Sandy Places Overseas

Part One

"Do I need to take a windbreaker?" Xander popped back into the living room, holding said jacket.

Giles looked up from the book he was reading. "Didn't you pack one already?"

"I packed my duster, but I thought if it's warm but rains, I might want a cooler warm jacket. Or I could pack another long-sleeved shirt. Flannel?" He had no idea how Giles could be so calm. OK, yes, so Giles had packed last night, swiftly, easily, and now had a total of two bags sitting by the door.

But Giles had *done* this before. How was he supposed to know if he'd need a jacket or a coat or his boots as well as his sneakers-- boots! He went back to his room and stared at his allotted two bags. Was there space for boots?

Maybe what he needed was bigger bags.

He headed out to ask, then remembered what Giles had said about a weight allowance. Maybe if he *wore* his boots, and packed his sneakers, then. He sighed. Willow hadn't ever told him about this part of vacations.

"It isn't the end of the world if you forget something, you know." Xander looked up to see Giles standing in the doorway. "They do have clothes in England."

"Yeah, but there's no reason to buy something I already own, because I forgot to pack it."

His guardian smiled faintly. "Forgetting to pack it would be the reason."

Xander shrugged. "Yeah, but I'm right here, now. Might as well pack it than forget it."

"It's not worth stressing out over, though."

"I won't forget anything," he assured Giles, as he checked the first bag for room for his sneakers.

Giles' hand landed on his shoulder. "Xander. Leave it be for a moment."

"Buffy and Willow and Oz are gonna be here in half an hour. I just wanna make sure I have everything." He tried to remember what grandmum had said about the weather -- he'd called her again yesterday morning, still trying to translate British slang for Californian, to determine what sort of clothing would be needed. He remembered his panic when he'd found out only three days ago that he'd need a set of dress clothes, and had had to completely re-pack.

He tried again to find room for his sneakers. He didn't mind wearing his boots the entire month, really. But they might get hot.

"Xander." Giles gently pulled him away.

"What?" He let himself be distracted for the moment. He'd leave the sneakers, then. He could deal with a month of boots or dress shoes. Or -- maybe there was room in his carry-on! Yeah, that would work.

"It's all right," Giles repeated. "It doesn't matter if you forget something."

"I'm not going to forget anything," he repeated. Why didn't Giles believe him?

"Except your sanity if you keep stressing like this."

Xander gaped at him. "Stressing? I'm not *stressing*! I'm packing. Trying to, anyway."

"You look like you're about to jump out of your skin."

"Well, then, I'd have to pack that, too, wouldn't I?" Xander stopped, and wondered if this might not be easier if he just told him.

Giles was looking at him, eyes full of concern and worry.

"I'm just not used to going on vacation," he offered. Then he looked away. He knew what he was stressing over, and knew Giles would see it written all over his face. He hated that everything in his life could be dragged back to things his parents had done. One would think flying to England would be far enough away that they wouldn't matter.

A hand touched the side of his face, turning his head back to face Giles. "There's more to it than that."

"I just used to get in trouble when I forgot things, when I got to go to my grandmother's for a few days or a week, sometimes. But I have time to remember everything, now, so I don't want--"

"Xander. You're not going to get in trouble if you forget something."

"I know," he said quickly, but frustrated that Giles didn't seem to get it. "But I won't forget anything."

"Then you're a better man than me. I always forget something."

"You should plan better." Xander winced as he heard what he'd said. God, he even *sounded* like his father. "I'm sorry," he managed, quietly.

"It's all right."

Xander stared at him, trying to decide. He had every reason to think it would be OK-- but thinking that made him suddenly want to say nothing at all. "Would... if I told you..."

"You can tell me anything," Giles said softly.

With a glance down at his bag, still partly open with a tiny spot squished into it for half a shoe, Xander stepped forward, tentatively.

Giles held his arms open. It didn't take a second for Xander to settle himself safely in those arms. It made it harder to talk, though, and for a while he could only stand there. Giles didn't seem to mind, remaining silent and just holding him.

"He didn't just hit me, when he was mad. When I'd really messed up, and it wasn't just him being drunk, he'd--" Like when he'd not packed his toothbrush, after having been told twice to do so. Wouldn't go to the store and spend sixty cents on another toothbrush, he could just goddamn well do without and everyone would just have to wonder why the little boy had bad breath all weekend.

The arms holding him tightened briefly, but Giles remained silent, giving him as much time as he needed to get the words out.

Xander skipped over some of it, details he didn't want to hear, himself. "I tried to remember, the next time. I really did. But I always managed to forget something, and he'd tell me how stupid I was that I couldn't even pack. Then grandmother died and it didn't matter because we never went anywhere else." He breathed the last words out, a false sense of it being over filling his lungs for the moment.

Giles was still silent for a moment and when he did speak it wasn't what Xander expected. "I'll buy you a toothbrush."

Startled, Xander jerked back. "I didn't say--" No, he hadn't said it aloud, he realized. Rather, he *had* forgotten it. Feeling the blood rush from his face, he pulled himself out of Giles' embrace and headed for the bathroom.

He *was* an idiot. He'd packed everything else -- even toothpaste. When he came back to his room carrying his toothbrush, Giles was still standing there waiting. He stalked over to his bag, embarrassed and angry with himself. Giles had obviously *known* he'd forgotten it. And hadn't said anything. He unzipped the little bag and slid his toothbrush in.

"You're angry."

"Yeah, well, I used to only forget something once. This makes twice. You'd think I'd learn." He rezipped the bag, shoved it back into the duffel.

"Learn what exactly?" Giles' voice was gentle.

"To not forget to pack my toothbrush." He'd had a bruise on his cheek all that weekend, too, which his mother had explained away as 'boys, they're always doing *something*.'

"What would happen if you did?"

Xander stared at the floor. "I'd prove he was right."

He heard Giles leave, but before Xander could react, he was back, carrying his own bag. Xander frowned, and watched. Giles sat the bag down on Xander's bed and opened it. He pulled out his small bag of toiletries and out of that, his toothbrush.

"Um, I just packed mine, I don't think I need yours. Unless this is a lesson complete with visual aids? How not to forget a toothbrush?"

"Actually, if it's anything, it's a lesson on how *to* forget a toothbrush." Giles repacked the toiletries bag and then made a brief trip to the bathroom to put the toothbrush away.

Confused, Xander asked, "So now, what?" What was Giles trying to pull?

"Nothing."

He narrowed his eyes. "So when they get here to take us to the airport, you're gonna repack it, and prove what? Exactly?"

"I'm not going to repack it."

He mulled this over. Then shook his head. "I don't get it. So your parents think *you* forgot your toothbrush? Instead of me, except I just packed mine?"

"What do you think is going to happen?" Giles asked softly.

"Your mom'll give you a hard time about getting old?"

"No," his guardian answered with a faint smile, before his expression turned serious again. "She'll get me another one."

"And when she asks you why you forgot it, and you tell them about this 'Xander isn't stupid' object lesson?" He knew Giles was trying to make him see something that he was, thus far, missing.

Giles shook his head. "She isn't going to ask why. That's the point."

Xander rubbed his nose, wondering if Giles' point was supposed to mean... "So your parents won't care if you forget your toothbrush."

"No, they won't. I would be very surprised if they even mention it."

He fidgeted for a bit, trying to decide if he wanted to risk asking if he were right. "They won't think you were an idiot?"

Giles shook his head. "No."

"But--" He heard the words in his head, surprised he was thinking them, not surprised he asked anyway, once the words were on his tongue. "But what if they don't like me? If I do something else stupid and--"

"You won't." Giles moved closer and laid his hands on Xander's shoulders. "You're not going to screw this up, Xander. You can't."

He laughed. "You haven't see me at my worst. You thought last spring was bad?" He had an aunt and uncle and cousins right here in Sunnydale, whom he never saw. Who avoided he and his parents -- all because of something stupid Xander had done when he was a toddler. His father had been drunk, again, but *he'd* started the fire, and he remembered having done so deliberately. Even if he didn't remember why.

He knew why he'd hit his younger cousin, though, at her fourth birthday party. His aunt had told his mother that if she couldn't control her child, just don't bring him around anymore.

"You think there's anything you can do to change my feelings for you?" There was a rough edge to Giles voice, as if he was holding back some powerful emotions.

Xander shook his head. "This isn't about how you feel. They don't really know me, yet. They're gonna see me constantly for a month, and I don't think I can not screw up for that long."

"You have, here. And even if you do screw up, it won't matter. They'll still accept you."

In a tiny voice, he protested, "But that doesn't mean they'll like me."

"They already do, Xander. My mother--"

"Hasn't talked to me for more than an hour. Even I can be good that long."

Giles sighed. "What can I say to convince you?"

A fair question, unfortunately one with no real answer. "Just... don't leave me alone with them, OK? Until--I know if they do."

Pulling Xander into his arms again, Giles nodded. "I promise."

This time, settling into Giles' embrace had an entirely different feel of safety to it. This time, he actually felt himself relaxing, a little. "You can pack your toothbrush, if you want."

"You sure?"

Xander nodded against Giles' shoulder. "Unless you really want a new, English one."

He felt as well as heard Giles' chuckle. "I think I can make do with an American one."

