Xander hitched his duffel bag higher on his shoulder and kept moving past the cemetery gate and its deep shadows. How many cemeteries did Sunnydale have, anyway? Xander counted, from memory. Twelve cemeteries, and at least forty churches. All for a population of twenty thousand. One church per five hundred people, which still meant a lot of lazy-ass people on Sunday mornings.
Numbers, numbers. Xander let them distract him while he made tracks down Main Street. The school was two miles from his house. He could normally jog that in under twenty minutes, though the duffel made that speed impossible. Why hadn’t he thought to grab his skateboard? The duffel was stupid heavy. But what could he have left behind?
But there was the student parking lot, and the cluster of school buildings looming up behind it, and the library building on the right. The lights were on, which meant Giles was there and Xander wouldn’t need his key. For a minute he considered hiding until Giles left, then decided against it. Giles sometimes pulled all-nighters, if he was wigged about something.
He went in and dropped his duffel on the study table. Safe. For now. He’d lived through yet another late-night walk on the Hellmouth.
Giles emerged from his office. “Oh, it’s you, Xander. Thought it might be Buffy.”
“Haven’t seen her. Anything up?”
“Not really. I was just… just filling out some paperwork.”
“Snyder leaning on ya?”
“No. The Council. Termination forms. Legal things. Health insurance forms. Took them a couple of weeks to get them to me, so of course now they demand immediate response.” Giles pulled off his glasses for a moment and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. He still had the bandage on his hand from that night when the others had fought the Hellmouth. The night Xander had slept with Faith and had it all come clear.
Giles resettled the glasses on his nose and seemed to look at Xander for the first time. “Xander! What happened to your face?”
Xander lifted a hand to his eye and cheekbone, gingerly testing how swollen they were. “You don’t wanna know. You shoulda seen the other guy, though. Man, his knuckles took a real bruisin’!”
Giles vanished into the office and emerged a moment later with a plastic bag of that blue gel stuff, wrapped in a little towel. The good thing about Giles’ office, or the sick thing, depending on how you thought about it, was that there was first aid stuff in there for just about anything short of major surgery. Xander took the bag and held it to his face and tried not to wince too much.
“Oh!” Giles said. “It’s past midnight. It’s your birthday now.” He moved over to the rare book cage and began rummaging.
“Hello, age eighteen and my legal majority,” said Xander, trying not to be too sarcastic. His father had chosen a fine manner of noting the occasion. The night had been so awesome until Xander walked through his front door to find him waiting, fists already balled. Somebody’d seen Xander at the movies and called his dad.
At least the cold pack had numbed his face now.
Giles reappeared, holding a big box with some wide ribbons around it. “Er, happy birthday,” he said, and handed Xander the box.
“What? You didn’t have to…”
“Just open it,” Giles said. He had a little smile on his face. Xander held the cold pack up with one hand and tugged at the ribbons with the other.
Apparently Giles liked giving people weapons for their eighteenth birthdays. Buffy had gotten a seriously awesome sword, after the hullaballoo about the test had died down. Willow would probably get a wand that could kill at fifty paces or something, when her turn came. And Xander got this crossbow.
It was cool. Mega-cool. It was like Giles’ good crossbow, only newer, all modern materials and fiberglass and sexy smooth black surfaces and just an amazing texturized grip. And the sights came with a night vision attachment, which was going to come in handy. They sat together on the study table, going over all the features and reading out choice bits of the owner’s manual to each other. Xander did a few test shots, even, down the length of the library to the target on the far wall. It was smooth. So smooth. Xander hit three bullseyes without even trying. And re-cocking it was a snap.
Xander laid it down on the study table, finally, and just looked at Giles. “Man, I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” said Giles. “Just watching you with it is enough.”
Xander reached out and patted Giles’ shoulder, which was the closest he figured Giles would allow to a hug.
“Can I leave the crossbow here? Or maybe at your place? I kinda don’t have a safe place to keep it at the moment, and I’m thinking maybe Snyder won’t want me carrying it with me all the time.”
“Certainly,” said Giles. “You have a key to the cage. Just store it in there. Do you need a ride home at all?”
“Uh, no, not really. I have this paper to write, see, and I thought I’d just camp out here in this place of useful books and write it and…”
“Xander.” Giles was looking at him, looking at his face, at the duffel bag, at the way he couldn’t keep his knee still, but didn’t say anything more. Xander wondered uneasily just how much Giles could read in his face. Maybe the whole thing.
“Come on,” Giles said, eventually. “I’ve a sofa that’s comfortable enough for now, and a spare room. We can clear the books out this weekend.”
“Uh. You sure? I mean, it’s me. Not somebody you actually like.”
“Xander,” said Giles again, and gave him a look. It was a complicated look, but Xander thought he knew what it meant. It was everything they’d gone through together in the last two years, all rolled up into a we’re-buddies-but-I’ll-never-say-so tilt of the chin.
“Just until I can get a job,” said Xander. He picked up the crossbow case, and Giles took the duffel. “I’ll get my own place when I get a job.”
“Xander, you’re going to graduate before I’ll let you worry about a job. Come on.”
And that was how Xander Harris moved in with Rupert Giles.
The next morning was a little too rushed for them to talk at all about what the scoop was, what with Xander oversleeping because of being up till three AM and all. He had a nifty shiner. He just had time to admire it in the bathroom mirror before Giles was calling him from the front door. No being late to school with Giles driving you there. He was early enough even to stop by the secretary’s office to file his change of address.
Xander told wild stories about how he got the black eye when people asked, a different story every time. Though usually he based them on things that had really happened to him while patrolling with Buffy. He loved telling people about vampire stuff that was completely true. It made their scoffing that much more fun. At lunchtime, he carried his tray over to Larry’s table and sat down.
“Xan! You’re here! I tried to call you this morning, but your dad screamed at me. So I hung up. What happened to your eye? You didn’t have that last night.”
“My old man happened to it,” said Xander. “Some friend of his saw us at the movies and called him. He gave me this and threw me out. Says no son of his is gonna be a— Well. A bunch of nasty words.” Xander sighed. He liked the vampire stories better.
“That’s a hate crime,” Larry told him. “We can throw the book at him.”
“No! No. Please. I don’t want a fuss. I’m out of there, that’s the important thing.”
“Yeah, okay. If you’re sure,” said Larry, doubtfully. “Look, hey, Friday night? Cibo Matto at the Bronze? I’ll have the car, so we can maybe, um, head somewhere private after. If you wanted. Not that there’s any obligation just because we’re dating—”
“Yeah,” said Xander, quickly, before Larry could break into one of his sensitive new-age man spiels about consent and feeling comfortable. Larry was hunky, yeah, but if Xander knew even one other senior guy who wasn’t straight, Xander would so be on him instead. Which made him feel a little guilty, but he liked Larry, really, and he thought Larry was maybe as horny as he was and as curious about how it all worked with two tab As to manage. The makeout session they’d been able to get in last night, before Larry’s self-imposed physical fitness-inspired curfew, had been pretty steamy.
So freakin’ steamy. Xander felt his cargo pants getting tight at just the memory. Oh yeah.
He told Willow the truth too, during study hall, though not the part about why his dad was so mad. He was still holding onto that secret while he got used to it himself. He also told Willow about moving in with Giles, which Willow said was a good idea. Then she gave him his present, which was Snoopy boxer shorts and socks. Last year it had been South Park Cartman boxers, which had made Xander snort milk out his nose.
Buffy had Snoopy pjs for him, which made Xander suspect they’d coordinated. But the loot haul was overall megatastic.
No apocalypses came up during the day, unless you counted the pop quiz in Xander’s trig class. He hung out in the library until Giles was ready to leave in what he figured would become their new routine. At Giles’ door, Giles handed him a brand new key and asked him to do the honors. Xander shuffled in place, and tried to think of something to say and failed, then unlocked the door. Giles collected the mail and carried it to his desk to sort. Xander dropped his backpack by the end of the couch then undid his keyring to put the new key on. After a minute, he took off the keys to his folks’ place and stuck them into a pocket of his backpack.
Giles went to the kitchen and took a tumbler from the dishrack. He poured himself a full glass of something tawny-colored from a bottle. Xander wandered over to look. Talisker. Scotch whisky with no E. Smelled like ass. Giles didn’t appear to think so. He took a gulp, then another. Then he re-read the letter in his hand.
“Sup?” said Xander.
“Do speak the Queen’s English,” said Giles. “What is up, is that my… my replacement is on his way.”
He had another gulp. Xander was starting to get scared by that. He’d heard Buffy say before that Giles sometimes drank when he was freaked out, or felt trapped. And Xander had to figure that getting fired from the job he’d spent his life preparing for might qualify as a freakout situation.
“Wyndam-Pryce. Roger’s son. Dear Lord. Last I heard, an insufferable prig of a head boy at the Academy.”
“Something like class president, but chosen by the instructors.”
“Oh. You weren’t one, I take it.”
