Sandy Places Among the Angels

Part Four

Xander looked at the pile of books on his desk. From all of his classes combined, he had two papers, three lab reports, and twelve chapters to read. It wasn't really all that much work. Right?

He probably should have spent a little more time this past weekend working on his homework, though. He would have, if Spike hadn't been... Spike. Xander sighed. He really needed to talk to his boyfriend about showing up unexpectedly and distracting Xander for three days at a time. He could point out that during winter break they could hole up in Xander's bedroom for a week without going any farther than the bathroom or kitchen -- but only if Xander didn't have make-up work to do because he hadn't finished his homework *now*.

Right now, though, Spike wasn't here and Xander didn't have him as an excuse. Therefore, he needed to get *something* done. Thanksgiving weekend was coming up soon, and half of the assignments he had were due before Wednesday. The other half he could easily work on at home over the long weekend, since Spike wouldn't be around to encourage goofing off.

Looking at the stack of books, Xander tried to decide which of the stuff that was due first he wanted to work on. He picked up the phone and dialed "2" on the speed dial.

The phone rang once before it was picked up. "Hello?"

"Is this the adoptive father of one of the best and brightest up and coming young chemists?" Xander grinned. A little chat to fortify him, then he'd work.

"Xander!" He could hear the smile in Giles' voice.

"Can I borrow money and bring my laundry up and let you do it for me?" he asked, moving backwards, away from the desk, and letting himself fall onto the bed.

"That all depends."

"On how nicely I beg and plead and swear never to drive over the speed limit?"

"On what kind of slime you've gotten covered in recently."

Xander glanced towards his laundry pile. "I can see something blue... Crushathia slime. That's just soap and water, right?"

"As long as you don't let it set."

"Oh." Xander looked at the pile again. That shirt had only been there for... two days. How long did it take for slime to set? "Oops?"

He heard Giles sigh. "We still have to fully train you, I see."

"No one told me you had to wash the slime out right away! The books just said to kill it by slicing its head and left tentacles off; it didn't say 'and don't be standing beside the vampire when he does it, because you'll get covered in slime'."

It had been Angel doing the slicing, so Xander was safe in mentioning vampires, even if Spike had been the one to drop Xander off for an evening's fun and mayhem. Unless Angel had called Giles recently, and told him-- Xander froze. Maybe another oops was called for? No -- Giles would have been in LA half an hour after Angel's phone call, dragging Xander home safely, if he had.

Giles asked, "I know I probably don't need to ask this, but you're all right? You're taking precautions?"

"Not against demon slime, unless they tell me beforehand that it's toxic or itches." Xander's stomach contracted, though, as he answered lightly. Precautions against what? Was it possible Giles did know something?

"Not just the slime. But... everything."

"Everything like, am I pregnant?" Were there diseases that Xander was supposed to be pretending to protect himself from getting from "Bork"? He couldn't catch anything for a vampire, except vampirism. Or being dead, but they'd worked that one out the first night they'd met. Giles chuckled. "Everything like fighting demons and other dangerous extracurricular activities."

"I haven't gotten drunk because I'm not allowed to drink the beer I keep in the fridge for my boyfriend," Xander listed off. "I stay behind Angel almost half of the time when we go fight things," Angel or Spike, same annoying protective streak. "And I usually forget to brush my teeth until after I've gone to bed, and I have to get back up to brush them."

"I was most concerned about the 'fighting things' bit."

"I haven't got a scratch on me," Xander told him, truthfully.

Everything had healed by now, though he hadn't ever got anything more serious than scratches, bruises, and a couple of near misses that if Spike hadn't been around for would have been near un-misses. But it wasn't like Giles needed to know about those, any more than he needed to know about the report he'd got a 'D' on because he'd used the wrong variety of rose pollen.

"I'm glad to hear it." Giles was silent for a moment. "I still worry about you, though."

"You're supposed to. It's in your contract." Xander grinned. It was nice to hear. He'd got used to that tone of voice, soft and worried, that made him want to think of something he didn't know how to do, just so he could ask and let Giles get a thrill from helping him with something.

"Ah. So glad I'm fulfilling my duties then," Giles replied, dryly -- and pleased.

"Yes. We may even have a little something in your Christmas paycheck, this year."

Giles laughed again. "I miss having you around."

"I miss me being around, too. But that's why I'm calling -- I'm still coming up on Wednesday. Unless you have an apocalypse planned?"

"No apocalypses scheduled, at least as far as I know. This being Sunnydale..."

Xander nodded. Somehow, the apocalypses happened more often in Sunnydale than LA. Unless there were things Angel wasn't telling him? "Well, I don't expect you to tell me about the unscheduled ones. I'll just sure to pack an extra ax, and a pair of underwear in case of the world ending."

"Yes, it would be embarrassing to have the world end while wearing dirty underwear."

"Or no underwear at all. Hence the earlier comment about needing to do laundry." Most of that was Spike's fault. Xander would have on a pair of clean underwear for only a couple of hours before Spike would make it necessary to change them or throw them away. Maybe he should stop wearing underwear?

He noticed he was getting more comfortable with thinking about Spike while talking with Giles. Was that a good thing? Giles still didn't seem to be angling for any confessions about getting bitten by a friendly vampire, and Xander didn't notice any near slips of the tongue yet. Although there was the thing he wasn't thinking about, which was getting difficult not to think about while he thought about sex, while talking to Giles.

"There is that." Giles paused. "So you're doing okay?"

"I'm doing okay." He stared at the ceiling, at the huge white plainness there. "I miss home, though."

"I miss having you here. It's... quiet."

"I should make a tape of me, talking. You could play it when you get bored."

Giles laughed again. "I may take you up on that."

"Seems only fair. I have a CD of you singing." Xander played it every week, in fact -- it was in the stereo with four other CDs, set to random shuffle. Every once in a while, when Spike wasn't around, he played it straight through so he could sleep.

"You still listen to that?" Giles asked, tentatively.

"Um, yeah. Sometimes." More often than 'sometimes', but Xander felt like he'd just admitted to sleeping with a stuffed animal. Which he did, sometimes, again when Spike wasn't around. Jesse the wolf sat on the headboard, otherwise. Spike liked him -- said that wolves were almost as good hunters as vampires.

Giles sounded rather surprised. "I never thought you'd..."

"Listen to it so often I wore out two cassettes? That wasn't a clue I liked it?" He didn't want to say how it was sometimes the only thing that helped, when he missed Giles. Or how sometimes listening only made it worse.

"I guess I'm not used to anyone being that interested in my singing."

"Really? I thought... didn't you perform, or something?"

"I played around a little, back when I was your age, and a bit older. I wasn't particularly good."

"You've gotten much better, then. You're really good, now." Xander knew it wasn't *just* his biased opinion saying that, as Spike had heard the CD several times as well, and hadn't said anything snarky about it -- other than the usual snarks about Xander's old man. But he hadn't insulted the talent at all which meant he thought it was decent enough.

"Thank you." He could hear the shy pleasure in Giles' voice.

"When you're a big rock star I can be your main roadie and bring you chicks after the show. Or is that what the manager does?"

"When I'm a what?"

"Rich and famous. Don't all guys who play guitar want to be famous rock stars? Or do some people actually grow up wanting to sing folk songs and stuff?" Xander grinned. He could see Giles' face, in his mind. Amused, very mildly confused, and trying not to laugh at him. He wondered if he could, with a little more effort, make that 'failing to not laugh'.

"I think you overestimate my talent," Giles was saying, diffidently.

"But you could still play somewhere. Clubs, and stuff. Coffeehouses."

"Are you trying to set me up?"

Xander immediately looked innocent, even though Giles couldn't see him. "I'm just pointing out the possibilities. Like... oh... like learning how to fly."

Giles paused for a moment before answering. "Next thing you'll be telling me to open my own store."

"You could, if you have time inbetween gigs."

"This seems backwards somehow. Aren't I supposed to be planning your life?"

"I've already got my life planned out. I get my degree while busting crime and demon heads in LA, then return to Sunnydale triumphant and ready to do battle at Buffy's side." And at Giles' side, he didn't say. Even if that was what he meant. He had to force a light tone as he continued, "And somewhere in there I'll win the Noble Prize for demonic chemistry and win a million dollars."

"I don't doubt you would -- as soon as they introduce that as one of the categories."

"So you know what else you have to do in your spare time," Xander told him. "Campaign, so I can be brilliant."

"You are brilliant."

"You're just saying that because I said you sing so well." But even as he teased, Xander felt that warm tremble he always seemed to get whenever Giles said stuff like that. He wanted to hold onto Giles and make him say it again.

"Brilliant aside from your musical taste," Giles amended promptly.

"I like your music," Xander protested, and it came out much more serious than he'd intended.

"That would've been my point." Giles' voice got softer. "But thank you."

"You're welcome." Xander fell silent, staring at the ceiling and trying to remember why he'd called. Other than avoiding his schoolwork. "Oh! I'm coming up on Wednesday."

"What time?"

"Um, about three hours after I wake up?"

"So sometime midafternoon?" Giles teased.

"I'm sticking my tongue out at you. Even if, er, yeah. Mid-afternoon, probably. But it'll be a good time to avoid traffic." Xander had no idea if traffic would be any worse in the afternoon than it was normally. He didn't know if you could ever *tell* it wasn't worse.

"I'll make sure that I have dinner waiting," Giles said.

"Food! I can come up earlier." Xander started to sit up -- he hadn't thought about dinner *tonight*, yet. Maybe he could call Spike and make him bring over something.

Giles laughed. "I'd almost worry that you haven't been eating. Except I know you."

"What are we having for Thanksgiving?" Normally that was the sort of question with an obvious answer -- but since Xander had moved in with Giles, they'd had a different sort of meal each year. Xander had wanted to get away from the turkey and mashed potatoes menu his mother had always inflicted them with. She'd been a horrible and unwilling cook most of the year, but for some reason in November she'd decided that she had to prepare an entire dinner from scratch.

"Ah... well..." Giles hedged.

"Well, what? If you're planning on ordering pizza, not really minding."

"Buffy wants to do a traditional dinner for everyone."

Xander blinked at the ceiling. "Buffy's cooking? Can she cook?" He couldn't remember Buffy *ever* cooking. Whenever she was over, it was always Giles or Xander -- or the guys at the pizza place -- doing the cooking.

"So she says. I'm reserving judgment."

"So, what... she's doing a turkey and peas and potatoes and jello salad? All by herself?" Surely Buffy could do better than his mom. Right? Joyce was a decent cook, so it stood to reason Buffy must have learned *something*.

"I don't know about the jello salad, but essentially, yes. Though she's informed me since I'm the 'patriarch' it has to be at our place, so she's cooking in our kitchen."

"I'm not cleaning up," Xander said immediately. That had always been the worst part at his parents' house. She made a disaster of the kitchen, then Xander got voted to clean up, as his 'contribution'. Then he grinned. "You're all our patriarch?"

"So I've been informed," Giles said dryly. "Which is better than the 'real old guy' I suppose."

"It means they'll all be wanting allowances, now." Xander tried not to think about having a traditional dinner. He'd enjoyed the experimental eccentric meals they'd had, before. But... well, he'd moved out, and he hadn't been around to talk Buffy out of asking.

"Xander," Giles began hesitantly, "if you're not comfortable with this--"

"I didn't say I was uncomfortable. I reserve the right to judge, after we taste her cooking, though," he joked.

"You sure?"

"Will there be chocolate?"

Even before he spoke, Xander knew Giles was smiling. "You're coming home, aren't you?"

"Then if there's chocolate, I won't mind what else we eat." Xander knew he probably *wouldn't* really mind what they ate. He didn't feel a hundred percent excited about Buffy co-opting his Thanksgiving dinner with Giles, given that she could have been home with her own mother. But he was big enough to not whine about it.

Maybe he'd whine a little to Spike before he went home.

"They all want to see you. I think this might be Buffy's way to make sure they all have the chance."