Xander tightened his hold on Giles, clasping his hands together to stay where he was, for as long as he could. He felt like a little kid -- wouldn't be surprised if he hid behind Giles when they arrived in London.

He remained nestled there for a few moments further. Then, reluctantly, he pulled away. "I promise not to... freak out too much on our vacation," he offered weakly.

"It's all right if you do. We both know you're not doing it on purpose."

At that, he managed to grin a little. "You mean I *can't* do it on purpose?"

"If you drank enough soda, I'm sure you could."

Xander scoffed, and some of the light-heartedness he was faking, began to actually feel real. "I don't need *soda* to freak out. All I need is a-- oh, that would be telling." He grinned, and returned his attention to his backpack. Unzipping it, he realized he could fit his sneakers in if he left a couple of books behind.

"Chocolate," Giles guessed.

Xander grinned harder. "Nope. Well, yeah, that too. But not the thing I was not going to tell you about." He pulled one book out, and tried rearranging things.

Idly, Giles picked up the sneakers and packed them in his bag.

"Oh, that works," Xander said casually -- faked casually, mostly. He put the book back in-- "Hey! I have room for a Stonyman paperback!"

His guardian rolled his eyes, but still wore a faint smile.

"Oh, and you didn't stick three paperbacks in *your* carry-on, one of which is that 'Allison Drake'--"

"Did I say anything?"

"Yes. You rolled your eyes. You--" He stopped himself before he said 'have very expressive eyes'. "You said 'oh for god's sake, I thought he was going to be a scholar, and instead he's reading this drivel.'"

"I said all that, did I?" Giles sounded amused.

Xander nodded, as he managed to stuff two paperbacks into the backpack. "And there was a short commentary on the energy with which I bounced back from freaking out so thoroughly, and a rather long beseeching for the strength to endure being stuck on an airplane with a hyper-active teenager."

"I must have eloquent eyes."

Xander snapped his jaw shut. Then he stammered, "I just have way too much practice at seeing that look." He had no idea if he'd just gotten himself out of, or deeper into, where he didn't want to go. He finished his re-packing quickly, and grabbed his bags. "Are you sure we can't take Willow with us? She makes a good valet."

"Maybe next time." Giles picked up his own and they headed out of the room.

"I promised to bring her back something English." Xander concentrated on Willow, on the gifts she'd asked for -- and not the look he'd seen in Giles' eyes. After he'd rolled them in exasperation. He plastered an innocent look on his face and asked, "You think they'll have anything like that in the shops?"

"Oh, I sincerely doubt it," Giles answered deadpan.

"Bummer. Guess I'll have to buy something here, at the airport."

"I'm sure we can work in one or two shopping trips while we're there."

"I've already been assured that your mother turns into a shopping demon, whenever you visit." Xander looked over, and grinned as the front door opened, and Willow, Buffy and Oz came in. "Hey! The chauffeurs, right on time. Or early," he added after glancing at his watch.

Willow grinned at him. "We wanted the time to say good-bye properly."

"You wanted time to make sure we weren't leaving anything in the freezer that would spoil, like the rest of the chocolate pecan swirl ice cream." Xander gave her a knowing look.

"Oo! There's ice cream?" Buffy asked.

"With Xander in the house?" Giles shook his head. "We bought some yesterday and it was gone last night."

Buffy pouted at him. "Hey!" Xander protested. "Who was it that had a second bowl right along with me?" He looked at Giles -- then turned his accusation towards Willow.

"It was a small bowl," she protested.

Xander held out his hands, indicating the size of the bowl.

"That was your bowl," she said.

"And yours. Don't try to deny it, Will. You ate just as much as I did. Until you left, when I ate more, but that isn't what we're discussing, now." He gave Giles a short glare to encourage the unsuccessful way the other man was stifling a laugh.

Willow mock-frowned at him. "Behave or we won't give you your going away present."

"I get a present?" He spotted the bag she was holding. "Oo! Presents!"

Willow handed over the bag with a smile. He opened it, peering inside. It was something fuzzy. Not moving, which was a bonus. Pulling it out, he blinked at it.

"Isn't he cute?" Buffy reached over and rubbed the thing's head. Xander just gave Willow a confused look.

"To guard your dreams while you're away," she explained.

Xander stared at the stuffed wolf in his hands. He had no idea what to say that wouldn't embarrass *everyone* here. He wanted to grab Willow and tell her thank you -- ask her how she knew he was worried about having bad dreams when he wouldn't have the freedom to sneak into Giles' bed. Instead he grinned at her, gave Oz a sidelong look. "A wolf?"

She blushed. "I like wolves."

Oz smiled at her, reached over and gave her hand a squeeze. Then he said to Xander, "Wolves are very protective of their pack, you know. Very fierce."

Willow nodded. "And we're kinda a pack -- the scooby gang, I mean."

"Does that mean you're all gonna sleep with me when I have bad dreams?" Xander joked -- realizing only after he said it that no one was going to find it funny. He smiled, anyway.

"Nah," Buffy answered breezily. "Your bed isn't big enough."

"We could put down sleeping bags in the living room," Oz suggested. Xander couldn't tell if he was serious, or joking. Or both.

Breezily, he said, "You can take turns. Buffy, if we go alphabetically--"

"Xander, I love you, but I'm not going to bed with you."

Xander pouted at her.

She grinned. "Besides, what would Bork say?"

"Please keep in mind as you answer that, that your guardian is in the room," Giles put in.

Xander opened his mouth, closed it, then thought for a moment. "That would mean I can't mention the orgy..."

"Good call."

"Or the photos."

Giles gave him a Look.

