Sandy Places in the Heart

Part Two

He ducked, one hand splayed against brief contact with the ground -- for balance more than to stop a fall. All his weight was still on his legs, even sideways and moving as he was. The other hand held the stake; he threw himself forwards, underneath the swiping arm of the outraged vampire, and spun to his feet again. One short jab, point out, and he was faced with an exploding cloud of dust.

A quick glance sent him running for Willow; Buffy was happily fighting off two vamps, Willow was ducking behind a tree. The vampire pursuing her was thwarted by the cross she held out; thwarted but still moving, and therefore not acceptable.

Xander leapt over a partially opened -- from the inside -- grave, and slammed his hand down. The stake, still fresh in his hand, sent the vampire following its friend into billowing scattered atoms.

"Thanks," Willow said, coming out from behind the tree. They both looked in Buffy's direction, but it was clear the Slayer had everything under control. "She's good."

"Yeah, she's all right. But the Chinese are the team to beat this year." Xander and Willow walked closer to the clearing where Buffy was holding her own against the two Oriental vamps.

"They're not a threat. They lose too many style points."

"Style points? Will, how can you say that?" He gestured at the vampires who were taking turns hitting the ground. "Look at that! Not everyone can belly-flop into the dirt with such finesse." He grinned at Buffy, as the Slayer took a brief moment to let her friends know exactly what she thought of their assistance.

Xander jumped up to sit on a gravestone, Willow sat beside him. "Too derivative. Belly flops are so cliche."

"Cliche? I prefer to think of them as classic. This is a traditional sport, remember."

"Traditional shouldn't mean unchanging. I mean that move you did over the grave is original. Stuff like that should count for extra."

"Oh, it does. I'm not saying *I* didn't score a lot of points. I'm just saying Buffy's opponents are--" One of said opponents suddenly burst into dust. Xander and Willow immediately clapped -- golf clap, and Xander said, "Oh, very nice, lovely. Did you see the dispersal pattern of the ash?"

"Yeah, he certainly finished strong."

"He?" Buffy exclaimed. She dragged the last vampire, struggling futilely in her grip, over to where her friends were sitting. "*He* finished strong? Excuse me, who's slaying who around here?"

Xander waved a hand. "Well, slay already. I've already done mine -- and Willow's. The least you could do is finish yours."

"We already know what your score is going to be," Willow added. "They were the ones we had to evaluate."

Buffy gave them both a look of digusted disbelief and quickly staked the last vampire. Xander and Willow hopped down, grinning. Xander asked, "Who's up for a slice of pizza?"

He wasn't sure what made him look -- nor what instinct made him merely continue moving his gaze from Buffy to Willow without any indication he'd seen. But the flash of white was unmistakable. It could have been a lot of things, but Xander knew what it was. Who it
was.

Spike.

The vampire was watching him, stalking him even. He knew it wasn't just some random passing blond-white headed stranger, because this was the third such time he'd looked up and seen, off in the distance, that very same thing. He'd had time to ponder and wonder and replay the image in his head until he knew.

Not why. But who, at least. He saw Buffy begin to narrow her eyes and look around. He elbowed her arm, casually, slightly. "Pizza?" He didn't ask himself why he was hiding Spike's presence from the Slayer. Unless he just wanted to know what this game was about
before anyone but he ended it.

"With mushrooms and green peppers?" Willow asked.

"Both!" He draped an arm over each girl's shoulder, guiding them towards the Gilesmobile, parked at the edge of the cemetary.

Away from Spike.

~~~~~

Saturday. Begged off sparring with Buffy, which was fine because Giles wanted to work with her on her aim with a variety of flung weapons. Willow was off with someone she'd met a few weeks before, somewhere on what she couldn't describe without blushing. Xander suspected it was a 'date'. The only reason he wasn't worried was because it was daytime. Nothing really bad ever happened during the day.

With all his friends busy, Xander had made plans of his own. Not plans, exactly; not anything more than a determination to actually do something incredibly stupid. He'd overheard a couple vampires talking at the Bronze, once -- before Buffy came over and invited them outside for a private party. They'd mentioned a vampire with an attitude and an accent, mentioned enough that Xander thought he had an idea where to look.

He still didn't know why he wanted to look. But he had a lot of questions, and Spike seemed to be the only one with the answers.

He was weighted down with all manner of weapons -- a cross and holy water, garlic bulbs and a sharpened stake. He didn't know if it would save him, but he'd survived Spike so far with less than this to protect him. Besides, somehow even at the very real prospect of going into a vampire's lair, he didn't feel afraid.

He gave the building the onceover as he approached. The factory definitely looked abandoned, looked less than inviting even in daylight. Perfect place for a vampire lair.

He climbed in through a broken window, feeling a bit of unease but still there was no fear. The inside was about what he expected, judging from the outside. Slowly he moved deeper, looking for some sign of habitation. The place looked utterly deserted; which meant nothing, really. For all he knew, Spike was simply a hideous housekeeper. Assuming, of course, he was *right* and this was--

"Well as I live and breathe," came a soft declaration, followed by a laugh. "If I did, which I don't."

For some reason he didn't jump, though there was a strange tenseness as he turned to face Spike. "Nice place, if you like desolate and decaying."

"And I do. It's in this year, don't you read VQ?" Spike -- and the only word Xander could think was 'sashayed' -- out of the shadows, towards him. Perhaps it was a trick of the... dark, making him think Spike was happy to see him. Not in a 'oh look, dinner's been delivered' sort of way.

"Why have you been following me?" Xander heard himself ask before he had consciously made the decision to.

"Following you?" Spike looked startled, an expression of confusion wisping across his face. Not more visible than the expression of surprise, which confirmed what Xander suspected. "Why would I follow you?" Spike asked causally.

"I asked you first." Inwardly he rolled his eyes; something in Spike seemed to bring out the five year old in him -- and a bratty five year old at that.

The willful look Spike gave him encouraged the thought of five year olds. "I didn't follow you."

"Well, someone who looks exactly like you has been. Do you have an evil twin I don't know about? Oh wait, maybe that should be good twin; you'd be the evil one."

For a second Xander *knew* Spike was going to stick his tongue out at him. The moment passed, thankfully, and Spike just grinned and started to walk away. "Maybe I have a twin, then. Been following you, eh? Peeking through your window and watching you in the shower, is he?"

"You tell me. Why would he want to?"

Spike gave him a very long, very obvious look up and down.

"Oh you've got to be kidding me!"

"Kidding you? About what?" Spike was walking closer, again, still looking, still looking... appreciative. "Can't a vampire have a hobby anymore?"

"I am *not* a hobby!" Xander noticed his voice was getting a bit shrill.

"No, you're not." Spike gave him a much more direct look, and his voice was-- Xander didn't want to think about his voice. "I don't much like tatting, anyway."

He grabbed Xander, and pulled him close.

~~~~~

It was dusk, just dark enough that the streetlights were only beginning to flicker on to spread harsh pools of light through the dimming light of day. Xander walked, slowly, carefully, through the streets. His body felt like something he'd bought at a dollar store -- brand new and shiny, but cheaply made. He'd break if he moved his head too far.

He didn't ask what he had done. Why he had done it. His head was empty, empty as it had been since the moment he had opened his eyes and looked at Spike. He was walking, nowhere, everywhere, and soon it would be time to go; leave the streets and find a safe haven from... But he couldn't outrun himself, now, could he?

Could he.

Not anymore. From now on, wherever he went, this *this* would be inside him.

Sometime later, when the night was slightly darker and the air slightly cooler, he found himself at his front door. He stopped before touching the doorknob. Did he want to go in? Did he dare?

Would Giles be able to tell at a glance? Would he be able to see it, smell it, feel it somehow... Or was it only Xander's own imagination that made everything seem so much more vivid?

He rested his fingers on the door and he could feel the wood, rough from years of weather and cheap, infrequent coats of varnish. There was nothing stopping him from going inside.