"You--" He stopped himself from saying they could have done that with Giles cooking. He thought frantically. "...didn't invite them, did you? They told you they were coming."

"Pretty much, yes."

"And this would be you, rationalising after the fact?"

"They do want to see you, Xander."

"I wanna see them, too! I don't mean I don't. I just didn't expect Buffy to abandon her mom to *cook* for me. Unless Mrs. Summers is coming, too?"

"No, Joyce is out of town."

"Oh." No wonder Buffy was coming over. "And Willow's just coming for the food and company, and to avoid her mom's annual lecture on the disgrace of white man's treatment of the native peoples."

There was a brief silence on the other line. "I take it this is something she's gone on about before?"

"Every year since we were four. Willow can do a pretty good imitation of a ranting lunatic if you get her started."

"I've had a small dose already, thank you."

"She's started already? I hope that doesn't mean she's gotten converted. Her mom could get pretty scary."

"You'll have to judge for yourself. When you come home." Giles was obviously relishing that last sentence.

"Yeah. Next Wednesday." He grinned, relishing it himself, as well. Home. His stomach did a little happy flip. "I can't skip the last two days of class and come home early?"

"Depends on what is scheduled for the classes."

"Um... just a couple of lab reports. And a paper and a few chapters I have to read and -- you know, I'd called you to *avoid* doing my homework." Xander scowled over the phone at Giles.

"Tell you what," Giles began, "finish your homework and then you can come home early."

Xander groaned. "If have to I finish my homework, I won't be coming home early."

There was silence for a moment. "I suppose you could bring it with you..."

"I'm already bringing a stack with me that's due after the break." Xander wondered if he shouldn't have kept his mouth shut, and just said "I'm on my way".

"Ah. Well." Giles didn't seem to know what to say.

"I could do some of it tonight and skip Tuesday's classes."

There was another pause. "I should be discouraging you to skip class, but..."

"Or I could do some tonight and come up tomorrow. Um. I have to turn stuff *in* first, so I have to go to class at least." Xander looked at his stack. If he *didn't* call Spike, he could get it done tonight. No Spike, lots of soda... Or he could call Spike tonight, then do his homework tomorrow and turn it in Tuesday morning. He'd only be heading home one day early, but it was better than not early at all.

"It's up to you, Xander. I'll be happy to see you whenever you come."

Xander's mouth actually opened, before he realised what he'd been about to say -- even joking, it was a bad, bad, bad idea. There was no way he could avoid getting a handful of 'F's if he went up now. "I think I better come up on Tuesday," he said quickly.

He thought about Spike. Spike could see him coming. That would be just fine.

"Tuesday afternoon then?"

"Tuesday mid-afternoon," Xander teased. "After I wake up." Even though he'd probably be up all night, doing homework -- he would have to have a short nap before he could drive up to Sunnydale. So, still -- he should be able to make it by midafternoon.

"I'll see you then."

"Yeah." Xander was grinning again, looking forward to it. Home. He was going home for nearly a week. "I should probably get started on this homework stuff, so I can skip classes on Tuesday."

"Yes. That would probably be the prudent thing. Not that I'm advocating skipping classes," Giles added.

"Uh-huh. I'll see you in a couple of days, then."

"Yes."

Xander waited. Neither of them were hanging up. "You want me to just put the phone down, and you can listen to me do my homework?"

Giles chuckled. "That would be a hint for me to hang up."

"Not unless you want to listen to me do my homework."

"It's tempting, but I wouldn't want to distract you."

"Oh, ok. I'll see you Tuesday," Xander said again.

"Tuesday."

Xander waited. After a moment, he asked, "On the count of three?"

Giles laughed. "On the count of three," he agreed.

"One... two... -- is it on three, or 'one, two three' *then* we hang up?"

Another warm laugh. "Good night, Xander." And Giles hung up.

Xander sighed, and hung up as well. "Good night." Then he jumped up, headed into the kitchen for a soda and snacks, to return and crack open his books. If he got his homework done tonight, he could go home tomorrow and surprise his dad.

~~~~~

By one o'clock on Monday afternoon, Xander had had three hours of sleep, four sodas, and had completed and handed in every assignment that was due by Wednesday. He also had a surly boyfriend, who'd been promised lots of make-up sex when Xander got back to LA. But Spike had been surly even before Xander had told him he was going home two days early, so Xander wasn't very worried. Nor was he worried about making it up to Spike -- not like sex was a hardship.

He balanced his duffel bag, packed full of dirty -- demon slimed and normal dirty -- clothes over one shoulder, and his backpack over the other. He'd actually have to get some laundry done before he'd have anything to wear tomorrow, but it was easier than packing three bags. Of course, this left him with no hands free to open the door. He hit the doorbell with his elbow.

The door opened a moment later. "Yes, what--" Giles' voice trailed off and he stared.

"Is this the twenty-four hour Laundromat?"

"Xander!" A smile slowly grew on his face.

"Hi. I'm early. And... I'm standing on the porch? Do I get to come in?" He wasted a cute look on Giles, knowing that he didn't need it to get granted entrance.

"Oh, uh, of course," Giles stammered, stepping back to let him in. "Sorry."

Xander walked in, and set his duffel bag down. He looked around -- everything was exactly the same. "I like what you've done with the place."

He was home.

"It's a mess." Giles was still standing in the open doorway staring at him.

"Yeah, because it *never* looked like this when I lived here." He turned back to Giles, and dropped his backpack. He was *home*.

He suddenly very much wanted a huge hug.

Seeming to shake off his paralysis, Giles took a step toward him, opening his arms. "Oo, a full service laundromat!" Xander bounced forward and glommed onto Giles as tightly as he dared.

Giles hugged him just as tightly. "Welcome home, Xander," he murmured softly.

"I decided to get my work done and hand it in today, so I could come up. I wanted to surprise you." It felt like such a long time since he'd had a good old-fashioned Giles-hug. He suspected they were addicting.

"You did. Made me day, actually."

"I... figured you'd like it. Doesn't take much to make ya happy, though. Just me, one day early -- most people would hold out for chocolate and Ferraris." Xander couldn't stop grinning and he felt like his face was going to crack from the pressure of it.

"Most people meaning you?" Giles seemed to be having equal trouble stopping smiling.

"No way. All I want is--" Xander stopped, feeling self-conscious. He told himself it was a little ridiculous, given how tightly Giles was holding him, and how determined he seemed to be to not let go and not stop smiling delightedly. "Um, you know. Glad I came home early," he managed.

Giles gave him a knowing look. "So am I."

Definitely going to hurt his face with all this grinning. Xander tried to let go of Giles, knowing they had to at least stop standing in the doorway letting the flies in. When he loosened his hold, he caught sight of Giles' face and Xander hugged him tight again. Giles chuckled and hugged him back.

"I love-- being home." He felt stupid immediately for saying it, and for not saying what he'd meant to say. Even though Giles knew, and never made him feel bad for not being able to say it. But now he felt self-conscious and knew he wouldn't be saying it all weekend.

Xander gave his brain a swift kick, and decided to try letting go again. "So. Crushathia slime?"

"Ah. Yes." Giles let go and turned to look at the duffel bag. "Is that all--?"

"Not all slimed. Um. Not all slimed with Crushathia slime. Some of it's... uh, no, it's all kinda slimy. I swear I didn't grab just the icky stuff on purpose." He didn't know if looking cute would help, or if he should save that for later, when Giles told him to fold his clothes after they were dry.

"It wouldn't be because all of your things were icky?"

"Not the stuff I've been *wearing*," Xander protested. "Just because I wear them until they get slimed..." It occurred to him that admitting that his laundry habits had not improved might be a bad idea. Giles just looked at him, one eyebrow raised.

Xander grinned, weakly. "What's for dinner?"

The question seemed to catch Giles slightly off-guard. "Um, err... pizza?" Giles grimaced. "I hadn't really planned anything."

"What? I come home for the first time since August and you don't have a welcome home dinner planned?" Xander gave him a shocked look. "I'm sick of pizza," he added, in a whine.

It was utterly untrue, of course.

Giles actually looked chastised. "Well, I had planned something for tomorrow... when you said you would be here." His chastised look became a Look. "We could go out somewhere tonight if you'd like?"

"Can we go to Anthony's?" Xander asked.

He watched Giles blink. "That's a pizza place."

"Your point?" Xander loved making Giles discomfited and confused. It made him look-- Xander swiftly kicked his brain again. Even if he did look cute, Xander had no business thinking so.

"No point. I just had forgotten the strange peculiarities of Xander logic."

Xander sniffed as though offended. "Clearly. I'm sick of *Los Angeles* pizza. Not Sunnydale pizza, which I haven't had in months. There's probably a Hellmouthy additive in the local sauce that makes it extra-greasy." He grinned as Giles looked distinctly unenthused.

"Now there was a disturbing thought I'd managed never to have 'til now," Giles murmured.

"Rather have burgers? I could tell you what those are made of," Xander offered in a helpful tone. "I worked at Mr. Zippy's Burgers for a couple of weeks."

Giles held up a hand. "Thank you, no. I think I'm happier to remain in ignorance on some subjects."

"You fight *demons* and get slimed and bled on and icky stuff and you don't want to know about burger ingredients?" It suddenly occurred to Xander that they were still standing in the entryway. He wondered if he ought to at least go sit down or something or he'd end up spending his visit right here.

"That pretty much covers it, yes." Giles picked up Xander's duffel bag and headed toward where the washing machine sat.

"So, um... dad?"

Giles looked over his shoulder, his eyes as always seeming to shine at the name. "Yes?"

"What *is* for dinner?"

~~~~~

Xander opened his eyes, and found himself lying on the couch. The room was a bit darker than it had been when he'd sat down for just a second, and his head felt significantly more groggy. He pushed himself up onto his elbow and said, "Guh?"

Giles appeared from the kitchen. "Finally awake, are you?"

"Ruh?" Xander tried again.

Giles smiled and disappeared back into the kitchen briefly. When he reappeared, he had a can of soda which he brought over to Xander.

"Caffeine! I love you. You good." Xander scrambled into more of a sitting position and grabbed the can. He took a long drink, and felt himself feeling slightly less dead.

"I thought I'd had enough of these this morning to keep me awake all day. Guess not." He sat up and took another long swallow.

"When was the last time you slept?" Giles asked, sitting down beside him.

"Yesterday? I slept for a couple of hours after I finished my last report. Alarm went off at 6 a.m." He'd been very annoyed -- but it had meant he got to be *here*, now.

"This morning," he amended, as his brain fired enough to realise Giles would misinterpret what he'd said. Because, yes, he was getting frowned at now. He frowned back. "What?"

"You should've gotten more sleep before driving."

"Huh? Oh, I was fine. Had two sodas and I felt fine..." Xander realised that Giles' frown was not lessening. "Really. I felt fine." Great. Now he was going to be spending the week home in the doghouse -- or the Gilesian equivalent thereof, which tended to involve books. Boring books.

Giles sighed and took off his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Xander, I am happy to have you home, but would have been just as happy if you'd arrived a few hours later. And not driven fueled only by caffeine and... and..."

"Fritos, hot dogs, and a salad," Xander described his breakfast that morning. Feeling guilty, he added, "I just wanted to be home. I didn't think I was tired -- I stay up til the wee hours all the time."

That seemed to mollify Giles some, but not enough to back down. "It's just that I... worry."

Xander fidgeted. "I know. I didn't mean to... do anything to make you worry."

"It's all right. I'm going to worry about you, pretty much regardless of what you do," Giles admitted.

"So I might as well do stupid stuff?" Xander teased, knowing of course what the answer was.

"I didn't say that."

Xander sighed. "Yeah, I know. I just... was hoping I could get you to not be mad at me anymore. Worried-mad." He leaned sideways and got the one-armed hug he knew he'd get. "You know -- make you think how cute and exasperating I am, instead of thinking of me driving into a lightpole."