“I was, actually, but I suspect it was more because of the rugger than because of the Latin.” Giles got a little misty-eyed at that, and had another mouthful of Scotch.
“So he’s like, what, my age?”
“No, no. That was some years ago now. He’ll have just finished his training. Wet behind the ears, inexperienced pup!” Giles turned on Xander fiercely. “He’ll get her killed!”
“Hey, Giles, maybe he’ll turn out to be okay. I mean, you haven’t seen him in years, right? He might have learned something.”
Giles finished his glass, and stared at the letter some more. “Maybe,” he said, at last. “I can make enquiries.”
He went to the kitchen again, and Xander was scared for a second that the whisky-pouring would recommence and Giles would turn out to be just as bad as his parents. But Giles didn’t pour a second one. Instead he looked at Xander, maybe a bit unsteadily, then he went to the fridge and started pulling out stuff to make dinner with. He apologized to Xander for the dinner later, which staggered him, because it was the nicest home-cooked meal he’d ever had: amazingly tasty fancy sausages, a veggie-heavy salad, and some great bread. But apparently Giles thought it was sub-standard.
Xander insisted on doing the dishes afterward. “I gotta earn my keep somehow,” he said.
“You don’t need to earn your keep at all.”
“Yes, I do. Oh. And what are the rules, anyway?”
“Rules? I’m not your parent, Xander. You’re eighteen.” Giles took the plate Xander had just washed and started drying it.
“Yeah. Okay. But still. There’s gotta be stuff you hate and stuff you insist on.” Xander handed over the second plate.
“No rows on weekend mornings. God, sleep is impossible during the week. I beg you to let me sleep in.”
“No arguments there, big guy. I’ll be zee-ing right alongside you. Well, not alongside you, exactly, but you know what I mean.”
Giles glared at him briefly. “There are some chores you can do if you’d like to help out. Recycling, cleaning the kitchen, that sort of thing. But I won’t insist. If you choose one thing to do to please me, make it your studies.”
Xander shrugged a little uncomfortably. Nobody had ever much cared about that before, except for Willow. He was also convinced he’d better do all those things Giles mentioned, just to keep him from being annoyed even for a second that Xander was mooching off him.
He went into the bathroom to brush his teeth and change into sweats and a t-shirt to sleep in. He looked at his black eye in the mirror: shading down into greenish already. Spit, rinse. Giles’ toothpaste tasted weird. His bathroom smelled odd too, not bad at all, just like it had been cleaned with something that smelled different from what Xander’s mom used. Giles used a different kind of laundry detergent. He could smell that on the towels. He figured he’d get used to it, and in a month he wouldn’t even notice.
Xander put on the Snoopy pjs and emerged from the bathroom. Giles was coming down the stairs with an armful of blankets. He had on a bathrobe, cinched tight. He raised his eyebrows at Xander.
“Present from Buffy,” said Xander, grinning. “Goes with the boxers from Willow. If you wanna see those.”
Giles flushed. “I am going to pretend you never said that.” He threw the blankets at Xander, who caught them with a grunt.
“Good policy! Night, big guy.”
And that was how Xander’s eighteenth birthday went.
The next night, when they got home from school late, Giles changed into patrol clothes: jeans, boots, dark shirt, field coat. Xander looked at him, then put on his combat boots too.
“Xander, you don’t have to…”
“Hey, new crossbow, remember? Wanna try shooting it at something for real.”
Giles grinned at him, and Xander grinned back. It was good to be with somebody who understood the important things. The two of them got themselves set for a foot patrol, then trooped out to the Citroen.
“We gonna meet Buffy?”
“No. Buffy’s somewhere else tonight.”
Giles was driving south and downhill, toward the Pacific. Docks section of town, home of Sunnydale’s tiny fishing industry and significantly larger whale-watching industry. Giles didn’t head toward the boaty part, though. He turned east.
They arrived at a place Xander hadn’t been to in, wow, ten years: the Sunnydale Boardwalk. This was a tiny amusement park near the beach. It had gone out of business ages ago. They’d had a carousel, and dodge-em cars, a tiny Ferris wheel, and one of those little kiddy coasters. It was all fenced in now, with chain link fence. Giles led the way to a place where the fence was all ripped apart, and they ducked inside.
The buildings looked run-down and horror-movie creepy. Stuff hanging off, paint peeling, deep shadows where anything could be lurking. Abandoned stuff always looked scarier at night. But then, this was Sunnydale, and expecting a horror movie to start happening was never unreasonable. But he was armed, and he was with Giles.
The pair stopped at the carousel, which wasn’t merry and didn’t go around any more. Giles played his giant flashlight over the wreck. The plastic horses were missing legs, chunks of their manes, sometimes even their entire heads. Xander remembered when he’d graduated from riding the lion, which didn’t go up and down, to riding one of the horses on poles. Long time ago. The lion was covered in spraypaint now. He shuddered.
Giles broke the silence. “There’s… has Buffy ever talked to you about her first Watcher? Hmm, I’m not surprised. He died in front of Buffy. Took his own life rather than allow himself to be turned. It happened in an abandoned amusement park, near a ruined carousel. Buffy… Well, she doesn’t like patrolling here. So I do it every couple of weeks.”
Giles led them around the carousel, toward what had been a snack shop. Xander unslung his crossbow and got a bolt loaded up as they walked.
“Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t she be keeping you away?”
“That’s not how these things work. All right, careful here.” Giles shone his giant X-Files-style flashlight through the broken-open window of the snackshop. Xander covered the door with his crossbow. Hand a little sweaty, but steady.
“Clear,” said Giles. “I confess I patrol here more often than I need to. It’s… I find it almost peaceful. A good place to think.”
“Oh. Didn’t mean to intrude on your think-time. Sorry.”
Giles led them back to the bumper cars place. “No, it’s good you did. I’d likely have brooded if I were alone.” He sighed.
Somebody had carefully boarded up the bumper cars ride, and somebody else had less carefully removed about half the boards. The metal floor was still there, and the grating on the top where the car masts brushed and shot off sparks. Xander looked for a big clump of heavy cars somewhere, as Giles shone his flash around, but the floor was clear. Somebody had taken the cars away for a ride somewhere else. Xander wondered where they’d gone. Somewhere in the midwest, where it was all corn and flat plains and no vamps? What was painted on them now?
They turned to head toward the Ferris wheel and holy shit! there was a vamp coming past the snack bar. It started heading toward them, running straight at them. Stupid. They were always so stupid. Giles held the flash on it. Xander tracked, led ever so slightly, and let fly. Hell, yeah! Bullseye!
“Well done,” said Giles. He put up his stake.
“I don’t think so,” said a voice behind them.
Xander jumped a foot in the air and came down turning. It was right fucking on them. He smashed the crossbow in its fangy face, dropped the bow, and fumbled in his pockets for a stake. Came out with a bottle of holy water in a squeeze cap, his own clever choice. Sprayed holy water out and around, while falling back. Got it in the vamp’s eyes, which bought him another few seconds. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Giles fighting with a second one. Giles had just kicked it in the face. Xander dove into the pockets of his jacket again. There was the damn stake.
Chest, stake, stab. Shower of dust and echoing death-scream.
And a moment later, a second death-scream.
“Damn,” said Xander, bent over, panting. Three at once, pretty much. That had been a squeaker.
“Too bloody right,” said Giles.
Xander held up a hand, and to his surprise, Giles high-fived him. “Well done,” Giles said, for the second time.
Giles picked up the flashlight again and spun slowly, scanning. Xander retrieved his crossbow and checked it out. He hadn’t broken it. Good. He loaded and cocked it.
“We’re likely done here,” said Giles. “I never see more than two, usually.”
“Ya hungry? I’m hungry.”
“I could eat.”
“There’s an In-n-Out on 101 fifteen miles south of here.”
Giles flashed a shy smile at him, and they headed back to the car. On the highway, puttering south, Xander flipped on the Citroen’s ancient radio and fiddled.
“It’s no use,” Giles said. “AM only. You get either salsa or Barry Manilow. Or sports.”
“Not baseball season, therefore sports do not exist. Okay, there has to at least be a classic hits thing. What good is a nighttime burger run without the radio? Yeah, here we go! The Boss!”
Xander sang along happily to “Thunder Road”, then to a Who song, then to “Sweet Home Alabama”, which he swore he heard every time he turned on a radio. To his surprise, Giles didn’t groan or tell him to shut up or demand that he change the station to something playing tweedy stuff like opera. He just drove them south on 101, along the Pacific, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the snare. This was sort of neat. It was like Giles had decided he was no longer a grumble target, but instead a human being, and had unbent all at once.
They got to the interchange where you could peel off east into valley suburban hell or continue south down the coast into beachy suburban hell. Xander directed Giles off and around the maze of feeder streets to the burger place. They parked, cutting off “Hotel California” right in the middle. They walked went inside to order. It was pretty empty inside, though a constant stream of cars were hitting the drive-through.
Giles stared at the sign and didn’t seem to know what to do. “It’s an odd menu,” he said to Xander.