He opened the door.

~~~~~

There had to be, somewhere in the books of mythos, tradition, prophecy, and demon lore, something that explained how to avoid being a teenager. Or at least how to avoid screwing up your life before you could grow out of it.

Xander was lying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, lights off, music on. Exactly the perfect position for a major teen-angst brood. It was a good thing Giles hadn't gotten home yet; he'd probably want Xander to turn the music down, come out and eat dinner, chat -- act normal. Xander wasn't hungry. He didn't think he could talk, without... without saying anything.

A crack of light spilled under his closed door; Giles was home. A moment later, a knock came on his door. "Xander?"

He dragged himself up out of his morass long enough for a "Yeah?"

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, of course I'm all right." Even he could tell there was nothing convincing in his tone. But he didn't try again.

There was no answer. He figured Giles had gone away again, and felt obscurely disappointed at that. He wanted to be left alone but it would've been... nice if Giles had tried a bit harder. Ten minutes later, however, there was another knock. "Can I come in?"

"Sure." Xander rolled over and stabbed at the volume on the stereo, then sat up, drawing his knees up as Giles came in.

The librarian was carrying two bowls. "I was just getting a snack and thought you might like to join me," he said, holding out one bowl to Xander.

Xander took it, not sure he wanted to admit he wasn't hungry. The bowl was cold on his fingers; there was a large scoop of chocolate ice cream, with marshmallow sauce poured all around. "Thanks."

Giles nodded, and gestured at the edge of the bed. "Can I...?"

"Yeah, sure." Xander waved him down with the spoon, then took a large bite. It tasted... not quite like chocolate usually tasted. But it was good, and he knew in ten minutes his brain would be in the Happy Chocolate Place.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Giles asked after taking a bite of his own.

He shrugged. The answer was 'no way in hell,' but he knew better than to actually say that. Giles would look at him in that understanding way that almost but not completely hid the disappointment. But there *was* no way in hell he was going to say "I got kissed by Spike", and there was even less chance in hell he was going to say "twice".

The rest of it he wasn't going to even think about, so there wasn't any point in putting odds on saying it out loud.

Giles didn't say anything more, just sat there eating his ice cream and watching Xander. Xander concentrated on eating some more of the ice cream, and trying to decide what he could say to throw Giles off the track.

He couldn't think of anything.

"You don't have to talk if you don't want to."

Xander ate a few more bites silently, amazed at how the tension seemed to lessen. Just sitting there, not talking, not admitting anything. He glanced up at Giles. "Thanks."

"You would tell me if you were in trouble though, wouldn't you?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I mean, probably. If it weren't school related or something which you'd know about anyway." He caught a glance of his clock, and realized Giles shouldn't be here yet. "You're home early."

"Yes, well..." Giles looked a bit uncomfortable. "I phoned to check that you had gotten home and didn't get an answer."

Xander blinked. "Oh god, I'm sorry! Geez, I didn't mean to... you didn't have to... Ms. Calendar's gonna be mad at me, isn't she?"

"Actually if she's going to be upset with anyone it would be me."

"But you wouldn't have broken off your date if you hadn't -- I mean, you wouldn't have, there's no way you're that stodgy unless--" Xander dragged himself off that train of thought and tried to get back to apologizing. "I really didn't mean to worry you. Honest. But I'm here, now; you can go back out if... if you think she still would."

Giles gave him a look. "And let you get back to listening to depressing music in the dark?"

Xander shrugged, gave him a half-grin. "Well, yeah. I have to get in my weekly quota."

"Can I tempt you with something else? Seeing a movie, perhaps?"

Surprised, Xander wasn't sure what to say. "You mean, take over for Ms. Calendar? Pinch-dater stuff?" he teased, relieved that he could get out of this without Talking.

"Well, I wouldn't put it that way exactly, but I suppose that would be one way of looking at it."

Narrowing his eyes, he gave Giles a determined look. "Are you planning to try any funny stuff?" He felt his stomach clench, and tried to pretend it was only the ice cream.

"If I did, as your guardian I'd have to give myself a stern talking to."

That startled an honest laugh out of him, and the laugh brought a pleased smile onto Giles' face. The mood for brooding was quite broken, now, and Xander was glad for something more interesting to do. Then he stopped. "Um, is there any chance there's a movie playing we both wanna see?"

"This is Sunnydale. Anything is possible." Giles stood, a faint smile still on his face. "And if not, one of us will just have to fake it."

Another laugh, this time long and hard -- stress relief, Xander guessed, when he was breathing normally again. He wolfed down the last of his ice cream before grabbing his jacket and 'let's go out at night in Sunnydale' array, casually stuffing items into various pockets.

"Do you want to drive?" Giles asked as they headed for the door.

"D'uh!" Xander had his keys out. He realized he didn't have any cash left in his wallet for popcorn, and considered whether he should get into his stash or not. Asking Giles for the money would be... tacky. Well, maybe he could just sneak some candy bars in with him.

Then he realized he needed cash for his *ticket*, and went over to his peanut jar, anyhow. He hated to get into it; it was sorta the only way he could save money, never taking any out at all. But one ten wouldn't set him back by more than a month.

"What are you doing?"

Xander looked up, confused. "Popcorn, soda, ticket, goobers...?"

Giles' confused look cleared up at that. "It's my treat, Xander."

"Oh." Xander paused for only a moment before replacing the ten. "OK." It occurred to him he might have been expected to know that, and offered, "Sorry."

"It's all right. Pinch dater and all that."

"Yeah. Hey, if you buy me a big popcorn I might just let you hold my hand."

Giles looked at him. "I don't want to know what you'd do for the goobers, then."

"Clean the bathroom." Xander preceded Giles to the door, double-checking his pockets even as Giles casually did the same.

"You are a cheap date, aren't you?"

"*Your* bathroom," Xander clarified.

There was a pause before Giles said, "You know, I'm not certain how to take that."

Xander laughed. "Does this mean you're not going to buy me any goobers?"

"I suspect I could probably be worn down on the goober question."

Xander eyed him closely as they headed out. "You like goobers, don't you? You'd have gotten them anyhow."

"Well, yes."

Xander sighed, shaking his head, and muttered just loudly enough for everyone to hear, how unfair life was. Giles only chuckled.

~~~~~

He was curled up on the bed, his bedroom door closed and the window open. The night breeze was bringing in the distant sounds of traffic, and the scent of late spring. Xander raised his head to look out of the window from where he lay, when he heard his door being pushed open. Tensing, he turned.

He didn't see anyone, at first. The shadows thrown from the hallway obscured the doorway, and he could see only a large, dark blob. Then it moved again and Xander saw his father. Scrambling towards the head of the bed, Xander pushed himself up, trying to get away as his father approached.

"What the hell are you doing?" came the low, angry voice... only it wasn't his father's voice.

Xander turned, wondering where the owner of that voice was. Wondering why Giles had let his father into the apartment, at all. As the bedroom shimmered and changed, the figure moved closer, and it was no longer his father.

"Giles!" Relieved, Xander stood up -- the bed vanished with the bedroom, and he didn't think to wonder where it had gone. "What's--"

He stopped as Giles drew closer. The other man was looking at him strangely, as if seeing something he wanted, and not certain he should ask for it.

"Giles? What's up?" Xander titled his head, feeling the cold concrete beneath his bare feet.

But Giles didn't answer. Instead, he grabbed Xander by the shirt, twisting it and pulling Xander forward. Against him. Grabbed him and in that soft, unmistakable accent, said, "You're mine, you know."

Then Giles kissed him. Xander didn't move, didn't try to move forwards or away because he *knew* there was something... and he realized the figure he was kissing was shorter than Giles should be.

He opened his eyes and saw Spike. Xander grinned. This, he knew. He leaned forward and kissed the vampire again, not thinking, as he had not thought before, of what he was doing.

Gave Spike a kiss, mouth open and feeling the cold, slick tongue press briefly against his before he pushed it aside and invaded Spike's mouth, touching and tasting and taking. When Spike leant back, grinning, Xander felt the cold pit form in his stomach only a second before dream forswore reality again.

He caught a flash of a fist, then felt Spike's blow hard against his cheek. Xander jerked back, pain exploding across his face. When he looked over, Spike had changed back.

Into Giles.

Xander sat up in bed, eyes wide and seeing nothing in the darkness. He fumbled for the lampswitch at his bed, turning it on as he tried and failed to get himself under control.

A dream. Just a dream, and he'd known it was a dream... he'd had to have known it was a dream. Just like last night, though the first time he'd dreamt it, it hadn't been quite so distinct. So real. A day spent pretending nothing weird was happening had only made him think more about it, and apparently his brain wasn't going to let up.

He closed his eyes for a second, assured that there would be no falling asleep again, no accidental replays of the nightmare. For a minute he just sat there, huddled in the sheets now wrapped tightly around his legs. A glance at the clock told him it was barely past midnight -- too early to simply get up now and ensure the lack of more dreams by not being asleep. But neither was he ready to lie back down... An impulse drove him from his bed, running out of his room and into the hallway.

Where he stopped. What was he doing? Running to Giles in the middle of the night -- because of a bad dream? Despite everything Giles had done and said, Xander knew that being woken up for something like *this* was probably not something Giles had bargained
for.

He wasn't a child to be scared of the phantoms in his own mind. He was really too old to go running to the nearest parental figure for reassurance. Not that he'd been able to go to his parents even when he was a child.

But when he'd been very young, he'd gone to his grandmother. Later, when Willow had gotten a phone of her own, she'd left it under her pillow at night so he could call. But he hadn't needed midnight hand-holding for a long time. And he certainly wasn't...

He was still standing in the hallway.

If he didn't need this, he should just go right back to bed. Right? Xander glanced dubiously over his shoulder. No. He turned back towards the door to Giles' bedroom.

But neither could he...

He knew what he wanted to do. Go in and tug on Giles' arm, crawl onto his bed and get a hug. Xander could feel his face flaming red, embarrassed at the thought of even wanting it, much less considering it.

So he wasn't. Wasn't going to consider it, wasn't going to admit it because it wasn't like Giles would do anything more than peer at him, half-awake and confused, pat him on the shoulder or something and accompany him back to his room.

He'd be grumpy the next day, like he always was when his sleep was disturbed, though he'd never mention why. He wouldn't even blame Xander for it, but there might be that ever-so-subtle suggestion that next time, Xander constrain himself.

Xander took a step sideways, away from both his and Giles' doors, and slid down the wall, to sit. Drawing his knees up, he wrapped his arms around his legs and stared at the blank wall in front of him.