"I am *definitely* not mentioning the roof."

~~~~~

Xander bounced in his spot as the pretty steward took his and Giles' boarding passes. All his life, he'd never thought he'd get to fly on an airplane -- and now, here he was going across the Atlantic ocean. He almost wished Willow were going with them, so he could taunt her right away about his trip -- except if she went with, there would be no excuse to taunt her. Xander wasn't sure that would stop him.

He would call her tonight -- tomorrow morning, yesterday afternoon... he wasn't really sure, despite all the calls they'd made to England already. Not like Willow would care. He could call at 2 in the morning just to babble about the plane ride, and she would just get as excited as he.

He'd have to call her, if only to give Giles a break. As he glanced over and saw the look of patient amusement, he *knew* that twelve hours from now Giles would be ready to hand him over to the first person they met.

Xander grinned. He was going to belong to the Customs Official, if he weren't careful.

Giles smiled back. "Would you like the window seat?"

He gave Giles a brief, hurt look. "You mean you were gonna *not* give me the window seat?"

"It depended on whether you wanted it. You could've found it..."

"Boring? Repetitive? Vertigo-inducing?" Xander unsubtly moved ahead of Giles as they approached the plane.

"I see now it was silly of me."

Xander shrugged. "If I decide I don't want the window seat, I'll just make you switch with me."

Giles just smiled at him again and gestured him into the seat.

"Hey! Why are these seats so big?" Xander moved into the seat nearest the window, tucking his backpack onto his lap as he twisted around, trying to still see everything from his now-limited vantage.

"They are usually this size in first class," Giles replied settling in next to him.

"We're in first class?" Xander turned to him, gauged his sincerity -- which, of course, was bolstered by the fact that it *looked* like first class. Then he craned his head back around, scooting up to get one knee on the seat so he could peer over the other seats. "Don't we get champagne or something in first class? I saw it in a movie once -- or was that when the plane was going down and they wanted to distract everyone?"

"We'll get drinks -- and food. You're too young for champagne."

"But I'm sitting in first class!" Xander pouted. He realized, suddenly, that he sounded like Spike. Want my creature comforts and I want 'em now. The pout was his, too, he suspected. Surely he'd never pouted this much before having it inflicted on him on such a regular basis.

Thinking about Spike threatened to remind him of last night's going away party, and he frantically tried to think of other things. Maybe they'd crash, and he wouldn't think about Spike's moans--

Giles' voice was interrupting those thoughts. "Considering what happened the last time you imbibed--"

Xander slammed his jaw shut. He hadn't intended to bring *that* up. He turned back around, and looked out the window. The ground crews were moving around, and he wondered what they were doing.

He could feel Giles' eyes on him, watching, studying, weighing. "Perhaps one glass."

"They'll card me," he pointed out. He saw something approaching, recognized it as the baggage truck. He watched, hoping to catch a glimpse of his and Giles' bags. Grinned as he saw the handlers throw the bags onto the ramp with an ease that would make faint-hearted passengers worry for their belongings.

Xander knew it was simply the only way to load lots of heavy stuff, as quickly as possible. Didn't know why he knew. He pictured the handlers loading a long box, not knowing there was a sleeping vampire inside, and stifled a laugh.

Spike had *offered* to come along.

He tuned back in in time to hear Giles say "--have a bit of mine."

"Does champagne taste any good?"

"You'll have to decide for yourself."

Willing to be mollified by the offer, Xander managed to maintain some semblance of calm -- for two minutes. Then he saw a plane taxing past. "Look!" He pressed his face against the window.

Giles chuckled and clasped a hand to his shoulder affectionately.

"It's taking off," Xander explained, leaning closer to the window to watch as it moved past his line of sight. There was another one on a different runway, coming in for a landing. "I've never seen tires that big."

"There are rather large, aren't they?"

"Giles..." He'd asked Willow, and not understood a word she'd said. Maybe Giles would do better.

"Yes?"

"How does the plane stay in the air?"

Giles blinked. "Um, well... didn't they teach you that in physics?"

"I think that was February. It was on one of the tests I flunked."

"Ah. I believe it has to do with the shape of the wings and the way the air moves over them. It creates a change in air pressure that holds the plane up."

"Air?" Xander looked at him. "You're telling me *air* holds the plane up?"

"What else is there?" Giles spread his hands.

Xander looked outside -- at the air. "Um, I hate to tell you this -- but the airplane weighs more than air."

Giles pulled out a dollar bill and handed it over. "Hold it out in front of you by the short end."

He gave Giles a look that communicated clearly his opinion of his guardian's sanity, he accepted the dollar, and did as instructed.

"Blow across the top of it."

"Why?"

"It's a demonstration."

"Of...?"

"Are you going to do it?"

"All right, all right." Xander brought the bill to his mouth, and blew. "Hey!" He pulled the bill away, looked at it, then brought it back to try again. "How'd it *do* that?"

Giles smiled. "The same way that air holds up a plane."

He studied the dollar bill, held it up and blew again -- and *again* the bill rose. "But I'm blowing over the *top*. Shouldn't it go down?" He gave Giles a look. "It's magic, isn't it? Airlines employ sorcerers and you just don't wanna admit it."

"I'll find you a text book when we get to England if you'd like."

Xander narrowed his eyes. "There are textbooks with levitation spells in them, too, you know. Besides, it's in my physics book... I think." He brought the bill up one more time. It still worked.

"Then you don't need me to get you a book."

"You can get me a book on radioscopy."

Giles gave him another smile. "Radioscopy, hmm?"

"It's Buffy's fault." He slipped the bill into his pocket, then went back to staring out of the window, hiding his grin.

The question he was expecting next, came. "And how is it Buffy's fault?"

Xander hid his grin, looked back at Giles, and opened his mouth. Then closed it. Then opened it again, closed it, then asked, "Isn't this one of those things you don't actually want to know?"

He watched Giles' eyes narrow. "Is it?"

Squirming slightly, he pretended to think about it. "I think you'd be happier," he finally admitted.

"Except now you'll have to tell me because I won't be able to stop thinking about it."

"You can't just take my word for it?" Xander let himself grin. "Think of all the nights' sleep that won't get disrupted, worrying about what I'm doing with Buffy..."

"Too late."

He schooled his expression into one of grave seriousness. Or as close as he could get. "She wants to see into--this isn't gonna get *her* into trouble, will it?"

"No promises."

Xander narrowed his eyes. "You're getting grouchy, again."

One of Giles' eyebrows shot upwards. "Grouchy?"

"Yeah. The first year you were here, you were grouchy. You tried to act like it was just normal reserve and formality due a Watcher and teacher and all that. But you were grouchy. Being with me has really loosened you up."

Giles looked at him with a strange expression. "It's done more than that."

"Yeah, but now you're starting to get grouchy again," Xander repeated, not wanting to think about -- or ask -- what Giles meant. "I think you need a vacation from... being the grown-up."

"I'm not sure that's possible, Xander," Giles replied with laughter.

"I got to," Xander said, surprising himself at the seriousness of his words.

"You're supposed to at your age." Giles' smile became more sober in response to Xander's tone.

"Yeah, but I got into less trouble," he said, thoughtfully. "More punishment, but less actually doing anything wrong."

"It wasn't so much punishment, as providing structure."

Xander blinked at him, utterly baffled. "Structure? You call *that* -- oh. You mean *you*."

"I'm talking about what I was trying to do." He reached out and brushed a lock of hair off of Xander's forehead. "I wasn't trying to punish you, just make sure you didn't make the same mistakes again."

"So I could concentrate on making new and more interesting mistakes?" He suddenly jolted. "We're moving!" He looked back out the window. "We're moving!"

The intercom came alive then as the flight attendants ran through the standard safety speech about seatbelts, emergency exits and such. Xander tried to concentrate on listening, but he was too distracted. Granted, there wasn't much to *see* outside -- just the tarmac, moving slowly by.

But they were *moving*. He turned around and gave a surprised Giles a quick, hard hug.

"What's that for?" Giles asked, automatically returning it.

"For this."

"You're welcome." The arms around him tightened.

Then he began bouncing again. The plane was picking up speed.

~~~~~

Xander stayed glued to the window until nearly an hour later -- the ground was far enough away that he couldn't see anything besides color. He finally leaned back and glanced over to find Giles watching him.

"Enjoying yourself?" Giles smiled indulgently.

"It's *cool*! You sure you don't wanna look?" He'd asked Giles four times, already, if he didn't want to swap seats for a few minutes. The last time he'd asked, he'd noticed Giles was beginning to get that 'trapped with a hyper teenager' look of forced-patience in his eyes. Xander bounced in his seat. "Because you can't see much, now."

"It's all right. I've done this before. Once or twice."

"Back and forth to England?"

"From America? Yes. Among other places." He stretched a little, settling more comfortably into his chair.

"Where?" Xander shifted in his seat, away from the window -- it was only clear blue right now, and that he could see at home. "Anyplace fun?"

Giles considered. "Well I'd suppose it would depend on your definition of fun."

"Oh. Watcher business?" Xander considered that it might not be something Giles would want to talk about -- since he hadn't ever, before. Except he wanted to know. "Where'd you go?"

"Egypt for one. And it was only marginally related to Watcher business."

"Egypt? For real? You've actually been to Egypt?" Xander found himself about to bounce again, and held himself still so Giles wouldn't get distracted by telling him he couldn't have a second soda.

Giles nodded, his smile getting even more indulgent. "I went during the winter break my last year at university."

"Oh, so you weren't there very long?" He didn't know why that disappointed him. Unless -- "Did you ever want to go back? Did you see any Pyramids? Or the Sphinx? Or the Grugenhil? Do you speak Egyptian or do they speak anything else, there?"

"I was there two weeks and yes, I saw all the usual sights. I have a smattering of Arabic, enough I was able to get by. As for wanting to go back..." Giles glanced at him again. "perhaps, if it was to show it to someone else."

This time he let himself bounce. "Really? We could go to Egypt? Did you like it there? I've only ever seen a movie made in Egypt, not counting the Indiana Jones movies and I don't think they really count since they're set several decades ago, but the movie I saw was in Egyptian and we couldn't ever decide if the horse was actually the princess or if the wizard-guy was dreaming. But it didn't tell us much about the culture except that I think I could say 'get rid of that dog!' in Egyptian."

Giles sat for a moment looking at him with his mouth slightly agape. "I will remember that if we ever need to rid ourselves of canines."

"Egyptian canines. Won't work on other dogs. The movie was really funny, though, unless she really *was* dead. It might have been a tragedy in that case." A thought suddenly silenced him, and he sat very still. If they could just so off-handedly plan to go to Egypt, then they could just as casually plan to go somewhere else. He looked at Giles, feeling his eyes go wide. "We could go to *Spain*."

It wouldn't be the same Spain that Dru had talked about. The Spain she'd known was variously 100 and fifty and ten years old, and reserved for creatures of the night. But he could still go, and see the same places Spike had been...

"If you'd like." Giles tilted his head to one side. "Why Spain?"

They could sit at the restaurants, outside near the street -- what had Dru called them? Steps to the stars. Spike had laughed, and explained to Xander that she liked to sit outside and look at the night sky. "Oh, because Will--" He clamped his jaw shut. God knew why he hadn't said 'Spike'.

Giles was looking at him with compassion and understanding. "Because Will...?"

"He lived there for a while. Used to talk about it." When was he ever going to get used to Giles being so accepting about everything? He stifled a laugh at the idea of testing that acceptance by saying 'Oh by the way, did I ever mention he was a vampire?' Ignore for the moment Will was *still* in his life.

He glanced out the window. Blue sky.

He felt a hand touch his arm gently. "I think we can arrange for a quick sidetrip to Spain."

"He was in Bilbao, right on the coast. Bay of... Bascay? Where the Basque people are? Did they get named for the Bay, or did the bay get named for them?" He still felt subdued, wishing he could turn the conversation to something else. Any effort would be transparent, though; Giles would know exactly what he was doing.

"I think they were named for the Bay, though I'm not entirely certain." The answer was given in a matter-of-fact scholarly way.

Xander eyed him, knowingly. "You're going to find me another book, aren't you? I took European history in 10th grade, already. OK, flunked; maybe I do need a book."

Giles smiled faintly. "Perhaps a guide book."

"Or a guide? Hey! Could we do that backpack across Europe thing? Or would that be incredibly dangerous? I guess if we slept in motels instead of camping it would be OK. You're not too old for that, are you?" He could feel himself trying to force the babbling, and let it subside. He leaned sideways, against Giles. "Can we really go to Egypt and Spain?"

"Not all at once." Giles put his arm around Xander's shoulders. "But yes. We can go anywhere you want."

