sighed. "I just... I keep expecting to see Angel. It wasn't so bad when we were all here, talking, but just sitting here like this... See? You don't want to hear it."

"I get it." Yeah, not really Xander's sympathy department, except he had a bit more sympathy than usual right now. "How are you doing with that?"

She smiled a little sad smile. "I'm all right."

Suddenly Xander wanted to apologise for always being such an asshole about her and Angel, but he didn't know how to say it. He still didn't like the guy, but he liked him better now he was far away.

He lasted three more songs, fairly sure by now that she was only sitting there because he'd dragged her out, so he drained his bottle. "Do you want to get going?"

She didn't hide her relief. "Yeah. Let's go kill something."

Of course, out in the dark cemetery, he didn't have the option of pretending to listen to the crappy band. He folded his arms around himself, wishing he had a warmer jacket. They wandered along in silence. Buffy seemed to have realised that everything was touchy ground, right now.

"A few days ago you lectured me about ditching Giles, and then this afternoon I thought you were going to say 'and let's not invite Giles,' right in front of him. So what gives?" Apparently Buffy had stopped worrying about what was touchy ground, and was only too happy to move the topic back to Xander.

"I think I've done more than my share of keeping him company, lately."

"Yeah. You're good people, Xander." She gave a sharp nod, like she'd just settled on a firm decision. "Has he been stroppy? He can get stroppy sometimes, especially when he's in research mode."

"Can we not talk about him?"

"Wow. That bad?" She shrugged off his glare. "Okay."

And so he squashed the only conversation they had.

Eventually they found vampires, and for the hideous end to a hideous day, Xander got in the way, screwing up what should have been an easy kill for Buffy and winning for himself a head-first trip into the sharp corner of a gravestone.

He managed to sit and bleed quietly until Buffy returned, dusting herself off. She saw him and grimaced. "Ouch."

"Massive understatement." He pulled his wrist from his forehead, to find it soaking with blood. "Ouch."

"Come on." She hauled him up - way too quickly, and had to brace him while he swayed. "Let's get you to Giles' before someone smells dinner."

"No." Xander planted in his heels. "I'll just head home."

"He's really got to you, hasn't he?"

Xander didn't answer.

She heaved an impatient sigh. "No way are you going home like this, and I can't bring you back to my bizarro roommate. I can sympathise with the Giles overload, but you are seriously in need of a watcher-sized first aid kit." She wrinkled her nose, peering closer at his head. "And he can decide if you need to go get stitches, or something. I think your brains are leaking out."

"As long as there's no serious danger, then." He let her lead him, since he didn't have much choice in the matter, and since his head was really starting to hurt and where he really wanted to be was at Giles'.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Good lord." Giles was on his feet as soon as they came through the door, and Xander was a little bit ashamed of the relief he felt at the man's momentary panic.

"Nothing vital. Just my head."

"What happened?" Giles tried to pull his arm away for a look, but Xander held it tight and headed straight through to the bathroom before he could drip on the carpet.

"Vampire went this way, Xander went that way," Buffy explained behind him.

"My stupid fault." Safely on the tiles, Xander let Giles see, let Giles sit him on the edge of the tub and examine the wound with gentle fingers. Xander loved Giles' fingers.

"Buffy, get a couple of towels?"

She pulled a stack from the cupboard outside the door. There was something morbid about the good supply of dark towels Giles owned. They both hissed as Giles dabbed at the wound. "It doesn't look too deep. How does it feel?"

"Like I got thrown at a headstone. But I'm not seeing double, or anything. Look, I'm holding up three fingers. She's Buffy, I'm Xander, you're Ripper."

Two pairs of eyes widened, and it took a second to realise why. Oops.

"Joke. Bad joke. Because you are. But you know what I mean."

Giles half-turned to Buffy. "Did he lose consciousness at all?"

She lifted her shoulders. "I was off after the bad guy."

"No, 'he' didn't," Xander retorted, and winced. This was not the time to be raising his voice. "It was a slip of the tongue. I'm not concussed."

"I think at the very least you should stay here tonight." Giles was looking up at him, which was what led Xander to realise that Giles had been bobbed down in front of him this whole time, knees around Xander's, one hand resting conspicuously on Xander's thigh. Xander stared at the hand a moment, and then followed the thick-knit grey sleeve up to an over-sized sweater that made him look really cosy.

"Good," said Buffy. She looked at Xander, waiting for a protest, but hell, no. Xander had had a sucky night, and he was just feeling the beginnings of what was going to be the headache of doom, and whatever it was he was pissed about didn't matter right now half so much as Giles being nice to him. Which surely he would be, because Xander was sporting a small mountain on his head.

Buffy told Giles about the fight while Giles gently mopped Xander's forehead clean, pressing a fresh towel to it as the bleeding slowed. Xander could have held it just as easily, but he sat with his hands in his lap, and enjoyed the concern and attention. Giles looked so serious, little lines on his forehead to match the ones at the corners of his eyes. Giles' gaze shifted from the wound to meet Xander's stare; he hadn't meant to stare, but Giles smiled tentatively, and the hand - still on his thigh - tightened. Xander smiled back, but just a little, since he didn't have the luxury of having his back to Buffy.

Giles' eyes darted sideways. "Could you please fetch one of the icepacks?"

"Oh, of course."

She hurried out, and Giles knelt up to kiss him beside his bump. "You're truly all right?"

"Yeah."

He looked like he wanted to say more, but he just gently brushed Xander's hair back from his fresh new bump. It felt nice, the attention. A little more effort than he wanted to go to, to get it, though.

Buffy returned with a well-wrapped icepack, putting it beside them and hovering over Giles' shoulder. "How about you?" she asked. "Any sudden fabulous new leads?"

Giles' face closed, and he looked down, picking up the bandage box to fish through it. "I should tell you, Buffy." He found some band aids and then looked up, looked Xander straight in the eye for a long second before he gently stuck them on. Now maybe it was too much attention.

"Tell me what?"

He put the icepack in Xander's hands and pressed himself up, like an old man, to sit down beside Xander on the bathtub's rim. "I catalogued the Medallion of Temakra, when I was working at the British Museum."

The cool from the pack leached up Xander's arms. He couldn't bring himself to put it to his head yet.

"Yeah..." She'd propped herself against the sink, now, was leaning forward, eyebrows raised, like he'd just reached the exciting part of the story and was taking too long to turn the page.

"I'm sorry. I should have destroyed it when I had the opportunity."

"But what if we needed it?"

"I'm sorry?"

She put her hands on her hips as she rested her weight back against the sink. "I think Faith proved pretty conclusively that there needs to be a contingency plan for crazed slayers. But she wasn't the first, was she? There must have been others."

"I... Well, yes, there, there have been rare occasions..." Giles stuttered.

"So my question isn't why was there was a precautionary thingummy. It's why was the precautionary thingummy lying around? Why wasn't it locked up in the Council's uber-secure secret vault? They've got one of those, right?"

"Yes... several actually... You *want* it kept intact?"

The same question echoed in Xander's head.

"I want it intact and somewhere no one can use it except me. So again...?"

Giles' expression was indecipherable. "You continue to surprise me."

Not as surprised as Xander. He hadn't thought about Faith, or her hands on his neck, while he worried about what the medallion meant for Buffy. Which was funny, because any time he remembered that night, he could still feel the exact place where every one of Faith's fingers had pressed. It had been eight months since she choked him, but she could still stop him breathing.

"Giles."

"The vault. Yes. When I recognised it, I wasn't certain... that is to say, even the Council can be in error."

"I'm totally on board with that."

Giles stood, attempting to pace in the tiny room. "I couldn't be certain it would be safe in their hands. Their motives are occasionally..."

"Screwed?"

"Yes, well. And even individual watchers can stray. As you've seen. I thought it best to bury it in the Museum's collection, where I might retrieve it if necessary."

"You hid it from the Council." Buffy smirked. "And all this time I thought I led your rebellion against good watcher protocol."

"Hardly," snorted Xander. Giles shot him a look, but it was more rueful than angry. Giles had never said that he hid it, though when Xander thought back, he realised he hadn't really had a chance to explain. It was starting to look like Xander was going to be the one making apologies.

"It was purely a precautionary measure."

"Do you think maybe it's the Council that took it?" asked Xander.

Giles rubbed his ear. "It's possible. It's entirely possible that they recognised it for what it was, and have taken it for the vault."

"Or to use against Buffy."

They both looked at him.

Xander shrugged, finally lifting the icepack, wincing as the cold stung his bruise. "They don't trust you, Giles. And three months ago they lost control of you, Buffy. What if they decided it's best to just wipe the slate clean and activate a new Slayer?"

"They wouldn't..." Giles trailed off.

"Would they?" For the first time, Buffy looked unnerved.

"I really can't imagine they would." He didn't look particularly certain.

"Don't you think it's weird that they just let go when she quit?" Xander waved the compress about. "They stripped Buffy of her powers and sent her in to face a serial killer. I'd call that fair evidence that they don't really give a damn whether she lives a long and healthy life or not."

There was a heavy silence, and neither of them would look at Xander. He'd stepped on something here...

Giles turned jerkily and stared at a point somewhere over Xander's head. "I did that."

"What?"

"Giles-"

"It wasn't the Council." He glanced at Buffy, a fierce look in his eyes, and then turned to face Xander properly, standing stiff and tall. "I was complicit in the test. I was the one who administered the drugs to Buffy."

Xander stared at him. He what? Xander had to have misheard, but they were both looking at him like Giles meant exactly what he said. God. "I don't..."

"I secretly gave her injections of a cocktail of drugs that curbed her powers."

That wasn't possible. It had been obvious last year that there was way more going on than he and the others knew about, but Giles getting fired seemed to be big enough to explain the weird mood between them afterwards, big enough that the details didn't matter. Giles did it?

"You were the one who put a stop to it," corrected Buffy, softly. "That's why he was fired," she added for Xander's benefit. Yeah. Thanks.

Giles shook his head, as if to say that wasn't the whole truth, but he didn't argue further.

Xander had had no idea. He was glad he was already sitting down, even though the cold from the ceramic bath was creeping into his ass and up his spine. Giles had done it to her. He had... Xander remembered Buffy's growing panic, the way Giles had kept playing it down... And then it was over, Giles was fired, and Buffy had rescued her mom from the Council-test-gone-wrong. But apparently she'd missed a few details in the retelling.

Buffy was watching him nervously, fingers picking at the hem of her skirt. She was afraid Xander would be mad at Giles for poisoning her. Five minutes ago, Xander had been pissed about Giles leaving a mystical possible maybe-threat lying around years ago, and now they were talking about deliberately sticking needles in her. A hysterical bark of laughter caught sideways in his throat. All this time he'd hated the Council, truly hated them, thought Giles was different. Giles had let them believe he was different.

Giles bobbed down in front of him again. "Xander?" Xander met his worried gaze. Giles was different. He was one of the gang. Xander couldn't understand this at all.

"Okay."

"Okay?"

What was he supposed to say? It wasn't like congratulations were in order. And he was pretty proud of himself for not losing it completely, so surely it wasn't too much to ask for time to think about this, maybe later when his head wasn't splitting and they weren't both staring at him like that. "We should worry about the Medallion. But can we move this out of the bathroom?"

"Of course."

"I threw a blanket on the couch for you," Buffy offered, leading the way.

Xander ignored Giles' worried look and crammed himself in the corner of the couch, pulling the blanket around his knees and resting the compress back on his head.

Giles had regrouped now, and stood over the desk, all business. He was good at that. "For once, we're ahead of the game. I did extensive research on the Medallion in London, and you won't find a better grounded expert."

"What does that mean?" asked Buffy.

"I can already combat most attacks, but there are leads... there is a single protection charm, if I can put it together. I'll need Willow tomorrow."

"I don't think she has classes in the morning; I'll send her over." She checked the clock. "It's pretty late."

"You should head home. There's nothing more to do tonight. Nothing more for you to do, actually, until I have what I need for the charm."

"Will you be all right?" The question was for both of them, and didn't seem to have anything do with Xander's head at all.

"We'll be fine, Buffy," Giles answered, not waiting for Xander's opinion.

"Bed time for me, then. Night, guys!" She breezed out the door, like they hadn't been dragging up big ugly skeletons five minutes ago, and Giles and Xander were alone again.

Giles hovered by the desk, and Xander pulled the blanket tighter. Now what? For a relationship that seemed to be based entirely around sex (and there wasn't likely to be any of that right now), they had acquired a very sudden and really big pile of baggage. Finally Giles let out a huff of air and took a step closer. "I wish I could-"

"Can we not talk about it right now? My head hurts."

Giles closed his mouth. "Very well." He sounded disappointed, but Jesus.

Xander was boiling. All he had right now was anger. And the sour taste of betrayal in the back of his throat. And a sharp stabbing pain in his skull. The thick brown blanket Buffy had left was twisted around his knees, and the couch looked really uncomfortable, all of a sudden. He just wanted to fucking close his eyes and not think at all. "Can I sleep in your bed?"

"Of course," Giles replied too quickly, and then added, "I'm glad to have you there." He sounded relieved.

"Thanks," was all he said before shoving the blanket off him and trudging up the stairs, not sure what happened now. Was Giles going to follow him up? Xander wanted him to, and he didn't. He wanted Giles to promise he'd never do anything like that again, and he wanted him to stay far away and burn with guilt. Mostly, he just wanted to put it all off until tomorrow.

He crawled into bed, curling tight to the edge. He was still awake when Giles came up soon after. He listened to the sweep of clothes being stripped, felt the mattress dip, and then glasses clicked on the nightstand and the dim light went black. Xander lay tense. This was the third time he'd ever shared a bed, and the first time he'd shared a bed with someone he was mad at. It was a pretty awful feeling. He dreaded Giles' hand on his back, because then he'd have to decide whether to stay mad or pretend he wasn't. He lay stiffly for a long time, but Giles stayed on his own side, and Xander realised he didn't much like that, either.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Willow's cheerful greeting from downstairs woke him.

Ow. It felt like... oh, he had. Xander gingerly fingered his head, and winced.

He heard Giles' quiet "Xander's sleeping," and smiled, squirming under the covers and deciding to lie in a while longer, at least until the pounding went away. However many weeks that was going to be.

"He's upstairs?"

There was a pause. "Yes, I thought he'd be better off in a bed. It was quite a bump he got."

"He's okay?"

"He was fine, last I checked." He sounded tense.

Xander heaved a breath. Tense because of last night, because Xander was angry with him. The edge had worn off Xander's anger. Or maybe it was just too early to summon the effort to remember everything that was causing this sick feeling in his stomach. Bad stuff, he knew that, so he put off thinking about it a little longer.

Once Giles and Willow started discussing their spell, they sounded okay. Apparently Willow knowing hadn't brought the universe crashing down, the way Giles expected. Oh yeah, that was one of the reasons he was mad. That and the recent revelation that Giles once drugged Buffy out of her powers and conspired to put her in mortal danger just to see how she'd do.

The sick feeling upgraded to serious barf-thoughts. That put a damper on Xander's leisurely lie-in. He swung his legs out and sat up, riding the nausea, scratching tiredly at his head until he found last-night's bump and winced. He went to the mirror and peeled back the bandage for a look - black and grazed and pretty much disfigured. Definitely best to put the job hunt off. At least that was something to be grateful for.

He pulled on his jeans and reached for his shirt, only to find it stiff and crusted with blood, pretty much done for. He rummaged quietly through the drawers until he found Giles' t-shirts. A little tight, but not too bad.

Giles and Willow looked up from the couch as he came tentatively down the stairs. It was way too bright down here, but it hurt to squint. Willow looked awkward, Giles stared at Xander with big round eyes and then down and adjusted his glasses. Not coping too well with Xander coming downstairs in front of Willow.

Funny. He looked just like the guy that pulled Xander up to his bedroom a few days ago, but he couldn't be. That guy worried about Xander's first time being special, and his eyes crinkled up like he was pleased when he took Xander's dick in his mouth. This guy looked the same, except maybe the lines were sunk a little deeper, and he looked... greyer.

"Xander." Giles darted a glance at Willow. "I trust you slept well."

"I slept great." Xander wanted to kiss him good morning in front of her, just to see how he'd react, except that he didn't actually want to kiss him, today. Maybe ever.

"Hey," said Willow, with a meaningful look that Xander really couldn't figure out the meaning of.

She didn't know. The realisation hit Xander like last night's gravestone. She didn't know that Giles had injected Buffy with drugs.

Wow. She didn't know. She thought Giles was a totally trustworthy guy, same as yesterday, and now she was making big meaningful eyes at Xander, probably wanting to know if everything from yesterday was fixed. Only now it was much more complicated, only now Xander couldn't tell her why, because he had to keep it secret from her, just like she had to keep Giles and Xander secret from Buffy, and Giles had kept the Medallion secret from all of them, and Xander's head hurt, really hurt, way too much to sit down and lie to Will.

"I'm gonna get a shower." And he escaped like a coward into the bathroom before Giles' sad face could burn itself too deeply in his brain. He closed the door quietly, and then realised he'd forgotten a towel, so he opened it, yanked a towel out of the closet and pulled the door carefully closed again.

Headache. Pills.

He really didn't want to be thinking. Because Giles wasn't the guy Xander thought he was, and Xander didn't want to be figuring out what that meant when his brain felt ten times bigger than his skull. Would Willow still be urging Xander to work things out with Giles if she knew what he'd done? That even Buffy had come second to the Council's rules? Because if that's where she ranked, then where was Xander on the list?

He tugged open the medicine cabinet. Degreasing hand soap, eye drops, dental floss, electric razor, Old Spice, white bottles of vitamins and orange bottles of prescriptions... blood pressure? Huh. Xander glanced at the door, feeling a spike of guilt. He wasn't spying, he was looking for - ah - Advil.

He took two and washed them down with a handful of water, but when he put them back he didn't close the door. Giles took blood pressure medication. Another thing they didn't know. Xander turned it, trying to understand the label. 'Lopressor'... 25mg twice a day. Was that a lot? Xander put the bottle back. Next to it were a couple more prescriptions. Percocet: dusty and old and dated well-back... just over a year back. From the torture. And Vicodin, from the same date, not so dusty. Zoloft, a few months older... February, when Miss Calendar was killed.

Xander pushed the bottles back in place, and kept looking. Q-tips, nose hair trimmer - ew - tubes of exzema cream and BenGay. This was an old man's cabinet.

It bothered him. It wasn't like he hadn't already known Giles was as old as his dad. Xander shut the cupboard and turned on the shower, stripping off his clothes and kicking them into a pile by the door, tugging off his bandage and tossing it in the bin. He hadn't really thought of Giles being like his dad, though, had he? Because his dad was past it, ordinary, stuck in a life he didn't want, and couldn't handle. A different generation. An old guy. Xander spun the hot to high and stepped in, letting it burn through him. What the hell was he doing? Was this some sort of stupid father issue? Screw a man too old for him, too smart for him, too good for him, great therapy if it didn't mean even more dirty secrets to fuck up his life.

Xander scrubbed, sucking in the steam like it could clean him inside, too. Giles looked down on his dad. Giles had thought about reporting his dad to the authorities. Xander's dad was an ass but he'd never laid a hand on him, let alone a needle. Jesus Christ, Giles had injected Buffy with poison. This was insane.

He braced against the wall, letting the spray beat at his back. Okay. They'd all done stuff. They'd all... They'd fought vampires and stopped the world from ending, and in amongst all that they sometimes did stupid shit like casting spells on their ex-girlfriends, or not-killing homicidal vampiric ex-boyfriends, or aiding and abetting zombies... There was a lot of stuff in the last three years they'd done that they'd probably never thought they would, but Xander hadn't betrayed anyone in the gang - unless you counted Angel, which he didn't - and he didn't think the others had, either. But Giles had.

Xander had trusted Giles more than anyone in his entire life, more than Buffy, more than Willow, more, way more than his own dad. Giles was the one they all trusted. And if Giles could betray Buffy, his Slayer, then he could betray any of them. Including Xander.

Xander took a long, shuddering breath, and that's when he realised he was crying. Water was washing his face clean but his throat hurt and he was shaking all over, and he didn't know if it was having his faith shaken or because his head hurt and he had no future and everything just sucked right now. Or maybe because he was realising this was just another relationship bust in the making.

"Xander?"

He jumped around like he'd been caught naked - okay - and scrubbed at his face and raised his voice to be heard through the curtain. "Yeah, Willow?" He hadn't even heard her come in the door.

"Are you okay?"

"What?" Had his voice cracked?

"Buffy said it was a pretty bad bump last night."

Oh. "Um. Yeah. Just a headache."

"Okay." She was just on the other side of the curtain, probably wondering why he didn't stick his face out. "I don't think he knows," she said.

"I'm sorry?"

The curtain yanked aside, and Willow's face appeared, and Xander jumped around, almost slipping over as he twisted his back to her. "Willow!" Sure they'd once had baths together, but not since long before they had hair down there, and Xander didn't know if his eyes were red.

Willow just gave a cursory glance down (and okay, that was a little insulting) before frowning at him. "Does he know I know?"

Xander struggled to figure out where to put his hands, to look both casual and less naked. Did Giles know Willow knew...? About... him and Giles? He wrapped his arms around his chest, keeping his hips twisted away. "Yeah, he knows."

"Are you sure?"

"He saw your face."

Willow shifted her weight onto her other foot. "Yeah, but that doesn't mean he knows. He was saying stuff, making excuses for you staying upstairs last night, rambling about sleeping poorly on the couch. I don't think he knows."

Xander blinked. He couldn't *not* know... His expression at the shorts, at Xander and Willow coming back inside... but it really didn't matter. "It doesn't matter," he sighed. "Wills, can I just shower?"

"Okay," she pouted. "But I think you'd be done by now. You've been in here forever."

He just glared until she tugged the curtain closed and he heard the door click behind her. It didn't matter. Maybe it was best there was nothing for her to know about. This thing with him and Giles was a stupid idea, and maybe it was done.

Xander flipped off the taps and grabbed his towel, rubbing himself quickly. Had he thought he knew Giles just because he'd glimpsed him as a kid with an IQ to rival Xander's?

He yanked his clothes - Giles' shirt - back on over his damp skin. He was going to tell Giles this was stupid, and it was going to be awkward but not half as awkward as trying to pretend this was a healthy relationship. He found his sneakers and pulled them on, licked his teeth and considered Giles' yellow toothbrush but he just wanted to get out of here. When he got home.

He pulled open the door and strode out to the living room. Willow was gone, and Giles jumped up from his desk, taking a couple of steps closer and stopping. His concerned expression twisted Xander up inside. "How's your head?"

"Fine."

"I have some Advil if you need it."

"I took some."

"Ah."

They stared at each other.

Say it, Xander. Be a man about this, at least. But for the first time in his life, he couldn't summon any words at all.

Giles dipped his head and opened his mouth and Xander cut in with "I should head home," exactly as Giles said "I'm sorry about last night," and then they were silent again.

"That was a lot to put on you, and perhaps not the best timing."

Xander examined his toes. "I should go home."

He felt Giles nod more than he saw it, and then Giles twisted to look at his desk. "Willow and I are going to do the protection spell tomorrow."

Xander had completely forgotten the Medallion. "Do you need me?"

There was a moment's pause. "No. We should have everything."

"I'll see you later, then."

Giles didn't move as Xander let himself out.





The Giles Thing IV
by Dr Squidlove
January 2009


Xander didn't know how long he'd been lying on his bed, staring up at the same crack in the ceiling. He'd been planning to call around for jobs, had made a list and everything, but that was going to have to wait until it was a bit quieter.

His parents were yelling at each other upstairs. Drunk and drunker. Down here, Xander couldn't make out all the words - that was a bonus over his old bedroom - but he was pretty sure they were around two thirds of the way through checking the boxes. His dad's inability to nail down a steady job was covered about ten minutes ago, and the 'Your son' box got ticked off right after that, so if they could just bring up the affair his mom had six years ago, throw in a brief debate about who drank most, and remind everyone how much his dad's mother hated the marriage, then they could get to slamming doors and not talking for a few days.

At least living down here, he might not be able to hear if they got to critiquing each other's sexual inadequacies. Which didn't happen often, but how often did a teenager need to hear those details before he checked himself into a padded room?

Something crashed - ten to one his mom throwing something at a wall - and Xander pulled a pillow over his head. Why couldn't they just divorce, like normal parents?

This was the model for Xander's future relationships. He'd heard that somewhere. He couldn't imagine screaming matches with Giles. Maybe that's why the two of them couldn't work.

He'd been with Giles less than a week. No one but Willow even knew. So why did it feel like he was ending something big?

Giles betrayed them. Buffy may have been the one he stuck a needle in, but this was about all of them. Only Xander kept remembering how Giles looked when he left this morning, green eyes dull, standing in the middle of the room like he didn't belong there.

Through everything that happened since then, it never came up. When they were all worrying about Faith going nuts, that could have been a nice easy segue. 'Speaking of putting friends in mortal danger, did we tell you about Giles' part in the wacky council test the other week?' Or how about while they were packing up the library, a little 'let me relieve my guilt just in case we die' confession? Xander had kissed him a month before Buffy's birthday - that hadn't counted for anything?

But then Xander thought about how Giles looked at him after that first kiss, and he remembered exactly, like it was two minutes ago, and he still remembered how he felt, like the world was spinning.

He wanted Giles, so much, but he couldn't do it.

Doors slammed upstairs, and then everything was silent.

Right. Job. Life went on, even when it meant cold calling.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Okay. Okay, possible job. He couldn't screw this up. Something had to go right, right? No interview, even, to make an idiot of himself. He was told to just show up at the loading dock at six pm for a trial shift. Wear clothes that could get dirty. Xander could do that, even if he'd changed clothes a few hundred times looking for clothes that could get dirty that didn't make him look homeless. It had been perfect for taking his mind off that thing that he wasn't thinking about except when he remembered he wasn't thinking about it, but now he was cutting it fine to show up respectably early for his first shift.

Still, he'd be okay as long as... Buffy wasn't hanging around in his front yard like she was working up the courage to knock on the door.

"Hey." She didn't smile.

Xander looked back into his house, and then reluctantly at Buffy. "Hey. Um. I'm sorry. I was on my way out. Possible job." Also, Buffy was the second last person he wanted to see right now.

"Cool." She fell into step beside him. "So what happened with Giles?"

Xander ground to a halt, though it took Buffy a second to realise and turn around. She'd figured it out. He struggled for words, until he could at last manage, "Huh?"

"I just stopped at Giles'."

Xander's mouth was filled with sawdust. "What did he say?" No way did he pick today to tell Buffy about them. Not today.

"He says everything's fine, and prattled on about how helpful you'd been."

Xander sent a quiet prayer of thanks into the universe, as his intestines began to unknot. "Me being helpful is news?"

"He can't lie worth a damn."

Xander snorted. "Apparently he can." Apparently he was the Sunnydale champion.

Buffy's jaw set, and she folded her arms. "I don't know why he told you. I could have told him you wouldn't understand."

Xander felt his eyes bug, and pushed past her. "What's to understand? He poisoned you. We trusted him, and he poisoned you." Since when was she some kind of saint, who could just forgive and forget being poisoned?

"It's not that simple."

He kept on walking, Buffy at his heels. Part of him wanted to run. "No? How simple is it? Did he stick you with a needle full of drugs?"

"He was following a directive from the Council."

"And if the Council told him to jump off a bridge, would he do that?"

"He probably would have, then."

Then. As though it was so long ago, and not this year. This year. "But it's all different, now."

"Yes." She huffed. "You don't know anything. It's none of your business, what's between Giles and me. Who the hell are you to judge him?"

"Who the hell am I?" Xander stopped and threw his hands up in the air. "I'm in this too, in case you hadn't noticed." He stepped in her face, raising his voice. "I may not be blessed by the Force but I'm in the middle of this, too. It's not just you and Giles. It's all of us, watching each others' backs, and Willow and me ought to know if we have to watch our own."

Suddenly she was livid, practically baring her teeth at him. "Don't you talk about him that way! Nobody's forcing you to stay! Did you miss the whole, 'Chosen one, to stand alone against the forces of darkness,' line?"

"Did you miss all those times we were standing right behind you?" Xander was almost yelling, now, not caring a damn about the neighbours. Not like a Harris shouting would be anything new around here.

That took the edge off her, just a little. "You don't get it, do you? In the end, it is just me."

Just her. Xander felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. She'd always acted like that, but even now, even after three years and the Ascension, she still believed it. So much for yelling - he could barely speak, he was so mad. "It wasn't just the two of you when we fought the mayor, and it wasn't just you when we went after the Judge, and it wasn't just you when Angel sent his minions to the library to beat the hell out of us and kill Kendra and kidnap Giles."

Buffy's tone got cold. "You never had to be involved in any of that. Like you never had to die to fulfil a prophecy and you never had to kill the love of your life." She was shaking, pointing her finger at him like he was a little kid. "You can walk away any time you want. I don't have that choice."

"You think it's a choice? Who could-" Anger ran away with his mouth. "You're the only one who ever walked away. You ran, and then it was just us, everyone except you."

Buffy stared at him, shocked and furious. "Snyder threw me out. My mom threw me out. I. Killed. Angel! Do you know how-"

"Heat of the moment, Buffy. One fight with your mom, who does everything for you, one fight and you ditched her, just like you ditched the rest of us. If I had a stake for every time my parents threatened to kick me out, I'd be the Slayer." She wasn't arguing anymore but Xander couldn't stop. "And I know what happened with Angel. I was there, remember? I was the one dragging Giles' broken body out of there, and sitting outside the emergency room while they dealt with everything your boyfriend did to him."

"Stop it!" She swallowed, over and over, until she managed to whisper, "I know what Angel did to him."

"No, you really don't." Shut up, shut up, shut up. "You think the two second glimpse you had of him before you went off to fight Angel gave you any idea of what happened?" The injuries Xander saw were cut into his memory, but not half so deep as the rest, the ones in the report. "You didn't see all the bruises. You didn't see the nightmares. You didn't see how afraid of everything he was last summer. Afraid of shadows, afraid of sleeping, afraid of your mom." They were all afraid of her mom for a while there, but she forgave Xander and Willow faster than she forgave Giles - if she ever did. "He was tortured, and you walked out on him, and it wasn't just the pair of you together against the world then."

"Go to hell, Xander."

She stalked off, arms locked by her sides, and all the horror Xander had been shoving aside as his mouth ran away came pouring back. He didn't even know where it had all come from. He was supposed to be angry with Giles, not her. He took a deep breath, and called, "How are you okay with what he did? How do you know what else he's done, or what he'd do?"

She turned back with a fighting glare. "I know."

"How?" He hated the whine in his tone.

"I *know*." But now there was just a glimmer, a trace of uncertainty in her voice, the desperate need to believe, and it was something.

"You haven't forgiven him completely, have you?"

She glared at him, not replying. Not denying it.

"He made a mistake, Xander. And he fixed it. It's not like we don't forgive all your screw-ups."

She stalked off, leaving Xander sagging, confused, and late for his job.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander shoved his hands into his jacket as he stepped out into the cold night, abuse ringing in his ears. Who knew there was a worse job than washing dishes in the Fabulous Ladies' Nightclub?

He glared at the people passing him, and strode down the street. Two hours. Two hours as a wage-earning, productive member of society, except probably not going to pick up the wages he earned, and not all that productive.

He'd sucked at it. He'd been late, because of Buffy, and he'd been just plain bad, because he couldn't stop thinking about last year when Buffy was gone. He was trying to be mad about the injections, but it was the months after Angelus that were doing somersaults in his brain. It was impossible that it was barely over a year ago. Him and Willow picking up the pieces? What a joke. Giles had held it together while Xander and Willow tiptoed around him, no idea how to help, just desperately hoping he'd get back to being normal soon.

And if seeing Giles look so brittle had filled Xander with spine-chilling terror, then seeing Giles pull himself back together had brought on a kind of hero worship. Except maybe 'hero worship' was just what you called it when you really, really wanted to be really, really straight, and a forty-year-old broken librarian was well-beyond where your seventeen-year-old imagination could stretch.

Or maybe he was giving himself too much credit, to think some part of him figured it out without Ripper.

So Giles survived hours of torture, and then got on with saving the world. On the great cosmic scale, did that offset injecting Buffy with drugs?

Xander hadn't been any use, but he'd been here. Him and Willow and Oz, hell, even Cordy had pitched in. They'd done okay, too. They hadn't struck the fear of anyone into anything, but they'd slayed a couple of vamps, not bad for no superpowers. At graduation, he'd done three or four. And even after all that, Buffy didn't rank them at all, and Giles didn't care. Not even when she treated him like that.

Giles loved her, in that unconditional sense of the word that they talked about on Oprah. Xander was never going to have that. Couldn't give it either, couldn't love someone who poisoned him.

He wanted to, so much it hurt. He'd almost had more than he ever realised he wanted, and he couldn't keep it, because he wasn't the Dalai fucking Lama . He'd been walked all over his whole life, but he'd lived with it because he'd had friends who were different, and if they weren't then what was the point of any of it? He wished he didn't know. It would be better if he didn't know, and didn't have to find a way to be okay with it.

Trash cans were lined up along the kerb. Xander put his foot experimentally against the first one, and pushed. It rocked, and then sat flat. Xander stared at it. It would be ridiculous to... He looked up and down the road, thoughtfully. No one in sight. He resisted a moment longer, and then a step and a good hard kick and the trash can threw its contents into the road, landing with a resounding crash. Xander froze, listening, but no one came.

It was really, really satisfying.

Next can, no hesitation this time as he took a few running steps and kicked the can right over, sending it rolling noisily along the gutter. Fuck his job. He kicked another can, watching plastic bags rip open across the road. And fuck Giles. Another satisfying crash. Fuck stupid vampires and medallion curses and having to pay rent.

He'd really started believing they were a team, after graduation. Buffy called him 'key guy' and like the desperate puppy he was, he thought it meant he wasn't just a tag-a-long anymore. And he had sex with Giles and he thought it meant he wasn't an embarrassment anymore. There was a trash can piled high with stuff, so he swung his leg back and kicked it as hard as - ow. Shit. Ow. Xander hopped about, clutching his toe.

"I remember."

Xander whirled around, almost falling over, burning with humiliation and half-ready to kick Giles. "What are you doing here?"

He ducked his head at Xander's tone, light flashing off his glasses and washed away by shadow, and he pushed his hands into his pants pockets. "I was heading into the magic shop when I heard the ruckus. I thought perhaps my past was back to haunt me. Again."

Xander put his foot down and turned his back, no idea what to say, feeling like an idiot. Not wanting to see Giles looking at him like that when he was about to break up with him.

"I'm sorry," Giles said softly. "Doing that to Buffy... it's not the worst sin I've committed in my life, but it is the one I most regret. I would give anything to take it back." He came closer as he talked, until he was only a couple of feet behind Xander.

"I know."

"I don't know what to tell you. I didn't have the courage to stand up to them. I knew it was wrong." His voice was acid, and it burned away Xander's anger. "I have no more excuse than I'm human. I've made terrible mistakes, and they're not all in my dim and idiotic adolescence. I'll make more in the future. I'll make some with you."

Xander scowled, turning around before he could catch himself. "Is that why you told me? As some sort of life lesson?"

"No." Giles didn't look anything like his calm tone sounded. The dim streetlights were harsh on the lines and dips of his face, and his shoulders were slumped, and his shirt was creased. He rubbed his jaw with a clenched fist as he searched for his words. "Perhaps... I don't know, perhaps I was simply unburdening my guilt. It was difficult to keep it from you last year, but now..." He lifted his gaze to the sky, the shadows sliding back to show a bitter twist to his mouth. "You said you wanted to know something real."

One last trash can was waiting, perched temptingly close to the kerb, and Xander was itching to give it a good hard kick, right in front of Giles, just to show he was still mad, and all this contrition and the sad face wasn't going to budge him one bit, but his toes were still stinging from the last one. "Sounds like she's forgiven you," he muttered.

Giles looked sharply at him, waiting for more. Screw that. He wasn't going to replay the whole conversation.

"Buffy never could hold a grudge," Giles confessed.

Xander sighed, and sat on the last trash can. Couldn't kick it if he was sitting on it. "Seems to me you've let a few grudges go over the years." Xander was the only one who ever really saw the damage Angel did to him, and he thought he was maybe the only one who saw what the news of Angel's return did to him, too. How come Giles wasn't mad about that? Did anyone around here get mad about anything?

Giles didn't have an answer to that.

"Maybe she's right." Xander lifted his chin, challenging. "In the end, it's just you and her, and the rest of us are just tagging along. Sidekicks don't get to judge."

"She doesn't believe that any more than you do."

"What do you think?"

Giles looked around at the chaos Xander had left. He nudged a juicebox with his toe. "I could list dates and specifics, things you have done, choices you have made, but I hardly think it is the tally that is most significant."

"Huh?"

The corner of Giles' mouth turned up, just barely. First smile of the day. "She is alive; she is the slayer she is, because she has us. All of us."

That's what Xander thought. "I lost my job."

Giles blinked, seeming to finally notice that Xander was covered in non-vampiric dust. "You'll find another."

Xander looked up and down the street. He'd heard exactly what he needed to hear from Giles, so what now?

Giles was shifting about, not seeming to know what came next, either. "It's not safe out here. Let me drive you home."

Xander wanted to object, but Giles was right, and he didn't have any better ideas, so he just nodded and followed him back to the magic shop.

"I began pulling together materials for the charm. It seems my sacred candle was from Bed, Bath & Beyond," explained Giles.

"Not so much with the Beyond?"

Giles raised an eyebrow. "Not so much, no."

Xander waited outside, propped by the door. Sunnydale: no Starbucks, but the magic shop open to midnight. Soon enough Giles came out with a brown paper bag, and Xander trailed him to the car.

He stared blankly out the window at the passing houses, bright windows. He didn't want to be angry at Giles; he was too wrung-out for that. He didn't want to break up with Giles.

Giles was concentrating on the road, eyes sometimes darting sideways to check his mirrors, but never making it far enough sideways to check Xander. He looked serious, and kind of sad, and like he needed a shave. He was a good guy. That was why Xander was here, wasn't it? Here in the not-being-dead sense a hundred times over, as well as the wanting-to-be-with-him sense.

The only time Xander hadn't felt like a dumbass since he got back to Sunnydale (or really, since he rolled to a stop in Oxnard) was when he was with Giles. Even helping with research was better than job hunting. He sometimes got stuff right, researching, and Giles didn't think he was a no-future loser. And Giles should know what a no-future loser looked like.

He didn't realise they'd reached his house until the emergency brake clicked, and Giles twisted forward to see him properly, propping an elbow against the seat-back. "Xander?"

"Gimme a sec."

Xander stared up the path to his door, flanked by light glaring from the living room windows. He hated that house on nights like this. God, he hated it. It was always silent after a fight, his dad drinking stonily on the couch, his mom probably doped up on Xanax in her room. That's how it had been ever since Xander could remember, and for almost as long, he'd known there wasn't anything he could do to change it. You can't change your family. But he could maybe fix this. Or make it less disastrous.

They were nothing like Giles. They didn't hurt people, but they didn't save them, either. They didn't fight demons or stand up to mean principals or survive torture. Xander looked down into his lap. He wanted to be with Giles. He twisted around, to see the slightly timid look behind the glasses. "Can I come home with you?"

The warmth breaking over Giles' face made Xander feel kind of embarrassed. "Of course you can."

The trip to Giles' seemed a lot quicker than the drive to Xander's. When they got there, Xander got out and watched Giles walking up the path, sorting through keys. This was more nerve-wracking that it was last week when he first got home from Oxnard, and Xander couldn't figure why. He'd been scared, then, sure he was going to say something stupid, no idea how he'd ever show his face again if he let on how he felt. Now... His stomach was in knots, and he could feel his pulse racing and he didn't care how idiotic he might look. It wasn't like everything from this morning had just gone away. He just... what if it wasn't okay? This wasn't just some vague crush, anymore.

He dragged himself up the stairs and down, into the courtyard, and inside. Giles was waiting awkwardly in the middle of the room when Xander turned from closing the door. He looked sad and uncomfortable and it made Xander's chest ache. God. Don't mess this up. Just... stop with the talking.

He walked up and kissed him, just a peck on the lips, and whispered, "I'm sorry." He kissed him again and Giles' arms were around him. An arm wrapped tight around his waist and a hand slid up his neck to tangle in his hair, and Xander had meant to be gentle but Giles' mouth was hard, and he wouldn't loosen his grip, and it made Xander feel more wanted than he ever had been by anyone. Relief crashed through him, until he was drowning in it. "I'm sorry," he whispered, and Giles whispered back the same, and kissed him again, kisses that crushed his mouth and grazed his chin. It was okay. Giles still wanted him.

Giles held him back a moment. "You can trust me."

"I know." Xander didn't know if he could promise it back, but Giles didn't wait for him, was kissing him again, making little needy noises that Xander felt in his gut.

He was being pushed backwards by hands and lips, so he went, almost tripping but Giles held him and kept pushing until he felt a wall against his back, something jabbing his shoulder - picture frame? - and then it slipped sideways and there was a crash. This was being wanted - needed - and it took Xander's breath away.

Xander didn't know why Giles needed him, but he did, could feel it in the clutching fingers and thrust of tongue. It was scary but Xander knew, now, that Giles wanted this as much as he did, and it was such a relief... Xander pulled Giles' shirt out of his trousers and slipped his hands underneath, wanting to feel skin. Not more, just skin, the broad furred chest and around to his smooth back. Long strokes, up and down his spine, calming him.

It was hard to believe, but Xander didn't want to have sex yet. He didn't want to jump to groping against the wall every time they didn't know what to say. He wanted this to be more than it was with Cordelia. Or Faith. Or Willow.

It took a long time for Giles to be soothed, the kisses to slow, Giles' fingers to loosen and move up to stroke Xander's hair. Eventually he drew back with a long, uneven breath. "I was beginning to think you might call this off."

Xander bit his tongue. "Nah. Just wigged a little."

Another brush of lips, like he couldn't stop, and Giles' fingers slid over Xander's cheek. He looked worn out.

"Have you slept at all lately?" Xander asked.

"Not a great deal."

"I vote we go to bed, then."

Giles' lip curled.

"I meant... just bed. Just, you know... I mean, would it be okay if we just-"

"All right." One last kiss stopped Xander's stammering.

Xander had a quick shower, and Giles was already dozy when Xander crawled in beside him. Not too dozy to reach out and pull him close, to squirm with him until they found a comfortable spot, Xander on his back with Giles curled on his side against him, prickly jaw ticking Xander's chest. Xander closed his eyes but his mind kept riding around and around on what he was going to say tomorrow. What Giles might say. That he was back here with Giles.

A tongue clicked in the dark. "You're not asleep."

"Neither are you."

There seemed to be a pile of stuff to talk about, and nothing that needed to be said. They were back here, weren't they? Giles was breathing on Xander's chest, and Xander's arm was pinned awkwardly in the warm space between their bodies, Giles' soft dick resting against the back of his wrist. They'd fought and made up, and that was... It made this more real. The way Giles had kissed him downstairs - that felt real.

Xander put his free hand over Giles' on his chest, and laced their fingers. "I had a big plan for getting to know you this year." He didn't know where this was going, but they'd just made up, and it was dark, and this seemed like the time to say things you didn't know you wanted to say. "I was gonna try to get you to see me as some sort of adult. You know - get a hot job and earn your respect so we could be friends, and eventually, you might, in my wildest fantasies, be persuadable to something better." He puffed a breath out his nose. "But then you kissed me and we skipped all that other stuff and now I don't really know you, or what you want, or why you kissed me."

Wow. So that's what he needed to say.

Giles lay still for a long time, and the room was eerily silent after the explosion of words. Finally Giles squirmed up to prop himself on an elbow. Xander could just make out the shine of his eyes in the dark, a faint hint of silhouette. "I suppose the knowing me hasn't gotten off to the best start, but that's going to take time." His voice was calm, matter-of-fact like this was a conversation he had every day. "As to what I want, and why I kissed you; they're much the same question. I want a relationship with you." He touched Xander's cheek, fingertips rasping over Xander's way-past-five o'clock shadow.

"But... what do you want?" God, this was awkward. No wonder they usually left it to girls to worry about this talking stuff. "The only other guy I've ever been with was, well, you, but then my only real relationship with a girl was Cordy, so I'm hardly an expert on being straight, either. I know after you sent Ripper home, all the time researching the mayor, I kept watching you and wanting to kiss you again. But I just... I don't know what you expect from me. There's a hundred reasons for me to like you, but I can't think of a single one why you'd like me. You saw him ogling me, then I kissed you so you figured you'd pick up where he left off?"

Giles' eyes disappeared as he blinked, and were back again. He put his hand back on Xander's chest and rubbed. It made Xander's stomach flip. "It wasn't seeing my younger self ogle you. It was the way you spoke to him, your kindness to him and to me." A couple of seconds passed. Xander wished he could see his face. "Perhaps it was also the truly earth-rocking kiss."

"Oh."

Earth-rocking?

"I spent this summer doing my best to persuade myself that pursuing you was a terrible idea. You were too young, mostly straight, more interested in girls like Faith, or that ex-demon you took to the prom. I was nearly convinced, when you returned and I found myself wishing like hell that I could throw one of my oldest, dearest friends onto the street so I could be alone with you."

"Oh." Earth-rocking?

"And you've long had my respect, Xander. That isn't dependent upon what job you find."

"Oh."

"Is that what you needed to know?"

"Um. I guess." Actually, Xander couldn't remember the question. But he was pretty sure he liked the answer. He was pretty sure Giles just said this was a real relationship, the kind with a future. And the kiss last year was earth-rocking. Earth-rocking was pretty good.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander smiled when he realised the hand on his dick wasn't a dream-hand. Or the stubble rubbing his neck, and if ever he went back to girls he was gonna have to scout the circuses for a bearded lady, because wow. Except "Mmmph," was the best he could manage.

"Morning," was purred in his ear, as that not-dream-hand trailed up his body, away from his dick, to dance circles over his chest. Xander summoned his strength to move an arm, and push that hand back down where it belonged, drinking in the chuckle. Giles was spooned behind him, hot sticky skin pressed to his back and tucked into the backs of his knees, something firm and hot resting between Xander's ass cheeks. Xander's stomach fluttered, wondering if they were up to that, yet.

Giles worked him slowly, a strong hand massaging all the length of him as he gnawed and licked and grazed Xander's neck with his jaw, while Xander just lay there and let him, not doing much more than rocking his hips, and only that much because he couldn't help it.

Not until Giles wriggled a little, nudging Xander's knee up with his own and sliding his solid erection between Xander's thighs, pressing up against his balls. When Xander closed his legs Giles made a choked sound that tightened Xander's balls even more and picked up the pace, just the sort of hard, efficient wank Xander might have given himself before getting up for school. Except now there was a dick chafing between Xander's legs and now Xander's hands were free, and he found himself reaching back to tangle his hand in Giles' hair, thrusting and groaning and closing his eyes to imagine Giles doing this to himself before school, a brisk morning wank before tweeding up for a day in the library, right here in this bed while maybe thinking of his favourite non-slaying student. Giles moaned against his neck. Who needed to fantasise when this was actually Giles, and Giles' actual dick, and Giles' hand that was making Xander come all over the sheets?

He was still panting when Giles rolled him back to kiss him. Xander grabbed his hand and dragged it back up to suck on one finger at a time, watching Giles' eyes grow impossibly darker.

"If I got woken up that way more often, I'd be a morning person."

Giles looked wicked as he climbed on top, prodding his erection against Xander's sticky groin.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles' chest hair was tickling Xander's neck, but moving was way too much. Fingers were drawing patterns in the sweat on his back, which was very, very okay. Giles' skin was hot, and Xander was sweating even more where their bodies pressed together, like where Xander's inner thigh was thrown over Giles' leg. He pushed his hips against Giles', not much more than a squirm, but it made Giles' chest rumble nicely.

"Giiiiiiiiiiiiles!"

They jerked apart at Willow's yell. "Bloody hell," Giles muttered, swinging his legs out and snatching up his dressing gown with one hand, glasses with the other.

Xander rolled over, propping his head on a hand. "I didn't realise how often we barged in."

"Rather often, yes."

Xander had a momentary glimpse of nice bare ass before Giles was covered and clattering down the stairs, still belting his robe. "What is it, Willow? It's... It's not even seven, for pity's sake."

Xander slid out of bed, searching fuzzily until he found his shorts.

"I don't think the charm's going to work," she gushed, far too awake for... 6:45am. "It was bugging me when I went to sleep, then I woke up in the night and it hit me; we were using the wrong translation."

"Urukagina's inscriptions are the relevant text," Giles retorted. "I assure you I know which sources to draw from on this subject."

Very tetchy. Xander smiled, and raided the drawer for a t-shirt. He liked wearing Giles' stuff - now that he knew Giles really did own t-shirts - but maybe he should start leaving some clothes here.

"The Latin translation's been discredited," Willow explained. "We need to go back to the Sumerian."

"Since when?"

"Since two months ago. This is the problem with waiting on Translator's Annual for up-to-the-minute information. Look, I pulled the chapters we need from online."

But Giles wasn't listening. He'd seen Xander coming down the stairs, and was looking panicked.

Willow turned to see where he was staring. "Hey Xander."

"Hey Will." Xander pushed his hand through his bed-hair. Probably should have combed first.

With a tug to tighten the sash of his robe, Giles turned back to Willow. "Xander was, uh, trapped here last night. And I spilled a glass... a, um, bottle, of wine - soda - all, all over the couch... and Xander... it was very wet... But that's not why he, I'm sure you heard about the bump on the head Xander got the night before last, and I thought it best to-"

Wow. She was right. Giles had no idea. And he totally sucked at covering.

Xander jumped down the last couple of steps, and, just to be perverse, popped over to give Giles a peck on his stubbly cheek. "She knows."

Giles jerked back to look at him through bulgy eyes. "I beg your pardon?"

"The jig is up. We're out of the closet. Willow knows you and I have got horizontal, found the sausage, done the dirty."

"Oh." Giles stared at Xander. And then he stared at Willow. "Oh."

Willow smiled, with a little shrug. "Congratulations."

"She figured it out days ago. I thought you knew."

"Days ago?"

"The shorts."

"The shorts?" He floundered. "Your shorts? That's why the pair of you disappeared when I went upstairs?"

"What did you think that was about?"

"I thought... No. She recognised your under- Dear lord." He blushed to the tips of his ears, and looked absolutely nowhere near Willow, who was a little pink herself.

"But she was cool with it. Ask her. She thinks it's cool. She wanted to know if you were a good kisser."

Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"He sort of indicated that you are," Willow said, by way of apology, or maybe to remind them that she was in the room, though of course that just made Giles pull his glasses off to clean them.

"I told her she should try it out."

"You did not," Giles retorted.

"Okay, I didn't." He was really enjoying this. "Bad luck for you, Willow."

Giles cringed, as he slipped his glasses back on and turned to her. "You have no problem with the situation?"

She gave him her best wide-eyed innocent face, and no one did that face better than Willow. She was enjoying this, too. "Being denied the right to find out for myself if you can kiss? I'm willing to accept Xander's word on it."

"Me. Xander. Relationship."

Xander raised an eyebrow in honour of the brevity. Seemed like Giles really had been spending quality time with him.

"No problem here. Just you be good to him." Giles flashed a wary look at Xander at that, but Willow had turned to Xander as well. "And you be good to him. You both deserve some hearts and flowers."

Giles gave her a look of affection that almost made Xander jealous, before darting his gaze shyly about the floor. "Thank you, Willow."

It was all getting too girly for Xander. "I need coffee. You guys need anything? Tea?"

Willow shook her head, and Giles twisted his neck to give Xander a tentative smile. "Thank you, I'm fine."

Xander headed to the kitchen, all comfy and domestic, while Giles and Willow went back to their magic plans, easy as that. Xander watched Giles as the kettle boiled. He was obediently staring at the laptop Willow had brought, keeping his distaste to a slight curl of his lip as it booted up. He glanced up at Xander and the snarl disappeared into a warm look until he was distracted by something Willow asked.