An hour before dawn, Xander finally moved. Crawling to his feet, he slipped back into his bedroom, and crawled under the covers. An hour's sleep before Giles woke him, and he'd be half-asleep at school all day. Nothing new, there.

Nothing to be worried about.

Xander closed his eyes, and with the promise of sunrise, he fell asleep.

~~~~~

"--get up, Xander. You're going to be late." Giles' voice impinged on his dreams and forced him back to consciousness.

"Urm?" Xander started to roll over, then realized just how much he did *not* want to be awake, and fell back into the pillow without ever opening his eyes.

"Xander?" He felt the bed dip slightly, signally Giles sitting down. A gentle hand touched his forehead. "Are you all right?"

"Uh-huh," he answered automatically. He raised his head, opening his eyes and tried to kick-start his brain into gear. "Is morning already?" He groaned.

Giles was looking down at him, expression full of concern. "Yes, it is."

Taking a deep breath, Xander mentally propelled himself towards being awake. Opening his eyes again -- when had he closed them? -- he pushed himself upright. For a moment his dream whispered past his ears and he shivered.

"If you don't mind me saying so, you look terrible."

"Huh?" He wondered if he could swing another half an hour of sleep. He didn't *need* to get dressed - he was sleeping in sweat pants and a T-shirt. Breakfast could be grabbed from the snack machines at school.

Giles' hand was back on his forehead and he was frowning. "You don't feel like you have a fever."

"'Cause I'm not sick." It occurred to Xander that he *must* still be asleep, if he'd just admitted that out loud. A great opportunity wasted.

"You don't look well."

"Good. Can I go back to sleep til I look better?" Xander was already leaning back towards the mattress.

"Rest. I'll go call the school." Giles gave his arm a brief squeeze and then he left the room.

"Mm-hm," was all Xander managed, then he was once more asleep.

When he woke up for what felt like the first time, he actually felt like getting out of bed. He stretched, yawned once, and started to crawl out of bed. When he saw the clock, he froze. He was in deep-- wasn't he? Had he dreamt that part where Giles told him to go back to sleep?

He got out of bed and headed out of his room. Giles was sitting on the couch reading when he came out. When he looked up, Xander asked, "Uh, hey. You let me sleep in?"

"Yes," Giles set his book down and stood up. "Feeling better?"

"Yeah, yeah, I..." Xander was awake enough now to know better than to restate that he hadn't been sick. "Thanks." He wandered towards the kitchen, discovering that he'd missed breakfast and mid-morning snack time.

Giles followed. "I had just been beginning to think about lunch. Anything in particular you'd might like?"

"Food, food, food. Anything I can catch." He couldn't tell from Giles' voice whether the other man was concerned, upset, or what.

"Grilled cheese and tomato all right?"

"Sure." Xander got out of Giles' way as he headed for the fridge. Xander went to the other counter and grabbed an apple. He yawned again, wondering if he was going to school for the rest of the day, or if he could look forward to an afternoon of Tomb Raider.

Then again, Giles had stayed home with him. He suspected it would not be Tomb Raider.

Giles made them both lunch and sat down across the table from him. They ate in silence for a bit, but Xander could sense his eyes on him the entire time.

It was making him jumpy, but he was afraid to break the silence. There was always the chance Giles was gearing up for an 'I'm disappointed in you' sort of speech. They'd never actually discussed it, but you'd have to be blind not to know Giles placed great importance on school, on learning of all sorts. Skipping was probably a major offense.

When they were finished eating, Giles finally broached the subject that Xander had been dreading. "We need to talk about this morning."

"Giles, I'm sorry, OK? Won't happen again. Look, I still have time to make fourth period--" He stopped when he saw that Giles wasn't going to be swayed. He *hated* serious talks when he was in trouble.

"Don't worry about school. I called Willow, asked her to bring you your homework."

"Cool! When I'm out sick, she always does my homework for me--" Damn, damn, damn. He was going to have to figure out a way to think first, then talk.

"Hm, yes, well that is a discussion for later. Now I'm more interested in what happened to you this morning."

Xander groaned, putting his head in his hands. Willow was so going to kill him.

"Xander?"

"Yeah?" He kept his head down.

"What happened this morning?"

He looked up, perplexed. "I went back to sleep. You let me."

"I wasn't about to let you go to school looking like death warmed over." Giles cocked his head and regarded him for a long moment. "How much sleep did you get last night?"

He shrugged, and picked up another apple. "A couple hours." Then -- and perhaps he *was* still asleep, somewhere in his brain -- he realized that the next question was 'why', and *that* was the question he'd stayed awake all night in order to avoid.

Giles nodded, then asked the expected question. "Why?"

He opened his mouth and listened to nothing come out. He tried to think of exactly what to say. All he wanted to say was the flippant 'Because I couldn't sleep,' but the impulse to say it made him flinch.

Which made him curious. Flinch?

*Don't talk back to me, boy!*

Oh, yeah. Flinch.

A gentle hand on his arm shook him from his memories. "Bad dreams?" he asked sympathetically.

Another shrug. It didn't sound like the sort of thing to make for a day off. On the other hand, he didn't want Giles to let go.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of. I've had some dreams that have given me sleepless nights as well."

"Did you play hooky the next day?"

He smiled faintly. "Once or twice."

Slowly, it dawned on Xander. "I'm not in trouble, am I?"

"No, of course not." Giles gave him a patient look.

It surprised him to discovered just how surprised he was.

Giles was continuing, "Nightmares are not something we can control. We can only deal with them, which is never easy."

"Yeah." Xander looked away again, not sure if this was going towards a 'tell me all about it' or just... what. He knew that Buffy told Giles about her nightmares -- but that was work-related. This was more... stuff he didn't want anyone to know, ever. Possibly not
even Willow.

"You will never be in trouble for having nightmares, Xander. Or for trying to deal with them. As long as you're not putting yourself or others in danger doing so."

"Staying awake all night doesn't count as putting anyone in danger, right?"

"Not if it's just the occasional night, no." Giles gave him a serious look. "But it is rather lonely."

Xander froze. Did that mean he knew? No... if he had, he would have come out. Right? Then he realized -- Giles *hadn't* known, last night, but of course he knew, now. Maybe his brain was still only firing on half thrusters.

And what metaphor did people use for that before Star Trek, anyhow? Xander sighed. Anything to avoid thinking... about the kiss. Kisses. The touch--

"--can wake me up if it happens again, don't you?" Giles was saying.

"Huh?" Xander replayed what he'd heard, and realized 'huh' still applied.

Why would anyone who got as few restful nights' sleep as Giles, offer to lose more? Unless he didn't really expect Xander to wake him. It didn't matter, because Xander couldn't see actually sneaking into Giles' bedroom at night to tell him he'd had a bad dream.

No matter how badly he'd wanted to last night.

Giles sighed and rubbed his forehead. "No, you don't know that, do you?"

Xander felt something like a heavy lead ball form in his stomach. No, he didn't know. What was he supposed to know? That his former home had been screwed up? That normal families let you admit when you had nightmares -- and didn't give them to you in the first place? Just exactly when was he supposed to have gotten the manual on how to live a normal life?

He shoved himself away from the table, standing up, thinking maybe fifth period would be good, after all. "Sorry, G-man. Guess it's just something else I don't know." He hated the words, hated the look on Giles' face that made him say those things.

"There's nothing to be sorry for." Voice quiet, Giles' eyes bore into his own. "If anyone owes an apology, it's me for making assumptions."

"Yeah, well, maybe we both need to read the manual." Xander spit the words out. It occurred to him, in a vague, back-of-the-mind way, that he wasn't sure why he was angry. But he was. He backed up a step, crossing his arms in front of him.

"I only wish it was that easy." Giles didn't look or sound angry; if anything his tone and expression was one of sadness and defeat.

That lead ball suddenly gained a couple of pounds. He didn't even want to think about why Giles sounded so resigned. His anger shattered in the face of something else he was too scared to look at, much less name. Had Giles had any idea what he was getting into?

Surely one freakin' nightmare wasn't enough to make him think it was too hard?

Giles shook his head. "I wish I knew how to get you to trust me, Xander. Trust your place here."

"It was just one nightmare. I won't do it again." He could fake it. He was good at faking those sorts of things. He didn't know why he was still backing up, but if he never had to skip school again, never risked putting anyone in danger because he'd lost a little
sleep...

"Xander." Giles was suddenly up and standing in front of him, reaching out and laying his hands on Xander's shoulders. "You're misunderstanding me. You're not in trouble and I'm not upset with you."

"But you're upset," Xander said.

"At myself."

"But I--" His protest was less certain, even if he knew Giles was only being nice and not blaming him.

"Have done nothing wrong," Giles stated emphatically. "And even if you had, it wouldn't change anything, wouldn't affect your place here."

Even if he had? Xander wondered just when he had lost the train of this conversation. He'd thought Giles was upset because dealing with a kid with mental problems was more than he'd bargained for. Instead it was as though Giles was trying to...

"You sound like Willow."

"That's hardly surprising. We both care for you. I only hope someday you can trust me like you trust her."

"You..." Xander felt himself trembling slightly, and tightened his arms around himself. "This is gonna sound stupid. It's like living with her. That's good?" His voice dropped to a whisper.

Giles nodded soberly. "It is. I consider having you living here to be very good indeed."

Xander looked away again, at his feet. "I'm sorry. I'm not used to this."

"We have time." Giles smiled faintly. "Hopefully you will be eventually."

"Yeah." Xander laughed, not quite bitterly. "Next thing you know, you'll be giving me an allowance and telling me to date nice girls."

"Actually I've been meaning to talk to you about that-- um, the allowance part, that is."

Xander's eyes popped open. "Willow never gave me an allowance."

"Willow's never been your guardian." There was a sparkle of teasing in Giles' eyes.

"Well, there was that time at summer camp..." Xander gave him a faint -- as strong as he could manage at the moment -- smile. The prospect of actually getting an allowance was worth heavy emotional scenes over grilled cheese sandwiches. He'd been saving what he could from all the times Giles gave him money for putting gas in the car or buying groceries; sometimes he told Xander to just keep the change.

"Shall we say twenty dollars a week?"

"Sure!" Xander wasn't about to say no. Heck, at that rate he could get what he needed *and* pay his way when they hung at the Bronze. In fact-- "Um, payable...?"

"Mondays?"

Xander grinned. Held out his hand.

"It didn't take you long to get into the spirit of this," Giles mock grumbled, reaching for his wallet.

"Hey, you offered. You could have said 'Friday'." Xander couldn't believe it. He'd managed to save nearly thirty already; with this he could get a new pair of shoes -- today! He glanced towards the clock. Could he go shopping while ostensibly playing hooky?

Giles caught his glance at the time. "You have an appointment or something?"

"No, I just -- would it be OK if I headed to the mall? Even though school's not technically over yet?"

"I take it from that question that there's been something you've been wanting to buy." Giles sounded amused.

"Well," Xander shrugged. "I've kinda needed new shoes. I've been trying to save up, but--" He stopped when he saw the expression on Giles' face. He'd seen it before -- about twenty minutes ago.

The expression was quickly smoothed over, however, and Giles nodded decisively. "Right. Let's go to the mall, then."

"Um, it's cool. I can do this myself." He didn't mind, really, but surely Giles had other things to do.

"But that's the whole point I've been trying to make, Xander. You don't have to. Buying shoes or dealing with nightmares. None of it."

Frowning, Xander shook his head. "Come on, you don't have to buy me shoes." He'd been buying his own shoes for god knew how long, now. Usually with money stolen from his father's wallet, granted.

"All right, then. If you don't want to have me along, I'll just have to increase your allowance to cover the cost. Fifty will probably do it." He was reaching for his wallet as he spoke.

"Giles!" Xander jumped forward, pushing his hand down on Giles' arm to prevent him from handing the money over. "You don't have to do this."

"If you won't let me buy you shoes, yes, I do."

"You don't have to buy me shoes." No one had warned him that having a guardian was going to be so embarrassing. Geez, he hoped Giles didn't find out he needed new underwear, too. *There* was a scene that was not ever going to happen.

Giles was getting that listen-to-me-because-I'm-about-to-tell-you-something-important expression on his face. "Yes, I do. I'm your guardian, Xander. That means I am responsible for you and your well-being. That means, among other things, providing you with the essentials and that would include shoes."

Nervously, Xander shifted from foot to foot. "I can do that stuff for myself."

"But you shouldn't have to, not yet. That is my job."

"I thought you were a librarian," he joked, weakly.

Giles smiled slightly. "That's just my day job."

"So what... this job... you're saying you get to be the grown-up, and I get to goof off all day?"

"I get to be the grown-up and you get to be the kid," Giles clarified.

"Which means you buy shoes and I play Tomb Raider?" Xander realized this had to be one of the weirdest conversations he'd had. Barring any he'd ever had with Spike, of course. Or Cordelia. Or his mom, when she was-- OK, so maybe this was normal.

He'd have thought that would make him better at it.

"After your homework is done, yes."

"Would that be the guardian part, or the librarian part?"

"That would be the Giles part."

"Oh." Xander stood there, and thought over everything Giles had said. Skipping the details, he focused on some of the highlights like $50 a week, or buying him shoes. Embarrassed, he found himself asking, "Would you go with me...?"

In response, Giles got out his car keys. "Shall we?"

Xander hesitated a moment, then stepped a little closer. He barely got within reach before Giles held out his arms. Xander scooted quickly into the embrace. Giles hugged him tightly, showing no signs of letting him go until Xander wanted him to.

Xander wasn't so sure he wanted him to.