Xander wondered what it would be like. Go anywhere. Anywhere at all. He'd never dreamed of getting anywhere except out of the house; his world had been Sunnydale and the dark places in his mind. He'd thought his world had grown brighter when Giles had taken him in.

But bigger? He hadn't counted on that.

"Even Disneyland."

He sat up straight. "We can really go to Disneyland? What about-- if we went to Disney World we could go to Epcot as well, and the studios, so you wouldn't have to go on all the rides. Have you ever been on a roller coaster? Do they have those at Disney World? Buffy says they're boring."

"Buffy says Disney World is boring?" Giles was beginning to look a bit lost.

"Roller coasters. She's been on them before, and she says they're boring." He recalled the conversation they'd had, over a year ago. He continued, thoughtfully, "She may have been saying that because I was the only one there who hadn't ever been to an amusement park before. But none of them have been to Disney World -- we'd have to bring everyone back souvenirs. Mouse ears. Willow looks cute in mouse ears."

"So would you."

Xander grinned. "I'm not the only one." Spike in mouse ears?

"Haven't we had this discussion before?"

"No. We were talking about mouse ears from Disneyland. Now we're talking about mouse ears from Disney World." He craned his neck, looking up at Giles. Perfect position for a cute look. "If you say 'no' I'll make us go to Iowa for our next vacation."

"If that's where you want to go," Giles said innocently.

Xander smiled. "You think I'd be more bored than you would? One word: farmboys."

"After living in Sunnydale, boring would be a refreshing change."

"Sunnydale is boring."

Giles gave him a disbelieving gaze. "We definitely need to expand your horizons."

"You say that because you haven't lived there your whole life. You've been everywhere. Sunnydale might have demons and evil and Hellmouth and regular apocalypses, but... it's always the same. It's always *been* the same. Even when it's horrifying."

There was silence for a moment as he watched Giles consider that. "Iowa might be a refreshing change for you then as well."

"Can we go to Disney World, instead? I wouldn't actually make you wear mouse ears."

He got another smile. "We can go anywhere you want."

"Can we go see Rocky Horror?"

Giles shuddered.

"It's playing on-stage in London. Grandmum checked for me."

"Wouldn't you rather go to... uh..."

Xander watched him flounder, for a bit.

"I'm not dressing up."

"She said I could borrow your outfit."

He watched as Giles close his eyes, visibly summoning patience. "Remind me to have a long chat with her."

Xander grinned gleefully. "If it makes you feel any better, I can promise to have kids so you can embarrass me back."

"I look forward to it." There was something in his voice, his expression that Xander couldn't immediately put a name to.

"In the meantime," Xander began, deciding he should take pity on Giles. A little. "We actually got tickets to see something else."

"Oh?"

"You don't think we'd actually torment you the entire month?"

Giles smiled faintly. "The thought had crossed my mind."

"Nah." Xander reached around and gave Giles a quick hug. "After a while you just start going along with the joke. Then it's no fun, and I have to start tormenting someone else."

"I'll introduce you to the Watchers council. You can torment them with my blessing."

"I'll tell them you said that."

"I suspect they wouldn't be very surprised." Giles shifted in his seat. "I've a reputation as something of a rebel."

Xander heard the echo of something other than satisfaction, in Giles' voice. The same rebellion that made him such an excellent Watcher for Buffy, had earned him little praise from those who had trained him. Including his own father. "We like you that way," he said quietly.

That earned him a smile. "Thank you."

"Even without mouse ears," he groused.

~~~~~

Xander managed to avoid annoying Giles much more, for the remainder of the trip. Most of it was due to the books he'd brought to read. He did think he'd pressed his luck when the plane had flown into some clouds, and he'd gone back to plastered against the window, repeating over and over to Giles that there were clouds to see. He was sure Giles appreciated it when Xander had opened his backpack and dug out a book and his CD player.

Finally, though, when he was sure he'd have to start bugging Giles again just to offset the fact that he'd been *sitting* more or less all day, they announced the plane's approach.

Then he was glued to the window one more time, watching as the island then the city then the airport came into view. When they touched down, he turned to Giles, and heard himself say, "We're in England!"

"Unless the plane took a dramatically wrong turn, yes." Giles smiled indulgently and Xander reflected that it was an expression he'd seen a lot of so far on this trip.

He resisted the urge to stick out his tongue, as he'd only have to explain himself -- and that would just make Giles look at him, indulgently. He didn't manage to stay calm, though, as they got off the plane and headed down the corridor, approaching Customs. Beyond, he could see people waiting.

It didn't escape Giles' notice and he touched Xander's back with a steadying hand. "It's going to be all right. They're going to love you."

Xander swallowed his comment of 'Now, yeah'. He knew they'd be friendly. He tried to imagine what it would be like, seeing face to face the woman he'd been calling 'grandmum'. Over the phone, she was wonderful. She'd be waiting for them, burst into joyful welcomes and hugs as soon as she saw them. He suddenly realized he was walking practically *on* Giles. Maybe he *was* a lot nervous. "They're gonna hug me?"

"My mother most likely will. Unless," He felt Giles looking at him. "Unless you would rather she didn't?"

He stamped down on the urge to hide behind Giles. "It'd be kinda late to decide that now, wouldn't it?" he joked.

"If you don't want to be hugged, she won't hug you."

Xander started to shrug -- people were moving past them, now, on their way through Customs. "It doesn't matter," he said as he continued forward to avoid holding up traffic any worse.

Giles reached out and caught a hold of his arm, stopping him. "It does matter."

"But it's embarrassing." He wanted to just go out there and get this over with -- but there was another part of him that wanted to get back on the plane.

"It matters," Giles repeated, holding his gaze seriously.

Finally, Xander just shook his head. "They're gonna think we stayed on the plane," he managed, nodding towards the gate. It wasn't like they were going to hurt him, he told his brain, sternly. If anything, Giles' mother had promised to spoil him for the entire month.

After a long, searching look, Giles nodded. But before he let Xander go, he said, "Anything or anyone makes you uncomfortable, all you have to do is tell me and it'll stop. I promise."

"I know," Xander whispered. He *wanted* to meet Giles' parents -- wanted to enjoy meeting them, wanted to like being here. Wanted to have grandparents who loved him, again. He didn't understand the voice in his head that was demanding to get back on the plane and go home.

He slipped his hand into Giles'. Giles smiled at him and didn't let go as they continued.

The crowd made it difficult to see if there was anyone who matched the photos Giles had shown him. Groups of people hugging and laughing and talking, individuals milling about, searching for faces they knew, people in uniforms trying to move past everyone else with the patient impatience of seasoned airline personnel.

"Rupert!"

Xander froze. He tried to see through the crowd, telling himself to calm down and relax before he freaked out over something so stupid. When he saw Maggie moving towards them, arms out, he ducked behind Giles.

"Mum," Giles greeted her with a smile, hugging her tightly.

There was someone beside her -- Giles' father, Everett. He gave Xander a brief, perplexed look before Everett held out his hand. Maggie pulled back from hugging her son and looked at him as well. "And this must be Xander."

"Hi." Xander tried to uncurl his fingers from Giles' shirt. He hadn't realized he'd latched on, and he realized it must look odd. Before he could accept the offered handshake, though, Giles' father pulled his hand back. No sign of confusion or censure in his face.

"Yes, it is." Giles sounded quite proud as he turned and gently disengaged Xander's hand from his shirt, pulling him forward a little, but also close to his side. Protectively.

"Nice to finally meet you," Everett said, giving him a polite nod. "I understand this is your first trip to England -- hope you don't mind, Maggie has rather a great deal planned for us all. You weren't hoping to get any sleep, were you?"

Xander found himself grinning. "Not any more." He glanced at Maggie, who was telling her husband to hush.

"Feed him a few sodas and he can keep going indefinitely," Giles teased gently.

"That doesn't sound too much different than another teenage boy I remember," his mother replied archly, then turned and smiled at Xander. "Welcome to the family," she said holding out her hands to him.

"Thanks," he replied, beginning to feel that he liked her in person, as much as over the phone. She didn't look anything like her photos, though -- she was a lot more vibrant, in person. He tentatively held out a hand. She grasped it briefly, her smile warming even more, but when he tensed even a little she let go again.

He returned her smile, though he was puzzled. Grew more so when Giles' father suggested they head for the car. It was like no one minded that he was nervous -- scared nearly out of his mind, there for a few minutes. No one was even saying a word.

As they turned to head through the remaining crowd, Xander frowned. He hadn't wanted to insult his grandmum by rebuffing her welcome... but now that he'd gotten what he'd wanted, he found he didn't want it. Still hanging onto Giles' hand, he moved a step ahead, closer to her.

Maggie smiled at him. "Did you have a good flight?"

"Saw lots of clouds." He grinned.

"Any interesting shaped ones?"

"All of them -- they look like pulled apart cotton balls." He'd said as much to Giles on the flight -- repeatedly. "Like you could sit on them, and not fall through. And I saw two mountain ranges." The conversation was beginning to sound like every other one he'd had with her.

He had no idea how to tell her he'd changed his mind, though, and wanted a hug.

"In the clouds or on the ground?"

He moved closer, and she held out her hand to him again, in what seemed like a completely natural gesture. "The real ones -- the Rockies and the Appalachians. The Rockies look taller." He took her hand, not realizing until he'd given her a half-hug, that he'd let go of Giles. Xander held his grandmum's hand lightly as they headed for the escalators. "Have you ever seen mountains from the air?"

"Not those ones. I'm afraid I've never been to America."

"You can come to Disney World with us." He leaned in and stage-whispered, "Can you help me get dad to wear Mickey Mouse ears?"

"Remind me to tell you about the play Rupert was in when he was five," Maggie replied conspiratorially.

"Mum!" Giles protested from where he was walking a step or two behind.

"Oh yeah?" He glanced back in time to see Giles rolling his eyes. "You have pictures, don't you?" he said knowingly.

"I think Maggie has pictures of practically every moment of Rupert's childhood," Giles' father put in.

Xander gave Giles a sympathetic look. "The only child syndrome. Too bad for you -- great for me."

"I'm glad I have someone to show them to now." Maggie gave him a brief hug as they were walking.

"Oh, we can share them, if you want more people to show them to. Buffy and Willow--"

"Yes, perhaps we should contact Willow about baby pictures," Giles broke in.

Xander snapped his mouth shut.

Maggie glanced curiously between the two of them before changing the subject. "I want to hear all about your friends too."

"Oh, you can. Willow's been my best friend my whole life. Her mom has all the pictures of me from when I was a kid," he explained.

"That's where the one you sent me came from?" Maggie asked her son.

Xander stopped. Turned, and gave Giles a glare. "Which *one* did you give her?"

"The one I carry in my wallet."

Huh. He'd have sworn he couldn't blush. Yet here he was. Blushing. "For *that* you are wearing mouse ears. That's final." He *knew* which of the three Giles carried in his wallet he'd given his mother.

The 'cute' one. He should be grateful that Willow hadn't ever given Giles the other embarrassing pictures. Yet.

Giles considered. "It's worth it."

Maggie was smiling. "I think it's an adorable picture, Xander. I finally get to show all my friends a grandbaby picture."

"But it's *embarrassing*."

"Why would you think it's embarrassing?" she asked.

He gave her a look. Then gave Giles another glare. "Which photo did he send you?" Giles had three, it was possible he hadn't sent *that* one. But Giles was looking innocent. Yep -- he was gonna make him wear mouse ears for a *year* for setting him up.

Maggie replied, "The one of you as a baby, making faces at the camera. I can't remember the last time I saw something so cute."

"I was *not* making faces! It isn't cute, it's..." He gave up. He'd never convinced Willow, or Giles, or *anyone* that the picture wasn't cute. He should have burned it when he was seven -- he'd tried to, and Willow had made him promise not to.

He sighed. It wasn't exactly embarrassing -- it just made him remember that, even as a baby, his parents hadn't cared enough to even want photos. He knew better than to say so out loud.

"I also have all those pictures from last Christmas." Maggie smiled. "And I expect to add lots more to my collection this trip."

"Which tells me what *I'll* be doing for the next month," came from behind them.

"At least you won't be posing," Giles told his father.

"Nonsense," said Maggie. "The two of you can take turns with the camera." She gave Xander a wink. He laughed.

They made their way outside, the conversation continuing on easily and comfortably. Xander and Maggie sat in the back seat, Maggie pointed out sights as they drove past. It was almost like being back on the airplane -- his nose pressed against the glass and gaping. It was real, he was in London. Somewhere that wasn't Sunnydale. The proof was all around him.

His excitement lasted until the car pulled into a short drive, stopping at a wrought-iron gate. There was a brick wall stretching out to either side, and through the gate Xander could see a huge old building that looked like a mansion. "Where are we?" Had they come to the Watcher's headquarters, first thing?

"Home," Giles said softly.

Xander blinked. Stared, as the gates swung slowly open. OK, so finally he understood just how rich Giles was. "But it looks like--"

"A bloody great hulk that belongs in a gothic novel?" Maggie suggested.

The car was moving forward, now, and Xander got a better look at the house. "I've never read gothic novels," he told her. "How many *rooms* are there? Didn't you ever get lost?" he directed the question to Giles.

"Not even when I wanted to." Giles sounded long-suffering.

"Rupert, we almost never told you to get lost," his mother chided him. "As for hiding out to avoid doing your chores -- I tried telling you when you were eight, that I'd done the same thing in this very same house when I was a girl and I knew *all* the spots."

"You took all the fun out of it."

"That was the point," Maggie replied. Xander found himself trying to stifle giggles. Watching Giles' mom give him a hard time was even better than doing it, himself.

"It wasn't fair." Giles seemed to be regressing before his eyes.

"Stomp your foot," Xander reminded him. "It doesn't work unless you stomp."

"You're enjoying this far too much."

"Um, duh? Aren't I supposed to be? You don't squirm like this when *I* harangue you."

"I have more practice," Maggie confided. "You'll get the hang of it."

"Good lord, I hope not," Giles muttered.

"It only took *you* a few months to get the hang of giving *me* a hard time," Xander complained. "It's only fair I get some pointers from grandmum."

Everett parked the car, and they all climbed out. Xander stared again -- it was even larger, up close. It was the sort of house that just beckoned one to go in and start exploring. Maggie took Xander's arm with a smile as they headed inside.