Xander threw instant coffee and sugar into a mug and dropped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster. Poked around the kitchen while the kettle boiled. The freezer was empty, except for ice cubes. Weird foreign man, with no microwave meals.

Coffee in one hand, plate in the other, he wandered out again, leaning over Giles' shoulder to see what the man was frowning at.

"This makes no sense." He waved at the screen, as though to indicate there was something somewhere on the page that Xander might understand. "There is considerable ambiguity in this history, and Behe seems to have filled the gaps imaginatively."

"So the Latin's wrong?"

"It's fiction."

"So what does that mean?"

"It means I know substantially less than I thought I did." He twisted to look at Xander, saw the toast and stole a slice. "I think I can use this to pull together the charm. The translation wasn't too far out on that count, at least." He pulled a writing pad closer and started making notes from the screen, occasionally prodding the page down button like it had a cockroach sitting on it.

Willow stood and tugged Xander's sleeve until they were a few feet away, enough that research-mode Giles wouldn't hear them.

"I concede," Xander grinned. "Giles hadn't figured it out."

"You just write 'Willow was right,' a hundred times and I will accept your grovelling apology."

"Done."

"You fixed whatever was-"

"Yeah."

Willow smiled, and then glanced warily at Giles. He was writing notes with lots of big arrows and side-comments. "Did you speak to Buffy yesterday?"

"Um." Uh-oh. "A little. Why?"

"Did she seem funny to you?"

"Not in a Three Stooges way."

Her eyes narrowed. She knew his finely-honed avoiding techniques too well. "How about in a Chekov-ian kind of way?"

Xander sagged, and darted a look at Giles' back. "There was mutual upsetting, believe me."

Willow followed Xander's gaze, and her eyes widened. "Did she find out?" she mouthed.

"No. Nothing like that. Look, can we just drop it?"

"I'm fairly certain the spell we'd planned will work," Giles interrupted. "If anything, this version is simpler than the other. A circle, a few herbs, a chant... We could do it now."

Willow shot Xander a glare, but returned to Giles' side. "Great."

Saved by the Giles. "Not my area of specialty, so if you guys don't need me, I might have a shower. Alone."

Giles looked up, surprised. "I was hardly going to-"

"I was talking to Willow."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles stopped in, already dressed, while Xander was getting ready to brush his teeth. "Just need to take my pills before I forget." He got as far as opening the cabinet before pausing to face Xander. "You might have told me that Willow knew."

"I thought you realised."

"All the covering I did yesterday... I feel like a prize fool."

"It's Willow. And she's happy for us. So you should be happy."

He nodded, looking mildly happy. "I am enormously relieved." He shook out a pill.

"Do you..." Xander trailed off, but he had Giles' attention now. "You have high blood pressure?"

"Rather inevitable, at my age, I'm afraid." He shrugged it off.

"Is it bad?"

"No. Just something to keep an eye on."

"Avoid stress and physical exertion?"

"Something like that."

Xander started brushing, and Giles took the pill with a handful of water. He smiled at Xander's reflection, but the smile quickly turned quizzical, and then a little appalled. He looked down at the sink, and back at Xander. "You're using my toothbrush?"

"Don'ave one," Xander muttered through the foam, and kept on brushing.

After a long pause, Giles turned back to the sink, opened the top drawer and pulled out a red toothbrush, still in its package. "This is yours." A second later, he pulled out another. "I'll take the green."

A step forward and Xander realised the drawer was brimming with unopened toothbrushes. He looked up, enquiring.

Giles snapped the drawer shut. "They were cheap at the flea market." He pointed to each of the brushes on the counter. "Mine. Yours."

Xander shrugged and nodded.

With a shake of his head like he had to clear it, and a squeeze to Xander's shoulder, Giles headed back out to Willow.

Xander rinsed his mouth, rinsed the brush. After a second's consideration, he dropped it in the glass and swept his red one back in the drawer. No need to waste.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles wasn't kidding about the spell being simple. By the time Xander came out, they were already tidying, Giles sweeping glass shards into a dustpan, Willow winding up the cords of her laptop.

"It worked?"

"That's yet to be seen, but the spell appeared to go smoothly."

Willow picked up a little cloth bag up from the desk. "I'll get this to Buffy." She slipped it into her pocket, and then pulled her bag over her shoulder. She looked uncertain, but she seemed to make up her mind, and stepped up to give Giles a one-armed hug. A hug for Xander too, and a big smile. "I'm happy for you guys."

Willow's hug left Giles doing a shyly-pleased shuffle in the middle of the room, long after she'd gone. "She seems to have taken it remarkably well."

"What did you expect from Willow?"

He thought at that. "I honestly don't know." He reached for Xander's hand, and pulled him into his arms. Xander tunnelled in. "You had a fight with Buffy last night?"

Xander stiffened. "It was nothing."

Giles' hand ran over his back, in some random soothing pattern. "About what I did to her?"

"No. Yes. I guess." Xander felt the sigh, more than he heard it.

"Oh, Xander."

This wasn't playing fair, because when Giles smelled this good, Xander couldn't even really remember being mad at him. "Seems like she'd forgive anything you did, no matter how stupid."

Giles gave another sigh, squeezing Xander tighter. "I hope I never have to test her limits again."

"Maybe even dating me." Xander swallowed and braced himself.

It was probably only a second before he answered, but it felt like a lot more. "You want to tell her."

"I don't know. But you suck pretty bad at covering."

Longer this time, and then Giles let go to look at him properly, eyes sharp. "You think that dating you is stupid?"

He hadn't said it for the sympathy vote. Shouldn't have said it at all. "No one's ever shouted it from the rooftops."

Giles stared at him. "I'm not ashamed of you."

"It was kind of hard to tell, the way you tunnelled out of here when she found my shorts."

"That was... I simply don't like having my personal life under a microscope, especially when any possibility of me having one at all is guaranteed to be met with an audible groan of disgust. I believe her exact choice of term was 'icky'."

Xander pulled away, and wandered over to flop on the couch. "It's not like she was ever begging to date me. As I recall, the most pathetic rejection award went to me, as usual. She thinks a lot of you-"

"You know damn well she thinks a great deal of both of us." Giles sounded really irritated. He turned away and started tossing all the last spell things into a shoebox, twigs and stones and shoelaces. "That's not my concern."

"What is?"

"I'm forty-six, for god's sake, trying to seduce an eighteen year-old."

"Trying?" Xander interrupted, and was ignored.

"My time-travelling counterpart could have told you how ridiculous that is. I have no doubt Buffy will have plenty to say about the lack of dignity in my mid-life crisis."

Xander burst out laughing. "I'm your mid-life crisis?"

"Yes, that would be very much the response I was expecting." This had to be bad; Xander was thinking Giles' snide voice was cute.

He smothered his laughter. "So she'll laugh. And she'll make fun of both of us. But then it's done, and we don't have to lie to anyone. It's not fair to Buffy that Willow knows, and it's not fair to Willow that she has to keep it from Buffy."

"Do you really believe it will be that easy?"

With Buffy? "No. I think she's going to go all woe and pity over being the only single in the group, but that's her deal. And she's going to resent me moving in on her territory, even if she doesn't say it, but she'll get over that, too. She dated a vampire, and that was okay. Willow dates a werewolf, and that's okay. I dated Cordy, and that was okay. Eventually. Sort of." They smiled, ruefully. "It's not going to get easier, keeping it secret. And when we tell her, she's going to ask, 'For how long?'" Xander could see Giles was running out of steam, and it calmed him enough to offer, "You worry about the age-thing, too?"

Giles' look was total disbelief. "When I was your age, I despised people my age."

True. Maybe it would have been the perfect revenge, for all the havoc Ripper wreaked, to suck face with square old Giles in front of him. "I'm smarter than you were at my age."

Giles chuckled in spite of himself. "That is entirely true."

Xander felt like he'd gained some ground, but he didn't want to nag Giles into it. Time to change the subject, before Giles remembered what the subject was. "So what's on the menu for today?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Your translation is re-translated, your charm is charming. Does this mean you are a gentleman of leisure?"

Giles heaved a sigh. Here went 'no'. "I was planning on spending today on the phone. I want to track down who has the medallion. Your suggestion that the Council would use it... I wish I could dismiss it out of hand."

Xander wished he'd never thought of it in the first place, but he was glad Giles was taking it seriously. And Giles might have the leisure thing as an option, but Xander didn't. He had to find a job he could keep longer than Cordelia kept shoes. "Okay. Well, I'm gonna head off. But... dinner tonight?"

Giles nodded. "Sounds marvellous."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Indian?"

"Pizza?"

"How about Chinese?"

Xander kissed the corner of Giles' mouth, and then ran his tongue along to the other side. "How about pizza?"

"Pizza would be fine."

More kissing. "Two with the lot?"

"Absolutely."

Xander shuffled forward, pushing Giles back against the counter as he deepened the kiss. Giles let him, going all soft and pliable under Xander's hands and lips. He was being very pliable today. It was incredibly hot.

Something banged in the other room and Giles turned his head. "Who could that be?"

"Neighbours hammering?" Xander tried to kiss him again, but hit jaw instead, and then Giles pushed him back.

"Phil and Gladys moved out last week. That's the door knocker."

"Seriously? You have a door knocker?"

Giles sighed, giving him a withering look that was even more sexy, before reaching for his glasses. He was going to choose some mystery visitor over making out with Xander. Crazy man. Xander caught his elbow and pulled him back, pressing their bodies together with a little grind. "Salesman. Ignore it."

"A salesman at this hour?"

"Jehovah's Witnesses. Pretend we're not home."

"The Jehovah's Witnesses started skipping my door long ago."

Annoying, persistent man. Xander squeezed his ass. "Demon. It'll go away."

Giles surrendered for one delicious moment, and then nudged him off. "Then we ought to kill it." He circled around into the living room, smoothing his shirt as he approached the door, peeked through the glass and pulled back, startled.

He shot a warning look at Xander, and opened the door partway. "Buffy?"

Shit. Xander quickly smoothed his hair and rubbed his mouth, trying and failing to check his reflection in the sink. Shouldn't this place be wall-to-wall mirrors? He hoped he didn't look too debauched.

"What is it?" Somehow Giles managed to sound just mildly concerned, instead of like someone who'd been about to have sex in his kitchen. He was a man of many talents.

She hadn't tried to push her way in, which was weird. In fact, since when did Buffy knock?

"Can I talk to you?" Xander could hear the tremble in her voice, even from the kitchen. Would it be wrong of him, to hope something terrible had happened, and that this wasn't about last night?

"Of course, Buffy. Come in. Has something happened?"

She stepped inside. "No-" and then she saw Xander in the kitchen, and her mouth closed.

Giles frowned at the sudden tension in the room. "Are you certain?"

She was buried inside an oversized light blue sweater, hair tucked into a messy tail. She folded her arms. "What are you doing here?"

Xander struggled for an answer that wasn't a lie. "Fixing things," he said at last.

"Buffy?" Giles nudged, gently, settling a hand on her shoulder. Always so gentle with Buffy. Didn't matter how hard she could be.

Xander waved towards the door. "I can go if you want."

She looked down. "It doesn't matter, does it? You know why I'm here."

To tell Giles that Xander was a waste of space? To tell Giles all the things Xander said about him last night? Except Buffy wasn't like that, and Xander knew it. He knew why she was here.

She turned to Giles, looking determined. "I need to know about last summer."

Giles looked to Xander, and back to Buffy, confounded. "I'm not sure what you mean."

Buffy looked back over her shoulder at Xander. He was already wishing he'd just left, but now he didn't know how to make a smooth exit, and he didn't belong in the middle of their Watcher-Slayer whatever, and he was stuck in the kitchen like an idiot.

Buffy took Giles' elbow and led him away, over to sit with her on the couch, his back to Xander. "When I was gone last year. When I... ran away. And left you. I need to know what I left behind." She looked so earnest.

"Buffy, we don't need to revisit-"

"Wait. Please. You know I'm not very good at this stuff." She twisted a strand of hair between her fingers and tucked it behind her ear. "I was with my mom all morning, talking. I think I get now, how scared she was. And, how you had to explain everything to her about me. I should have done that. That should have been me."

After school the day Buffy disappeared, Xander and Willow had gone to Buffy's house to look for her, and instead they'd found her mom sitting on the stairs with the goodbye letter. They'd stammered and stuttered under the barrage of questions, and in the end Willow had called Giles.

Giles had kept his mouth shut through hours of torture. Same day - the same day - and it couldn't have been more than half an hour under one angry mom before Xander and Willow cracked, and fed her Giles.

Xander doubted that Buffy was even close to understanding what it was like.

But here she was, and it reminded him why he kind of worshipped her, too.

"Mom knew... She said she didn't know how badly you were hurt, but she said it was a lot." She untangled her hands and put one over Giles', stroking his fingers. Her eyes were glassy. "I know he broke your fingers. Mom said she thought maybe your ribs, as well. But you stood there, and explained everything to her, calm as anything."

Xander had shrunk back into the corner, ashamed of last night's tirade. He hadn't imagined she'd take it this much to heart, but he should have known her better than that.

"Buffy..." Giles turned his hand to hold hers, but went no further.

"I'm sorry I never asked. I was scared of finding out... Xander said you had nightmares."

"I wish Xander hadn't." His voice was sharp, and raised for Xander's benefit, and Xander shrank a little more.

"He was right. When I came home, I was too scared to even ask if you were all right, or find out any of the details. I want to know now."

"I can't."

Buffy's chin shook, but she held herself together. "Please, Giles. I need to know."

"I'm sorry." Giles lifted his free hand to her cheek, resting his thumb gently on her lips for silence. "Truly, I wish... You need absolution; you have it in spades. I have never blamed you."

"But I need to know-"

"No." His voice was firm, and harsh, and he pulled his hand away. "I can't relive it for you, Buffy. I can't drag up those memories to purge your conscience." He stood and put some distance between them, moving stiffly like an old man. "If I could..."

Buffy stared at him in shock, like for the first time, she really got it.

Maybe it was the first time Xander really got it, as well. He'd thought he'd known better than everyone else, just because he saw the blood. He'd thought he'd known how long it had taken Giles to get better.

He didn't move, and neither did Buffy.

"I'm sorry," Giles repeated, sounding guilty and embarrassed. Ashamed because he couldn't make them feel better about it.

"No." Buffy stood as well, arms folded tightly across her stomach, sleeves stretched to bury her hands. "You shouldn't... I'm sorry," she said in a small voice, like it was all she had to give.

He smiled. "I know."

This was how it had felt in the hospital, and all the rest of that long, long day. Ashamed, that Giles went through it alone. Scared of saying or doing something that would hurt him more.

It was a long time before Buffy nodded, and drew up. "My mom doesn't blame you anymore. She wishes she hadn't said that."

"Thank you. That's, that's good to know."

They stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, staring at each other, nobody sure what to do next. The subject was closed, and Xander was just fine with that, but it didn't seem like the time to ask if there was anything on TV. Buffy suddenly remembered Xander was there, and gave him an uncertain look. Okay. There was that.

Xander shuffled into the room. "I'm sorry for... all that stuff I said last night."

She nodded, half-forgiving him, at least. "Me too."

Xander nodded back. They both knew every cutting word last night was meant, and far too true to be buried so easily. Proving yet again, how much better Giles was than any of them.

He was watching them thoughtfully, but he looked a whole new world of exhausted. Xander wanted to end this, kick Buffy out and pull Giles upstairs, make him sleep, watch over him. Not really his call, though.

Buffy sniffed, and took the tissue Giles handed her to blow her nose. "How was the job?" she asked Xander.

"Fired."

"Oh. Sorry." She shifted, and looked up at Giles. "We should do something, sometime."

"Something?"

She sniffed again, and smiled. "I don't see you anymore, what with new-leaf-Buffy actually attending my classes and stuff, and the library being a big pile of rubble. I miss you."

Giles' face warmed. "I'm always here."

"You shouldn't just be always here. I should be always here. We should be. I miss... You're not on the Council payroll anymore, and neither am I, but maybe we could..."

"I'd like that."

They smiled at each other, and then Buffy sniffed again and rubbed her puffy eyes. "I must look a mess. I'm gonna go wash my face."

Giles watched her go, which left him looking at Xander. "I wish you hadn't said that."

"I'm sorry." They were all getting good at apologies.

He rubbed his neck, looking incredibly tired. "You're a good friend to her."

"And here I thought I was an asshole who threw her past in her face just because I was mad that she wasn't mad at you."

Giles winced. "It was probably good for her to hear." He came closer, leaving just enough plausible deniability space in case Buffy came bursting out. It might as well have been a mile. "Would you mind giving me some time with her? I think we have a lot to talk about."

"Sure." Xander plastered on his 'Sure!' face. He wanted to be the one Giles needed around to make things better. Not that he could do much, but he could have been the one who stayed. Except this was watcher stuff, and so it was Buffy stuff. "It's probably time I spent a night at home."

"Thank you." Giles lifted a hand to squeeze Xander's shoulder, looked towards the hall and aborted the move. "Do you need anything from upstairs?"

"No. I guess I'll just... go." He backed away.

"You'll come by tomorrow?"

"Yeah." I'm sorry I can't make you feel better about being tortured, Xander wanted to say. "See you tomorrow," he said instead.

The door clicked behind him, and for a while, Xander just leaned against it. Until he heard Buffy's voice, muffled, and then he pushed off before he could overhear anything. It was a cool night, crisp and clear, the sort that would have wanted a warmer shirt if he'd hung around outside.

But no hanging around. A lifetime in Sunnydale hadn't cured him of leaving the house after the streetlights came on, but it had taught him to get where he was going. Standing around dared things to come and bite you - bloodsucking things and metaphorical ones, too. He jogged up the stairs, and down to the car.

The big moments were supposed to be crystal clear in your memories, but pulling Giles out of that place was a blur. Xander was pretty sure something was said, as he untied Giles' hands, some stupid banter, but he couldn't have remembered what it was if Giles' life depended on it. The hour Giles allowed in the hospital to check on Willow and get his fingers splinted was jumbled and run together, tied in knots. Xander thought it might have been Cordelia, that conspired with the doctor to get Giles examined at all, but it could have been Oz. It could have been Xander, for all Xander remembered.

Xander knew that Giles had to have been out of it, to let Xander trail after him when he checked himself out of the hospital, determined to go back to the mansion. Or maybe it was because Giles' glasses were gone, and he couldn't drive himself. Not that Xander should have, with his broken arm.

Together they'd searched the mansion for Buffy, for signs of Angel, anything. And the first perfect memory Xander had from that whole day was realising that his voice was the only one echoing back. For a heart-freezing second, he'd thought that Giles had disappeared, too. But then he knew where to go.

Giles was staring silently at the chair. The ropes from his wrists were lying on the floor, in a puddle of blood still shining and sticky. Still wet, because it had only been a couple of hours since Angel put it there. Maybe not even that.

Willow would have known something to say. Buffy would have been able to put a hand on him, or something, a touch from his slayer to make everything better. But he was Xander, and he was the only one there, so he didn't do anything. That was what Xander was best at.

Less than an hour after that, they'd all been back at school. The more time passed, the more shocking Xander realised that was. Xander in a cast, Willow in a wheelchair, and Giles in... the state he was in. But they got through the day, even attended a class or two. And then they sent Giles to face Mrs Summers.

Xander climbed into the car and sat, jangling his keys. He felt wide awake and a little crazed and he wanted to know if Giles was okay but he couldn't go back. He drove a couple of loops around town, before he drove home.

He let himself in, crept up the stairs to the door of his parents' room, and waited. Slowly tuning out the distant traffic and the creaking house, until he could make out his dad's heavy breathing and the sweep of sheets as his mom turned. Everyone home. He slipped back downstairs to his basement.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander wasn't going to show up at Giles' house at nine in the morning. Giles didn't need to know he'd spent the whole night wondering what Giles wanted to tell Buffy that he didn't want Xander around for. Worrying that Buffy had told Giles stuff Xander had said the other night, worrying that Giles might not be okay after the torture got dragged up, worrying that if he kept worrying about Giles and Buffy's private stuff then he was going to go crazy pretty quick.

But Giles had wanted space, so even if he had to count every tick of the clock until midday, Xander was going to give him some.

He'd been standing in the middle of his basement, thinking that for almost an hour, and it was time to get distracted. The basement was a lot bigger than his room; that was a plus. On the other hand, his bedroom hadn't doubled as a laundry. And it was beginning to look like Xander was now stuck in charge of all the washing, and he wouldn't have been too surprised if that was his mom's whole reason for stuffing him downstairs in the first place.

See? Not worrying about Giles.

Thank god he didn't have to bring Giles here. Okay, granted, it might have been better than showing him up to his old bedroom, with the single bed and Next Gen action figures he'd never gotten around to packing away, but this place still made him feel like a stupid kid. A grim, depressed, stupid kid.

It didn't have to be that way. Part of his new grown-up self: he could do something with it. He couldn't be bothered decorating properly, especially when he was spending all his time at Giles' anyway, but he could do something, and that something was exactly the distraction he needed.

A rummage around the attic found a few bits and pieces, and soon he was back downstairs on a ladder, screwing a mirrorball in place. Which was, okay, not the peak of maturity, but hey, mirrorball. It wasn't like he was ever going to have Giles over to see it.

He wondered how Giles was doing. What did him and Buffy talk about, when there was no one else around? Not about Angel torturing him, apparently. Xander gripped the top step of the ladder, for a second. He wanted to make everything better.

"Hey, Honey."

He hadn't even heard his mom open the door. She was coming down the stairs, looking around at what he hadn't done with the place. He wished, suddenly, that he could talk to her. That she was the sort of mom you asked for advice. 'Mom, my boyfriend's feeling down, do you think I should talk to him? Or give him space?' And she'd sit down beside him, and say whatever it was that mothers were supposed to say.

"Hey, Mom."

They'd never been like that, in his family. You handled your own stuff. You didn't tell your mom that kids were pushing you around, because what was she supposed to do about it? And you didn't tell her you had a fight with Willow, because she'd tell you it was time to stop hanging out with strange girls and get some guy friends like, oh, how about those boys from up the street, the ones she'd already forgotten were the ones who pushed you around.

"Honey, what are you doing?"

Xander took a second to answer, while he positioned a screw. "Mirrorball." He started to grin, until he looked down and saw his mom's expression.

"Oh, Alexander."

That tone. Xander gritted his teeth. "What?"

"Why are you doing that?"

"Because I want a mirrorball."

"I didn't ask for sarcasm."

"I wasn't..." No point even trying. Who needed a reason for a mirrorball? He climbed down the ladder to face her, just close enough to smell the Bacardi.

She stared sourly up at the new decoration. "Other boys your age don't have mirrorballs in their rooms."

"How many eighteen year-olds' rooms have you been in, Mom?"

She huffed. "I don't know why I bother to open my mouth in this house. Sarcasm and abuse. You're no different from your father."

Why, does he want a mirrorball? Xander wanted to ask, but though some might doubt it, he did know when to shut his mouth. "I didn't mean it like that."

"Neither does he." She smoothed her hair, even though their wasn't a strand out of place, and then folded her arms over her chest. He hated it when she looked like this, small and worn out. It made him feel like a bully. Just like his dad.

"I'm sorry, Mom."

She tipped her head, just enough so he knew she'd heard, but she didn't look at him. "You hear the things he says to me."

"I hear all of it, Mom. I always do."

"How dare he call me a bad mother. Some model he is, with his parade of jobs."

"Mom..." He didn't want to do this.

She smiled tenderly at him, the look Buffy's mom gave Buffy when Buffy was being perky and punny, the look Xander's mom gave Xander when she wanted him to take her side against his dad. But then, Mrs Summers smelled like perfume and womanly things, and Xander's mom usually smelled like rum. The affection faded when he just looked at her. She sniffed and sat on the bed, head hanging. "I'm sorry I'm not Mrs Brady Bunch," she said softly.

"You're okay." Okay. That was how he described his mom.

Could he ever tell her about Giles? He couldn't remember the last time he told her anything important. When he was little, it was always her, scraped knees and the gold star he got in class for reading aloud, but then he was tall enough to reach the band aids himself, and she didn't seem really impressed by the gold stars, which didn't happen that often, anyway.

He couldn't imagine sitting her down on the couch, turning off the TV and announcing he was gay, but was he going to pretend to be single for the rest of his life?

For a second, he almost did it. Almost opened his mouth and just said it, 'Mom, I've got a boyfriend,' so it was out there and they'd just have to deal with it, but he hadn't even made it to opening his mouth before he chickened out.

"You have no idea what it's like being the only woman in the house. The pair of you band together."

"We really don't," Xander said, feeling exhausted. He wasn't going to tell her anything.

"I put up with him for you, his temper and his drinking, and sometimes I don't know why."

"You drink too, Mom."

Her head jerked back, like she'd been slapped, and Xander felt two inches tall. "Well. I'm sorry I'm not Willow's mother, leader of the people, mother of latch keys."

"I didn't-"

"You look down on me," she said, softly. "You don't even bother to hide it anymore."

"Mom..."

"Do you think I don't know you can't wait to get out of this house, away from us? Yesterday I was changing your diapers, and soon you'll be gone, and we'll hear from you twice a year. You'll swear you'll be a better parent than we were, and when your kids turn eighteen, they won't be able to stand the sight of you, either."

The sudden venom at the end turned Xander's stomach over.

She saw his look. "I'm sorry, darling. You know I don't mean that." She caught his hand to tug him closer, but her breath was sour. "I'm just tired. You don't know what it's like, living with him. Please don't judge me." She dragged him down to press a kiss to his forehead. "You're my little boy."

"Okay."

He did judge her. His friends survived torture and saved the world, and what did his mother do? She drank.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Giles!" Xander bounded through the door into the apartment. "Giles, I got a job!"

Giles was nowhere to be seen, keys gone from the shelf where he usually left them. So much for the exciting entrance. Xander had got out of the house, gone down Main Street asking for work like his dad told him to, and now he was full of bubbling achievement, with no one to share it with. The Citroen was outside, so he couldn't have gone too far.

Ah well. He was just going to have to wait. Maybe lie in wait, upstairs and naked. He grinned to himself, as he turned back to close the door, and nearly jumped out of his skin. "Buffy."

She stared at him, expressionless.

"Buffy?"

She frowned, and shifted her weight. Her hair was pulled up in a tangled knot, pieces falling in her eyes, and she knocked them out of the way to stare at him better.

"Are you still mad about the other night?" Xander tried.

Finally she pushed past him in a blur, turning around when the door swung shut. "It's true, isn't it?"

"I seem to be missing the first couple of pages of this script."

"You and Giles."

Xander swallowed. "I don't-"

"You and Giles. Giles and you. Like Sonny and Cher."

"He told you?"

Buffy's mouth flapped for a second, and then she put out her hands as though to calm him down, and abruptly walked over to sit hard on the couch. "I just fell through the rabbit hole into some hell dimension."

He told her. Xander looked around the room. "Where is he? You didn't kill him, did you?"

"Yeah, Xander. I killed him. Can we get back to how you're dating my Watcher?"

The tone in her voice scraped Xander's nerves. Just because it was crazy didn't give her the right to act all incredulous. "Get back to what, Buffy? I like him. We made out. On the couch, right where you're sitting."

She shot out of her seat, brushing her ass like she had to get the cooties off. "Don't tell me that! I don't want to know that!"

"You asked."

"I asked if it was true! I didn't ask for a play-by-play! My god!"

Xander folded his arms, jaw set. He'd thought he was ready for Buffy's horror. Wrong again. "Just exactly what is your problem with this?"

Her eyes went impossibly wider. "Like you have to ask?"

"Yeah. I do. We were sober. We're both adults."

"He is."

He was. Xander wasn't. And apparently their argument the other night wasn't behind them. "You really think I'm a loser, don't you? Xander Harris, not good enough for you, or anyone."

"You know that's not what I meant."

"Isn't it?"

"No! I mean he's old! Hugh Hefner was bad enough. Now he's what, gay Mrs Robinson?"

"I wish you'd stop with the old. You make him feel old." She judged a few wrinkles and soft spots the way only someone as perfect-looking and beautiful as her could.

She dipped her head, guiltily. "Not old-old. But Xander..." She waved her arms at the books and the liquor cabinet and all the rest of the house. "He's a lot older than us. What do you even talk about?"

"Angel was two-hundred and remind-me-what?" And dead, he wanted to add. She had sex with a dead thing. Wanna talk about gross? "Giles may not have had that whole murderous-rampage-phase to preserve his hairline, but here's one from the archives: you did the dirty with Angel." He held his breath. This probably wasn't the best time to be invoking Angel, and it was never a good time to invoke sex with Angel, but no way was he going to let her play that card.

"Yeah, but... He's *Giles*." Her nose wrinkled up, like she'd smelled something bad.

"I don't know what that's supposed to mean." Except he did. He knew exactly what she meant. "He's Giles, so he's not supposed to have a personal life?"

"Oh, please. You were as anti-Giles-personal-life as any of us last time I checked. Do you have anything in common?"

"He's smart, I'm dumb..."

"You think spotted dick is something you take to the doctor, and he thinks Nightcrawler is something I battle. You think a good night is one spent at the Bronze, ogling girls. He thinks a good night is one spent in, ogling books."

"The ogling girls thing-"

She cut him off with a glare. "What next? Willow dating my mom?"

"I think Willow's straight, but if it'll make them happy..."

"Last week, so were you. Last week, so was Giles!"

Xander snorted. "Oh yeah. And Ethan's been carrying a chip on his shoulder for longer than we've been alive because Giles never returned all his spell books."

"What does Ethan have to..." Her eyes bugged out. "Ethan? Giles and *Ethan*? Whoa." She shook her head, and froze. "Wow. I thought you had bad taste in partners."

"Yeah, well. At least that's improving."

"Xander-"

"Yeah, I get it." He got it, he didn't want to fight about it anymore. He took a step back, and forced himself to calm down. "I'm not asking you to date him. In fact, I wholeheartedly don't want you to." Buffy thought of him as a father, not a friend. Not a shock. Good for her. "He never made a fuss about you and Angel, and he had every right even before Angelus got loose, so I think maybe you ought to cut him some slack." Xander paused, to make sure she wasn't going to blow up over him mentioning Angel. She didn't, just watched him, mouth tight. "Buffy, I really like him. I like being with him. And for some reason he seems to be happy being with me."

Buffy had wrapped her arms around her body, like she was bracing herself against the news that her dog died, or something. It made Xander wonder how the conversation yesterday went, when Giles told her. Did she tell him how disgusting and old he was? Or did she wail about all the things that were wrong with Xander? Did she say it all right on the heels of apologising for running away?

"You yelled at me," she said, quietly. "You were lying the whole time."

"Not lying. Just omitting. I was mad at him for hurting you."

She looked down at her feet. "He cares about you a lot."

Xander squished his eager 'Really?' This wasn't about finding out what Giles said about him. Unfortunately. "I don't think you know how much your opinion matters to him." If she made him choose, Xander didn't have a chance.

That got to her, and she nodded, and heaved a quick sigh. "All right. Just give me some time, okay? Because this is way weird."

"On that point, we agree."

"You guys aren't going to make out in front of us or anything, are you?" She was joking, except underneath it, she wasn't.

Xander spread his arms. "Well, you know Giles and his wild English displays of public affection..."

She managed a weak grin. "You'll just have to try to keep him in line."

Though considering his teenage thing for sex on cars...

Buffy was staring at her hands now, obviously searching for something else to say.

"We can change the subject now, if you'd like."

"Oh thank god. How's your head?"

"Pretty good, actually."

She came over and brushed his hair aside for a look. "Almost all gone." She'd never stood so close, or touched him like that, and Xander felt a trace of the old attraction. Guess that was never going away. It wasn't like how it was with Giles, though.

"How is it?"

Xander spun around to see Giles in the open door, struggling to catch his breath. He was wearing sweatpants and a loose t-shirt, looking... drenched, actually. He'd mentioned jogging at some point, but Xander had never seen the evidence before. Shame.

"Not so lumpy," replied Buffy.

Xander stayed where he was, just to prove he didn't feel guilty about standing this close to Buffy, when really he wanted to just go over to Giles and his floppy wet hair and make out with him. He'd sat Buffy down and told her everything, just because Xander asked, and now he was warm and sweaty and breathing hard.

"You and Ethan Rayne?" Buffy asked.

"Thank you, Xander."

"Hey. I don't expect other people to be more oblivious than me."

There was a spark in Giles' eye, and a tiny smile on his mouth, and maybe it was time Buffy went... somewhere else.

"Guess I'll be going," Buffy announced. "I have therapy sessions to organise." She smiled, just to prove the teasing was gentle, and started for the door. As she passed, she paused to give Giles a quick hug, sweaty clothes and all, before heading out.

Giles watched her go, pleased. "That went better than I expected, considering her marked lack of delight yesterday."

"I had to promise that we wouldn't make out in front of her." Xander approached him.

"Oh, I'll try to restrain myself," Giles replied, dryly, putting a hand on his hip as he tried to get his breathing under control.

Xander leaned in and kissed him, long and slow, amused by the way Giles could barely kiss for panting, not letting up until Giles kicked the door shut behind him. "Thank you."

"What for?"

"For telling her." Xander kissed him again, and Giles' hands travelled up the length of his back and settled in his hair.

"It seemed time," Giles muttered into his mouth. More kisses, warm and delicious, until-

"Um, guys?" called a wary voice through the door. "I forgot to... Is it safe to come in?"

Damn. Giles gave Xander a peck on the cheek and untangled himself with a wry look. He pulled the door open properly to reveal Buffy hunched like she was ready to flee, hand over her eyes. She peeked through her fingers, and straightened. "Mom wants everyone to come to dinner on Saturday. She said she misses having us track evil destruction through the house."

"Sure," Xander said, "I'll bring the rain of toads." He looked at Giles.

So did Buffy. "You too, I guess."

"Thank you, Buffy."

"She didn't say a time, so... six-ish, I guess." She looked dubiously at the two of them, shook her head and left.

Xander waited until she really seemed to be gone, then made sure the door was shut properly and leaned against it. "Now I know some hellish apocalyptic nightmare is being Fed-Exed to Sunnydale."

Giles blinked, and pushed his wet hair off his forehead. "All right, then."

"My love life is... well, it exists, which is more than could ever have been said for it before. And people know, and are okay with it... which is also more than could have been said for any date I've ever been on before. And I, with my existent and approved love life, am a member of the tax-paying elite."

"You have a job!"

"You're looking at Pizza Town's newest delivery recruit."

"That's wonderful, Xander!" He grinned, honestly proud that someone thought Xander was qualified to drive food around town.

"If I'd known jobs came with all-you-can-eat, I would've quit school in freshman year."

"It's a good start." Giles hugged him, and Xander relaxed into his body.

Had they hugged before? Xander didn't think they'd hugged. Not a not-making-out hug for hug's sake. Giles' hair smelled good and he was strong and Xander realised it felt good to be held by someone his own size.

"You smell good," Giles said into his ear, before letting go. "I don't. I'm going to take a shower, and then perhaps you could tell me all about it?"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When he came out, dressed in jeans and a grey button shirt and smelling soapy-fresh, Giles wandered over to the desk, slipping on his glasses to flip through the uppermost book. Still research to do.

Giles caught Xander watching him, and he gently closed it, looking apologetic.

"If you need to work..." Xander offered, reluctantly.

"I need not to work." He came and sat down beside Xander, resting back into the couch and stretching his legs out in front. He looked sideways at him. "I am sorry that things have been so awkward between us."

Xander had an idea how to start fixing that. He slid around to lie on his back, head in Giles' lap, glad when one hand settled in his hair, another on his stomach. His stomach did a little somersault at the easy touch. "It's kind of weird that this isn't weirder, when you think about it."

"I suppose it is."

The fingers combed through Xander's hair like he was some kind of pet, which was a big tick in the 'yes, please' column. "No more hiding from the girls."

"That's quite a relief."

"You were sure Buffy was gonna go postal."

The way Giles' Adam's apple bobbed looked bizarre, from this angle. "She wasn't particularly pleased last night." His tone was dry, but Xander was beginning to hear what lay beneath the Britishness.

"You're not icky."

"I wasn't under the impression that you would agree with her."

"You're just gonna have to decide that I have better taste in older British boyfriends than she does." Xander could have kicked himself. Shut up, Xander. Angel was exactly the last subject Giles wanted to talk about. One of these days, they needed to find a demon who cut out tongues. He looked up fearfully, to find Giles staring absently at the empty fireplace.

"Ireland isn't part of Britain," was all he said.

There was a long pause. Xander didn't want to talk about what Angel did, and he didn't want to make Giles think about it, when only yesterday he'd said he couldn't. But there'd been no chance yesterday, to say anything, and he had to say something, and since he'd dropped it out there, maybe this was the only chance he'd ever have. There'd be plenty of time for repressing later. He picked Giles' hand up off his stomach, and wrapped a fist around the crooked fingers. "Do you need anything?"

Giles slipped his hand free, and put it back on Xander's stomach. He didn't look down. "I wish I hadn't sent you home, last night. I could have used the company."

Xander didn't know what that meant, but the haunted look was a clue. "You couldn't sleep?"

Nice, neutral response, but Giles' eyes still closed, and opened again, focussed somewhere past the wall. "Not well." Xander waited, stiffly, until Giles suddenly looked down at him. "I never thanked you."

"Thanked me."

"For, for being there that day."

"I just pulled you out." He'd hauled Giles' arm around his neck, no fucking idea about the injured shoulder, and hauled ass. Not exactly the big hero.

"No, that's not, I mean, thank you for that too, of course, but I was referring to your company when we went back to the, the, the... scene."

I just stood there, Xander wanted to say, but he kept his mouth shut. After a few seconds, he reached up to brush the back of his hand over Giles' chest. "You don't have to talk about it." He was grateful when his hand was caught in a warm, dry grip. Giles slid off his glasses. They clicked on the end table and the fingers settled back in his hair, rubbing gentle circles.

"I'm not like you," Giles said, softly. "I can't pin my heart on my sleeve. I don't lay bare my innermost fears and feelings and damn the world. I don't have that kind of courage."

Xander couldn't answer. Courage? Giles thought it was courage that sent Xander's stream of consciousness flooding out of his mouth? Giles thought Xander had courage? He thought he was letting them down because he couldn't talk about the gruesome details of being tortured? It was all completely backward. Fingers brushed across Xander's forehead, trying to smooth his frown.

"Also, I'm repressed and English." He smiled, and it made Xander's lungs hurt.

He sat up and twisted around to kiss Giles gently, just lips, over and over, shivering when Giles kissed back just the same. Like they were both made of glass. He held Giles by his shoulders like all the bruises were still there and he kissed all over, rediscovering all the angles and textures: soft lips, smooth nose, sharp jaw. Fragile throat. A heavy hand rested on Xander's waist, squeezing whenever he found something sensitive. He was trying to kiss Giles better, he realised, and breathed a laugh.

Giles looked puzzled.

"Show me where it hurts," Xander said, and the furrow smoothed.

"Here." Giles touched the place where the white lines marked his shoulder under his shirt.

Xander kissed there, but it wasn't enough. He undid a few buttons, so he could push back the shirt and see, trace the line with his tongue and press a kiss to the scar.

"Here."

The small burns. Xander undid some more buttons, and kissed each of them.

"Here."

His hand lay flat over his heart, so Xander pulled it away, lacing their fingers as he nuzzled Giles' chest hair, breathing him in.

He almost didn't hear the next "Here," but he looked up and Giles' finger rested on his mouth. Xander slid up and kissed him, deep and slow, and Giles' arms wrapped tight around Xander's back, like Giles was scared Xander was going somewhere. Not going anywhere soon.

Giles' free hand rested on Xander's waist, the only thing in the room Xander was conscious of beside their mouths and how Giles tasted. He was smooth and sweet and soft inside. The hand moved, Giles cupped his face and watched him, for a moment. "Come upstairs?"

God, yes please. Xander climbed to his feet and tugged the hand he was still holding, leading the way. Xander didn't know what else he wanted, but he wanted this. Giles. He wanted to be the one who was here for Giles, more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life. He wanted Giles to trust him with this, the things Buffy couldn't have. She could have the book-guy and the father-guy and the fated-to-stand-beside-the-only-girl-in-all-the-world-guy, but Xander was going to be the one who made Giles better. He was going to be the one Giles pulled upstairs when Giles needed to wrap himself around someone warm.





The Giles Thing V
by Dr Squidlove
March, 2009


Xander hung onto the bed, waiting for it to come to a complete stop, vaguely aware of Giles licking his stomach clean. He was pretty sure there was nothing left inside him. He was empty, like something inflatable that... wasn't anymore. And he wasn't entirely sure where he'd find the energy to get up out of this bed. Ever again.

That was... three times. Whoever said guys peaked at eighteen had never met Rupert Giles. Xander was going to be picking out soft shirts again, for the next few days. He dragged his finger across his chest, barely catching the hiss as he brushed his raw nipple. The afternoon sun was streaming through the window, burning into his brain, but he was beyond anything more than screwing his eyes shut a bit tighter.

Stubble nuzzled his neck and he sort of managed a groan, except it didn't make it out loud. The bed moved again, but Xander was pretty sure this time it was just Giles lying beside him, and yeah, that was Giles' hand rubbing the space between his chest and stomach, in a way that was sort of soothing and sort of the exact opposite of soothing. He couldn't stop panting. Xander let his head flop to the side, squinting to find Giles with his own head propped on one hand, and a grossly smug expression on his red, swollen lips.

"How come you've never-" Xander shut his mouth, and Giles lifted one eyebrow.

"Never...?"

Xander's brain wasn't up to finding an alternative end to that sentence, so he figured he may as well let his mouth run on. "Never tried... to, you know?"

The eyebrow lifted higher.

Xander took an extra breath, wriggled up a bit, away from the blinding window, finding shade so he could stare up at the ceiling. "How come you never tried to fuck me? I mean, that's what guys do, right? That's what comes next."

The hand rubbing Xander's abdomen slid up over his slick chest to pull his chin back so he was looking at Giles again. Both eyebrows settled neatly in place but his hair was sticking up in all crazy directions, like someone had been tugging on it a few minutes ago. Which someone had. "In the first place, not all men do. A large percentage of men are perfectly satisfied with what we're doing."

Xander swallowed. "What about you?"

His mouth pulled in half a smile. "Are you in all seriousness asking if I'm satisfied?"

Xander struggled to sitting up. He was used to being the butt of jokes - unfortunate choice of words - but it wasn't okay for Giles to do it about this. "Are you one of the guys who doesn't do that?"

Giles reached for his glasses on the nightstand, and then he sat up as well, hooking one arm over his knee. Naked Giles in glasses. Xander hadn't seen that before. Spectacles and testicles in one frame, geek-porn. "Yes. I've done it. I do enjoy the act." He shrugged. "There aren't a great many things I won't do."

"There's not a lot you haven't done." And that sounded a little more accusing than Xander meant it to.

Giles' sheepish look was cancelled out by the glint in his eye that said he'd just solved a mystery. "You're worried that I'll want something that you aren't comfortable with."

Damn, he was good. It would have been annoying, except it saved Xander from actually saying it himself. "As a teenager you were into first-date public sex. I know that from personal experience. I also know for a fact that you've had orgies. And not just run-of-the-mill orgies, like a normal person. You had to have ones where demons possessed people. I don't think it's too great a leap to assume you've travelled the less-frequented paths of sexual deviancy."

Giles looked abashed. "It's been a good while since I was all that adventurous."

"Yeah, but I'm guessing your 'not all that adventurous' is my 'oh my god'." Xander tried to tug the sheet into his lap in a casual way, which of course was impossible, so he was left sitting naked, fiddling unnaturally with the hem.

"It does bother you." He leaned back, scratching his head awkwardly. "It's my past. It's not something I would change... well. Not much of it, anyway."

"But what *is* your adventurous?" It wasn't the past Xander was worried about. "Are we talking whips and candlewax? Master-slave games? Doing it in public places? You wanna see me in a school uniform?"

Giles' eyes went kind of wide at the list, but Xander couldn't tell which item made his eyes bulge more, and it wasn't particularly clear if it was an 'oh god' or an 'oh boy' kind of bulge. "I thought we were talking about penetration."

"We are." Not that Xander would ever use that word. "And other stuff."

"Do you truly think you're ready to consider any of those things?"

Xander's face was flaming. "I don't want you to think I'm uptight."

"You're hardly-"

"Is sex with me boring?"

Mouth open. Mouth closed. Mouth open again, and at last a chuckle that left Giles smiling. "I am so far from bored-"

"Yet."

"-and it's been a good while since I've ventured into your 'Oh my god,' territory." He reached to stroke Xander's thigh.

"But what kinds of things?" Like a broken record.

Giles sighed. "Can we just enjoy what we're doing, for now? Can we leave the wild and wonderful until we know each other better, and you're slightly more comfortable with the basics?"

Why was every conversation like pulling teeth? If Giles was so smart, why couldn't he ever figure out what Xander was actually trying to say? Surely Xander was the literal one. Time to be literal, then. "So you don't want to have sex with me?"

"We just had sex."

"Giles."

"You mean anal penetration."

Okay, way more clinical than Xander's clenching buttocks were comfortable with. "Yes. I mean that."

"Yes, I... Look, I don't want to put any undue pressure on you."

Xander shrugged, looking hard at the hand still resting on his leg. "Maybe I need pressure."

Giles snatched his hand back. "Well, I won't do it. You'll tell me when you're ready, one way or another."

Great. Back to Xander being responsible for making all the awkward moves.

"When you are ready, Xander. I don't like to make an issue of our relative ages, but in this... you're eighteen. And I'm certainly not that sort of person anymore. You will have to set the pace. Know you can ask me anything, without fear of judgement. As I said, there isn't a great deal I won't do. I won't invoke dark forces..."

Xander grinned despite himself. "I'm not so much for the dark forces."

Giles licked his lips. "And the rest?"

"I don't know." That wasn't good enough, judging by Giles' expression, so Xander tried again. He didn't know why it made him so uncomfortable; it just did. "Not yet."

Giles smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners. "That's what I thought." He put his hand back on Xander's thigh, a little higher. "I'm rather enjoying taking things slowly."

With a huff, Xander flopped back on the bed. "You call jumping me against the cupboard with the girls in the other room 'slowly'?"

"I never even got my hands in your trousers." His fingers skittered over Xander's crotch in demonstration, and then settled. "I don't want to know everything, just yet. I want to unwrap you a layer at a time."

Xander shivered. That sounded pretty good. "Aren't you supposed to be slowing down, at your age?"

"It wouldn't do to waste your sexual peak."

"You're gonna wear out my sexual peak."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sophie was assigned to take Xander round on his intensive one shift of training. Craning her neck to see over the jeep's steering wheel, with her Pizza Town cap jammed hard over her eyes and her mousy, tangled hair, she could have passed for a twelve year-old boy. Until she opened her mouth.

"It's all about getting it there hot," she yelled over the throbbing stereo, as she dropped the emergency brake and the car swung, rear first, into the intersection. Xander grabbed bits of vehicle with both hands and tried not to scream.

Off again and Xander was thrown back in his seat like they were headed for orbit. "You get the pizza there hot," she yelled. "That's what it's about. Man, I fucking *love* this song!" She reached down to jab the volume button, punching it in time with the car-shaking bass.

"What about, what about getting it there alive- red, Red, RED!!"

"What?" She turned around to look at him, and they sailed through the stop light.

"The road! Watch the road!"

"Chill." She looked back in the general direction of where they were going. "I'm a good driver, man. Never had an accident."

Xander braced himself as they slid through another corner. "How long have you been driving?"

"Two months next week, man." She slammed the brakes and Xander's head barely missed the dash, and he thought for a second he'd gone deaf, but it was just that she'd pulled the key, and the music was off. "This is the one," she bellowed, like she thought the stereo was still hammering. "You gotta walk a way when you're going college deliveries - shitfuckers from campus security won't let you park any closer."

She reached over the back and grabbed a stack of boxes, and bounced out. Xander took a couple more seconds to find his legs, and then eased open his door and slithered to the ground.

"...and they don't tip for shit," Sophie continued, still loud enough to make Xander cringe. "Fuckin' up themselves, the lot of 'em, but there's a couple of mattressables over in Lowell House." She never stopped as they wandered up the path to a big building. "All think they're hot shit, 'cos they take classes on Freud. Most of these losers are so stoned they wouldn't know if it was Freud or fingerpainting."

She was following the door numbers as they walked the corridor, until she found one shaking louder than her car, and grabbed the handle. "Don't even bother knocking when it's a party; assholes won't hear you over their crap music."

Xander would have guessed it was the same album as what she'd been playing in the car - the bass line sounded exactly the same. And when the door swung open, it was too loud to actually tell what the non-bass bits were. Sophie threw a knowing look back over her shoulder, and Xander realised there was a certain smoky quality to the air.

"PIZZA!" roared a voice from inside, and a chorus joined it.

Sophie took their money and dealt the top four boxes, snatching the last two back as hands reached for them. "Fuck off, man. These aren't yours."

She trudged back out, and Xander trailed her up the corridor. "Welcome to Friday night. College night. You're the official 'late night munchies' delivery guy. We could practically live off the profits from the campus."

"So what happened to the last guy?" May as well make the most of the quiet.

"Huh?"

"Who I'm replacing."

"Oh. Disappeared. Lotta people can't take the pressure, y'know?"

A lot of people disappeared in this job. Made sense. Maybe he should stock up on holy water spray.

The second delivery was to the next building over, where the music was blessedly low and the people were friendly and sitting around in a circle, and the joints were obviously tucked just out of sight.

Sophie had even less time for these ones. "Fucking hippie wastrels," she called them, while they divvied up the check. "You ordered it a fucking hour ago." She snorted when the stringy-haired girl who'd collected the money finally offered her a handful of crushed bills and change. "Great. Thanks."

Back out in the hall, she kept right on going. "Couldn't have used that hour to argue over who was gonna be the most generous? 'No I'll pay,' 'No I'll pay,' 'No I'm the biggest freeloving hippie ever and I'll pay,' 'No wait that's too much tip, can't possibly give the delivery bitch an extra quarter.'"

Her diatribe took them all the way back to the car, where Sophie pulled out her clipboard. "Creepy Jim on Kirby Street's next. Think this'll be your first trial run."

Oh yeah. This was gonna be a fun job.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Alexander, honey?"

Xander came to a skidding halt and backed up to the door of the TV room. His mom was looking up expectantly; his dad's eyes were glued to the baseball. "Yeah, Mom, it's me. Hey Dad."

There was a grunt in answer.

"Home for the second night in a row," she noted, in her 'noting' voice.

"I've been out with my friends."

"Wandering the streets, getting up to god knows what. A mother worries."

"Jessica..." There was a warning tone in his dad's voice, though he never looked away from the game, and Xander's heartbeat jumped up a notch.

"No street-wandering. Inside-sitting. Sitting inside. No juvenile delinquency here."

"Why don't you ever tell us where you're going? Why don't you ever bring your friends home?"

"To my basement?"

"Jessica."

"They're the signs," she said to his dad, who'd finally moved his sullen glare from the TV to her. "He always did trail after the crowd, since he was little. If his friends are doing drugs..."

"I'm not doing drugs, Mom. My friends don't do drugs. There are no drugs."

"You're damned right, you don't," his dad said at last. "Xander knows I ever catch him messing with drugs, I'll belt him from here to Sunday." He swigged his beer, and went back to the game.

Just another night in the Harris house. Xander blew out his breath, and decided it was time for a retreat. He almost reached the stairs before he remembered, and doubled back to the doorway. "I got a job."

They both looked up, startled, finally realising he was in a uniform.

"A job? Good work, son." His dad raised his bottle in toast.

"What kind of job finishes at this hour?"

"Pizza delivery. I'm gonna bring the pizza to the people. A noble profession if ever there was one."

"Oh." She sounded disappointed.

"It's a good job," his dad said.

"Of course it is. I never said it wasn't, Tony." She shot him a glare, and then smiled sweetly at Xander. "That's wonderful, Honey. Now you'll have money to spend on your girlfriend."