~~~~~

It was Tomb Raider, once they got back home. The conversation on the way to and from the shoe store had been calm, to the point, and mostly about demons. Xander didn't want to know if there really *was* a Demon Phil, or if Giles had been trying to distract him. Regardless, he now had a new pair of sneakers that actually fit, and a pair of work boots.

"There's no point in turning an ankle while you're trying to stake a vampire," Giles had said before Xander could protest.

Now Xander was trying to catch up to Buffy's score on Tomb Raider before school let out. A knock at the door signaled the arrival of Buffy and Willow with his homework. Giles had let them in by the time Xander had made it to the living room.

"Hey!" Xander smiled, and accepted the folders Willow handed over to him. A glance at the top page confirmed, yes, the Willow homework fairy was still in action.

He noticed Buffy looking at him oddly; when he quirked an eyebrow she said, "You don't *look* sick."

Xander just shrugged, glancing guiltily at Giles.

"Looks have been known to be deceiving," Giles said, deflecting Buffy's curiosity.

Xander headed back to his room to put away his homework. Willow followed, and when he looked at her she mouthed 'Faker', with a tiny, pleased grin. Her quick eyes didn't miss the new shoes sitting by the foot of his bed. "When did you get those?"

"Today. Hooky-playing-shopping." He couldn't hide his pleased grin as he stuck out his foot; he was 'breaking in' his boots. "And these."

"Giles let you go shopping when you were home sick?" She stared at him with wide eyes.

"I wasn't... didn't sleep last night," he admitted.

Willow frowned at him. "Why didn't you call me?"

"I didn't... you know, ever since I moved in here, I haven't... needed to call you at night. I didn't think you'd be expecting me to anymore."

"You think I'd hang up on you or something just because I wasn't expecting it?" She looked at him exasperated then whapped him on the arm. "Don't be an idiot."

"I wasn't sure you still kept your phone under the pillow."

"Not only the phone, but a cross and holy water. Just in case."

Xander couldn't help but smile. "Next time, I'll call," he promised.

"Good. Else I'll have to... to... well I don't know what, but it wouldn't be very nice."

"I can think of one or two things," Xander began. Then, with a teasing grin, added, "But I won't tell."

"Hey." Buffy came into the room, glanced at the computer screen and saw the paused game. She gave Xander a knowing smile.

Willow was looking at his new boots. "Not to sound gauche or anything, but how did you afford those?"

"Giles." It still felt embarrassing, though Giles had basically convinced him -- at least enough he'd stopped wanting to argue about it.

But it was still embarrassing.

"Really? That's great. You think maybe he'll buy you some new clothes too? Then you could get rid of all the ones you hate."

Xander froze -- Giles had just stepped into the doorway behind Willow and Buffy. The look on Giles' face was, for the moment, simple confusion -- but then Xander could see a hint of That Look, again.

Buffy, on the other hand, just looked surprised and asked, "Clothes you hate? I thought you liked the look... um, whatever look you go for. What *do* you call it, anyway?"

Willow turned to her. "It's called 'Goodwill,' and no, he doesn't like it." She saw Giles, then, and hushed, turning back to Xander.

Yeah. Definitely still embarrassing. Where was a Demon when you needed one?

"Yes, I've been meaning to speak to you about when we could go shopping to get you some new clothes," Giles interjected smoothly, no hint of the fact that this wasn't something they hadn't discussed before. "You don't have plans for this Saturday, do you?"

"Um--" Xander began.

Willow's face brightened immediately. "Hey! Why don't we go through your stuff tonight and get rid of everything you don't want?" She headed for his closet before he had a chance to answer.

"Uh," he tried again. Willow ignored him, opening his closet door and giving his clothes the once-over. She started pulling out the items she knew he hated the most, piling them up on the bed while he sat there trying to come up with a protest the others would listen to.

Buffy looked amused by the commentary accompanying Willow's selections. She glanced from Willow to Xander, as if asking him to verify the "no, this one never did fit right and the colour -- eew!" and "no, no, this is horrible".

Xander just nodded. Buffy looked impressed. Giles, after only another moment, left the room. Xander was beginning to appreciate that the man had tact. Then Willow pulled out a shirt from the back of Xander's closet and froze, eyes wide. "This is...?" she asked,
looking at him.

Xander felt the same sort of freeze come over him, even though he'd known fully well that the shirt was there. He hadn't ever had to explain to anyone why he had it.

Not til now.

Buffy looked from Willow to Xander. "It's Jesse's," Willow told her, quietly.

"Oh." It was interesting to watch Buffy's face change. Surprise to grief, worn in such a way that spoke of too much familiarity with the emotion. But it was a more distant sort of grief, one of a soldier who'd seen the corpse of a stranger she'd failed to protect.

Xander looked at the shirt Willow was holding, and remembered the day he'd ended up wearing it. When... when Jesse was still alive, Xander had used his friend's house as a haven. Safe place to spend the night, once Willow was too old to have boys in her room at all, much less overnight. Xander would end up with Jesse and the next morning he'd borrow some clothes for school, so no one would ask why.