~~~~~

The foyer was exactly as the exterior had promised. Tall ceiling, paintings on the walls, small tables covered with vases and plants and a luxurious rug stretching the length of the hallway. Everything looked rich.

"You're gonna tell me what I can touch, aren't you?" Xander asked dubiously. He didn't want to think about the cost of everything he could break.

"This isn't a museum. As long as you don't practice crossbow shooting in the hallway..." Maggie looked over her shoulder at her son.

"It was raining outside," Giles protested mildly. "Besides, you always hated that vase."

"You're still claiming you *aimed* for the vase?" his father asked.

"What else could I have been aiming for?"

"That hideous painting of Uncle Randolph."

"I rather liked it. It certainly captures the man's spirit."

"He had a hideous spirit." Everett gave their bags a look. "I suppose you and I should carry these upstairs while your mother shows Xander around."

"We thought we'd put you in Rupert's old room," Maggie said. "If Rupert doesn't mind, most of his things are packed away, and he can stay in the guest room across the hall."

"That sounds fine to me," Giles said, looking questioningly at Xander.

Xander figured he was grinning widely enough to make any answer redundant.

"Wonderful. You two gets your things upstairs, while I show Xander the library."

"Library?" Xander's eyes went wide.

"Well, there goes the rest of the tour." Giles was giving him the indulgent smile, again.

"That's all right," Maggie said, with an indulgent smile of her own. "If we don't get any further today, we have the entire month."

"Only a month, for the entire library?" Everett shook his head. "You forget, last year we added shelves and put up all of Aunt Cissie's books."

Giles eyes lit up at that. Maggie laughed and shooed him and Everett off. "Go on. You can look after you've put the bags away."

Xander grinned at Giles, then let her lead him off down the hallway. She did point out a few rooms as they passed, pointing down halls and up a stairway -- showing him the other most important room besides the library: the kitchen. Then she led him to a set of double doors, and opened them with a smile. Xander stopped in the doorway. "You could just put my bags in here."

Maggie laughed and put an arm around his shoulders. "You definitely will fit in around here."

"It's not my fault. I used to be a happy slacker," he defended. He eyed the first bookshelf, trying to determine how the titles were organized.

"I'm afraid the organization is rather haphazard," Maggie told him apologetically. "By who put them in here, mostly."

"Darn, that means I just have to start at one end and work my way..." He suddenly realized how many bookcases there were. Every spot of wall was hidden, and the room itself... "I think this room is bigger than my old house." There was no way he could look at everything in just one month.

Maybe if he moved here for a couple years.

"You know, if there's some book you need for your studies after you've gone home, all you have to do is call us. We can send it to you."

"Do you have a catalogue?"

"As a matter of fact..." Maggie moved away, headed for a shelf near the middle. She pulled something out and brought it over.

"Uh, grandmum?"

"Yes?"

"It's gonna take me all month just to read that catalogue."

She smiled at him. "Do you have a computer?"

"Yeah."

"I'll send you it in a file."

He grinned. "Are you sure you're related to Rupert Giles?"

Maggie sighed tragically. "Rupert takes after his father, I'm afraid, when it comes to technology."

"What does he take after you for?" Xander asked, deliberately ignoring the books. He knew as soon as he looked closely enough to make out a title, he'd be lost.

"Everett always blames Rupert's rebelliousness on me."

Xander's grin vanished. She hadn't sounded any less serious than she had before, but... his rebelliousness was a serious issue. Even if she only meant now, against the Council, and not the rebellion he'd gone through as a teenager.

If it weren't for that rebellion, letting Buffy do things her own way -- letting her have friends, letting those friends be part of her life and part of her Watcher's life -- he'd be home, with his parents.

"Xander?" Maggie was looking at him with concern. "Is something wrong, luv?"

"Is he still mad at him? He used to... wish he'd do things the way he was supposed to. The way the council wanted him to. Does he still..." He didn't know if he was making much sense, but it was suddenly, somehow, too hard to say 'grandda'. Or 'dad'.