“Simple. Classic. Burger, fries, and shake. Chocolate is traditional. Some people choose strawberry instead. And I am told that there are people who get their burger animal style. But I am not one of them.”
“Yeah. With mustard or something. So for me: double-double no onions, fries, chocolate shake. And to hell with it, I’m ordering for my friend here, too. Cheeseburger no onions, fries, chocolate shake.”
“Uh, animal style, please.”
They sat at a table inside at the window and watched the cars go past the drive-through, waiting for their food. Giles fidgeted with his keys on the table. Xander amused him by making up a story for what each key was for: dungeon, crypt where he kept the Holy Grail, his vault at Gringott’s, the Aston Martin, the Summers’ back door. Which made Giles flush for some reason and rush to the next one, which Xander decided had to be the key to a deposit box in his numbered bank account in Switzerland, where he kept five passports for five different countries under five different names, plus a silenced semi-automatic.
Their number was called just then. Xander bounced up and brought their tray back. Giles bit into his burger cautiously, then pronounced it good.
“So what you’re saying is you like it animal style.”
“Yes, Xander, I like it animal style.”
Xander burst into helpless giggling, which slowed him down eating his burger. Giles finished almost before he did. Giles left most of his fries, so Xander snagged them.
“Past eleven,” Giles said. “School night. If we head home now, I’ll get six hours, which will be utter luxury. Unless Buffy calls at three.”
Xander binned their trash. “Does she do that often?”
“When she doesn’t simply burst down the door.” Giles started the car and they headed back north on 101, to the sound of “Sunshine of Your Love”. Which, Xander gradually realized, Giles was singing along with, under his breath.
And that was how Giles learned what animal style was.
On Friday night, Larry dropped Xander off at Giles’s flat, at home, at around one in the morning. One wet goodnight kiss, and then Xander was out of Larry’s mom’s car and heading down the steps to the little patio. The light was still on, and the door unlocked. Giles was home, and awake, reading in the armchair, so Xander locked up and turned off the outside light.
“Hey,” said Xander. “Thought you were beat.” Buffy had indeed burst in at three in the morning last night, convinced that apocalypse was threatening. But it had just been a Vahrall demon, patiently diagnosed by Giles while he swabbed mud and blood from her forehead.
Giles made a non-committal noise, and stuck his finger in his book. It was a library hardcover, and it had a painting of a ship with sails. He looked tense to Xander, maybe a little grumpy. But Xander had specifically asked him during dinner if there was any time Xander was supposed to be home, and Giles had repeated that comment about Xander being an adult now, and Giles emphatically not his parent. So Xander didn’t know what the deal was. Or even if it had anything to do with him at all.
“Saw Buff tonight,” he said. “At the Bronze. With Deadboy. She said they’d patrol later.” Xander and Giles both rolled their eyes. Giles seemed to un-grump a little.
Xander slumped down on the couch at the end near Giles’ chair. After they’d left the Bronze, his night had been both awesome and weird. Sort of a theme recently.
“You okay?” said Giles.
“Yeah! Uh, yeah. Kinda. Just confused about stuff.” On his stomach right now, right now, under his shirt, was a mess from where Larry had come against him and him on Larry and they hadn’t quite had enough kleenex to clean it all up. Which in one way was really exciting and in another wasn’t, because… well, that was the confusing part.
Giles shifted in his armchair, and picked up the glass that had been sitting on the floor next to it. He sipped. More of the Scotch, only this time it looked like it had fizz in it.
“What sort of stuff?” he said.
Xander pondered how to answer that. Giles was straight according to all the signs Xander had seen. Which included a morning when Giles had gotten out of the passenger seat of Miss Calendar’s car in the faculty parking lot wearing the same tie as yesterday, and had kissed her for a really long time before they went into the school through different doors. Which kiss Xander had replayed a whole bunch at private moments, and used as technical reference when he got to try it out for real. So Giles, straight. Xander decided to keep it generic.
“Well, just… how do you know what you want? You know, really.”
“What is the context?” Giles said, cautiously.
“Okay, it’s like this. You’re eating an apple for the first time. And it’s okay. It’s ya know, apple-y, and juicy, and stuff. But you think, that can’t be all fruit has to offer me. Maybe an orange will do it. And just the thought of an orange gets your mouth watering. So you eat an orange, and it’s really great, and you’re all yay! orange! But then there are seeds and maybe it wasn’t so great after all. And you think, man, I shoulda stuck with broccoli even though they say it’ll make you go blind, and then my metaphor went way out of control.”
Giles looked bewildered. “Um.”
“Only I’m talking about people instead of fruit.”
“Yes, I’d gathered that. Well, um, it might be the specific, uh, pieces of fruit in question that are the problem, rather than the whole concept of fruit. Things are more, more enjoyable when one is with the right person. So, perhaps a, a pear next time?”
Xander opened his mouth to try to explain apple versus orange, then shut it. He wasn’t ready for that. Then, “I think it might have been okay if I hadn’t tried to have a conversation with this person. That was the part that ruined it.”
“Ah. Well that’s it, then.”
“Guess you’re right.”
There was silence for a few minutes. Giles emptied his glass of fizzy Scotch.
Xander spoke up. “Hey, do you want me to tell you if I’m gonna be out late?”
“No, no, there’s no need. Though given the Hellmouth, I, uh…” Giles trailed off. He replaced his finger in the book with a marker, and got out of the armchair. “Good night, then.”
Xander went into the bathroom to scrub off guy-mess and brush his teeth. He thought about putting on his new Snoopy jammies, but they suddenly seemed really little-kiddish to him. Not the kind of thing a guy who’d lost both of his virginities would wear. The sweatpants would do. He rolled himself up in blankets on the couch and stared at the ceiling for a little while. So apparently figuring out that you liked guys was not enough all by itself. No instant happily-ever-after with rainbow flags. Okay. Fair enough.
And that was how Xander decided to eat more fruit.
The next morning, Giles did indeed sleep in, later than even Xander. Though not as late as he wanted to, judging by how zonked he was when he appeared downstairs. He was wearing jeans and a rumpled sweatshirt, and he looked very un-Gilesy. He sort of poured the cup of coffee Xander fixed for him down his gullet. He opened his eyes then and glared at Xander. “Dishwater. Use at least two more scoops of the beans.”
“Check,” said Xander. He’d already learned that coffee was for mornings, tea for afternoons and evenings, and whisky for the night.
“God. That’s horrible.” Giles shook himself and then seemed to snap into his usual self. “Let’s get your room cleared.”
He led the way to his little hallway, and opened a door next to the closet, that Xander had never seen open before. It was a little room, all right, tiny for a bedroom but still something, full to the ceiling with boxes of various sizes. Some wooden packing crates, but mostly little cardboard moving boxes.
Giles surveyed the boxes, pulled out one and peeked inside. “Chess books? Dear Lord, this is shite. I think most of these are going to be books. There might be some boxes of weapons. And some other things. I’m afraid I packed up my London flat in a great hurry. I shipped some things that I probably ought to have pitched.” Giles sighed. Xander hadn’t thought about that before, what Giles had been doing before he came here to Watch Buffy, and what he’d had to walk away from.
“Well, let’s get them sorted. Occult books by the door, so I can get them to the library. Other books by the fireplace. I will likely sell them to the used bookshop downtown. Personal effects just stack upstairs, by my bed. I’ll sort through those myself.”
“Also by the fireplace. The good ones I’ll keep here. The rest I’ll put in the library for Buffy to destroy.” Giles closed his eyes in mock pain for a moment. Xander grinned. He liked this conspiratorial thing Giles had going with him.
“We’ll worry about furniture after we’ve cleared it. No room for much, I’m afraid. A single futon, perhaps. And a chest for your clothes.”
“Giles, it’s way better than a bench at the bus stop downtown.”
They’d just gotten started when the phone rang. Giles sighed, then went to answer it. “Hello? Buffy, good afternoon. What— I see. Right. Don’t fuss. I’m sure it’s nothing. No, no, I’ll come translate it now, if you like. Where shall I meet— The mall? Buffy, how important can this be if you have time to— Right then. Bloody well have a mocha waiting for me, Buffy.”
He came back to the hallway and watched Xander crack open another box. “I’m afraid I have to go meet Buffy. Sorry to abandon you.”
“Hey, G-man, I am still not going to start complaining. No time soon.”
“Don’t call me that. Want anything in particular for dinner?”
“Dude, anything you want to cook is okay by me.”
“Right. Ta, then.”
Xander kept working for another hour, and cleared away a big dent into the room. The dust made him sneeze a little. He got to a part where a lot of little boxes were stacked up high, as if Giles had partially unpacked a crate then gotten distracted. Way up top was a shoebox, on top of a white file folder box. Xander tugged at the white box, trying to get the pair off at once.
The shoebox fell on Xander’s head, and the top went flying off. The contents spilled out over the floor. Letters in envelopes and loose, and a whole bunch of photographs. Xander scrambled and scooped up the stuff. Had it been in any kind of order?