After Jesse had-- Xander had discovered Jesse's shirt, still in his laundry hamper. He'd kept it with the rest of his clothes though he never wore it again. Only took it out occasionally when he'd felt particularly lonely and scared, remembering wistfully those nights spent at Jesse's, when he didn't have to be scared.

When he'd moved in with Giles, he'd hung it up -- suspecting he wouldn't need the reminder of safety, but still unable to get rid of it. Willow was giving him a sad look, and he wondered if he'd been wrong. She came over and sat on the bed, next to him. He wrapped his arm around her, took the shirt out of her hands. "It's still hard to believe he's..."

"Yeah." He hugged her, bringing her close. She let her head fall on his shoulder. Xander wasn't sure exactly when Buffy had snuck out of the room, but when he turned his head to rest it on Willow's, he saw that she was gone.

"Jesse would've loved the whole slayer thing. If he hadn't been..." She trailed off with a sad sigh.

"Slain," Xander whispered. He still dreamt about that, too. He'd meant to do it, but hadn't -- the actual staking had been an accident. He knew, by now, that the thing that had been Jesse had died, replaced by the vampire demon.

But that didn't change how it felt to see his friend's face staring at him, vanishing into dust.

"I miss him."

"I miss him, too."

They stayed that way for a good long while, neither moving, neither saying anything more.

~~~~~

Saturday came, and Xander found himself in the most unlikely of positions. Forget battling demons, vampires, and other mythical creatures. This was just...

"Oh! Look, Xander, this is *you*." Buffy's voice preceded her, coming around a rack of clothes with a shirt.

"Cool color," Willow enthused as Buffy held it up to Xander to try it out. "It brings out your eyes."

So far, Xander hadn't had to do much of anything besides stand there in the Dillard's department store and let the two girls shop. So far Willow had approved four shirts, and a vest. They wanted one more shirt, then they were moving on to pants.

Xander just wanted to go to the food court.

If Giles felt the same way he wasn't showing it, standing back and watching as the girls kept adding to the pile of clothes he was going to have to purchase, not even when Buffy had picked out a designer label shirt that cost more than any entire outfit that Xander had ever owned in his life.

Xander decided it was time to say *something*. "Hey, Buffy, slow down." He took the shirt from her. "You know what public schools pay their employees nowadays."

"Oh. Right." She glanced at Giles. "Sorry."

"It's no problem, really," Giles replied. "I would've said something if it was. But the truth is, the librarian job isn't the main source of income I have."

They all looked at him with various expressions of surprise. "It isn't? Are you rich?" Willow asked, almost innocently.

"I'm... comfortable," he hedged.

Buffy looked at the shirt Xander had tried to stop her from adding to their stack. "How comfortable?"

"Comfortable enough that buying Xander clothes, even those kinds of clothes, is not going to ruin me."

"Comfortable enough to treat us all to lunch?" Buffy asked.

"Oo!" Xander realized something. "Comfortable enough to buy me a car?"

"You do not need a car," Giles told him patiently.

Xander noted that he didn't say he couldn't afford it. 'That's OK,' he thought. 'I can wear him down.'

Buffy, however, returned to matters at hand. "Willow, our shopping parameters have just changed. Our next stop is Zoran's." Willow nodded with a look of determination that matched her 'we will find this demon and kill it' expression.

Xander gulped. "That's really not necessary, guys..."

"Zoran's?" Giles asked. "Isn't that the place down by the bookstore?"

"That's the one," Buffy replied.

Any hope Xander had of Giles' squashing the idea was promptly squashed. "Ah; good. You need some dress clothes."

"Good, it's settled," Buffy stated firmly. They started heading for the cashier, Xander reluctantly trailing along.

Giles stopped him with a hand on the arm. "Is there anything else you need? Socks or... anything?"

"Oh, Xander doesn't wear socks or underwear," Willow answered easily -- then she turned bright red, looking exactly how Xander felt. "Well, he doesn't. He never could -- oh. But you can afford them, now." She grabbed his hand, dragging him away from Buffy and Giles who were apparently doing their best not to laugh in their faces. "Come on."

He wasn't sure what he was supposed to think of being dragged by his best friend -- his female best friend -- to go buy underwear. Unable to think, he just allowed Willow to drag him along and help pick out the items in question.

He made a mental note to ask Giles to increase his allowance enough to let him buy them himself from now on.

They caught up with the others at the register, then, laden with sacks, headed off... for more. Xander had never actually been in Zoran's before; he knew he couldn't afford it and saw no reason to venture in just to look at the things he couldn't buy. Now, though, following a very excited Buffy, he wondered if maybe it wouldn't have been safer to spend the day with Spike.

He idly glanced at the prices of some of the items on display and blanched. He couldn't ask Giles to spend that much! He turned to make his protest. "Here," Giles said, directing him towards a rack.

"Those are--!" Xander protested automatically. He'd had a horror of things like this since being forced to wear his cousin's suit at another cousin's wedding.

"You need dress clothes," Giles repeated calmly.

"Oo! Xander!" They were interrupted by Willow, bringing over a dark red silk shirt.

It looked just like-- "No. Thanks, Will; no."

"But you would look so cute!"

"Silk isn't my colour." Xander tried not to shudder. All he needed was to be wearing that when Spike found him again. He did *not* need to hear the vampire's gleeful exclamation of "twinkies!".

He did *not* need to be thinking about meeting Spike, ever again.

"Okay, no silk." A disappointed Willow took the shirt back where she had found it.

Xander noticed Giles looking at him with one raised eyebrow. He didn't say a word, though. Xander didn't have any time to worry about it, though, as Buffy re-appeared to drag him towards the dressing rooms.

~~~~~

That evening, Xander had the place to himself. Giles had gone out with Ms. Calendar again; Xander had promised, sworn, and offered his Tomb Raider CD as collateral that he would be home early and stay out of trouble. He was meeting Willow and Buffy later for Buffy's patrol, but that wasn't for another hour.

He was looking forward to it, although after that morning he'd felt like he could stand to go the entire weekend without seeing them again. Those two made shopping more intense than slaying vampires. But Buffy had asked him along, and it wasn't like he would ever say no.

And, he had to admit, he did like the new clothes. He glanced in the mirror one more time before leaving his room and smiled. Not one bit of his outfit second hand or cast off. He decided he could get used to that, even if the shopping trip was ten points on the intimidating scale and twice as embarrassing. Grabbing his keys and his usual Sunnydale-PM accessories, he headed out to meet up with his friends.

He got as far as the parking lot when he heard a familiar voice. "I liked the red one."

Xander stiffened and turned to face his own personal stalker.

"Really." Spike jumped down from the hood of the car, flicking the end of his cigarette away. "Red silk is a very good colour." He gave Xander a leer.

"Maybe I just didn't want to dress like a blood-sucking fiend."

"What's wrong with being a blood-sucking fiend?" Spike was walking towards him, now. Getting far too close; Xander slipped a hand in his pocket where the vial of holy water was.

"Offhand, I'd say the blood-sucking and the fiend parts, for starters." He resisted the urge to take a step back, instead closing his hand around the vial.

Spike pouted at him. The sight was absurd enough that Xander found himself laughing. "You don't love me anymore," Spike said in a woeful tone.

"That would imply that I used to love you." His tone was a bit sharp as he tried to ignore some of the thoughts his brain was insisting on reminding him of.

Spike waved his comment off as unimportant, woeful air gone like the cigarette smoke. He gave Xander a cheery grin, and asked, "So! What are we up to, tonight?"

"We?" Greatly daring, Xander moved past Spike and started walking. "Don't know about you, but what's on my schedule is some vampire hunting. Want to come along and play target?"

"Oh, hunting?" Spike gave him another, much more lascivious, leer. "Going to put your stake in me?"

"And get dust all over my new clothes?" He very deliberately ignored the entendre.

"Oh, well you'd have 'em off, then, wouldn't you?" Spike looked at him again. "Nice outfit, though. Brings out your snarl." He growled softly.

"No, that would be you." Though he would never admit it aloud, he was beginning to enjoy the banter. It was, he knew, bizarre, dangerous, and would get him no end of trouble with Giles. But it was fun -- and Xander couldn't bring himself to stop it just yet. Spike continued walking along beside him, acting for all the world like he was out for a casual stroll.

If one ignored the way he was walking so close, or the glances he kept sending over.

Which Xander was trying to do. He was even getting used to the knowledge that Spike was watching him all the time. Well, all the time the sun wasn't up, at least.

The way it had been when they'd been shopping earlier. "Hey, how did you know about the shirt?"

Spike smirked. "Don't know what you mean," he said all-too-innocently.

"Did you find a really good sunscreen or something?"

For a moment Spike simply continuing grinning in that infuriating 'I've got a secret' way. Then he said, "You know, a good can of spray paint on the windshield means I can go anywhere I want. Big mall, all indoors...minus a few annoying skylights, of course. What makes you think I wasn't right across the way in the Castle Records?"

"The lack of screaming, maybe?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "Look, I wouldn't terrorize the general public in a... oh, yes, I would. Got me there. Fine. Dru told me. Happy?"

"Confused, more like. How would Drusilla know?"