Xander did a double take. "I don't have a girlfriend."

His mom's smile disappeared.

"There's no girlfriend, Mom."

"You think a mother doesn't know? A mother knows."

"Jessica." His dad snarled it through his teeth.

"I've just been hanging out with my high school friends."

"You're not dating any of them, are you? I don't want you chasing after that trampy Buffy girl. Whatever happened to Cordelia? She was lovely."

"For Christ's sake, woman, leave the boy alone. Nag, nag, nag. Do you ever shut up?"

They were going to fight, now. Didn't need Xander for that, so he left them to it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander lay back on the bed and stretched until he felt his joints pop. He felt good. This was the languid happy looseness of a guy who'd spent the day tidying and decorating his own basement domain, a guy with a job and a really hot, sexy boyfriend. He beamed up at the lights bouncing around the ceiling from his new mirrorball. Life was good. Even if right now he kind of wished he was with the hot, sexy boyfriend. Having hot sex.

He was going to pack a bag of stuff to leave at the hot sexy boyfriend's house. It'd save sneaking home in dirty clothes all the time. Just a few changes, see if Giles minded. See if Giles would clear him some cupboard space to keep them.

He rolled down to the end of the mattress, and started pulling socks and shorts out of the top drawer, a couple of pairs of jeans from the bottom. In the third, good t-shirts... and magazines. Xander tossed the clothes over by his old school bag, and burrowed through to the guy mags, digging down through until he found his old reliable.

They'd done a photo shoot with a kind of corporate theme: bits and pieces of business suits. In some shots one of the guys was wearing glasses, and it wasn't hard to figure out why he kept coming back to those ones. Xander flashed back to Giles yesterday, looking all serious in his glasses while naked. Reality beat fantasy with a big stick.

At some point, in what Giles would call a fit of whimsy, if he ever found out which he never would, Xander had gone through half his magazines and drawn glasses on all the best models. Wouldn't take a psychologist to figure out what did it for Xander, based on his not-so-much-with-the-reading materials. Men in glasses. Men still half-dressed. Men blowing men. Eyes could be the window to the whatever, but a guy's porn collection was the window to what really mattered.

But this photo... Xander ran his finger down it, almost able to smell the months of frustrated teenage hormones, or probably something more specific, that made the page a little stiff. Glasses. Business suit. Waistcoat, thank you. The guy was sprawled back on an office couch, fully dressed, absorbed in the papers in the folder he was holding - close enough to a book, in Xander's imagination - seeming oblivious to the the guy whose face was buried in his lap.

The photographer had set it in an office but Xander always saw rows and rows of bookshelves, hardwood floor, a check-out desk off to the side. Saw the guy on the couch as a little less blonde and a little more grey.

Xander used to come home from late night Ascension research and pull out this magazine and stare at this picture, imagine sneaking back and creeping into the library, while Giles was studying in his office. The only light would be the desk lamp, and Giles would be so absorbed in his book he wouldn't notice Xander slipping inside and crawling closer, not until Xander's hands settled on his crotch and he gave a little gasp. Xander's heart used to live in his throat, even just imagining it, waiting for the reaction.

But Giles'd keep on reading, pretending like he hadn't noticed Xander smoothly undoing his belt and sliding down his zipper. He'd ignore Xander's fingers creeping over his boxers (Ripper didn't wear any, but Xander had been pretty sure Giles did, and score for getting that right) and he'd ignore the fingers poking through the fly, except his dick would be stirring, and his breathing would be just a little shaky.

Xander rolled back on the bed, tugging open his pants to pull on his dick. He didn't touch himself in his fantasy, but here in his bed he used to work it hard as he imagined taking Giles in his mouth. He always had to concentrate; taking him all the way to the root, and then sitting back to do a bit more of the exploring, licking kind of thing, sometimes a little brush of teeth like Ripper liked, sometimes going down to taste his balls, which probably wouldn't be accessible when he'd only undone the fly, but hey, fantasy. Xander would work him so hard, with hardly any reaction at all, until he thought this was never going to end, and then Giles' hand would settle on the back of his head and push him down, all the way down so Xander's mouth was full and then some, and he couldn't see anything but the trail of hair leading up his stomach but he knew Giles was finally watching him now as he came, hips jerking, flooding Xander's mouth.

The fantasy was more vivid than ever, now the taste of Giles was fresh, the smell of him, now Xander knew what sounds Giles made, and as Xander jerked his hand he poured it all in.

Sometimes, then, Giles just muttered 'Swallow it,' and went back to his book, and there was probably some deeply twisted reason why Xander found that so hot. Sometimes Giles would lean forward and kiss Xander hard as he put the book on the desk, and then pull Xander up into his lap and burrow his own hand into Xander's jeans.

Now, Xander knew how Giles would look at him, the way his attention would dart between the dick in his hand and Xander's face, and now he knew Giles' other hand would surely slide up under Xander's shirt and worry his nipples, and Xander gritted his teeth as he came.

He lay there, panting, for long minutes, one finger playing over his sensitive dick. He'd have to go through his collection and find good shots of guys getting their nipples played with. Add it to the Xander Harris kink-list.

kink list.

Window to...

Whoa.

So what was in Giles' third drawer? Xander almost laughed as he realised. He didn't need to badger Giles to find out what Giles didn't want to tell him.

Xander finally sat up, hissing in annoyance when he realised he'd come all over his clothes. It had to be almost time to change for Buffy's anyway... He lifted his head to check the clock - oh, shit.

Xander bounded out of bed, stripping off and flinging his clothes to the floor as he hurried to the cupboard. He didn't even know what he was wearing. Not that he'd ever thought about what he was wearing to Buffy's before, not since sophomore year, anyway, but this was different.

Jeans. Jeans? Something more formal? No, trying too hard. Jeans. Nice jeans.

Shirts. He didn't have nice shirts; he had two dozen kid shirts. Why did everything he owned have to be so totally high school? Xander flipped through, yanking various possibilities out and throwing them on the bed, one eye straying cautiously back to the clock. No time for this. He snatched out his black sports jacket, yanked a faded red t-shirt from the drawer and threw them on the foot of the bed, pulling a towel around his waist to race to the shower.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles was locking the Citroen as Xander pulled up. He looked really good. He was wearing a brown jacket over a black t-shirt with dark jeans, and you had to wonder where the major style injection had come from, in the last three months.

He waited for Xander to come around to meet him on the kerb, taking a moment to look him up and down. "You look good." It was his deep voice, the one he used when they were having sex, and it didn't soothe Xander's nerves at all.

"Thanks. Um. You too."

Giles peered a little closer. "Are you all right?"

"Just... This is kind of our first date."

That got a lop-sided smile, and Giles glanced up the path. "I've had that thought myself. It's dinner with Buffy. Nothing out of the ordinary."

"My ordinary dates generally try to eat, inhale or kill me. Though let me note for the record that I'll take doors one, two or three over spending the next couple of hours with Willow and Buffy watching and analysing everything we do, everything we say, every time we look at each other..."

"Yes, well, there is that." Giles adjusted his glasses, and glanced at the house again. "You're sure Joyce knows?"

"Yeah, Buffy said she knows."

"Well then."

It was Mrs Summers who greeted them at the door, her long, probing look leaving no doubt that she'd been told. Or more likely, ranted at. Not much chance Buffy had spent the day telling her mom how perfect they were for each other.

"Xander. Rupert. Come on in."

"Hey, Mrs Summers."

"Joyce."

She took the bottle Giles offered with a smile, then made a little 'ooh' at the label. "Thank you. Is this an occasion?" Her wary glance at Xander was almost too quick to miss, but Xander found himself shifting to put a little space between them.

"No occasion. It's just been gathering dust on the shelf. It would be a waste, to drink it alone."

That's right, Xander wanted to say. I'm not twenty-one. Keep moving along.

"The others are already here. Can I get you a Coke, Xander?"

Subtle. "I'm fine for now, Mrs Summers."

She headed for the kitchen, and Xander and Giles braced themselves for their grand entrance.

The girls were sprawled at opposite ends of the couch, while Oz stood to the side, watching them. No one looked up.

"It's weird," Buffy was saying. "The dreams have stopped since Cathy disappeared. I think she was a demon. An evil, soul-sucking demon. There are demons who suck souls, right Giles?"

"Er, yes. Your roommate disappeared?"

"Yeah."

"Do you think the disappearance merits further investigation?"

"Nah."

Xander clasped his hands. "So, what now? Do you get the royal accomodation of your own room? Or are they gonna assign someone new?"

Buffy looked dismayed. "New? Oh god. What if I get someone worse? There are worse roommates than soul-sucking demons who play Celine Dion? Aren't there?"

"I think that's a tough act to beat," Oz replied.

Mrs Summers came in with two glasses of wine, shooting a look of some kind at Xander as she handed one to Giles. "I don't understand why you girls don't share."

Buffy blinked, and turned to Willow. "Why aren't we sharing?"

"I don't know." She looked surprised. "Do you want to share?"

"Do you want to?"

"I guess. I mean, yeah. If that's what you want."

"I do. Unless you don't want to leave where you are... I mean, you're already settled, and-"

"Oh, I do, I do. I'd love to share."

"Really? Me too!"

The girls hugged, and bounced about. There had to be some sort of girl-secret, to managing those two things at once, while sitting down.

"Roomies!" cried Willow.

"This is gonna be great!" cried Buffy.

"Roomies!" cried Willow again.

While the girls did their little dance of sitting joy, Oz sidled up to Xander. "The boxers - yours?"

"Yeah."

"Makes sense."

Xander shoved his hands in his pockets.

"So how's the delivery business?"

"I didn't die, so I'm calling it a good start."

"Hmph." Oz got a little crease in his brow, as he rocked on his feet. "Sunnydale does have a unique measure of success."

"Xander!" Willow squealed and untangled herself from Buffy as though she'd just remembered. "Your job! Xander who delivers pizzas to the hungry - how is your job?"

"Not a job, Will. A homecoming. A vocation. A calling, you might say."

"All you can eat, huh?"

"And I do intend to test that limit."

"Look at you and Giles! All coupley and date-like!"

Coupley and date-like while standing five feet apart, but no doubt blushing as one. Yep, this was exactly what they hadn't been looking forward to.

"Everyone's all coupley and date-like but me," Buffy mourned.

"Ahem?"

"And you, Mom."

Willow put her arm around Mrs Summers' shoulders, as she stared them both down. "You are sexy, fabulous women, and your coupley half is out there somewhere."

"Thank you, Willow." Mrs Summers beamed.

Xander eyed Willow's arm. It would take a far, far better man to resist an opening like this. "Mrs Summers, I think one day you'll turn and find the right person standing right next to you."

"Thank you, Xander."

Buffy's smile fell as she saw Xander's wicked look, and remembered their last conversation. "Shut up, Xander."

"I think I just missed something," Mrs Summers said.

Giles shook his head. "I fear we all did."

Willow shrugged off the non-sequitur and plopped back on the couch next to Buffy, Oz cramming in beside her. "UC Sunnydale is a single girl's breakfast buffet. It's awash with potential booty."

There was a mom-like throat-clearing.

"Which you'll be observing with a detached eye and no touching because you'll be too busy with the studying."

"That's more like it," Mrs Summers said. "Dinner won't be long."

"It smells delicious," Giles said, settling safely into the one-person armchair. Which left the floor for Xander.

"So. Giles. How was your day?" Buffy folded her hands and waited proudly, like she'd just learned her ABCs. Guess the caring about Giles thing was going to stick a while.

"Nothing thrilling to report. It seems I've reached an impasse with regard to the medallion."

"No joy in tracking the thief?"

He heaved a little sigh. "I don't think it was the Council. Or at least, no one from the Council acting in an official capacity."

"Which is good, right?"

"Which means it's the devil we don't know."

"Well, I'm all charmed up." Buffy patted her chest, where the bag hung. "So not so much with the worry."


When dinner was ready, Oz stood and hauled Willow up so she slid straight into his arms for a quick kiss.

Xander couldn't look at Giles. They stood as far apart as the walls allowed. Wouldn't want to upset Buffy. He looked to see if she was bracing herself for Watcher-Zeppo PDA, but she was too busy watching Willow and Oz wander arm-in-arm towards the dining room, looking like someone just ate her puppy.

She had her own brand of unfair, he realised, and felt a little bad that Angel was gone. Just a little bit, and only in a theoretical sense, but enough. So he offered a hand and pulled her up and hugged her, loving the startled smile.

"Sit next to me?" he asked.

"Sure."

Dinner was weird. Sort of just like normal, and sort of like being a monkey at the zoo. He had to fight the urge to fling food when people stared. Giles sat at the head of the table, opposite Mrs Summers, and Xander sat next to him, beside Buffy.

Xander didn't look at Giles much just in case someone said something, but he liked him being there. Giles wasn't generally a staple of a hanging-out-at-Buffy's-house evening, but he belonged there anyway. The extra adult made Mrs Summers stick around too, when she'd usually just mother them all a bit and then give them space.

Giles and Mrs Summers talked about her museum's Really Old Stuff From Mexico display, which was boring except for how it gave Xander perfectly legitimate grounds for watching Giles talk. The way he leaned forward, firing off questions with sharp hand gestures and tripping pauses as he searched for the words he wanted. He knew everything about the random era the Really Old Stuff came from.

That's my date, Xander wanted to tell them. It wasn't weird to be comfortably aroused at Buffy's house, because that was nothing new, but in the past it had always been Buffy. Or, for that period they didn't talk about, Willow. Or even, yes, Joyce Summers measured pretty high up the lustworthy scale. Way sexier than Willow's mom.

Which, actually, covered the entire table except Oz. He'd never been troubled by bad thoughts about Oz.

Giles had made out with Mrs Summers. The memory fell with a thud into Xander's imaginings. Magic candy bars, and Buffy caught them making out by the factory. He looked up at Mrs Summers, and back to Giles, the pair of them too absorbed to notice Xander's little epiphany. Giles and Mrs Summers. And in some undisclosed role, handcuffs.

Okay, step away from the visual. This was no time to be adjusting himself in his jeans. Xander pictured Buffy with Angel, and that helped.

They managed to get right through to the scraps of Mrs Summers' pot roast before Willow planted her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands. "So. Time to spill. How did you two crazy kids get together?"

"PG version, please." Buffy wiped up the gravy with the last of her bread.

Xander and Giles shared a nervous look. They hadn't actually figured out what version of the truth they were going to use, but Xander was pretty sure it wasn't going to be the one where school-student Xander kissed school-staff Giles in the school library. Especially in front of Buffy's mom, who was already looking even more unhappy than Buffy.

And probably not the one where Giles shoved Xander up against the linen closet while they talked about the future of Xander's extremely recent alma mater in the other room, either.

Everyone was looking at them, waiting, and the silence was getting towards being the sort that Xander's mouth liked to fill all by itself. Xander clamped his tongue between his teeth and waited helplessly for Giles, who eventually cleared his throat.

"I, uh, found I missed Xander a great deal over the summer break."

There was quiet, until Will prompted, "And?"

"And... must we do this?" Giles had never looked so uncomfortable, and considering the man's professional destiny, that was no small thing.

"He kissed me, I kissed back," Xander supplied. "Happy ever after."

"Yes, but when? And how?"

"He kissed you?" Buffy stared at them.

Mrs Summers stood up. "Rupert, would you help me to clear the table?"

"Of course." He looked so grateful that Xander worried he might fall on his knees in thanks first, but he got to his feet and stacked Willow's and Xander's plates with his own, and followed Mrs Summers through to the kitchen.

As soon as they were out of the dining room, Xander felt Willow's foot in his shin. "Ow."

"Don't think I won't worm the rest out of you."

"Not today." Or this lifetime.

Buffy turned in her seat and pointed at him. "So he kissed you."

Xander shrugged. "Yeah." It wasn't like he absolutely had to count last year.

"Hm."

It was an incredibly loaded 'Hm,' but Xander wasn't about to open the can of worms labelled 'Hm, what?' so instead he started gathering the platters and bowls from the centre of the table. "Think I'll help out."

It was some sixth sense that made him pause and push the door open carefully.

"But I don't think of them as children, Joyce. Any of them." Xander peeked back into the dining room, but the girls were discussing how to fit in dessert, and none of them would notice if he hovered here, a second or two. "There was a certain separation through high school, but even then - there isn't a one of them who hasn't protected my life with his or her own."

"Oh, I'm well aware of that." Her tone was loaded. "That's what has me so concerned. You were never simply a teacher to them. You're in a position of unusual influence. Don't you think you sometimes forget how young they are? Don't you think we should protect what little childhood they have left to them?"

Xander shifted so he could see Giles through the crack, leaning back against the counter and looking terribly sober. "I have no intention of hurting him, I can assure you."

"Rupert, nobody ever does. Do you have any intention of telling his parents? Or will you keep it a secret from them?" You didn't need to be an A-student in English to read into that one, but this time Xander definitely wasn't interested in hearing Giles' answer, and he walked on in.

"Hey Mrs Summers."

Giles' head jerked up, caught, but her eyes only widened a moment. "Xander. Rupert was just telling me-"

"I heard." Xander put his dishes beside the growing pile, and moved to stand by Giles, about as defiant an act as he could manage against Buffy's mom. Only now they were both looking at him, and he ducked his head for a moment. Buffy's mom was like something out of the movies; she didn't know that other mothers weren't like her, and Xander didn't want to be the one to burst her bubble. "I think it should be up to me to tell my parents." Next time they were both sober, maybe.

She didn't like that, but she finally gave a short nod, and laid a motherly hand on Xander's arm. "A mother likes to know."

Mothers like her liked to know. "Do you need a hand with dessert?"

"We'll be fine. You should go back."

Xander sent Giles an 'I did what I could,' look and headed obediently back to the dining table, but he stopped just through the door, long enough to hear, "He's a good kid."

"No one is in a better position to know that than I, believe me."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles had gone grocery shopping. The house was empty. Begin Operation Window to the Trousers.

Xander stood in the living room, and looked around. If he was a dirty magazine, where would he be?

If this was Xander's house, it would just be a matter of going through the rack in the upstairs bathroom. But Giles definitely had more class than that. And he didn't have a rack of magazines in his one and only bathroom, anyway. And if he did, he wouldn't keep them there, because if he blanched at the idea of Buffy knowing that he wore boxers, he certainly wasn't going to leave his porn lying around for her to flick through.

In fact, it was safe to assume that there was nothing anywhere where it might be accidentally pulled out alongside an apocalypse-aversion manual, so that ruled out the whole downstairs. Which made sense anyway. Giles probably didn't jerk off on the couch when the girls could barge in at any moment.

There was a brief pause in the mission while Xander pictured Giles on the couch, trousers unzipped, hand around his dick as he paged through 'Latin Inches'. Or maybe it was 'Butt', or 'Freshmen' or 'Biker Buddies'. Hell, maybe it was 'Big'n'Bouncy' - Xander had no idea if Giles' first preference was women or men.

He had to know. Xander bounded up to the loft. One large bookshelf, two nightstands, a set of drawers, room under the bed. There wasn't all that much hiding space.

The bookshelf was all old books, leather bindings and stuff, so Xander started with the drawers. Top three were clothes. In the bottom, there were papers, envelopes... some of them were pretty old, letters and cards and things. Which Xander really shouldn't be going through. Of course, Xander shouldn't have been going through any of this, but he stuffed down his conscience and moved to the nightstand on what had by default become his side of the bed. It was empty - maybe he could put his own stuff here.

He dropped to his knees to check under the bed. A wide plastic chest that rolled out, full of blankets. Beside it, shoes kicked out of sight. Nada.

He circled around to sit on the bed. The books on top of Giles' nightstand were all old books as well - did the man own anything in paperback? Ah! Yes, tucked at the bottom of the pile was a magazine! Xander carefully prised up the pile to see... 'The London Times Holiday Crosswords'. All right, that was predictable.

Top drawer: pens, a couple of notebooks, easy-reach cross and holy water, loose change, a lifetime supply of glasses-polishing handkerchiefs. Second drawer: score. Condoms. Xander absolutely wasn't going to notice that the box was already open, or think about him using them with Olivia. Because if he thought about that, he was going to end up with a mental picture of Giles stretched out over her, propping himself up on an elbow as he rolled one over...

Shit.

Xander pushed the box aside and dug deeper. Obviously no magazines in this drawer, but this was certainly in the realms of the mission. A tube of lube: Astroglide. Good. Okay. He was prepared. That was a good thing. Cord? Xander followed the cord to a... oh. Xander pulled out the little beige controller, and turned the dial, and something rattled in the back of the drawer. Xander snapped it off, but he didn't put it down. He'd kind of wondered what vibrating things felt like. Would have bought one, if the idea of going into any shop that might potentially sell such a thing didn't fill him with terror. Buying magazines was hair-raising enough. Maybe, though, maybe he'd try it some time when Giles was out. Or when he was home. Maybe he could even try it with Giles; Xander was man enough to be comfortable with that. Or he would be, given a bit more time. He put it back in, and closed the drawer to open the next. More letters, and a shoebox of G-rated photos.

Giles had to have magazines somewhere. There wasn't a man on earth who didn't have magazines somewhere. Even monks in Tibet had Playboy stuffed under their mattresses. Or was it bedrolls?

Under the mattress? No. C'mon, the guy lived alone, he didn't need to hide them. Not unless he was worried about Xander finding them. Just to be thorough, Xander slid around and started to stand, and Giles stared back at him from the doorway.

Arms folded, no expression whatsoever, and he'd been standing there for a pretty good while.

Xander's stomach somersaulted. Slowly, he turned his head to look around the room. Drawers open. Bedspread flipped up where he'd been checking underneath. And really, it didn't take a flying leap to figure out that Xander had been right through all of Giles' personal stuff.

Xander wanted to sink through the floor. Or turn to dust. He looked up at Giles, because he really couldn't think of anything he deserved more than that cold, blank face.

"I don't suppose it would be too much to ask why you are pillaging my home?"

"I wanted..." It came out a croak, so Xander cleared his throat, and tried again. "I was looking for..." and only now, did he realise the full scope of how idiotic this sounded... "your magazines."

"Magazines."

"Your porn. I figured... I wanted to know what kinds of things you, you know. I mean, you must have some somewhere. Every guy has magazines. I have as many as I think I can safely hide. And this is your place, so, you ought to have plenty, and I didn't think you'd actually need to hide them, not having parents living with you to hide them from. Not that, I suppose, you'd have to hide them now you're forty-six, but..." He looked around at the chaos he'd left. "I didn't think I was going to tear up your room."

Giles' mouth tightened. "You thought you could go through my things just a little bit, and then put it all to rights so I wouldn't know you'd invaded my privacy."

"Yeah. I guess." Xander hadn't felt this small in a really, really long time. "I just wanted to know what sort of magazines you read. Since you wouldn't tell me what things you... y'know."

Giles stared at him for a really long time, eyes cold, lips thin. Suddenly he strode into the room, and Xander barely caught his flinch as Giles reached over him and grabbed the thinnest of the old leather books off the nightstand and dropped it in Xander's lap, then circled around to the bookshelf and started pulling volumes, tossing them on the bed within reach. "Enjoy yourself," he said, and then walked out and down the stairs.

Xander sat frozen, waiting for the door to slam, but it didn't. Giles hadn't left.

He sucked. Xander Lavelle Harris sucked, like a great big sucking thing. He'd shoved his conscience in a corner about going through Giles' stuff but he hadn't acually wondered what would happen if he got caught, had he? And he hadn't thought for a second about how Giles would feel. He sucked. He felt twelve years old, and he was willing to bet Giles thought so, too.

He didn't want to know what got Giles off. Not when there was a good chance it wasn't going to be Xander, anymore. Not when Giles must think... Giles must be disgusted with him. He stared at the book in his hands. It was old, with a papery white hardcover. He didn't know if he was supposed to open it or not, now.

He ran his finger down the spine, where the paper was peeling back, and tipped it open to the middle. All French, all text. Was this some sort of object lesson in the abstract? He checked the cover. 'Les Amours du Beau Chevalier de Biron, l'Emule de Casanova', whatever that meant. Was Giles saying he still got off on magic... No, that wasn't it, because he said he didn't. This wasn't a spell book. Xander flipped to another page. French. All French.

Whoa. Not all text. The illustration was a woman, naked, arms tied behind her back. It could have been something out of one of the witchcraft books Xander used to check out of the library. Giles got off on pictures of naked witches?

Okay, yeah, Xander used to check them out for exactly that, but that was before he was old and courageous enough to be sidling up to make special requests at the news stand.

He put it aside, and picked up one of the books from the bed. It looked pretty much the same: old, this time leatherbound. But the title page was English. 'The Pearl, A Journal of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading'.

Voluptuous Reading?

It had a contents page... Xander skimmed through the titles. Lady Pokingham, Sport Among the She-Noodles, Miss Coote's Confession. This was a book of short stories. No... Short, dirty, stories. He jumped to the middle, to a vivid description of a - a young maid's cunny. Realisation finally settled properly in his brain, and Xander almost laughed aloud. Of course Giles read his porn. Of course a man with an unnatural fixation on old books and a yen for big words would shun the glossy mags to kick back with a dusty old volume of lewd and lascivious descriptions.

He grabbed the next book. It was newer, a yellowed paperback of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover', with a scrap of paper marking a scene with two people winding flowers through their pubes. Oookay. As he lifted it for a closer look, a bunch of pictures fell out, old sepia photos of... Three middle-aged ladies with their flouncy old white dresses flipped up. A Chinese man covered in tattoos, from neck to ankles and everywhere between, holding a saddle and staring blankly at the camera. A tiny naked woman, smiling, blindfolded and tied to a pole. A guy about Xander's age in a school uniform, bent over a desk with his butt exposed and a prim, bearded English-headmastery type brandishing a cane beside him. A woman in a... no, a man, whoa, in a corset, holding a cigarette, lounging between two fully-dressed and very buxom women.

The next book was different: thin, Chinese, or Japanese, maybe, with lots of art pictures of round people with pubic hair. Men on boys, women fingering each other, all of them looking very happy about it. A woman with an octopus. Okay. This is what got Giles off?

Another book looked old on the outside, but the paper didn't have old-book smell. More sex stories, straight and gay and hey, lesbians. Lesbians using... Xander didn't even know what that was. This one, black leather... Maquis de Sade. Xander knew exactly who that was. He put it back down.

Xander flipped through the pictures again, stopping at the tattooed man, the man in the corset. This stuff was a few light years away from blow jobs on the couch. The tattoo guy had a thick ring through the end of his dick. Is that what Giles liked? Xander couldn't see where he fitted in.

Something creaked downstairs, and Xander was smacked out of his bubble. Giles was waiting down there, and Xander had no idea what he was going to say. There wasn't anything he could say. He slipped the photos back inside and closed the book, interest gone. He felt sick as he stood and stacked them, sliding them back on the shelf. He closed all the open drawers, straightened the bedspread, and looked around. Giles wouldn't have known he'd been here. Isn't that what he'd planned? He smoothed the bedspread again. Giles was waiting. He forced himself downstairs without a plan.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles was sitting in the armchair, glasses tangled in his hand, staring off into the distance.

Xander reached the ground, and couldn't move any further. It took a couple of seconds to unlock his jaw. "I'm sorry."

He didn't look up. "I thought better of you."

"After three years, I figure you'd know what a screw-up I am."

"That's your response? More fool me for believing I had your respect?"

"No! You- I never did anything like that before. Well. Except for when you went off the deep end in junior year and we had to figure out what was going on..." Xander trailed off. "And that time it was because we were trying to help. This time, it's just me being an asshole."

"I value my privacy, Xander. If that is a problem-"

"No. No, I know that. Especially you being all British and reserved, and all..."

Giles' eyes rolled and settled on him. Hard.

"...and a normal person who doesn't like having his stuff rifled through because no one does." He shuffled over to stand by the fireplace, not too close, but so Giles didn't have to crane his neck to glare at him. "I know better. I just wanted to know. I didn't think. If there's any way I can make it up..."

"Xander."

"No, there's not really any way."

He didn't know what to do now. Sit down. Leave. Probably not start a conversation about the things that were in Giles' books.

Even if he really, really wanted to know: did Giles want to do those things with him? 'Cos if he did, Xander could say he now understood totally and completely why Giles didn't just pull Xander close at night and whisper in his ear about how he wanted to dress Xander up in an school uniform and give him a good caning. Welcome to Wiggsville. Arousal level: zero.

'I draw glasses on the best pictures in my magazines,' kept running through his head, and he knew if the silence kept going, it was going to pop out.

"I need to put the groceries away." Giles stood and strode to the kitchen.

Xander followed after him. "Can I help?"

"There are only a couple of bags."

"I could put the kettle on."

"I'm not thirsty, thank you."

"Is there anything I-"

"Please, may I have just five minutes to be angry with you?" He shoved a carton of milk in the fridge and tomatoes in the drawer underneath, hard enough to bruise them. Snatched up the towel to wipe down the counter with jerky motions that suggested he was doing just fine with the being angry.

Xander's face prickled with heat. "Should I go?"

Giles threw down the towel, and leaned on the sink, head bowed. "Perhaps that would be best."

"All right," Xander whispered. God. What had he done? He wanted to stay and apologise a thousand times, but Giles was pretty clear. He backed out and crept to the door, wishing he looked as small as he felt.

He had the door open when he heard, "Wait."

Giles had followed him, and he caught his elbow. "I'm sorry, I... Please don't think..." He cupped Xander's cheeks and brought him forward for a soft kiss on the lips. "Just give me a little space."

"You're apologising to me?" Xander stroked his chest, sick with relief that he could, and then they kissed again, and then he was pulled into a hug. Giles was apologising to him, and comforting him. It hurt more than yelling.

"Go on," Giles said, softly. "Go for a long walk, or something."

Xander nodded and let go. He only made it as far as the stairs. He sat down in a sunny patch, arms wrapped around his knees. He was pretty sure that after him and Willow got caught by Oz and Cordy, he'd sworn that he was never going to do anything that stupid again. But here he was, and even if this wasn't quite the same catastrophe, it had the same horrible, Xander-screwed-up qualities to it. He had no idea how to make it right. Giles may have said he just needed some time, but it was all just time to reflect on how much he couldn't trust Xander. Xander had wondered, sometimes, what Willow said to Oz that he took her back last year. Some magic Willow-words, that Xander hadn't had for Cordelia, and didn't have for Giles.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the end, Xander decided to head over to Willow's dorm. If he hung around on his own, he'd go crazy. He was already halfway there, between the guilt and the scenes playing though his brain that were way beyond pay-per-view. Did Giles want Xander to dress up in old-fashioned drag? Or maybe Giles liked to explore the other side of the wardrobe. Sure, Xander was a long-standing fan of bras and other lacy things, but there was no way to work them into an appealing image of Giles. Boxers did him just fine. Okay, not the issue right now, how Xander wanted to see Giles, or how Giles wanted to see Xander, only if he ever wanted to see him again, but still. Drag? And piercings? But what had Xander expected to find anyway? Sticky mags full of dark-haired, dark-eyed, barely legal guys in loud shirts?

Giles wanted Xander. For reasons beyond understanding, Giles wanted Xander. Xander had to be worth it. Everything else was just other stuff.

The door opened, and Xander was greeted by a big cardboard box. "Um. Hello?"

"Xander?" The box turned, and there was Willow. "Hey! You're just in time! Grab a box!"

Xander squeezed past to find Buffy and Oz already loaded down. "Is this a heist?"

"Housing just cleared us to share, so I'm moving in!"

Without him. Okay. "Maybe I could come back later, when all the hard work is done."

"Grab yourself a box, mister."

Xander had half-expected her to tell him he wasn't needed, but apparently since he was here anyway... He stacked up a bunch of boxes, getting a good grip before he lifted them and turned to peer around the pile at the others.

Buffy watched him, dubious. "You sure you can balance all those?"

"Fetch and carry guy, remember?"

Between the lot of them, it only took a couple of trips, but Willow was preoccupied enough that she didn't notice that he looked like hell. If they'd just been hanging out, she would have been on him like a magical pit-bull demon.

Xander would even have gone so far as to say he was having a good time. It felt a bit like the old days, all of three months ago, hanging out and working and trading jokes. And it sounded bad, but it was good, that Giles wasn't there. He didn't get a single one of the puzzled or grossed-out looks that had been Buffy's standing facial expressions for the last few days, and Willow hadn't been trying to counsel him with signficant glances and eyebrow twitches. They'd just been hanging out.

He'd even forgotten, for a while, that he was hiding here. That was an hour of apology-rehearsing time gone. But on the bright side, an hour without panicking about whether all that guy-girl stuff meant Giles still wanted to be with women. Oh god. What if he did? Xander dropped the last box on the bed, and then caught it when Will jumped on the bed and it bounced off. "Roomies!" she exclaimed.

"Roomies!" Buffy echoed.

Oz smiled, reclining against the desk.

Xander managed to look happy. At least this was scooby-safe territory now, somewhere to go when he screwed things up with Giles. "So what are you guys up to, tonight?"

"Rehearsal."

"Rehearsal groupie."

"Patrolling for me. I'm still learning the lay of the campus. Wanna come with?" Buffy wrinkled her nose - yep, that was one of the looks. "Unless you're..."

"Nah. I mean, I wouldn't mind, but I'm working."

And there was one of Willow's significant counselling glances, so he sent a 'don't worry about it,' look right back.

"Xander?"

"So when are the Dingoes playing next?" Oz was the one person he could trust to let him change the subject.

"Possible party-gig next week at Lowell House. We're negotiating."

Xander wondered what Buffy would do if she ever got a look at Giles' porn collection She'd probably wrinkle her nose so hard it'd turn it inside out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He had a job, at last, a genuine and worthy excuse to avoid for a few more hours. If Giles wanted a little time to stop being angry, then Xander was gonna give him a lot.

A job. At last. And one entirely within his abilities, even when he was obsessing about GIles. Get the pizzas from the store. Drive to the address written on top of the receipt. Deliver the pizzas, and get the money. Xander felt pretty confident he had a handle on things. Sure, he wasn't president of the company, but it was a job. Buffy didn't have a job. Or Willow. Hell, even Giles didn't. Xander was the one gainfully employed scooby.

Also, if this kept steady, he'd have enough for a deposit on his own car before Uncle Rory got his licence back and reclaimed this car that Xander needed to earn the cash with.

One ground beef pizza and four garlic breads to a little old lady who kept talking loudly to her half-deaf husband in the other room, while searching through four different purses to find the exact change.

One calzone to a pretty middle-aged woman in a really see-through nightdress who kept cracking jokes about lonely housewives in negligees.

Three cheese pizzas to a house full of squealing children and one miserable babysitter. He smiled sympathetically, and gave her back the tip.

Three pineapple and anchovies with chilli to a big guy with a baseball camp and way too much asscrack.

Two vegetarian, one pepperoni, and one with the lot to what seemed to be a cheerleader sleepover, eight girls talking all at once and batting their eyes at him, not having got the memo about Xander Harris being a different slice of the social pie.

Later in the night, the college deliveries. Xander prayed his dad would never catch a whiff of the pot smoke on him and start jumping to conclusions.

The door swung open on yet another wave of guitar-strumming and what was becoming an incredibly familiar scent, and Xander barely stopped his eyes from rolling.

"Hey! It's you, man!"

Oh. "Devon. You order the pizza. I bring the pizza."

"You wanna come in, hang out? Any friend of-"

"Nah," - thanks but no fucking way - "I still got another couple of deliveries to go."

Deeper in the room, Xander glimpsed Oz slouched out on a fat armchair, Willow snuggled up against him, joint in... Willow, joint in her hand.

She hadn't seen Xander. Maybe she was just holding it. Of course she was just holding it.

She giggled at something Oz was muttering in her ear, and lifted it to her lips. The ember brightened as she breathed it in, smooth as you please, and passed it back over her shoulder to Oz.

The boxes were pulled out of Xander's hands, and Devon was saying something as notes were pushed between his fingers.

Willow sniffed and looked up, her cry of "Oooh, someone ordered pizza? You should have called Xan-" dying as she froze, staring straight at him.

Oz looked his way too, one eyebrow cocking in mild curiosity.

"Hi," Xander managed.

"Xander-"

"I gotta go." Xander backed out, crushing the notes in his hand, and jogged down the stairs. This... This was gonna need some thinking space.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander really, truly didn't want to see Giles right now. He didn't know how to fix what he did this morning, and he didn't know what to do about Willow.

Here was a dilemma Xander hadn't really been planning on. He wanted to tell Giles, his lover, what he'd seen, and wave his hands about and be all shocked and indignant. But he couldn't tell Giles, the adult. That would be betraying Willow. Willow the marijuana-smoker. Willow - Willow - was doing drugs.

And he didn't know how to fix what he did this morning. What if Giles was sitting around, waiting to talk about weird sex stuff? Xander hadn't figured out what to say about that before the whole Willow-drugs thing knocked it off the front page, and no way was he going to figure it out on this last flight of stairs into the courtyard.

He probably should have gone straight home, but even if it scared the hell out of him, he really wanted to check in. Giles told him to take a long walk, not to rack off for the day. He'd just stop by, see if Giles was awake, see if Giles hated him and then he'd go home to panic about Willow in private, and Giles could have another night to stew.

Okay. He had to be cool about this. He could go in there, and keep his mouth shut. He let himself in.

"Xander?" Giles wandered out of the kitchen, tea towel in hand. "I'd given up expecting to see you tonight."

"Willow smokes pot." Dammit.

Oh, dammit. Willow was gonna kill him.

Giles blinked. "All right."

Okay. Not quite the stupified horror Xander was looking for. "All right? All *right*? Giles, Willow is doing drugs! Willow!"

Giles leaned back against the counter, flipping the towel over his shoulder, and folding his arms with a little shrug. "I must say that I am not unduly surprised."

Xander took two steps back. Huh? "Well, then, just, just, *get* duly surprised." Couldn't he at least clean his glasses or something?

"It's not an uncommon age for experimentation. And if I might be permitted to resort to cliche - she is dating a musician."

"Giles. Willow!"

"Yes, I'm perfectly clear on that, thank you."

Xander's mouth flapped. "Okay, so no shock. Could you manage a little horror?"

Giles sighed, and pulled off his glasses - at last. "I take it you just discovered this tonight? You caught her?"

"Yes!"

"You've seen her doing this exactly once, correct?"

"Yeah."

"There haven't been any changes in her personality recently? Slipping grades? Disinterest in her usual friends or hobbies?"

"No..."

"Then I am going to assume it's casual use, and not of any particular concern."

Xander floundered, arms waving. "Did I bump my head and wake up in the crazy universe?" Giles' benevolently patient look was not helping. Wait. Wait, now. Think back. "No! I woke up in the crazy universe last year. You! You have pot!"

"Yes."

"You - you have pot."

"I also drink alcohol and occasionally jaywalk. And recently, I have taken up sex with someone nearly thirty years my junior. Do you honestly still see me as a... a fuddy-duddy?"

"Fuddy-duddy?"

"Choose your own term, then. Strait-laced, square, old fart..."

"No, but I don't exactly see you sniffing lines off the cisterns in the school bathrooms or shooting up behind the gym, either."

Giles lifted his eyes to the ceiling, starting to look annoyed. "Oh, don't be so melodramatic. I've been an occasional smoker for most of my life, and yet since my crazed youth, I've not been tempted to experiment with hard drugs or start a Bob Marley album collection." He reined in his tone, and slipped his glasses back on. "You might be startled at how common it is."

"I'm already startled." Xander didn't know how he could have forgotten Ripper stretched out on the couch, with his big, fat joint and cheshire grin. "It's wrong."

"Today is not the day to lecture me on right and wrong, Xander."

Xander shut his mouth with a snap, cheeks flaming.

They looked at each other, until Giles sighed. "I wouldn't worry about Willow. She's a sensible girl."

"It's the sensible ones you have to watch. Isn't that what they say?"

"Then keep an eye on her. But I wouldn't be signing her into the Betty Ford Clinic just yet." Giles pushed off the counter and circled back into the kitchen, where he'd been unpacking the dishwasher. Apparently, he thought the issue was done.

Xander went and parked himself on the couch, and frowned.

He'd settled in for a long sulk, but a few minutes later, there was a familiar ring of a metal spoon in a glass bowl. Ice cream.

Like a well-trained dog, Xander was at the counter in an instant, sliding onto the counter stool opposite Giles' dry gaze.

"I'm predictable. Some might consider that a positive trait."

"It's certainly a useful one."

Giles took a dainty half-spoonful, and Xander dug in, pausing to take a second look after his first few mouthfuls. "Are there three different flavours in here?"

"Four."

"You're my man."

They ate in silence for a while, but ice cream was talking food, and as much as he hated to admit it, there were talking issues at hand. Xander sucked the his icy mouthful down to the lump of cookie dough inside, and then swallowed.

"So how often do you..."

Giles put down his spoon, like he'd been waiting for the interrogation. "Rarely more than once a month, or so."

"Why?"

Gee, how much had Xander not missed the 'how stupid are you,' look. "I enjoy it."

Xander scooped up some Cherry Garcia. 'I enjoy it,' wasn't on the list of responses when they did role-plays about peer pressure back in grade school. Drugs were supposed to be about looking cool or covering up low self esteem or escaping from a miserable life. You didn't just enjoy drugs. Giles really didn't care about being cool, and his self esteem was just fine. There was plenty to escape from, though. "Then why don't you do it more often?"

"I have responsibilities."

"So, if you didn't have a Hellmouth to watch over?"

"Then no doubt I would have moved to Jamaica and taken up surfing long ago." He softened his tone at Xander's glare. "I'm fond of my Glenmorangie, but I don't drink it every day."

Yes, but that was alcohol. Legal, respectable alcohol. "You just don't seem the type. You keep perfect banking records. You own tweed. You're about as straight as straight comes."

"Oh, I think we both know that's not true."

"That sexy smile isn't going to make this okay."

The smile widened. "I wouldn't be so certain about that, either."

"Some intervention it's gonna be, me and Buffy sitting the three of you down..." Xander studied the amusement that was digging lines at the corners of Giles' eyes. "This isn't some mass practical joke, is it?" Xander looked around, as though everyone might suddenly jump out from behind the furniture, laughing at him. "Is Buffy gonna come walking through that door with a bong?"

Perfectly-timed, there was a loud knocking.

Giles looked over and back at Xander, innocently, and then hurried to answer it.

Not Buffy with a bong. Oz.

"Hey."

"Oz."

Oz looked in to see Xander. "Hey."

"Hey."

"Can I... see you?" He tried not to look at Giles as he gestured Xander outside.

"Yeah. Sure." Xander resisted the impulse to lame 'Of course you can see me, I'm right here,' jokes. "Give me a second, okay?"

Oz nodded and backed away from the door. Giles closed it, as Xander came close. "Look, um, I'm going to head home. Mom's been funny about all the nights I've been out."

"All right."

"And you could probably use another night to work through... you know." Giles just tipped his head, which was as good as agreeing.

"I'm sorry about today. Bigger than sorry. Never going to do it again, wish I hadn't done it in-"

"Apology accepted."

Xander took in his first full breath since it happened, and kissed him. "I'll see you tomorrow."

He headed outside, and the door clicked politely shut behind him.

They moved just a few feet past the door, and... nothing. Oz stood there, all casual and Oz-like. Eventually he frowned a little, like he was just realising he was the one who was supposed to talk. His tongue flicked over his lips.

"So... Willow sent me."

"No kidding."

He nodded, and there was another long wait.

"Yeah," he said at last. "Guess not." He wandered over to the fountain and sat, sprawling back on his hands.

"So... Did she send you to say something? Or is this meant to be a performance in mime?"

Oz grimaced. "She's kind of afraid to see you. And pretty much terrified that you'll tell..." He cast a look at the closed door, and dropped his voice, "...him." That was a question, even if it wasn't asked like one, and Xander wasn't going to answer it whether it was or not.

"Do you do it often?"

"Me?" He seemed surprised.

Xander bit his lip, and kind of bounced on the spot. He wasn't ever going to be on good ground accusing Oz of anything, especially when it came to Willow. Maybe that was why she sent him. "You. Her. You and her."

"Sometimes."

"Since when?"

"Maybe this is a conversation you should be having with Willow."

"But Willow didn't come. She sent you. So as Willow's official representative, I'm asking you, how long has Willow been partaking of the vile weed?" And, he wanted to ask, will you stand up so we can posture a bit and pretend we're gonna have this out like men?

"A couple of months, I guess. She's not... I mean, she's not like me."

Meaning she didn't do it a lot, like Oz. And could Xander really be shocked that Oz smoked? Not really, no.

No-hopers did drugs. Criminals and degenerates. The voice in Xander's head was his dad's, but he couldn't shut it up.

"Turns out I'm ol' reliable," Xander muttered. "Somebody fetch my evil twin."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander walked up the path to his house, wondering what odds he would have given six months ago for Giles and Willow to turn out to be the delinquents of the group. As he let himself in, he heard a voice from the darkened living room. "That you, Xander?"

He froze, like he was fifteen and getting caught sneaking in after patrol. Then he remembered he was a rent-payer now and made himself relax. "Yeah, Dad."

"Didn't think you'd be home tonight." It was almost creepy, the voice in the dark. In the dim light from the kitchen, he could see his dad's leg, stretched out from the armchair.

"Thought I'd check in." He had the momentary thought that his dad could smell the smoke on his clothes, but that was crazy.

"Don't take off your jacket. We're going out."

Oh god. He could smell the smoke. Except that couldn't be it because his dad had always sworn that drugs would get him a damn good belting, not a field trip. Where could they possibly be- "Is Mom okay?"

"Your mother's fine. Get moving."

Which is how Xander found himself in the passenger seat of his dad's car, as they travelled through the dark streets out of Sunnydale, into the woods. Not speeding, not heading towards the hospital. Neither of them were talking, and the radio was silent, and there was nothing but the hum of the engine to fill the space.

Xander peered out into the black woods racing by. He'd never actually wondered, before, what he'd do if vampires showed up while his parents were around. It was a pretty sad reflection of how rarely his parents left the house after dark. Or how much more rarely Xander was out after dark with either of them, which was never.

They'd never done anything like this, this father-son drive, and Xander's imagination was running wild. Or not so much wild, as straight to 'They're finally getting a divorce,' and coming to a screeching halt.

They were gonna divorce. Finally. Xander could barely breathe for the relief and terror. Because damn, they should have done it years ago, but what happened now? Had they just been waiting until they thought Xander was old enough? Because he was old enough to deal with it years ago, or so he'd thought, up until pretty much right now. Would his dad move out? Would Xander be able to keep living where he was? Or would they sell the house, and leave Xander without a home? What if one of them - or both of them - decided it was time to leave Sunnydale? Xander couldn't leave Sunnydale, especially not now.

If they sold the house, could he, would he move in with Giles? He wasn't sure either of them were ready for that. It sounded cool, but you didn't move in with someone after two weeks. And if he moved in with Giles, what if his parents figured out that they weren't just roomies? But it wasn't like he could afford anyplace else. Maybe he'd have to ask Mrs Rosenberg or Mrs Summers if he could take a spare bedroom.

The car rolled to a stop in a corner of an empty car park. Xander knew this place: it was a picnic area, open space and barbecues and swings for the kids somewhere over there, that Buffy used last year to strangle a spiky yellow demon. It didn't poof, and they - well, Xander and Oz - had to bury it somewhere past the trees. Not that you could see any of that, in the dark.

The engine turned off, and the vinyl squeaked as his dad sat back, and Xander waited.

He remembered the dark living room, where his dad had greeted him. If someone was turned into a vampire, did they need to be invited into their own house? Xander snorted at himself. His imagination was better where it was before. But he ought to check that one with Giles, because it might be important to know, one day.

"Come on." His dad swung open his door and reached into the back, and Xander took a second to catch up, watching his dad pull a six-pack of beer from the back seat and step out into the night. Beer? He hadn't even seen those go in.

Right. Get out. Xander unlocked his door and climbed out, shoving the vampire thoughts out of his brain. His dad wasn't turned. If he was, he would have just eaten Xander. He wouldn't have chauffeured him out into the middle of nowhere, far from witnesses, and... and he wouldn't be sitting against the hood, cracking the top off a Coors.

Xander shuffled forward and obeyed the gesture to sit beside him. It was surprisingly cool, for October, and the ticking warmth from the engine was kind of nice under his butt.

"Have a beer."

Xander didn't actually want one, but there was something in his dad's tone. And he was way too confused to be making decisions, so it was probably best to just go with it. He reached down and tugged a chilled can from the pack, pulled it open and took a polite sip. Condensation made the metal slippery.

But his dad didn't start talking. He stared out into the night and sometimes drank.

Xander kept sipping, just for something to do, something other than wondering what the hell would happen to his world if his parents were splitting, until he realised his can was empty, and his dad was handing him another one.

Was his dad going to say anything? Or were they just gonna stand here drinking 'til daybreak?

"Are you one of those queers, son?"

Xander almost dropped his beer. He didn't... His dad didn't just... There was a roaring sound, drowning out the silence. He was out. His dad knew. It was over. Either Giles, or his home. Half of Xander's life was over.

"You damn well answer me."

His chest hurt, but he forced himself to dip his head in a nod. Out the corner of his eye, he could see the way his dad's whole body sank. Xander couldn't move at all. He was bracing himself for... he couldn't even imagine. Yelling? Fists? The silence was like death, and Xander wanted to run, except he couldn't feel his legs. He gripped the hood with his free hand, feeling the heat from the car burning into the joints of his fingers, but it didn't warm him any better than the icy beer in his other hand. Why had they driven out here, into the woods, far from town?

He waited, but nothing happened. The rage, the disgust, whatever was coming was *there* but Xander couldn't touch it, couldn't fight it because all there was was the cold, bare air.

He was shaking, he realised. Trembling all through his body, in his knees and his spine and the hand that was almost crushing the beer can. The smell of the beer made him sick to his stomach.

"There was a guy, when I worked down the docks..." His dad's voice was harder than Xander had ever heard it, in any fight, over any disappointment, and it was worse than fists. "He was a queer." There was a long pause. "The boys didn't think much of him. Pissed about having a faggot on the crew." Xander twitched. Faggot. He'd never thought that word connected to himself. It wasn't... That ugly word wasn't what he was. His dad had used it like it was nothing, and just kept talking. "But he worked like a man, hard as anyone. He was all right. Not one of those fairy types. Dressed like a man. Didn't go flaunting himself 'round, shoving his bedroom stuff in people's faces." He took a long swig from his bottle. "He was all right."

Some guy at the docks? Xander didn't understand what that meant, what some guy that his dad used to work with had to do with anything. Was there more to the story? He was all right. Was he beaten? Is that why?

He was all right?

Was he saying... Xander managed to look up, but his dad had turned his face, hunching his shoulders away. "Dad..."

"I should have played more football with you. Should've pushed you to get out in the yard..."

Xander almost laughed, but it got stuck in his throat. Football with his dad. Sure. "You think there are no gay jocks, Dad?"

"I should have been around more." Yeah, he should have. But that was beside the point. Sort of far off to the left of the point.

"You didn't make me gay."

He flinched every time Xander used the 'g' word. "I don't like it," he snapped, voice harsh. "I don't ever want to meet any man you... I don't want to meet 'em."

Xander didn't want Giles to meet his dad, so that worked out just fine.

His dad drained the can, and with a start, Xander realised he'd said his piece. His dad knew, and there wasn't going to be any yelling, or throwing Xander onto the street. His dad wasn't going to finally crack and beat him. None of the billion scenes Xander had played out in his imagination, not even close. Right now it didn't matter how he'd figured it out. His dad was upset but okay with it. Not okay, but... okay. Trying to be.

"Don't tell your mother. It'll kill her."

Xander recoiled.

Sudden movement as his dad pushed off the hood and walked a few steps away. There was just enough starlight to see his outline, shoulders rolled forward, one fist clenched by his side. The beer was tossed carelessly away, and the freed hand ran through his thin hair, and his whole body swelled and deflated with a long breath, and another, and his head tipped forward.