“Woah,” said Xander, looking at what he held in his hand. It was a photograph of a young Giles, maybe a couple years older than Xander was now, all shaggy curly hair in his face, laughing at whoever held the camera. He was sprawled on the floor with his arms around another guy. A really cute guy, slim, with a wicked grin and a lot of wavy dark hair. Xander had seen that guy before too. The costume shop guy, the Eyghon demon tattoo guy. Ethan Rayne. Woah. They looked kinda pally.
Xander couldn’t help it. He looked at the next photograph in the bunch. Giles and this Rayne guy again, same place and clothes as before, only they were looking at each other kinda intensely. Posed, or something. Then another one with them lighting each other’s cigarettes. And in the next one they were kissing. Holy crap. Xander stared at that one for a long time. Giles. Kissing. Another guy. His face wasn’t really visible in that shot, since it was tilted behind Ethan’s. Xander sorted through, looking for another one of them kissing. He did find a fantastic shot of young Giles standing against a white wall, wearing faded jeans low-slung on his hips, and nothing else. Obviously nothing else, because of the little trail of hair running down into the jeans. He didn’t have the tattoo on his arm in that shot. A guitar rested next to his foot, his hand on the neck where it leaned against his thigh. Giles had been way hot however many ages ago this was. He wasn’t slim and waify, like Ethan was. Even in that shot, he looked like he fought demons. He had shoulders, and strong legs. And… Xander wasn’t ready to go there. He moved on to the next photo.
God, how many photos of them were there? A ton. Some of them black and white, with a feel that Xander thought meant they were all taken by one person. Some faded color prints of Ethan or Giles alone, in front of statues or buildings. Vacation photos. Okay, he was getting the idea here. He got all the photos gathered up and stacked in the box again.
Then he looked at the other papers. They were handwritten letters, some of them in envelopes, some of them not. A few postcards, from places in Europe, all with the same handwriting on them. Signed Ethan. Roughly sorted by date. Xander re-sorted them where a few handfuls had gotten out of order. Then he couldn’t help himself. He read one.
Summer of 1976. Giles had been at a Council training class for a few weeks. Ethan had been staying in London. He missed Giles. He wrote about exactly how, and exactly what he and Giles were going to do when they got back together. Xander’s face flamed red, and he nearly shoved the letter back. Holy mother and father of all letters to Penthouse, or whatever the gay equivalent was. That was… Xander read it again. Then he pulled out another one at random. Much more boring, about occult bookshops in Paris and technical magic stuff. Another one: again with the hotness and the ink scorching right off the page.
Xander picked out another one.
The story of a relationship, over about five years, of two guys who loved each other, recording the times when they were apart, and Ethan was missing Rupert. Sometimes he alluded to letters Giles had written to him. Sometimes he was really boring. Sometimes he got into the sex stuff. Sometimes he wrote about their friends. Then a long gap, and then there were four letters in one week in 1978, bitter and desperate. The last letter was awful to read. Giles wasn’t talking to Ethan, was hanging up the phone, wasn’t answering his letters. Was fucking pissed with him about the death of the guy who’d taken all the photos, their friend Randall. Unforgivable stuff had happened, apparently, though Ethan was trying to get Giles to forgive anyway.
Xander put the letters away, suddenly ashamed and sorry he’d snooped. This was stuff Giles would never have shown him voluntarily. It was a whole huge piece of his life that he kept secret. Sex and drugs and demons. Just plain private. He put the lid back on the shoebox and carried it upstairs and put it next to the box of wool sweaters that Giles was never ever gonna need in Sunnydale.
Giles had led a wild life, once upon a time. Xander wondered when he’d stopped. At what age did people go boring? Forty? Thirty? He got back to work clearing boxes, pondering that question.
And that was how Xander found out that Giles wasn’t entirely straight.
On Sunday, Xander went out with Larry again, and they tried it again. It all worked great, and made Xander certain he enjoyed touching guy bits more than girl bits. But once again, something was missing, and it was utter hell talking to Larry afterward. Xander sang a line from Sgt Pepper to him, and Larry just gave him a blank stare. He didn’t get the Matrix reference either.
On Monday at lunchtime, Xander broke up with Larry, in the nicest, friendliest way he could manage. He tried to convey his undying gratitude to Larry, for helping him figure out he was gay, and giving him a safe space to explore it. He thought that using phrases like “safe space” would make Larry happy, and it did. He thought that Larry was maybe sort of relieved as well, after their amazingly awkward post-sex conversations. So that was okay, though Xander had kinda enjoyed dating somebody for that whole week. Cordy still held his long-term relationship record, and oh God, how much of a mistake had that whole thing been?
Wesley arrived on Tuesday. Giles had been tense off and on since he’d gotten that letter. Now he was right over the edge into morose, staring at this guy who’d invaded his library and was busy sneering at him and telling him he’d been sent to repair the damage Giles had done to the two Slayers. Xander went and got Buffy and sent her to him, figuring she could cheer Giles up when nobody else could. Or at least prevent him from killing this Wesley kid. Buffy achieved détente by making it clear to Giles that she still liked him.
It seemed like it might be working out all right until the first time Wesley saw action. That had been almost funny. Almost.
“Bloody fucking hell, Pryce. You can’t behave that way.”
Xander had never heard Giles swear before. But then, he’d never seen Giles this worked up about Buffy’s safety before. He was pacing the length of the circulation desk, back and forth, back and forth. Wesley stood embayed against the desk, with his chin thrust out.
Buffy and Faith weren’t in the library. Faith had never showed up to the demon fight, apparently, and Buffy had booked with Angel right afterward. It was Xander and Giles, and the new Watcher. The mini-Giles, sort of, only without the gravitas. The muscle. The chin. And, apparently, the guts.
“You offered, you actually offered, to give him the amulet to escape torture. Not to save your Slayer, not to save the world, just to save your miserable skin. Do you know where you’d be if I’d made a decision like that a year ago?”
“Dead,” said Xander. “Sucked into a vortex along with the rest of the world. Giles took it for eight hours, Wes. Eight hours in a chair with Angelus. You’ve heard of him, I trust.”
“Yes. And what was this civilian doing involved in it?” said Wesley, to Giles.
“He got me out,” Giles said, quietly. He met Xander’s gaze and held it for a moment, then they exchanged a tiny nod. “He’s faced more vampires than you have. He’s voluntarily gone out patrolling when Buffy cannot. As we all have. As you will learn to do as well.”
Giles thumped down onto the study table and sighed.
“Wesley, you’ve got to learn the facts of life on the Hellmouth. What happened tonight was… not unusual. First, you’ve got to be open to the idea that your books are wrong. Just wrong. That demons they say are dead are in fact quite alive. And second, that your life is worth less than hers. And that you might well have to lose it to save her. Or save everything from whatever bloody stupid apocalypse is threatening this time.”
“That’s not what our training is for. We’re too valuable to risk! It’s the Slayer’s lot to fight and— We don’t go on the front lines. It’s not our place.”
“Fight and what, Wesley? Fight and die, is that it? And then another is called. I don’t accept that.” Giles ran his hand through his hair. He looked exhausted and depressed.
“Mr Travers was right about you.”
“How so?” Giles asked, wearily.
“You do have a father’s love for the child. Most inappropriate.” With that, Wesley shot his cuffs and swept out of the library.
“Shit!” said Xander. “Wet behind the ears puppy. He’s gonna get her killed, Giles.”
“We can’t allow that,” Giles said, watching the library doors swing back and forth from Wesley’s abrupt exit. “I have to hope she’ll come to me when it’s serious.”
Xander got his book bag, and waited while Giles shrugged on his suit jacket and collected his attache. The two men made their way out to the car.
“What about Faith?”
Giles snorted. “She walked out yesterday afternoon rather than spend even a moment with Wesley. She doesn’t have much use for either of us, but I think even so she’ll work with me.”
When they got inside their place, Xander asked, “Do they really teach you not to care about the Slayer?”
“Really. I came here expecting… I don’t know what I expected.” Giles wandered over to the kitchen counter and picked up his bottle of Scotch. He put it down again. He spoke a little oddly. “I’d seen my father with his Slayer, so I knew it didn’t have to be impersonal. But I wanted to keep my distance.”
“And then you met Buffy.”
“And then I met Buffy. It’s odd to spend a lifetime training for a job, only to learn that the most important thing about it is something they haven’t bothered to tell me. Something you knew right out of the gate. Xander, we have to keep her alive. Make sure she knows, would you?”
“I think she figured out Wes faster than we did, but I’ll tell her anyway.”
“Thank you. Night, then.” Giles climbed the stairs to his loft, stripping off his jacket and vest as he went.
And that was how Xander and Giles allied against Wesley.
Not that allying against him did any good, because he was a one-man wrecking crew. Giles assured Xander that Wesley was not actually evil, and that therefore Xander should not beg Buffy to strangle him with his own school tie. He was just, well, an incompetent puppy. He didn’t know any better. He was doing exactly what his training manuals told him to do, and he wasn’t old enough or wise enough about the world to know when they were bullshit.