And wasn't that exactly not the image he wanted to give Giles? Xander kicked his brain for the third, or hundredth, time.

Giles winced. "I much prefer thinking the former instead of imagining the latter."

"Sorry. Stupid mouth -- I've never been able to control it adequately." He looked up at Giles with a cute expression. "Love me anyway?"

He got hugged tighter. "Always."

"Feed me, too?"

Giles smiled and got to his feet, pulling Xander with him. "Go wash up, I'll serve up dinner."

"Dinner? You ordered pizza?" Xander grinned.

"I cooked."

"You cooked?" Xander felt his eyes go wide. "Whadja make? Whadja make?" He hurried towards the kitchen, calling back, "You do realise that nobody actually makes kids wash their hands before dinner, anymore?"

"You will, if you want any lasanga," Giles told him grabbing his arm and spinning him so he was pointed toward the bathroom.

"I don't have to wash my hands if I don't want to." Xander spun himself the rest of the way around, until he was aimed once again at the kitchen. Giles Looked at him. "I don't even wash my hands before dinner at my place," Xander began and something funny hit him in the stomach.

His place. As in not here. As in this wasn't his place anymore. Despite as welcome as Giles was making him, despite the fact that he knew his old bedroom would look exactly like it had before -- only probably cleaner -- it wasn't his home. It wasn't his bedroom.

Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face because Giles was suddenly looking at him, concerned, hand once again on his arm but in a reassuring way this time. "Xander?"

He hadn't even thought about it in the last few weeks. Had settled into his apartment, set his own rules and rituals and routines, and hadn't even questioned that he was making himself a home away from what used to *be* home.

Just like Giles had said he would. Even though he had come back, and there was space for him -- it wasn't the same.

"I'm only visiting," he said softly.

Giles' eyes widened a bit in sudden comprehension and then he was hugging Xander again. There wasn't anything to say this time. Xander accepted the hug, and tried to reassure himself that it didn't matter. He still had Giles and he would *always* have Giles. Even if they didn't live together anymore.

"This is *still* your home," Giles told him, tone almost fierce.

"I know," Xander replied. But it wasn't, not exactly the way it had been. The worst part was -- he didn't mind as much as he'd thought he would, back before he moved out.

"You're supposed to like college and everything that comes with it," Giles continued. "That doesn't make this any less your home. And you'll be back over Christmas and the summer break."

Xander managed a smile. "Yeah. Home long enough that you'll be sick of me and glad to send me back to school."

"I'll never be sick of you."

"I know. Again with the trying to make jokes so you don't worry about me." Giles just smiled sadly and hugged him tighter. "So I guess I should go wash up?" Xander said a minute later, because he didn't want to ask if he could just stay where he was.

"If you want any dinner, yes."

"I should remind you about the time we all ate dinner while still covered in Bulio slime?" Xander didn't try to move, either towards the bathroom or the kitchen.

"That was special circumstances."

"And the time we went to the Taco Muerto after the fight in the pond? Mud, algae, pond scum..."

"Which we weren't tracking in *here*," Giles pointed out.

"I'm not tracking anything in this time either!"

"Xander," Giles smiled again, and it was reaching his eyes now, "go wash up for dinner."

"I washed my hands in the restroom when I stopped just inside the city limits." Xander grinned, and slipped out of the hug -- towards the kitchen. He heard Giles sigh resignedly, but follow. Xander made it almost to the kitchen before he heard the front door open. He continued on his way -- knowing that only the good guys were ever able to trip the lock.

"Slayer present!" he heard Buffy call out. "Any food? Monsters? Watchers?"

"We're in the kitchen," Giles called out, getting out another plate for his slayer.

"We? There's a we-- Xander! College man home early!" Xander turned around and gave Buffy a smile, then held his plate up above his head when Buffy tried to take it. She frowned at him.

"You may be the chosen one, but this is my plate and I'll defend it to the death."

"You'd think he didn't eat when he was in L.A.," Giles commented and handed Buffy a second plate of lasanga.

"Which explains why you're home early. Got hungry?" She grinned at him, and for a moment he felt like nothing had changed.

"Ran out of laundry," Xander told her with a shake of his head.

Giles dished up a plate for himself and headed for the table. "Speaking of which, you'll need to change loads after dinner."

"I... what?" Xander looked at him, fork halfway to his mouth. "I fell asleep."

"I started it for you."

"You're so good to me!" Xander took a bite of lasanga, and said to Buffy, "He does my laundry. And it was all demon slimy, too."

"I left the worst for the second load," Giles told him with a faint smile.

"Yeah, mom does the same thing to me," Buffy said, giving Xander a sympathetic look. "Though in her case it's because she never learned how to get demon ick out of clothes, in home ec. Actually, neither did I." She gave Giles a hopeful look.

"Laundry is not part of the Watcher duties." Buffy gave him a cute pleading look. "No." Buffy nudged Xander, so he put his plate down, swallowed his lasanga, and helped. They both gave Giles cute, pleading looks. Giles barely glanced at them. "It's not going to work, Buffy. I am not doing your laundry."

"But you could help! You can advise me on how to remove those green slimy stains from my blouses. I need guidance," she said, sounding all the world like she was making a perfectly reasonable request.

"Huh. Suddenly I see why you didn't miss me," Xander teased Giles.

"I missed *you*," Giles corrected. "I didn't miss your laundry."

Xander sighed, and told Buffy, "I guess this means you and me are stuck not having any clean clothes to wear." He gave Buffy a leer. "Why is this bad, again?"

"That would have more impact if I didn't know you had a *boyfriend*," she informed him.

"He'd be happy to see you without clean clothes, too," Xander told her. He thought about Spike's reaction to the suggestion -- yes, in fact Spike would probably enjoy it more than Xander.

Giles cleared his throat meaningfully.

Xander looked at him with an expression of innocence. "Yes? You in the back, Mr... Giles, was it?"

"How soon they forget," his guardian mourned.

"You had a question?" Xander prompted, as he went back to eating his double serving of lasanga.

Giles opened his mouth, but then shut it again without saying anything. "Never mind."

"But now I want to know." Buffy pouted. "This is good lasanga. Which one of you made it?"

"I did." Giles nodded at Xander. "He was asleep on the couch."

"Oh. It's really wonderful lasanga. The best I've ever had." She nodded, earnestly and took another, exagerated, bite.

Xander shook his head. "Won't work. He just smiles and says 'then you won't mind doing the dishes, will you'?"

Giles just looked smug and ate his lasanga.

Buffy looked at Giles, worriedly. Then she leaned over and whispered, "He didn't say it. Am I safe?"

"I didn't have to. Xander already did."

Buffy looked confused. "Xander's doing dishes? Or am I?"

"I'm doing laundry," Xander said quickly.

Giles nodded. "Which would leave..."

Buffy looked from Giles to Xander, then back at Giles. "You to do dishes!" She smiled brightly. "That's so sweet, to leave me time to hang out with my friend whom I haven't seen in months and you saw just four weekends ago." Giles just looked at her steadily. Xander started counting mentally how long it would take her to give in. "And we have lots of 'no grown-ups around' catching up to do," she added.

"Considering you want to use my kitchen on Thursday, one would think you would offer to do the dishes," Giles pointed out.

"Oh. You know, suddenly I'm feeling in the houseworky mood. After I have more lasanga. Is there--" She stopped and looked at the pan Xander was taking the last of the lasanga out of. He paused. She gave *him* the pouty face.

"Mine," he said, hunching protectively over the plate.

"But I'm hungry, and I have patrol later and have to keep up my strength." She pouted harder.

"*Mine*," he repeated.

"Giles," she whined. "Make him share!"

Giles looked at both of them and picked up his own -- now empty -- plate. "Play nicely," he said mildly as he headed into the kitchen.

Xander stuck his tongue out at Buffy. "My lasanga. You can have half of it."

She considered. "That's fair."

Xander used the spatula to cut the serving in half, and scooped it onto her plate. "If you're really nice, I can even tell you how to get green slime out of your clothes."

She smiled at him. "It's great to have you back, Xander."

"It's good to be back. You'll have to tell me everything I've missed since the last time you talked to me or Willow."

"Which was two days ago?" he teased.

"Exactly." She nodded decisively. "Got to keep on top of these things after all."

"Did I mention my trip to Egypt?" Xander asked, the first thing that popped into his head.

"In the last two days?" Buffy asked disbelievingly.

"No! The one I'm going on. I haven't been there *yet*," he chided gently, as though he weren't winding her up and hoping Giles would say yes, they could go, before Buffy called his bluff.

"Oh. Then, no. You haven't mentioned Egypt."

"It's this big country out in Africa. They have a desert--" Xander laughed as Buffy swatted him.

"You are really asking for it, aren't you?"

"Asking for what?" Xander looked at her in surprise. "I'm merely trying to provide you with information about the small changes in my life in the last two days."

"And you've planned a trip to Egypt in the last two days?" Giles gave him a look as he came back from the kitchen, but the dry amusement in his voice gave him away.

"No," Xander admitted. Then he gave Giles one of his half-best looks of 'you'll do anything I want'. "Because planning is *your* job."

"I don't recall ever saying ye..." Giles began but then trailed off. Xander gave him the two-thirds best look. "I did, didn't I?"

"You said, on the plane, that we could go to Egypt." Beside him, Buffy was trying to stifle her giggles.

Giles was smiling at him now, eyes alight with the memory. "And you're calling in the marker?"

"Unless you wanna go to Paris instead." Xander had no idea why 'Paris' popped into his head. But it sounded good, and Spike had actually never told him stories about Paris, so he figured he was safe from blurting out stupid things like "That's where Spike killed--"

"You're sure you wouldn't rather go to Disneyland?"

Xander blinked. "We're going to Disneyland? When are we going to Disneyland?" He stopped himself from bouncing at Giles because Buffy was being less successful at stifling her laughter.

"Depends on you and your schedule," Giles said.

"Now. Now's good, I'm free now. Or Christmas or Spring Break or the first week of summer or--" He stopped and frowned at Buffy. "Oh, hush. You've been."

"We can't go this holiday weekend, but Christmas...?" Giles offered.

"Last day of the semester is December 18th. I can be home -- uh, the 19th. My last night after the semester is spoken for." If Spike didn't kill him for sneaking out three days early, for this holiday...

Giles nodded. "I'll make the arrangements then."

"Yea! We get to go to Disneyland!" Xander bounced, then said, "Stop laughing, Buffy. You're just jealous you won't get to see Giles in Mickey Mouse ears."

Buffy turned huge, unblinking eyes on Giles. "Mouse ears?"

Giles didn't meet her gaze. "Yes, err, um, when in Rome and all that. Don't you have patrolling to do?"

"You're going to wear *mouse* ears?" Buffy repeated. Xander didn't believe Giles was really serious -- he would pretend he'd do it, until they got to Disneyland then all of a sudden none of them would fit him. Xander frowned. They did make mouse ears in adult sizes, didn't they? Would *he* even be able to get a pair?

Giles gave his Slayer a challenging stare. "Is there something wrong with me wearing mouse ears?"

"Um, no. Not at--" Then she was laughing too hard to speak. She put a hand on Xander's arm, and tried to mouth 'camera'.

"If they make 'em in adult sizes, sure." He looked at Giles. "Do they?" Giles looked back at him blankly. "Make mouse ears in adult sizes?" Xander knew he was dangerously close to sounding like he was pouting. But if Disneyland didn't sell adult-sized mouse ears, he'd just go back to LA and tell Spike about how disappointed he was... He'd bet that within three days he'd have Mickey Mouse ears, or something just as good.

"I... I would expect..." Giles turned to Buffy. "Do they?"

She blinked at him. "Why would *I* know? The last time I went I was still wearing kid's mouse ears."

"There's got to be a simple way of finding out," Giles said, in the same tone he used for discussing demon research.

Knowing it was totally unnecessary to push, Xander nevertheless folded his arms and declared, "I'm not going if we can't get mouse ears."