Xander had never seen his dad cry. He could barely see the shaking in his shoulders now, but that's what he was doing. And Xander felt like the rottenest bastard of a son that ever was.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The car trip home made the drive out seem merry. Xander didn't dare to breathe too loud, or look anywhere, or move. He stared blankly out the windscreen the whole way, hypnotised by the way the beams from the streetlights seemed to pull the car along.

It was starting to matter now how his dad had figured it out. Xander had never done anything in public. Not since Ripper, and that was so long ago that the sky would have fallen in well before this.

Not one of those fairy types, his dad had said. Worked like a man. Dressed like a man. Didn't go flaunting himself. Didn't act gay.

Was Xander... Was Xander acting gay? Was there something in the way he dressed? The way he talked?

He didn't want to become... He didn't have a problem with people who were gay, who acted gay, but Xander didn't want to change who he was. Was he going to gay hell for that? He didn't want to suddenly go developing a sense of style or hanging rainbow flags out his window; he just wanted to be with Giles and for no one to make a fuss about it.

They pulled in the driveway, and this time his dad lost no time shutting down the engine and getting out, didn't wait for Xander as he walked inside, leaving the door open behind him.

Xander swept his eyes over the street out of habit before opening the door and climbing out. It wasn't going to come up again, he was sure of that. It was over - not behind them, of course, more like painted in enormous letters onto the big elephant that had just moved into their living room. So it wasn't like Xander could ask him, 'Hey Dad, how did you figure out that I like dick?'

At least, it was going to be ignored until his dad realised who he was dating. He knew, totally knew that if his dad saw Giles, connected Giles to Xander and had someone to blame, someone who was older and from the high school, who was richer and smarter and used bigger words than Tony Harris, this wouldn't be over. Or at least, it wouldn't be over this way, with a couple of beers and a talk. And that was really, really scary.

Xander's skin itched, his clothes didn't seem to fit, and the house didn't seem big enough. He didn't want to go in, but he wasn't stupid enough to go wandering the streets and he didn't want to see Giles right now, not with that dull silhouette of his father in his mind.

He forced himself in, and closed the front door with a quiet click. He was three steps up the stairs before he caught himself, remembered he was down now, and froze at the sound of his parents' door opening.

Something soft and muffled from his mom, and then a quiet, "It's nothing, Jessica. Everything's fine. Go back to sleep." The door clicked shut.

Xander turned, and crept back down the stairs.

The basement was freezing. Xander rubbed his arms as he left the warmth of the house behind. Maybe Giles' would have been a better idea.

All the rejected clothes for his date at Buffy's house yesterday were still strewn over the bed. Were those 'gay' clothes? They didn't look gay; they looked like the same crappy clothes Xander had been wearing through high school, and no one thought he was gay then, except Larry.

He pulled open a drawer to start shoving them in, and froze. There, on top, was his favourite magazine. With buff, blonde Hamish on the cover, and the promise of a fabulous cock-at-the-office pullout section.

He was about to be furious at his dad for going through his stuff when he realised he didn't remember putting it away. He couldn't have been so stupid as to leave it out but... He yanked it out and slammed the drawer, dived down to the third drawer to find it all undisturbed. Sci-fi hiding girl mags hiding guy mags. Nobody had touched it.

He'd left it out. Fifty pages of full-colour pictures of what Tony Harris's son liked to do with men, everything but the surround sound. Of all the stupid, idiotic... Xander's eyes stung. All this time, he'd been so paranoid for himself, so worried about getting caught... His dad shouldn't have found out like this. Xander couldn't think of any way that would be easier, but he shouldn't have found out like this.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When the tiny windows lightened to the shady grey of pre-dawn, Xander gave up trying to sleep. He slid out of bed and went through his drawer, pulled out all the gay mags. He didn't want them here - what if his dad got drunk and decided to tear up his room? What if his mom went snooping?

He knew what his dad meant last night. He tried not to, but he did. She said things, sometimes, in the big fights. About how much she hated living like this, and how his dad wouldn't care if she wasn't around. Once, when Xander was thirteen, the fight was bad and his dad got as far as packing his bags. Xander was hiding in his room, but he heard the bathroom door slam, and then the crash, and the way his dad's voice suddenly changed, and Xander kept finding pills on the floor and in the carpet for weeks afterwards. It never put a stop to the fighting, but after that his mom always seemed to get her way in the end.

She'd never do it, not really, it was just something she said sometimes, but Xander didn't stop thinking about it all night. And he wasn't going to let her find out from snooping.

He was out of the house, box in his arms, before he realised he didn't want to show up at Giles' right now, with a box full of porn. Not a conversation he wanted to prod along. He dropped it in the trunk and slammed it shut, thinking. Willow was the obvious, but there was another conversation he wanted postponed, and he'd maxed-out his annual weird quotient with Buffy.

And things were still too raw with Buffy for this anyway. So maybe he'd just drive around all day until he figured something out.

That was pretty much what he did, until he found himself on a familiar street. Perfect.

"Xander!" Mrs Summers beamed, and opened the door wide in welcome. "To what do I owe this visit?" She looked down at his box. "You brought me a present?"

Xander just about choked at the idea of Mrs Summers opening this. "Uh, no." He stepped inside. "I was just wondering if I could keep this here. It's not evil, or anything, just some personal stuff."

"Of course. Provided you have time to stop for a drink and maybe some pancakes? I had a hankering this morning, but it's not worth making them just for me."

"You don't have to work?"

"Not until this afternoon. So, pancakes?"

"That'd be great, Mrs S."

He dumped the box by the basement stairs, for now, and sat at the counter.

She was pulling ingredients out. "I'm discovering there are drawbacks to having breakfast by yourself."

The house felt weird. He'd never been alone with Buffy's mom before. "Must be hard to get used to, having the place to yourself."

"It's quiet." She slid a juice at him, and he caught it with a thanks. "It must be strange for you, too, the girls both gone off to college."

He shrugged. "There's a lot of strange, lately."

She put down her glass. "Yes."

Xander's insides curled up at the disappointment in her voice.

He wanted to tell her how good Giles was for him, how Giles was the last thing in his life she needed to worry about, but he wasn't brave enough. He didn't want to risk giving her an opening to try to talk him out of it. Or to ask about the rest of his life. If she pushed telling his parents again, right now, then he'd... He didn't know, but it'd be bad.

So, next topic. "How's the museum?"

"Not as busy as I'd like, but we're setting up a new display tonight. Might draw some new people in."

They chatted about the boring stuff for a while. Mrs Summers asked about his job, and what he was doing, like a Stepford mom. Maybe he could stay with her if he ever got kicked out. Yeah, Buffy'd love that, taking over Giles and then her mom.

He wondered what Mrs Summers would say if Buffy went gay. Probably bond over cocoa. He wondered if she'd cry.

"Mrs Summers?"

She pushed her plate aside, sensing with her mom-powers that this was a big question. "What is it?"

He was afraid to ask, but of everyone he could think of, he wanted a mother's answer. "Did you know I was gay?"

She was taken aback, but she digested the question, and turned it over in her mind. "I always thought you had a crush on Buffy."

"Well, yeah." He could feel his blush, and she could see it.

She smiled. "Is that the answer you wanted?"

Xander shrugged.

She picked up their plates, and Xander hurried to open the dishwasher so she could slide them in. They stood, and she cupped his cheek. "You don't seem any different to me." Her hand moved down to his shoulder. "Give your parents a chance. They may surprise you."

Half of a laugh puffed out of Xander. "Yeah, they might."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Pancakes with Mrs Summers calmed him enough to wind his way back to Giles', wanting him around more than he wanted to not-talk. As soon as he walked in and saw Giles' surprised smile, how eagerly he stood to greet him, he was glad he came. "Don't get up."

Giles turned to show the phone at his ear. "Yes, absolutely. Listen, something's come up, can I call you back?"

"No, don't interrupt." Xander waved him back to his call, and pointed to himself then the couch before going to flop on it.

Giles weighed him up, and then he got back to his call, which seemed to be about the medallion. Xander had barely thought about it since Giles and Willow did the protection spell. He stretched out on the couch, the confidence from breakfast with Mrs Summers fading fast. He'd had half a mind to tell Giles about his dad, but now... Giles didn't like his dad, and Xander didn't want to hear Giles growl about him, or dismiss him, or tell Xander that the stuff he said didn't matter. His dad was willing to live with it, and that seemed more miraculous the more Xander thought about it. His mom, though... His dad was wrong about his mom.

It still made his stomach turn over.

It was another twenty minutes, and a lot of looks to check that Xander didn't mind being ignored, before the phone conversation wound up. Giles put down the receiver and wandered over. "I'm sorry about that."

"I told you, it's fine. Do your thing. I just wanted to hang out here."

Giles examined him. "All right." He went back to his desk and started writing. This was nice, just lying here, listening to the pen scratch. Not thinking about what his dad was thinking about right now.

Out of the blue, Giles asked, "You're really that bothered by the drugs? I'll get rid of it, if it truly upsets you Xander."

"What?" Xander roused himself, realised Giles was leaning over the back of the couch, and processed what he'd been saying. "I wasn't... You'd do that?"

Giles blinked, as though he was only just processing what he'd said himself, and gave a little shrug. "I would. It's simply a hobby, a way to relax now and then. If you have a problem with it-"

"No. No, that's not what I was... It's fine. I don't- You're old enough to look after yourself. Like you need some eighteen-year-old, me of all people, telling you what to do."

"You of all people?" Giles frowned at him. He circled around to lift Xander's legs and sit underneath, drawing his feet into a warm lap. "In the first place, and just as an aside - it's rather nice to be looked after. Particularly nice when one is old enough not to take that care for granted."

Xander knew that. But telling a grown man what he could put in his body... he wouldn't like it if Giles was lecturing him, would he? He'd just... get mad and do whatever it was even more, not offer to throw it away. "You'd do something like that just because I asked?"

"Yes."

Xander's head tipped back. Nobody had ever done anything like that for him, just because he asked. "Don't."

"Don't?"

"Don't give it up. I was just surprised."

A hand squeezed his thigh, whatever that meant. 'Thanks,' or 'don't worry about it,' or 'your legs weigh more than an ascended mayor'. "In the second place," Second place? Oh, yeah. "In the second place, 'you of all people'?"

Xander shrugged, still staring up at the ceiling.

A finger touched his chin, making him look Giles in the eye. "I believe we've established quite thoroughly that 'you of all people' are someone I care about very much."

Xander swallowed. "Me too. I mean, you too."

"Is it something... Did something in my books upset you? If there is anything... If you're jumping to conclusions about my... about what I like, I'd appreciate... I'd, I'd rather have it out in the open."

Whoa. That one had been moved to the backburner. Or sealed in a box in the basement. Xander really didn't want to talk about the darker realms right now, when he felt dirty about a couple of skin mags and everything in them that could have upset his dad.

"It's nothing like that."

"Do we need to talk about what was in them?"

"Not right now."

"Should I keep guessing what's wrong?"

He was starting to sound frustrated, so Xander tried to brighten up. "Nah. Seriously, it's nothing."

Giles would give stuff up, if Xander didn't like it. He'd just shrug it off and give it up, so it didn't really matter what was in his books, did it? Xander let out his breath. It didn't matter.

"You've been brooding like-"

Xander pointed a finger "If you say Angel, I'm gonna reorganise your album collection."

"A lot. Brooding a lot."

Xander could practially see the theories being shuffled through his big, busy brain. Giles' imagination was probably almost as crazy as Xander's, which made the not-explaining kind of cruel. "I've just been thinking about stuff."

"Stuff?"

"Home stuff."

Giles' eyes were serious, and his fingers were skimming back and forth over Xander's knee. "How has it been?"

Xander shrugged. He didn't want to lie, didn't want to hear Giles unhappy about how his dad handled it. His dad handled it pretty well. Maybe he'd underestimated his dad.

Xander sat up and pulled Giles forward and kissed him, relieved when Giles just went along with it, letting Xander inside and matching him. This wasn't dirty. Nothing dirty or shameful in kissing Giles, letting Giles tug him closer until one thigh straddled Giles' lap and Giles could get his arms all the way around Xander's waist. Xander's teeth found their way up Giles' jaw until Giles' hands rested on Xander's cheeks, giving them a moment's space.

"It's rather nice to be looked after," he murmured against Xander's mouth.

"I know."

Giles studied him for a long time. "I don't think you do, yet." And then he kissed him again, so gently, like Xander was something breakable, lifted Xander's head to drift feather-light kisses over his throat, just the barest graze of sandpapery jaw, and Xander shivered. This was the rightest thing Xander had ever done, whatever his parents thought. "Are you working tonight?"

"Um, mmm, no?"

Hands brushed up Xander's back. "Let me take you out."

"Out?"

"Out. Dinner. My treat." Giles kept worrying at Xander's neck as he spoke, hot breath tickling even more places than his lips. "Can you stay tonight?"

Go home to that house, so his dad could not look at him, or stay here, knowing that his dad was imagining what he was doing while he was here. Great choice. "You want me to stay?" he asked, wanting to hear yes, wanting to be told.

"I always want you to stay."

Yeah. That was what he needed. Giles returned to his mouth, delicate kisses, all lips and nothing more. Didn't want dinner if they could just do this all night. Xander's hands fisted in Giles' shirt and Giles' hands slipped under the back of Xander's t-shirt, just far enough to find skin, a touch so light it gave him goosebumps. The man had to be a mystical magic-type to know this was exactly, exactly what Xander needed right now.

"What would you like?"

"More of this." A hand slipped further up Xander's back, and then nails scratched down his spine and he shuddered.

"To eat. Indian. Thai." Giles. "There's a new Chinese restaurant on Main Street that I haven't been to yet."

Out. Xander hadn't thought of that. Out in Sunnydale, where word could trickle back to his dad, who'd jump to the right conclusions. Not that his dad ever went out to any restaurants, but if one of his mom's friends saw, if anyone who knew him saw-

He definitely couldn't be seen with Giles now. He hadn't worried too much before, it wasn't like his parents would see him with some random guy and assume 'whoops, gay'. Now it was exactly like that. Great. His dad had figured him out, and it just put him deeper in the closet.

"Xander?"

"Maybe we should just stay in."

But Giles had seen his reaction, knew it wasn't about wanting to snuggle. "You don't want to be seen."

"It's not that. It's just, my parents."

Giles sighed, getting that look he always got whenever he was reminded that he had a boyfriend who was a kid with parents that required sneaking from. "Of course. We could go further afield. Fairview has a few I haven't tried."

Easy as that.

"Would that be all right?" Giles prompted.

"Yeah."

"What shall we do until then?" The way Giles was staring at his mouth made his vote obvious. And it was tempting. But.

Xander checked the clock. It was early afternoon. Time for plenty of sex, or... "Would you mind if I went to see Willow?"

The flicker of disappointment was kind of nice, before Giles looked resigned. "That's probably a good idea."

They pulled apart, and Xander picked up his bag to drop upstairs. Giles stood as well. "If you want to leave a few things here, clothes and such, I've cleared a nightstand for you."

A nightstand of his own, in Giles' bedroom. Xander did want. "Thanks."

"Though I'm sure you already noticed," he added with a pointed look and a wry smile.

It still made Xander feel bad, and Giles' squeeze of his shoulder didn't make it much better.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Hey."

"Oh." Willow's face dropped when she found Xander at the door.

"It's okay. I'm not here to yell at you."

"Oh." She squirmed. "You can."

"Can I come in?"

"Of course."

She led him in. They'd settled in pretty well, posters up and school-stuff strewn over the desk. Willow sat on her bed, all neat with her knees together and her hands clutching each other tightly in her lap, like she was waiting for the lecture. Is that how she thought of him?

Xander sat on Buffy's bed. What was he supposed to say, when Willow already thought he was some kind of old fart? And apparently, he was. "So you guys sat down and had a meeting and decided 'Let's not tell Xander?'"

Willow pouted. "I know how you feel about drugs. I didn't think you'd want to know."

Yeah, okay. That was true. Xander really wished he didn't. "Does Buffy know?"

"I haven't said anything." She jutted out her chin. "I'm not stealing stereos to pay for my habit and injecting heroin into my thighs. It's just a little weed sometimes."

"Why are you mad at me?"

"I'm not mad at you!"

"You're yelling at me."

"I'm not-" She closed her mouth, realising how loud she'd got.

"We used to talk about stuff, Will."

"Maybe I just wanted this for myself. It's something I do with Oz. I'm not in high school anymore. I can try things. You still think I'm a big nerd."

"I never thought you were a nerd."

Willow gave him her best pants-on-fire glare.

"Okay, yeah, but the good kind." He tried a smile.

She folded her arms, not really up for lifting the mood. "Well, I'm not a kid anymore, and I can break a few rules and still get good grades."

"You don't remember what happened last time you decided to get all rebel without a cause?"

"Yeah, I found you a date for the prom."

"Then I should thank you for the most terrifying night of my life."

"Xander-"

"Will. I'm not lecturing you. Do you hear me lecturing?" He stood up. "I was just surprised, that's all. And I'm trying to understand."

"What's to understand? I like how it feels."

Same as Giles. Didn't anyone listen in health class? "So... how does it feel?"

Her eyes went wide. "Are you asking-"

"No! No, I just... I'm curious, that's all."

After a couple of seconds, she came over and sat beside him. "Like floating. You just kind of ride along, not thinking, just drifting in your head."

He wanted to know if she'd tried anything else, but he was hating this conversation. It made him feel further from her than ever. "I gotta go. Got a hot date."

She smiled, but she looked a bit sad, too. "Knock him dead, Xander."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles locked the car and came to join him on the sidewalk. There weren't many people on the street, and nobody Xander knew.

"It's up on the corner."

There was at least ten inches between them, but Xander felt like they were carrying rainbow flags. It bothered him, that some part of him was embarrassed. Not of Giles. Or of being gay, not really. But he kept hearing his dad say 'faggot' and he couldn't stop wondering if the group of girls who passed them were thinking it, or that guy across the street in the cafe. And maybe his dad didn't know anyone in Fairview, but there was still a chance. Maybe Xander needed to break Giles to him a piece at a time.

Giles held the door open for him, and Xander stepped inside, grateful to see the place was pretty empty. This was the fanciest place Xander had ever been in his life. The waiter had a bow-tie and a towel over his arm. It was probably nothing to Giles. Probably the crummiest place he'd ever been.

He trailed Giles and the waiter to the table with its extremely white cloth, and started praying to every god ever mentioned in Giles' enormous library that he wouldn't spill anything.

Giles gave him a careful look. "Is this all right?"

"It's nice." As long as he didn't spill anything. And no one who knew his parents came in.

"Nice-nice, or nice, you wish we'd gone for burgers?"

Xander grinned, relaxing a little. "I'll let you know after I've compared their fries."

Xander had penne - less spill-factor than spaghetti - with meatballs, and Giles had gnocchi in some sort of cheese sauce that Xander was definitely going to order if they ever came back here. Giles didn't even complain about all the little dumplings that disappeared off his plate. Maybe it wasn't better than a perfect pizza, but it was pretty good. And pizza generally wasn't served with a side of steaming lust. Giles barely looked away all meal, and it made Xander self-conscious in a good way.

Xander licked the last of the gelato from his spoon and slouched back in his seat, resting his hands on his swollen belly. "Don't look at me like that. I'm way too stuffed for sex."

Giles' gaze slid upwards, and Xander's face was burning even before he turned far enough to see the crisp white shirt of the waiter. Would they get thrown out?

The guy smiled indulgently. "Is there anything else, sirs?"

"No, I think just the check, and some boxes for the leftovers."

Xander waited for the waiter to escape. "Sorry."

Giles settled a hand over Xander's, calming the attack they were making on the napkin. Xander was used to paper ones that could be torn up. "For what? Disappointing him?"

"I can't figure you out."

"Oh?"

"I never know whether to expect the guy who jumped me two feet out of Buffy's line of sight or the guy who had to practice asking a chair on a date."

Giles grinned, sudden and warm. "I like to keep you guessing." He was good at it.

When they headed out into the warm night, Xander walked close, and slipped an arm around Giles' waist. Right out in public. Couldn't always be up to Giles to make with the guessing. Even so, Xander didn't relax until Giles draped an arm over his shoulders in return. If he couldn't do this in Sunnydale, then he was going to do it here. Out and proud, as long as his parents couldn't see him.

Giles really didn't mind being seen with him. The street was deserted, but it still felt showy. Xander smiled to himself, and squeezed, and was squeezed back. He hadn't really thought about this stuff before. He'd thought about sex with Giles. A lot. He'd thought about long, comfortable nights researching upcoming demon invasions, or even just sitting around. But he hadn't imagined walking down the street together. He wouldn't have imagined how much he'd like the feeling. Also the feeling that they were going to go home now, and have some fantastic sex.

They reached the Citroen too soon. Xander climbed in and pulled down his seat belt, but a hand stopped him before he could click it shut.

Giles was sliding across, pulling the belt from his hand and guiding it out of the way. Xander realised what he was doing but didn't believe it until Giles tugged him into a kiss, caramel-sweet and Giles-sexy, hands sliding over button-shirt and jeans, and Xander would have asked "Here?" but his mouth was full, and who was he to argue, anyway? Xander wrapped his hands around Giles, squeezing his long lean body, one brave hand straying down to squeeze one perfect round butt cheek. Giles mmphed in pleasure, pressing Xander a little harder against the car door.

Xander almost laughed aloud. Still had his thing for cars. He squeezed Giles' butt again and then brought his hand around to squeeze his dick, and that got him a loud gasp.

"You want it here?" Xander asked, rubbing the length of him through his pants, pressing as Giles jerked up.

"I wanted it in the restaurant. I've been hard since the appetiser."

"I got that impression."

A hand worked under Xander's shirt to rub his chest, and the other massaged its way up Xander's thigh, sliding under him to cup his ass. Xander was so deep in the kiss he almost - but only almost - missed the way Giles' fingers were working along the centre seam of his pants.

He squirmed against them and squeezed Giles' ass harder. Giles may have been tying himself up over Xander's age, but he did want it. He wanted to have sex with - fuck - Xander, wanted it badly enough that his fingers could creep past his rock-solid principles. How hot was that? He whispered into Giles' ear, "Tell me."

"Hm?"

Their jaws rubbed and then more kisses. "Tell me what you want. What do you want to do with me?"

"God, I want to have you." It burst out of him on a rasping breath, like he'd been holding it back for weeks.

Xander pulled out of the kiss. "Drive."

"What?"

Xander squeezed Giles' dick again. "Take me to bed."

"I'm in no state to drive." But he slid back across to his own seat, finally pulling his lusty stare away to adjust himself in his pants and slip his glasses back on, and he started the engine.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles parked the car and Xander grabbed the leftovers and jumped out before they could get tangled again, hurrying up the stairs and down into the courtyard with Giles at his heels. Giles caught him at the front door, spinning him around and kissing him against it as one hand blindly fumbled the key in the lock.

They fell in as it swung open, almost landing on the floor, but a couple of quick steps brought them right, Giles catching him with one arm around his waist and swinging him upright, and Xander laughed.

"Upstairs," he urged, "bed."

"Yes." Giles pushed him with one hand, groping his ass with the other while Xander tried to make it up backwards, so he didn't have to break the kiss. He didn't want to lose a second of Giles being this hungry for him, didn't want to give Giles any chance to slow this down and worry about what Xander had and hadn't done and what Giles should or shouldn't do. He wanted this: Giles unleashed.

They fell across the bed, Xander astride Giles' hips, Giles pawing at Xander's clothes, Xander tugging Giles' shirt out of his trousers, wanting skin. This undressing thing would have been easier if they'd thought of it while they were still standing. Xander yanked and a couple of buttons went flying. "Sorry."

But Giles' grin was feral. He pulled Xander's shirt over his head in one smooth move, until it got caught on his wrists and they both had to untwist it to undo the cuff buttons, Giles letting out a string of curses that made Xander giggle, giddy. At last, shirt off and he was yanked down, banging his lip against Giles' teeth, and a hard hand around the back of his neck held him there. Xander squirmed, Giles' furred chest scratching his bare skin, their dicks restrained by trousers and jeans, that hand kneading his neck.

Not enough skin, but Xander couldn't stop long enough to get either of their pants off and what was he thinking, wearing tight jeans on a night like this?

Giles' hands between them, giving him a squeeze and then working open Xander's fly, but instead of pushing them down, Giles slipped a hand down the back, inside Xander's jeans but over his shorts, to cup and squeeze Xander's ass. Yes. "Yes," Xander said out loud, so there'd be no doubt, and the hand squeezed harder, a couple of fingers sliding between his cheeks. It felt good, but there was cotton in the way. "Too much clothes," Xander muttered, but Giles ignored him, working his other hand down the front of his shorts to grab his dick, and then the butt-hand was gone.

He was about to protest when Giles took two fingers in his mouth, working his tongue around them, staring hard into Xander's eyes. Whoa.

Back down they went, inside his shorts this time, fingers sliding into his crack, over his asshole. He felt it straight through to his dick. "More." Slick, wet circles, god, he was so sensitive, there were fireworks up his spine.

"I can feel how tight you are," Giles whispered, and Xander was embarrassed and totally turned on. "I'm going to take my time with you. Just this tonight."

"Wha? No! I'm ready!"

Ready and willing and he'd finally found the courage for this so no waiting. A finger slipped inside him and Xander moaned so loud they must have heard it next door. Just a finger, and this was a whole new ballgame.

"I don't want you ready." The finger twisted and Xander hung on. "I want you past ready. Desperate." If Xander didn't seem desperate, then he was gonna have to work on his communication skills. Giles curled up to take Xander's nipple in his mouth. Oh god.

Xander was finding out just how noisy he could be, which was funny, because he'd never really imagined he would be but "Giles!" the things that man was doing-

"Xander," Giles grated back, working him inside and out, and inside out. Xander didn't know what to do with his hands. The obvious, he supposed. A button and zip had never seemed so complicated, Giles' finger was inside him and Xander couldn't stop squirming, but he got there, one hand in the sweaty heat of Giles' pants, the other scratching through Giles' chest hair, so now he was the one groaning. The expression on his face... total pleasure, total abandon. No one who'd ever put their hand around Giles' dick could ever call him stuffy.

"Bite me."

Ow, he bit hard, and squeezed Xander's dick hard, and the finger inside twisted. Xander's eyes closed, feeling about with his hands until he found a nipple and gave it a twist, and Giles bit harder, so Xander cried out, and then huffed a laugh. "Your neighbours are gonna be banging on the wall."

"Neighbours moved out. And I like the noise." Giles bit him again and Xander didn't hold back. He let his mouth run, swear words and encouragement and inccoherent groans, so much from that one little finger. Two fingers, nothing little about them, and Xander was spinning on them, as Giles pulled his dick just right.

"Too much clothes," Xander managed, and Giles must have agreed because he twisted his fingers and slowly wiggled them free. Xander couldn't catch the gasp. Giles was up in a second, dropping his pants as fast as Xander could lift his feet in the air to kick off his own. He was beautiful, dick thick and bobbing high, and Xander wanted it inside him more than he'd wanted anything in a really long time.

Another second gone and Giles was back, lying full length against him so their dicks rubbed. He put his knees between Xander's and pushed his legs wide, and his fingers slipped easily back inside. "You like this?"

"Fuck yeah." It was fireworks back there, and a choir of angels and all the big explosions from Die Hard. Xander was pushing back for more and pushing forward into Giles' fist; Giles was trying to kiss him but Xander had to bury his face in Giles' neck because this was all he could handle right now. Giles was muttering about how beautiful he was, and Xander could only let out a string of unmanly whimpers against Giles' throat until those fingers hit just the right spot and Xander moaned as the orgasm hit from a totally new direction, his hands gripping like claws into Giles' biceps, and Giles never let go.





The Giles Thing VI
by Dr Squidlove
April 2009


Giles muttered and wriggled in his sleep, rolling onto his back so the sheet slipped low on his waist. Nice. Just a little tug from Xander's toes and - yep - it slipped down to his thighs.

Xander never tired of looking at Giles' dick. And he hadn't had much opportunity to see it small like this. He propped himself up on his elbow and traced it lightly with his finger, watching the pink skin shift under his touch. It was so soft. Xander could take it in his mouth, make it grow, see how long it took to make Giles come. Or he could... nope, actually, option one sounded like a winner.

He wriggled down the bed and leaned over one long pale thigh to nuzzle the wiry hair, breathing the delicous smell of Giles deep into his body. This smell made him horny. Well - hornier. Xander was still riding the high from last night. Giles' dick felt strange on his lips, and it tasted different, like this, but already he could feel it stirring. One soft suck and it was stretching along his tongue, and Giles' breathing changed rhythm and a hand touched his hair.

Xander looked up but he was still asleep. Just... under Xander's power. Nice. A little rub of unshaven chin and Giles' hips were lifting, a light scratch of nails up his spread thigh and his legs were twitching.

Not a lot of detail lingered from Xander's interlude with Faith. At some point she'd shoved him southward and told him to "Lick it," and he hadn't had the first clue what he was doing, but he'd licked it, and he'd seemed to do okay. But he hadn't had time to map the landscape, so to speak, and he realised he might never, now. Never have the chance to linger like this over a woman, to figure out how they worked.

But Giles... If he licked along here, it made Giles harder, and sucking just here did the same, and if he traced the soft place here Giles always made a little 'oh' sound - apparently even in his sleep.

Xander worked him with his tongue until he was huge and hard. Who'd ever have imagined that one day Xander would be able to do this to Giles? Let alone everything they did last night. Xander was ready for another round of that, and more.

He wanted to know if he could do it to Giles. He moved up on his knees and wet his finger, then took him in, lips sliding down the delicious wet length of him until Giles touched the back of his throat and his nose was buried in musky grey hair and he pushed against Giles' ass, until his finger slid inside. The hand on Xander's head rubbed and pulled a bit, and he sighed, "Jenny."

Xander froze.

Giles pulled back and rocked up to jab his throat again. "God, Jenny."

He didn't know what to do. He was cold all over and his skin felt too tight but Giles was doing the work now, thrusting in his mouth and onto his finger and cupping his head and making sounds, and most of them were "Jenny." Xander didn't know how to stop it so he gave in and sucked, made it go faster until he felt Giles' stomach clench and then he pulled back, breaking Giles' grip because no way was he going to swallow.

He sat back and watched as Giles' dick jumped and twitched and shot a white puddle over his stomach, not knowing why it made him feel so ashamed.

It seemed like the sort of thing a girl would be mad about, another woman's name cried out in sleep, but Xander's jaw was clenched hard, and so were his fists, and his stomach. In all his hideous public high school experiences, he'd never felt so humiliated as he did right here, with no one to see.

Giles' panting slowed into one last sigh, and he opened his eyes. Then they opened some more. A lot more. Barely awake to well and truly awake in point-zero-five seconds.

Yup. Xander. Not Jenny Calendar.

Suddenly Giles was scrabbling back off the bed, looking around in panic. He leapt on his dressing gown and yanked it on. "Xander, what in god's name are you doing?"

Xander stared at him, slack-jawed. Clearly, he had absolutely no idea what he was doing. Clearly, Giles didn't want him to be doing it.

Giles grabbed his glasses from the nightstand and fumbled them on, took one look at Xander and ripped them off again, jerking around to face off to the side, staring at some imaginary point beyond the wall. "Put some clothes on."

"I'm sorry, I-" It wasn't okay to wake him up like that? Or had Giles had some dream-revelation that he'd rather be with an attractive, intelligent woman his own age?

Jeans landed in his lap. "Please, for the love of... just put them on," Giles said, more gently than before. Strained, rather than disgusted, which was great, 'cause that was far more ego-boosting.

The denim felt cold and stiff in Xander's hands. He twisted to the edge of the bed furthest from Giles, and had way more trouble pulling them on than he should have. He saw his shirt lying half-under the bed, and pulled that on, too. He didn't know what to do next, so he just stayed where he was, like an idiot.

"Now," Giles began, from the other side of the room, and there was a long, horrible pause, until it was more of a 'then'. "What are you doing?"

"I didn't think you'd mind." Was he still mad about Xander going through his room? He hadn't been last night. Everything was fine, better than fine, last night.

"Didn't think-" Giles huffed. "Xander, your ability to not-think is truly extraordinary."

Wow. And wow. Xander was getting seriously close to barfing. And he really, really didn't want to stay here. The rules had changed and he didn't understand, and he had to go.

He was halfway down the stairs before Giles called after him, all the way down before he called again, and he would have been out the door before the third if he hadn't had to struggle to get his sneakers on. He felt a hand clamp on his shoulder and shrugged it off, but now Giles was blocking the door. An immovable object in a terry-cloth dressing gown.

"Xander, slow down, I'm sorry, I'm not handling this well." Giles put his hands on Xander's shoulders again, then reconsidered and saved one hand for holding the neck of his dressing gown shut. "I'm surprised, and I'm never at my best in the mornings." Xander couldn't look him in the eye, but he couldn't push him out of the way, either, so he stood uselessly where he was. There was silence, until Giles spoke again. "Why did you do that?"

Please, Xander told himself, don't start crying like a girl. His throat burned, and he barely managed to speak at all. "You said it was up to me, to lead. You told me to take control. You said you were okay with anything."

"If I said any such thing, I'm quite certain that isn't what I meant."

"I don't know what I've done wrong." His voice went too high. He wasn't used to all the sex rules Giles probably knew. Was... was it not okay to touch Giles while he was sleeping? Was this one of those weird bottom-top things?

Even not looking directly at him, Xander could see Giles gaping. Fine, yeah, he didn't get it. Xander Harris is stupid, hardly breaking news, so could he please just explain what he'd done wrong? Xander screwed up his courage and looked him in the eye. "Everything was perfectly okay last night, so what's different now?"

"Last night?"

"Is it because you were asleep? I was waking you up-"

"Last night?" Giles took a step back and banged into the front door. "What happened last night?"

"Last night we had what was probably the best sex of my life, or actually it was definitely the best, because it's not like it's hard to account for all the times I'm comparing it to, is it?"

"Dear god." Giles covered his face. It seemed to be all he had to say on the subject.

Xander folded his arms tightly. Something was way, way not right. "You don't remember last night? Dinner? The car? The sex?"

"I remember no such things."

"How can you not... Are you high?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Are you... no, you were asleep..." Wasn't like he could have been toking up in bed, but... "But that stuff can repeat on you! This is what I was talking about! Long term consequences of drugs, yeah, we learned all about it in freshman year!"

"No, I am not high and I think you should show some respect. I don't know what is going on in your head, but it all stops now."

The air rushed out of him. Xander backed up, limping with one shoe on, one shoe off. "Are you breaking up with me?"

That got his attention. "I beg your pardon?"

"I thought stuff was going well. With us, together... Is this... Is this because I went through your stuff?"

"You went... We're not together, Xander," he snapped. "Do you honestly believe that I would enter into a relationship with you?"

Xander couldn't breathe. "But you did. You kissed me."

"That is entirely ridiculous."

"You kissed *me*. You said you wanted-"

"Xander!" Giles put his hands up for calm. "Clearly there is something going on. Think about this rationally. How likely do you think it is, that I would... do that?"

Likely? It wasn't just unlikely; it was impossible, but since when did that mean anything in Sunnydale? "You don't remember anything at all."

Giles didn't hear him. "We're living on a Hellmouth," he said, urgingly. "There is no end to the mystical forces that could be playing with our minds."

The Hellmouth. Yes. Right. Xander latched on. Giles wasn't breaking up with him; they'd just fallen through the Hellmouth. And Giles had gone crazy. That was bad, but not as bad as the breaking up option.

"That's right, think it through." Giles was sounding more and more certain. "Do you honestly believe that I would take advantage of you that way? Think, Xander."

"I'm thinking!" So yes. Something hellmouthy was going on. Maybe they'd woken up in that evil universe where vampire-Willow came from. Or this was a spell, clouding Giles' brain. "All right. So we need to figure out why you've forgotten the last two weeks."

"Me?" Giles pulled in his chin, indignant. "I suggest we concentrate on magical causes of your delusion. Bene Curatur, or Pendleton's Phantasmagoria... Novella's journals may have something..." He crossed to the bookshelf and started skimming titles.

"Me? It's not me. It's you!"

"It most certainly is not."

"Is too!"

"For pity's sakes-"

"You know what? This is easy to solve." Xander strode to the phone and started dialling.

"What are you doing?"

"Calling Buffy."

Giles was across the room in a blink, hand slamming down on the hook. "No, I don't think we will start the day by telling Buffy that I've woken up in bed with her adolescent best friend."

Xander didn't put the phone down. "In point of fact, we started the day with your dick in my mouth and you calling me 'Jenny'." The colour drained from Giles' face, and Xander wanted to kick himself. He couldn't believe he'd thrown out her name like that. "Buffy can fix this."

"How am I going to explain this to her?"

"Seriously, Giles, she's fine with it."

"I should hardly think she would be."

"She said as long as she didn't see us making out-"

"Jenny?"

"Buffy."

They stared at each other, Giles at least as confused as Xander. Eventually Giles pulled the phone out of Xander's hand, gathering himself together, eyes darting about the apartment as he processed what was going on. "I don't know what's happened. Neither of us do. I think we can at least agree there is something not right."

"That's a big 10-4. So let's call Buffy and Willow."

"We can't... Let's not do anything rash." He rubbed his forehead, watching Xander from the corner of his eye, and then he shook his head. He was screwing up his courage for something. "I don't want to play down the enormity of this morning, and I certainly don't want to hurt you or make this any worse for you." Bit late for that. "But we mustn't involve anyone else until we know what's going on. It's very important - and I disgust myself as I say this - it's very important that I not be fired. For Buffy's sake. I'll do whatever you need me to do to make you comfortable with what happened: avoid you, talk to you, pretend that nothing happened at all, but whatever I've done, my first priority must be to protect Buffy. I can't do that if Principal Snyder has me jailed or deported."

Well. Huh. Okay.

Xander waited for the world to settle itself comfortably in its new position. "Snyder."

Giles ran a hand through his hair, barely able to look at Xander. "The man is a weasel but he'll be well within his rights - his actual responsibilities, for once - to have me charged. I am quite sure he will take obscene pleasure in doing so."

"You're worried about Snyder. Firing you from Sunnydale High library."

Giles heaved a frustrated sigh. "I'm worried about Buffy being left without a watcher. I feel monstrous, but a student-teacher dalliance, even if the teacher in question was unconscious at the time, is going to draw attention that we just can't-"

"Shut up, Giles. God, just, stop, now."

That was astoundingly effective. Giles froze, mouth open.

"What year is it?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Just tell me what year it is. Tell me, I don't know, what grade I'm in."

Revelation dawned. "Of course!" He put his hand reassuringly on Xander's shoulder. "It's 1997, Xander. You're a junior at Sunnydale High."

"No!" Xander threw off the hand and stomped across the room, and then stomped right back again. "Twice! How could this happen twice?? No, it's not 1997, and it's not 1972, and there is no Sunnydale High because we blew it up!" And maybe he should be remembering that whole 'don't explain the future' rule but he really didn't care right now. "The year is 1999. You're an ex-librarian. I'm graduated and entirely legal. And you and I have been intimately acquainted with each others' naked bodies for almost two weeks, now."

Giles blinked. "So you think one of us has travelled through time..." There was disbelief in his tone, but he was still figuring through it.

"I'd hate to dwell on the past - or the future, in your case - but going by track record, I'm gonna say it's you."

"But that would mean that you and I really..." And that was leaning back towards disbelief, with a good strong measure of distaste.

"Yeah. We really."

"Look. Time travel is virtually unheard of. It's far more likely that this is some kind of mind-problem."

"Putting aside your last bout of time-travel for the moment, okay?" Xander bit his lip, thinking. "A mind problem. You mean like amnesia? Maybe you have amnesia?"

The moment of cooperative peace collapsed. "No. I do not mean like amnesia. I mean like perhaps you are completely bloody barmy. I am not in a relationship with you. I will not be in a relationship with you. I would *never* be in a relationship with you."

Xander counted to ten in his head, and then he counted to twenty, and then he picked up the phone, and started punching in Buffy's number. "This is easy to settle."

"You are not calling Buffy."

"Funny, 'cos that looks exactly like what I'm doing."

Giles grabbed for the receiver.

Xander jumped away and Giles caught his arm and somehow they were wrestling for it, Giles peeling at Xander's fingers as Xander tried to twist out of his reach.

"Give me my telephone!"

"Let me call Buffy!"

"Over my dead and beheaded body."

Giles' arms were long and his elbows were sharp and the man trained a slayer. Xander didn't have a chance fighting fair. So he bowed to let Giles pull him tighter until he could sink his teeth into Giles' wrist. Giles yelped and the hand loosened and Xander darted around the desk, jerking the cord over the lamp, clutching the phone in both hands.

"Give it to me!" Giles growled, eyes glinting dangerously, feinting from side to side, dressing gown swinging in time.

"No." Xander clutched the handset so tight it creaked in his grip.

"Give it!"

"No!"

Giles jumped left and Xander leapt to keep the desk between them, hoping to god he wouldn't just pull the entire phone off the desk. Was cordless too advanced for him?

"Give me the damned phone, Xander!"

"Will you calm the fuck down!"

Giles jumped right and Xander leapt back, then left and Xander was off his balance and Giles had him, arms reaching around to grab for his wrists; they were twisting, falling, Xander pushed back and back they went and he felt Giles hit the desk and they both went sprawling in a pile of tumbling books.

"Shit," swore Xander.

"Dammit," snapped Giles.

And they glared at each other over their shared custody of the now-disconnected handset.

The scattered books caught Giles' attention, and he frowned. He wouldn't remember getting all these books out. Xander could reason with him.

Xander surrendered the phone to pick one out, struggling to sit up. "This is one of your journals from the British Museum. Do you know why it's out?"

Giles looked at it, but didn't respond.

"We were researching a medallion you had there, the Medallion of Temakra. It's for casting spells on the Slayer. Or gardening. How would I know that, if I made this all up in my head?"

The phone was slowly lowered to the carpet. "Nobody knows that."

"We know it now. It's been stolen, and we're trying to prepare."

Giles shook his head, less certain. "How do you know that?"

"You told me. I pulled these books for you."

Giles stared around the pile, out of arguments even if he wasn't ready to admit defeat.

"I remember why these books are here," Xander pushed. "I remember pulling this one, and... this one, and those two out of the garage. I remember these sitting here yesterday. Do you remember?"

At last, he shook his head, and Xander fought the urge to heave a dramatic sigh of relief.

"So this is definitely my world. Now we just need to figure out if you're a time traveller, or an amnesiac."

"Time travel is-"

"Yeah, nonsense, I know. But today, I've got two years of knowing stuff that you don't, and I'm telling you, time travel is on the table."

Giles rubbed his jaw. "If it were true... I don't know how we'd know which... I couldn't look terribly different in two years."

The neck of his gown had fallen wide, giving Xander a sliver of skin almost to navel, and he realised there was one easy difference between Giles then and Giles now. He leaned forward to push the fabric back, and Giles jerked away, clutching it closed.

"What are you doing?"

"Easy." Xander tried for soothing. "I promise not to do anything that would send Buffy into therapy." He put his fingers on the edge of the collar and pushed it down Giles' arm to reveal half the pale chest. There were the white round marks on his shoulder, and there was the long, jagged line under his rib. Xander reached to trace it, and looked up into Giles' confounded expression. "You also have marks here, and here," he touched the other side of Giles' chest, and his thigh through the gown, "and the first two fingers of your left hand are crooked."

Giles lifted his hands to compare them. It was a moment before he spoke. "What happened to me?"

Xander had no idea whether he should answer. He was sure he'd heard you were supposed to let the memory come back on its own, but it was entirely possible he'd got that from a late night movie.

"Was I in an accident?" Giles touched the first scar Xander had shown him. "No. This is a burn. I was tortured?"

"Yeah."

Neither of them knew what to say. Giles looked sick.

"Come on," Xander said at last, sure that if he didn't, Giles would start asking for details about the scars. He stood, and offered a hand to pull Giles up. "You should get dressed while I start pulling books."

Giles took the hand, but let go as soon as he was on his feet. He didn't move any further. He was watching Xander with a weird frown.

"Yeah. I can find books, now. I spent more time in the library researching than any teenage boy in the history of ever. Go on. Go get dressed."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was almost fifteen minutes before Giles came back down, wearing his pinstripe shirt buttoned all the way to his throat, and braces, and his good grey tweedy trousers, like he was off to a day of staff meetings. Xander wondered if he'd considered wearing his tie, too.

Xander lifted the pile of books in his hands. "I've got a starter pile going. I don't know what else there is for memory spells."

Giles skimmed the spines. "That's a good start." He rubbed the back of his head, awkwardly. "We should first rule out the most obvious-"

"No head injuries for a couple of months, now."

Giles smiled vaguely down at the floor. "Magic it is, then." He crossed to the bookshelf and did a double-take at the collection. "These are usually... My word, we really did blow up the school, didn't we?"

"With a big ol' kaboom. The rest of the books are in the garage."

"We blew up the school, but we took time to pack first."

"No good doing it the other way around." Xander dumped his books on the now-empty desk, and took one to the couch.

Giles had just piled up an armload of books when the door swung open.

"What happened?"

"My god, are you okay?"

Giles just about dropped everything he'd collected. "Buffy. Willow."

Willow made space on the desk for her laptop. "Oz is on his way."

Buffy went straight to Giles and grabbed him to get a good look in his face. "Giles?"

"Buffy. You've grown." Giles stared at her a second longer, and then turned an accusing glare on Xander.

Xander shrugged. "Replugged the phone and called them while you were changing. It was the right thing to do and my conscience is clear."

"I hardly think all this attention is necessary."

Buffy frowned at him. "Have you lost your memory?"

"It does seem-"

"Do you know why?"

"We're not yet-"

"Do you know how to fix it?"

"No, but-"

"Then you should do what your shiny new boyfriend says. Wait." Buffy looked at Xander, and then back to Giles. "So to you, we're still high school juniors."

"Yes."

"So... you must have greeted the day with a big old dose of disturbing."

It was amazing that Giles still had the capacity to go even paler. "You have no idea."

Xander kept quiet. Giles with amnesia was a thousand times better than a Giles without amnesia who wanted to break up with him.

"So where do we start?" Willow asked, ready to get to work. "Tales of Mnemosyne kind of specialises in memory spells, and there'll be some neutralisers in Spells of Hidden Things if it's a charm, but we could never cover everything. I could do a spell to test for spells, but the magic shop's out of walnut leaves."

Giles stared at her with a look of wonder. Oh yeah. Witch-Willow was probably kind of new, too. A lot had changed in two years.

"Donuts," announced Oz, coming in the door.

"Donuts! And Oz!" greeted Willow.

"Do I know you?" asked Giles.

His footsteps slowed. "...Possibly not."

"Oh." Willow frowned. "Giles, Oz. Oz is with me."

"Ah. Hello."

"Hey."

Buffy planted herself on the arm of the couch. "So, the gang's all here. Do we know anything?"

"We know he doesn't," threw in Xander.

"Thank you." Giles' tone was clipped. "And no. We really don't know a thing. This could be a spell, a curse, a side-effect, even simple psychological repression, the last of which is sounding both increasingly likely and more appealing by the minute."

"What's the last thing you remember?" asked Willow.

"Before this morning," Buffy clarified, unnecessarily.

Giles twitched. He shifted his books to his other arm and pressed his glasses further up his nose. "There, was, ah, quite a bit of excitement recently. I suppose most notably, Spike and Drusilla were killed."

The others all looked at each other. Killed? Oh. That. Angel hadn't even gone psycho, yet.

Buffy kicked her feet back and forth. "You're talking about after Spike tried to kill Angel to fix Drusilla, and they had the Order of Maraccas out on me, and Kendra showed up flying luggage class?"

"Yes."

"Spike and Drusilla, not so much with the killed," Buffy explained. "That's the last thing?"

Giles hesitated. "Most recently, your mother, ah, took up dating..."

"Creepy Robot Guy."

"Yes, quite. We destroyed what was left of him on Thursday."

Wow. That was forever ago. Before Xander's spell-gone-wrong and Cordy decided to date him in public. Before Kendra was killed. Before Oz. Angel hadn't gone psycho, or killed Miss Calendar, or tortured Giles.

Buffy shuddered. "So that's your end."

"And your end?"

"It's the post-summer slack season. No unusual demonic activity, no conspicuously-scattered magical herbs, no master-villain on the loose. The freakiest thing around here at the moment is you two."

"What about Spike?" Willow jumped in before Xander could tell Buffy to shut up. "He connects to just before Giles' memory went, and we know he's into casting spells on people, and he's been back to Sunnydale at least once."

"Why would he want Giles to forget the time he wasn't here?" Oz asked.

"We don't know that the timing is intentional." Giles spoke slowly, thinking aloud. "It's extremely difficult to tailor a memory spell to a specific time period. If this is a spell, it's more likely that it's a general one, and the specific date is a coincidence."

"What's the point of wiping Giles' memory when the rest of us remember the last two years?" Xander wondered.

Buffy's face twisted. "Is there something you know from the last two years, that you haven't told us?"

"I don't know."

They all went quiet, thinking.

Giles waved at the pile of books Xander had stacked beside the desk after their little wrestling match earlier. "I've clearly been working on something, recently; perhaps that is what has someone bothered."

Xander straightened the pile a little more. "Just the medallion being stolen from the British Museum. That's pretty much your obsession of the week."

"The medallion shouldn't be a serious issue. My notes were quite extensive."

"And wrong."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Sorry Giles, he's right." Willow fished through the stack until she found the print-outs they'd been poring over days earlier. "You were using a bad translation. We had to go back to the Sumerian to make the charm."

Giles shuffled though the papers she handed him. "We're working from computers now?"

"Yup," Buffy responded. "1999 Giles is fast on his way to joining the twentieth century." She hopped off the couch to look over Willow's shoulder. "That's a language?"

Giles rolled his eyes. "It's good to know something in the universe is constant."

"So do we think this is about hiding the medallion, or not?"

"Seems like the best theory we've got right now," Buffy decided. "Someone doesn't want you to figure out this medallion thingy." She traipsed off to the kitchen. "I tell you. Secret Council vault. Maybe some child-proof lids for the slayer-cursing stuff. Is that too much to ask?"

Giles grew thoughtful. "With me impaired, perhaps we should contact the Council." He raised his head at the heavy silence. "Has something happened to the Council?"

"No," Willow answered, at last. "Nothing happened to the Council. They're just... We're not really friends with the Council anymore."

"Not friends with the Council." There was the grindingly sarcastic tone they all knew and resented. "Did they forget your birthday?"

"If only," Xander muttered under his breath.

"I quit," Buffy said, simply.

"You quit," Giles parroted.

"Not killing things. Just... following their orders. I mean, really, if we're gonna get down to technicalities, I fired them. Gave them the sack."

Giles gaped at her. "Buffy, you have a sacred duty. You can't just throw that away in a fit of adolescent pique. The resources they have are invaluable to our work. You don't fire the people who support you."

"They didn't support me-" "Their approach may seem-" "-they fired you."

"Buffy!" But Xander had jumped in too late.

Giles trailed off, and then his eyes opened wide as her words sank in. "Fired." He looked terrified.

So did Buffy, hands covering her open mouth.

"Dear lord, what did I- I'm sorry."

"No." She approached him slowly. "No. They fired you for protecting me. I fired them because they didn't. I'm the Slayer, and I get to decide who my Watcher is."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Here's one that makes you forget all the books you've ever read, so you can read them again," Oz said.

Willow stretched. "So wouldn't you forget that you wanted to read them?"

Buffy looked over his shoulder. "I wouldn't mind forgetting that Holden Caulfield book."

"What if you forgot how much you hated it, and read it again?"

"Good point. Cancel the memory wipe."

Willow handed Xander a couple of books, without meeting his eyes. Had he done something? No. She had! In all the chaos and humilation and amnesia, he'd completely forgotten the pot. She'd probably be glad of... He grabbed her wrist and was halfway to asking when he remembered everyone else was there and hauled her down the hall. "Did you do this?"

"What?"

"Seriously, Willow, if you were messing around with magic, if something went wrong, you have to tell us."

"You think I would do this to him?"