Faith was on the loose and freaked out thanks to Wesley, and right now Xander was not feeling so good about that. In part because he had Slayer handprints around his neck, but mostly because he was now convinced she was batshit loonball and probably ought to be locked up in a Council jail. Though Giles had this idea she could be saved, which Xander thought was hopeless optimism. He was thinking that Wesley was right about this one. Totally by accident, of course, and he couldn’t do it even with a team of guys to help, but manacles were the jewelry for Faith.
He and Giles were in the bug-mobile, puttering their way over to Faith’s motel room, in case she decided to hole up there. Xander was not hoping they’d find her, and not really feeling great about visiting that rathole again. Lost his virginity, nearly lost his life, all in the crummiest place possible. Sucked to think about Faith living there, but she’d turned down Buffy’s mom’s offer of a spare room, he’d heard.
Giles hadn’t said much since he’d motioned Xander to follow him to the car. He finally talked when they were about halfway there.
“Xander, what were you thinking? Were you thinking you could win her back to our side by sleeping with her? Because I have to think Buffy is right about her. She doesn’t take her, her, her partners seriously.” Giles sounded upset.
“Actually, no. My first encounter with her was enough for a lifetime. It was kinda what clued me in that I’m gay. No, I was just trying to be a friend to her.”
“Oh,” said Giles. “You’re, uh…”
“Yeah. I bat for the other team now.” Xander was too freaked to bother keeping his big secret. He might have died tonight, and his friends wouldn’t have known the most important thing about him.
“Oh,” said Giles again. He drove in silence for a minute then said, “I had assumed, after our meeting this afternoon, that you’ve been dating Faith. When you went out.”
“Naw. I was out with Larry. The football player? Yeah, him. After being with him once I was pretty sure I was finally doing it with the right gender.”
“Gender is what words have. People have— oh, never mind. So you’re dating Larry then? Good, good.” Giles didn’t sound like he truly thought it was good, but he also didn’t sound upset any more.
“Actually, no. I kinda broke it off with him. It’s not that he isn’t nice, ‘cause he is. I just figured out that… well, he didn’t get most of my jokes. I know I’m not the smartest—”
“No, I’m not well-read and stuff, and I can’t read a zillion languages like you. But apparently I am too smart for Larry. If I’m gonna make a joke about ‘Waiting for Godot’, I kinda want the other guy to get it, you know? I, uh, well, I think smart is sexy. And, um, always have. So I’m available, and looking. And wow, it’s wild to realize that ninety percent of the people I might want to go out with are A, not gonna be interested, and B, maybe gonna punch me if I ask.” Xander reflectively rubbed his cheekbone, where his father’s fist had landed.
“Don’t… don’t worry about that too much. You’ll meet people who share your, uh, uh, interests. There are groups one can join, I believe. Uh.” Giles was way more stammery that Xander had heard him in a while.
“Yeah,” he said, looking out the car window. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I just got started with this.”
“Do, ah, the others know?”
“No, you’re the first friend I’ve told, believe it or not.”
“Oh! Well, uh, thank you. For trusting me. It’ll be fine, Xander.”
He didn’t know what he’d been expecting. That Giles would come out to him in a burst of mutual shareage? That wasn’t who Giles was. And for all Xander knew, Ethan had been a one-time thing and Giles was strictly about the chicks now. Why did that thought make Xander feel bummed? They pulled up outside the flea-infested Sunnydale No-Tel Motel of Misery, and Xander psyched himself up to face the chick who’d tried to strangle him. Only she turned out not to be there, to his relief.
And that was how Xander came out to Giles.
The next morning, Xander let himself sleep in a bit on his little futon in his little room, which he liked much much better than his room at his parents’ house, even though that had been about three times the size. He figured he deserved to sleep in, what with having Faith’s fingerprints scored around his neck still.
He lazed in bed, warm under the covers. He heard Giles get up, and pad around, and head into the shower. Xander dozed again, then gave up a few minutes later when he admitted he had to piss. That shower was going on longer than Giles’ showers usually went. Giles was the king champ-een of the two-minute scrub most of the time. Not this morning, though. Xander felt a little grumpy, and walked up to the door to say something sarcastic about sharing through it. Then he heard something that sounded like a moan of pain.
He panicked and cracked open the door, and froze. Giles was in the shower all right, with the curtains not quite closed. His back was to Xander. He had one hand up grabbing the rail the shower curtain hung from. His other hand was down at his waist, and moving. And he was groaning, just loud enough for Xander to hear over the shower, and saying “yeah” and “oh God”. Xander shut the door again, really quietly, and booked himself back into his little room. Shit. Giles was a guy. Giles was a guy. Giles got himself off in the shower just like Xander did. Giles was a human being. Giles had sex.
That shouldn’t have been a big staggerer, but it was.
It wasn’t just a theoretical thing, suddenly. Giles wasn’t just a guy who’d had sex with another man in the distant past. He was a guy who had sex now. Had had sex with Miss Calendar. Had just made himself come in a room ten feet away from Xander. Xander pictured that, the way Giles had been moving his hips, and all the blood went rushing right out of his head and into his groin. Giles with his hand on himself, Giles with his face squinched up like Larry’s had been, Giles coming on Xander’s stomach that way. Only he would know what he was doing, based on what Ethan had written about in those letters, and it would be amazing like Ethan had claimed it was. And maybe they’d do that thing Xander had only just begun to think about doing, not just hands and mouths, and with that Xander had to dive into his sweatpants with both hands. It only took about ten seconds and then he was breathing hard and his sweatpants were a total mess.
Xander wiped himself off with them and balled them up to wash later on, then changed into a fresh pair. He still had to piss. Shower wasn’t running any more. He took a deep breath and walked out.
Giles emerged from the bathroom a moment later, wearing weekend-jeans, but no shirt. He had a towel around his neck, and his hair was wet. Xander couldn’t take his eyes off Giles’ chest, suddenly. It was the same chest in the photos, but not. It was heavier, and softer in the stomach, with more hair everywhere, but still so sexy. Sexier, in fact. The tawny fuzz, the muscles that never showed under those jackets and vests, God. And the hair on the stomach disappearing down was just like in those photos.
“Good morning, Xander,” said Giles. He rubbed his head with the towel absently and moved off to the kitchen. There was no sign on his face, though he had a kind of sleepy relaxed expression that holy crap, Xander had seen before on him. Which meant he’d been doing it all along. Which again, should not have been a staggerer, because Xander had been doing it all along too.
Xander stumbled into motion and finally got into the bathroom and did his morning stuff, turning this over in his mind the whole time. He got into the shower on autopilot and sudsed himself up with Giles’ soap.
Now that he’d thought these things once, he couldn’t unthink them. Giles was sexy. Giles was all the stuff he’d told Giles himself he was looking for in a guy. Giles was smart, and sarcastic, and competent, and brave. Experienced. Powerful. And smart, had he mentioned smart? And he’d been into guys at least once in his life. Xander realized he’d been building a thing for Giles since the moment he’d read those letters. If Larry had been ten times more exciting than Faith, Giles was ten times more exciting than Larry. Xander wanted Giles to show him everything. Wanted Giles to be the first guy inside him.
Sweet mother of God, Giles was a pear.
He had to make it happen. Had to figure out how. What did Giles like? Was he still into guys? Would he consider a younger guy?
And that was how Project Seduce Giles commenced.
Xander saw no sense in waiting. One near-death experience had him convinced that other even closer-to-death experiences might follow, so why waste time? When he got out of the shower he hopped on the phone with the one person he thought could put him on the true path to sexual happiness. Well, to be honest, the one person he could talk to about this stuff at all right now.
“Hey, Buffy, can I ask you a favor? Can you meet me at the mall around noon? I have a technical question for ya. No, can’t talk here. Thanks, dude. Lifesaver.”
Xander found Buffy at the sugary milky coffee place, as promised. Buffy was looking kinda down. She pushed a mocha at him, then sat playing with the straw in the whipped cream on hers.
“Hey. Wanted to tell you something. It’s good you’re talking to Giles instead of Wesley, ‘cause, man, that guy. He means well, but he’s without clue. Giles tells me all kinds of stuff these days, you know, when we’re hanging out, and hanging out with Giles is way less sconeriffic and stuffy than you might expect. But anyway, Buffy, Wesley. Total pencilneck.”
“Yeah, Xan, I kinda already picked up on that. I have no choice but to work with him, though. And do his stupid evaluations and stuff. Giles, I dunno. It seems to me like I just bug him. Especially at three in the morning.”
“No way, Buffy. You’re the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up, and the last thing he thinks about when he goes to sleep. Trust me, here.”
“How come he never says anything?” Buffy made herself busy playing with the rings on her fingers.
“Oh, man, he’s total shy guy about that stuff. He’ll never say anything first. You want to know how he feels about his Slayer, you tell him how you feel about your Watcher first.”
“He’s not my Watcher any more.”
“Don’t be a dork. Wesley couldn’t Watch if you glued binoculars to his face.”