"Rupert and his father..." She sighed. "I don't think they've ever quite seen eye to eye. But the last year has been better."

Xander looked away. He knew how much Giles hated the disagreement with his father, hated the fact that they were disagreeing over something each felt was important. But also there was the realization that Everett Giles must -- now or then -- have regretted the way his son performed his duties. "If he hadn't, though-- if he hadn't done things the way he did--" Xander stopped, not sure this was supposed to be about whether or not he'd been
rescued.

But Maggie was looking at him attentively, ready and wanting to listen.

"It's because he was breaking the rules and letting me and Willow be there that I-- I wouldn't have ever gone over there after my father beat me up, if he hadn't let us be friends with Buffy. And with him."

"Then I am glad he did." Maggie spoke quietly, with conviction and she was looking past Xander as she did so. Xander glanced back, and froze.

Everett and Rupert were both standing there, watching them.

"So am I," Giles agreed, his posture defiant.

Xander couldn't help but glance to Giles' father. Everett was looking at him with something like mild surprise on his face. "You think I could regret this? Despite everything I may think about my son's methods, the one thing I cannot regret is that he gained you from it."

Xander rubbed at his nose, not entirely sure what he was supposed to do with the attention of the three adults focused on him. Giles seemed not entirely pleased with what his father had said -- which Xander understood. He understood a lot about not making your parents proud.

He watched as Giles visibly pushed down his displeasure and summoned a smile, genuine enough when he looked at Xander. "You see? You've managed to accomplish the impossible -- have my father admit I did something right."

Xander made himself smile, as well, though the flicker of expression on his grandda's face made him wonder. "I've always been told I was impossible," he managed weakly.

Maggie her arm through his again. "Then you'll fit in just fine around here."

"Except I don't really know how to use a crossbow."

"Oh, we can teach you that, easily enough," from his grandda, in a gruff voice -- but when Xander looked, his eyes were twinkling.

"Outside," Maggie put in.

"What if it's raining?" he asked, deciding he enjoyed the way his grandmum could make Giles squirm with only a single word.

"You put on a rain coat."

Xander looked at Giles, the 'and why didn't you think of that' clear on his face. Giles studiously ignored the look. Xander gave Maggie a grin, which she returned.

"So," Giles said, in an effort to change the subject, "would you like to see where you'll be sleeping?"

Xander took pity on him, and nodded. "Oh, and I promised Willow I'd call..."

"You can use the phone in my study," Maggie said with a smile. "Rupert knows where it is."

"Great! Oh, um... is it OK if I have her email me something at your address?" He grinned again at the matching expressions of god-help-us on Giles' and his father's faces.

"Of course. Feel free to use the computer any time you're here."

"Oh! That reminds me, I found a website for Tilligin demon hatchlings! I wrote the URL down somewhere... I'll have Willow send it, as well." He blinked at Giles. "What?"

"I didn't say a word."

"The eyes, again." Xander turned back to his grandmum. "I keep trying to tell him about all the cool stuff I find, and he just looks at me and his eyes cross."

"They do not!"

"Everett's do, as well," Maggie told him with an air of sympathy. "And if I even say 'file transfer' to him..." She shook her head.

Everett simply 'hpmhed', then turned to his son. "I was just on my way to have a brandy. Would you care to join me?"

"I believe I would, thank you," Giles answered with all his dignity.

Xander watched them go, then turned to Maggie, imperiously. "I believe we were going to use the phone, and then that infernal machine?"