Xander backtracked, "Maybe by accident, maybe you just meant to-"

"And you think I wouldn't own up?"

Of course she would, but Xander had to ask. "No... But it turns out I don't know you like I thought you did." He wanted to take it back even before he saw her reaction. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

She glared at him for a long time, and then dropped her gaze. "I'm gonna give you a pass on the grounds that you're scared out of your wits for Giles. I'd be going crazy, if it was Oz."

She headed back to the other room before he could apologise again, so he just sank back against the linen closet door. Research wasn't getting them anywhere. For once it wasn't the lack of leads: with no demons to identify, no magical clues, there was nothing to narrow the totally ridiculous number of memory spells and curses in the world.

Xander went back out, trying not to look at Giles. Every time he did, he saw last night. The way Giles had looked at him as he touched him inside. The dazed expression afterwards as they sprawled, heads sharing a pillow. It should have been just them, today, lazing about in bed, never getting dressed. Maybe a shirt or jeans to come downstairs for food, but never both at the same time. It would have been like that, Xander was sure, because something happened last night.

Ice slid down Xander's spine. The idea that what they did last night might have been what broke Giles' brain... crazy. But suddenly Xander was feeling a whole new empathy for Buffy after Angel got un-souled.

Even when he wasn't looking, he could feel Giles' gaze. In fact, he was pretty sure Giles wasn't researching at all, which meant they weren't going to get very far because no one else was finding anything, either.

He valiantly ignored Giles' boring eyes for as long as he could. It wasn't like he could blame him. Junior-year Xander probably wouldn't have coped too well with waking up in Giles' bed, either. But finally it got too much. He put his pen down on his doodle-filled legal pad and crossed to sit on the end of the couch nearest Giles, pretending he didn't notice the way Giles leaned away.

"Pretty wigged, huh?"

Giles almost managed to look neutral. "Quite."

There was no way the man wasn't wondering what cataclysmic weirdness had led him to decide Xander Harris wasn't a total moron, but Xander didn't quite know what to say now, that might make him feel better.

Giles looked at him, expression grim. "Where is Miss Calendar?"

Silence fell over the room.

"I suppose that answers my question," Giles said softly. "What happened?"

Xander could feel Buffy gathering up for her big confession, so he waved her back, touching Giles' arm and ignoring the flinch. "She was killed. She, ah... A vampire killed her."

Giles' eyes closed. "I see."

No one knew what to say to fill the space. Which made them as useless, as comfortless as they'd been in school.

If this had been his Giles, Now-Giles, Xander might have hazarded a try, but with this Giles he knew he'd make it worse by fumbling, like the king-dork he was. It wasn't fair that the man had to live through this twice. It wasn't fair the first time.

"I need to go uptairs." Giles stood, carefully keeping his distance from Xander, and climbed stiffly to his bedroom, totally clueless about the horrible irony of his escape.

"Why didn't you tell him?" Buffy hissed.

Xander looked pointedly up at the open loft and moved close enough to whisper. "Do you really think he needs to be put through all the horrific details right now? Isn't it bad enough she's dead?"

"I'm with Xander," said Oz.

Willow looked at them all. "Do you think maybe one of us should go up?"

They all looked up the stairs.

"Give him some time," Buffy decided.

They all hovered a few seconds longer, and then as one, they went back to research. Slowly they built on the already-enormous pile of books brimming with scattered bookmarks. This time without the jokes, or much of any talking at all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Willow slid another book onto the pile and sighed. "This isn't getting us anywhere. We need to know more. Did you and Giles do anything unusual last night?"

Xander's grip tightened on his pencil. "No."

"You didn't... try anything different?"

"No."

"Anything could be important, if you-"

"Are you asking if we tried a different position? Or if we summoned kinky magic stuff?"

She cowered a little, though Xander didn't know if it was his glare or the threat of details. "I know no one wants to bring it up, but the perfect happiness clause has bitten us in the butt before, you know?"

Buffy and Oz were looking at him like they'd been thinking it, too.

"He hasn't turned evil, Will. He's lost his memory, not his soul."

"Please stop," Buffy begged. "Though she's right about us not getting anywhere." She looked up to the loft, and quietly added, "We need Giles down here."

"We really do," added Willow.

"I know." Xander stood.

"Where are you going?" Buffy demanded.

"To get him."

"You can't- I think I should go up there."

"Buffy, he's my..." Xander struggled for a label that wouldn't sound stupid.

"And how thrilled is he about that right now? You're freaking him out."

Xander dodged the logic. That was their bed up there, smelling of sex, and Giles alone and upset. Xander was supposed to be the one who comforted him. Giles thought Xander was courageous, all that heart-on-the-sleeve stuff, and Xander wanted to remind him of that. "He'll get used to it."

"He knows me. He trusts me."

"Maybe you can tell him all about how fired he is!"

"Maybe you can go offer to kiss him better!"

"I can hear every word you're saying," Giles announced from the loft.

Buffy glared at Xander. "I told you," she hissed.

"You're the one who's making a big deal," Xander hissed back.

"That was not a suggestion that you whisper!" There was a creak and a clunk, and Giles came down the stairs, totally composed, book in hand. "I'm here. Spare me both your counselling sessions." He shot a look at Oz, silent in the corner. "I don't suppose you have anything to add?"

"Not as a general rule."

Buffy and Xander glared at each other.

Willow checked her watch. "We're going to have to go soon, anyway. Xander, are you okay to stay?"

"I don't need a babysitter. I've lost my memory, not my mind."

Willow ignored him. "We have class."

Buffy snorted. "I'll blow it off."

"It's Professor Walsh."

"Xander, you're it."

"I don't need a babysitter," Giles repeated.

Buffy gave him her special 'idiot' look. "Do you know why you've lost your memory?"

"No, but-"

"Xander is staying. He promises not to bad-touch you. Don't you Xander?"

"I wouldn't go anywhere anyway. Research, remember?"

"Aren't you working, tonight?"

"Yeah, but..." But he couldn't just not show up for work every time there was a Hellmouth crisis. He'd never keep a job for a whole week. "Fine. I'm not going anywhere 'til five."

"I'll be back before then."

"We'll be back."

The girls stood, Oz following. "I'm the ride."

Willow grabbed Xander and dragged him to the kitchen, to quietly ask, "Are you all right?"

"I told you. I can babysit."

"That's not what I meant."

Xander stared at the floor. "I'm fine, Will."

But she knew him better than that, and she wrapped her arms around him, squeezing hard. "We'll get him back. And don't worry about the looks he's giving you - you would have been just as wigged about this a couple of years ago." A peck on the cheek and she let go, heading back out to the main room.

Gone just in time for Xander to hear Giles speaking quietly to Buffy. "Really? Xander and I..."

"Not a situation in which I got a vote, I assure you." Xander ground his teeth. "But... you two seemed pretty cool with each other." He looked way unhappy, but he seemed to a lot more willing to believe her than Xander.

They were almost out the door when Giles took a step towards them. "The one who killed Jenny - is it dead?"

Nobody answered, and Giles' face fell.

"He's been taken care of," Xander said at last.

"I don't know what that means, but it isn't a yes."

"I sent him to hell," Buffy said quietly.

Giles nodded, satisfied, and then seemed to count off the people in the room. "What of Angel?" he asked gently.

Buffy looked down at her hands. "He left after graduation."

"After we blew up the school."

"Yeah. After that."

"I'm sorry." He hesitated. "Am I sorry?"

She smiled. "Yeah. I'm dealing. Though you still owe me ice cream."

He smiled back. "All right, then. I'll get us some ice cream."

He let them go, then, smile fading, was left watching the closed door like he was all alone in the world. Xander circled around, out of the kitchen but not too close. Not so close Giles would want to step back. "If you want, I could drive you to the cemetery. If you want to see her grave."

Giles drew a sharp breath, but after a couple of swallows he shook his head. "Perhaps tomorrow."

"Sure." He hoped this wouldn't last that long. Xander folded his arms, unfolded them. "Then I guess we should get back to research."

"I think that is our priority, right now."

Probably neither of them had ever been so grateful to have a pile of research to do. Xander definitely hadn't.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander dropped his head in his book. "I have researched until I can't research no more."

He heard Giles' book shut, and braced himself. "We are overdue for a rest."

Xander looked up. "Seriously?"

Giles was rubbing and twisting his neck. "I think we'd both be more efficient with a break and something to eat."

Eat. "Eat. Yes. Food. You're a genius." He followed Giles into the kitchen, almost running into him in the doorway where he'd stopped.

"I don't even know what I have to offer you."

"We have leftovers." Xander moved past, pulled the takeout from the fridge, bowls from the cupboard, spoons from the drawer, and started scooping. He had them in the microwave before he realised Giles was still standing in the same spot. "Are you all right?"

"You certainly know your way around."

"Yeah." Note to self: stop doing shit to freak Giles out.

"The leftovers..." He eyed the fancy containers. "They're leftover from a - a date?"

Xander rested back against the counter. "Yeah."

"All right."

Clearly it wasn't all right, but Giles was keeping it to himself. Thank god, because Xander had had about as much disgust as he could take for today. The smell of pasta and cheese filled the kitchen, making it worse. Smells of last night at the restaurant, smells from the car where Giles pinned him and pawed him and thought he was sexy and worthwhile, and not the last person on earth he would ever, ever be in a relationship with.

Xander busied himself getting drinks and forks, setting their usual places at the counter. Giles sat at the place Xander indicated, and accepted the gnocchi with a polite "Thank you." Xander passed him the pepper mill, saw the way Giles hesitated and closed his mouth. He'd been about to ask for it.

They ate in awkward silence, until Giles paused between bites. "We blew up the school. Care to elaborate?"

Perfect. That story was pretty safe, and Xander could stretch it out for a meal. "You want the long story, or the really long story?"

"At this moment, an already-solved mystery is deeply appealing."

Xander shovelled in more pasta while he figured out where to start. "Turns out the mayor was evil."

Giles considered that as he chewed and swallowed. "It does stand to reason. Is that the long story?"

"That's the beginning."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"A rogue slayer. That is deeply disturbing."

"Yeah, well, she's all coma-riffic for now."

The trouble with managing a whole meal of conversation was that eventually, it became comfortable enough that Giles could ask what was on his mind. "I've truly engaged in some kind of relationship with you."

"Some kind, yeah."

"But what..."

"What do you see in me? I don't know, either."

He looked down at the counter for a second, until he had come up with a not-too-horrible response. "Xander, you're a fine person. It's just that I don't generally make a habit of seducing teenagers."

"At least when you get your memory back, you can stop worrying about whether you'd been repressing inappropriate feelings for me." Xander turned his fork in his fingers, and then put it down and met Giles' strained expression. "It's not just my age. Right now, you can't imagine me growing up to be anyone you'd touch with a ten-foot stake."

Giles squirmed. Yup. "So how did we..."

"Official story for everyone else is that you missed me when I was on my post-grad road trip. I came back, we hooked up."

"Official story? I'm afraid to ask."

"Actual story, last year-"

"Last year? When you were a student?" He looked almost as freaked as he had this morning.

"Hold the panic. I told you we had a bout of time travel? It was you. Eighteen year-old you turned up here, and he and I kind of hit it off."

"I remember myself at eighteen. I get the picture."

"Afterwards I kissed you. You-you. Well. Next-year-you, for you. Last-year-you, for me. It was just a kiss, but you said after that you started looking at me differently. Nothing else happened until after my post-grad road-trip."

Giles was looking at him like he was trying to manage that 'differently' thing right now, all in one go. Xander didn't hold a lot of hope. "Why did you kiss me?"

Xander really didn't know. He wanted to. "I couldn't kiss him goodbye." It was the best answer he had.

There was a bit of relief on Giles' face for that, though Xander didn't really get why. "I don't suppose... While you're being so cooperative, I don't suppose you're going to tell me the story behind these scars?"

"No."

"Isn't it worse, my not knowing?"

"No. It's not worse."

"Well. In that case, I feel a great deal better." He smiled, and it was weak but it was the fiirst one all day, and Xander smiled back.

"What about... Will you tell me why I was fired, at least? The real reason?"

Xander stilled. He felt a lick of the anger from when he'd found out. This wasn't the Giles who'd spent months wallowing in guilt. This was the guy who was going to do it to her, going to load up a bunch of needles with poison and stick them in her and watch her fall.

And it was the guy who was going to lose Miss Calendar, and be tortured, and he'd found out about all of it five minutes ago.

"You protected her. From them. The Council. That's why they fired you."

Giles tipped his head, expression turning curious.

"What?" Okay, that was probably a question that didn't need to be asked.

"You are older," Giles observed.

"We've all grown up a little in the last couple of years. Though I guess... you're less different than I thought you were."

"I hope nothing I said before..." He chuckled, nervously. "Of course I did."

"Yeah. Well. Not like waking from a coma to find out you're engaged to Sandra Bullock, is it?" He picked up their plates, well and truly over rehashing all the painlights of the last few years. "Look, before, Willow reminded me to imagine how I'd have reacted, if I'd found out two years ago that I was gonna end up with you. I think I could have bruised your ego pretty well."

Giles smiled. "Thank you."

Xander realised Giles wasn't being sarcastic, and he smiled as well. "You're welcome."

"Is there anything you, you, didn't want to say, in front of the others? If anything unusual happened last night, however intimate, it could be relevant."

Different? Xander slid the plates into the dishwasher. The best sex they ever had, sex Xander would almost describe as spiritual, except not to this Giles, not to high school Giles who'd been staring at Xander half the day like he was the most humiliating one-night-stand since Divine Brown. "No. Nothing different. Just... good."

That got a little quirk of the eyebrow that junior year Xander wouldn't have known meant Giles was trying to picture exactly that. Let him wonder.

"What... what did your, your parents think of you dating someone my... age?" A quarter-second to read Xander's face, and back to mortified. "They don't know. Wonderful. Do they know you're, you're... No, it's none of my business."

Of course it was, but that wasn't an argument Xander was going to be making right now. Xander wondered what Giles - his Giles - really thought about having to sneak around like a kid in the closer because Xander didn't have the courage to tell his parents. Sure, his dad knew now, but not because Xander sat him down to tell him, like a man. Like Giles told Buffy. He could have.

Xander stared down at the counter as he realised. He could have sat his dad down, and it would have been okay. He'd underestimated his dad.

He'd barely thought about it since this happened. Just filed his parents in the 'too hard' basket, as usual. He owed them better than that.

"Xander?"

"How about we get back to the research?"

He was only halfway through cleaning up, but Giles didn't so much as glance at the mess. "That's probably best."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He finished his last deliveries, and headed back to Pizza Town to settle up. Sophie was sitting on the hood of her jeep, puffing on a cigarette, when he came out. "So, man, how was tips?"

Xander patted his pocket. "I'm thinking of buying a yacht."

"Good choice. Forty-footer, laden with bikini-clad babes?"

He almost went with it, but... why should he? Wasn't he supposed to be on an honesty kick? He leaned against the hood, aiming for casual. "Nah. Just one babe. And he doesn't look so great in a bikini."

Sophie blew out a lungful of smoke. "You're a homo? That's fucking hot. Is he a worthy?"

Wow. That was easy. Hot? Why wasn't all coming out like this? Xander slid up to sit on the hood beside her. "I think so. He's older."

"Experienced. Fuck, yeah. Totally the way to go. I bumped with this guy once, he was like, twenty-two, totally knew what he was doing. You been with this guy long?"

"Nah. Not long. How about you?"

"Free agent." She grinned, pulling off her cap to toss her dirty-blonde - literally dirty - hair. "There is way too much Sophie for any one scumbag."

Xander laughed.

"Tell you what, man - me and two guys, that's on my to-do list, so if you and the boyf ever wanna-"

"No. No, way." It almost would be worth it to introduce them, though, to see Giles' face.

"Scared to share him?" She pushed his shoulder. "C'mon, bring me home."

Xander remembered who was at home, and his insides shrank. He guessed Giles' face would be the same one he had on this morning, and Xander really didn't want to see it again. He wanted to stay here and hope that everything would be magically fixed by someone else while he talked about nothing with a girl who didn't much worry about anything. Of course, the universe didn't work that way, and 'No way would I ever touch you,' Giles was waiting.

He slid off the hood and waved a hand towards his car. "I'm gonna head off and repress this conversation. I'll see you later."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Xander bringeth the pizza." He lifted the boxes. "Sorry, didn't have a hand for the door."

"Xander? What are you doing here?"

"Um. I bringeth the pizza? Food for thought?"

Giles frowned out at the night. "It's late; you should be at home."

Maybe that would be easier for Giles, but not for Xander. Xander wasn't about to leave him alone. "No way am I going home tonight." He started to walk in but Giles blocked his way.

"Xander, is there something wrong?"

"Something, what?"

Buffy tried to peer around from behind Giles. "Pizza?"

Giles jumped a mile, thudding back against the now-wide-open front door with a hand over his heart."Buffy! Where did you come from?"

She blinked. "The kitchen. I was just trying to find something to eat. Clearly I forgot you were old and English, and sadly Xander hasn't taken charge of grocery shopping, yet. Except, pizza!"

Xander sailed through the unguarded door to drop the boxes on the counter. "One step at a time, my slaying friend. Any news?" Xander swung around to examine his blank-faced lover. "I take it there's no progress on the memory front?"

Giles stared around the room, taking in Xander and Buffy, and then Willow and Oz staring back from the couch. "What are you all doing here?"

Xander and Buffy shared a long look of very slow realisation.

"Buffy?" Giles nudged.

"Giles... what date is it?"

"It's Wednesday."

"Well, no, but... Date. Month. Year."

Giles looked around to see if anyone else thought the line of questioning was crazy, and found no support. "It's the 22nd of April, 1997."

April. He was living in December when Xander left for work.

"Buffy hadn't killed the Master," Willow said.

"You killed the Master?" Giles exclaimed.

"I only moved here in March," Buffy added.

"Okay," Xander said brightly. "So is this like, one of those times where one day we're gonna look back and laugh? 'Cos if it is, let's just roll on forward to the laughing part."

"What is going on? When did you fight the Master?"

"We'll tell you. But only if you promise to believe this time."

"Xander," Giles snapped, and looked back to Buffy.

"All right," Buffy said slowly, tiptoeing through. "You're um, having some memory issues."

"Memory issues?"

Buffy stepped beside Xander, and waved circles at their faces. "Do we look odd to you? A little different to how we looked at school this afternoon?"

Giles frowned, clearly seeing something. "You've changed your hair?"

"I've grown it six inches."

Giles adjusted his glasses and looked, frown deepening as he saw something not-quite-right.

"It's October 1999. We graduated already. You've lost your memory, and we don't know why, but we've got the full Scooby research team on it."

"That's a lot more helpful than it would have sounded in sophomore year," Willow added from behind them, helpfully.

Giles took them all in, and nodded. "All right."

"All right?" Xander threw up his hands.

Buffy smiled sweetly at him. "It's probably a little easier to digest without the morning wake-up call."

"So what does this mean?" Willow asked. "Is he going to skip back and forth through the life of Giles?"

Xander looked at Giles. "It means he's not getting better."

It meant now they knew even less about him. It made even less sense. Didn't he lose enough memory the first time? Was someone trying to wipe him out, a piece at a time? Or was this just something out of control?

At least he'd forgotten the trauma of learning about him and Xander. Now he was back to thinking Xander was just Buffy's useless friend. Was that better?

The girls filled Giles in while devouring Xander's pizza delivery. They dipped into the books afterwards, but it had been a long, frustrating day, and they weren't getting anywhere. It was Buffy who finally called it a night, and promised Giles they'd be back first thing in the morning. He didn't look like he liked it, but he saw them off, anyway. He waited expectantly in the open door, until Xander realised what he was waiting for.

"Oh, I'm not going anywhere."

"Don't you have a home to go to?"

"I'm staying. Don't even try to fight me on this, or I'll tell you every humiliating story you've got from the last couple of years. And you've got a bunch."

Giles folded his arms. "More humiliating than retaining your hyena memories?"

Xander folded his arms. "My hyena memories don't include magical orgies with demons."

Giles let out a breath and unfolded his arms. "Uncle." He closed the door.

Damned straight. Time to test out the couch. Xander headed for the stairs, to grab a shirt and shorts. No naked-sleeping tonight.

"Where are you going?"

Xander froze. Where was he going? To grab his clothes out of Giles' room. No need to freak out, Giles, but my unmentionables are kept in your nightstand. "I'm, um," excuse, excuse, excuse now please, "Grabbing a pillow." Damn, he was getting good at this.

"You could have asked."

"Sorry. Just with you not knowing where stuff is..."

"I know where my bed is, Xander."

Xander's cheeks were so hot he was starting to worry about smoke coming out his ears. "So, um, can I borrow a pillow?"

Giles gave him that withering look. "Just go. Help yourself."

"Thanks." He hurried up and quickly grabbed a t-shirt and shorts, stuffing them up inside the pillow to sneak them down. Let Giles assume he'd had a bag somewhere, or something, but he wasn't going to sleep in his delivery uniform.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander was beginning to understand what people meant by 'bone tired'. His bones were tired and he was still staring wide-eyed at the light patterns reflected on the ceiling. Same ceiling as Giles was sleeping soundly under, up in the incredibly comfortable bed.

Of course, it wasn't the awkward angle of the couch cushions that was keeping him awake.

It wasn't that he wanted Giles to have been lusting after him when he was a sophomore. It's just that it wasn't that long ago, and how much could his feelings really have changed? And the level of horror was kind of unnecessary. Xander tried to keep a hold of Giles jumping him in the car, too hot for Xander to wait. That was only last night, and Giles telling him he liked him noisy and desperate, that was only last night. More recent facial expressions were starting to edit themselves into the memories.

Screw this. Xander shoved the blanket aside and padded to the kitchen for a glass of water. He wanted his Giles back. Or any version of Giles that found Xander appealing would do. Except he was starting to worry that this might not be one of those solved-in-an-episode X-Files. They didn't have any leads at all, and there were no signs of a lucky plot device.

The water was nice and cool; he leaned over and cupped his hands under the tap, throwing it over his face, running a wet hand around the back of his neck.

He turned and went scampering backwards into the cupboard at the sight of Giles with a sword raised.

"Jesus! Giles!"

"Who are you? Where's Chris?"

"Who's Chris? Put that down!" No way was Xander going to get killed by Giles. Not even his life sucked that much.

Giles tightened his grip. "What are you doing... in... here...?" The last couple of words faded as Giles took in the kitchen. "This isn't my house." He glared at Xander again, but less certain now. "Where am I?"

Xander was trying to get his breathing back under control, but that probably wasn't going to happen as long as he could feel his heart thumping in his chest. Was there some kind of record, for world's youngest heart attack? "Y'know, I don't remember you always waking up so disagreeable."

"What?"

"Sorry. Um. Nothing. Babbling. Happens when people threaten me with swords. Will you put that down?" And put on a shirt, he wanted to add. It wasn't fair of Giles to be threatening him in nothing but low-riding track pants when Xander's pulse was already racing and he wasn't allowed to ogle the trail of fine grey hair that led under the loose elastic.

"You're American."

Uh-oh. Giles really didn't know who he was. "You'll get used to that." Nothing but low-riding track pants and a raised sword, and Xander shouldn't have been admiring the taut muscles so much as something more constructive, like getting back to panicking. It had happened again.

"Tell me what's going on."

Xander lifted his hands in a gesture of peace. "Someone's messing with your head. Not me. Don't know who. This is your house. Look out there, in the main room, you'll recognise your stuff."

Giles shook his head. "I live in a mews house."

"Maybe you used to." Okay, Xander was going to have to keep Buffy around to explain things, because he sucked at it. "You've lost your memory. Apparently you keep losing your memory. We're trying to find out why, but researching memory spells is like googling for porn. Look around. You'll know you live here."

Giles peered over the kitchen counter into the lounge room, and Xander's eyes disobediently trailed down the line of his back.

"You really don't need the sword. You could kick my ass around the room without raising a sweat."

The sword was lowered, but Xander knew a ready grip when he saw one. Good enough. "Who are you?"

"I'm Xander. I'm a friend."

"What kind of friend?" Giles wandered out into the room, keeping one wary eye on Xander, so Xander followed him to prove he wasn't digging through the knife drawer while Giles' back was turned.

"A..." Xander had no idea what bit of life Giles had fallen in from. "A fighting-mystical-evil kind of friend."

Giles was taking in the contents of the shelves, statues and old things, stuff Xander had never really noticed as more than background, that seemed to mean something to Giles.

"Can you- Can you tell me what year it is?"

"It's 1995."

"So you haven't even..." He didn't even know about Buffy yet, didn't know he was going to earn the 'the' bit of Watcher. Had Buffy been called? No, she was called the year before she moved here. They probably should have prepared for this minefield after the second back-step.

"I haven't even?"

Haven't even, haven't even, think, think... "Haven't even moved to Sunnydale. You haven't moved to Sunnydale." Xander gave himself a pat on the back.

"Sunnydale?" Giles looked around again. "California Sunnydale?"

"Yeah..."

"Sunnydale's a centre of mystical forces."

"Yeah." Xander could see Giles' brain ticking, and he didn't think that was a good idea. "Hence the deployment of a mystical expert. Look - there's a magazine You can check the date." Xander pointed out the Economist on the side table, and Giles picked it up, staring at the cover.

"August 1999." Giles looked at it for a long time, and then his attention was captured by the blankets twisted on the couch. "You were sleeping here?"

"We didn't want to leave you alone, when you keep backtracking. Oh, hey, look, notes. It's your writing."

Giles accepted the notepad Xander thrust at him, finally believing well enough to relax his hold on the sword.

Xander sat down at the desk, adrenaline drain making his knees weak. "Maybe we should just make you write a letter explaining this to yourself, for next time you back up the brain-train. You never seem to like the way I do it."

Giles sighed. "How many times has this happened?"

"This is the third. It started yesterday. You're losing chunks of memory."

Giles finally put the sword down, to flip though the pages of his notebook. "What do we know so far?"

Xander blinked. Between the lack of sleep and the sword-waving, he wasn't up to full mental speed. "Um. You're losing your memory a chunk at a time."

"Yes?"

He shrugged. "That's all we know."

"Wonderful."

"Watch that sarcasm, my friend. You're the captain of the research team. Come to think of it, you're also the first officer, pilot and chief engineer."

There was a way-too-familiar flash of incomprehension, with the usual dismissal chaser. "There have been no signs? No patterns?"

"I suppose we can call it a pattern, now. Back a little further each time."

Giles looked around the room again, clearly not having registered it the first eight times. "What am I doing here?"

"Here?"

"In Sunnydale."

By now, Xander should have figured out what he should and shouldn't be telling Giles. Best to lean towards as little as possible, and wing it. He clasped his hands together, and adopted a friendly teacher tone of voice. "How are you these days, with the idea of being a watcher?"

Great move. Suspicion level ratcheted up to ten. "You know about-"

"Yeah."

"I find it eminently satisfying."

"That's good. You weren't too sure when you were younger."

"Is this some kind of evaluation? Have I done something to warrant one of the Council's tests?" He was prowling the room yet again, sword back in his hand, glaring at Xander between checking out his stuff. "My work at the museum has been extremely thorough."

"No, no. Me? Council? I hate those guys! Will you stop searching the room for bugs or whatever the hell it is you're doing?" Oh, to hell with delicacy. That didn't work either. "You're not 'a' anymore. You're 'the'. You're 'the' Watcher. You're it."

"I'm sorry?" Giles looked back. He hadn't heard.

"You're the Watcher. The Watcher, with The Slayer."

Giles froze, but just as quickly dismissed it. "That's ridiculous. I don't even have a potential in my care."

"Buffy's Watcher died and you were called." Xander held up his hands, and edged across to the cabinet behind the TV that held Giles' most treasured and rarest books. "Look." He started pulling them out. "You have all the Watcher Diaries, the Pergamon Codex, the Slayer Handbook, the Slayer Chronicle, Slaying for Dummies, Idiot's Guide to Slaying..."

"Bloody hell." Giles lifted the Codex reverently from Xander's hands. "This has been lost for centuries."

"We found it."

Xander could see the thoughts flashing behind his glasses, until they settled on one idea, and his gaze settled on Xander. "Where is she?"

"Buffy?"

"Her name is Buffy?"

"Yeah. She's gone home to get some sleep."

Giles frowned. "My memory has been erased, and she's tucked in bed?"

"We researched all day. She'll be back in the morning."

Giles' eyes narrowed, suspicious again. "Why would she leave me alone in this state?"

"She left you with me."

"I don't know you."

"You do. You will. You don't know her yet, either."

He shook his head. "We have to get her here."

"Giles, it's... three in the morning." And Xander really wanted to go crawl back under the covers.

"Three in the morning and I have amnesia, and we have no idea why. This could be part of some nefarious scheme. She has a sacred-"

"You had amnesia yesterday. And I'm guessing you're gonna have it tomorrow. We've had plenty of crises that didn't get fixed in a day. A grumpy slayer is not a productive slayer. Or, you know, a nice slayer."

"There must be signs. We should get to work. Check Tales of Mnemosyne and Braeden's Histories."

"Done, and done." But Giles was poring over bookshelves, well awake and on the trail of the mystery. Nothing was going to stop him now. Xander considered helping, but even with a good eight hours and a solid course of donuts, Xander was no Willow. Without sleep, he'd be useless. "Fine. You research. All our notes so far are there on the desk. I'm gonna go back to bed. Back to couch."

Giles spun back to face him. "You aren't going to help?"

"I helped all day. I'm not exactly the brains of this outfit, anyway."

He took a minute to work that over. "Then who are you, in this outfit?"

"I'm... a friend of Buffy's. And yours. And tonight, I'm chief in charge of explaining what's going on when you forget."

He didn't look satisfied with that but he kept his mouth shut, probably realising he'd get more out of his precious books. Xander padded back to his couch, pulling the blanket up to his chin. He wondered who Chris was. And how many other people there were, in Giles' life before Sunnydale, that Xander had never wondered about. He wondered what Giles would think of dating Xander, now he was a few years younger and he didn't know Xander except for the last five minutes.

He hadn't thought much, about Giles before Sunnydale. Except for that conversation they had, way back at the beginning, about Giles just somehow knowing that Buffy's old watcher was dead, and now it was his turn. Xander wondered who Giles had been that morning, before he got called on the psychic hotline.

Xander was way too exhausted to wondering this much, but the bright lights wouldn't let him sleep, and the twitch of pages was familiar, Giles at work. Ignoring Xander - yup, very familiar.

He sat up and peered over the back of the couch. Giles was frowning through his glasses as he ran his finger down the text. Xander had never been able to figure out how anyone could see the page at that speed, let alone absorb any of it. "Who's Chris?"

Giles jerked up, startled to remember his companion, and then looked down at the page. "My partner."

"I'm guessing you don't mean business partner. Or doubles tennis partner. You mean person you expected to wake up in bed with partner."

"Yes." He heaved a little sigh. "I presume she didn't come to the United States with me."

"I'm sorry."

Giles nodded. "I suppose it was some time ago, now." He looked wistful, rather than heartbroken, and wonder soon took over. "I'm the Watcher."

"Yeah."

Giles brought his book over and sat on the end of the couch by Xander's feet. "What is she like?"

"She's... Buffy." There was no way to sum her up, but Giles looked so eager. Sitting so close, attention firmly on Xander, and wanting to know about Buffy. Shirtless. Xander scratched his head, trying to figure out what Giles would want to know. "She's good. Thinks outside the box. Saved the world a couple of times. Four, if you're counting. She has friends - she's different from other slayers; she has me and Will and Oz, and she had Angel."

He nodded. "That's good. How old is she? How long have I been with her?"

"She's my age. Eighteen. We were at school together. She just started college. You've been around since she was sixteen."

"She's going to college?" he asked, surprised, and then he looked pleased. "Good for her."

"She was as surprised as anyone."

"She's academically inclined, then?"

Xander considered lying, for half a second. "Not as such, no. But she's not the scooby dunce, either."

Giles grilled Xander until Xander broke off mid-sentence to yawn. "You're tired. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have... this can wait until morning." He moved to get up, and hesitated. "You don't mind if I..."

"It's your house." Xander lay back, grateful for the break. He wasn't good in the middle of the night. "Wake me if you forget who you are."

Giles looked a little uncomfortable, but he nodded, and stood. Stopped. "Xander, correct?"

"Yeah. Xander."

"Thank you."

"Just do me a favour? Put the sword away."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander did eventually drift off, for all of three minutes before he was shaken awake again.

"Xander. Xander!"

"Huh?"

"I've been looking at the translations for the Medallion of Temakra."

"Huh? No." Xander rubbed his eyes and his head and let his arms flop back by his sides. "No, that's something else. You and Willow, you guys did the charm, Buffy's fine, now we're trying to work out why you're on the fast lane back to a second childhood. Third childhood. Arguments could be made for it being the fourth."

"I'm not certain the matters are unconnected. You see." Giles shoved a bunch of print-outs in his face and jabbed his finger at... Sumerian.

"I don't read Sumerian. I'm not all that great at English."

"Oh." Giles frowned, taken aback to discover his new friend was so deficient. "This is an earlier translation. It's... It's... This passage here, the language, it's ambiguous."

"Big surprise. Has anyone ever written an unambiguous prophesy? It's always riddles and haikus, with these people." He banged his hands on the couch in frustration. "You know what? I'm waiting for a signed note telling me, 'At forty-two minutes past three on Tuesday, that tentacled demon behind you in the 7-11 parking lot will have a deadly allergy to the fries from Doublemeat Palace.'"

Giles' mouth opened and closed, and he took his glasses off, and then he put them back on and pointed at the passage again. "The Latin translates to 'the Slayer sees', but from this translation it may just as easily be 'sees the Slayer'."

Xander breathed in, suddenly very awake. "Watches the Slayer."

"My role."

"The Medallion is about you."

"It may well be."

Xander sat up, finding himself close enough to smell Giles - at least he'd pulled on a t-shirt - until the man bounced to his feet and circled back to the desk. He had to swallow a couple of times before he could speak. "So we're fine. Buffy brings back the charm, you remember the last four years, we find who cursed you and Buffy kicks his, her or its ass." And Xander got his Giles back.

"It may not be so simple. The charm is a prevention, not a cure."

Xander's hopes crashed. "It's too late." Of all the fucking unfair things... "Just for once, for *once*, couldn't it be that simple?" He punched the couch. "Ferfuckssakes, I had one day, one good day of everything going right! Why does this shit always happen to me?"

Giles was staring at him, both eyebrows most of the way to his hairline.

"Oh yeah." Xander shrank. "It's also possible that this kind of sucks for you."

"When is Buffy getting here?"

"In the morning."

Giles did the eyebrow thing in the direction of the sunny window and back.

"Oh." The clock said... oh. "Any minute, now."

Xander climbed to his feet and stuffed his blanket and pillow into a corner. He wanted a shower, but wasn't going to leave Buffy and Willow to walk in on Giles the Prequel Part III. "You hungry?" Xander realised maybe preparing breakfast wasn't a good idea, considering how dubious Giles had been yesterday morning about Xander's intimate domestic knowedge, but now the man was too excited about his books to notice.

"Er, yes, I suppose. Do I still have the Book of Ur-Bau?"

Xander pointed. "Second shelf down, somewhere in the middle."

He was just serving up cereal a-la Xander when Oz and the girls arrived. They saw the lack of recognition, and as one, they all turned to Xander.

"We had another undevelopment in the night. Guys, meet Rupert Giles circa 1995. Giles, this is Oz, Willow, and Buffy."

"Buffy." He ignored the others completely as he stepped up to his Slayer, wonder in his eyes.

"Would be me." She shot Xander a look. "You told him?"

"You try explaining this mess to a man waving a sword, while leaving out the slayer thing."

"I guess."

Giles was still staring.

Buffy blinked. "Hi."

He flinched, and ducked his head. "I'm sorry, I don't, I, uh, I never thought I would train a potential, let alone the Slayer herself."

"Well, you got the grand prize."

"Giles. How about you explain how you solved the mystery while we were all sleeping."

He drew Buffy to the desk and walked her through his discovery, not noticing that it was Willow, behind his other shoulder, who really kept up.

Buffy pulled the pouch out of her bra and handed it to Giles, who gave it a squeeze. "Anything?" she asked.

"No," he sighed. "It was a slim chance."

"At least we know what we're researching now," said Willow.

"Everything I have found indicates we'll need to find the culprit to undo the curse. The medallion shadows its user, so chasing the magic won't do it."

"Are we gonna be making a list of Giles' enemies?" Oz asked. "Cos that might need donuts."

Giles looked horrified.

Willow jabbed Oz with her elbow, and Oz lifted his hands. "Nothing personal, Giles. Bad guys tend not to be fans of the Watcher-Slayer duo."

"Well, as long as I'm making the right kinds of enemies... Do we have the Anders' papers, by any chance?"

"Got that one right here." Willow yanked out her laptop and booted up.

Giles eged closer, staring at it. "We have a house full of books, here."

"You don't have Anders'. It's only online. I bookmarked it last night."

"I knew it. I knew those damned things would start taking over."

Willow twisted in her chair. "You used to like them. When you were our age."

For a few seconds, Giles looked like he was going to go for the full denial, but then he seemed to realise his audience already knew plenty. "I liked them when they multiplied numbers for me. I do not like them hoarding knowledge."

"They don't hoard knowledge. They give it back whenever you want it." She raised her chin in the air. "Besides, if not for this damned thing, we wouldn't have Anders'. So maybe you should be nicer." She gave it a pat, and started typing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

After a whole day of doing nothing except add to the pile of books that might, maybe help, the novelty was beginning to wear off for everyone. Buffy stared into space as much as she looked at her books, not that she was reading anyway. Willow had her chin planted in her palm, as she clicked dejectedly through the web. Oz said less than usual. Even Xander's mind was starting to wander to other things. He couldn't remember what book he was reading.

Giles didn't know them well enough to know they weren't usually this boring, and he puttered on happily. Xander wondered what he'd think of Xander, if he paid attention. If he didn't think of Xander as a student, or the guy that put the 're' in 'remedial', or totally useless to everyone in the world except clucky praying mantises.

Maybe he'd still want to know if Xander's parents knew.

Xander had to tell his dad how old Giles was. His own personal apocalypse had taken it off the top of the pile, but that night had been playing on his mind whenever he wasn't panicking about Giles. His dad didn't like knowing he was gay, but he took it all right, considering. Xander was going to treat him better, this time. Man-to-man.

He had no idea what he was going to do about his mom. Didn't she deserve the same? Was Giles supposed to always be looking over his shoulder, just because Xander's dad believed her all the times she threatened to swallow a bottle of pills?

Xander pushed his chair back, and everyone looked at him, and then he realised he didn't know where he wanted to go.

Somewhere not here. He wanted to do something, instead of just... hiding here, pretending it was just another research party.

"I have to go home. Pick up some stuff."

Willow eyed him, not bothering to lift her chin out of her hand. "You okay?"

"Fine. I just... you know, stuff."

"I'll stick around here 'til you come back," said Buffy.

"I don't know how long-"

"No rush. I can't wait to see how this one ends." She tipped up her book, that practically had dust inside it, from how long she'd had the same page sitting open.

"Thanks, Buff." Xander picked up his bag. "I'll, um, I'll see you soon, Giles."

"See you soon." Giles glanced up, and just as soon went back to his book.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

His dad was sitting out on the back steps in the dark, a couple of bottles beside him.

His mom was upstairs somewhere. There wouldn't be a better time than this. Except never. Never would be a great time, as long as his dad never accidentally found out.

Xander headed for the door, doubled back for a couple of beers. He'd at least learned something about peace offerings. The screen door squealed as he pushed it open, and his dad's head lifted. "Hey, Dad."

"Xander."

Xander sat beside him, offered a beer and accepted the nod he got in return. It was a warm night, grasping for the last of summer, stifling and still. Almost thirst-making enough to enjoy the beer.

This wasn't going to stretch out like their car trip. His mom could be down any minute. But he didn't know how to start.

"How was your day?" he tried.

His dad snorted and dropped his head, then took a long chug from his bottle. "My day was just fine, Xander. Yours?"

They didn't have conversations like this. They weren't a 'How was your day, here's a hug,' kind of family. "Fine." Lucky they weren't that kind of family, because 'My demon-fighting boyfriend's memory is being wiped by some kind of mystical spell,' would have been a trip to a whole different wing of the insane asylum.

"I have someone," slid out, at last. "There's someone I... you know."

"A guy." He made it sound like a curse word.

"Yeah."

There was a heavy silence, then his dad finally, suddenly, looked at Xander. "You don't want me to meet him, do you?"

"No!" Absolutely not, no way, ever. His dad took a long swig of beer, and screwed up his face as it went down. In the best of all possible worlds, they'd never meet. Ever. For both their sakes. His dad didn't know how easily he could make trouble for Giles, if he found out he was school staff just a few months ago, and no way would Xander ever let him find out.

"I've got all the visuals I need," his dad growled. "Don't need a face to match."

"I just didn't want you to find out by accident." Again. It was the closest he was ever going to get to acknowledging how his dad found out in the first place, so it was the closest he could ever get to an apology.

"Think I'm an idiot, Xander? You get your fancy high school diploma, and suddenly your old man's a fool? I don't want to meet him and I don't want to hear about him but you havin' him ain't exactly breaking news."

"I just... I just wanted to warn you. He's older."

Xander braved looking straight at him as he said it, and got to watch the transformation from sullen to angry. "How much older?"

He shouldn't have started this. He should have just played the odds and hoped they never crossed paths.

"Forty-six."

His dad shot to his feet, face shrunk into a snarl. "Forty- Fuck! That's what happened? Some filthy old faggot did this to you? You got yourself a sugar daddy?"

"No!" Xander huddled on his step. "He wasn't... I just am, all right? He didn't make me this way and you didn't make me this way and the great Hollywood liberal conspiracy didn't make me this way."

"You shut your smart mouth!" He leaned in, breath stinking of beer. "You don't talk to me that way! You're a damned kid. Some paedophile is is messing with my kid and I'm supposed to treat him like your girlfriend?"

Xander blanched, as he imagined Giles hearing that word. "He's not a paedophile!"

"You're a damned kid! Forty-six year-old men don't put their filthy hands on eighteen year-old kids" He bent closer, beet-red face in Xander's. "You wanted to do stuff with guys, and I was willing to shut my eyes, but no way in hell are you gonna see this filthy bastard again."

"You can't stop me."

Hauled up by his collar with a sickening lurch, and any second a fist was going to crash into his face, but instead it was just those bulging eyes and spit flying. "I'll damn-well tell you what I like, and as long as you're living under this roof you'll do as I say!"

"Tony!" His mom's voice, and suddenly Xander was let go.

He stepped back and lost his footing and stumbled back down the steps, knocking a beer skittering across the porch, and suddenly he was sitting on his ass, staring up at his looming, panting father.

"Do you want the neighbours calling the police?" she hissed. "Come inside, the pair of you."

No one moved. His dad's face was red and scrunched in anger, hands clenched in fists. He'd never seen his dad lose it like that. He'd never... Xander had never been scared of his dad, before.

"Alexander," his mom snapped, and it shook him from his trance enough to pick himself up and edge towards the door. Not willing to turn his back on his dad.

As soon as he was within reach, she grabbed his sleeve and yanked him inside so fast he almost fell again. How was he going to explain that? Dad lost it because Xander forgot to take the trash out? They were just playing around, wondering where they could get a football at this time of night?

The truth?

She let go of him and raised a hand to her cheek. "What am I going to do with you? Between your mouth and his temper..."

"What?"

"The Garcias must think we're a family of wolves."

Xander couldn't breathe, his heart was pounding so hard, and she cared if the neighbours had seen it. "It's not about you, Mom."

"I beg your pardon?"

Xander jammed his mouth shut.

"Well." She brushed her hands over her blouse, and checked her nails. "I'm sorry to get involved. It's none of my business." She glared at the screen door, where his dad's outline hunched in the dark. "He's your son, Tony. Just what you always wanted."

The shadow didn't move. "Leave him alone, Jessica."

Xander couldn't stay here any longer. He grabbed his bag. "I'm going out."

The door banged open before he made it out of the room. "Xander!" Xander looked back over his shoulder, not stopping, but he had a chance to see the fear on his dad's face, just time enough to watch him say "Don't you go there!" before Xander was out the front door, one last "Xander!" ringing in his ears on his way back to Giles

Except not to Giles, because Giles wasn't there. Just some guy who'd hadn't even been to Sunnydale, yet.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Here he is."

Xander closed the door behind him. "Sorry I'm late."

"No biggie. I was just telling Giles here all about the Temakra Medallion."

Giles smiled pleasantly.

"Oh." Xander waved a hand half-heartedly. "I'm Xander."

"I had guessed. You'll be sleeping on my couch tonight?"

"Yeah. Just had to stop off for more clothes. Can you, can you excuse me a second?"

Without waiting for an answer, Xander turned around and walked back out the door, crossed the courtyard to the stairs and almost went up them but then he turned around and walked back, and then he detoured around the still fountain. He didn't want to stop moving. He wanted to get in his car and go, and not come back until his Giles was waiting. This was going to keep happening, back and back. He wanted Giles. His Giles. He sat on the stairs and curled over, wrapping his arms around his stomach, but just as quick he was up again. He paced another lap before he found Buffy planted in front of him.

"How's he taking it?" he asked, before she could start with the questions.

Buffy shook her head. "He was supposed to be heading to South America, tomorrow, but Southern California with a bout of amnesia sounds like an equally engaging adventure."

"All right, then." In between being a delinquent and a stuffed shirt, Giles spent way too many years being annoyingly peppy.

"Are you?"

"What?"

"All right? Not that you don't have reason to be twitchy, but you were already kind of bug-eyed when you walked in."

"I'm fine. You go. Do whatever you're supposed to be doing."

She didn't move. "It's starting to get to you, too, huh?"

He looked at her properly, realising her amusement with the whole situation had been on the wane, today. "I'm fine. I'm just... This is starting to suck."

"Yeah." She glanced back at the door. "It sucks a lot."

"We're never gonna find it."

Buffy folded her arms. "It could take time. The Ascension took months, but we got there."

"You think this is gonna take months? And a chance comment from an ex-vengeance demon?" Xander couldn't do this for months.

"Xander.."

"Sorry, I'm just... Go on. I'm fine."

"Okay. But if you need to talk, I can pretend for ten minutes that I don't mind the whole you-Giles thing."

He smiled. "Thanks."

"We'll get him back, Xand." She gave him a quick, startling hug, and headed up the stairs. Xander took a couple more minutes to straighten up before he headed inside.

"Can I get you a drink?" Giles offered from the kitchen.

"Thanks, I'll pass." He climbed onto a stool to watch Giles explore.

"I'm rather starving, myself."

"You seem to be taking this well."

"Well, it's all rather fascinating- Ah-ha!" He withdrew from the fridge with a jar of yellow... jelly? "I realise I probably should be concerned, but Buffy explained the situation, and I seem to be in good hands. Really, this feels like a peep into the future. I certainly never pictured myself living in America. Not North America, at least."

He dropped bread in the toaster, and turned to lean against the counter, arms folded. "Buffy explained my work, but she wasn't so clear on herself, you or the couple who were here earlier."

"Willow and Oz."

"Yes, Willow and Oz."

"We help out. Will's good with the magic."

"I see. Do you work for the Council?"

"No. We, um, we pretty much freelance."

"Right." Giles prattled on, poking Xander with questions whenever they came to him. Mystical demon-fighting seemed to answer all his biggest questions, and the slayer thing never came up.

Xander's elbow hurt. He hadn't noticed at the time, but he was pretty sure he'd landed on it when he fell on the stairs, and now it ached. His palms were stinging. Xander looked them over, as he covered his end of the conversation. That was... That was less than what he'd expected to happen when his dad found out in the first place, so he shouldn't have been surprised. It wasn't even as bad as it could have been. He shouldn't still be shaking, an hour later.

"Are you sure you don't want anything?"

"Yeah." No way could he stomach anything, right now.

Giles turned back to his... whatever that was he was spreading over his toast, and pouring tea. If Xander's dad ever found him...

He shouldn't have said anything. What had Xander expected would happen? Hey, Dad, the gay thing went so well, do you wanna meet the man? It'll be great, you have a lot in common. Like what? Oh, the seventies.

At this point it wasn't like it even mattered. Giles didn't know who Xander was, and maybe he never would.





The Giles Thing VII
by Dr Squidlove
April 2009


Giles walked into the living room and stopped, frowning. Looked back up the stairs, and around the room. "I came in to get something... What was I..." He met Xander's gaze, and jumped. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

Xander's head hit the desk. He picked it up and ran through the routine. "Your memory's on rewind. Some kind of mystical mind-wipe. We're friends. We're working on it. It's 1999. Don't freak too much."

Giles stared at him for a long time, and then looked around again. "All right," he said, cautiously.

"Seriously?"

Buffy came down the hall. "Giles, what about the book we used for... well, you don't remember, but it had a suede cover with the swirly thing on the front?"

He swung around to look at her, and back to Xander, questioning.

"Sorry, Buffy. Giles, this is Buffy. She's a friend."

She wrinkled her nose. "What, again?"

Xander shrugged.

Buffy looked him over. "So how old are you now?"

Giles looked at Xander like he was asking permission, or something, before he replied. "Twenty-six. At least I was... 1999?"

"Whoa. Twenty-six? Is that 1981?"

"1980."

"Huh. You're taking this well."

Giles considered that a moment. "Honestly, I'm not quite sure how to take it."

Twenty-six. Giles was back in the watching fold by then, but barely. By a year or two. "You're doing just fine."

Giles turned to him. "I'm forty-six?"

"Yeah."

"Did I do this?"

"I'm sorry?"

"I've been keeping away from the magicks, I assure you. If I've inadvertently muttered some incantation aloud..."

From behind him, Buffy frowned and pointed to herself and mouthed "Slayer?"

Xander shook his head for both of them. Not yet, not until they got an idea who they were talking to. "No," he said aloud. "We don't think so."

Buffy was nodding adamantly, until Giles turned back, and she offered him a perky smile. "We're pretty sure it's a bad guy. Here's some notes we - you - prepared earlier." She pulled him over to the desk and handed him the notes he'd written a few hours before, and then gave Xander a significant look in the direction of the kitchen.

Giles was polite enough to pretend he didn't notice them slinking off.

"Twenty-six," Buffy said. "So we're getting way too close to the whole black leather jacket phase."

Xander nodded, watching the way Giles hunched over the notebook. "He'd be done at Oxford, working at the Council, I think. It's a year or two since you-know-what."

She nodded. "Sounds about right."

"There's no mention of the slaying thing in those notes, is there?"

"No, I checked."

Xander slouched against the fridge, tipping his head back to bang against it, wishing he could do it a little harder. And repeat until he lost consciousness. "I don't know if I'm worried about his reaction, this close to you-know-what, or if I'm just tired of explaining it all, over and over."

"I hear you." She was watching him, her frown looking a hell of a lot like his.

"It's not like he's gonna remember five minutes or five hours from now, when he goes somersaulting back again."

Buffy ran her hand through her hair. "The next one's gonna be bad."

Xander's stomach squeezed even tighter. Sure. Like getting run over by a truck was bad, or living on a Hellmouth was bad. "Really bad. I couldn't control him when he was eighteen and didn't know anything. What if he lands right in the middle of the wacky demon-raising years?"

"Maybe we should get some chains," Buffy joked.

"Sure."

They shared a long look.

"I'll stash them somewhere out of the way."

"I'm trying to remember that he's still Giles, that it's like he's sick, or something, but..."

Buffy watched Giles' back. She looked exhausted. "But it's like he's someone else." She gave a little snort, and tried to perk up. "Just when I was starting to get to know him, you know?"

"Oh, I know."

He was hunching over the notes, exactly how Giles would sit, but something was different. The man out there was a stranger.

They wandered out, and Xander settled a hand on Giles' shoulder. it was the first time he'd touched him since the other morning, and the closest he could get to, well, anything. "Does that make any sense at all?"

"A little. This is my handwriting, though my penmanship appears to have declined."