"What? Oh, she has visions. Always has. It's why Angel wanted her. Sees all sorts of lovely things." Spike turned to him, with another appearance of the Leer. "Said you should have gotten the silk shirt, but that you wouldn't."

Xander stored the information about visions away, that might prove important in future slaying activities. "What can I say?" he asked with a shrug, continuing the banter. "I have taste."

"That you do. Taste *very* well. In fact--" Spike stopped walking.

Closing his hand around the vial of holy water again, Xander stopped as well. "What?"

"Wouldn't mind tasting you, again." And with that, Spike was close. Close enough to touch, to breathe in the scent of cigarettes and whiskey and... absolutely none of blood. Xander barely had time to wonder what that meant when Spike kissed him.

In the middle of the sidewalk.

That's when Xander stopped thinking. Because if he had been, he would've had to do something -- stake him, throw holy water in his face, push him away at least. Without thinking he could just kiss him back.

There was no taste. It was odd, something he hadn't noticed before. No taste, just the feel of Spike's mouth. He wondered if it was an undead thing, or if Spike had just liberally brushed his teeth before coming over.

He prolonged the kiss, wanting... Oh. God, wanting! Xander stepped back, breaking the hold he'd only just realized Spike had had. Hands on his back, holding him tight -- vampiric strength holding him motionless... except he hadn't been.

Not if Xander had been able to break free, as he'd just done.

Spike was looking at him oddly. Xander began backing up. "I got to-- the others are-- slaying and--"

But Spike just nodded. "Right, pet. You go."

Xander was more freaked when he realized Spike hadn't sounded pissed, at all. Maybe it was a vampire thing, not caring if your fellow demons got destroyed. But Spike didn't say anything, nor did he follow, when Xander turned and ran.

~~~~~

It was promising to be a warm spring day. Xander liked days like these -- they made everything seem normal, made him think that all the monsters and demons and vampires didn't really exist anymore and it was all some horrible dream.

He was sitting at a table at Shore's, a little cafe not to far away from the Bronze. It was new, and the gang had decided to meet here for lunch and give the food a try. Xander was early -- he'd had shopping to do. Tomorrow was... well, he didn't now how big a day it would be, didn't know if he'd go through with it. But it had potential, and at the very least he had something he wanted to do.

He'd been dwelling on it for two weeks -- ever since school got out for the summer and he'd no longer been so thoroughly distracted by finals. And didn't living with someone who made you do homework have side effects? He'd actually pulled a couple of Cs this semester, to break up the variety of Ds and Fs. He'd expected Giles to tell him to do better next year. Instead he'd congratulated Xander on improving, and offered to treat them all to pizza.

Willow's voice interrupted his thoughts as she and Buffy walked up to join him. "You're here early."

"Hey. Yeah." For a second his throat clenched around his words. It always did, when he saw Buffy. Giles said it would go away, that he'd get used to the idea he'd saved his friend's life. The way he said it, though, made Xander think Giles knew exactly what he felt and that 'getting used to it' wasn't precisely what he meant.

"Wow, major shopping exhibition today?" Buffy asked, eyeing the bags he'd piled on the chair beside him.

"Oh, no, I mean yeah, sorta." He nudged that chair closer towards himself with his foot, afraid she'd see inside and ask about them. "So, Buffy, you're heading off for the rest of the summer -- tonight, yes?"

"Yep. L.A. bound. Just in time for Father's Day."

"I think it's great. You and your dad spending some quality time together. I know you've really missed--" Willow's cheer died suddenly, and she glanced at Xander.

Xander shook his head with a rueful smile. "Don't look at me. I don't miss mine." Besides, whatever it was Giles was, he was a hundred times better. Xander glanced at the bags again.

Buffy didn't miss the motion. "Okay, give. What is in the bags?"

"Nothing." He knew he'd said it too quickly as soon as it was out of his mouth. Willow and Buffy were giving each other 'let's get him' looks.

"Then you won't mind us taking a look," Buffy said, grinning and making a grab for the bags.

He tried to grab them first, but he knew he'd be too slow. Slayer reflexes were *really* annoying. He settled for giving them both a stern glare as Buffy set the bags on the chair between her and Willow.

"So you going to spill or do we look?"

That surprised him; he hadn't expected them to actually adhere to his glare. It guilted him into sighing. It wasn't like they wouldn't find out, eventually. "Yeah, you can look."

Buffy opened the first bag. "It's a tie," she said blankly, pulling it out.

"It's a nice tie," Willow added, though she also gave Xander a curious look. She looked into the other bag, and pulled out the three albums. "Tie, and records." Willow looked at him again with her best perplexed face.

"Yeah. Tie. Records." Xander nodded, not willing to give them any explanation until they'd suffered for their curiousity.

For at least a few minutes.

"Tie. Records," Buffy repeated. "Now who do we know who has both?"

"Giles," Willow said promptly. Then her eyes grew huge. "Giles?" She turned to Xander, expectantly. "Giles?"

Xander ducked his head, nodding without actually meeting their gazes.

"Did we miss his birthday or something?"

"Um, no. It's for... tomorrow."

"You're celebrating Father's Day with Giles?" Willow grinned. "That is so cool."

"Yeah." Still embarrassed, he explained anyhow. "I figured... might as well, you know? Sorta a thank you for... everything."

"How sweet," Buffy said. "Records he doesn't have, I take it? And the traditional father's gift tie." She handed the presents back to Xander. "He'll love them."

"Yeah," Willow enthused. "He'll probably do that speechless awkward British thing."

"You think?" Xander grinned.

"Oh yeah. Big time."

"Cool."

The friends-inspired confidence lasted until the following morning. Xander had wrapped the gifts the night before at Willow's, snuck them into his room in his backpack.

Now, up early, he was standing in the kitchen debating the wisdom of making breakfast. He'd practiced on Willow and Buffy yesterday, making the waffles he knew were Giles' favorite. They'd assured him they turned out fine, but they'd helped him prepare them. Reminded him about... the what? Which ingredient had he nearly left out?

He heard the loose floor board in the hallway outside Giles' bedroom creak, letting him know Giles was up. Well, too late for a complete surprise, now. Unless he served up bowls of cereal. Xander gave it serious consideration before finally discarding that option. He wanted to make a nice breakfast. Maybe omelets. Those he could whip up fast, and not worry about getting anything wrong.

The door to the bathroom closed; good, that meant he had a few more minutes to get things ready. Maybe he'd be able to pull this off after all. Quickly he began pulling things out of the fridge. Eggs, cheese, mushrooms, peppers, ham; he set them on the counter nearest the stove, pushing the fridge door shut with his foot as he headed over to get the skillet.

By the time Giles finally made it to the kitchen, he had all the ingredients combined in the frying pan and almost done cooking.

"What's all this?" Giles asked, surprise evident in both his voice and his expression.

"Oh, damn," slipped out before Xander could stop it. "Breakfast. I was... gonna surprise you."

"You've succeeded." Giles stood there for a moment, then moved towards Xander. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Umm." Xander didn't know if it would be rude to say 'go away', or if he should take advantage of Giles' more expert cooking help. "Oh. Your tea, you might want to..." He went back to the skillet, feeling entirely self-conscious.

"All right." He felt Giles' hand on his shoulder briefly before the man moved off to make his morning tea.

Xander kept his attention on the omelets, staring at the eggs so he wouldn't be watching for Giles' reaction when he finally saw what was waiting for him. As soon as they looked ready, he began serving them up. Then, plates in hands, he looked up just in time to see Giles step towards the dining room.

A long silence fell when Giles did turn towards the table. "Xander?" he asked after a moment.

"Happy Father's Day," Xander half-whispered, nervous, shaking and he quickly went to set the plates down, wanting to keep his eyes on his food. More than that, though, he wanted to see. He looked over, hesitantly.

Giles was staring at the table, looking shell shocked. "You didn't-- I didn't..." He stopped and cleared his throat, turning to look at Xander. He smiled faintly and there was a look in his eyes that made Xander's heart flip. "Thank you."

Xander felt his face split in two; the grin blossoming, eradicating his nervousness in the face of that. Awkward, speechless, British silence. Ignoring the food for a moment, he asked, "You gonna open 'em?"

"Yes, I suppose that's next." Giles still seemed a bit dazed as he picked up the smaller of the two packages.

Xander bounced a little, not even trying to stop grinning. He realized it was a good thing he hadn't been in the middle of cooking -- he had to have either missed this or burnt everything.

Unwrapping the gift slowly, Giles eyebrows climbed towards his hairline when he saw what it was. "A tie?"

Suddenly all his confidence was gone, again. "Yeah," he managed. "It's tradition. Every-- every male over age of twenty gets a tie as a present, no matter the occasion." He didn't know if his babbling had covered what he'd nearly said; didn't know if Giles would think it a stupid tradition and what in the world did he need with another tie?

Instead he heard, "We must follow tradition after all." Giles was smiling now as his eyes turned back to the tie, fingers running over it reverently.

The grin was back, pulled out by the vanished tension. Less bouncy now, though, he waited for Giles to pick up the second gift. "That's an actual useful gift. I mean, less useful. It's not for-- I'm gonna just stand here now and let you open it." Xander snapped his jaw shut and waited.

"I'm sure I'll like it," Giles said as he laid the tie aside and began to unwrap the second gift. This time he froze when he saw what it was. "Records. Actual record albums."

"Yeah. Greensten's carries them. I checked your collection, you didn't have these. Out, that is. The titles OK?" Xander found himself babbling again, not from nervousness that his gift would be unworthy, but from looking at Giles' expression. He couldn't remember the last time he'd made someone look like that -- other than Willow and he'd had years of practice making her happy.

"Oh yes, they're fine. Wonderful in fact."

"You, um, can play with your toys after breakfast." Xander teased, enjoying the feeling of freedom that he could do so. From Giles' sudden smile, he figured Giles was enjoying it as well.

"Xander," Giles said, interrupting Xander's returning his attention to his food. "Thank you."

Xander set his fork down. "You're welcome. It's my thank you, anyway. For," he looked around at the apartment. "Everything."

"You don't have to thank me for that. Having you here has been -- is -- wonderful."

"I know... I mean, I know you think so. And I'm not saying you're wrong," Xander stumbled, trying not to say what he didn't mean, without not saying what he did. "It isn't... that I think you wouldn't have done it. I just... wanted you to know... that I know. That I belong here now. I wanted to say 'thank you' for proving that to me."

Giles nodded slowly. "Then you're welcome."

Suddenly unable to just keep sitting there, Xander said quickly, "I'm gonna get some juice." He jumped to his feet and headed for the kitchen.

When Xander had reached the kitchen he heard Giles mutter something to himself that sounded like, "And that is the best present you could've given me."

Not even trying to fight the happy smile that brought, Xander went to the fridge and found the juice.