“But he’s supposed to.”
“So, okay. Start calling Wesley at three in the morning, then. I’m sure Giles wouldn’t mind being able to sleep. He bitches about that a lot.”
“Not a bad idea, Xan. I’ll try it. Okay, that’s enough of the angst-fest that is the Slayage right now. What’s up? What’s your technical question?”
Xander took a fingerful of whipped cream from his mocha and ate it. This was scary. Scarier than coming out to Giles had been. But he could do it, dammit. Buffy was his friend. “First, an announcement. I’m, uh. I’m gay.” Buffy stared at him. “Light in my loafers. Queer as a three dollar bill. Into people of the guy persuasion.”
“You? Really? You sure?”
“Yeah. Tried one of each and figured out which one was more fun.”
Buffy hopped up and came around the table to hug him briefly. “Wow. Never saw this coming, Xan. Thanks for telling me. Does anybody else know?”
“Giles knows. Just Giles and you so far. Oh and Gay Larry the football player, cause he was kinda my first.”
“You going public?”
“Slowly. Slowly. Yeah. I’m afraid Wills will be mad at me.”
“Nah. Tell her. She’s been your buddy for, like, fourteen out of your eighteen years now? Jeez. What’s your technical question? How to put on a condom?”
“Ha bloody ha. Buffy, you said once that your best friend at Hemery was gay, yeah?”
“Yeah. He was pretty fun.”
“So you’re totally all over what’s hip and in and attractive vis-a-vis guys who like other guys.”
“I wouldn’t say that, Xan. But I do know how to be stylish on a budget.”
“That is the skill I need. Will you help me with a makeover?”
“Want loafers to look light in?”
“Nah. There’s a guy I met. Kind of an older guy.”
“A little older than that.”
“O-oh! Older. Gotcha.”
“And I wanna catch his eye. Look hot. You know. Show off what I got. Only I have no idea how.”
Buffy eyed him almost shrewdly. “If the guy is into younger men, you might not have to do anything. Just be available. Especially if he’s seeing a lot of you.”
“Nah, trust me. I have to get his attention. Isn’t there something like Cosmo for guys? Twenty wardrobe tips for catching his eye? Make up dos and don’ts? Uh, let’s just go with don’t there, but you catch me.”
Buffy leaned back and slurped her mocha. “I think I can do something. What’s our budget?”
“Um. I have some cash. Couple hundred.”
“Where’d you get that? Giles giving you an allowance?”
“I had a college fund.”
“Color me shocked.”
“I worked summers and saved enough to pay for two semesters at lovely UC Sunnydale. Only, well, there will be no college for me. It will be all about the making a living thing. So what the hell. I’ll burn a couple hundred on looking hot. Make it count, Buff.”
“Trust me, Xan. One thing about the Slaying is, you learn to make your clothes budget stretch. Old Navy first. Let’s go.”
Xander emptied his paper cup of coffee-sugar-goo, and followed Buffy through the mall, past the potted plants, past the carts selling crappy jewelry and watches, past the sunglasses kiosks and the inevitable Spencer Gifts, to the stores marked by the ever-practical Buffy as high-value targets. The Slayer sized him up, and threw a pile of clothes at him.
“It’s more sophisticated. He’s older. You don’t have dandruff, do you?”
“No. No! But Buffy, I wear size large in those shirts.”
“Yeah, and that’s why you’re getting medium. Put it on. See what I mean? Biceps. Except for these tank tops. You’re getting XL in those, so they flop around a lot.”
“My arms are kinda eh. Especially in comparison with his. He’s got muscle.”
“He does? I thought— I mean, he does, huh? Okay. That’s the other thing I can do for you. I can give you a workout routine guaranteed to give you pecs and biceps in thirty days. Saw it in Men’s Health.”
“What were you doing reading that?”
“Keanu on the cover.”
Xander sighed, and paid for his collection of new shirts. It was way less than he’d expected.
“Pants next,” said Buffy, and she led him to a place he never shopped at because of general poverty. “You are getting one pair of button-fly Levis,” Buffy informed him. “Tight. Then we spend the rest on cheap knockoff jeans that will fall apart in a year but that’s okay, by then you’ll have him.”
She then poured him into a pair of faded Levis that he had to admit looked great. Not as good as Giles had in faded jeans, but still good. She showed him a trick with the buttons: leave one undone, and you look bulgier. Xander was impressed. Then she made him try on other jeans, the baggier kind that rode low on his hips and showed the top of his underwear. She barged in on him in the dressing room and made him pose. Which first made him cringe, then he realized, what the hey. It was kinda nice to have the sexual tension aspect of the friendship just vanish. At the last second, she threw a package of colored stretch boxers on his pile.
“I don’t need underwear!”
“Are any of yours sexy? I just saw the pair you’re wearing now, and I’m going with no.”
“Uh, whatever you say, boss.”
And that was how Buffy made over Xander.
The next morning saw Xander in tank top and spandex gym shorts, trying not to worry about his crotch too much. He stood in front of the fireplace, fiddling with the hand weights Buffy had lent him. He had her exercise regimen as well. He stared at her scrawl, trying to make out how many reps of the shrugs he should do. A set of twenty, maybe. Those were okay. A hundred pushups? Man, he could maybe do twenty-five. But if it took a hundred to get a chest that Giles would notice, okay.
Xander did forty pushups. The last ten were a bitch. He lay on his face for a while, wondering if this was worthwhile. Giles was still asleep, it being a weekend morning and Giles generally preferring not to appear downstairs before ten. So he couldn’t even grunt and moan the way he did in gym class when forced to do pushups.
He rolled over and started with the situps. He forgot how many of those Buffy said to do. Probably he should just do them until he hurt too much to continue.
“That situp does nothing.”
“Huh wha?” Xander opened his eyes and saw Giles standing over him, bemused. His hair was all rumpled from sleep. He had on pajama bottoms and no shirt. Again with the no shirt. Xander closed his eyes again. If he left them open, he’d start regretting the spandex gym shorts more than he had words to express.
“Crunches are the only stomach exercise worth doing. Let me show you.”
Giles stretched out on the floor next to Xander and demonstrated the proper form for stomach crunches, the kind that touched elbows to opposite knees. He did them seemingly effortlessly, even though his stomach had some pudge on it. Training the Slayer had to be good for something, Xander guessed.
“You try them. I’ll brace you.”
Xander lay down again and curled himself up. Crap, these were a lot harder than the gym class situps had been. After about four, he was really feeling it. Giles held him in place and said encouraging things. Oh God, Giles was touching his ankles. Warm, dry hands. Giles could run them right up his legs to his thighs… Xander’s spandex-related disaster was now in progress. It was one thing to let a guy know you were interested. It was another to thing to get a hard-on right in his face when you still weren’t sure if he had gone entirely straight or was still bi.
Xander bounced up and ran for his room.
“I’m good, I’m good! Thanks, Giles!” Xander closed his door and leaned his forehead against it, breathing hard.
Well, at least Project Show Off Xander’s Manly Body had accomplished goal one: get Giles to look.
Xander showered and dressed, by which time the embarrassing evidence of his Giles-fixation had faded. At the last second before he left his little room, he recalled Buffy’s advice about flaunting his chest, and took off his t-shirt. Then he chickened out, and carried it with him, so he could look like he was just in the middle of getting dressed.
Giles was in the kitchen, now wrapped up in a bathrobe, frying bacon and making omelets. Giles was as good at the omelet thing as he was making everything else Xander had had the privilege of tasting. Xander had tried to cook, but Giles had swiftly decreed that Xander would chop, dice, and slice, but was banned from all activities involving pans over heat.
Xander loomed in the kitchen, looking over Giles’ shoulder at the bacon cooling on a bit of paper towel.
“Get away from those. I’m saving half for sandwiches.”
“Mmm. I think this is my favorite thing about living with you.”
“Oh?” Giles turned to look at Xander, who was an inch behind him, then ripped his glasses off his face and began polishing them on his bathrobe.
“You’re the most amazing cook.”
“Uh, r-right. Go, uh, um, get plates or uh something. For the uh, whatever it is I’m making. Omelets.” Giles turned his back on Xander, who sadly shrugged on his too-tight black t-shirt. Because apparently showing off his skinny chest made Giles miserable.
And that’s how it went for the next few weeks. Xander did his exercise regimen every morning, isometrics and handweights, on the floor in front of the fireplace. Giles hovered upstairs until Xander was done. It was beginning to get to him. The guy seemed to be a nervous wreck all of a sudden. Xander was thinking it was time to just quit.
Somewhere in the middle of this, Giles had a birthday. He wouldn’t tell them how old he was, but Buffy made a face and said she knew already. She’d pinched his wallet and looked at his license, and that was how she knew when his birthday was at all. Giles got very tense at that, but Buffy let it go. They had cake in the library, and Giles blushed when they all gave him little presents. Xander had a makeup experiment to do for his chem class, so he dropped off the In-n-Out t-shirt he’d bought for Giles, pounded him on the back, snagged a slice of cake, and had to book. What with the Bunsen burner accident, he didn’t get back until the little party had broken up. The Dingoes were playing at the Bronze that night, and Xander diffidently asked Giles if he wanted to go. See Oz, hang out on his birthday, you know. Giles gave him a puzzled look, and declined. So Xander left the birthday guy home alone and took off for a night of pogoing while the Dingoes attempted to play their latest songs.