She laughed, the sound warm and musical. "I'll show you my study."

~~~~~

The conversation with Willow was short, in deference to international calling rates. Despite Maggie's insistence he talk as long as he liked, Xander and Willow both felt awkward actually doing so, especially when there was email to be had. Xander gave her Maggie's address, assured her he meant what he was asking for, then promised once again to bring her home lots of fun souvenirs.

It would take her awhile to send the stuff he'd asked for, so in the meantime... "Where's dad's old room?" he asked Maggie, who had been reading through some mail nearby.

"It's upstairs. Why don't we go find Everett and Rupert? I know Rupert would want to show it to you himself."

"Cool, yeah." He followed her out, and down the hall back the way they'd come from the library -- then they turned down another corridor and Xander realized he was already lost. Front door? That way?

Maggie seemed to notice and gave him another understanding smile. "It's a bit overwhelming at first, isn't it?"

"Just makes me glad I don't sleepwalk."

"You'd have plenty of space if you did."

He looked over his shoulder, again, and tried to determine if anything looked familiar. He suddenly heard his grandda's voice up ahead, and turned back around. He and Giles were talking, and from the tone of it, things were almost friendly. Reserved and British, of course, but friendly.

Both men looked up and smiled welcomingly when they entered. They were seated in leather high backed chairs, facing towards each other. They were relaxed, and Xander wanted to plant himself on the carpet between them, and just let it continue. Surrounded by people who cared about each other.

"Everything all right back home?" Giles asked as Xander gave into the impulse and crossed over to where they were sitting.

"Nothing abnormal has happened, Willow says. I don't know if that's good or bad."

"Considering it's Sunnydale, I shudder to think what would qualify as abnormal."

"If it helps, she didn't sound like she was hiding anything. No breezy 'oh, no, I didn't just almost get eaten by demons and half the town is burning down gotta run' tone in her voice."

"Good. I'm hoping we can get through at least half our vacation before the town catches fire."

"Rupert, I'm sure if the town caught on fire, someone would call." Maggie patted his shoulder. "Don't worry. Even a Watcher deserves a vacation. I'm sure young Mr. Smythe is enjoying his assignment as your substitute."

"It should prove... educational... for him, at least." Giles smiled faintly, which became less faint when he caught Xander's gaze and he smiled back. They both doubted that Buffy would be anything like the temporary Watcher would expect.

Xander figured it would be good for him. 'Young' Mr. Smythe was a few years older than Giles, and had seemed quite the absent-minded history professor. Giles had assured him it was mostly an affectation -- until Xander pointed out that *Giles* had a bit of the absent-minded prof thing, himself, and asked if it were a Watcher thing, or a British academic thing. Giles had sputtered, starting to protest, then finally had just changed the subject.

Xander gave him a grin, remembering it. When Giles gave him a questioning look, he asked, "So, you wanna show me where I'm staying? Is this the room with the tree outside the window?"

"Yes." Giles smiled and got to his feet. "Shall we?"

Xander started to follow him out. Some of the tamer stories Giles had told him about his childhood revolved around the tree -- which he'd climbed, in order to come and go.

Giles waited for him and they started for the stairs. "I'm sure they know what I used that tree for, but we've never discussed it."

"Why not? Did you do more than just sneak out at night? Or is this one of those British things I'm never going to understand?"

"A little bit of both. I pretended I didn't do it and my father could pretend I was being obediently boring."

"Being--" Xander stopped, frowning a little. He wasn't exactly sure what he ought to be saying, with regard to Giles' relationship with his father. He didn't know what was out of place, or none of his business. But having your father *want* you to be boring, didn't sound fun.

"I did learn to fake it quite well." Giles smiled at him. "You can't tell me the word 'boring' has never crossed your mind in relation to me."

Again, grateful beyond words he wasn't the type to turn red. Boring? No. Never... boring. But quietly, Xander said, "I was gonna say, being obedient isn't necessarily boring."

"I'll remind you you said that," Giles teased.

Xander grinned. "Yeah, but a year from now I won't have to be obedient. I can do anything for a year."

"A year." A slightly wistful smile crossed Giles' face. "Time does seem to get away from us."

"Almost two," Xander reminded him. "Um, that you've been here. Uh, Sunnydale. Not here." He realized he was babbling, and he knew why. He looked away, and conversely reached out for Giles.

Giles stopped and hugged him. "You all right?"

"Yeah, I--" Deep breath. Told himself to just say it before he could convince himself it sounded silly. "I never thought you were boring. When I first met you, I thought--you were safe." His voice dropped to barely audible, at the last three words.

The arms holding him tightened in response.

"I used to try to think of ways to hang around, when I wasn't supposed to be there." He dropped his head on Giles' shoulder. Still safe.

"Is that why you came to me that night?"

"I didn't have anywhere else to go," he whispered.

"I'm glad I was there." Giles voice was soft and a bit husky with emotion.

"I'm glad I didn't get eaten on my way over," Xander said, trying to joke.

"So am I."

Xander let himself stay there for a moment longer, before he had to let go. He regained his composure easily, asking, "So am I allowed to test this tree? Or should I not mention it?"

"The tradition would be not to mention it, but," Giles smiled, "I might join you. See if I can still..."

Xander raised an eyebrow. "If you break your neck, or your arm, or your leg, I am *not* going to be held responsible."

"Your confidence in me is underwhelming."

"I'm just saying I reserve the right to say I told you so if you fall." He moved back out of the embrace, folded his arms, and gave Giles a stern look. "I am not bringing you back, broken."

Giles nodded, obviously trying to look cowed but the way his lips were twitching with a barely restrained smile ruined the effect.

"I promised Buffy," he added. "No broken bones, no mad cow disease, no plane crashes. No demons, vampires, evil spells."

"In other words, a vacation."

He nodded.

"Tree climbing isn't on the proscribed list, though."

"If that means you can only do it if you don't break anything, then yes."

"I'll have you know, I've gone up and down that tree a thousand times and haven't broken anything." Giles paused. "Except my curfew."

Xander frowned, considering. "Maybe. I wanna see it, first. Then we'll see."

Giles gave him a look, keeping a straight face but Xander could see the laughter in his eyes.

Stifling his own desire to grin, Xander held his finger up. "If I see *one* sign of rotting wood, you're not going." He waggled his finger.

"Yes, dad."

Xander gave him he best rendition of a fatherly scowl, culled from the nicer ones he'd ever seen from his own father. "And don't be sneaking out, after I sneak out." There was a brief sensation of something -- memory, or just the feeling of imagined power -- that threatened to take the joke away. Xander smiled, softly, letting the feeling fade. "Or you owe me chocolate."

"Perhaps we can sneak out *for* chocolate."

"Oo!" Xander reached out and grabbed Giles' arm, to hurry him along. "*Now* you're talking. Doesn't get you out of not falling," he said with a brief, stern look.

"I'll keep that in mind," Giles replied with a faint, affectionate smile.

With a nod, Xander looked down the hall. "So, um, which one is it?" There were a *lot* of doors. None of them looked like they would have had a "My Room, Keep out!" sign on it.

Giles pointed. "The one at the end on the right. It's by the back stairs that go down to the kitchen."

"Good to know. Um--"

"Yes?"

"No one said if we can sneak down in the middle of the night and steal something..."

He got an understanding smile in response. "It's perfectly all right. I used to do it myself at your age."

"Which would explain why you'll be doing it now... how?" He caught himself wanting to ask for a written-out list of rules. He'd never thought about such a thing living with Giles -- and he wasn't exactly sure why. But something about being here made him want to tip-toe and whisper, until he knew just exactly what was on the 'don't' list.

He followed Giles down the hall, towards the door he'd pointed out. Grandmum had said he'd be right across the hall -- only there was no door exactly opposite, and two doors catty-corner from it. Giles must've noticed his covert glances because he pointed at the door closest to the stairs. "That's where I'll be."

Xander nodded. Easy enough to find. Then he glanced at Giles again, as he moved to open the door of his childhood bedroom. "I notice you didn't answer."

"I thought the answer was self-evident." Giles paused dramatically. "The time change."

Xander blinked. "The time change? What does that have to do with you sneaking down to the kitchen at all hours? I'm supposed to believe your mother won't feed you at mealtimes?" He grinned, then was distracted from any retort as Giles motioned him inside the room. "Your ceiling has *what* on it?"

Giles coughed. "I went through a painting phase when I was 13."

Chuckling, Xander wondered if he could get a disposable camera before they left. "And I see no one painted over it since then."

"Mum refused to let anyone. Even me."

"Oh, I bet I don't *need* a disposable camera."

"Not for this," Giles said with a sigh.

Xander shot him a grin, then turned his attention to the rest of the room. It was large, and furnished with tons of dark wooden furniture, thickly stuffed chairs, and four-poster bed. It was large, without seeming too large. He stepped further inside, turning in a slow circle, trying to imagine. "You were a kid in here."

"Yes, for 18 years, give or take."

"Not counting the occasional night out," he teased as he continued looking around. There was something odd about the room. About the way it felt. Like someone who was a complete stranger to him, had called this room home. And yet the room felt as much like it could be home, as Giles did.

Giles was watching him closely, a hint of nervousness around the edges. "So what do you think?"

"I think I like it," he answered seriously. It was, he realized, an unexpected gift. Part of Giles' childhood, something he couldn't have given through stories and photos. It made him glad he'd already asked Willow to send his stuff.

"You think?" Giles smiled faintly, looking pleased.

"I wanna see the tree, first. Then I'll know."

His smile widening, Giles walked over to the window and opened it. There was a limb almost right up against the house - barely a foot away from the sill. Xander had an image of Spike standing here, peering in, begging him to come out. On the other hand, it did look sturdy. He leaned out, studying the rest of the limbs on the way down. The final drop was over eight feet.

He gave Giles a stern look.

"What?"

"How do you climb back up?"

"I jumped and pulled myself up." Giles looked out the window over his shoulder. "It does seem to have grown a little."

Xander decided he'd take it under advisement -- maybe sneak out, that night, for practice.

Giles moved back and sat on the bed. "I wonder..." he murmured, staring at one of the bedposts.

"I think it's called a 'bed'," he offered. Then he moved back, just in case Giles was trying to remember what spell he'd placed on the bedpost to-- ok, he didn't want to know *that* at all.

"I used to have a hiding place. In the bottom left bedpost."

Xander felt his eyebrows rise. "And what did you *hide* in there?" He went over, still trying not to think about the sort of things it could be. Skin magazines? Smokes? Spell materials?

Giles reached up and removed the knob on top of the post. Looking inside, he smiled, then looked back up at Xander. "Why don't you see for yourself?"

"It's gonna bite me, isn't it? This is revenge for the last twelve hours on the plane." Despite his words, Xander inched forward to peek. He could see the tops of what looked like a sheaf of papers wrapped around a small box. "What is it?" It looked like the sort of thing he shouldn't touch -- not because it would explode, but because it was rather obviously something private. He thought of the two boxes in the back of his own closet.

"Treasures." His guardian smiled self effacingly as he reached inside to pull the items out. "Or at least I thought so when I was young."

Xander sat down on the bed beside him, unabashedly looking -- now that Giles was opening the box. On top was a toy plane and what looked like a pair of pilot's wings. "Fighter pilot, huh?" Xander asked, remembering what Giles had said -- and feeling sorry for the boy who hadn't gotten to be what he'd wanted. He suddenly understood better why Giles was so insistent he be anything and everything he wanted to be.

"Yes." With a reminiscent smile, Giles picked up the wings. "These were my uncle's. He flew in the war you know."

"Um, no, I didn't." He leaned closer, and saw the wings were a dull silver metal.

"Really? I could've sworn I had told you."

Xander shook his head. "Is he--" There was no real casual way of asking.

Giles smiled. "No, he's still alive. I wouldn't be surprised if he outlives us all."

"Am I gonna meet him while we're here?" It suddenly occurred to him there was more to discovering Giles had more relatives than parents, than simply discovering he had relatives. There was *meeting* them.

"Quite possibly." He could feel Giles' eyes on him. "If you want to."

Xander half-grinned. "Does he know cool stories about you, too?"

"A few."

"You're not squirming. Damn, they must not be embarrassing." He glanced into the box again, and asked, "Anyone else?"

"Quite a few, actually."

He felt his eyes go wide. "Quite a few? How many is quite a few?"

Xander watched as Giles' eyes went distant as he did mental arithmetic. He waited another moment. Giles was still counting. "Quite a few," Giles repeated.

"Are we talking 'five' or a hundred and five?" he asked, eyes narrowing with suspicion.

"Somewhere in between. About forty, give or take."

"Forty." Xander counted up all the relatives he'd known, growing up. "How many are gonna be dropping by while we're here?"

"I'm not sure, really..."

"Are they in London? Are they *likely* to?"

"They all want to meet you." Giles looked at him seriously. "But only if you want to."

He considered it. He didn't think it should be that surprising -- from their point of view, there was a new member of the family in town. Their first chance to meet him. None of them knew him, really, besides Giles, and, to a lesser extent, Giles' parents. He thought about a dozen strangers descending on him, arms out to welcome him to the family. All the blood rushed to his stomach.

Giles reached out and laid a hand on his arm. "Don't feel you have to. If you're not comfortable with the idea--"

Not comfortable? He wanted to laugh. Surrounded by people who all wanted to lay proprietary claim to his attention, to *him*. Instant relatives.

He realized he had no idea where the bathroom was. Maybe if he hid under the bed, the urge to throw up would go away.

Suddenly, he was being pulled into Giles' arms, the sturdy presence an anchor against incipient panic. He began shaking, trembling hard as he tried to clamp down on the urge to run, scream, or hide. He squeezed his eyes shut and dug his fingers into Giles' sweater. He tried, shudderingly, to draw in a breath.

"It's all right. I've got you," Giles murmured over and over, stroking Xander's hair soothingly.

"I don't... don't want..." He caught his breath again, felt the air burning in his lungs. He didn't even know what he didn't want, he only knew he needed it gone. Whatever 'it' was. He buried his head in Giles' shoulder and trusted him to make it go away.

The soft murmurs continued as Giles' arms tightened around him. Holding him together. Keeping him safe. He tried thinking about it again, wondering if he could tell what had done it, so he could try to explain it to Giles. He got as far as 'sudden, instant relatives' and he started freezing again.

He pushed himself closer, burying himself in the haven of Giles' embrace. Xander kept himself from thinking about anything for as long as he could. Anything except the way Giles felt, holding him.

When he'd calmed down a little, he raised his head to find Giles watching him with concern. "Better?" his guardian asked softly, reaching out to push Xander's hair off his forehead.

But Xander shook his head. "I can't... can't keep track of that many people. People who aren't ignoring me. It doesn't matter at high school because only half a dozen people even notice I'm around. I can't--" He had to shut his mouth fast, again, fear starting to trickle out too fast to control anymore.

"You won't have to," Giles told him fiercely.

"Even if you're there," he tried to explain, "I know I'm not supposed to think any of them are gonna hurt me. But--"

"It's all right. I said you won't have to and you won't. You aren't comfortable with it; it won't happen."

The hard tone in Giles' voice made Xander pause. It was the tone that made shivers run down his arms. "Won't...?"

"Won't. Not without your permission. I promise."

"Won't... how won't I have to keep track of them?" Xander knew his sentence hadn't meant what he'd intended it to. But the panic was vanishing in the face of... that tone.

"There won't be any visits."

"Oh." He ought to feel guilty, he suspected. Apologize for making Giles' family avoid coming to see them. But all he felt was the desire to rest his head against Giles' chest, close his eyes, and listen to a voice which said everything, bloody well everything, will be all right.

The voice he believed in.

"All right?" Giles asked softly.

This time, he nodded. "Better," he whispered. "I'm... sorry." And he was. Maybe Giles would have a chance to see his family, anyhow. Just not when he was around.

A gentle hand lifted his face so Giles could meet his eyes. "Don't be. This is your vacation. It shouldn't be an ordeal."

"Aren't you gonna miss seeing them?" he asked quietly.

"I'd rather spend time with you."

"You see me all the time." But he started to smile.

"Not in Britain," Giles pointed out logically.

He smiled a bit more at that. Resting his head on Giles' shoulder once more, Xander felt the last of the panic die away. He yawned, and felt his jaw crack.

Giles chuckled. "Tired?"

"Exhausted." It felt like he'd been hit by a truck. All at once, his body just started turning itself off.

"Jet lag will do that to you."

"So I can go d'be nah," Xander yawned again, and tried to wake himself up enough to remember if there was anything he needed to do. Shoes off. That should do it.

"Yes, you can." Giles voice sounded amused.

He leaned over, towards the bed. Tried aiming for the pillow. He kicked at his shoes, and remembered he was wearing his boots. He sighed, and told himself that in a moment he'd sit back up and take them off.

But the last clear memory he had was of blankets being pulled up, and an arm wrapping around him.