~~~~~

There was the barest touch of a breeze across his neck. Xander shivered, though he felt no chill. He was lying on his side, waiting. Waiting for what, exactly, he didn't know.

Nor did he care. He was just lying there until the feeling came again. The feeling, the touch.... There was a whisper of soft sound as someone drew closer. Xander rolled onto his back -- naked, ready and willing and oddly calm for his lover to join him. He raised his hand to the shadow beyond the bedside, beckoning.

His lover moved forward, holding out a hand to Xander; moonlight from the window caressing his body though his face remained in shadow. Their fingers brushed lightly and separated, brushed again and caught and held. Entwined.

Xander thought for a moment that he should pull him closer, but then his lover was there, above him, leaning down to kiss him, covering his body tenderly, with a warmth and strength he simply wanted to dissolve into. He felt a hardness pressing against his own as his mouth was devoured. An accented voice murmured something he couldn't understand against his lips, the tone reverent.

He wanted to pull the sound in with the kiss, wanted to lie there and let it all be lathered over his body, his mind. It was the most tremendous feeling he could ever remember feeling -- love wrapped in safety and comfort and desire. Xander dug his fingers into his lover's back, digging in and holding on, lest he move away.

A soft laugh, reassuring him as hands started to explore his body. Hips moved against his own, causing him to gasp and moan at the sensations. He raised his head, seeking that kiss again, and his lover looked up at him, a smile on his lips and in his eyes and the tenderest expression of love on both that Xander had ever seen.

"Xander," Giles whispered and leaned in for another kiss.

"Gi--AHH!"

Xander sat up -- dream breaking into reality, dark and uninhabited bedroom taking the place of... of... "Oh my god."

"Xander?" Giles' voice came from the hallway, accompanied by a gentle knock on his door. "Are you all right?"

Heart pounding fast enough to drive nails, Xander tried to gulp air to answer. He hadn't managed before Giles pushed his bedroom door open.

Hair mussed by sleep, eyes sans glasses blinking in the dim light, Giles was bare chested, wearing only a pair of sleeping pants. "Xander?" he repeated, concern clear in his voice and his face.

No. No, no... Xander realized he was scooting backwards, up against the headboard, pillow squashed awkwardly against his back. Belatedly he thought to pull the blankets after him. When Giles stopped, looking confused now as well as concerned, Xander said only, "Please." He heard his voice shaking, but this was not good. This was so bad...

"What is it?" Giles took another step seemingly involuntarily towards him.

Xander shoved himself hard against the headboard. The dream was still too... there, for him to want a half-naked, caring Giles in his bedroom. 'Father-figure,' he told himself as sharply as he could. But the figure before him looked everything like his dream. 'This is not happening. Think about... about... Cindy Crawford. Buffy. Spike. Not, not, not.' He was shaking.

Giles was moving closer, now only a couple of steps away.

"Please! Giles--" He heard the panic in his voice and tried to calm down long enough to convince him that this wasn't a nightmare that required comforting. Cuddling -- if Giles tried to touch him, he was sure he'd embarrass them both beyond repair. Scared and desperate, his erection was still aching, still barely hidden under the sheets.

"What is it?" Giles repeated. Thankfully stopping moving as he did.

"Nothing. Yeah, not nothing, but please... I can't. Don't." He inhaled again, deeply and loudly. 'Get a grip, Xander, before he does anything fatherly.' That thought calmed him down enough to stammer, "Could you please leave me alone? Just... for a bit?"

Giles' expression went through surprise, brief hurt, and finally settled on understanding. "All right," he said in a deliberately calming voice, as he started backing for the door. "Call if you need me."

'Oh, yeah, not going to happen.' Xander waited until Giles had closed the door firmly behind him. Then, falling onto his back, he tried telling himself just how exactly Not this was going to happen.

'Guardian. Father-figure. *Giles*. Not even in the playbook. I am not Dick Grayson. I am not going to kiss... get kissed by... touched... Damn, damn, damn!'

It wasn't working. Ignoring his mind, parts of his body were very interested in portions of his litany. Kiss, touch, Giles... Determined, Xander tried to replace the image with something else. Someone else -- a girl, dammit. Someone not older than 17.

He closed his eyes, and, praying that Giles was *not* hovering just outside, waiting for any sign of distress, reached beneath the sheets. There was no way he could go out there and have any sort of talk, with *this* still there.

He moved to take care of the problem, desperately trying not to think, to remember, to imagine. When the imagining threatened to happen anyway, he replaced it with something totally opposite. Equally forbidden but safer; he thought of warm blond hair, soft lips... he closed his eyes. Strong hands, sharp, pointed teeth.

His eyes flew open again. Well, hell, why not. Spike was better than Giles. Safer, at any rate. Xander had to bite his lip to keep the slightly hysterical laugh that threatened at that thought, from escaping.

But it worked, at any rate. Images of the snarky, sexy, irritating, confusing vampire were enough to distract him long enough to deal with his immediate concern. Once he'd made use of a handful of tissues and hand lotion to disguise the smell, he got out of bed, changed clothes, and took a very deep breath to settle himself before going out of the room.

He found Giles waiting for him in the living room. The older man didn't say anything, just watched him with a concerned gaze. "Hey. Sorry for giving ya the wiggins, there." Xander felt much calmer now -- even when he realized he had no idea what to tell Giles.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I"m good. I just was having a dream. Got hellmouthy on me there at the last part."

"Ah. Yes. They do have a tendency to do that here." He paused. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No. No, it wasn't anything... unusual." Xander laughed. If weird was normal, that dream was certainly normal. "Sorry I woke you." It looked as though Giles were buying it. Xander mentally sighed in relief.

"Don't be."

"I, uh," Xander wondered at the sudden urge to say what he was trying to bite his tongue on.

"I told you, Xander. We all have nightmares. It's nothing to be ashamed of. And you don't need to deal with them alone."

"Oh, this wasn't. I mean... what I wanted to say was -- if it had been, I, uh," Xander found this easier to say when he stopped trying to look at Giles. "If it had been, I'd have appreciated your coming to my rescue."

"Any time. That's what I'm here for."

Xander stood there for a moment more, waiting. When he realized he had no clue what he was waiting for, or why, he said, "I'm... I'll see you in the morning." He turned back towards his bedroom.

Giles voice stopped him. "I can sit up with you for a while if you'd like."

He couldn't stop the smile, despite the knowledge that no, that would be a bad idea. All the more for dreaming things he shouldn't dream.

But on the other hand...

He couldn't decide if he wanted to say 'would you?' or turn him down. Apparently, though, his smile was saying way too much.

"I could make us some cocoa or something," Giles offered, getting to his feet.

Yeah, his smile was just growing wider and there was no way he'd convince Giles he wanted to say 'no'. So - hot cocoa and Giles? Yeah, he could do that.