"Oo, very nice," Buffy told him. "I give it a 'nine'."

Xander grinned. "Thanks."

"You seemed to think the... err... ears were available in adult sizes when you first mentioned it a few years ago," Giles said.

"But how am I supposed to know? I've never been to Disneyland. All I have are Willow's stories, and her head has always been kid-sized."

Giles looked at him for a long moment, sighed, and headed for the phone.

Xander grinned and gave Buffy a wink. He hurriedly pouted again as Giles glanced his way. "We can't go to Disneyland if they don't have mouse ears for grown-ups."

"Who's the grown-up?" Buffy asked, raising one eyebrow.

Giles studiously ignored them as he called first for the number for Disneyland, then dialed that number. "Hello, yes, I hope you can help me. I just have what may be a rather strange question -- I need to know -- does your park sell mouse ears in adult sizes?"

Xander realised -- not a new realisation, but just a refresher -- that Giles loved him. To call Disneyland and ask a stupid question...

Buffy nudged him. When he glanced at her, she whispered, "He does. Close your mouth, though, or he'll realise you know he loves you."

Giles was listening to whomever was on the other end of the phone, and seemed to have missed Buffy's comment. Xander closed his mouth and waited eagerly. "I see. Thank you. You've been very helpful." he hung up, and turned to Xander. "So, are you going patrolling with Buffy tonight?"

"What? Who *cares*? Giles, tell meeeeeeee!"

"Tell you what?"

Xander huffed, rolled his eyes, and jumped forward to grab Giles' arm. "I'll drink fourteen sodas if you don't tell me."

Giles frowned. "I think we only have a dozen."

"There are stores. Open all night. I have money and a car and I'm not afraid to use them."

"What about a hat?"

"I don't have a hat." Xander pouted, trying to hold back his excitement until Giles confirmed it.

"Then we'll just have to get you one in December." Giles grinned.

Xander leapt forward and hugged him, hard.

Behind, Buffy was laughing -- again. "You two are so *cute*."

~~~~~

Xander laid in his old bed, gleefully ignoring the clock. For the last half hour he'd heard Giles moving around, but Giles hadn't knocked on the door or poked his head in to see if Xander was awake. Even though Xander rarely got up earlier than necessary, it was still nice to loll in bed without wondering if he'd be late for something if he didn't get up soon. Of course, eventually starvation would drive him kitchenwards -- but for now, he was content to be in bed with no demands on his time.

There was a knock on the door. "Who is it?" Xander called.

"Who is it?" Giles' voice echoed, mildly amused. "Is there a long list of people you were expecting to knock on your bedroom door?"

"I'll have you know my bedroom door is very pop-- " Xander realised belatedly that it might be a very stupid thing to say to his adoptive disciplinarian.

"I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that, shall I?"

Xander got out of bed and went to open the door. "Great. I'll pretend I didn't say it." He grinned, suddenly, and launched himself towards Giles, hugging him hard.

Giles' arms went automatically around him to hug him in return. "Good morning."

"Breakfast?"

"That was why I was coming to wake you."

"To say 'Xander, I've prepared a full and complete breakfast and it's on the table waiting for you'?"

"Perhaps not quite the words I would use, but essentially yes."

"Really? Wow - I'm gonna have to visit more often. At home the only time I get breakfast waiting for me on the table is when I left the pizza out overnight." Xander let go and headed for the kitchen, changing direction halfway there and heading for the bathroom first, instead.

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that as well," Giles called after him.

"Oh, because you never ate cold pizza in your life?" Xander responded, as he shut the bathroom door.

"Not for breakfast," Giles called back, then added quieter though Xander could still hear him, "Well, not for a very long time."

Xander quickly took care of his business, then stepped out to find Giles still waiting in the hallway. The look on Giles' face was mostly nonchalant -- as though hanging out in the hallway was the sort of thing that happened all the time. Xander considered teasing him about it, but didn't. There was a fond smile on Giles' face, as well, which was giving him a warm feeling. Xander decided he'd go with that and aim for eliciting the rolled eyes and exasperated expression later -- halfway through breakfast.

"So, what's on the menu?" he asked as he walked past Giles, not intending to take more scenic routes between himself and food.

"Not cold pizza," Giles replied, dryly, as he followed.

"Somehow, I knew you were going to say that." Xander continued in to the kitchen, then stopped and gaped at the table. It looked like it was set for a breakfast for five. He was about to run over and dig in, when something stopped him. He got a funny feeling in his stomach, and looked over at Giles. Giles was looking innocent -- or at least trying to. Xander looked at the table again and confirmed what he was seeing. "I recognise this breakfast," he teased, though he didn't actually feel like laughing.

"I thought you might."

It was the same, over-loaded breakfast as Giles had made when Xander had been sleeping on Giles' couch, staying away from his parents' house as often as he dared. Xander smiled, and tried to say what popped into his head as the most honest response. But it was hard -- even after all this time. Finally, he looked away and said, "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Giles sat opposite him. "I was feeling... nostalgic."

"Lucky for you I'm feeling hungry. Is there enough food? Are we expecting guests?" Xander looked at the dishes, each piled with food. "I'm not sure I can eat... no, wait, I can. But I might lie down on the couch immediately after."

"If you've been subsisting on things like cold pizza, you could probably use the extra nourishment."

"I haven't been *subsisting*. You forget the cafe -- I'm on my tenth time around going through the sandwich menu."

Giles lifted an eyebrow. "I did teach you to cook, didn't I?"

"Um..." Xander hastily helped himself to some syrup for his waffles.

"And you do have a stocked kitchen in your apartment," Giles continued in a paternal tone.

"Hey, I'm a 19 year old college student. And a guy -- I think I'm genetically and socially required to eat only pizza, junk food, and sandwiches."

Giles looked pointedly at the homemade waffles that Xander was putting away at an extraordinary pace.

"Wha?" Xander asked around a mouthful of said waffles.

"That is neither pizza, junk food, or a sandwich."

Xander "So? I'm home -- I have to load up." Xander had the feeling that Giles wasn't properly following the logic of college student etiquette.

He got a wide smile from Giles at that comment. "If that's the case, did I make enough?"

"For just breakfast?" Xander studied the table carefully. "I... suppose."

Giles laughed. "That's the Xander I remember."

Xander considered making a witty response, but his stomach growled. Talk could wait. Breakfast -- well, it *might* walk away. This was Sunnydale, after all. Stranger things had happened.

"I should be quiet and let you eat, shouldn't I?" Giles asked.

"Rmmurum," Xander replied.

"That would be a yes, I believe?"

Xander swallowed. "Unless you want to talk, while I eat." He winked. "Just don't ask questions."

"Or perhaps I *should* ask you questions." Giles took a bite of his own food. "I don't want to get any rustier at interpreting your talking with your mouth full."

"Muhgrguhra," Xander told him as politely as he could.

Xander did manage to eat his share of breakfast -- without being forced to lie on the couch immediately afterwards. Instead he helped Giles with the dishes, commenting that it had been good training for Thanksgiving Day. *Then* he went to lie on the couch. Giles finished tidying up the kitchen, then came and joined him in the living room, settling in a chair with a book. Xander moaned dramatically.

"Very nice," Giles told him, looking up over the top of the book. "Though you might want a bit more of a whimper at the end."

Xander tried it again, trailing off into a 'I cannot move, but there is more pumpkin pie' whimper.

Giles considered. "Better."

He tried a third time, hands laid over his stomach, and thought about the possibility of there being no more whipped cream for the pie. Halfway into his whimper, he remembered that he didn't actually like whipped cream.

"Forgot what you were moaning for?" Giles asked, tilting his head to the side.

"Scary mental image."

Any snarky remark to that was forestalled by the phone ringing. Giles got up and answered it. "Hello?" He paused, listening for a moment then said, "Yes, he is. Just a moment." He turned to Xander and held out the receiver. "It's for you."

Xander had just enough time to think that he would kill Spike if it were him calling, before he took the phone. "Hello?"

"Xander? It's Doyle."

Surprise gave way quickly to alarm. "Doyle? What's wrong?"

"Everything's fine here, but... I had a vision."

Xander relaxed -- a little. "What'd you see?"

"You. And some others: a blonde girl, a red head and an older guy -- that would be Giles? -- fighting something"

Xander frowned. "Fighting something? Something... what?"

"Something big. And cranky. And... fuzzy?"

"Fuzzy?" Xander blinked. "Something big, cranky and fuzzy? Er -- how big? Building? Godzilla? Large bus?"

"Not quite that big. More like... incredible hulk sized."

He immediately felt most of his alarm subside. "So... you saw us fighting a big-person-sized, cranky, fuzzy thing?"

There was a long silence. "It seemed a lot more threatening when it came with the migraine."

Xander didn't doubt it did, but he asked anyway, "Doyle, why did you call, really?"

"I told you -- I had a vision--"

"A vision of us fighting a cranky fuzzy thing. Doyle -- that isn't exactly startling or unusual. Did you notice at least something *useful*? Remarkable? Some way we'll recognise the big cranky fuzzy thing when we see it instead of just thinking it's Angel in a bathrobe?"

Doyle didn't answer right away, then, "Turkey."

"We're fighting a big turkey? OK, you should have said that first."

"No," Doyle sounded a little exasperated. "I could smell turkey. Cooking."

"Oh. Oh! OK. So -- Thursday. Big, cranky, fuzzy thing," he said, looking at Giles, who seemed to have taken note of the information. "Got it. Anything else?"

"Um, I think... I wouldn't swear to this. But something like... lots of arrows?"

"Lots of arrows. Got it. And? Any pumpkin pie? Whipped cream?"

"What?" There was another long pause. "You're not taking this very seriously."

"Doyle -- you call to tell me we're gonna be fighting a fuzzy cranky thing on Thursday. It's not exactly apocalyptic."

"It could be. I doubt it's after the turkey."

Xander sighed. "All right, all right. We'll be on the look out for a big fuzzy cranky thing. With turkey." He paused, then tried to sound as though he were taking this as seriously as he probably ought to be. "Anything else I need to know?"

Doyle echoed his sigh. "No, that's about it."

Xander glanced down, suppressed a sudden grin, and asked, "You're sure? Nothing else I need to know?"

"Nothing serious. Spike says hi. He's been pouting since you left."

"I'm not surprised. So -- no reason why you might want to tell me why you're calling from Angel's number at 9 o'clock in the morning?"

"I... uh... that is..." Doyle stammered.

"Doyle -- what are you wearing?" Xander teased. From the other side of the room there was a cough that sounded very much like a strangled laugh.

"Wearing? You mean now?"

"The lack of immediate answer means it's either the same thing you were wearing yesterday, or 'not much'. Or you borrowed something from Angel?" There was another laugh from Giles and Xander carefully continued not to look at him.

"Oh that would be good, wouldn't it -- I'd look like a kid playing dress up or something."

Noting that Doyle did not deny that he was wearing anything other than "new clothes I put on at my place this morning", Xander grinned. "Angel's got a boyfriend," he sang. "Angel's got a boyfriend."

"Angel can quite probably hear every word you're saying," Doyle retorted.

"Good. Saves me from repeating myself later. Although -- not noticing a lot of denial going on, here."

The silence he got in response was answer enough.

"Doyle's got a boyfriend," Xander sang. He caught sight of Giles rolling his eyes.

"Let he who is without a vampire of his own cast the first stone," Doyle replied, not without humor.

"That would-- um." Xander tried to think of something he could say that would not be completely incriminating. "Oh yeah?" Giles laughed at him, and Xander considered the merits of flipping him off. Probably not -- he didn't want to spend his vacation grounded.

Doyle chuckled. "You want to keep playing?"

"I think I should let you get back to letting Angel soothe your post-vision headache. Or something. And when I get back to LA I'm going to want every detail Cordelia can pry out of you."

"When you get back to LA, you're going to be far too busy soothing Spike's headache. Or something," Doyle shot back.

"Lame, Doyle, really lame. Hey--" he continued, seriously, "Thanks for calling."

"No problem," Doyle replied in the same tone, then lightened considerably. "If I'm going to have to suffer painful incapacitating visions, I should at least pass on the information. Otherwise they're just... reasons for Angel to pamper me."

"So you're saying your next few visions are going to be faked?"

"Now, Xander, would I do that?"

"Not if Angel can still hear every word I'm saying."

There was a muffled yelp on the other end of the phone and then it was Angel who was talking to him. "Stop giving him ideas. He doesn't need any help."

"Hi Angel," Xander said, in an innocently friendly tone. He gave Giles a dirty look, though, as his dad was now pressing his hand over his mouth to stifle his laughter.

"Hello Xander. Good bye Xander. If you need help, call us. Otherwise have a good vacation."

Xander opened his mouth to retort and was met with a dialtone. "Huh." He hung up. "Funny -- I get the feeling Angel would rather be doing something other than talk to me."

"'Angel has a boyfriend?'" Giles echoed mildly raising a questioning eyebrow.

"Angel has a boyfriend. And it's about time, too. Cordy and I have been watching them dance around for *weeks*." Xander suddenly grabbed the phone up again. "I have to call her! I think I won." He stabbed out her phone number as quickly as he could.

When Xander was finished calling Cordelia, and after a surreptious and very short call to "Bork" who insisted he already knew all about it, Xander turned his attention back to the potential matter at hand. Giles was already going through the newspaper and flipping through the tv channels for news reports, looking for anything unusual.

"Finished with the gossip?" Giles asked, looking up from the paper.

"Yes. And I owe Cordelia twenty bucks." Xander shook his head. He was pretty sure he'd started out the conversation saying 'nyah nyah you owe me," but somehow he'd ended up agreeing she'd won. He sat down beside Giles. "What can I do?"

"I'm not sure really. 'Big, fuzzy, and cranky' is not much to go on."

"And turkey. Don't forget he could smell turkey." Xander pulled one of the newspapers over, glanced at it, then looked around. "Don't you have a computer? I could check the paper's website for current stuff."

Giles gave him a look. "The only computer that's ever resided here is currently in Los Angeles."

"Wimp. Tech wimp. They don't bite, you know." Xander got up and went to the phone one more time.

"You can't prove that."

Xander just grinned, and called Willow. She agreed to bring her laptop over, as well as Buffy so they could all get a jump on finding the big cranky fuzzy thing before Thursday.