"Yeah, they're your notes. You're starting to make a habit of this, so..."

He pulled off his glasses, and laid them on the notebook. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"The trouble I'm causing."

Xander and Buffy shared a look, and Buffy spoke. "We're pretty sure you're not causing anything. Bad guy, remember?"

"I seem to attract trouble, these days."

Xander rested his butt on the desk, watching Giles closely, trying to figure out where he was at. "How far do you remember?

Giles rubbed his forehead, bare eyes looking distant. "I got home from work; I tried to call my father but he wasn't home; I was pulling some chops from the freezer for dinner..."

Buffy hmphed. "Wow. Good details. I don't remember last week that well."

"It was five minutes ago."

"I suppose."

He blinked at them. "1999."

"You came home from working at the Council?" Xander pushed.

Giles' eyes widened, and he reached for his glasses, changed his mind and simply straightened them up on the desk. "You know?"

"Yeah, we know."

"You work for-"

"Noooo," assured Buffy. "No, thanks."

"But we know them," said Xander. "Or Buffy does."

"I met Quentin Travers."

"Travers... George Travers' brother?"

"Maybe. Didn't like him much."

Giles looked scandalised. "You mustn't... The work the Council does is invaluable. You won't compromise my loyalty to them, I assure you."

Buffy raised her hands in surrender. "No compromise necessary. We're friends. Promise."

He looked each of them over in turn, eyes narrowed. They widened suddenly. "Did my father send you? If he's trying to test me, if he still can't bloody trust me-"

Xander put a hand on Giles' arm, then thought better and dropped it. "We don't know your dad. And we're not with the Council. We're friends of yours."

Giles' watched his hand drop, and fixed a little extra stare on Xander. More cautious now, he explained, "I've been at the head offices for six months now."

Less than a year since he finished at Oxford. About a year and a half since Eyghon. Giles hadn't spared much detail about what it was like to slink back into the fold, but Xander had a pretty good idea why this Giles was so ready to swear allegiance.

"Good. That's good." He smiled reassuringly, and gave his shoulder another squeeze. "It's just kind of nice to know where you're up to in your life. Keeps changing, y'know?"

"Of course." There was a long, unsettling look, and then he frowned down at the notes. "This... Temakra Medallion. I haven't heard of it."

Xander looked sideways at Buffy, hoping she'd have an answer.

"It's a, um, focussing thingy. For curses and stuff."

Damn. That was good. She hadn't even lied.

"Focuses how? On whom?"

Xander hopped up. "Questions we've been battling for a few days now. But you were getting dinner. And we're kind of around that time. You hungry?"

"I suppose I am." He looked extra-hesitant, so Xander waited. "You both seem rather cavalier."

Buffy shrugged. "We've been at this a while."

"Yeah, as long as you're not waving a sword at anyone, we'll deal."

That didn't do anything to help the worry lines. "How long has this been going on?"

"Oh, it's been..." Xander and Buffy looked at each other in surprise at the math. "Only two days," Buffy said. "But we've been through every book you've got, and Xander's been staying at night. It's been long enough that we've moved from donut mode to eating actual meals. Don't worry, there'll be all the pointless, fruitless hours of research you could ask for later."

Giles sat patiently to watch them as they made sandwiches. Or while Buffy poured drinks, and Xander made sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly for Buffy and Xander, one peanut butter and one jelly for Giles. He was just screwing the caps back on the jars when Willow arrived, and he opened them up again to make a couple more.

Buffy jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "Giles, Willow. Willow, Giles."

"Hello, Willow."

"Again?"

Xander pulled out a fourth plate. "1980, twenty-six years old. Recently returned to the Council."

Willow read Xander's tone and gave a small nod to show she got it. No slayer talk.

"Where's Oz?" Buffy asked, pulling off her crusts.

"He's filling in for Jude at a gig at Delta House."

Willow and Buffy chattered about classes, and for once Xander was glad they had something he wasn't part of. He didn't want to talk. He was tired of this. Tired of the research, tired of getting nowhere. Tired of explaining over and over, all this stuff and not the one thing that really mattered.

Giles ate slowly, making a noise whenever one of the girls asked a direct question. His eyes met Xander's, and he lifted the corner of his mouth in a half-smile, like a secret little smile from the Giles who liked shagging Xander, and Xander squeezed his sandwich so hard all the jelly squished out.

He forced a smile back, and forced himself to keep sitting where he was, and he forced himself to swallow.


Eventually the girls ran out of things to say, and there was quiet. That's when Giles finally spoke. "I've been thinking about what you said before, Buffy. You're quite right. My level of recall suggests I'm not simply losing memories. I'm... It's, it's, as though my consciousness is being dragged back."

"That could be helpful."

"It may narrow the field. We could rule out a great many spells."

Buffy eyed the library that was now piled head-high around the desk. "So we get to go through all that again."

"I think I can recite them all," Xander said.

"What if..." Giles trailed off, as they all turned to him. "I'm sure you've already searched out Stern's translations of the Karbaschi Journals." He shook his head. "Of course you have, I shouldn't..."

"Stern translations?" asked Buffy.

"You did," said Xander. "You're the brains of this outfit."

He swept a piercing gaze around the table. "And what is this 'outfit', exactly? You don't work for the Council, and you're all too young to be watchers, but you're aware of them." He contemplated Willow, and then nodded. "You have magical powers... witchcraft? And you," - he turned to Buffy - "I sense power but...

Buffy smiled, a little. "I'm the Slayer."

His eyes widened, and then his gaze moved far away, as though he was sensing her, and he nodded. "Yes." Finally, to Xander. "So you must be her... No, you're too young... They all saw the truth begin to dawn, and then he jerked as he realised. "I'm not- I couldn't possibly-"

"You are."

Giles looked appalled, then he huffed a laugh. "The Council would never allow it."

"They did," Buffy said, as Xander said "They didn't get a choice."

Xander felt Buffy's look. It wasn't his problem she'd never asked. "You were called, just like Buffy. You're pretty good at it, too."

He shook his head, hard. "That's not- I'm hardly fit for that responsibility."

"You're exactly the right guy," Buffy said, squeezing his hand.

"Yeah," added Willow. "We stopped the Hellmouth from being opened a bunch of times, and we killed a whole pile of vampires. Mostly Buffy, but we helped. You found the cure for Buffy when she was paralysed, and when she could hear thoughts, and you did the research on all the demons, and the spell to show the Hansel and Gretel demon."

Giles shot to his feet. "I didn't do any spells."

"You've done a bunch."

"I would not perform magic! I swore that-"

"It's all right," Xander said, sensing things were about to get dramatic. "It's been a long time since you got steady on the path of stuffy repression."

Giles only wilted more at that. "Stuffy repression?"

Xander drew breath to take it back.

"Perfect square," Buffy said. "Four equal sides, ninety degree right angles."

"But still a cool guy," said Xander.

"Oh, totally cool," added Willow.

Giles kept looking at Xander, waiting to be convinced. Like Xander had magic words. Xander started collecting plates. "Let's clean up, then we can get back to work."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles tried to help them clean up, until he realised he was just in the way. "Excuse me. Where is my bathroom?"

Willow pointed him down the hall, and they all waited until the door clicked. Willow spun back to face them. "This was a big leap from yesterday. I think it's accelerating."

Xander swallowed. "We really need to put the brakes on this before he starts raising demons."

"We'll be lucky if that's all the next jump is. This one was ten years; the next one could take him back to being a kid. Even a baby."

"Xander's gonna be the one on diaper duty."

Xander so wasn't in the mood for Buffy-humour. "What if he goes further? What if we can't get him back?"

"We'll get him back, Xand."

"How?" Xander fought to keep his voice down. "We're already teetering on the seventies and we don't know squat. And this is with useful, bookish, likable Giles. He loses a few more years and we've got mad, bad, dangerous Giles, and he's not gonna be researching, he's gonna be looking for Ethan so they can go paint the town red. Evil red."

It wasn't entirely clear who made the leap first. It was possible they all got to the same station on separate trains. But as soon as Xander finished, they were all looking grim.

"Ethan," concluded Buffy.

"Definitely Ethan," they all agreed.

Xander clenched his fists. "Mind games, Giles at the centre..."

"Magic and chaos," Willow added.

Buffy kicked the cupboard, leaving a decent dent. "I'm gonna twist his stupid head right off his stupid neck."

"We'll hold one end, and you turn the other," Willow offered.

They shared a moment of evil pleasure at the idea.

"So what do we do now?" Xander asked.

Buffy assumed fighting stance. "I'm gonna go check out his old haunts. Willow, you ring around local motels; he has to be staying somewhere nearby. Within gloating distance. Xander, you-"

"No, I mean, what do we tell Giles?" He lowered his voice. "Eyghon was only a couple of years ago. We have no idea how he feels about Ethan right now." Xander stuck his head out, to check the bathroom door was still closed before he said too much. "In his mind, he's just gone crawling back to the Council he blew off. He's trying to get his life back, and we're going to tell him Ethan's still around, still screwing with him, twenty years in the future?"

"You don't want to tell him."

"Maybe he needs to know," said Willow. "How are we going to do this behind his back? And what if Ethan turns up?"

Xander rubbed his face. "This sucks."

Willow squeezed his shoulder. "We'll get him back. We'll find Ethan, Buffy'll kick his ass until he cries uncle, we'll fix Giles, and then we'll all kick his ass some more, just for fun."

"I could enjoy that."

"So? To tell or not to tell?"

"Let's hold off for now," Buffy decided. "For all we know, he'll time jump before it matters."

Xander wondered if that would be a good or a bad thing. "He's been in there a while. I'm gonna go check."

Xander left the girls to mull, and headed down the hall. Two knocks and a "Come in," and he slowly opened the door.

Giles was standing at the sink, staring into the mirror. He didn't react to Xander hovering in the doorway. Maybe Xander should have thought of something to say, before he barged in.

At last his shoulders lifted. "I look like my father. I look just like him." He turned to face Xander. "I wasn't expecting that."

"Must be weird." Xander really didn't want to talk about fathers, right now. Not when not dealing with last night was the only good thing about this whole mess.

"I wasn't ready for..." He waved back at the mirror. "I suppose I hadn't quite believed you out there. Not that I disbelieved you, but I just-"

"You're babbling."

Giles smiled shyly. "It's rather a flaw of mine."

"I kinda got that toy in my cereal box, too."

They were both smiling at each other now, until it became awkward and the smiles faded as they both looked away.

After a minute Giles tried to prop himself against the sink. "So, Xander. Are you going to tell me anything about this modern world?"

"Nothing much has changed. The Stones are still touring."

"Not Keith Richards."

"Alive and rocking."

Giles laughed. "Now I know you're pulling my leg."

"Swear to god." He said it with his hand raised, and it made Giles smile more, deepening the lines around his eyes. There was nothing wrong with how Giles looked.

Giles sobered, and then took a deep breath to screw up his courage, and Xander realised he didn't see that often. It usually seemed to come so easy to Giles. "Are we... In the other room, the way you were looking at me, I, I thought we might be, but-"

Xander's lungs stopped, mid-breath. "Yeah." He wandered in, not too close. "Yeah, we are." He probably should have felt relief that it was out, but he didn't. Not yet.

Giles waved at the sink. "There are two toothbrushes."

"Yeah."

He scanned, looking for other clues, Xander supposed, but that was it. Still just one bottle of shampoo, and Xander had slung his towel in the hamper. "This must be trying for you."

Xander shrugged. Every jump further from the man he knew hurt more. Being thought of as an idiot and hanger-on had sucked, but this private glimpse was so close to the secret under-Giles Xander had been getting to know, and now he knew, and it made him miss Giles so much it hurt.

That just didn't seem like something he could say.

Giles contemplated his reflection again, and then Xander. "You're twenty? Younger?"

"I'm eighteen."

"And you see something in this?" He gestured at the mirror.

Something? "Yeah." Xander shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

Somehow that was taken as permission to stare openly, and Xander shuffled his feet, feeling like he was being measured, or something. But not judged. Just... checked out. He raised an eyebrow, and Giles smiled, awkwardly.

"I've had some troubles, recently." Troubles. Giles picked up his gift for understatement early, then. "I'm trying to pull my life together, but right now it's hard to believe I have anything to look forward to. You are... you're quite a relief."

"You can say that 'cause you don't know me."

The smile widened, and it took Xander's breath away. "Quite possibly. But I can tell you're a good man. And yet somehow, you seem to care for me."

"Is that so hard to believe?"

"It seemed so, yesterday." He lifted a hand, as though to touch Xander's cheek, but it moved up to adjust his glasses and maybe Xander had only imagined it. "Also, if you'll pardon the superficiality, you are..." He laughed, nervously. "I can't imagine landing someone who looks like you now, let alone..." he waved at the mirror again, "...twenty years from now."

Xander's stomach did its first happy flip in days. "You think I'm good-looking?"

He put on that incredulous-at-your-stupidity look that Xander usually minded a lot, but this time he kind of liked it. Giles shuffled forward and touched Xander's hair, tucked a curl pointlessly behind his ear.

Xander could taste his breath, familiar and hot, and his eyes were startlingly clear and close. Xander swallowed a couple of times, and stepped back and ran a hand through his hair. "I miss you."

"I'm sorry I'm missing."

Xander took another step backwards, feeling better and worse. He bit his lip where it tingled, and looked around like the right thing to say might be scrawled on the bathroom wall. He found the sink, and pointed to the cup sitting behind it. "The green one's yours."

Giles looked disappointed. "Thank you."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Is he okay?" Willow asked, when Xander came out.

"Yeah. Sorta. His reflection's aged twenty years."

"Oh yeah." She pulled a face. "Weird."

We almost kissed, Xander wanted to confess. He didn't need to confess. He was with Giles. They were with each other. They could kiss. Couldn't they?

"Have we got a sec?" Buffy peeked up the hallway towards the bathroom. "Okay. Research on the memory issue continues here. You okay with that?"

"I'm good." Better than usual.

"I'll head out on patrol. Wills, you wanna use the campus computer to go hacking?"

Willow had already packed her laptop away. "Campus connection, let's go!"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander fluffed the pillow and threw it to the end of the couch. He felt the presence at the bottom of the stairs, turned to find Giles watching him. He was wearing his robe, ready for bed.

"Hey."

"This flat doesn't look particularly futuristic."

Xander snorted. "That's because you live here."

Giles looked away. "I'm old."

"You're not old."

"When I woke up this morning, I had the body of a twenty-seven year-old. Now it's all grey hair and sagging things and it looks like it's been through a war or two."

"It has. And that's a pretty good body for a forty-six year-old, so you shouldn't knock it." Was it weird to be getting defensive about Giles to Giles?

"You like it."

"Yeah. I like it." It seemed like he shouldn't be liking it right now, but he knew the shape of Giles' shoulders under that robe, knew how the hair spread across his chest and then trailed down. Knew how it felt, against him.

Giles wandered closer, and perched on the edge of the armchair. "What am I like?"

"What are you like?"

He frowned, trying to figure out what he wanted to know. "I seem to be working for the right side, which comes as somewhat of a relief."

Xander sat on his half-made sleep-couch. "Yeah. We're the good guys. You're a good guy."

"Or at least I pass for one."

Wow. Giles had taken up self-flagellation like it was a professional sport. "Maybe we're all just passing. If you can fake it well enough, you must be one."

He gave a little shrug, like he didn't agree but wasn't man enough to fight about it. "So I'm a demon-fighting ex-pat in California, who has landed in the role of Watcher, with no obvious public career, whose friends are all twenty years his junior."

"Twenty-eight years, but who's counting?"

"Amazingly, the only part of that which sounds likely is the demon-fighting part."

Xander grinned. "You were a school librarian, until we blew up the school."

"School librarian." He winced at 'school'.

"We were... Buffy was a student until last year, so I guess it was an easy cover story."

"Is, is, is... Does she mind, I don't suppose that..." He looked down, and rubbed his forehead. "It doesn't matter."

"She's lucky to have you. And she knows it."

The startled look was oddly satisfying. Yeah, Xander was learning to read Giles well enough. "There must be, be many better alternatives, I, I can't imagine why-"

"We've met a couple of the alternatives. They sucked, big time. You're Watcher of the year. We took a vote, and it was unanimous."

Giles snorted, looking down like the carpet was the most fascinating thing ever. Xander was searching for something better to say, when he lifted his head. "You don't have to sleep down here."

He'd started to think Giles liked the company. "Someone's got to be here to talk the sword out of your hand at three in the morning."

Giles pulled off his glasses and stared at them, not seeming to know what to do without the ever-present handkerchief. "It seems to me that's your bed upstairs, as well."

Xander stood, and took a couple of steps away. "No. No, no, no. I've got my perfectly comfy couch. Sleep like a rock. Or, like I'm on a rock, anyway, which is, you know, kind of the same."

Giles stood and half-turned away, speaking quietly back over his shoulder. "I may not remember anything of this life, but I'm still the man you apparently share it with. I should be glad of the company. It needn't... Just company." He quickly climbed the stairs, not waiting to find out if Xander would follow.

Xander sat. Could he? The couch wasn't so bad, but the bed was... It had Giles in it. Memory or not, Xander missed him, ached for it. It seemed like Giles wanted it, too.

He picked up the pillow and switched off the lights, feeling his way upstairs. Sliding under the covers was familiar, except for his shorts and shirt, and the great chasm in between them.

"Thank you," was whispered softly in the darkness.

How often did you have the chance to soothe your lover's old pain? If Giles had been around the first time Xander's mom threatened to take a bottle of pills, Xander could have stood to be hugged. Xander moved across and felt him out, found his shoulder and turned him so he could curl up behind.

It felt like Giles, and Xander squeezed him hard.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander was awake, waiting, long before he felt Giles stir. They hadn't changed position all night; one of Xander's arms was asleep under Giles' ribs, the other draped over his hot chest, tickled by coarse hairs.

He'd thought it must have sucked to go crawling back to the Council, but he'd never really imagined how hard it must have been. A year and a half, and he was still working on their trust, didn't seem to have started earning back his own. And Ethan was out there, somewhere, ready to remind him just how bad it could be.

Xander could feel him waking, the change in his breathing, the slight tension of consciousness. Perfectly familiar, except he had no idea who this was in his arms, and it took courage to ask, "Are you still with me?"

Giles stiffened as he came fully awake, and his head half-turned. "Xander?"

A surge of sickening hope. "Giles?"

"Yes." Xander pulled him around, but knew as soon as he saw his eyes, and Giles seemed to realise as well. "The same. I don't remember. I'm sorry."

Xander nodded, and lay back down. He needed to soothe Giles' guilt, but he couldn't do it just yet.

Giles could. Giles pulled Xander into his arms, and Xander went, burying his face in the furry chest, and the smell of him was so right, the feel of him. As Xander let go of his hopes, relief crept in. It wasn't another leap, another set of explanations, another Giles who didn't know who the hell he was. This was a Giles who trusted him enough to take him to bed, and if it wasn't *his* Giles, memory intact, then it was the next best thing. "How are you doing?"

"This is the best wake up I've had in a long time. I'm going to be very lucky, one day."

Xander didn't know what to say. He felt warm and shaken and tongue-tied, so he just rubbed his hand up and down Giles' arm. "The others will be here, soon."

"Soon."

"We should get up."

"Wait a while."

Xander was glad to. The longer he could lie here, not dealing, the better.

It was a long time before they somehow agreed it was time to move. They shared the sink, took turns showering and shaving. It was all very normal, in that never-quite-normal hellmouth way. Xander had to remind Giles to take his blood pressure pills, and there was no kissing or groping. Giles' gaze was constant, though, and that should probably have been worrying, but it just felt good. Like Giles.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander came downstairs to find Giles messing around over a saucepan, sleeves pushed up, shirt not buttoned all the way. "What's cooking?"

"I found some oats. Would you like some?"

"Oats? Like horses eat?"

Giles sent him a wry glance. "Porridge."

"Like English people eat?"

"Yes. Like English people eat."

Xander snuck a look into the pot and shuddered as he slipped by. "Nuh-uh. No thanks. American, remember? I eat Pop-Tarts or Cap'n Crunch or, in moments of desperation, bleached-white-bread toast." He pulled a loaf of exactly that out of the bread bin. Maybe he should see about picking up some decent cereal.

"You can put sugar on porridge."

"Thanks, but the key ingredients of my breakfast foods of choice are preservatives and artificial colours." He paused, and tipped his head. "Of course, when there's cold pizza in the fridge, that trumps all."

How Giles could cringe at breakfast pizza while pouring that slop into a bowl, Xander couldn't understand, but it was exactly the Giles thing to do. Giles was trading the banter like a stuffy ex-librarian should.

"You two are in a good mood," Buffy said as she strolled in, Willow at her heels.

"It's a lovely morning," Giles replied, "and I have a very good feeling about our progress."

"He also has oats," Xander added, shoving the loaf of bread aside.

"Sooo, you're still yesterday's Giles?" asked Willow.

"Made it through the night," Xander said, knowing he sounded weirdly happy about it. "So. Fresh plan of action, or same-old same-old?"

Buffy sent him the 'no luck' shrug before plopping down at the counter. No sign of Ethan. "Today, we've got stuff to do. We just thought we'd check in, see if we'd landed ourselves in the sex, drugs and bad magicks of the seventies, yet."

Xander wanted to pinch her, but the kicked-dog expression on Giles' face seemed to do it for him. Buffy slumped.

"You're going to have a lot of trouble with me if I lose more memory," Giles said quietly.

"We know." She squirmed some more. "We already talked about it."

There was a long awkward silence. 'If I lose more memory,' Giles had said, but it was 'when'. They didn't know how long they'd have this sensible, trusting, liking-Xander Giles, and then it was going to be another lurching turn on the Giles-go-round.

Willow cleared her throat, and she and Buffy shared a look, and then Buffy started asking Giles about his porridge. Conveniently, he had no idea how lame that was.

Xander followed Willow over to the couch. "Buffy's got a couple more places she wants to check out. I'm going to try a spell." Of course. "I tried a magic-finding spell last night, but it's Sunnydale, you know? My map pretty much exploded. I need to do something Ethan's-magic-specific."

"Is that harder?"

"Actually, it's easier, except I need something that belongs to Ethan to do it. Do you know if Giles has anything of Ethan's?"

Xander almost laughed at that, but he sobered quickly. Who knew what Giles thought was worth keeping, and bringing with him across the Atlantic? Even if he did have something, they'd have no way of knowing that something was Ethan's. Not unless there was a ring with 'To Ripper Love Ethan' inscribed on it, and chances of Giles not destroying something like that were a snowman in hell. At least, Xander thought so. Would Giles keep something like that?

"Anything," Willow urged. "A photo, a letter... I can find out what he's done and where he is, but I need something that's his, or used to be his."

Well, all right. Those were things that would obviously be Ethan's. And that maybe Giles would keep. In amongst the papers upstairs. Which would mean going through Giles' private stuff. Again. "I can't."

She frowned. "Has he got all his stuff locked in a safe?"

"I can't go through his stuff."

"But... you go through his..." The waved hand didn't give away the rest of the sentence so much as the fiery blush.

Xander looked back over his shoulder at Giles, who seemed to be absorbed with Buffy. "He generally knows when I'm going through his pants. And that's pretty wildly different to going through his personal private letters."

"But this is to help him."

Even just thinking about it made Xander's stomach give an encore performance of getting caught. "If it gets dire, maybe then-"

"It's dire now. Next stop isn't gonna be our helpful, friendly Giles, remember?"

If Giles turned into the unhelpful, unfriendly Giles, at least Xander would have less trouble digging through his stuff. He looked to the kitchen, where they were grinning about something, heads close. "It's not dire."

Dire was going to be when the Giles they had to handle was scarier than Xander's memory of the cold, thin-lipped stare.

The image dissolved into a look of concern, and Xander realised he was staring absently at the man they had in the here and now. Xander tried to smile, but he must have failed because Giles waved off whatever Buffy was talking about to wander over. "Everything all right?"

"Yeah."

Willow shot him a look, but it rolled right off, and she turned to Giles. "Yeah. Buffy and I actually have to go do some magic stuff."

"Oh." Giles retreated a step.

"You and Xander can keep up with the books here."

"Of course. That, that, that would be best."

"Best?"

Giles twitched, suddenly looking very uncomfortable. "Xander and I shall, ah, get back to the books, then."

After the girls left, Xander touched Giles' back. It felt like rock, and Xander wanted to rub away the tension. "Are you okay?"

His lungs swelled with a long breath. "They know about what I've done, as well."

"It's twenty years in the past." Xander caught Giles' glance at the door, and put it together. "You think they don't trust you with magic? No, it's just, since this is about you..."

Giles nodded, not remotely convinced.

Xander took his hand. "Do you really think you'd still be paying for what happened, twenty years later?"

There was no answer. Xander had no idea what else to say. Giles finally pushed his hand through his hair. "I abused something deeply powerful. I killed a man."

"I know."

Giles started a little, like he hadn't believed Xander knew that. "I don't have the right to put that behind me."

Xander thought carefully. "You don't have the right to forget, but you do have the right to put it behind you. You had to put it behind you, to do your job. You've got Buffy to protect, now, and the rest of us, and kind of the whole world."

He looked reassured, until the last bit. Xander really needed to work on his counselling skills.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Back in the kitchen, they cleared away the remains of breakfast and lunch, the pair of them shuffling around each other like it was them, all memories present and accounted for. It was kind of funny, how Giles of 1980 seemed more like the Giles that Xander knew than Giles of '97 or '95. Or maybe it was just the night, the waking up together that made everything more familiar, more comfortable. Xander turned to drop his knife in the sink, and there was Giles, standing still, watching him. His eyes lifted to Xander's mouth and stopped.

He jerked away, embarrassed, and Xander didn't move. Giles wanted to kiss him.

To hell with it. Xander caught Giles' elbows and drank in his surprise as he pulled him into a kiss. Surprise, from the guy who practically humped Xander up against the linen closet.

This was nothing like that. The first kiss was awkward, neither of them sure where to put their lips and noses, but when Giles backed off, Xander pressed forward, and he kissed him again, and it was better, and Xander didn't know why his eyes were burning, or why his throat suddenly hurt. This was Giles, no matter what had been done to him. He tasted like tea and the hair at the nape of his neck was soft in Xander's palm. It was still Giles, and Xander had missed him so much.

"I'm still him," Giles whispered, sounding more hopeful than certain, "just with a few bits and pieces missing. I'm your Rupert Giles."

"You are."

Xander smoothed his hands down Giles' cheeks, just watching for a moment, before he came close to brush their lips. The lightest of touches, and Giles let him, just stood there and opened his mouth as Xander licked at the edges, sucked in a breath as Xander nibbled his lip. It was Giles, and there was no knowing when he'd leave Xander behind again. Xander whimpered and pushed their hips together, letting his hands slide down to cup Giles' ass. Giles seized on it like he'd just been given permission. Suddenly Xander was backed up against the stove and Giles' hands were working Xander's jeans open, kiss never breaking until a big familiar hand squeezed his dick and Xander's head tipped back, grasping for breath. Giles.

"Where did I find you?" Giles muttered, clearly not wanting an answer because he covered Xander's mouth in another kiss.

Xander didn't know why he'd waited. He was going to drag Giles upstairs and show him just how good his future could be. He covered Giles' hand in his pants, groaning at the extra pressure. "I'm gonna suck you. I know how you like it."

"I've been picturing it since yesterday."

"And this." Xander slipped a hand up under Giles' shirt and pinched his nipple hard enough to make him gasp.

The phone rang, and they stared at it in disbelief. Now?

"Ignore it," Giles muttered, with a thrust.

Xander did, until the second ring, when he realised it could be Buffy or Willow with a breakthrough, and he shoved Giles away, rushing to grab it before it rang again.

"Hey, Xand, it's me."

His stomach twisted in knots. "Buffy. Any luck?"

"Nada. I've crawled every cockroach motel, every magic-friendly business and every dark, dank bar in Sunnydale. I've picked up three potential dates with middle-aged bikers and possibly a disease or two from touching door knobs, but no Ethan."

Damn. They couldn't be wrong. It had to be Ethan, or they had no leads at all. Xander turned and saw Giles listening in, looking equally disappointed as he read Xander's expression. Or maybe it was the interruption. His mouth was swollen from kissing. Xander resisted the urge to adjust himself. Not while he was talking to Buffy.

"Willow said you didn't want to go through Giles' stuff looking for something of Ethan's-"

"Buffy-"

"But it's time. Either you have to go digging, or you have to tell Giles that we think it's the crazed ex-boyfriend, and let him dig."

Option B didn't sound any better than option A. "There has to be another way."

"I've other-wayed from one end of Sunnydale to the other. I've other-wayed my spanky new platform shoes down to not-so-spanky flip-flops."

"There has to be something we're missing." Xander felt Giles' gaze, so he picked up the phone and carried it over to the couch, out of hearing. "Think like Ethan."

"Think like a crazed, self-absorbed, chaos-worshipping pain in the ass?"

"Yes. Why is he doing this?"

"To make trouble," Buffy explained, loudly and slowly. "Trouble is his reason-dater."

There was a murmur in the background, Willow saying something crude.

"No, listen. So the costume thing, that was just for the fun of it, right?"

"All the motive he needs."

"But Ey-" Xander checked that Giles was well over there. "But the next time, it was about saving his own skin."

"And the candy bars was because he was getting paid."

Xander sighed. "The trip to sociopath-central's not really helping, is it? This could be sorcerer-for-hire, self-defence or just him having a laugh."

"Or something else. Don't forget the endless something else possibilities."

"If it's him and not someone totally different that we haven't thought of or maybe haven't even met before."

"Okay, now that we've narrowed it down..."

More Willow in the background.

"You're right, Will. This is pretty Giles-specific. And we know he likes to stick around and watch the show, so he can't be far. But since I've already checked everywhere but under our own beds..."

The lightbulb clicked on. Oh. Yeah. He wouldn't be far. And one of Giles' neighbours just moved out.

Xander dropped the phone and marched outside, more furious with himself than he was with Ethan. What idiots they were. All this time. He pounded on the door until it opened and there was... Ethan. Lounging in the doorway in jeans and a t-shirt, barefoot. The smug bastard, looking not even the tiniest bit flustered by Xander's murderous gaze.

"Hello, neighbour. Come to borrow a cup of sugar?" His eyes shifted to something behind Xander. "Hello, Ripper," he purred.

Oh, shit. Of course Giles had followed him out, and of course Giles was standing right behind him, looking... happy? Xander shook himself. Happy?

"Ethan!" Giles darted past and threw his arms around his psychotic nemesis like they were old friends-

No. Not old friends. Giles was kissing Ethan like right-now-lovers and Ethan's arms were sliding around Giles' waist and Giles wasn't ripping off those arms and beating Ethan to death with them. What in hell was going on?

Giles pushed Ethan back, finally, squeezing his shoulders and grinning. "I presumed you were... Good god, I never imagined you'd make it out of your twenties, let alone into your forties!" Another bear hug. He couldn't keep his hands off him.

"I discovered the merits of good, clean living, love. I'm a changed man." Ethan grinned wickedly over his shoulder at Xander, and let one hand slide south, towards Giles' ass. And still no beating to death.

Xander's knees unlocked and he yanked Giles back by the scruff of his collar. "Stop hugging the mortal enemy!"

Giles stumbled backwards, found his feet and blinked at Xander, before turning to Ethan for enlightenment.

"Why, Ripper, you didn't tell me he was the jealous type."

Xander got in one good punch to the nose before he was hauled back and Giles was between them, bodily defending Ethan Rayne. When he got his memory back, Giles was gonna die of shame. He put his hands out, keeping them apart. "Xander. Ethan's a friend of mine."

"No, he's not."

"He's a good friend."

"No, he isn't."

"He damn-well is."

This wasn't happening. No way was Giles going to take the side of that, that... "He's a terrible, no good, very bad friend. Who do you think cast the spell on you?"

Giles looked back over his shoulder, and Ethan gave a coy shrug as he dabbed his bleeding nose with the back of his hand. "That is true, I'm afraid."

Wait. What? He was going to admit it?

"Ethan..." It was said on a withering sigh. "You haven't changed at all."

"But you're still happy to see me."

Giles laughed. "Of course I am."

"He stole your brain." Possibly more of it than just the memory part.

"I'm a right scamp."

That earned another laugh, and an affectionate squeeze of his shoulder. "Yes, you are. I can't believe you're here. Bleeding on my doorstep." He fished around and found his glasses-polishing handkerchief, and made to hand it over.

Enough. Way, way beyond enough. Xander grabbed the handkerchief and Giles by his collar and yanked him out into the courtyard. No way was he going to let them close enough to kiss again. "Maybe you're not getting the big picture here."

"You believe Ethan is responsible for wiping my memory." He glanced over to where Ethan was waiting patiently, arms folded. "And he is. Ethan's fond of practical jokes that amuse no one but himself."

"I think you just breached the netherworlds of understatement."

"You needn't worry," Giles said, sounding totally unworried. "He'll fix it."

"You're damned right, he will." Xander grabbed Ethan's sleeve, and dragged him back to Giles'.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"This really isn't necessary," Ethan said over his shoulder.

Xander gave the rope an extra pull, hoping it might cut off the circulation in his hands. "I'll decide what's necessary. You don't get a vote."

"Xander-"

"Neither do you."

Giles hovered a few feet away. "He wouldn't do any real harm."

Xander stood up straight and huffed. "You mean apart from that time he almost got us all killed by turning us into our Halloween costumes? And the time he tried to get Buffy killed to save his own ass from Ey- ay... a demon?" He gave Ethan's bare foot a kick, to make sure it was tied securely to the chair leg.

"Don't forget the chocolate bars. That was rather ingenious, and quite non-fatal."

"You did it so the Mayor could feed a bunch of babies to a snake-demon."

Ethan wrinkled his nose. "Oh. Yes. He didn't succeed though, did he?"

The door flew open and the gang came rushing in. "Xander! Why did you- Oh."

Willow and Oz slid to a halt, while Buffy came straight over and grabbed Ethan by the throat, yanking him hard enough to pull the chair up on its front legs. "You have no idea how much I'm going to beat you to death."

"Ripper..." Ethan pleaded, and Giles put a hand on her shoulder.

"It's all right, Buffy."

"All right?"

"Giles and Ethan are pals," Xander explained.

"No, they're not." Buffy took a few seconds to re-orient herself, and frowned at Xander. "Did he lose another chunk of his memory? Have we hit the scary adolescence?"

"Nope."

Giles tugged her away. "No, I did not lose more memory."

Buffy pointed at Ethan. "You hate him. You want to beat him up."

Giles chuckled. "I always want to beat some sense into him, but it never does any good."

She gaped at him, then at Xander. "You were serious."

Xander nodded.

There was a 'wow' from Willow.

Buffy turned to Giles, and pointed at Ethan. "He cursed you with a disappearing memory."

"Yes."

"Some people might consider that grounds for a punch in the face. Maybe a whole lot of punches to all sorts of body parts."

"He'd probably enjoy it."

She smiled, sweetly, as she turned to Ethan. "Then there isn't really any reason to resist."

Giles stepped between them. "I'm the reason."

Ethan was grinning like a madman. "All agreed, then?"

"Oh, do shut up, Ethan," Giles growled over his shoulder.

"Whatever happened to friendship?"

"You always have to make things worse, don't you?" Giles rubbed his forehead. "Come on. We'll untie you, and then you'll fix whatever it is you've done."

"No!" Buffy darted forward. "There will be no untying!"

"I've had enough of this," Giles retorted, bobbing down to free Ethan's wrists. "He isn't going to-"

"No."

"He can't bloody well do any magic with his hands tied behind his back."

Buffy put a hand under Giles' arm and dragged him away. "He's staying right where he is."

They glared at each other.

"All this fighting over little old me?"

"Ethan!" Giles snapped. He never turned away from Buffy. "He may be an insufferable twit, but I won't turn my back on him."

Buffy's mouth opened, and her eyes went wide. "Oh my god, you think you can change him!"

Xander saw the way Giles' mouth tightened and realised they were losing him fast. He grabbed the pair of them, and hauled them to the bathroom.

"Enemy, Giles," Buffy said as soon as they crossed onto the tiles, pronouncing it like she was talking to a five year-old. "Bad guy. Doer of evil."

Giles yanked his hand free and glared at them both. "I've had enough recently of people telling me who my friends are."

"There's no recently here," Xander cut in, "and it's not us telling you. You're the one who warned us about how dangerous he is."

"And you." Giles jabbed his finger at Xander. "Why didn't you tell me he was here? He was next door all this time!"

"Next door?" Buffy exclaimed. "Why didn't you-" She caught Xander's glare, and remembered who she was supposed to be arguing with.

"I didn't know he was next door," Xander explained, patience getting low. "I just figured it out."

"And we wouldn't have invited him over for tea and scones if we'd known," added Buffy. "Bad guy, remember?"

"He's done no worse than I have!"

"Maybe that was true back in the day," Xander said, "but you've spent the last twenty years fighting evil, and he's spent twenty years summoning it."

"He's my friend," Giles snapped.

"You tell them, Rupert!" was yelled from the other room, followed by what sounded suspiciously like a slap. Go Willow.

"Look," Buffy hissed, "I'm the Slayer. That makes me in charge of who's evil and who's not."

"Technically-"

"And I have a whole brain."

Giles shut his mouth.

This was getting out of hand. Xander just wanted to get back to getting back Giles. "How about a compromise?" he offered. "We won't hit him, and you don't trust him."

Giles glared at each of them, before begrudgingly dipping his head. Thank god.

Xander raised an eyebrow at Buffy, and she pouted, clearly having hoped she wouldn't have to sign the deal. "Fine."

"Now let's get on with fixing this." So they could have *their* Giles back, who'd be the first to lay into Ethan. Xander would even be willing to let him do that first, before he begged Xander for forgiveness for ever having been this big an idiot, and explained exactly what he'd seen in that jerk. He led the way back out to where Willow was looming over Ethan, while Oz perched silently on a stool.

"Are you going to help us?" Buffy demanded.

"How could I refuse, when you've all been so wonderfully hospitable?"

"Oh, I'd love to hospital you."

"Buffy!"

Buffy and Giles started bickering again, and Willow joined in.

Xander slipped around to check Ethan hadn't loosened the knots while they were in the bathroom. Ethan's head turned towards him. "So you're Xander," he murmured. Xander gave the rope an extra twist around his ankle and jerked it tighter. "My, you're young, aren't you? I must say, I never pegged our Rupert for a chicken hawk, though he always did love the virgins."

One good hard shove sent the chair toppling back, Ethan's skull hitting the carpet with a satisfying thump before Xander was hauled backwards by Giles.

"What are you doing?"

Xander strained against him. "I'm no match for a vampire but I can take a man tied to a chair!"

"I have dibs," insisted Buffy.

"You promised you wouldn't hit him!"

"I didn't! I shoved him!"

"Everybody stop!" Willow bellowed.

Everyone stopped.

"If it's not too much trouble, may I be put to rights?" Ethan asked from the floor.

"No," said Buffy, Willow and Xander as one. Oz, too.

"Now," Willow said, "Are you going to help?"

"Nothing would bring me more pleasure."

She raised an eyebrow.

"It's nothing. Transmemorification. A dash of Mortimer's scriptures, a couple of charms I picked up in Australia, a small sacrifice to Kan-Laon..."

She kept right on glaring. "So you say. I'm just going to confer with my colleagues."

They all gathered on the other side of the room from Ethan.

"Okay," Buffy started. "Hands up everyone who trusts him."

No one raised a hand. They all looked at Giles, but even he wasn't that stupid.

"We should check out his apartment," Willow suggested. "Go through his spell books, see what ingredients he's got. I still say we go with the tracking spell, to find out what he's really casting. We can grab something of his while we're there."

"Go with her," Buffy ordered Giles. "You might know what to look for."

"Can we at least sit him up?"

"No," they all repeated.

Xander cast a look over at Ethan. He wouldn't mind a few minutes alone with the guy. "You and Oz go too. I'll stay."

Buffy looked at Ethan, and then smirked at Xander. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"Xander, please don't-"

Xander raised his hands. "No hitting." He pulled a chair up in front of Ethan and straddled it. "It's just gonna be you and me for a while."

"Oh, goody," Ethan said with a smile.

The others left; Buffy prised Giles out, and Xander was alone with him.

Ethan rolled his head for a better view. "Quite the racket you two make."

Interesting. "Jealous?"

"My sweet boy, Rupert's a great shag, but sex was never the best of his talents."

"Then you weren't doing it right."

"Ah." He wasn't riled at all. "Not a noble leap to defend his virtue, then? His best talent isn't his courage, his humility, his fearless assistance of blind cripples across busy roads?"

"He's all that, too. But right now the sex is top of my list." Xander wanted to say sex as often as he could in front of this creep. "You should know. You heard us."

"I know from closer quarters than that." Ethan shifted, innocently drawing attention to his crotch. Which Giles had once explored. "No, Magic and mayhem, that was Ripper's art." He was practically purring as he said it.

Xander folded his arms on the back of the chair and rocked it back. "You want him."

"Nonsense-"

"That's why you keep coming back." He wagged a finger, starting to enjoy this. "You couldn't win him over by tattooing Buffy or cursing him with candy bars, so now you're turning him back into the stupid Giles who did want you."

Ethan pierced him with a stare. "My boy, if I wanted to win Rupert over, he'd have stuck his tongue down my throat by now- Oh wait! He did! And all I'd done was show up." He smiled.

Xander hated this guy. He wasn't going to give an inch. "Five minutes before that, he had his hands down my pants, and he'd only known me for a day."

"I accept your challenge."

"That wasn't-" Damn.

Ethan waggled his feet in the air, pleased with himself.

"If you touch him..."

Ethan lifted his head. "We'd let you watch. He likes that. Or we could share. Ripper always loved an all-in. Could be just like old times: me, Ripper and some passing infatuation."

Xander shuddered in about five different directions. "'Gross' is not a strong enough word. I'm leaning more towards 'unspeakable'. Maybe 'vomitous'. I wouldn't ever touch you."

"Bet you wouldn't do a lot of things he likes. My Ripper was quite perverse."

Xander felt those words slip through and stick in the back of his brain. Asshole.

Ethan rolled his hips. "Give me ten minutes alone with him, and he'll be putty in my lap."

"Give me the cure, and then I'll give you ten minutes alone with him," Xander growled, gripping the back of the chair hard enough to hurt. "There'll be putty, all right."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that, my boy. He hasn't given up on me, yet." He ran his tongue over his lips. "Do you really think it's been twenty years since the last time he had my prick in his mouth?"

Xander jumped up, ready to drop the chair on his head. "Yeah, well, it's never going to happen again."

"You'd like to think so, but experience tells me rather a different story."

The door swung open before Xander could swallow the rising bile for some sort of comeback, and everyone traipsed in carrying cartons. Willow dumped hers on the desk. "Nice job on the dispossession spell."

Oz nodded. "That was sarcasm."

"Yes, or an American approximation. Thank you anyway. Couldn't have you using my belongings to track me or my magic, could I?"

"Doesn't matter, we found your spell book." She picked a book out of his box, and waved it. "We don't need your help."

Xander felt something pressed into his palm as Oz passed him. He waited to be sure Ethan was trading threats with Buffy before he checked the slip of paper.

It was Willow's writing. 'He left the spell book as a decoy. Giles figured it out. Pretend we're going along with him.'

Great. Somebody finally had a plan. Whatever it was, Xander was on board.

Buffy tipped Ethan and his chair up off the ground, setting him right. "If we set you free, can we trust you to go with Xander and Oz to the Magic Shop for supplies?"

Xander's head jerked up. "What?"

From behind Ethan, Buffy made a meaningful face, and Willow made shooing gestures. Oz shrugged. Giles just looked unhappy about everything.

There was a plan. Right. And Xander was stuck keeping Ethan occupied. Fine. Better than leaving him behind with Giles. "I'll just go up and get my wallet."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Upstairs, Xander sat heavily on the bed. Things had almost been okay, this morning. And then they were, god. Kissing Giles... it had felt like coming home after months apart. Now there was Ethan. And Xander's current or future boyfriend being Ethan's past or current boyfriend. Xander didn't want to have that much in common with Ethan Rayne.

The guy was so obnoxious, Giles must have had one hell of a payoff for putting up with him, and so far the only clue Xander had was that Ethan was exactly what Giles wanted in bed.

Xander really, really hated Ethan. Way more than he'd ever hated Angel, or, well, Angel.

He wasn't surprised when Giles came up the stairs, and sat beside him.

Xander spoke first. "Trust me."

"I don't know you."

"You knew me well enough an hour ago." That had to count for something. Xander twisted and kissed him, and Giles didn't hesitate, kept right on going when Xander was ready to stop. "Doesn't that feel familiar?"

"No." Nice and blunt. Thanks. "But it felt good." He slid a thumb over Xander's lip, looking ready to do it again. "I'm sorry this is hard on you-"

"But you want him." Better to say it, than hear it from Giles. "I don't get what you... He's annoying and crazy and evil. He's not even good-looking."

He sighed. "Ethan and I are past that. I know he's a shite, but he's the only friend I have."

"He's the only friend you *had*. We're talking some pretty serious past tense here. And somehow I don't think he was ever really your friend."

Giles mulled on that a while. At least he was listening. "Perhaps. But I'm his only friend."

Xander swallowed. "Did you ever think maybe that's because everyone else is smarter than you?"

Giles' eyes widened, but then he smiled. "Perhaps."

"And maybe you've learned your lesson since then?"

That wiped the smile away.

"Ethan's dangerous. He's... mean."

"No worse than I."

Xander heard him this time, and he thought he finally got it. He covered Giles' hand, squeezed his fingers. "You've changed. You chose this. Being a good guy."

Giles looked away.

He didn't know why he was trying to convince him. Either they'd fix Giles' memory, and he'd heartily agree, or he'd timewarp again and forget everything. The only one learning anything from all this was Xander.

"Are you sure you're past it?"

"I'm sorry?"

"You and Ethan?"

Giles squirmed. "Mostly. I sometimes have trouble helping myself, when it comes to him."

He couldn't have lied? Xander wondered how long the 'trouble helping himself' problem had lasted. If it was behind him yet. "Just promise me you won't touch him." Or do any of those things Ethan was threatening. Xander really didn't need to know what Ethan could do for Giles that he couldn't.

"I assure you, I have no plans to-"

"Don't touch him, don't kiss him."

Giles winced. "I'm sorry about that."

Just to push the point home, Xander tugged him around and kissed him again, hot and promising. Wishing Giles had a grown-up bedroom with walls and a door so they could get in a quick territory-marking grope. He pressed him back until he was lying on the bed, and Xander slid a hand under his shirt, nibbling down his jawline, barely restraining himself from climbing on top.

After one last, deep kiss, Xander pulled back, and Giles stayed where he was, looking dazed. "I still can't entirely believe I have this much going for me."

Xander kissed him again. "You've got more than this. If you can just stick around through tonight, I'll finish what got interrupted this afternoon."

It was almost like having a guiltless affair, except as soon as Xander thought it, in rolled the guilt. Enjoying this while Giles was... not Giles. Xander stood up and took a step away. No. He liked this era of Giles better than some of the others, but he'd still trade it in a second for the right one.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Xander waited outside. He was pretty sure he should have kept Ethan in his direct line of sight, but Xander Harris had his limits, his last nerve, and a camel's back. Oz could babysit him in the shop. He kicked a drink can, wishing they'd hurry the hell up. He wanted to have his own, fully-restored Giles back, so they could have a serious heart-to-heart about Giles' taste in exes. Xander's taste was pretty bad, but Ms French, Ampata, Cordy and Faith all put together didn't add up to half an Ethan. And at least he quit all of them after the first time they tried to kill him.

Xander lifted his head to sigh, and stopped, paralysed.

"Xander, what the hell are you doing out here?"

He opened his mouth, and nothing.

"Well?"

"Dad."

His dad strode up, looking around suspiciously. "Your mother told you not to leave the house."

"You think I'd stay after..."

"I didn't hit you!" He looked ready to hit someone now, swelled up with anger, and Xander couldn't help backing up a step.

"I didn't say you did."

A thick finger stabbed the air a few inches from Xander's face. "I've never raised a hand to you. Not once."

"I never said you did!"

He finally seemed to realise the way Xander was shrinking away, and jerked back.

Not hitting wasn't Giles' measure of a good father.

"It's my job to put food on the table and a roof over your head and protect my son from the sort of perverts who'd..."

The jangling shop door didn't register, not until the cheerful, "My darling boy, there was no need to wait outside."

Xander actually saw his dad's face change colour, to white and then to purple. He saw his teeth clenching, and his elbow pulling back, and from miles away, he watched his dad's fist swing hard into Ethan's jaw.

Ethan's head snapped back, and he stumbled backwards, and something cracked as another fist landed.

"Dad! That's not-"

His dad spun to face him, face twisted in rage, and Xander sent a panicked look at Ethan, still swaying in shock.

It was Ethan. His dad was beating up Ethan. Xander waved a hand. "Never mind. Carry on."

His dad's fist drew back.

"No, wait-"

One last punch, and Ethan went down in the gutter, blood gushing from his nose.

"...that's not him."

The murderous gaze lingered a couple more seconds, his lungs heaving like he'd just run a marathon, and then he lifted his head. "What?"

"That's not... the guy. I mean... You don't have to stop hitting him, but that's not... he's not... the guy."

"Oh." He looked down at Ethan, and then stared at his knuckles. He looked defeated.

Ethan struggled to his feet, clutching his nose. "Am I a bloody sideshow game?" Blood was dripping down his chin, and one eye was swelling shut, and Xander was... well, kinda impressed. His dad had never come to his defence like that. It was sick and twisted and if he'd hit Giles, Xander didn't know what he'd do, but as long as it was Ethan with the gushing blood, Xander felt... protected.

And he knew exactly how crazy that was, felt the crazed grin pulling at his mouth, and he let it spread. Grinned at his dad. "Feel better?"

He looked shell-shocked, staring at the man who wasn't fucking his son. Suddenly he smiled, just a little. "Yeah."

Xander spread his arms, giddy. "Still gay."

There was a bark of laughter that sounded a little like a sob.

"You okay, Dad?"

His dad was staring down at his bruised knuckles. "So who is he?" he asked, quietly. "This... person you're... seeing."

Xander looked at Ethan, dripping red. He looked at his dad. He looked at Ethan again. He looked at his dad again.

His dad looked at Ethan, and seemed to realise how much damage he'd done. "Suppose you wouldn't."

"This is touching," Ethan sniped, wiping the blood on his shirt. "May I have a bucket?"

Xander couldn't stop the grin that was pulling his mouth wide. He didn't know why Ethan hadn't punched back, but he wasn't about to look that gift horse in its bloody mouth. "Never picked you for a bleeder."

"Helps with the blood-letting spells."

"Where's- oh." Oz was standing just outside the door of the Magic Shop, had probably been there the whole time. Now he wandered over, taking in the damage admiringly. "Nice job, Mr Harris."

"You're Willow's boy."

"That I am."

Oz looked from Xander to his dad, to the bruised hands still bunched in fists. He arched an eyebrow, and looked back at Xander.

"Look, um, I have to go." Xander was surprised to realise he'd put his hand on his dad's arm. He'd never done that before. They didn't touch, usually. "But I'll... I'll come home for dinner tomorrow, or the next day. Sometime soon."

He caught Xander's wrist, and squeezed. "You can't tell your mother."

Xander wanted to argue. He'd survived finding out, so why shouldn't she have a chance? Maybe she'd be happy for him. Maybe she'd invite all the neighbours over for a coming-out party. "I know."

He looked down, glanced up the street and looked at Xander again. Suddenly seemed to realise he still had Xander's arm and let go. "I'm not my old man."

"I know." This conversation was way out of Xander's league. "You're all right. Will you be okay to get home?"

He blinked. "Yeah. Yeah, I'll just..." He waved a bruised hand, and then turned and shuffled off in the right direction.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Giles jumped to his feet as they came in. "What did you do?" He went straight for Ethan, stopping him in the doorway, glaring at Xander. "This is why you took him with you?"