Afterward, he found Giles ensconced in his armchair, with yet another library book with a different sailing ship on the cover, by the same writer. He was in his bathrobe, with white pajama legs stretched out on the footstool. And bare feet. Xander had conceived a certain lust for Giles’s bare feet, a lust he was beginning to think was hopeless. They were turning into great buddies, just not the sort of buddies he wanted to be.
“Evening, Xander. Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah. Oz only screwed up two solos.”
“Did Willow notice?”
“She never does.”
They shared another one of those conspiratorial grins. Xander had found the guitar in Giles’ closet, and knew his secret.
“Was going to make myself some cocoa before bed. Want some?”
“Yeah. With marshmallows? Awesome.”
Giles put a marker in his book and got up. The bathrobe was open, revealing pjs Xander hadn’t seen before. They had a big print on them, of…
"Woodstock? You’re wearing Woodstock pajamas?
Giles smiled in a completely goofy way. “Do you like them? Birthday present from Buffy. She said she’d given you a pair of Snoopy pajamas, so we match.”
“Yeah. Yeah, she did. You’re really wearing them?”
“Hmm? Yes. Why not?” Giles got out the milk and a pan, and started heating it.
Cocoa. A kid drink. Giles thought they matched when he wore those pajamas. That meant he thought Xander was a total kid. Xander leaned his head against the kitchen counter and stifled a groan.
And that was how Xander decided that he was probably never going to get anything but broccoli.
That Friday night, Giles stood at the hearth with a glass of what Xander had learned was Scotch and soda. Giles went for that when he wanted whisky but wasn’t drinking because he was stressed or freaked. Tonight he looked puzzled but in a good mood.
“I just realized that Buffy hasn’t disrupted my sleep in weeks. I feel almost good. I wonder if she’s been slacking off.”
“Don’t think so. Think she’s been bugging Wes late-night.”
“I told Buffy to call Wes instead of you. I figured you needed the sleep and Wes could… You don’t look happy about that.”
“I told you the exact opposite.”
“Yeah, I know, and I told Buffy that she shouldn’t trust Wes with the serious stuff. I just thought that… I mean, you seemed pretty worked up about needing to sleep and I thought maybe when you get old or something…” Xander trailed off. This wasn’t coming out at all the way he wanted it to.
Giles was staring at him and looking miffed. “Thank you, Xander.”
“I just wanted to do something nice for you.”
Giles snorted. “Oh, yes, taking steps to replace me with an incompetent. I bloody well appreciate that. Xander, don’t try to think.” He took a gulp of his drink and thunked the glass down on the mantel.
“And there you go again with the treating me like a kid!” Xander stuck out his jaw.
“What the fuck do you want, anyway? To sleep or to have Buffy bug you or to fucking whine about it all the time?”
Now that he was going, Xander couldn’t stop.
“And you’re so, so, so… I can’t believe you were ever young! Sometimes you make Wesley look cool. I mean, you’re so stodgy, with your sleeping in, and your reading a book on your birthday instead of going dancing with me, and your hot cocoa and your stupid Woodstock pajamas and the way you’re just entirely oblivious to everything! You’re driving me nuts.”
He stomped over to Giles and stared at him. Giles was two inches taller than Xander, and where did he get off being taller? Then Xander realized that Giles smelled good, like whisky and wool and Earl Grey tea. Damn him!
“You should come with a fucking warning label, you know that? Looks sexy, talks sexy, but hasn’t had fun since 1978. Do not fall in love with this guy ‘cause the only thing he does these days is books. If I’d stripped naked and painted ‘take me now’ on my chest you wouldn’t have fucking noticed.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Xander realized what he’d just said, and panicked. He took off out the door, fast.
And that was how Xander nearly blew it.
For lack of anywhere else to go, he went downhill, toward the Pacific. When he got to the boardwalk, he found the hole in the chainlink fence and went in. Giles had said— Giles this, Giles that, dammit— that it was a peaceful place to think. He went straight to the ruined carousel. He thunked himself down the benches that was supposed to look like a horse-drawn carriage. Only this one had two unicorns drawing it.
For the first ten minutes or so, Xander was just pissed off. Then he started thinking.
“Oh fuck me,” said Xander, to the wreck. “On second thought, don’t. I don’t deserve it. I am the world’s biggest idiot.”
He was going to have to find another place to live, though maybe Giles would be nice and would give him a few days to pack and leave instead of just throwing him out. He slumped on the bench. This might make a good place to crash. Except for the vampires. What a screwup. He could have dealt with the heartbreak if he’d just kept his mouth shut for a few more months, until he could get a job and afford his own place. Maybe he would have to drop out.
Some time later, he saw a flashlight shining around. Giles followed the light a minute later. He stood next to the bench for a moment, then sat down. Xander shifted to make room for him. Giles didn’t say anything.
Xander contemplated the butts of the battered unicorns. One of them still had its horn. “I’m sorry,” he said. Giles stayed quiet.
Xander tried again. “I shouldn’t be allowed to talk sometimes.”
Giles just stared up at the roof of the carousel. Then he said, “I don’t mind it when Buffy wakes me up. It’s my reason for being here. I just… enjoy complaining. To my friend. To you.”
“Oh. Yeah. I get it.”
They were both quiet, while Xander waited for Giles to say “but” and then drop the blade down on the back of his neck. Eventually he couldn’t stand waiting, and decided to nudge the guillotine himself.
“I understand if you feel you don’t want me around any more. I’ll start looking for another place. It’s okay. I know it was really dumb of me to think it was even possible. You think of me as a kid.”
“Xander. I don’t.”
“Think of you as a kid.”
“I didn’t realize. That you were, uh, trying to get my attention. You were? Truly?”
“To go dancing with you, or whatever it was you said?”
“Well, that was just a start.”
“What you see in a washed-up ex-Watcher…”
“Oh, that’s the easy part. It’s you know, that stuff about fruit again. Girls are apples, and they’re nice, but they lack that certain oomph. And oranges. Boys, hey, they’re okay. I like licking juice off my fingers just fine. Both of those will keep me from going hungry. But I didn’t figure out what I wanted until I saw a pear. And now I can’t get pears off my mind. Or at least this one pear. Smart, way smart. Experienced. Not a boy in any way. Hair on his chest, oh my God. He’ll know what the deal is. He’s been everywhere and done everything and he looks fucking amazing in a three-piece suit and in tight jeans and in any damn thing I’ve ever seen him wearing. Including Woodstock pajamas. Which made my brain melt.”
“Oh?” Giles looked at him sidelong.
“Yeah,” said Xander.
“No. Not once you get to know him.”
“I see.” Giles was silent for a while. Well, at least he wasn’t laughing.
“I realize I have just made a spectacular idiot of myself in all possible ways. You probably still want to throw me out of your house.”
“Xander… I’d have to throw myself out if that sort of idiocy were a crime.”
“Let me… I… God. How do I say this? There’s a young man I know. He’s amazingly brave, and honorable, and he’s cheerful in the face of setbacks that would crush some people. He has… the most amazing dark eyes. And a mouth that smiles so much. I’ve been thinking for weeks now how much I like making that mouth smile. How lovely that smile is. How much it makes me want to kiss it. When I learned that he was gay, I was in torment. I admitted to myself I wanted him. I found myself acting like a fool around him. But he would never consider somebody so much older than he. So stodgy. Somebody he didn’t think would be interested in him.”
“Oh, man, there was considering. So much considering.”
“I thought you were playing for somebody else. I couldn’t imagine why else you were changing your clothes and behavior so much.”
“I was trying so hard to get you to notice.”
“I think you’re better off being yourself.”
“Oh, we’re a fine pair.”
“So, uh, you noticed?”
“I noticed. Xan. Consider my attention caught.”
Xander let his head lean against Giles’ shoulder for a few minutes. Giles slipped his arm around Xander. His hand rubbed circles on Xander’s arm. Xander sighed. This was good. But it could be better. There could be kissing.
Xander tugged at Giles’ tie and got him to lean down. Giles brushed his lips against Xander’s, made a soft sound, then took Xander’s face in his hands and did it again.
And that was how Xander kissed Giles for the first time.
The kiss went on for a while, and eventually tongue got involved. Giles sure knew what he was doing there. So had Cordelia, but Giles had this quiet way of being in charge and taking what he wanted that made Xander’s stomach flutter.
And then hands started wandering, and Xander dared to let his hands drift near Giles’ waist. Then there was mutual hand-wandering and hip-grinding, and Xander realized he was humping himself against Giles’ leg and Giles was doing something very close.
Then something growled next to them, and said, “Two for the Tunnel of Death, I see.”