~~~~~

Xander and Willow headed for the Anthropology building to check out a news story Willow had uncovered that morning. An Anthropology professor had been found murdered last night, and while the article hadn't mentioned any big, cranky, fuzzy things involved, it was one of the only unusual things to have happened in the last couple of days. Buffy had gone to investigate the other unusual thing to happen -- a guy working on a construction site on campus had fallen through a sink hole, into a historical burial site. Since they'd been breaking ground for the new Cultural Center the professor was in charge of they figured the two might be connected. It simply remained to be seen if anything from Doyle's vision popped up.

Xander looked around at the students, milling to and fro, and gave Willow a grin. "Your campus seems so... *normal*."

"It is," Willow told him. "If you don't count the things like vampires holed up in abandoned buildings and Buffy's demon roommate. Oh, and bands with werewolves. Though actually that seems to be pretty common," she added, her voice growing bitter.

Xander had spent a lot of hours on the phone and email with Willow after Oz left -- obviously she wasn't completely over it. He didn't blame her, but he figured she might be better off being cheered up, than rehashing it all again. He nudged her with his elbow. "But look -- everyone here is human. Or, er, looks human." He glanced around. "I suppose it could be populated with Nicki demonae."

She frowned. "What's Nick demonae?"

"Nicki -- they're sorta silly-putty demons. They can look like all sorts of creatures. Looking human would be a snap. Well, except for the fact that they breathe water," Xander added as Willow's eyes had begun to get rounder.

"Water breathing silly putty?"

"You say that like you don't believe me," Xander said, giving her a wounded look.

"Of course I-- It's just that-- It sounds so-- Water breathing silly putty?" Willow narrowed her eyes.

"Sounds so boring, doesn't it?"

"You're putting me on."

"About them being boring?" Xander asked carefully.

She was starting to smile in spite of herself. "Xander--"

Xander gave her a cute 'can I have your last twinkie' look. "Yes?"

Willow whapped his arm. "Stop it!"

"What'd I do?"

"You're ruining a perfectly good sulk." She gave him a stern look. "Stop trying to make me laugh."

"Were you sulking?" Xander looked surprised. "I'm sorry! I didn't know. I'll just go walk over here and be quiet." Xander veered away from her a couple of steps.

"Come back here!" She grabbed his arm and pulled him back to his side, not relinquishing her grip when he stopped trying to move away. "You knew perfectly well I was sulking. I have it on excellent authority -- yours -- that I have a very distinctive and cute sulky face, so you knew." Her voice softened. "And thank you."

"Aw, shucks, ma'am." He ducked his head and gave her a grin. "Your sulky face *is* cute. So is your 'isn't Xander a sweetie' face. Your 'I'm going to make you clean up this mess' face -- not so much."

"That's my stern authority face." She gave him an example. "It's supposed to get you to do what I say; it's not supposed to be cute. I modelled it after Giles'."

"But it's cute when Gi-- I'm not going to finish that sentence. So, where's this building we're looking for?" Xander looked around at the buildings that all sort of looked alike.

Willow was giving him a knowing smile. "It's over here."

It was nice seeing her happy, seeing her smile -- but Xander told himself that it was perfectly OK for it to not be smiling at *him*. Because of him. At his expense. Xander realised he was making himself more confused, but that was OK since *he* knew what he meant. He tried to think of a new line of conversation that wouldn't lead to Oz, or Giles looking cute. "So, ah. Come here often?"

She smiled. "It's okay, Xander. I think he's cute too."

"Yeah, but it's OK for you," slipped out before Xander could censor his tongue. He sighed, and shook his head. Not something he wanted to talk about.

Willow squeezed his hand. "Do you still... have dreams about him?"

Xander let her hold his hand, returning the squeeze after deciding that he might as well answer her question. "Sometimes... not so much, though. It's... weird. Moving out was one of the hardest things I've ever done and at first I think I dreamed about going home almost every night."

It was only as he told her, that he remembered just how hard it had been -- how every night he'd dreamt about being home, how every evening had been marked by a phone call home and plans or just hopeful thoughts to have Giles come visit over the weekend. Somewhere along the way they'd stopped filling his nights. He still missed being in Sunnydale. Still missed living with Giles. But -- he hadn't dreamt about him for weeks.

"You're adjusting to being on your own." She gave him a proud smile.

"Yeah." It didn't seem quite as much fun as Willow sounded like it should be. He *was* getting used to being on his own -- more or less, considering how often Spike was with him. But it felt more like getting used to losing an arm, rather than getting used to having grown a new one.

"You don't sound very enthusiastic about it."

Xander glanced over at her, and wondered. The wondering was followed almost immediately by a feeling that he shouldn't *have* to wonder if he could tell her things. He had always been able to tell her things, even when he thought he couldn't -- except for actually telling her who his boyfriend was. Spike was the only thing he'd never told her about. He sighed, and confessed, "I don't like getting used to it. I miss Giles, but I don't miss him as much as I used to. And I hate that."

Willow cocked her head to the side and observed him. "You're unhappy that you're not miserable all the time?"

"I-- yes." He frowned at her, and thought seriously about sticking his tongue out. "Would you stop disrupting my sulk? I was barely getting started!"

She grinned impishly. "You messed up mine, I mess up yours. Fair's fair."

"It *isn't* fair. I'm... taller than you are. I should get to beat you up." It was an old threat, though he hadn't got to use for nearly three years, from 4th grade to 6th. She'd begun her growth spurt earlier, and had lorded it over him until he'd finally caught up and surpassed her.

"Yes, but I fight dirty." Willow grinned, and she looked like that 4th grader telling him she was taller than him, and got to win from then on.

"You *cheat* is what you mean. Every time I try to dump my lunch tray over your head you -- yes! That!" Xander pointed at her face, as Willow pouted at him.

The pout quickly morphed into a grin. "As I said, fighting dirty."

"I'm gonna subscribe your dorm address to every magazine I can find a blank card for in the library."

She just blinked at him and he realized how much a non-threat it was to send Willow more reading material -- no matter what type it was.

"Magazines from *my* school library. In languages you can't read," he amended the threat.

She continued to blink at him, though her expression was starting to grow interested.

"I'll give your phone number to telemarketers."

"It's Buffy's phone number too," Willow pointed out.

"I'm not scared of Buffy." Xander paused, then said, "Besides, Giles wouldn't let her hurt me." He paused again. "And they'll all be calling for *Willow Rosenburg* and not Buffy Summers so she won't actually have to talk to them. Much. I'll tell Willie Thompson you think he's cute," Xander finally told her, repeating a threat that had made her shriek in kindergarten.

She shrugged. "He won't care. Now he might care that *you* think he's cute..."

"I'll tell Buffy you said she has stupid hair." Xander knew his threats were getting lamer, but at least this one he could blame on Spike. Not that he could *tell* Willow that his boyfriend had told him he had stupid hair. But *Xander* knew, and that was the important thing.

Willow just smiled. "You're so cute."

"And don't you forget it."

They walked past a row of trees, and Xander saw a sign out in front of one of the buildings that read Anthrolopogy Building. He gestured towards it. "We're here. All passengers must exit."

She laughed. "Come on. The professor's office is on the second floor."

Xander headed towards the doors, Willow right beside him. She grinned at him again as they went up the steps. "I've really missed having you around."

"Me, too." He pulled the door open, and held it for her. "I've missed me a lot -- I wonder where I am? How I'm doing?"

Willow nodded. "You'd think you'd write yourself. Call occasionally."

"You'd think. But no, I just take off, then nothing. I don't call, I don't write, it's like I don't care." Xander looked around the darkened hallway, and saw a directory listing the offices.

"Outrageous. You should give yourself a stern talking to."

"I should. Except I don't know where I am." He pointed to the directory. "Room 214. Where do you think the stairs are hidden?"

"Offhand I'd say over there under the sign that says 'stairs.'" She pointed.

"Once again, award for scary logic person goes to Willow Rosenburg."

They found the office without running into anyone. Xander was encouraged to see there was no yellow police tape across the professor's office door. Apparently they'd only felt the actual crime scene was worth cordoning off. Xander had busted through "Do Not Cross" signs often enough in his stint as a Scobby, and now as assistant detective, but he never quite got over the willys when he did it. Spike said it was the result of a vivid first impression from when he'd got possessed by a hyena. Xander hadn't had the heart to tell Spike that that had been the *second* time he'd disregarded 'Do Not Cross' signs and been burned -- figeratively.

When he stepped up to the door, he wondered if either of them had thought about how they were going to get in if the door was locked. Fortunately, it opened easily. Xander stepped in, peering around the door as he pushed it open. "No bodies. I think we're safe."

"No big fuzzy cranky things?"

"No big things, no fuzzy things, no cranky things. Not even a big dust bunny." He walked in further, moving out of the doorway to let Willow enter. She followed, looking around the dim room as the moved further into it. Xander searched the room, turning in a circle as he looked into each corner, each nook and cranny, before wandering over to Willow to join her more detailed search. If something big, fuzzy, and cranky *was* waiting to jump out at them, he wanted to be ready for it. He sniffed -- no smell of turkey. They were probably OK, then.

Willow was looking through the papers on the professor's desk. "It's all about that mission they found. The whole Anthropology department was apparently really excited about it."

"Because -- oo, dead people. We all know how fun *they* are." Xander was suddenly glad neither Spike nor Angel were around to give him a snarky look for that one.

"It's an important archeaological find," Willow defended.

Xander raised an eyebrow at her. "I didn't think you were into archeaology."