And he slapped himself, mentally. Concentrated on the hot cocoa.

~~~~~

Xander hoped his babbling had made any sort of sense, as he headed out the door. He'd covered the important parts - out now, home by dinner, not taking the car -- but he'd said so much else in trying *not* to say anything embarrassing, that he'd no clue if Giles had
picked up on them.

He wouldn't been surprised if he hadn't. In an effort to keep himself from thinking about... stuff... Xander had turned into a perfect example of a babbling idiot. Well, Giles would just have to learn to translate it. Xander felt sure he was going to become the babble-king, if he hadn't been voted into that position already.

Running down the stairs, Xander realized he hadn't a clue where he was going to go. All he knew was he couldn't stay here today. Not with Giles being so understanding and so *there*. Not until he could get that dream out of his head.

He had to do something to get it out. Get rid of it, stop thinking about it every second. He had no idea what would do that, but he had all day to find out. He struck out in a random direction, walking aimlessly, letting his feet carry him where they would. In the meantime he concentrated on not thinking, on making his mind a total blank. It was surprisingly difficult. He used to have the knack, one of the ways he'd survived so long in his parents' house, but somewhere along the line he seemed to have lost it.

So instead of thinking of nothing, Xander spent his time yanking his continually straying thoughts away from the danger area. He needed a collar and leash on his mind, or maybe a straitjacket. Some way to keep it under control, some way to tell his thoughts to heel. Was there an obedience school for thoughts?

"And apparently my babbling is no longer relegated solely to speech," he muttered to himself, pulling himself out of his head long enough to take stock of his surroundings.

Which made him stop, dead in his tracks. Which made him try frantically to think of another phrase than 'dead in his tracks', because where he was, was right outside the factory where Spike and Drusilla lived.

"Are you coming in, or are you going to keep standing there? I can't come out and get you, you know." Spike was standing just inside the doorway, watching him.

Xander spared a moment to glare at his feet. 'See if I let you have your way again,' he scolded them. Aloud, he said, "I... uh... wouldn't want to interrupt your beauty sleep or anything."

Spike grinned. "Don't have to. You can join me."

Oh, that would be a Very Bad Idea. "Thanks, but I'm not really tired," he said, knowing as soon as the words left his mouth it had to be one of the lamest things he'd ever said.

Spike's mouth twitched. "Oh, we don't have to sleep, luv." He'd taken one step backwards, still in front of the shadows where Xander could see his face. See his entire body -- Spike was wearing only jeans and his ever-present red silk shirt. What was the deal with red silk shirts, anyhow? Xander wondered.

"Yeah, well I don't have any great desire to be a mid afternoon snack either." Vampire, he reminded parts of his body that were taking too much interest. Bad man. Not a good idea.

Spike sighed. "I won't bite you. We've both already eaten and Dru's sound asleep." When Xander just kept looking at him, he said, very clearly, "I'm not hungry. For that, anyway. I won't bite you, won't drain you, won't turn you. *Will* you come inside?"

And he was just supposed to take Spike's word for it? Apparently he was, at least his feet were, because he was moved towards the entrance.

Oh hell, if Spike did kill him, he'd at least stop thinking about the dream. And if Spike *didn't* kill him... it would certainly exorcise the dream nicely. He'd wanted to stop thinking about having sex with Giles. What better way than... Spike was smiling, now,
and Xander felt a chill down his spine.

As he crossed the threshold, Spike moved back again, away from the door. "Where are you going?" He took another step after the vampire. Great, he would get a bloodsucker who played hard to get.

"Someplace more comfortable," Spike said easily. "Unless you like dirty concrete, and promise not to roll too near the door into the sunlight?"

It worried Xander that Spike didn't sound exactly put off by the part about dirty concrete. "I forgot," he said, still following Spike deeper into the building and away from the safety of the day. "Dark and dismal are pretty much your standard mode of operation."

"Not necessarily," Spike countered. "We could have a lovely little... um, no, don't care for crackling fires, or candles. Could get a Coleman lamp, though, I suppose."

Yeah, that would be *much* better. "Just what I always wanted," he muttered. "Camping with my very own homicidal maniac."

"I'm *not* a maniac!" Spike protested. He continued leading Xander into the factory, and he finally saw that they were heading towards an actual room.

"My mistake. You're not a maniac. You're so far from it I'm surprised you're not mistaken for a homicidal accountant."

Spike gave him a flat look which told Xander just exactly how amused he was. Which was, if Xander wasn't mistaken, very. He shivered again. As foreplay went, this was certainly not anything like the books said. "I'll have you know," Spike said in an almost reasonable tone as he stepped into the room and flicked on the lights. "That I did a stint as an accountant once. Bookkeeper, really. *Before* I became a vampire."

Xander stopped and cocked his head regarding Spike critically. "You know, that explains so much."

There was a pause while Spike just looked at him. Then, "I'm not sure if I've just been insulted, or not." He shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Top or bottom?"

"Um," Xander fumbled, eyes widening as the question drove home exactly what he was doing. What he was planning on doing. It made him think again. Which was what he'd been trying to avoid.

"Don't tell me you've never *done* this before," Spike began, his laugh clear though unvoiced.

"You laugh and I won't be doing it now either," he warned. He wasn't going to blush, he wasn't...

"All right, calm down." Spike stepped closer, amusement now gone. "We can skip that part." Then Spike kissed him.

That was what he needed. The touch, the focus, with the underlying thrill of danger. It overwhelmed his mind, and did what nothing else had managed: it stopped him thinking.

He felt Spike's hands on his waist, resting there, not quite holding him. He felt Spike's mouth against his, by now familiar and not quite the shock it had been before. He could feel Spike's body up against his; cool, hard, pressing into and against him. Spike's hand moved, sliding around in between them until it rested. Right there.

Xander tensed, breaking the kiss, and Spike regarded him with a very faint smile on his face. "Now, I know you've done this part before. I was there." As he spoke, he rubbed his hand up and down the length of Xander's erection.

Xander tried to think of something witty to say to that, but what came out of his mouth sounded more like, "Gaah..." His body, however, was more eloquent, as he pushed himself more firmly against Spike's hand, his own raising and holding onto Spike's shoulders.

"Yeah. Oh, yeah," Spike whispered, still rubbing through the jeans, his own hips moving forward and his legs bumping against Xander's. He kissed Xander again, and Xander was about to tell him to *do* something, stop teasing him like this.

Spike pushed them both, Xander falling backwards onto what turned out to be a bed. It was clean, which surprised him; at least there were no puffs of dust as they'd landed, and he couldn't smell anything except the faint scent of cigarettes and... roses?

Maybe it was laundry detergent.

But then Spike was lowering his head and nibbling at his lip, his lower body pressed against Xander's, and Xander gave up thinking all together. He couldn't think of anything when Spike begin unzipping his jeans; Spike's hand finding its way inside brought only a moan, and Xander's hips shoving upward, slipping himself into Spike's grasp.

The fingers grasping him were cool to the touch, so different from his own. It was vaguely disturbing and overwhelmingly exciting. Gasping for breath, he knew he wasn't going to last very long.

Spike squeezed, then, jerking him off with a firm, sure grip. Xander's head slammed into the mattress beneath him as he screamed; Spike's mouth was suddenly there, covering his own and muffling the cry. He reached up and held onto Spike, needing the anchor while he
was flying apart.

As his orgasm rushed through him, he heard Spike's voice, whispering again. Felt his hand continuing to pull, to rub, wrenching every last ounce of everything from him. When Xander collapsed, Spike was there. Smiling at him, dark eyes staring right at him.

"Wha-You-I-" He shut his mouth, waiting for his brain to coalesce enough to put two words together.

"You're welcome, yes, and all right," Spike answered, and kissed him again.

Which wasn't helping the coalescing process very much. But it felt so good, he gave up on thought and went with feeling again. And there was a lot to feel, he noticed dimly, as his hands skimmed over Spike's body, exploring. Spike moved closer, bracing himself on his hands so Xander could get to any part he wished.

For a moment, thought threatened. The faintest hint of 'What am I' and he viciously raised his head and caught Spike's mouth in a successful effort to drive it off, pushing the vampire over onto his back and straddling him. Spike went easily, falling limply -- rather, bonelessly -- beneath Xander. He smiled and wriggled, encouraging Xander to do whatever he liked. Continue doing whatever he liked. It was rather heady, having Spike spread out before him like this. He slid his hands down the vampire's torso, eyes intent on Spike's face.

Spike was watching him, expression making Xander think Spike was in desperate need of something, and not about to ask for it. Sliding a hand down to the prominent bulge in Spike's tight black jeans, Xander figured he didn't need to be told what it was.

~~~~~

He'd left Spike curled up, sound asleep. Tip-toeing out of the factory, sneaking carefully past a still-sleeping Drusilla as well, Xander was able to continue thinking nothing until he was safely outside. The last hour of daylight would give him enough time to get home, but would it be enough for him to regain what, if any, was left of his senses?

Admittedly, it had served its purpose. He hadn't thought about Giles all afternoon. On the other hand, there were a hundred less stupid things he could have done instead. Bungee-cord jumping. Footrace on the highway. Told Buffy he knew she bleached her hair.

There had to be easier ways to indulge this sudden death wish he seemed to have acquired. Sleeping with a vampire. That was bad enough, but he couldn't just pick any old run of the mill vampire, he had to pick the worst of the bunch. William the Bloody. Though somehow Spike lost some of that aura of danger when he was moaning Xander's name and arching up into his hand...

Xander's thoughts seemed to spiral away again, leaving the picture and the feeling behind in their stead. Spike had never even tried to threaten him, never once even nibbled at Xander's skin.

That caused *more* shivers, and more pictures of things he'd like to-- no. No, he was not going to think about doing this again. Being attracted to an older man who was his legal guardian was *not* grounds for sleeping with the undead. Repeatedly, at any rate.

He felt suddenly nostalgic for the time where he was indulging in unrequited lust for Buffy and all he had to worry about was dodging his father's fists. Why did life have to be so complicated?

With a sigh, he headed for home. With any luck he could grab a shower before Giles caught sight of him.


Previous Part