Not even the way Giles was touching Ethan's face could ruin Xander's good mood. Much. "I didn't do it."

Giles tipped Ethan's head for a better look at the damage. Black eye, split lip, cuts and grazes, big, swollen red nose. Blood-drenched shirt. It was kind of a miracle they hadn't collected a trail of vampires on the way home. "You're going to tell me a complete stranger just walked up and laid into him?"

"Is that so unbelievable?"

Ethan pulled a long face, as well as he could around all the swelling, and edged closer to Giles. "It was entirely unprovoked."

Giles spared him a little of the glare. "Liar."

"It was entirely someone else." Xander waggled his fingers to show his clean knuckles. "I'm more of a hair puller."

Buffy growled. "Who cares who hit him, as long as someone did? Did you get the stuff?"

Oz pulled a jar out of his brown paper bag as he pushed past them, into the room. "One newt eyes to go."

Ethan jerked away from Giles' hands. "We didn't go to get newt eyes. We went to get twice-blessed Sasquatch mucus."

"My mistake," Oz said smoothly, tossing the jar to Buffy.

"Did you really think I wouldn't know, Ethan?" There was the low, threatening tone that Xander had been waiting for from Giles ever since Ethan showed his stupid face. "You think I couldn't tell a reversal spell from a chaos spell?"

"Oh, dear."

Xander couldn't tell if Ethan looked genuinely rattled, but who the hell cared? He finally realised Buffy and Willow and Giles were already set up to do the spell, Willow now lining up the newt eyes with the rest of the ingredients beside a serving plate full of black sludge. They were fixing Giles. He was getting Giles back. It was over.

Xander grinned up at Giles, and felt his face freeze into a mask.

Giles was frowning around the room, way-too-familiar confusion settling over him, until he looked more closely at Ethan and it turned into shock. "What the hell happened to you?"

Ethan grinned like he had Santa locked in his basement. "I could explain, Ripper, but I have a plan."

Ripper blinked, and seemed to read Ethan's mind, or just take a pretty good guess. "I'll bet you a kick in the arse my plan's better."

And they were out the door and gone, with the instincts of two men with a lot to escape from. Xander beat Buffy to the door, but he just got in her way. She shoved him aside and tore past him on the stairs, and she was the one who made it to the sidewalk first, just as the Citroen tore away from the kerb.

Willow and Oz arrived huffing behind them. Oz stared after the tail lights. "So I'm guessing this complicates matters."

Buffy turned back to face them. "Let's get this done."

"We can't," said Willow.

Xander almost sat down in the street. "What?"

"We need Giles here to do it."

"What?"

"Giles is an ingredient. Newt eyes, wolfsbane, Giles. He's sort of key. Technically a catalyst, not an ingredient, because he keeps on being Giles, but on the other hand he does have to say some of it, so he's sort of the co-caster, but, well. Kinda not optional. And he has to cooperate."

This couldn't be happening. Xander stared at the empty street. "Since he just flipped back a couple of chapters and scampered off with Ethan to go raise hell, or things from hell, I don't think he's going to be making much of a contribution."

Willow lifted her shoulders. "I don't have a Giles-less plan."

"Can we just get him back, and figure out the details later?" Xander urged. He was imagining worse things than raising demons. He wanted Giles back here, now.

"How do we do that?"

"Knock him out, drag him back here, chain him up, stick him in a cage, I don't care. Was my 'later' plan unclear?"

"First we have to find him." Willow looked at them all. "Do you know where they've gone?"

Shit.

Buffy threw up her hands. "Great. Let's split up. It should only take a week to cover the town. And then we'll just ask him nicely to stop making with the evil and follow us back here so we can turn him into someone he hates."

Oz gave a shrug. "By then he'll be five, so a bag of candy should do it."

They all looked at each other. No ideas.

Except one. Xander figured it out before the girls did, but he couldn't bring himself to move until Willow turned to him. "So," she said, brightly. "Something of Ethan's for a spell locator spell?"

"Yeah," Xander agreed. He couldn't look at them as he led the way back up the stairs to the apartment. Giles would want him to do this. Of course he would be okay with it, considering the circumstances. Better a little invasion of privacy than whatever humiliation Ethan and his crazed youth were planning to leave behind.

He went up to the loft and sat on the bed. Okay. Private papers and photos, bottom drawer. At least he knew where to start.

It wasn't Giles, right now. It may have looked like his Giles, but it wasn't. Whatever he was doing now wasn't... Xander hoped like hell that the two of them were too busy opening the hellmouth to get up to anything else.

The others had come inside, and were talking downstairs. Xander ran a hand through his hair. Just get it over with. He slid to the floor and pulled the drawer open, wondering if there was a way to find something of Ethan's without actually looking. Probably not. He picked up a pile of letters at random, and turned them over - great. Too much to ask for return addresses on the envelopes. This didn't look like how Xander imagined Ethan's handwriting would look, and somehow Xander didn't see Ethan writing thick letters on nice paper anyway. These looked like they were from a woman - a girlfriend, maybe? Or maybe if he turned around right now, there'd be his Giles, at the top of the stairs, looking at him that same way. Xander put them on the carpet.

There was a stack of birthday cards with an rubber band around them, and a scruffy pack of playing cards. There was a box, and on top was a book, some kind of journal with a folded piece of paper marking a place in the middle. Xander flipped it open, praying to whatever deity would listen that this wasn't Giles' private diary. That would be way, way beyond The Line. No, thank the gods. It wasn't Giles' handwriting. It was someone else's, even more spidery and old-fashioned, with one phrase underlined: 'you were cast into the future.'

Xander sucked in a breath. These had to be Giles' father's notes about Ripper. He unfolded the sheet of paper. It was from Giles' writing pad, and this was Giles' writing. And the title was 'Antidote Spell', underlined twice.

The rest of the things in the box looked like spell stuff. The same spell stuff that was on the list.

Xander barely saved himself from rolling down the stairs. "I've got it!" He waved the journal.

"Ethan gave him a book?"

"No!"

"Huh?"

"It's better! It's the spell Giles found. The remembering spell."

Willow frowned. "If he had a remembering spell, why didn't we do it already?"

"No, no, this is for last year. When Ripper was here." Xander shoved the paper under Willow's nose. "We could make him remember then!"

The girls stared at him. Willow cautiously took the paper. "You want twenty-something year-old Giles to remember being eighteen?"

"This will bring back the whole thing. The whole trip to Sunnydale. Then he'll remember us. Ethan doesn't know he already met us."

Buffy looked sceptical. "What makes you think that'll help?"

"He didn't seem to like us much," added Oz.

"He liked me." Xander was going to be in trouble if he had to explain that in detail.

One of Oz's eyebrows went up. Shit.

"Yeah, but..." Buffy wrinkled her nose. "You're still just some guy he met for a few hours, years ago, and that's Ethan, his bestest evilest friend."

"He saw the future. He got to know us."

"He didn't exactly seem impressed by the future."

"He found out about the watching thing. I mean, he didn't like it, but he'll know we're the good guys."

"He didn't like good guys."

"I can talk to him."

"You couldn't stop him from picking pockets!"

"Yeah, but... we had a connection."

"Oh my god," Willow said, making the connection for herself.

"Willow-" Xander pleaded.

Buffy's head whipped around to look at Willow, and then it fell into place for her, too. "Oh my god. You had sex with Giles last year?"

"You didn't tell me?" added Willow.

"No, I didn't have... And I'm sorry I didn't..." Xander clutched the book a little tighter. "Can we not talk about this now?"

"Not talk about you having sex with Giles *last year*? When we were at *school*?"

"Yes- No! Yes, Ripper and I hit it off. But it wasn't just... We talked about being a watcher, stuff like that. There were overturned trash cans and some posturing and, just trust me on this."

"But you had sex with-"

"No! I didn't have sex with Giles!"

"Ripper was Giles."

"It took you this long to tell me you're gay?"

"You and Giles? All this time?"

"No! Please," Xander begged. "I promise you can yell, you can guilt, you can ask me anything, but please, can we just get him back first? Before he-" He was with Ethan. Didn't they get that?

Buffy didn't answer, but Willow gave him a glare that promised he had his tickets booked for the world's biggest guilt trip, and opened the paper. Xander was going to pay a hundred times over for this later, but right now, he didn't care. He just wanted Giles back.

"Some of this stuff is hard to get."

"This box was in the drawer with it."

Willow rummaged through the box, muttering as she checked things off. "Yeah, I can make this. It's no different without him here."

Buffy was still staring.

"No, wait." Willow slumped. "It's a potion."

"Yeah, and?"

"He needs to drink it."

Once again, no Giles.

Buffy snapped back in. "Make it anyway. We'll figure out tracking him down later."

"And getting him to drink it?"

"We'll figure that out later, too. We'll hold his nose and pour it down his throat if we have to."

"I've got a plan," said Xander, suddenly. It was a bad plan, but that probably only made it more likely to work.

"Why don't we do the spell locator thing?" Oz suggested.

Willow shook her head. "You're forgetting the dispossession spell. Nothing of Ethan's is any use."

Oz stared at them like they were all stupid, which wasn't out of the realms of the possible. "We're in a house full of Giles' stuff. Do you think he's going to stand back and watch while Ethan puts on the magic show?"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As they climbed out of the car outside the Bronze, Xander gave the bottle a shake. "I have to get him to drink all this?"

"A couple of teaspoons should be enough."

Xander lifted the bottle. They'd tipped out Giles' whiskey and filled it all the way to the top, and still not used even half of what she'd made. "Then why-"

"It's a magic potion. It's not a punch recipe. They don't have a 'serves one' option."

"Right."

"You're sure you can-"

"I have a plan." Half a plan. A plan segment. Wasn't like any of them knew what they were walking into.

Oz frowned at the building. "Quiet."

It was. Seriously quiet. That wasn't normal at all. Was everyone inside being held hostage by vampires again? Xander's week was bad enough without vampires being thrown into the mix. He took a breath, slipped through the door, and stopped. Someone bumped into the back of him.

Everyone was frozen. The band, the dancers, the people drinking at the tables... the lights, the disco ball, frozen in place like someone had hit a great big pause button. One kid had a cigarette in his hand, a stream of smoke hanging from his lips.

Willow squeaked.

Xander spun around, and- Oh, god. Not all frozen.

Giles had Ethan pinned against the pool table, the pair of them looking like they were joined at the tongue. And that wasn't all. They shifted, and everyone got to see Giles' hand down Ethan's pants, moving steadily. Xander's stomach turned over.

"Xander?" Buffy sounded like she was choking.

"You're never going to make gagging noises about me and Giles again?"

"I swear it on Mr Pointy."

"I think it'll be a while before we play pool next," said Oz.

Ethan's hands were digging into Giles' ass, and his knee came up as Giles' shoulder dipped.

Buffy poked him in the back. "How's that plan, Xander?"

The plan sucked, but that didn't mean it wouldn't work. "Wait outside."

"We're not-"

"Please? It's a solo plan." He couldn't do this if they were watching.

Xander couldn't stop watching. Giles tugged them around, and Xander got an eyeful of Giles at work in Ethan's open pants as Giles settled back against the table, and Xander heard Ethan's "Ripper," across the room.

Buffy made a choking sound. "We'll be outside. Signal us if you get into trouble."

"I'll scream like Wesley."

"That'll do it."

The way Giles' head tipped, catching Ethan's lip, the hand buried in Ethan's hair - that was Xander's. Everything Ethan was messing with was Xander's. The soft clunk of the door closing set him loose. This wasn't going to stop unless he stopped it.

He crept around the edge of the room, ducking behind all the statue-people on the dance floor. It would have given him the creeps, if the show on the pool table hadn't already pushed him way, way past creeped. Hate was curdling in his stomach and making his hands shake.

He couldn't let his hands shake. He picked up a glass from a table, tipped it out onto the floor and filled it from the potion bottle, left the bottle behind. He kept going, right around until he was coming from behind Ethan, exactly in Giles' line of sight. If only Giles would stop sucking face for five seconds and open his eyes. Xander didn't want to watch this, Giles doing X-rated things with Ethan fucking Rayne. He willed Giles to-

Giles opened his eyes. And he kept right on kissing, but he didn't close them again. He was watching Xander, and his arm was moving.

Xander remembered Ripper here last year, the way he watched Xander all night. Didn't matter which age this Giles looked most like; he was only a few years past Ripper, and that was why the plan was going to work. Xander held his gaze, not looking down, and moved closer, saw the corners of Giles' eyes lifting, way too slow until it was definitely a smile. Smiling at Xander with his hand wrapped around Ethan's dick. Was that Giles' idea of hot? Because Xander just thought it was gross. He held on anyway, as he made his way over, weaving between all the people. He didn't like what this said about Giles.

That was bullshit. It didn't say anything about Giles. This was someone Xander's own Giles cringed to remember, and Ethan had yanked him back for a laugh. Ethan thought all this was funny.

Xander stopped. He wanted to smash his glass into Ethan's head. He wanted to finish what his dad started. Make him bleed, until he begged to leave and promised never to come back and then kick him some more. Fury boiled in his stomach, rising sour in the back of his throat. Xander wanted to fucking hurt him like he'd never fucking hurt in his life.

If Xander did that, Giles would pile in on the wrong side, and it wouldn't be the happy outcome they needed. He had to get himself under control. And he had to do it before the vision of Giles and Ethan together scarred his brain permanently.

Ethan didn't notice a thing, and that was the only good thing in this whole picture. As Xander got close, Giles nudged Ethan over to his neck, knowing exactly what Xander was coming for. And that was the other bright side: this had to be, hands down, the most disturbing moment of Xander's life. For the rest of his days, nothing was ever going to be more hideously wrong than this.

Now he was going to find out if he really did kiss as well as Giles said he did, or if that was just something Giles said to his lovers. Maybe he'd said it to Ethan. Xander took a breath and a last step and didn't look down at what Giles was doing as he leaned in and kissed him. He put a hand behind his head to keep him there while he tried every trick he'd learned, and thank god, thank god, Giles kissed back. Never mind who he tasted like, or that Xander could feel his arm moving. Ethan made a sound, so close, and suddenly both Giles' hands were on Xander's ass.

"Ripper? What?" Ethan said, then, "You!"

That's right, Xander thought. Me. Fuck you.

"Looks like we've got an audience, Ethan," Giles purred between kisses.

"I see you already had one," Xander managed, waving vaguely around the room. He wedged himself further between them. "Ditch him."

Giles laughed, his whole body shaking against Xander's. "Tempting, mate, but this is an awkward moment. You could say we're tied up mid-project."

"You've decided to join us after all?" Ethan snarked from somewhere behind Xander.

Giles glanced at Ethan, first proper attention he'd paid him since Xander worked himself into the picture. Mostly proper attention, not so much the hand rubbing Xander's ass. "This pretty thing a friend of yours?"

"Yes," said Ethan.

"No," snapped Xander. "I've come to replace him."

The grin was calculating, nothing like Giles, and not much like the Ripper Xander remembered. It was meaner. "You want to give Dusii his donation, then, lad?"

Donation. For the project they were mid. Oh. Shit. Xander looked down. All right. He wasn't going to beat himself up over not having noticed the big demonic symbols marking the floor around them on the grounds that he'd had a pretty big case for not looking down. But he noticed now.

"You're trying to raise something?"

"Ethan found a new game to play. Reckon it's gonna be a laugh."

"I rank that unlikely," Xander muttered.

Giles pushed his hips - erection, really - against Xander's. "Could be twice the fireworks, with the three of us," he said to Ethan.

Over Xander's dead body.

"And far less stable." Ethan sounded almost as unhappy as Xander felt.

Giles leered. "Scared?"

Ethan tried to edge back in. "He isn't a virgin, Ripper."

Giles rolled his eyes. "That's not what I-"

"I am in some things." Xander stared into Giles' eyes, concentrating as hard as he could on finding the Giles inside, and not on launching himself on Ethan.

"Fuck off," Ethan retorted.

"You fuck off," Xander snapped.

"He's not a bloody virgin, Ripper."

"Like you'd know."

"You didn't sound very virginal, all that banging about and the 'Oh god,' and the 'Not yet, not yet!'"

Xander's cheeks flamed as he finally glanced back at Ethan's bruised face, shooting flaming hate out his eyes. "Yeah, well, unless you had a camera in there, you twisted-"

A hand jerked Xander's chin back to face Giles. "I'll believe you." His eyes had darkened, and he was looking at Xander hungrily. Ethan hadn't been kidding about the virgin thing, which was going to lead Xander to wonder what else he hadn't been kidding about. Later. Xander's moment wasn't going to get better than this.

He took a long drink from his glass and put it back on the felt as he leaned in and kissed Giles again, pressing him back over the table so he could fill him with the antidote, holding him in place to make sure he swallowed it. In seconds it was gone and Giles had rolled them over, pinning Xander, knocking the glass flying so better hope he'd got his two teaspoons worth. His whole body was pressing down, no holding back, his tongue pressing deep, demanding. A hand was covering Xander's cheek and it smelled like sex, and Xander pushed it away.

"Ripper!"

Giles nuzzled Xander's cheek. "We're going to do a little spell. It'll turn you inside out." Not likely. Xander was going as far as he needed to go to get Giles back but he wasn't raising any fucking demons and no way in hell was he going all the way with Giles being such a jerk, and especially not when he was covered in Ethan Rayne cooties.

Xander pushed back a little, and Giles leered down at him. He frowned.

"Ripper," Ethan tried again, pulling at his shirt.

Giles ignored him, staring at Xander. He licked his lips. "I remember you," he whispered.

Xander's heart stopped beating.

"I've kissed you before."

"That's right."

"Xander."

Xander almost sobbed. "Yeah."

"It doesn't make sense." Inches away, eyes burning into Xander. "Are you playing with my- Christ. You're from the future."

"That's right."

Giles' brain was working like crazy. "I forgot."

"I had to remind you."

Giles straightened, looking around the Bronze - "I've been here," - at Ethan, who was gaping like a fish, his not-black eye wide. There had to be a medal for knocking Ethan off his smug horse. Giles looked down again. "Xander of Sunnydale."

Xander sat up, and grabbed Giles' elbows. "Ditch him."

Giles looked back, and after a second he smiled. "All right, Xander."

"Ripper!" Ethan was turning all sorts of satisfying shades. "The boy's aligned with the Council."

"No, he isn't."

Xander smirked. "That man's aligned with evil."

"Aren't we all?"

"No. Actually, some of aren't."

His smile widened into a delighted grin. "No, Xander of Sunnydale, you're entirely virtuous and moral. It's fuckin' hot." He slid his hand down Xander's chest to his stomach. "Perhaps I could help you out with some maths problems."

"Ripper..."

Xander hooked a leg around Giles' knees, and did his best sultry face. "I want you to come with me."

Giles' eyes lit up. "All right."

It couldn't be that easy, but Giles was pulling away and tugging Xander to come with him, while Ethan flailed in the background. "Ripper! You don't even know him."

"Fuck off, Ethan," Giles threw back over his shoulder as they headed for the door, and Xander wasn't above a little smugness of his own.

They edged between a couple in the middle of a frozen argument, and Xander remembered there was already mayhem to take care of. "Can you fix that?"

Giles waved his arm and muttered a few words and the burst of music and raised voices was deafening.

"What about the spell?"

Giles glanced back, not worried at all. "They've already kicked up the symbols."

Xander looked back. They had. Ethan was following them, but that was probably for the best. Xander wasn't totally sure he couldn't have got the spell going again on his own. Also, as soon as they stepped out into the alley, Buffy punched him unconscious.

Giles stared at her. "Buffy."

"The one and only."

"The Slayer."

"And don't you forget it. Again."

Oz looked down at the body at their feet. "You realise now we have to carry him to the car?"

Buffy sagged. "Damn."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As they all headed for the car, Giles seemed to realise they really weren't headed on a fornication tour of Sunnydale's classrooms. He tugged the back pocket of Xander's jeans. "Where we going, mate?"

"Your place."

"They're coming?" Giles gestured at the others.

"Yeah, they're coming. You take shotgun." Xander caught Willow's arm and piled her in the middle seat between them.

Buffy shoved Ethan into the middle of the back, making sure he hit his head on the way in, and Oz piled in from the other side.

"So we're not-"

"No." Xander sucked in a breath and looked over as he pulled away from the kerb. "Can you stick around anyway?"

"You did interrupt something back there," Ethan drawled. Apparently he was awake.

Willow twisted to see him behind her. "You can keep your mouth shut."

"Very intimidating, little witch. You know-"

There was a thud, and Ethan wheezed, and didn't say anything else.

Giles leaned forward. "You gonna tell me what's going on?"

Xander gritted his teeth. Ripper hadn't needed an explanation from Ethan, to jump in head first. Of course, he hadn't needed an explanation to dump Ethan in a second for a stranger, either. Xander had forgotten all the stuff he didn't like about eighteen year-old Ripper, and it didn't look like he'd improved much, in the few years after.

Xander couldn't even start to imagine how humiliated Giles was going to be, when they got him back.

He glanced in the mirror. Ethan was staring pure black dripping hatred at Xander's head out his good eye. Great. If Xander had had eyes in the back of his head, he'd have stared it right back. He was boiling inside. He'd never known how much he could hate someone. Compared with this, he was head over heels in love with Angel. Slayers had rules about not killing humans, but he wasn't a slayer. He was feeling pretty comfortable with the idea.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When they got in, Giles stared around his apartment, remembering whatever he remembered of his brief jaunt to the un-cool nineties, while Buffy dumped Ethan in a chair and tied him up again. Giles stepped forward like he might object, but a glare from Buffy stopped him.

Xander gave him a push towards the bathroom. "Let's wash your hands, then we'll talk." Only his hands because Xander didn't want to take a chance waiting for as long as it took to make him shower. In Lysol. "Did Ethan tell you what's going on with your memory?"

"Yeah, he said we'd been-" Giles saw himself in the mirror, and froze. "Christ."

"Guess not." Giles just kept on staring, so Xander stepped up and spun the taps on hard. "You stink of him."

Giles' eyes shifted, to Xander's reflection. "What's your problem with him?"

"Let's start with your hand down his pants?"

Giles frowned even more. "I hate to break it to you, but that's where my hands spend a lot of time."

"Not anymore."

Giles thought about that. "What you and me did was years ago." He looked in the mirror again, and grimaced. "Longer."

"No. It was last week. And the only reason we dragged his sorry ass home at all is because when you get your memories back, you're going to want to beat the stuffing out of him, and Willow brought popcorn."

"Me and Ethan are together."

"Not anymore. You dumped his ass."

"I would never-" He stopped, and the defensiveness suddenly shifted to something bleaker. "I'm going to go back, aren't I?" He seemed to be waiting for Xander to deny it even though he already knew it was true. He brought his hand up to rub his forehead. "I'm going to go crawling back to those bastards, so I can be old and repressed and trapped with a slayer."

Xander was pretty much totally sick of his whining. "You're going to be middle-aged, which is what happens when people don't get themselves killed raising demons for fun, and you're going to love being a watcher, and Buffy. And me."

Giles finally clicked. "You and me? Him?" He pointed to the mirror.

"Yeah."

"Why?"

Xander snapped. "I didn't think you could be more of a self-absorbed asshole than you were when you were eighteen, but that theory's been blown right out of the water. Because the Giles I know doesn't fuck everything up or follow that jerk around like a puppy, and he's about a thousand times smarter, cooler, and better in every conceivable way than you."

Giles flinched like he'd just been slapped. Way to go keeping him onside.

Didn't matter. Xander was done with the therapy session. "Come on. Let's go fix your memory."

He turned to head out, but Giles grabbed his arm. "Something's going to go wrong, isn't it?"

"No. Nothing else. It's a simple spell, Willow's already-"

"Something - went - wrong. With me and Ethan. There's no other way I'd leave him. No other way I'd go crawling back there." His grip was painfully tight. "We're gonna lose control of something, aren't we? Some spell, some raising. It's gonna go bad."

Xander nodded, and Giles took a slow, shuddering breath, and let go.

"Which one is it gonna be?"

Something in the picture clicked. "You know you're out of control."

He moved back into the bathroom, to look in the mirror. He stared at himself, not seeming to like the reflection at all. "It's always one spell further. One demon bigger. Ethan and me, it's got to fall on us some time."

He'd known what a mess he was in, and he'd still kept on going. "Why didn't you just stop?"

His gaze slid away from the mirror. "I don't know how."

"You just stop. You just don't do it anymore."

Giles laughed, bitterly, suddenly sounding his real age. "Just how fucking naive are you, little virgin Xander?"

They were done. Xander spun on his heel and reached for the door handle, but Giles caught his arm again and suddenly Giles was kissing him, raw and hungry, tasting of cigarettes and pushing when Xander didn't respond. Nothing like Giles. Xander shoved him back. "Come on. Will's gonna do some chanting, and then this will all be twenty years behind you." That was a bald-faced lie, but Xander didn't care.

The others were already set up: incense smouldering, symbols drawn, Ethan bound and gagged in a corner and pinned under Oz's werewolf stare. Had to wonder why it had taken them so long to think of the gag.

Giles stopped when he saw him, so Xander shoved him towards Willow, and got out of the way. Willow led him to sit on the end of the coffee table, and gave him a piece of paper, pointing out the things he had to say.

She picked up a small knife and approached Ethan with a glint in her eye that made him slide back on his chair, as far as the ropes would let him. He twisted to offer his arm. She smiled dangerously, and for a second Xander thought she was going to go for his cheek, but then she leaned over and dragged a line inside his elbow. She scraped the back of the knife over the cut to gather blood, and then mixed it into the waiting black sludge.

She dipped a finger in the bowl and drew symbols on his forehead, and each cheek. She talked some Latin, and Giles quietly chanted back, and there was a puff of white smoke in the air above them, and Giles sagged.

Xander held his breath, felt pretty sure everyone was doing it.

Finally Giles looked up, to Buffy. "Get him out of here."

"We thought you'd want to-"

"Just get him out of here."

It was him. All Xander's bones gave in, and he sank into a chair.

Willow bounced. "Giles! Our Giles!"

Giles didn't watch as Buffy untied Ethan, and he didn't see the surprise as she dragged him out the door, gag still in place. Xander wondered if Ethan had been hoping Giles would forgive him, or hit him.

Giles gave Willow a weak smile as he took the paper towel she offered, and wiped his face clean. "Thank you."

"Happy to oblige. Way happy."

"I'm quite sure."

Willow started stacking all her bits and pieces together, wrapping up her leftover ingredients, not seeming bothered that Giles just sat there and watched. "I feel like there should be some kind of welcome home party, but I think it's past this witch's witching hour."

"It does seem rather... after three in the morning. Don't worry about the rest of it, Willow. We can clean up tomorrow."

She stood up. "Three?"

"Heading for four," said Oz.

"Wow. No wonder I'm getting cross-eyed."

Giles' and Xander's eyes met, and held. Xander wished he knew what Giles was thinking. He was thinking something.

Buffy came back in. She'd been gone for a lot longer than it would have taken to undo a couple of knots and point the way up the stairs, but she didn't have Ethan with her, so Xander didn't really care what she'd done with him.

She tossed something at Giles, and he caught it, flipped it over and gave a grim nod. "That's it." The medallion. "I'll make sure it's stored more carefully, this time."

"Childproof lids."

"Yes, quite."

"He won't be coming back."

Giles only smiled a small, grim smile. Xander didn't believe it either. Ethan might disappear for a while, but one day he'd be back. Ethan always came back.

She folded her arms. "Have I told you how much better I like you stuffy?"

"On occasions such as this, yes." He'd already found his glasses, and was slipping them back in place. "I'm sorry for all the trouble."

"First duty of the Slayer: protect the Watcher."

"It isn't, but thank you."

Buffy started to move closer, and then changed her mind. She softly asked, "Are you okay? Seriously?"

"I'm fine. You should go home."

"Are you sure?" She really didn't seem to want to leave.

"I'll be here tomorrow."

"Boarding now for last flight out to campus," said Oz from the door.

She was still lingering, and Giles looked even more uncomfortable, then he looked at Xander. Suddenly, so did Buffy. "Oh, god. Any moment now, there's going to be a whole lot of sex, isn't there?" She covered her eyes, so she missed the look that flashed between them. "I'm gone."

But when she left, neither of them moved, or even looked at each other. Minutes passed, and Giles ran a hand through his hair. "I'm going to take a shower. Brush my teeth. Perhaps gargle some Drano."

"All right."

Giles hesitated. "You'll be here when I come out?"

"Of course." Xander was rattled, but he wasn't... "I'll be here."

"All right, then." Giles hesitated some more, like he was going to come closer instead, but then he turned and headed for the bathroom.





The Giles Thing VIII
by Dr Squidlove
November 2009


The shower ran for a long time.

Xander got up from the couch and and grabbed a cloth to wipe the symbols and burnt incense off the coffee table. Stuffing plates into the dishwasher made him realise they hadn't eaten since breakfast, so after that he poked around the fridge for something he was capable of not screwing up. Bread, cheese... ham. Grill. Doable. He wasn't especially hungry, but they needed something to do when Giles came out, and sleep wasn't going to be it. It was like he knew all this new stuff about Giles, except none of it was really Giles anymore except in all the ways it was. Their date in the Italian restaurant and amazing sex and this whole thing they had being perfect seemed like weeks ago.

So what happened to being deliriously happy to have Giles back? That was the real Giles in the bathroom, the one who knew exactly who Xander was and liked him anyway, who wouldn't put his hands down Ethan's pants if there was a first edition Chaucer down there. Was Xander really going to hide out here because he was mad at him when he was twenty-two? Everything that had happened these last four days - and four hours - wasn't him. All the stuff Ethan said and did wasn't who he was now.

Xander left the half-made sandwiches on the counter and went to the bathroom. Giles had just stepped out of the shower, and the smell of his soap was heavy in the steam. He was rubbing his face and hair with the towel, naked and dripping, his skin pink from scrubbing.

He startled when the towel came down and he saw Xander.

"Hey," said Xander.

"Hello," Giles echoed.

"Feel better?"

He dipped his head. "Cleaner." He was holding the towel in front of himself now. Not covering himself, just... holding it casually, like he wasn't thinking about the way it hung from his hands, so if the folds were in front of his groin, then that really was just a coincidence.

Maybe barging in wasn't such a good idea. "I, um. I was making sandwiches. Thought you might be more hungry than tired."

"I suppose I am." He didn't move.

"Okay, well, I'll be in the kitchen."

He went back to the sandwiches. Maybe he should have just gone home like the others, let Giles have some time to... whatever. Remember all his early impressions of Xander.


Giles lifted his nose and breathed deep as he came out, dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt. "I am hungry," he said, sounding surprised. A second later, "Is something burning?"

"Mine," Xander said, as he slid a plate across the bench to him. The smell of melted cheese was making him hungry, too.

"Meat raw, cheese carbonised."

"That's how I like it."

Giles eyed the smoke trailing out of the grill. "Do keep in mind that the smoke alarms in this apartment are hard-wired."

"Well, if Willow's experiments never set them off..." He switched on the exhaust fan, and pulled out his smoking sandwich. Perfectly crunchy.

Two whole minutes of normal. He smiled, and Giles managed a small smile back.

They ate, Xander's crunching loud in the quiet. It was way beyond time for sleep, shuffling along towards time to get up again. Chewing was an effort. Xander's body felt like mush, and there was a whole bucket of sand in his eyes, but he couldn't shut down his brain. He wondered what Ethan and Giles had been like together. It couldn't have all been spells and chaos, not if Giles was so sure he'd never leave him. Not if he still cared about Ethan, even after he went back to the Council. What about late at night like this? Late night snacks, or cosying up in front of the TV, or spooning in each other's arms in bed? He'd never thought of himself as jealous. Giles had plenty of partners behind him, and Xander didn't mind. He didn't lose sleep over Giles' feelings for Miss Calendar, or Olivia.

His brain wouldn't stop, and he suddenly had a vision of spending all their time like this, thinking and not talking, and he put down his sandwich, drawing breath to speak, felt Giles tense across the counter.

Maybe it could stay like this a while longer. "I'm not hungry." He dropped the other half in the trash and wiped the crumbs off the counter, went through to brush his teeth.

Giles came in as he finished, and Xander left him to it. He waited out in the living room, feeling weird about going upstairs alone. God, he'd only just got to the point where he didn't feel bad about invading Giles' space, and now he was back to feeling like he should sneak around and not bother him.

He wished he knew what Giles was thinking, and he dreaded it with the fear of a thousand clowns. He didn't even know if Giles was stuck remembering Xander as an idiot sophomore or if Xander had slid down the priority pile while he dealt with all the other more important things that had been dragged back into his life; or if he was being silent because he was mentally listing different ways to disembowel Ethan. If it was the last thing, then he should speak up because Xander had a few scenarios to throw in the pile.

Giles came out looking as exhausted as Xander felt. "Bed?"

They couldn't go to bed like this. Xander couldn't lie beside him for what was left of the night, not talking. He'd go crazy. So he folded his arms, and perched on the desk. "How long did you keep being friends with Ethan?" Friends, yeah. 'Cos that was the part Xander cared about.

Giles sagged, like he'd been waiting for Xander to be obnoxious enough to ask. He mirrored Xander, leaning against the kitchen counter, arms folded. Looking like he was considering how honest to be. "It took years to give him up." Wow. That honest. "It seemed that every time I made progress, found some stability, he'd waltz into my life and turn it upside down. Ruining friendships, relationships, work. And I let him do it, every time. Of course, it was hardly coincidence, though I refused to see that then." He rubbed his face, pushed his hand back through his hair. "I'd managed to forget just how difficult it was, crawling back to the Council, and how much worse he made it. Back then, I honestly believed that I could bring him around with simple loyalty, and that it would go some way to ameliorating my guilt."

"Redemption," Xander said quietly. "You and Angel could form a club."

"Yes, well, I got over it."

"Really?"

That surprised Giles as much as Xander, and he took a little longer to think about it. "Mostly, at least. I wish I could say he doesn't have the power to injure me any longer, but currently all evidence stands to the contrary. I suppose I'm long past having any right to forget just how cruel he can be."

He looked miserable. Ethan had crashed his life yet again, and Xander was somehow blaming him for it. Screw Ethan. He wasn't going to fuck them up.

Xander crossed over and kissed Giles, cool minty lips that responded right away, strong arms that circled Xander completely, drawing him closer. Maybe all this time Giles had been waiting for him, because Giles was kissing desperately, and Xander gave it right back, touching wherever he could, sliding his hands under Giles' shirt, over his ribs and up his spine.

"God, Xander," Giles whispered.

"Talk to me," Xander urged, wanting every reminder he could get that this was the right one, his Giles, but Giles shook his head and buried his face in Xander's neck, damp hair spiky against Xander's ear.

For a second Xander flailed, clueless, but that was crazy. He held him, and waited. He really could be a selfish ass. Giles had just been jerked through learning he was going to crawl back to the Council and be the Watcher and lose Jenny and god knew what else. And don't forget the punchline, of sex and demon-raising with a guy he hated, now. Mostly.

A few minutes passed, and then Giles straightened, chest swelling in a sigh. All composed, like he needed to undo the few seconds of clinging. "I could kill him."

"I'd be fine with that," Xander said, and Giles breathed a laugh, and stroked a hand down Xander's face. It made Xander shiver. "Do you want to talk? Plan out how to hide his body from the cops?"

That was a real smile, and Giles shook his head, to Xander's relief. Later maybe, but not now.

Xander gave Giles' belt a tug. "How about we go upstairs, get naked, see where things go from there?"

"Are you sure?" He looked totally surprised. "I wouldn't have thought... I mean, I thought it would be some time before you were willing to... I mean, after the Bronze." Surprise gave way to looking like he wished he hadn't brought it up at all.

"I may need to work on telling you stuff, and understanding your stuff, but this part always makes sense. Just don't go forgetting who I am in the middle."

Giles stilled, and opened his mouth like he was going to apologise, then seemed to change his mind. "I'm here to stay." He took a moment before taking Xander's hand from his belt, and using it to lead the way to the stairs. He stopped halfway up. "I should warn you; I don't know how much energy I have left at this point."

Xander stretched up and kissed him, pulling him down to drag it out, deep and promising. They could do all the talking tomorrow, but no matter how heavy Xander's limbs were, no matter how sleep-itchy his eyes felt, no way were they putting off the sex. The sex was necessary, and if the need to mark his territory was kind of neanderthal, then Xander didn't much care. He had some hellish memories to erase.

He wasn't planning to stop the kiss until they were horizontal, but the hands pulling his t-shirt up over his head would do just fine, and he was totally willing to break off for that.

Giles' hands sweeping up his bare skin made him shiver, and now Giles was pulling him; up the stairs and then he was kissing him again and turning him.

Giles pulled his own shirt over his head and stopped, shirt still in his fist, looking past Xander.

Xander didn't need to turn, to see the drawer, still open from Xander's rummaging. Giles didn't look happy.

"I had to. I was looking for something of Ethan's, for Willow, for a spell. To find you. I didn't want to, but when you and Ethan... It got dire." Xander wanted to tell him he didn't see anything; hadn't even been able to tell who the letters were from, but he didn't.

"It's all right." Giles sounded way too quiet, for all right. "That's not- Thank you for doing it." He let out a soft snort. "Nothing in there remotely competes with what the lot of you have seen over the past few days."

"It wasn't so bad."

A sharp laugh burst out of him, and he sat on the edge of the bed. "Just a self-absorbed arsehole," - oh, yeah, Xander did say that - "with a tendency to ruin everything he touched, and a not-unrelated willingness to follow that pillock wherever he led." Xander had kind of said that, too, in a less-British way.

Xander didn't want to dredge through it all. Not now. Not ever, really, but especially not now, at almost five in the morning, with everything still rubbing them raw and Xander pretty much one hundred percent likely to say something stupid. He'd do a whole lot better with the telling him stuff if Giles would just let him make with the showing, first. He dropped on the bed next to him. "Hey, not that bad. You blew Ethan off when someone else came along, so you couldn't have been that obsessed with him."

Giles' forehead creased. "I didn't 'blow Ethan off' because someone else had come along. Not that that would have been above me, back then. Neither one of us were..." He swallowed that, and refocused. "I blew him off because it was you." He put his hand on Xander's thigh, looking at Xander's face, incredibly serious. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Tell you what?"

"About that night?"

There'd been a whole bunch of nights, and it took Xander a good while to guess which one was relevant to the conversation. Probably long enough to cement Xander's reputation for being really slow. "Last year? Ripper? I'm pretty sure I cc'd you the memo on that one. Pretty sure I delivered it personally."

"You let me believe it was a, a sexual escapade."

"Yeah..." Xander really had no idea what Giles was after, the way he was searching his face. But this definitely wasn't the return to light-hearted banter he'd been shooting for. "Escapades of a sexual nature. A dash of petty crime thrown in."

Giles stared some more. "You didn't realise how crazy I was about you?"

Yeah, the lust had been pretty clearly on display. "You were crazy, all right."

"About you," Giles insisted. "If I'd had more time... If I'd remembered you, how I felt, Xander, I would have spent all those years looking for a spell to get me back here."

Xander stared at him. "Why?"

The impatient huff made Xander feel two inches high. "Because," Giles said, slowly, like he was talking to a first-grader, "I was crazy about you."

Xander could come top of the first grade, because he finally got what Giles was saying. Except, Giles was remembering it wrong. "That's not... We hit it off, but, he just..."

"Crazy about you," Giles whispered, close enough for Xander to taste the words. "Do you think I would have dropped Ethan and a raising and come home for just anyone?" A broad hand slid down Xander's spine, stopping at his jeans, and then it was pulling him close and rolling him over so they were lying full-length, Giles leaning over him, one leg draped over Xander's thighs. "Granted, the 'anyone' demanding I come home with him was a gorgeous, brazenly confident man who could kiss as though he were born for it."

"Not confident. Just angry."

"I liked it," Giles told him. "And then you woke me up on that pool table like some kind of Prince Charming and it all came tumbling back."

Xander couldn't look away. His insides felt like someone had undone all the screws that held him together. But he could curl a hand behind Giles' neck and pull him down into a slow, slick kiss. Giles chose him. He wanted to tell Giles things, and he didn't have the words so he tried to do it like this, with his tongue, with the way his fingers drifted over Giles' back.

Turned out this was one of Giles' many languages, and he was fluent, touching Xander's chest and arms, kissing his face, making perfect sense. Nobody had ever lingered over Xander like this, cared about the lines of his ribs and the smell of his armpits and the taste of his fingers.

Xander knew what he wanted. He wanted to be that confident guy, that Giles thought he saw. He wanted to stop waiting for Giles to make things happen.

He slid a hand down to cup Giles through his pants and he drank in the gasp. He didn't rub or squeeze, just kept on kissing and let Giles thicken against his palm. He was going to make this good for him. Better than good. He slipped his other hand over Giles' ass, squeezed a cheek hard. Way better than good.

It was all so slow, slower than Xander would ever have believed he could stand, but he kept finding things. How good Giles' neck smelled, and tasted, and the way he could feel Giles' breath stop when he sucked there, and there. The shape of the muscles in Giles' arms, how they felt different under long, sweeping touches to slow, gentle squeezes, and depending on which way Giles reached or how hard he was gripping the bed. The way Giles' chest hair felt against his face, and how Giles squirmed, wanting Xander to find his nipples. Xander found them.

Belt and button and zip and he pushed Giles' pants down to his thighs, just far enough to get his hands on skin, and Giles wriggled them down the rest of the way. And here were some of Xander's other favourite things to explore, until Giles started on Xander's fly.

Giles knelt up to pull Xander's jeans all the way off and Xander got a good look at him, the flush in his cheeks and on the tips of his ears, the way Giles was looking down at Xander like he could kneel there and watch for hours. To hell with that. They could do that anytime. Xander grabbed his hips and yanked him down, rolling them over so Giles was under him, chuckling.

Giles didn't laugh anywhere near enough. Xander was going to make it his personal mission to change that. He wriggled back to kneel between Giles' legs and rubbed his thighs, from his knees all the way up to where his hair grew thicker, and back down, up and down. Giles lay there and let him, waiting, and when Xander went up a little higher to rub circles around his balls his eyes narrowed, like a cat in the sun.

Xander spread his knees, pushing Giles' legs wider, and bit his lip as he reached further, one finger sliding back until he found the pucker of skin and Giles gasped. He didn't look down or act surprised or make a big deal of it, and Xander was grateful. The lightest touch back and forth and Giles' whole body shuddered, and Xander was starting to realise why this had been enough for Giles, doing this to Xander, before the whole memory-wiping thing. Xander had never known anything so... well, intimate, as watching Giles right now.

It was like a spell, and Xander didn't want to break it by reaching for the drawer, not just yet, so he just wet his finger in his mouth and brought it back. A little pressure and Giles was groaning and rocking back against him, and it was the easiest thing in the world for the tip of Xander's finger to pop inside.

Inside Giles. The tip of his finger pinched tight. It felt way different from when he did this to himself in the shower. Xander couldn't believe a dick could fit in here.

A little wriggling, a bit of squirming from Giles, and it got easier; his finger got deeper. Giles was so hot inside, hot and soft and his mouth was wide open, eyes closed. Xander curled a hand around the back of his neck and pulled him up, meeting him halfway for a quick kiss, feeling the muscles squeeze and shift on his finger as he let him down again.

"Xander!"

"What?" Was he doing something wrong?

"Are you all right?"

"Seriously?"

"Then get on with it!"

Xander realised he'd stopped moving and he pushed his finger deeper a little too suddenly but Giles just moaned. Okay. That was good. "What do you want me to do?"

Giles huffed a laugh. "That. More."

Xander was loving the incoherency, couldn't help teasing it along. "More fingers? Or faster?"

"God, yes."

"Which?"

"Xander..."

Maybe Xander would never mind that stroppy tone again. A second finger took a little more and Giles' mouth tightened, but Giles pushed against him and in they went. "How's that?" Xander squeezed Giles' dick, and a hand slapped over his, holding him still.

"No."

"No?"

"Wait."

"Wait?"

He panted hard. "Xander..."

"Giles..." Xander purred back.

"You're going to kill me."

Xander grinned. "Nope. But I'll give you a good staking." He hadn't really planned on going that far when he started, but they were in the car pool lane now, and Xander had the accelerator down. "Tell me what you want me to do. In long-winded Gilesy detail."

A faint flash of smile. "One more. Been a good while."

That was good to hear.

A hand caught Xander's wrist. "Lubricant's in the second drawer," Giles said, watching him through heavy eyes.

Okay. Guess they were going to need that. Xander reached in without looking, feeling around 'til he found a tube. He was wandering pretty blind here, but he didn't want to stop. Why didn't the skin mags have articles on the suavest way to get lube from the bottle to where it needed to be? He popped the cap and tipped some into his cupped fingers, and slid them back into Giles' crack.

Wow. It was totally different. So smooth, so slick, his fingers slipping easily inside, even a third finger gliding where two had been wedged a minute ago, and a desperate expression Xander had never seen on Giles' face, and Xander's dick was well-aware of what came next and ready to go. So... Xander let his fingers slip out.

"Um... How do we do this?"

Giles' eyes snapped open, and then he grinned. He reached blindly back for the second drawer and fumbled through, managing to spill a handful of condoms across the bed. He ripped a wrapper open with his teeth and barely touched Xander's bulging hard-on as he rolled it down. "You want me to take over?"

"Yeah. Show me." As long as they did it, it was good, but he didn't know how not to hurt him. Yet.

Giles pushed him over and down to lie on his back, and straddled him. He picked up the lube bottle and filled his palm, wrapping it around Xander's sheathed dick and it felt like there was nothing there but Giles' slippery, strong fist. He held Xander gently as he found the right place, so Xander could feel Giles' opening against the tip of his dick.

Xander wanted to stop, mark the moment, take a polaroid in his mind of everything he felt right then, in his skin and his dick and his stomach and his stuttering heart, but Giles was pushing down, and that moment was forgotten for this one. And this one forgotten as after barely a pause Giles settled straight down until Xander's dick was all the way inside the tightest place it had ever been. Just like that, he was inside Giles. Giles was perfectly still, not even breathing, like the slightest movement would hurt. "Rupert," Xander said softly, brushing his fingers over Giles' eyes. They opened, and Xander choked up.

When he could finally move, it was just his hand. He touched Giles' lips, brushed his hair back off his face, smoothed his open palm down to the hair on his chest and rubbed, circled a thumb over his nipple. Down to the curve of his hip bone, and Giles shifted, and god. All Giles' weight was on him, grinding little circles that pushed Xander deeper and deeper, milking him, feeling like... like nothing else. There was no comparison. Inside Giles. It ached, somewhere deep in Xander's chest.

He had to remember this. Every single thing about this moment, the unbelievable pressure and the gleam of sweat on Giles' neck and the thick male scent, and the way Giles didn't look away for a second, maybe wasn't even blinking.

A hand settled spread-fingered on Xander's chest, and Giles rocked forward, all his weight and the pull on Xander's dick pressing the air out of his lungs.

He rocked back, and that was better. Xander's hands just rested on Giles' thighs, feeling the muscles stretch and tense as he built up a rhythm.

He wanted to do more. "Can I?" He tipped his head, and Giles nodded, and they pulled apart, Xander sliding out of Giles' body until he popped free. They rearranged themselves so Giles was on his back and now it was Xander's turn. Giles pulled his knees high and wide; Xander could see his hole, loosened where his dick had been, waiting for him. He lined up his hard-on, one hand to keep it steady, which seemed to work even though Xander was pretty sure his hand was shaking. He lingered a second with Giles' body pressed against the tip of his dick, thinking, this is what magic feels like. And then he pushed in slowly, worried again about hurting him. "Are you okay?"

"Yes."

Giles' voice was strained but it didn't seem to be pain, and it made Xander grin, giddily. Possibly it was also the feel of Giles around him, impossibly tight, and under him. "You don't talk much when you're being fucked." The word had never sounded so dirty.

"Just wait 'til you're... in this... position."

Xander could barely wrap his mind around the position he was in now. He settled all the way in, hips pressed right up to Giles' sprawled thighs, and if he went forward on his elbows their bodies were tight together. "I consider that a challenge." He pulled back and thrust in, and this angle was better because now he was inside Giles and outside him and their eyes were only a few inches apart and their mouths were closer. He could see every flicker of every thing in Giles' face. He pushed in slowly and Giles' mouth opened wide; he pulled out and frown lines crept in; a quick shove inside made him grit his teeth and lift his chin.

Big hands cupped Xander's ass and pulled him deeper, to go faster, and Xander obliged, thrusting into the sweet heat, loving the grunts he was driving out of him, watching Giles' face screw up tighter and tighter.

A shift in weight and Xander pushed a hand between them to grab Giles' dick and Giles' face unscrunched, eyes and mouth wide as his fingers dug hard into Xander's ass cheeks. And then, oh god, his impossibly tight ass tightened and there was a moan that curled in Xander's toes, a flood of sticky warmth over his wrist and stomach and Xander was falling after him, squeezed out and wrung dry.

Xander held Giles, and he was squeezed just as hard. Xander could feel his own pulse in his ears, Giles' pulse against his jaw, almost in sync. It was a long time before he managed to shift enough to peel off the condom and then he wiggled down a bit, to lie his head on Giles' chest, damp, wiry hair tickling his cheek.

Giles' hand smoothed back Xander's sweaty hair, slid down his neck, following his spine. "Are you all right?" Xander could feel the vibrations under his cheek.

Xander considered carefully, and finally took a long breath. "I'm way gay. Like, really, really gay."

Giles laughed easily, his whole body shaking under Xander's, and how often did that happen?

Xander had never realised until right now, just how hollow sex with Faith had been. At the time, he'd thought that was it. Some self-conscious nakedness, some way-better-than-solo friction and a door closing behind him. This was... Xander pulled Giles' arm until he found a hand to hold, and Giles squeezed back.

It was different, now. It was nerve-wracking and it was good, like the feeling you had in your stomach as a rollercoaster clank-clanked up the first big hill. Nerve-wracking but good, because Xander could tell Giles was strapped into the seat beside him. He thought of the people who rode rollercoasters with their hands waving in the air, just to show they didn't need to hold on. And with a smile, Xander closed his eyes and let go into sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was way too sunny. Xander groaned, burying his face in the pillow. He felt sticky, from his eyeballs to his toes, and he ached from sleeping so long. Lips brushed the back of his neck, and he started to feel better.

"Afternoon," slurred behind him.

"Really?"

"Mmm."

Last night - or early this morning - was starting to trickle back. And suddenly he realised, this was his Giles. Today-Giles, knows-Xander, wants-Xander Giles, and Xander flipped over and hugged him hard. Giles took a deep breath and hugged back, and they stayed that way until Xander's stomach calmed, and he felt like he could be himself.

He slid back to lie on his side, and propped his head on his hand. "So."

Giles opened one eye. "So?"

"Crazy about me, huh?"

With a soft snort, Giles closed his eye. "You really didn't know?"

"Guess I was kind of confused by all those times he hit me."

Giles reached up to run a finger down Xander's nose. "I'm sorry for that."

"You really chose me over Ethan?" Xander was clinging to that. It was better than thinking about how appalled Giles had been after his first somersault backwards. Or about how long Ethan had been swinging through Giles' life. "You didn't even know me."

"You made quite an impression. For all the shallow reasons, of course."

"My collection of Next Gen action figures?"

"Obviously. And your looks. Your sense of humour. Other, shallower things." He dragged his thumb over Xander's lips, to make the other, shallower things totally clear. "Though it was more than that. You were fearless."

Xander snorted. "Sure. I cower in the face of everything, remember?"

"Not me. And not of... being good. A good man." He paused, like he was still turning it over in his head, then he slid a foot over Xander's calf, hooking him to pull his leg closer. "Have you any idea how terrifying that was to me? I'd seen very little heroic or noble in the grey men who worked with my father. I saw it in you. You made me believe I could do it, without becoming one of them, and then you took the memory away."

"The memory thing wasn't my choice."

He blinked, seeming to shuffle his memories together. "No, it wasn't."

"You sure it was because you thought you could be a good guy? It wasn't because you totally got off on the idea of dragging me down into your perverted, criminal ways?"