"I'm not." She squirmed. "Not really. Just... you know, reading some things. Keeps the research skills sharp."

"Uh-huh." Xander looked over one of the bookcases, and saw nothing that looked interesting. "You were looking for dirty pictures, weren't you?"

"Don't judge me by your own reading habits."

"I don't *need*--" Xander snapped his mouth over the taunt almost in time. He wasn't supposed to be reminding her that he had a boyfriend and she didn't. Even if Spike pretty much made sure Xander would never need a thing like commercial porn, ever again. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"Huh?" Willow looked at him confused. "What for?"

"Nothing. What's that?" He spotted a display case and headed towards it. The case was filled with artifacts that looked like they should have been in a museum being studied by bored schoolkids.

Willow followed him. "Looks like a display of local indiginous artifacts. I think the professor who was killed specialized in local history." She frowned and leaned down to peer at the display closer.

"Hey, there's one missing." Xander pointed to an empty spot in the case, marked by a card. "'Ceremonial Chumash daggar,'" he read aloud. "What's a Chumash?"

"The Native American tribe that was in this area before being wiped out by the Europeans."

"Really? I didn't know there were Indians here. I wonder where the daggar went." Xander looked around the area beside the case, then at the professor's desk. He didn't see it lying around anywhere.

"Maybe something big, fuzzy and cranky took it and used it to cut off the professor's ear then kill her?" Willow suggested.

"Maybe. We should check to see if she had any pictures of it. In case we run into two big, fuzzy, cranky things, we can pick the one carrying the Chumash dagger."

They dug through the professor's papers and books, finding not only a picture of the dagger, but an entire book on the Chumash tribe. Willow borrowed it 'for the duration', then they left to go back to the apartment and meet Buffy and Giles and find out what everyone had learned, and to see if anyone had located a big, fuzzy, cranky thing that smelled like turkey.

~~~~~

It was easy to fall back into his old Scooby habits. It surprised Xander, a little, to discover that he *had* to fall back into it. Working with Buffy and Willow and Giles wasn't anything like working with Angel and the others. He'd known that when he'd started helping out at the agency, but he hadn't realised just how used he'd become to how Angel did things. Granted, Angel and Buffy did have one thing in common: their work style.

They both preferred to hit first and let others figure out what they'd just thumped.

But after just two days, Xander found himself back in the easy, laid-back life-style of a Slayer Scoob, up to and including calling a time-out in the fight to save the world, to serve dinner. He still wasn't entirely OK with sharing his holiday with Giles, but he wasn't sorry to be spending more time with his friends. Even if his friends were insane.

Giles was dividing his time between research, joining in Buffy's argument with Willow about European Imperialism, and watching with barely concealed unease Buffy's cooking attempts in the kitchen. Xander was trying to stay out of the way without looking like he was trying to stay out of the way. If anyone thought he wasn't busy, he'd get sent to the store for butter. Then eggs. Then cranberry sauce, then whatever else it was Buffy discovered they were missing. He was currently setting the table, taking as much time as humanly possible to put plates down and arrange forks.

At one point, Willow followed Buffy into the kitchen to continue making her point and Giles and him were left alone momentarily. "Remind me again why I thought this was a good idea," Giles asked with some humor.

"Because Buffy asked, and you couldn't say 'no'?" Xander replied quietly so Buffy wouldn't overhear.

Giles sighed. "You'd think I would know better."

Xander raised an eyebrow. "Because then you'd have been able to say 'no'?" He wondered if Giles was working too hard on researching this Chumash thing and forgotten the last three years of interacting with Buffy.

"Well, yes, I..." He trailed off. "Actually, I would've still caved. I just would've known I was caving."

Xander patted him on the arm and said consolingly, "You knew you were caving when she asked."

"I know this isn't the Thanksgiving you had planned..."

"Actually, other than the big fuzzy cranky thing not showing up yet, this is exactly what I had planned." Xander grinned.

Giles raised an eyebrow. "Buffy cooking and Willow pontificating?"

Xander waved a hand dismissively and continued setting down forks, slowly. "I always plan on the unexpected. So far, the only expected thing to happen is the big fuzzy cranky thing... which hasn't happened yet," he added. Xander frowned. "Which is unexpected."

"Which would therefore make it expected?" Giles asked, eyes glinting with humor.

"I'm detecting a flaw in my logic," Xander admitted. Then he blinked as something flashed past him. "Was that an arrow?"

Another thudded into the back of the chair right beside Giles' head. Diving off the seat and behind the dubious cover of the table, Giles answered calmly, "Yes, I believe it was."

"Does anyone else remember Willow saying that the Chumash were all dead?" Xander asked, ducking down next to Giles. He heard Buffy shouting, so at least she was on top of things. Or aware of them, which was enough for Xander at the moment. "Can dead Indians shoot arrows?"

Giles lifted his head to look over their makeshift barrier and just as quickly ducked again when another arrow almost hit him. "Apparently so."

"Think the arrows are ghosts?" Xander asked, as an arrow hit with a solid thunk into the chair beside him, and he stared at the shaft. "Guess not."

Giles pulled him back further under cover. "We need to get to the weapons chest."

Xander looked over, across the room, to the weapons chest. There were arrows flying through the air between them and it. "I think we need to hide until Buffy rescues us."

Another arrow hit the wall, nicking Giles' arm and drawing blood. "Ah, perhaps you're right," he admitted.

Xander grabbed Giles' arm and pulled it over, trying to ignore the frantic feeling of wanting to shove Giles in a closet until the Indians were gone. The wound was just barely a scratch, but Xander gave him a dirty glare regardless. "Stay under cover," he scolded.

"We need to--" Giles began, but then got a good look at Xander's face. "--stay under cover," he finished, voice slightly softer.

"Good plan," Xander agreed.

There was a new thump behind him, and he spun around without screaming. Buffy just looked back. "Are you guys all right?"

"Just peachy, We're discussing whether or not to put out salad forks. Does anyone really use those anymore?"

"Can we focus on our uninvited guests?" Giles asked, just as a loud roar drew all their attention to the front door -- or where the front door used to be. A large, angry grizzly was standing in the gap.

"Xander, I believe we've found your big, fuzzy cranky thing."

Xander blinked. "Who made the bear?" he asked, faintly. He sniffed. "Turkey's gonna be done soon."

Buffy's face screwed up in rage. "That does it. No one is ruining *my* dinner!" She dove out in a flurry of violence, attacking the bear.

Xander peeked over, and saw Willow hiding in the kitchen. He looked back at Giles. "You think we'll be able to watch the football game?"

Giles looked pained and not, Xander knew, because of his minor injury. "Must you?"

"What do you mean, must *I*?" Xander didn't quite pout, because Giles was being distracted by keeping an eye out for arrows.

"It's not real football. It's not even real rugby for that matter."

"We have to watch football!" Xander peeked out to see if Buffy needed help. She seemed to be kicking butt. Xander leaned back under cover.

"Americans," Giles muttered under his breath.

"Uncivilized prat," Xander retorted.

"*I'm* an uncivilised prat?" Giles repeated, shooting him a disbelieving look.

"No football on Thanksgiving? It's... it's..." Xander realised his comeback was going to be unbelievably lame, but he said it anyway. "Un-American." He peeked again, and saw Willow throwing dinner rolls to distract the bear.

"I believe that was my point." Giles frowned as a roll bounced off the bear's nose. "A food fight? Is that tradition as well?"

"Around here? Of course." Xander looked up on the table, but only saw silverware and plates. Giles would kill him if he broke the plates -- unless absolutely necessary -- so he grabbed up some forks and knives. Giles reached over and laid a hand on top of his, stopping him. "That's the good silver."

"Wha--? Oh. Should I use the chair, instead?"

"I'm not sure if that's particularly feasible..." Giles' eyes lit on the large carving knife that had been laid on the table and he reached for it.

"You know, social services would never have let you adopt me if they knew you encouraged me to play with sharp knives." Then Xander realised Giles wasn't handing the knife over. "Hey! Where's mine?"

Giles looked down at the knife then back up at him. "There's only one."

"I want a knife," Xander whined, and ducked back out of the flight path of another arrow.

"I'll put it on your Christmas list." Giles had gotten to his feet and looked like he was bracing himself to dive out into the fray.

Xander grabbed his arm and yanked him sideways, as an arrow bounced off the edge of the table.

Offbalance, Giles almost fell on him. "Xander--" He stopped as he saw the arrow.

"You stay here where you won't get punctuated. I'll go stab the bear." Xander reached for the knife.

Giles moved it away from his reach. "It's my knife."

"Oh that is *so* kindergarten. You're not going out there since you can't seem to stay *out* of the way!" Xander yanked on Giles' arm again, pulling him back before he could get skewered again.

"I'll have you know that I've been doing this sort of thing for longer than you've been alive."

"So? This means you're suddenly impervious to arrows?"

"No less than you are," Giles pointed out, gesturing with the knife.

"But I'm a smaller target," Xander said, stealing one of Spike's lines from the times they'd had this exact same argument.

"Not that much smaller. You're barely an inch shorter than I am."

"But I'm worth fewer points. Look, I promise -- I'll go out, stab the bear, and be right back. You'll hardly know I'm gone."

Giles frowned. "Did you argue this much when you lived here?"

"No, because you let me do whatever I wanted."

The frown deepened. "I did not! You actually listened when I told you to do something."

"Are you kidding? Giles -- do you remember living with me? Or did you hit your head on something? I was a teenager. When do teenagers ever do what they're told?"

"I didn't say you did everything I told you to do. I just said you *listened*."

"Oh. OK, you have a point. But only because I can't disprove it -- if I wasn't listening, I wouldn't know you'd said something." Xander tried to reach for the knife again, more surreptiously this time.

Giles' other hand closed around his wrist. "No."

"Fine. Then throw it from here."

"Throw it?" Giles blinked.

"Throw it. Big, fuzzy, cranky thing -- you can't miss it. Miss Buffy, though, she's still fighting it. And you can stay under here, away from the arrows."

Giles frowned and then turned the knife in his hands, judging its balance. "It really isn't a throwing knife..."

"Let me see," Xander said, taking the knife from him.

It was definitely top heavy and would probably be nearly impossible to aim over any but the shortest of distances. Xander looked at the bear -- much too far away, and Buffy really was too close to it to risk throwing it. Xander changed his grip on the handle, and scooted forward so he could run over and stab it.

Until a hand closed over his shoulder and yanked him back, out of the path of another arrow. "Didn't we just have this discussion?" Giles asked.

"No. We had the conversation where I explained why *you* were not going out to get shot." Xander tried giving him a dirty glare.

It bounced off Giles' British look of resolve. "Neither are you."

"But I have the knife," Xander said reasonably.

"No."

"Um, yes, I do." Xander held it up -- but out of Giles' reach.

"No, you're not going out there," Giles clarified.

"But I have the knife," Xander repeated.

"And I have you."

"But you have to let me go, so I can go help Buffy."

"Buffy is just fine, thanks for asking." Xander and Giles both looked up to see Buffy and Willow standing over the table looking down at them.

Xander blinked. He looked past her, and didn't see any large bears. "Um. Uh?"

"The Slayer made with the slayage." She smiled at them, eyes glinting with humor. "You can come out now."

"Where'd the bear go? And the Indians?" Xander crawled out, knife still in hand, and looked around.

"Buffy stabbed the bear with the ceremonial Chumash dagger and they all disappeared," Willow explained. "You must've missed it while you were arguing over who got to help."

"Yes, well..." Giles looked embarrassed as he made his own way out, obviously trying to maintain whatever dignity he had left. "Good show, Buffy. I knew you could do it."

"They all disappeared? The arrows are still here, though." Xander pointed, then set down the knife he'd pointed with.

"Don't look at me." She shrugged. "As long as they're not flinging themselves through the air trying to end up buried in someone's chest, I'm cool with the arrows."

Xander tried to ignore the number of arrows concentrated in the chairs Giles had been hiding behind. "So, bear's gone?" he asked, feeling insanely relieved.

"Yes," Buffy nodded and repeated the words slowly. "Bear gone."

"Great! We should eat." Xander bounced once, then caught sight of Giles' arm. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten -- so he grabbed Giles' arm to inspect the wound. "First we take care of this," he said, sternly.

"It's just a scratch," Giles protested even as the two girls also gathered around with sudden worried expressions. "I'm fine, really."

"It doesn't look like a scratch," Buffy said.

"Yes, it does," Willow countered.

"It's bleeding," Xander pointed out, and tugged Giles towards the bathroom. Giles continued to sputter protests but went along willingly enough.

Xander pulled him to the bathroom -- pausing only to give Buffy a scowl, as she tried to follow them in. "I can take care of this."

Buffy looked like she was going to argue, when Willow took *her* by the arm. "Come on, Buffy. We need to check on the turkey."

A look of panic crossed Buffy's face. "It better not be ruined..." She headed for the kitchen, Willow behind her.

Xander just kept his grip on Giles. He gave him a scowl, as well, for good measure.

"It really is just a scratch," Giles reiterated.

"Oh, I can see how just a scratch it is. It's *bleeding*. It looks like it's half an inch *deep*," Xander snapped at him, pushing the bathroom door open and dragging Giles inside.

Giles opened his mouth to protest, but shut it again without saying anything when he saw Xander's expression. Xander pushed him over to sit on the closed toilet seat, then went to dig around in the cabinet. They had a fully stocked first-aid kit, as always, that Xander pulled out. He considered, then finally rejected anything more involved than hydrogen-peroxide to clean it, and gauze to bandage it.

Giles meanwhile had pulled off his shirt without being asked and was now sitting watching Xander gather supplies. Xander turned, and had to force himself to not look, not think, not react. He gave his brain a swift, very hard kick, and looked nowhere else but the injury on Giles' arm.

He set the gauze down, and began to daub at the wound with a soaked cotton ball.

Giles watched him work, wincing slightly. "Xander?"

"Yeah?" He tried to be careful as he cleaned the wound, without disturbing any of the clotting that had already begun.

"Are *you* all right?"

"Not a scratch on me," Xander said blithely. At least if there was, he hadn't felt it. He threw the cotton ball away and unwrapped the gauze pad.

"That wasn't what I meant," Giles said softly.

"Huh? You mean - do I mind seeing you try to turn yourself into a pincushion?"

"Well, I wouldn't have exactly put it that way..."

"Ah. Do I mind if you try to get yourself filled with arrows?" Xander asked, trying to push away the harsh sarcastic tone that seemed to have crawled into his voice. It was that or screaming at him, Xander knew. Grabbing him and making him promise to not get himself killed.

"Or that way, either," Giles murmured a bit dryly.

"How would you put it? Am I all right with the way my Thanksgiving holiday has turned out to be typically Hellmouthy? That, I don't mind so much," he admitted. He finished bandaging Giles' arm, and paused. Then he launched himself forward and wrapped his arms around Giles. "You don't get to die, you know that?"

Giles' arms immediately wrapped around him. "I shall do my best to stay alive," he promised.

Xander sniffed, and tightened his hug. "You're supposed to tell me I'm overreacting," he said in a small voice, once he could trust himself to speak.

"Perhaps just a bit." He could hear the smile in Giles' voice.

"Prat," he mumbled.

"You've become awfully fond of that word."

Xander realised just *how* he'd picked the word up, and was glad he had his face buried against Giles' shoulder. "I've been watching BBC America," he stammered. It wasn't actually a lie, but he couldn't actually recall if 'Eastenders' used the word 'prat' that much.

"Ah. I think, as names go, I prefer 'Dad' or 'Giles' or perhaps even 'G-Man.'"

Xander smiled. "I can do that. Dad."

"Oh, that is *so* cute? Aren't they cute?" they heard Willow ask.

Giles pulled back and stared at the closed door. "Did you need something?"

"We wanted to tell you dinner's about ready," Buffy replied.

"After you eavesdropped for a few minutes?" Giles asked.

"Well, how else would we know when it's safe to interrupt?" Willow demanded.

"Knocking comes to mind." He still hadn't made any move to release Xander or pull away.

"Oh. Buffy? Did we forget to knock?"

Xander laughed. "Should we go join them for dinner?" He didn't really want to let go -- but hugging Giles in the bathroom wasn't *supposed* to be the whole focus of Thanksgiving day dinner.

"Are you all right?" Giles asked, pitching his voice low enough that it wouldn't carry through the door.

Xander paused, thinking it over seriously for a moment. Then he nodded. "I'm all right. Just -- don't get injured again. Ever." He smiled.

"I'll do my best," Giles replied solemnly.

Xander hugged him hard, and swift-kicked that impulse in his brain that said to kiss him, and stood up fast. "OK, OK, we're coming out!"

Giles picked up his shirt and then grimaced as he took in the tear and blood on it. "I think I best go change before dinner."

"Good idea." Xander glanced, then looked away quickly. He headed for the door, and frowned when he pulled it open to reveal Willow and Buffy standing there.

"Hello," Willow said in a bright tone.

Giles came up behind Xander. "And you are still standing here because...?"

"Because... um..." Willow's voice trailed off.

"Because we want to make sure you're all right?" Buffy offered.

"I am fine," Giles replied with all of his considerable dignity. "It was barely a scratch."

"Which is why you've been shut up in the bathroom for ten minutes?"

Now Xander felt guilty -- as well as self-conscious. The only retort he could think of was one of Spike's lamest ones. "Shut up!" Fortunately, Willow was used to him being lame. She just grinned.

But Giles surprisingly -- or perhaps not -- came to his rescue, with a polite cough and a sheepish expression. "All right, perhaps a *deep* scratch..."

Xander decided to go for the supreme comeback, and stuck his tongue out at Willow.

"If everybody's through," Buffy put in, "dinner's going to get cold if we don't eat soon."

"I'm not through," Xander countered. He pointed at Willow. "She's gonna hit me," he whined at Buffy.

"He stuck his tongue out at me!" Willow said quickly. Then she thumped Xander on the arm.

"Moooom! She's hitting me!" Xander tried to get Buffy inbetween him and Willow.

Buffy looked at them both and then did a credible imitation of the eye roll that Xander had thought was exclusively Giles'. "If you ruin this dinner, I'll hit both of you."

"Hey, you wanted a traditional thanksgiving," Xander told her as he followed Willow down the hallway. "Turkey, mashed potatoes, and kids fighting. All we need now is football."

From the other end of the hallway where Giles was, heading to his room to get a clean shirt, he heard quite clearly, "Americans."