Xander looked up. A vampire, of course. They were idiots. They’d been sitting there making out in a known vamp nest area.
“Do you bloody mind?” Giles didn’t seem upset.
The vamp just snarled. Xander had a sick feeling in his stomach. He hadn’t brought any stakes, any holy water, any anything. They were fucked, and not in the good way. Adrenaline hit his bloodstream, and with it stupid courage. He flung himself at its legs and knocked it over.
“Run, Giles! Get out of here!”
Xander broke the horn off the unicorn and brandished it at the vamp. It came at him and he thrust and of course the horn did no good because it was plastic. The vamp slammed into him and carried him down onto the floor. Xander tried to roll away, but the vamp had him by the throat. This was it. He was going to die. Then a scream, and the grip on his throat faded. Dust showered over him where he lay on the concrete. Giles stood poised with stake in hand, standing over Xander’s legs.
“Hey. Well. The Watcher comes through with the stake.”
“I never leave the house without at least one.”
“You’re a wise man.”
Xander’s breath came back to normal. He stayed on his back, for some reason, staring up at Giles. Giles lounged against the nearest horse, a black one with a red bridle. It was nearly intact. Giles looked very sexy leaning like that, with his elbow across its back, the stake still in hand.
“It’s late. We should head home,” he said.
Home. That sounded good. “We can wear our matching pajamas,” Xander said, grinning.
“Xan, I hope neither one of us will feel the need to wear anything to bed for many months.”
Xander’s smile vanished, to be replaced with a glassy-eyed stare. He gulped. “Yeah. Okay. When do we get started on that?”
“As soon as we get home. Come on.”
Giles pulled Xander up by a hand, and held onto the hand. Giles led him to where he’d parked the Citroen. They paused once for a long sloppy kiss before Giles started the car. Giles took the direct route, and cheated a bit at the four-way stops. At the one stoplight on El Camino, Giles slipped a hand over Xander’s thigh and lingered over the bulge in his jeans. Xander pressed himself up against it happily, thinking about what was gonna happen soon, until Giles had to take it away to shift when the light changed. He put it back again as soon as he could.
“God, Xan. So eager.”
He parked the Citroen in the usual spot. He turned off the engine and looked over at Xander. “All right?” he said.
Xander lunged over and tried to kiss Giles again, only he missed and kissed his chin at first, until Giles got them lined up properly. He let it go on only for a minute before breaking off. “This’ll be better inside,” he said, and Xander was out of the car in a flash.
They got inside the door, then Giles closed it and shot the bolt home. He had Xander pinned up against the door in the next second. He kissed Xander again with that insistent sloppy mouth, all tongue and teeth and lick. And more licking, on Xander’s lips and then down his throat. He found the spot that made Xander moan, right where throat met shoulder, then bit. Xander begged him to bite harder, and Giles obliged. Then he pulled back and looked down at the hickey. He fingered it and grinned, a relaxed piratical grin that showed all his teeth. Xander swallowed. Wild ride beginning now.
Giles looked up and met Xander’s eyes. “Get that shirt off. Been teasing me for days with that chest, God, show it to me now.”
He held Xander against the door by his hips. Xander wriggled out of the shirt as fast as he could. It was what Ethan had written about, that easy command, that casual competence. Xander would do anything Giles asked right then. He was rewarded immediately by another hard bite on the shoulder, then Giles’ mouth against his nipples, that wonderful obscene mouth that knew how to do everything. If people knew what this guy was like, if people only knew, all Giles would have to do is walk into a room and crook a finger and he’d have anybody he wanted.
He had his lips on Xander’s ear now, mouthing the earlobe and making Xander groan, while his hand worked on the buttons of Xander’s fly. He kissed his way down to Xander’s chest, then went gracefully down onto his knees, taking Xander’s jeans and briefs down with him.
“Lovely,” he said, his eyes on Xander’s cock standing up before him. He grasped Xander’s hips again, and held him still, and leaned forward so slowly, until Xander thought he was going to die if Giles didn’t touch his cock, if he didn’t feel more than just hot breath. Oh god, that was Giles’ mouth on the head and his tongue fluttering on the underside and his teeth scraping just a tiny bit, so hot and wet and so unbefuckinglievably good. Yeah, this was heaven, this was it, this was what he wanted out of life. Xander braced his hands on Giles’ shoulders to keep from falling over. Xander opened his eyes and looked down and watched his cock slide over Giles’ lips, Giles’ cheeks hollowed, his eyes closed, and oh god, which one of them was groaning? Xander couldn’t help moving his hips, pushing against Giles’ hands. Giles let him, let him slide in deeper across his tongue.
Then he did something that let Xander thrust way in, to the back of his throat, and Xander closed his eyes and came before he could gasp in another breath. Giles swallowed around him, which was amazing, then pulled back a little. He licked Xander clean, then licked his own lips and looked up with a little self-satisfied smile.
“God, you taste fantastic,” he said. “Been too long since I did that.”
Xander thought that Giles on his knees, licking his swollen lips, eyes half-shut, was the hottest thing he’d ever seen in his life. It made all those naked men in porn mags look lame. And Giles hadn’t taken off any of his clothes at all.
Xander had to kiss him right that second, so he tried to kneel next to Giles. But his jeans were bunched up around his shins and he actually ended up sprawled on the floor with his chest against Giles’ knees. Giles laughed at him, a little, but in a happy way, and pulled Xander up onto his lap to kiss. Xander could taste himself in Giles’ mouth.
“Let’s go to bed,” said Giles. He helped Xander up, and they ran upstairs, to that inner sanctum. Xander got his sneakers off, then shoved his jeans down and got them out of the way for good. He turned to watch Giles, who had shed jacket and vest, and had pushed his red braces down from his shoulders. Xander watched Giles methodically undress and hang everything up. He had a naked guy on his bed, and he was sending scorching looks over at said guy, but he still hung up his suit and put his shirt in the hamper. Xander swore Giles was doing it in a deliberately sexy way. How the hell could you make shutting your closet door sexy? By looking over your shoulder with a little smile while you did it, apparently.
At last he stretched himself out on the bed next to Xander, who was staring. Cause, wow, Larry had looked different, sort of tighter and smaller and way more circumcised and with less hair because Larry had told him that waxing was in according to all the magazines he’d read, and holy shit, Xander was babbling inside his own head. He wet his lips, and looked at Giles’ half-awake cock lying across his heavy balls and his thigh. Xander reached down and touched it, cautiously, tentatively, taking it in his hand and feeling it thicken. That awesome soft skin over hardness feeling. Xander was hard again already, just from touching Giles, just from the feeling of another man’s cock in his hand, of stroking it slowly and hearing Giles suck in his breath.
He had to taste it. Xander scooted down and got himself face-to-face with Giles’ penis which was terrifying and fascinating all at once. This was supposed to fit in his mouth? All the way in? Xander started with some tentative licks. Giles groaned. Xander then tried going down, and getting into his mouth, only crap, there went his teeth.
“Stop that!” Giles pulled Xander up.
“I just wanted to… can’t I return the favor?”
“You don’t know how yet. That was… it takes practice.”
“You’ll get the practice, Xan.”
Giles whispered in his ear. “I will take you every way a man can be taken. I promise. And I will teach you to take me in all those ways. Patience.” He tapped his fingers against Xander’s mouth. Xander nodded. Giles kissed him again, and that kiss was gentle.
“Now,” he said, taking Xander’s hand. “Let me show you something I like.”
And that was how Xander had sex with Giles for the first time.
The phone was ringing. Xander heard it, but didn’t much feel like moving. This was Giles’ bed he was in. Giles’ shoulder his head was on. He was warm and completely, mind-bogglingly satiated and happy.
“Bloody hell,” said Giles in a muzzy voice. He reached over and grabbed the cordless handset without bothering to sit up. “Hello? Buffy, good morning. What— I see. Lovely. You certain? I can— No, don’t fuss. I have some contacts who may help. Let’s meet at lunchtime. Library. Right, then.” He hung up.
“Sup?” said Xander, from his position curled against Giles’ shoulder.
“Faith again. Trying to seduce Angel, apparently. And the Mayor has been putting out feelers for a sorcerer powerful enough to take away his soul.”
“Great,” said Xander, stretching against Giles’ side. “I’ll go make the coffee.”
“Not just yet,” said Giles.
And that was how Xander Harris’ three decades as Rupert Giles’ lover began.
Wanted: S3 setting, some plot (however small) other than the romance, an important first (you decide what); some location (in Sunnydale) we never saw in canon
Unwanted: extreme angst, extreme schmoop, any direct reference to Xander/Willow
There’s a teeny sequel! “Not An Argyle Socks Kind of Guy”
14772 words; reading time 50 min.
tags: award-winner, c:buffy, c:giles, c:larry, c:xander, sex:first-time, genre:fluff, genre:humor, genre:romance, issues:glbt, high-school, season:03, f:btvs, p:giles/xander, p:giles/jenny, p:giles/ethan, p:xander/larry, p:xander/faith