"Perhaps there was a little of that." There was Giles' crooked little smile, and then it faded. "I'm sorry you saw... I can't imagine how that felt."

Xander felt it all over again. He rolled onto his back, untangling their legs. "I know it wasn't you." But how recently was it? When was the last time Giles was with Ethan? Maybe it was in this bed. Okay, probably not, but it wasn't like Xander knew for sure.

"That doesn't mean it was easy to see."

Xander shook his head, afraid of what he'd say if he opened his mouth.

He felt Giles' breath, and then a hand rested on his chest. "I'm sorry."

"Stop being sorry. It wasn't you. Ethan did it to you."

Giles looked away, and pulled his hand back. Good job, Xander.

Xander leaned up again. "I was there, remember? He ransacked your brain and took your body for a spin and he would have done worse if we hadn't got there in time. And okay, no, I didn't like Ripper that much, but that doesn't matter because I like you. A lot."

"It wasn't someone else; it was me," Giles snapped. Just as suddenly, he looked sorry. "That young man you despise isn't another person Ethan summoned from a hell dimension. It's who I was." He took a long breath. "I'm not even entirely sure what you did like about me at eighteen."

That was a problem, because Xander wasn't especially sure himself. "I think it was you. I mean, the beginnings of you, now, in him, then. And I guess... I found out you were more like me than I realised. Freaked out by the big, scary future. And then somehow, you managed to get it together and grow up to be you."

"It only took killing a friend." Giles said it like it was a casual thing, but it wasn't.

"Maybe." He didn't have it in him to argue about that, right now. "But now, thanks to Ethan, I have some idea what you went through going back to the whole watcher thing after that happened, and I'm a thousand times more awed."

Giles made a sound like he was blowing that off, so Xander leaned closer, pressing his hand flat over Giles' chest.

"After Eyghon, you could have just, I don't know, run away from it all and started a new life where no one knew you, but you went back to the Council, and you stuck with it, even when it didn't get better, and they were all out to see you fail. That's some pretty major cojones. Colour me impressed."

Instead of answering, Giles just pulled him down into a kiss. Which maybe was just a way to change the subject, but if so, Xander was going to let it slide. He pressed closer, and dragged it out, letting it slow into something gentler, until Giles pulled back, and rested back into the pillow, staring up at the ceiling. "You wanted to know what I saw in him. In Ethan."

"Yeah." Except not if he'd just agreed to hear a list of Ethan's finer points.

"He was a laugh. He helped me not to care, when that was what I thought I most needed." There was a pause, and then Giles started again. "He was a good friend, in many ways. Caring. Loyal."

Xander practically choked. "Loyal?"

Giles shrugged. "I abandoned him, not the other way around. After that... Perhaps he's... no, I know, that in his own twisted way, he's still trying to save me."

"From happiness?"

"From being all the things we both hated, when we were storming through the last of our youth." His voice softened at the end, in a way that made Xander wanted to be part of it, though he was thinking back a few more years to Ripper, eighteen years old and throwing back his head as he laughed at fucking alarms on cars.

"So you've both killed twenty years trying to change each other."

He let out a soft snort, barely more than a breath, and met Xander's eyes. "I did owe him a great deal for those years. Though that debt was more than paid, long before I stopped paying it."

"It's okay, if you still have some good memories of him." Even if it killed Xander to say it.

Giles waited, eyebrows raised. "But?"

"But I still hate his living, breathing guts, and I still think it's proof you were stupid when you were my age."

"That's a valid point of view." Giles pushed a hand through Xander's hair. "You needn't worry that any feelings linger. Or any goodwill, for that matter. If it hadn't already been extinguished, this escapade would have done the trick."

Something unwound in Xander, for hearing it. He'd needed to hear that, without asking for it. He smiled. "Crazy about me, huh?"

Giles smiled back. "If you didn't know how I felt, how did you know your plan would work? That I'd let you interrupt and drag me away?"

Xander shrugged one shoulder. "Just hoping, I guess. The way Ripper watched me across the Bronze. Stuff Ethan said." Stuff Ethan had been at least partly right about. Not the stuff about Xander being a passing infatuation, though.

"I shudder to imagine." He grimaced, and then turned a worried gaze on Xander. "I hope you're not taking anything he said to heart."

Of course not, I hate that guy, was the best answer. "He knew you pretty well," was what Xander said.

Giles exhaled, and glared hard at the ceiling for a few seconds. When he met Xander's gaze, the anger was tucked away. "Ethan knows how to manipulate people. He can't reach me without magic anymore; please don't let him start on you instead."

Air filled Xander's lungs. "Wow. Talk about knowing how to say the right thing."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

They got up eventually. Xander only pulled on his jeans - and made sure Giles noticed the lack of anything under them - and Giles only bothered with boxers and his robe, and they went downstairs to make breakfast. Giles announced he was starving, and started pulling out eggs and bacon and onion and cheese. "Does omelette suit you?"

"Seriously?" An omelette was something you ordered at IHOP, not something you threw together five minutes out of bed.

Giles grinned and took a second to kiss him, light fingers tickling up Xander's bare back. "I think it might be best if you beat the eggs and grate the cheese while I fry up the bacon. Don't want you to be tempted to put on a shirt." The light touch across Xander's stomach raised goosebumps.

They didn't talk except for occasional directions until Giles got the bacon frying. That was fine with Xander. Time to watch the way Giles moved, to watch the hands that had pulled him deeper into Giles' body last night. Giles bent over to wipe up some butter that had splashed on the floor, and Xander's gaze went straight to the curve of his ass. Xander had been in there. Just the memory of how it felt, pushing, squeezing inside, locked Xander's throat. He'd made Giles of the Oxford vocabulary into a babbling idiot. Giles straightened, and Xander imagined sliding his fingers up the back of his thigh, under the dressing gown and up inside his shorts, wondered where he could touch to make him babble again.

"Cheese?"

"Huh?"

"Where's the cheese?"

Xander looked down at the few cheddar curls on the plate. "Oh. Um." He smiled up at Giles. "I got distracted."

Giles pointed at the grater. "Grate." Xander did, and now Giles was watching him. Was he thinking about last night? Xander looked back over his shoulder, and Giles frowned and pointed again. "Grate."

Right. Grate. Xander grated quickly until the eggs sizzled behind him, then he felt Giles press close, dropping a quick kiss on his neck as he pulled the plate away. He whisked the egg around the pan and snatched up the pepper mill and gave a couple of quick twists, then shook the bacon and onion and cheese and some herbs over one side, slid a fork under the other side and folded it. It was fascinating, like watching a cooking show without the boring one-sided chatter.

Xander shoved everything in the dishwasher and pulled out a couple of clean plates, and seconds later Giles had the omelette split down the middle and served.

Xander went around the other side of the counter to climb on a stool. He cut off a corner with his fork and blew on it for a quarter of a second before dropping it in his mouth. "Wow." He didn't know you could do that with egg. He swallowed. "How come you've never cooked for us before?"

"I didn't want the lot of you constantly traipsing through my house, for one thing." He leaned back against the sink, plate in one hand, fork in the other, eating standing up. "Besides, this is my morning-after special. Designed to keep you coming back."

"Oh, I'm coming back. This," he poked his breakfast with his fork, "would keep me coming back all on its own. So would that." He jerked his head up, towards the loft. "Plenty of other things, all on their own, too." He looked Giles straight in the eye to make sure he got the full sense of how much Xander wasn't going anywhere, and loved the smile that got, pleasure sparkling all the way up to Giles' eyes.

Giles closed them as he popped egg in his mouth. "It is good to be back."

"So I don't need to believe all that stuff about how youth is the best time of our lives?"

"Utter rot. You should look forward to the day you're sensibly old and stuffy, and bedding an eighteen year-old."

"I can't wait."

A few minutes later Giles looked up again. "In all seriousness, the insecurities of old age are a long sight better than the insecurities of youth."

Xander wanted to ask what Giles could possibly have to be insecure about now, but he supposed he kind of knew. He knew a lot more about Giles.

They downed a few more mouthfuls, Giles pausing between bites like he was about to speak, and then looking away again.

"Don't sit on it, Giles."

His head jerked up, caught, and he swallowed. "If I might be forgiven for bringing it up... There is one thing I dearly want to know." One thing? Xander had a list. "If not you, then who knocked Ethan around, when you took him to the Magic Shop?"

Confession time, and Xander couldn't believe how relieved he felt. "That would be my dad."

Giles' plate sank a couple of inches, and Xander worried he was going to drop it. "I'm sorry?"

"My dad knows I'm... He found a magazine. With guys."

The plate was slid safely onto the counter, and Giles pulled out his serious face, bracing himself like he was ready to get all bristly and protective. "What happened?"

Xander shrugged. "He was okay with it. Not 'okay' okay, but, you know. He didn't book me a place at the Straight is Great Reprogramming Center."

This was where Giles was supposed to say something, so Xander could stop talking, but he just waited, quiet.

"It was a week ago. Before all the memory stuff started. I'm sorry. I didn't want to talk about it." Giles did look hurt, but Xander hoped that was just a drop in the bucket with everything else this week. "He drove us out to Crestview Park in the middle of the night, and he, he just... asked."

Still silent, Giles watched him.

"He cried."

The breath out was loud, and neither of them spoke. Xander jammed his teeth together. He was done talking about that night.

Giles was leaning forward like he wanted to know more, so Xander stared down at his plate. "Don't, okay?" He didn't want to hear what Giles thought of his dad, right now.

Giles subsided. That was somehow worse, because Xander filled the big ugly silence with thinking. At least until Giles spoke up again. "May I ask, at least, how this led to rearranging Ethan's face?"

Xander grinned, relieved. Good memory. Way safer topic. "On Wednesday I told him how old you are, and he pretty much stopped with the being of the okay."

"I see." Giles folded his arms and looked down, not amused at all. Took his time looking up again. "Then he saw you with Ethan, and jumped to conclusions."

"Yeah."

He digested that for a minute. "Never have I been so glad to be associated with Ethan."

"It was-" He probably shouldn't say this. "It was kind of cool. My dad storming in to protect me. I mean, I'm glad it wasn't you that he hit, obviously, but it was... He's never done anything like that before." Giles only nodded, but Xander guessed there wasn't much he could say to that. "And I know that's screwed up because if he'd hurt you-"

"A few bruises would hardly be my primary concern."

For a scary moment, Xander imagined his dad's wild swings against an angry Giles. How much damage Giles could do. "Yeah. You can throw a punch. My gut hurt for days, after Ripper."

Giles winced, but he wasn't going to bow to the subject change. "Getting in a physical fight with your father is about the last thing in this world I'd want to do."

"I guess so."

"Does he know, now, that it isn't Ethan?"

"Yeah. But after all the throwing of punches, I wasn't exactly giving him your passport details and a spare house key."

"Probably wise."

"He calmed down afterwards. You don't need to live in fear of a Thanksgiving invite, but I don't think you need to worry about him coming for you with a shotgun."

Giles reached for his glasses, realised he wasn't wearing them yet and put his hands behind him on the counter instead. "It sounds like your father is trying very hard."

Not what Xander had expected at all. The world bottomed out for a second, with just how much he felt for Giles. "Yeah. I think he is."

"What about your mother?"

"I can't tell her. I'm sorry."

"It's all right."

"I'm sorry." Xander shook his head, and pushed his plate away, suddenly not feeling so hot. He could feel Giles' curiosity, but Giles just came around and pulled Xander into his arms. He smelled good, and he felt good, a body Xander could lean into and Giles held him tighter. It really was all fixed. This was Xander's own Giles, and Xander was glad he was forty-six and he'd already been through all that other stuff, because Xander liked him now best.

Giles squeezed a little harder. "I said some harsh things, that first morning."

"No big." Xander barely remembered Giles saying he was completely bloody barmy to believe Giles would ever be in a relationship with him.

"Yes, it is. Don't think I don't know that." Fingers brushed through Xander's hair. "I always respected you. Or," he pulled back to give a wry smile, "at least, I had for a long time by that point. Don't take it personally, that I couldn't see beyond the sixteen year-old."

"I get it. And you had Miss Calendar."

"Yes." He could fit a lot in a 'yes'.

"Ethan brought it all back, didn't he?"

"Yes." Giles' eyes slid past him, to the floor, arms loosening.

"Do you... I was going to take you to see her grave." It was barely out of his mouth before he felt like a dumbass. "I'm sorry. You wouldn't want me there. I meant, maybe you should still go."

Giles looked back up at him, thoughtfully. "I do want you there. Would you mind?"

"Are you sure?" Xander wouldn't know what to do.

Giles rested his fingers lightly on Xander's cheeks as he leaned in for the softest of kisses, more breath than lips. "Please."

Xander would have saved the world single-handed, if Giles had asked him like that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was sunny, at the cemetery. The sort of sunlight that made you squint and warmed you right through to your bones.

Xander waited back under a tree while Giles stood at Miss Calendar's grave. Giles had squeezed his hand as they walked, and let go, and Xander had taken that as a signal to stay here, by Abigail Carter, 1978 - 1998. He was pretty sure he remembered her, a senior when he started at Sunnydale High. She'd hung out at the Bronze, sometimes.

Giles wasn't doing anything. He wasn't talking out loud or touching the stone, just standing there.

Xander had snuck in here once, a couple of weeks after she died. He'd just stood there, where Giles was now, wishing he'd known her better and hating Angel. Sometimes when he was walking by and saw the grave of someone from school, Xander stopped and tried to pay his respects, but it always felt kind of fake. Trying to think of Gage Petronzi as a young light snuffed out, but just remembering the time him and his friends shoved Xander up against a wall in the changing rooms. Putting on a solemn face as he stood by Kelly Nguyen's stone, wondering if she'd remembered that they were friends in first grade, until her parents divorced and her dad started spoiling her with expensive clothes and she got popular.

Giles took a big breath, so big that Xander could see his shoulders rise and his chest swell from across the lawn. He slipped his fingers and thumb under his glasses to rub his eyes, and then he turned to walk towards Xander.

Xander fell in beside him as they crunched along the path. After a minute, Giles said, "I saw her, that night."

Xander knew, right away, what night he meant.

"The night Angel... Drusilla made me see Jenny." He looked at Xander, expecting something, and clearly not getting it. After a second, he said, "You don't seem surprised."

"I figured they did."

Giles stopped walking, to stare at him. "You 'figured'?"

"When I found you, you said-" and he'd forgotten, but it was coming back, word for word, "they made you see things you wanted."

Giles just stared, and swallowed. "I never told anyone."

Xander shrugged. "Neither did I."

It was a long time before Giles moved again, and then he only got as far as the bench by the path, sitting stiffly like an old man and raising his face, eyes closed to the sun. Soaking it in like it could wash out all the dark places.

Xander trailed after him, no idea what Giles needed. He sat halfway down the bench, trying to give him space, but Giles blindly felt out his hand and squeezed it. "I haven't been able to come here since. Thank you."

After everything, Xander was still perching on the edge of the seat like Giles was going to frown at him. He slid back and pulled Giles around into a kiss, and Giles didn't flinch or turn away or remind Xander that they were in sight of Jenny's grave. He just kissed back. Giles had picked him. Giles trusted him, here with his memories and last night in bed and in all sorts of other ways. Xander was going to trust himself too. He wasn't scared, anymore.

He stood and pulled Giles up after him, and they walked back to the car. As Giles slid the key into the ignition, Xander said, "I don't want to wait anymore. I want you to, um, to fuck, me, tonight." He winced at the 'fuck'. He didn't mean it like 'fucking' but he didn't know how to say it better without sounding like a girl.

Giles let go of the key, and rubbed his hands down his thighs. Xander could see him breathe. "Let's not wait until tonight."

"Okay." Right now, then. As soon as they got home.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

They'd made it down the stairs without tripping over each other's feet, even though they were walking close enough that they brushed against each other the whole way. They got as far as the door, but then Giles pushed him against it and kissed him. Right out in the courtyard. There was a hand resting on Xander's ass and it was just resting, but it was about to be rubbing up Xander's crack, finding its way inside him, and Xander was eager to get on with it. "Let's move this inside."

One more kiss. "As soon as we get through this door, I won't be able to control myself."

Apparently, it was possible to get harder. Xander snatched the key out of Giles' hand and got it in the lock on the second try, and then Giles' unmistakable hard-on was pressing into the seam of Xander's arse and he had to turn the key a bunch of times to figure out the right way. He got it right and stumbled in on Buffy.

And Willow. And Oz.

Xander was halfway in the door, and didn't get any further. No, no, no. I need to have sex with Giles, he wanted to tell them. Right now. Go away.

Giles bumped up behind him, close enough for Xander to feel him tense. He could almost feel the evil eye burning past his ear. "Do walk in and make yourselves at home." It was leaning towards the sharp end of the sarcasm spectrum.

"We tried, but you have no cookies," retorted Buffy, from the couch. "Hence, this is not a home."

"Forgive me for neglecting my baking duties while a sociopath was scouring away my memories."

"We respect extenuating circumstances," Willow said. "We would have settled for store-bought."

Giles' fists clenched, and slowly opened. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

"It's a welcome home party." Willow looked a little hurt. So did Buffy. Not Oz. But then, Oz could probably smell the pheromones from here. He wasn't friend enough to make excuses to get the girls out.

They really did look hurt.

Xander clapped Giles on the back. "And a welcome home party it is." He supposed this was what Mrs Rosenberg had meant about learning to share. She would have been proud of him, if she'd been in his head at this moment.

"A welcome home gathering," said Oz.

"Right. The repressed English kind with tea. No hoot, no nanny, absolutely no living dead."

"That is a relief." Giles shot Xander a look, and a more genuine smile. "Give me a moment, then, to go wash up."

Jerk off, he meant, and Xander flushed. "Do you..." need help with that, he wanted to ask.

"I think I've got it in hand."

He disappeared, and Xander dared to see if the girls had picked up on the single entendre, but they seemed to have their Giles-filter on. He really could have used a couple of minutes in the bathroom, himself. But Xander was a trooper, so he headed into the kitchen, and stood in front of the open fridge for a while instead.

If there was one thing Team Scooby knew how to do better than anybody - aside from killing vampires and saving the world - it was how to act normal. When Xander came out with a root beer and claimed the armchair, Will and Buffy were debating whether to decorate their dorm room along some kind of theme - Xander suggested medieval, so they could turn Buffy's weapons into easy-access wall-hangings, but was soundly vetoed - and then there were guys: some cute TA, and some guy called Parker, and for the first time ever, Xander didn't hate either guy from the second Buffy expressed an interest.

Willow leaned forward, and patted Buffy on the knee. "See? There is life after Angel."

"Dear god." Giles stopped in the doorway, looking horrified.

Xander half-rose from his chair. "Giles?"

"Angel."

"Huh?"

Giles stared wide-eyed at Xander. "Angel saw us."

"Angel's here?" Buffy exclaimed, looking back and forth between them.

"Last year," Giles added.

Last year, in the alley, when they were... Giles hadn't known about that, before.

Buffy set her attention on Giles, confused. "Last year, Angel saw you? You two?"

"Yes," he said to Xander.

"No," Xander said to Buffy, very clearly. "Me and Ripper. Eighteen year-old Giles." He sent Giles a look of apology for the identity split thing again, but he felt it was an important distinction this time.

Luckily, Giles was stuck on the original point. He raised both hands. "The vampire that - it was Angel."

"Yeah."

Buffy shook her head. "It couldn't have been Angel. He didn't say anything to me. He totally would have said something."

"And he knew it was-"

"Not at first, but once Buffy told him-"

"Angel would have told me," Buffy insisted.

"-then I think he connected the dots."

"Dear lord."

"Um." Oz raised his hand. "Does it really matter?" Xander, Giles and Buffy all stared at him. "Just wondering."

Giles flinched with another awful revelation, and Xander realised what it was as Giles stared around at the others. "So you all know that-"

Xander moved closer. "I had to tell them about how Ripper and I hit it off. So Willow could make the potion."

"Right."

"We're already repressing," Buffy said.

Giles glanced at her and after a moment he nodded, looking relieved. "Good." He headed on through to sit in the armchair. "I'm glad that's over with."

Xander wondered if Giles had really just jerked off in the bathroom with the hand that was now innocently picking lint off his thigh, or just used his superior age and wisdom to talk it down. Xander glanced towards the bathroom and back to find Giles watching him with a barely-there smile, and then he went and stood in front of the fridge again.

Willow twisted to see him over the back of the couch. "Whatcha looking for, Xander?"

"Ah, something to drink." Giles in the bathroom, still dressed but his fly open and his dick out.

"You've got a drink."

"Oh, um, does anyone need a drink?" Giles' hand working it while he thought about Xander. Pushing his dick inside Xander.

"We've all got drinks, remember?"

The fridge wasn't working. Maybe Xander needed to shove the frozen peas down his pants. "Ice, anyone?"

"No, we're-"

"Ice is good. It makes the drinks cold." Leaning back against the bathroom door and thrusting his hips. "Cold is good." Xander could feel the words tripping out of his mouth, but he couldn't stop them. "Sure nobody wants ice? There's ice." Xander caught his breath, as he realised everyone was staring at him.

Buffy snorted. "God, Xander. Does anything shut you up?"

Giles smiled. "Actually..."

Her head whipped around almost as fast as Xander's. "Don't even go there!"

"I was going to say food."

"Oh." She flushed.

He leaned back, stretching his legs out, looking smug. "Whatever you were thinking about... that doesn't shut him up at all."

"Giles!" Xander exclaimed. Willow went red all over.

"Gyah!" Buffy tried to cover her eyes and ears all at once. "When did you stop being English?"

"I'm in a good mood."

"I think your younger, more unpleasant self has left an unpleasant mark."

A flash of horror disappeared under his best bland expression. Even if he was getting to be okay with Xander knowing his big ugly secrets now, he wasn't okay yet with how much they'd seen. He caught Xander's stare, and shrugged it off. "Perhaps."

"Please go back to repressing."

Giles smiled awkwardly at Xander as he stood, and he slipped a hand behind Xander's neck for a gentle squeeze as he passed on his way to the kitchen.

Xander wanted to catch his hand and pull him back. Touch him. Maybe just give him a poke to see if he really was as relaxed as he was acting. Or, better yet, send the others off and get poked. "So what are you guys doing tonight? Snowed under with catch-up work? Frat party?" Something very soon?

"We're all going to the Bronze," Buffy said, emphasis on the 'all'.

No way. "Can't tonight," Xander said, desperately.

"C'mon, it'll be fun. We deserve to get our funky thing on," said Willow.

"You promised we could interrogate you about you and Ripper last year," Buffy explained, for anyone in the room who hadn't figured that out, which was no one.

"Why don't you grill Giles for the details? He remembers it all, now, and seems willing to share."

"Why don't the four of you enjoy a night out at the Bronze?" Giles retorted.

Xander made eyes at Giles, trying to remind him they had a very important appointment upstairs, but Giles just gave a little shrug.

"Get it over with. Like a band-aid."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Okay, the Bronze? Bad idea. Really, really bad idea. That occured to pretty much everyone as they shuffled through the door and all came to a halt, staring at the pool table. Damn.

No way was Xander staying here. "Let's go to the coffee shop. Or your dorm. Your dorm would be good."

"We've seen worse things happen here," said Willow.

"No, we haven't," said Buffy. "But we've got to get back on the horse, right?" She squeezed Xander's arm. "We'll sit way over there. Okay?" She said it softly, waiting for Xander's nod before leading them over there.

A girl band was playing, some peppy song about men being dogs. Great.

Xander offered to get drinks, just to put the interrogation off longer. Even if it meant walking past the pool table, where he'd watched Giles and Ethan suck face. And do other things.

And honestly, Xander wasn't jealous of Ethan. Giles chose Xander. But stuff Ethan said was still sticking out in Xander's brain like a whole bunch of sore thumbs. That was the next issue to tackle, right after the girls.

He was going to talk to them. Whatever they asked, he'd tell the truth, get it out of the way. Just as soon as he ran out of ways to keep putting it off for a few more minutes. He waited his turn at the bar, looking around to see if there was anyone he could accidentally bump into and get stuck talking to, but all of Xander's only three friends were waiting over at the table on the other side of the Bronze. He wondered, if he snuck out the side door and back to Giles, how long it would take them to notice. Probably not long enough to get on with the sex he'd been planning.

He wound his way through the crowd with three cokes and an iced tea, and took the seat they'd left him. Willow on one side, Buffy on the other, Oz across the table for silent sympathy.

"Before we start, can I ask if anyone has magical Ethan-repelling plans underway?" Xander looked at Willlow.

She lifted her shoulders. "I've been poking around online, but he's about a thousand times more powerful than me. Hasn't... Giles has the books, has he ever..." She trailed off.

Xander had no idea. And wasn't especially enthusiastic about asking. "I didn't want him to have to think about it."

"I'll keep looking."

Buffy flicked her straw. "For what it's worth, I punched him in the nose again - Oz told us about your dad, by the way, certify me impressed - and I told him I was officially redesignating him as demonic and therefore killable if he showed his face again."

"Thanks, Buff."

She waved him off. "Can we start the interrogation?"

It started with Willow yanking Xander's hair.

"Ow!"

"That's for the months you didn't tell me. In fact, that's January. The other months are coming."

Right. Giles was probably curled up on the couch with a book right now, congratulating himself on dumping this in Xander's lap. Hopefully, part of him was remembering their plans for tonight, seriously regretting letting Xander go, and maybe making some very specific, detailed plans.

Buffy pulled a sheet of paper out of her pocket and unfolded it, spreading it out on the table. "First," she began.

Xander's eyes widened. "You made a list?"

"You said we could ask anything we wanted," said Willow.

"You shouldn't have given us time to compile it," said Buffy.

"Only one's mine," said Oz.

A whole list.

"First," Buffy repeated. "Did you have sex with Giles last year?"

Xander did the check around to make sure no one from school was nearby, wondering why Xander and sex and the school librarian had united in a single question. There were plenty of Sunnydale alum around, but none of them were listening.

"No."

She gave him a look. "What if we define Giles as Rupert Giles, at any age?"

So much for using that loophole. "I thought you didn't want details."

"That's a yes."

Xander slouched back in his chair. "Kinda. Yeah."

"Wow." Willow looked shocked.

Buffy didn't. She nodded, knowingly, and pulled a pen out of somewhere to tick off the question. "But nothing at all, nothing that we didn't know about, happened with Giles, the elder."

A girl bumped his chair as she passed, and Xander looked out over the dance floor to where Ripper had stood that night, not knowing that he was going to grow up to be a sword-waving, tweed-wearing The Watcher guy, or that he was about to send Xander's life spinning off in a whole new gay direction for his future self.

"Xander?"

"I kissed him. After Ripper."

"Wow." Willow took a second to un-glaze. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Buffy glared at her. "That's question fifteen. We're not up to fifteen."

Xander choked on his drink. "Seriously?"

"Yep. Question fifteen of forty-two."

"No, I meant, seriously, you don't know why I didn't tell you?" He stared at Willow. Then he stared at Buffy again. "Seriously, forty-two questions?" Back to Willow. "Will, it was weird. It was Giles. And however weird this all is for you, it was a million times weirder for me. And you and I had just, I mean," he wished there was an Oz-friendly way to say it, "Things were weird with us too, remember?" He didn't think he would have told her anyway, but that hadn't helped.

Buffy went all serious and professional interrogator-ish again. "So, you kissed Giles."

"Yeah."

Willow looked ready to fall off her chair. "What did he do?"

"He just sat there. I didn't really give him time to react." Time to wake up and throw Xander across the room. "He made Ripper disappear and I didn't get to say goodbye and I kissed Giles." One impulse to set all this in motion. Xander still didn't know why he'd done it, didn't think there was a reason, because if he'd had time for any reasoning at all, there was no way he would have done it. He'd be home now, in his basement, alone, with no idea that Giles could be the best thing that ever happened to him.

They let that settle in a while, before Buffy checked, "Nothing else happened last year."

"No. We got together after I got back from Oxnard."

She shook her head. "No wonder you were all, 'Let's be nice to Giles'."

Xander glared. "Is this helping?"

Buffy nodded, thoughtfully. "Yeah. It's starting to make more sense."

"Really?"

"More sense than you and Giles hooking up out of nowhere just because you hadn't seen each other in a while."

Oz nodded. "That was pretty lame."

Willow nodded, too.

Yeah, it probably was. "After Ripper I started paying more attention, you know, noticing stuff, and I planned to figure that stuff out on my road trip but that didn't work out and then I came home and Giles had done some figuring out of his own."

"How long have you been gay?" Willow asked.

Xander nudged his glass around on the table, watching the condensation trail. "Ripper was the first."

"But did you know before that?"

"I don't know." He hated them asking all the stuff he didn't know. "Maybe. Yeah. But it's not like-" Okay, really awkward to explain in front of Oz, that every desperate kiss with Willow had been totally sincere. "Girls are okay, too." He turned to Oz, before Willow could stumble further down that road. "What's your question?"

Oz played with his straw, leaning back with a speculative look. "Did you guys make out outside my cage the other week?"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was late when the girls finally let him leave the Bronze. He got back to find Giles already asleep, sheet twisted around his waist, arms spread wide. Xander just stood and watched him for a while, and then he took his time getting naked. He'd been planning to wake him up and get back to their earlier sex-plans, but now Xander couldn't think of anything better than sliding under those sheets and wrapping himself around all that heat.

Giles groaned and muttered something, pulling Xander closer against his skin, and Xander smiled, kissing Giles' shoulder.

"D'you survive th' 'terrogation?" Barely more than a rumble.

"Intact and home with you."

"Mmmm." Giles smiled, never opening his eyes as he kissed Xander's chin, and settled back down. Xander followed him into sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At some point when Xander wasn't paying attention yesterday, Buffy had convinced Giles to do some training with her. And so, instead of a long, slow Sunday spent getting on with the plans, there was a - very enjoyable - mutual handjob, and then they were dragging themselves out of bed for a quick shower and breakfast.

Giles was reaching for his shoes when Xander finally found the nerve to ask. "Can I... Would you mind..." Not afraid of Giles anymore, remember? Giles was looking at him, wary. "Can I look at your books again? Your dirty books?"

Giles let out a slow breath, and put his shoes down. "That's not... I mean of course. You're welcome to read them. Just... please don't use them as springboards to jump to conclusions."

"Conclusions?"

Giles actually looked a little pink. "Don't assume that they are a catalogue of what I expect. Or want. Or like."

"So..." Xander reached for the one on the nightstand, caught the photos as they slid out. "You don't want to see me in a corset?"

"The thought had never crossed my mind, until right now."

Oops. "And right now... is it turning you on?" Giles squirmed, and Xander flushed, hard. "Just so you know, that's never gonna happen." Xander was all for seeing Giles aroused. But he wasn't so sure he'd like Giles getting aroused seeing him like that.

Giles slipped his fingers behind his glasses, to rub his eyes. "I've told you, there's very little you do that doesn't turn me on. Why are you so concerned with my erotica collection?"

"Ethan said-"

"Oh, dear lord."

"Ethan said you used to like a whole lot of things that-"

"Xander-"

"And I let him get under my skin, but then I realised, I'm not some blushing virgin girl. I like sex. I've got all sorts of ideas that couldn't be shown on basic cable." He tried a dirty grin, to lift the mood. "There's plenty of stuff I want to do - with you - if I can just stop obsessing over trying to imagine what you did with him."

"You don't need to meet any particular criteria in bed for me."

"I figured that out. This is kind of for me."

He still looked doubtful. "Just promise me that if anything bothers you, you'll talk to me before you run in the other direction."

"And if it doesn't bother me?"

He smiled. "Then we'll talk about that, too." He slid his shoes on and leaned over to give Xander a thorough kiss. "I want you. Naked or half-dressed or wearing a woolly sheep costume, although I'll give you a head start and tell you I don't entertain any particular urge to see the last of those. I have what I need. Everything else is garnish." He tipped his head, and looked Xander over. "Except your mouth on my dick. That's becoming quite the fetish."

Xander slid a hand up Giles' thigh, watching Giles' eyes close. "I'm okay with that one." In fact, that sounded like a great idea. "How long have you got?"

"I don't really-"

Xander brushed Giles' dick through his pants. "A couple of minutes won't hurt."

He groaned. "You'll have me in one."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He still had the taste of him on his tongue when Giles finally rushed out the door. Giles had places to be, but Xander had nothing but porn on his schedule. Porn now; real live sex, later. Sex. Of the Giles' dick inside Xander variety. He wanted to know if Giles could make him feel how Giles looked the other night when Xander was inside him. That desperate. That content. Xander's hand wandered into his shorts, but he pulled it away. He was going to save that up.

Xander dug into Giles' drawer and fished out a handful of condoms, poked around until he found a couple of different lubes. He hadn't really thought about it in all the fumbling the other night, but Giles had actual sex lubes, stuff that when you bought it, the clerk would know that was going to go on your dick; not just moisturiser or oil, generic, hey, maybe I've got way-dry skin. Xander wondered if Giles still got embarrassed, buying stuff like that, or if you got over it when you got old enough.

He put both on the bedside table. Let Giles decide. He was the expert. Maybe he knew the difference between Astroglide and Velvet, which was better for sliding his dick inside Xander's ass. Xander shivered.

There didn't seem to be anything else to do up here to get ready, except the whole taking their clothes off thing, and that could wait 'til Giles got home. Which meant it was time for the other thing.

He grabbed a stack of books and carried them downstairs to the desk. He picked up a notepad and flipped past all the demon notes until he reached a fresh page, and drew a line down the paper to make two columns. He considered for a few seconds, and wrote 'Yeah, I could get into that,' at the top of the first, and marked the second 'HELL NO.' Right under that, he wrote 'crossdressing'. He wasn't man enough to feel okay in girls' clothes, but he was man enough to own it. That night being humiliated by the snake-summoning fraternity guys wasn't by any gymnastics of the imagination his idea of a good time.

He opened the book of short stories, since even with the yellowed pages, that looked like one of the newest. He started skimming through the boring bits. Just like researching evil, really. It even had the same potential for terror.

The first story was a woman being tied to a bed. Xander could get into that. Giles in control, Xander helpless... Xander adjusted himself in his pants. It might have been a good idea to let Giles return the favour, before he left. 'Getting tied up,' went in the first column. A couple of pages later, she was being spanked with a paddle. Xander squirmed. Probably not. See aforementioned snake-summoning fraternity. His hand hovered over the 'Hell no,' column, but then he thought about it. Wondered if Giles thought about pushing Xander to bend over the drawers, telling Xander he'd been very bad. Except with Giles-words. Okay. That was freaky more than sexy, and it wasn't so much the idea of being spanked as the idea of Giles wanting to do it. Xander put his hand on his cock, and took a deep breath. Parts of him liked the idea. Not all of him, but there were definitely parts voting in favour.

He ripped off the top page and started again, three columns this time, and in the middle, he wrote 'Maybe with a little persuasion,' and wrote 'spanking' underneath. If that was something Giles liked, he'd be willing to give it a try. Eventually.

Just to be clear, though, he put 'hitting hard' in the last column. Pain, no thank you. He kept flipping through the book, found himself in the middle of man-on-man action. Sticking a tube up.... Uh, no. He wondered where that got sexy.

He lost track of time as he worked his way through the pile. Some books just padded out the 'Hell, no,' column. Some made him forget he was making lists at all. When he remembered, be was kind of proud of how long the 'yes' list was.

There was one novel from old days, where the people took horses and carriages everywhere, and men kissed the backs of ladies' hands, and the guys kept giving each other steamy looks. Xander forgot his mission, reading it, as men shoved their hands down other men's breeches for a good frigging. He wasn't exactly sure what breeches were - some kind of pants, he knew that - but if Giles wanted to pull on a pair, Xander would be happy to slide his hand inside and frig him. The widowed Earl jumped every man he saw, but chapter after chapter, he kept lusting after some awkward young guy who was engaged to his niece. Xander put that book to the side as he grabbed the next. He was going to borrow that one.

The next book was leather-bound Bram Stoker. No way. Xander stuck 'vampires' in the 'Hell no,' column. Then added 'vampire games'. And 'blood' for good measure.

Next book, more short stories. Being bossed around and treated like a slave? That sounded kind of stupid. Then Xander thought of the picture in his magazine, sucking Giles' dick while Giles kept right on reading, Giles telling him to swallow, and stuck it in the 'yes' column with a big tick. He was blushing like a big idiot. Threesomes? Where Giles touched someone else? Not a chance. Not unless Ripper had another round-trip ticket, or Amy Yip was planning a swing through Sunnydale. Xander wasn't even sure about seeing Giles touch her, after the last few days. Thinking of the last few days made Xander realise he hadn't thought of Ethan or what Giles had done with Ethan at all. Ha.

But a threesome with Ripper...

If Ripper came back, Xander would want to make him watch, more than anything. Maybe the guy wouldn't have been so horrified of his future if he'd seen what he could do with a few more decades' experience. Maybe Giles would enjoy the audience, showing off. He'd tell Xander to be louder, so Ripper would know. Not that he'd need to tell him.

Xander tapped his pen on the page. Ripper had been crazy about Xander. Not just for feeling up and humiliating, but actual feelings, like Ripper would never have admitted. Xander wondered what it would have taken to crack him, make him show it.

Maybe him and Giles together, could have shown him.

"What are we- oh."

Xander jumped out of his skin, and his heart raced. "Jesus, Giles." How many hours had Xander been at this?

"I wondered what had you so absorbed." Giles was right behind him, leaning over his shoulder. Reading his list. Xander almost covered it, but he remembered this was the whole point of making the list, and he held still. A hand squeezed Xander's shoulder, and he started to relax. Not that there was any reason for Giles to be mad, but he could have reacted plenty of bad ways. Laughed, maybe. He still hadn't reacted, so that was still a possibility. The hand squeezed again, and then ran down to Xander's stomach, hooking fingers under his shirt and lifting, the cool air and light touch raising goosebumps. A finger brushed over Xander's nipple, and then circled it, and the goosebumps got goosebumps, and then it was lightly squeezed, and Xander gasped.

Without letting go, with his left hand, Giles picked up the pen and added 'sensitive tits' to the 'yes, please' list, with a pinch for punctuation. Coarse, tacky, porn words in Giles' tiny English handwriting. He put the pen down, and ran his finger down the first column. "These things might happen?"

The fingers playing with his nipple were making it hard to think. 'Getting tied up' and 'butt plugs' and 'being a slave' swam in front of his eyes. "Oh, they'll definitely happen. I mean, if you're okay with them." He really hoped Giles was okay with them.

"But not today."

"Not today," Xander agreed, almost groaning the words.

"Do you still want me inside you?" A finger ran down Xander's spine to poke his ass where it met the seat.

"Yes. A thousand times yes."

"Then we'll save this for later." Giles pushed the pad aside and pulled Xander up out of the chair, turned him to lean against the desk, and took a good long look at him through warm and lusty eyes.

This was a guy who'd stood up to things most people were too scared to believe in. He'd made mistakes and kept going and lost Jenny and been tortured and he was still here and a good guy and after all that, he was standing here staring at Xander like Xander was the coolest new ride at Disneyland. Gay, X-rated Disneyland.

Xander grinned, and Giles smiled back, and Xander slid Giles' glasses off and put them on the desk behind him. Got a half a second to enjoy Giles' bare face before he was being kissed, and it was dirty and promising, Giles' tongue dragging slowly through his mouth. The sort of kisses that would have got Xander hard even without the posted schedule of the afternoon's events.

Giles' hands stayed above his waist, rubbing his back, squeezing his neck. "How are you feeling?"

Xander decided to go with honest. "Nervous."

Worry creased his brow. "I won't hurt you."

"I know that. I just mean..." I don't want to be bad at it. "I want it to be good."

Giles snorted. "It's going to be better than good. Everything with you is better than good." A hand drifted over Xander's back, up to his shoulder. "The shape of you." Giles' weight pressed down as he leaned in for a long kiss, tongue sliding in slow and deep. "The taste of you." He nuzzled by Xander's ear to purr, "The way you moan." He reached between them to squeeze Xander's dick through his jeans and Xander did.

Giles' weight pressed him further and further down onto the desk until something dug into Xander's back and then there was a crack.

Giles stopped kissing him. "What was that?"

"Never mind," Xander said, and yanked Giles back into another kiss before he could pull Xander aside and see what was left of his glasses. Wasn't like he didn't have spare pairs around the place, and this was way more important.

Easy as that, Giles relaxed and got back into it, not letting off until he whispered in Xander's ear, "I've been thinking about this for months."

Xander caught his ear in his teeth, wondered if Giles still had an earring for this piercing hole. "Thinking about fucking me?"

Suddenly Xander was being hauled up and pushed to lead the way to the bedroom. He only made it halfway up the stairs, then Giles grabbed the waist of his jeans to stop him. "I've thought about it right here," Giles said behind him, below him. "Imagined you greeting me at the door when I came back from a run. I'm sweating and out of breath, but you tell me you've already prepared yourself, and just the thought of you home alone with your fingers up your arse has my blood charging, and we only make it halfway up the stairs before I've pulled down your sweatpants and got my dick inside you. It happens right here."

Oh, Jesus.

There was a hint of pressure, like Giles might push him to his knees, and then it was pressing forward, upwards. "Not today."

Xander was disappointed. Or relieved. Mostly, pretty much both.

When they got to the top, Giles saw the condoms and lube sitting on the bedside table. "You're been preparing."

"No time to waste." And yet Xander just stood there and watched, while Giles stripped off. Shirt pulled casually over his head, except the way he turned as he did it, so Xander got to see every angle as his muscles stretched up. And how he faced away as he undid his fly, made the zip good and loud, before he bent over, showing his smooth ass as he peeled his pants down his legs, and kicked them against the wall. It was like he'd forgotten he'd ever worried about what Xander thought of his body. He wanted Xander to look his fill and get hard - harder -for him.

It was impossible to believe there was a time when Xander didn't get off on that body, that he was ever blind to the power under the starched shirts. Had he really been shocked just last December to find out Giles had a dick?

Giles turned around and there it was, thick and flushed and pointing straight at Xander. Apparently somewhere near the top of Giles' 'yes please' column was 'being watched'. Xander could totally support him in that.

Giles sauntered - swear to god, sauntered - closer and slipped his hands under Xander's t-shirt and just felt him, for a moment. And then he slid his hands up Xander's sides, bringing his shirt up his arms and over his head. He tossed it aside and watched his own hands running over Xander's chest. He slipped a thumb into the front of Xander's jeans and drew him forward, across the room to the railing, overlooking the ground floor. "I've thought about here, too. Bending you over the rail, letting the view make you dizzy as I pound you hard."

Yes. Please.

Giles leaned in. "That will have to wait. We'll need practise, before I can take you like that."

"Okay." Xander wet his lips. "Let's start practising, then."

"A fine idea."

"How about there?" Xander pointed at the bed. "Got any fantasies there?"

Giles tried for a puzzled look, but the pull at his lips gave him away. "The bed? I'm quite sure I've never considered that."

"We'll just have to wing it, then."

Xander started for the bed, but the thumb in his jeans pulled him back.

"I liked this morning," Giles said, "but it was such a shame to rush it."

Xander jerked a thumb at the bed. "Aren't we going to-"

"We are. But there won't be any rushing." He bit behind Xander's ear. "We have all day." He grazed his teeth down Xander's throat. "All night."

"Easy for you to say. You got off already today."

Giles' eyes lit. "You waited for me? All that reading downstairs, and you didn't take a little time out?"

"So you can see the urgency of the situation."

Giles grinned. "Yes, I can." He shifted back against the railing, his back to the room below, and leisurely stroked his dick.

Okay. Xander couldn't argue with that. He slid to his knees. Giles' dick was in his face, just like in Mr Harper's classroom, and Xander looked up, wondering if Giles was thinking about that. Giles smiled down at him, like that was exactly what he was thinking. Xander wrapped a hand around and took the head in his mouth, the salty tip smooth on his tongue. "Crazy about your mouth," Giles murmured. He was watching, so Xander put on a show, open mouth, sliding tongue. "You took my head off that first time, when I was eighteen."

He'd handled that memory so many times that the reality had jumbled together with his fantasies, but he remembered Ripper's - Giles' - reaction when he accidentally grazed his teeth, so he did that again.

"Fuck." He loved that word in Giles' mouth, so he worked for more, teasing him with sharpness and then taking him as deep as he could, feeling him in the back of his throat for a few moments until Giles said "Fuck" again. He reached up to pull one of Giles' hands from the rail, tugged it to his head. He wanted to feel fingers in his hair, feel Giles fighting not to drag him deeper.

Sometimes in Xander's fantasies, Giles held him down, fingers pulling in his hair as Xander struggled to breath around the dick jammed in his throat, and Giles would be telling him to take it, in his harshest voice. It might be a little while before Xander shared that one.

For now the hand resting on his head as he sucked was good, the tension in the fingers wrapped in his hair, and of course the 'fuck's. Xander looked up and Giles was arched back over the railing. Xander sucked harder.

Hands scrabbled at Xander's shoulders, pushing him away. "Get your jeans off."

Xander got them down to his knees and then twisted to sit on the floor to work them off his legs. Giles grabbed his arm and hauled him up to stand, pulling him into a one-armed hug, and the other hand... fingers slipped into his crack, running back and forth. Oh god. Their dicks pressed together, and those fingers were too much, pressing just to tease. "Won't last."

"You'll last." Giles sucked on his own fingers, staring straight into Xander's eyes as he made them shining wet. His expression was totally serious, his concentrating face, and that was really hot. And his fingers, Xander closed his eyes for just a second and felt a hand brush between his thighs and then a finger slipped inside, just the tip and Xander's whole body shook. Giles had all Xander's weight in his arms.

When he opened his eyes again, Giles was smiling. "I like that I'm the first to do this." His voice was rasping, like it had caught in his lungs and come out sideways. Xander's hips twisted with that thick, shifting finger, but Giles' other hand grabbed his hip hard, bruising grip holding him still. "I was concerned, with our relative ages and our former relationship."

A little deeper, the faintest push and pull singing through his whole body, and Xander didn't know how Giles was managing to form sentences but bless him for it. Keep talking. Just his voice was enough to get him to the edge. "And now?"

Giles licked his lips. "Now... I like it. Is that terrible of me?"

Xander blushed, remembering everything Ethan had said, and spared half a second to hope Ethan fell in a vampire-infested sewer, but because Giles might like it, he whispered, "You like that I'm a virgin with guys," and yes, Giles liked that because he gasped and his eyes went darker. Maybe Xander didn't totally mind Giles' seedy side. "You like that I'm a virgin," Xander repeated, just to see it again.

"God. I do." Giles' voice was loud, shameless. "Want you to be able to point me out across the room, and tell people, 'He's the one.' Want to crack you open, show you how good it can feel, drag sounds out of you that will make you turn this colour for weeks."

Xander whimpered.

"In a crowded room you'll see me looking at you and you'll know I'm thinking about the moan you let out as I pushed inside you for the first time, and then I'll watch you turn scarlet."

Two fingers slid up inside, too much, too sharp, and Xander grabbed Giles' shoulder, holding on.

"Too fast?"

Xander grunted, all he could do.

"Not enough?"

Another grunt.

They slowly, carefully, turned inside him, turning all the sharpness to heat. "Just right?"

He managed a nod.

"You're pushing yourself for me. I know." Giles nudged Xander's face out of his shoulder and kissed him, gently, almost chastely, nothing like the demanding fingers wedged inside him. "I'll take care of you."

Xander's whole body softened. Giles had all his weight and his lungs filled and his ass that had stretched for two fingers wanted more.

"One day I'll bend you over that rail, let you brace yourself on it as I fuck you hard. Not today. Today we're on the bed."

He slid his fingers free, and Xander could still feel them, as if he'd always feel them, stretching and filling.

Giles looked intense as he guided Xander back to sprawl on the bed, climbing up between his knees. Pillows dragged out and shoved under Xander's hips, and then he held up his hand to show, "Three fingers," before tipping lube over them and sliding up inside.

Wow, that was a lot, a good lot.

When Xander opened his eyes he found Giles watching his fingers slide in and out, totally absorbed. Like he might be at it a while. Xander lifted his hips. "I know you said no rushing and everything, but don't make me wait." A couple of seconds passed before Giles heard him and nodded. He reached for a condom, and after all the confidence he'd had, he fumbled putting it on, swearing under his breath. He darted a look up under his lashes, laughing softly at himself. "Sorry."

It was, god, was it wrong to think 'cute' about a forty-six year-old guy? Xander could feel the goofy grin on his face as he pulled up his knees.

Giles shook his head, watching him, and he finally got it rolled on. He hesitated, hand on his dick, the tip of it between Xander's cheeks. He smiled shyly up at Xander. "Ready?"

Xander nodded. And when he pushed inside, stretching Xander wider than he'd ever been. Xander made a sound from his stomach that he'd never made before, like Giles was filling his whole body. It made Giles' fingernails sink into Xander's shoulder, but Giles grittted his teeth and was silent.

A minute, an age, passed, and then Giles said, "That's the moan I was talking about." And after that there were no sounds except the harsh rasp of their stuttering breaths.

Giles had said he wouldn't be able to talk when he was in this position, and Xander wanted to prove him wrong, but damn. Damn. Giles was inside him. Xander gasped as Giles moved in him and the heat burned and spread like whiskey. Giles had run out of words too, was watching his own dick split Xander open, with a look on his face Xander hadn't seen before. His hand rested on Xander's stomach, so Xander reached down and covered it as he squeezed down on Giles' dick.

Giles' eyes closed and he groaned, long and hard, and Xander felt... manly. Xander felt like a man.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It took Xander a few blinks to focus. Late afternoon was creeping in and the lamp was on low, pooling dim yellow light behind Giles' silhouette. "Hey," he managed, stretching his arms over his head, loving the pull in his muscles. The sheet was down around his shins, and the air was cool on his body.

"Hello," Giles replied, softly. He was lying on his side, propped up on an elbow. Wearing his glasses.

"What are you doing?" Xander asked. He'd kill his eyes, reading in this light.

"Looking."

It still took a second to follow. Half-asleep, after all. "At me?"

"I can't see anything else quite so absorbing."

Xander probably should have felt embarrassed, being examined like this, but he just wondered if he'd worked the sheet off in his sleep, or if Giles had tugged it aside somewhere between switching on the lamp and fetching his spare glasses for a better view.

"I wanted to tell you, in case it isn't apparent..."

"Uh?"

"...how deeply content I am, just now." He laid his palm flat on Xander's chest. "I know there is all manner of hell beast out there, waiting to upturn our lives once again, and god knows I'm not the easiest man to live with, so I wanted to be sure you know, to, to take this time to tell you, that, I am happy. Here. Now." His eyes never left Xander's the whole time he spoke. "For a large part of my life, I never hoped to be this content."

"I know," Xander said. It was one of the best things he'd learned from their trip down memory lane.

The smile widened. "Good."

"Um. Me too. I don't, I can't, say it with all the words, but, me too."

"I'm glad."

Xander squirmed a little, just for show, liked the way Giles' eyes travelled down over his body. "It's not just for looking at, you know."

Giles' hand followed the path his eyes had just taken, stopping on his stomach, just short of where it needed to go. "If I recall, I have a whole list of options."

"A whole list." The hand was already making Xander's stomach swirl around like a carnival ride. Giles was going to fish a buttplug out of that drawer and slide it in Xander's aching ass. Or maybe he was going to tie Xander up. Start right at the top of the list and work his way down until it was all done and he was ready to start pushing Xander on the middle column.

They had time.


That the end, folks. All done.

All feedback will be printed out, hugged, and used to prop up the wobbly leg on my iron lung. It is most appreciated on livejournal, http://drsquidlove.livejournal.com/20465.html but also by e-mail, drsquidlove @@@ livejournal.com

btw, most of Giles' porn collection is based on real books. If you'd like some hot Victorian porn, I highly rec The Pearl, A Magazine of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading. Google it; you'll find it complete on the web.

More Squidfic, including the complete Giles Thing is on my website: http://members.iinet.net.au/~tentacles/squidfic.html
or for stories as they happen, http://drsquidlove.livejournal.com