~~~~~

Xander looked at his bags, and counted. Had he arrived with this many? They hadn't gone shopping, he was fairly sure he'd have remembered. Well, they'd gone to the grocery store where Xander had picked up a couple of non-perishables. But not a whole bag's worth.

Right?

He counted the bags again and frowned. Should he unpack, and check? Maybe he'd accidentally stolen a few books off Giles' shelves -- other than the one he'd meant to borrow. He took a step towards the bags, half-intending to unpack everything and re-pack, then stopped himself. The bags weren't really the problem.

Xander knew he was just putting this off. It was nearly eight o'clock, and if he wanted to get back at anything like a decent hour -- forget getting sleep, of course, with Spike waiting there for him -- he'd have to leave soon.

Giles appeared at his bedroom door. "All packed?"

"I think I'm over-packed. Didn't I have only two bags when I got here?" He re-counted the bags again, anyhow, knowing full well it was just a delaying tactic. He *did* have more bags than he'd brought. There was his clothes duffel, and his backpack -- full of homework he hadn't got very much of done, at all, despite spending all yesterday afternoon working on it at Giles' behest.

"Unless you snuck some in when my back was turned." Giles looked down at the pile at the foot of Xander's bed. "Ah," he said, knowingly.

"Ah? What ah?" Xander looked and only saw the same number of too-many bags.

"The 'multiplying possessions' dilemma."

"You can see how I got more bags?"

Giles spread his hands. "You packed more things."

Xander folded his arms. "I did *not* pack more things. Not *that* much, anyway," he added doubtfully at he looked at the bags.

"Someone did. And it wasn't me." Giles moved to sit on Xander's bed, with an air of amusement so strong it was almost visible.

"I bet it was," Xander accused. "Sneaking in here and putting stuff in my bags while I wasn't looking so I'll have to come back next weekend to return it." He waggled his finger at Giles.

Actually, it didn't sound like a bad idea. Unfortunately, Giles was giving him a look.

"Don't look at me in that tone of voice," Xander scolded. "You snuck stuff in here and you know it. I bet if I open that bag, I'll find stuff I don't own." He pointed to the bag he was sure wasn't one he'd brought up from LA.

"Since I believe that's where you put the books you borrowed off me, you're quite correct."

Xander opened his mouth, then shut it. Then he looked down at the bag again. OK, possibly Giles was right about that one. "I'm gonna give 'em back."

Giles smiled faintly, still amused. "Did I ever say you weren't going to?"

"Well, no. But you sometimes hint at it, when you call down to have me look something up for you in something you don't have anymore. Or when you mention that you've ordered a second copy and I should just keep the one I have, or ask me if I've finished it yet or -- can I take the Rudders Dictionary?" He'd been eyeing it all week, and had nearly picked it up, twice. He'd talked himself out of it, mainly because there wasn't room in his bags.

"Ahhh..." Giles got up and headed for the bedroom door. "Wait here."

Xander frowned at the doorway, as Giles left. Then he realised what Giles was probably doing, and jumped over his bags without tripping himself up and hurried after him.

Giles stopped when he realized that Xander was following him. "Did 'wait here' suddenly change meaning to 'follow me'?" he asked, the corners of his eyes crinkling up in amusement.

"Since when do I ever listen to you?" But Xander stopped in the hallway. "You don't have to give me your copy. I was just joking. Er, mostly."

Giles just smiled at him. "Go back to your room. Wait there."

Startled, Xander didn't move. Then he asked, Why can't I go with you to the living room where the books live?"

"Because I asked you to wait in your room?"

Xander pouted. "I know where the bookcases are." Then he gave Giles a suspicious look. "Why can't I come?"

Giles just stood there and Looked at him.

He pouted harder. "Daaaaaaad!"

Giles crossed his arms, and raised an eyebrow.

"You are such a meanie." Xander stomped his foot, for emphasis. He started to turn, then stopped. "Why exactly can't I see? You're just going to get your copy of the book. Aren't you?"

Patiently, Giles said, "The sooner you go wait, the sooner you'll find out."

Xander grumbled and turned around, going back to his room. He was tempted to peek his head back out but knew as soon as he did, Giles would be standing there waiting for him to do so.

A few moments later Giles returned, handing him a bookshaped package wrapped in Christmas paper.

"Where were you hiding this?" Xander jumped forward, trying to remember where exactly Giles had been headed. The locked cabinet beside the record player? The locked shelves at the bottom of the second set of bookshelves? The linen closet?

Did they have a linen closet?

"If I had wanted you to know that, I wouldn't have asked you to wait here." Giles handed him the package.

"You are *so* mean. Wait-- it's November. You already have my Christmas presents? And you hid them even though I'm not here to look for them not that it ever did me any good anyhow? Where do you hide them, Buffy's house?"

"Yes, Xander," Giles said patiently, "I ran over to Buffy's house and back in the last minute."

"You might have," Xander said sternly. In four years he had *never* figured out where Giles hid his presents. He'd even asked Willow to help him do a locator spell, but she'd given him the sad-puppy look and made him promise not to try it on his own.

Giles gestured at the package. "Are you going to open it?"

"Well, duh." Xander tore the paper off. And found -- a copy of Rudders dictionary. Xander stared at the book in his hands. "You... bought me one?"

"You've been eyeing my copy acquisitively since before you left for school."

Xander looked instantly cute and innocent. "Maybe?"

Giles just smiled at him. "Look inside."

Xander opened the front of the book, and stopped. There, written in Giles' neat handwriting, were the words, "To Xander. You'll always be welcome to borrow from my library but this is to help you build your own. Love, Dad"

Xander read it twice, before closing the book. He rubbed at his nose even as he was diving forward to take Giles in a hug. Giles wordlessly wrapped his arms around him in return.

"I love you too," Xander said quietly.

"I know."

He shifted, guiltily.

"Xander?" Giles asked softly.

"I... um... there'sanotherbookIwant."

Giles chuckled softly. "You're going to need another bag at this rate."

"I have the whole truckbed," Xander reminded him. "Or -- you could just take me to a bookstore next time you come to Los Angeles."

"And that would make it different than my other visits, how?" Giles teased.

"You'd bring more cash this time?"

"That might be dangerous."

Xander gave him a touch of a pout. "Don't you love me?" He knew he was going to get eyes rolled at him -- but that was almost as good as getting books.

He got the obligatory eye roll and Giles asking, "You wouldn't be trying to guilt me would you?"

"Would that work?"

"Has it before?"

"Um. Every single time?" Xander admitted.

"Oh." Giles was silent for a minute, obviously thinking back. "I suppose there's a certain amount of truth to that..."

"Every *single* time," Xander teased. "I have so got you wrapped around my little finger." He winked. "I'm spoiled rotten."

Giles gave him an assessing look, as if weighing the facts.

Xander looked back as innocently as he could. As though it could possibly be *his* fault, he was spoiled rotten? At least where Giles, his grandmum and grandda, and possibly Uncle Percy and a handful of others were concerned?

"If you're spoiled rotten..." Giles began slowly, "that would be something I should try and change, should I not?"

Xander didn't pout. Yet. Instead, he held out his hands to Giles. Before Giles could figure out what he was supposed to do about this, Xander said clearly and demandingly, "Books."

Giles lifted an eyebrow and gave him what Xander had mentally termed the "Parent" Look. "Manners?"

Xander scowled, then stomped his foot and said in his best two-year-old's voice, "Books *now*."

Giles' eyes narrow. "You're not too old to be grounded."

"Um, and if you ground me do I have to stay here?" Xander suddenly grinned. "And you'll have to write my teachers a note, saying I can't come back to LA for two weeks."

"You think I won't?"

"Please, oh please don't make me stay home and miss class," Xander said, as tonelessly as he could manage without laughing.

"You wouldn't miss class," Giles replied, expression totally serious. "Or, more precisely, you wouldn't miss the work. The actual going to class bit you would miss."

"You're mean," Xander told him. "You're a big... meanie."

"Is that the best you can do?"

"You're big stupid head meanie."

Giles chuckled. "If you say so."

"I do. But I forget why."

"I believe it was because you were being grounded."

Xander waved a hand. He remembered *that* far back. "No, I mean before that. When you were offering to buy me more books, and I was saying... mmm..." He tried to think back past the part about the books.

"You were spoiled rotten?" Giles offered.

"Why would I be calling you a big stupid meanie head because I'm spoiled rotten?"

"Because I said I should try and change that." Giles' eyes were sparkling with humor though he maintained his deadpan expression.

Xander carefully mouthed the words Giles had just spoken. Then he did it again. Finally, he shook his head. "I must need more language classes, because I don't have a clue what you just said."

"You did a moment ago if the impersonation of a two year old's tantrum was anything clue."

"I was reacting to your tone of voice."

Crossing his arms, Giles tilted his head in a way that projected skepticism. "I see."

Xander tried thinking of a good response, but all that came to mind was, "Yeah." After a second, he added, "So there."

"You know, this has got to truly be the oddest argument I've ever had."

"Hasn't."

"No?" Giles' eyebrow went up again.

Xander sighed. "You're supposed to say 'has so'. We can't argue properly if you don't."

"Only if we're arguing like the aforementioned two year olds."

"No, *I'm* the two year old. You have to be at least four. Because otherwise we'd just hit each other with our toy cars and go our separate ways."

"Yes," Giles agreed, "that would be a problem as I don't have a toy car."

"Me, either." Xander knew this was an incredibly silly discussion they were having. But it was better than taking his bags to the car.

He realised he wasn't exactly smiling anymore, as he stepped over his luggage and grabbed himself a hug. He found himself instantly enfolded in one of Giles' warm embraces. "Is this what all this was about?" Giles asked softly.

"No, I just..." He didn't think he should say what he'd just thought. But he did anyway. "I wish I hadn't come. Because it's too hard to leave."

The arms around him tightened reflexively.

"I know I should just... go." But he couldn't.

"I could still ground you?" Giles offered after a moment, voice suspiciously rough.

"Yeah. For a couple months, just til spring semester begins."

"I can keep you locked in your room."

"Oo, kinky," Xander said, though not as lightly as he probably should have responded to that sort of thing from Giles.

There was a brief pause before Giles replied in kind, "No, kinky would be if I got out the chains."

Xander tried very hard not to think about the fact that Giles would even say such a thing, much less to him, then he leaned back. "I am so glad I did not hear you say that back when you could still ground me."

Giles didn't say anything, just hugged him tighter. Xander rested in the embrace for as long as he could. Then, when he figured that he was a second away from saying he really *would* stay, he leaned back again. Giles smiled at him, with a mixture of sadness and pride, and loosened his hold.

He had to stop himself from tightening his own grip in the face of that, and told himself he was being stupid. Giles would be here. He could go, and finish the semester, and come home for winter break. Giles would still be here.

"You'll still be here?" slipped out anyhow.

"As long as I draw breath, I'll be here for you."

"You can draw?" Xander said in a tone of surprise. Forced, hell yeah. Because the other option was diving back into Giles' arms and finishing his degree by correspondence.

"Nothing much more than breath I can't." Warm green eyes were watching him knowingly.

"Heh." Xander grinned. Suddenly, he felt better. Not good -- good would mean staying home. But -- this was OK. Felt kinda like he could leave.

"Do you need any help...?"

"You can carry stuff to the truck," Xander said, taking clear advantage of the offer by pointing to the heavier bag.

Giles looked at it, but made no move to pick it up. "Isn't that the bag that ended up with all the books you're taking?"

"I don't remember?" Xander grinned again, forcing the cute look and trying to feel OK.

Not dignifying that with a reply, Giles walked past the book-laden bag, picking up instead the other one. "You're younger than I am. You carry the heavy one."

"But you're the dad! You're supposed to carry heavy stuff."

"Oh?"

"It's in the contract you signed." Xander nodded, seriously.

"What contract is that?" Giles had started for the door with the lighter of the two bags.

"The one you signed in the judge's office! That gave me to you. I'm pretty sure it says something about carrying heavy stuff." Xander picked up the second bag, and headed after him.

Giles shook his head. "Taking full financial and moral responsibility for you, yes. Carry heavy things, no."

Xander pouted. Then he stopped. "Moral responsibility?"

"A responsibility that goes beyond any legalities to see you are provided for physically and emotionally," Giles elaborated.

"Oh. I thought you meant -- responsible for teaching me morals." Xander grinned. "I was wondering when that was going to start."

Giles smiled. "That would fall under providing for you emotionally."

"Oh." He waited a moment, as they headed towards the front door. "And when were you gonna start that?"

"I've been indoctrinating you when you weren't looking," Giles replied deadpan.

"What?" Xander exclaimed, nearly letting go the bag he was holding. "What did you do to me?" he demanded. "Am I gonna stop stealing beer from convenience stores?"

Stopping, Giles turned to look at him. "I trust you are joking."

Blinking, Xander managed an not-so-innocent look. "It was only once."

Giles Looked at him.

Xander looked back. "What?" He managed just the right tone of 'really don't want to tell you this' seriousness.

"Xander..."

"I shouldn't have said that, huh?" Ten more seconds and he was gonna laugh, and it'd be over. But now, for a few more seconds he had Giles honestly not sure.

"You really do want me to ground you, don't you?"

OK, less than ten seconds. Xander grinned again. "Maybe. But now you'll never know if I was telling the truth or not. Because you don't know when it might have been, or why I was stealing beer."

"I do know," Giles replied, suddenly serious. "Because I know you."

Xander frowned. That was really not fair. He saw Giles start to smile, knowing he'd caught Xander out, so Xander added, "Well, it was only when I had to." Because he *had* stolen beer, before, for his Uncle Rory. Years ago, before he'd ever had any morals from Giles.

The way Giles was suddenly looking at him, all concern and worry, made him wonder what his face must look like. If he played this right, he could get... well, whatever he could get just by asking, anyway. He opted to look woeful, and say, "And I actually *drank* one once, and thought I was gonna die. When I was seven."

"Too bad you didn't remember that when you went to that party," Giles said dryly.

Gaping, a little surprised Giles would joke about it, Xander turned the astonishment into a wounded look. "It was cheap beer!"

"And that's supposed to make it *better*?"

"Um--" Xander stopped. He had no idea.

Giles just looked at him, waiting for an answer.

"Yes." He nodded. No clue what he was saying, or agreeing to, really. He'd lost the original point of the conversation, other than that Giles should have been carrying the heavy bag of books out to his truck and that the longer he talked the longer he'd be not leaving yet.

But if he set the bag down and refused to take it out himself, Giles might just shrug and say Xander didn't *have* to borrow the books.

"When you turn 21, I will have to introduce you to proper English beer," Giles told him primly, as he opened the door and led the way outside, pointedly not carrying the bag of books.

"Really?" Xander grinned. Told himself not to mention that Spike drank proper imported English ale with his buffalo wings and deep fried onion bloom.

"That would fall back on my moral responsibility -- to make sure you have a proper cultural grounding."

"Cool! You're the best adoptive parent a guy could have." He bounced sideways a bit, to bump into Giles and give him a sort of no-armed hug. "But don't English kids get to drink beer before they're 21?"

"This isn't England," Giles pointed out.

"But aren't I English?"

"By adoption. But this isn't England."

Xander pouted.

"Pouting at me isn't going to change the law," Giles chided him as they stopped beside Xander's truck.

"But if I'm English, I should be able to have a English beer." Xander fished out his keys, and made no move to unlock the door.

"In England."

Xander jangled his keys. "You're going to tell me we can't go to England to have a beer. Like, for Christmas break or something."

"Well not England and Disneyland, both."

"Disneyland or beer. I don't see the fair, here." Xander pouted again.

Giles smiled at him. "No one said life was fair."

Xander thought about it seriously, for a moment. He knew he ought to be going. Get in his truck and say goodbye again and drive home. Back to LA.

For now he thought about it -- Disneyland or England? Mickey Mouse versus beer and grandparents.

"Xander? Would you rather go to England?"

"Um. Maybe. I don't know," he answered, seriously. "We haven't seen grandmum and granda for awhile. And -- legal beer."

"I'm hoping the temptation is little more the former than the latter," Giles said dryly.

"Bookstores?" Xander hefted the bag of books, and opened the truck door to sling them inside.

Giles chuckled. "Do you have any room left?"

"I can get a bigger flat." Xander shrugged.

"You're going to have to at this rate."

"And bookshelves," Xander said, leadingly.

"Which you won't need until you have somewhere to put them."

He almost said 'and someone to set them up' -- inviting Giles to invite himself down. But it occurred to him as he didn't say it that he'd rather have Spike help. Spike would find weird, one-of-a-kind, probably antique bookcases that had carved goblins or naked dancing fish on them. But he wasn't sure what else he could say to show he meant Giles, other than 'someone to buy them' and that sounded cheap, and crass.

He went for a hug, instead. Giles gave it willingly, wrapping his arms around him and holding tightly.

Xander didn't want to go. This far, out to the truck and half loaded to go -- he didn't want to.

"I... Would you like to have some lunch before you go?" Giles asked softly.

Xander smiled and set down his bags. "Yeah. I would."


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