~~~~~

He rolled over, instinctively knowing that something was different. Before he opened his eyes he knew he was someplace new -- the bed smelled wrong. It *felt* wrong-- his eyes snapped open, and just as quickly, he relaxed.

Giles' room.

He didn't have to look to know Giles had already gone. Left some time ago, for that side of the bed was cool -- but he suspected that Giles had been here the whole night. Yawning, he stretched, and wondered if he wanted to get up to go find him.

There was a brief note left on the night stand in Giles' handwriting telling him he could sleep as late as he wanted and to take the back stairs down to the kitchen when he was ready for breakfast. He left the note where it was -- he could use it as proof he had permission, two weeks from now when he was still sleeping in til all hours. But perversely, at the moment he was wide-awake. With a sigh of surrender, he climbed out of bed and headed to the hallway -- opening every door until he found a bathroom.

Twenty minutes later he headed down the stairs. He felt like he was sneaking towards the kitchen, despite the fact that he could hear Giles talking, which meant he wasn't going to surprise anyone with his arrival. Two more steps, and he stopped.

"--no surprise get-together of family, please. Xander and I will leave if there is."

Xander felt his eyes widen, and he held himself very still. He wondered if Giles was speaking so firmly because his mother was looking forward to having everyone over. Maybe she'd planned a party...

"They can be a bit overwhelming all at once," Maggie admitted.

He frowned. Did she sound disappointed? He couldn't tell.

"A bit?" He could hear the laughter in Giles' voice. "You have a true gift of understatement."

Xander could hear the echo of the same laugh in Maggie's voice. Something else Giles had inherited. "Just because your Aunt Doris *still* pinches your cheeks whenever she sees you..."

Xander found himself grinning. *That* might be worth seeing.

"The woman is senile. Still thinks I'm four years old."

"She is not senile. She just doesn't believe you grew up." There was a pause, then, "I can see her point," Maggie said, in an exaggerated 'aren't you so cute' tone of voice.

"Mum!" Giles sounded shocked.

She laughed, then, wholeheartedly delighted. Despite himself, Xander took another step towards them.

"I see where Aunt Doris got the idea now."

"She got it from her grandmother," Maggie said firmly. "Grandmum was always pinching everyone's cheeks; sometimes I wonder why my teeth didn't fall out of my head."

"Just don't do it to Xander. I'm not sure how he'd take it."

There was a pause. Then, in a less-amused tone, she asked, "Is he all right?"

There was a long silence. "He's coping as best he can. He's come such a long way, but sometimes..."

Xander silently eased himself down onto the step. He knew he shouldn't be listening, but... he wanted to hear. Not hear what he knew Giles would tell him, if he asked, but hear what Giles thought, when he wasn't talking to *him*.

In an odd way, perhaps it was just validation that he believed it. Regardless, he kept silent and eavesdropped.

"It's only been a year and a half, Rupert."

"It terrifies me sometimes. Xander's one of the strongest people I've ever met -- he's had to be to survive. But in some ways he's still so fragile. I'm scared that someday I'm going to say or do something that will break him."

"Don't be silly," she said, gently. "You can't break him. If his own parents never broke him, *trying* to hurt him, how could you, when all you're doing is love him? If he can survive what he's already survived, he can take whatever mistakes you make, and forgive you for them." There was a pause, and Xander wanted to see what expression was on Giles' face.

He heard Giles sigh. "I wish I'd found him earlier."

"I know, dear."

"Even just a day. A month... hell, seventeen years."

Xander swallowed his whispered 'me, too'.

"Don't suppose there's a secret time machine project the Watchers have been working on?"

"If there is, I'll let you know as soon as I hear." Then the amusement ran into her voice again, as she said, "Oh, wouldn't it be lovely, to have a baby in the family? That photo... Rupert, he was simply adorable. How could *anyone* hurt such a--" She cut herself off, and Xander bit his lower lip.

"There are times I wish his father was still alive, so I could kill him for what he did to Xander."

"Rupert," she chided, "don't be absurd. You'd have to torture him first."

"Ah, yes. Thank you, Mum. Mustn't forget the torture."

"Never forget the torture," she said firmly. "Otherwise they never learn."

Xander found himself wondering where it was that Giles had learned *how* to be Ripper. He wondered why this conversation wasn't frightening him, more. Perhaps because he knew he was *behind* the protective line of these two.

"Yes, Mum," Giles replied dutifully.

"Now, it looks as though you need more toast." There were sounds of a chair pushing back, then a clank of a metal pan.

Xander suddenly found himself starving, and stood up. He took a deep breath and tried to erase any signs from his face that he'd been listening. Then he continued down, and found himself in a kitchen well-crammed with cabinets and racks of pans, spices, cookbooks... He hoped they were cookbooks.

Giles was sitting at the table, teacup raised halfway to his mouth when he spotted Xander. He quickly put it down and smiled at him. "Good morning."

"Hey," he managed casually. He smiled as Maggie came over and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Good morning, Xander."

He leaned into her a little, giving her a one-armed hug, and fought down the urge to crawl into her lap and stay there. He was, after all, taller than she was. He glanced over and saw perfect understanding in Giles' eyes.

"How do you like your eggs, dear?" Maggie handed a plate over to Giles, and headed back towards the stove.

"Um, cooked is fine." He saw Giles stifle a grin. "Or just not moving," he added.

"Hard boiled," Giles supplied for his mother.

"Anything's fine," Xander repeated. He did like them hard boiled, but waiting half an hour for them to cook... He watched as his grandmum went to the refrigerator, and came back with a handful of eggs.

"Did you want anything to go on them?" she asked, handing them over to Xander on a plate. He suddenly realized they were already prepared. He took the plate and sat down, had one shelled before he realized he hadn't answered.

"He's fine," Giles answered for him again with an affectionate smile.

Xander put half an egg in his mouth, and added, "M-wr gu." He chewed once, and said, "Thank you."

Maggie just laughed, and set another plate down. By the time he'd eaten the second egg, she'd placed enough food on the table to keep him fed until lunchtime.

Xander was beginning to see where Giles learned his concept of breakfast from. Or perhaps Maggie just remembered what it took to feed a teenager. Either way, he was happily munching his way through breakfast for a good half hour. He listened as Giles and his mother talked, this time about more neutral subjects than Xander's parents.

Finally, when Xander was beginning to feel full -- and hesitant to make his grandmum get up *again* to refill his plate, since she wouldn't let him do it for himself, he sat back. "Oh! I forgot to check last night for Willow's file."

"It's arrived," Maggie told him. "I noticed it when I checked my mail this morning."

"Oh! Good. Um, can I...?"

"Of course," she waved a hand towards the other doorway. "It's just down the hall and to the right, you'll recognize the way from there."

"Um... I kinda want you two to see what she sent," he said quickly.

Giles and his mother exchanged a look and then they were both standing. "Shall we, then?" Giles asked.

Xander let Maggie lead the way -- down the hall and to the right sounded misleading, given what he already knew of the layout of the house. It turned out she was right -- he wouldn't have gotten lost on his way to her study. Distracted, maybe, since they walked right past the library...

They waited while she sat down and got back into her mail program, then she surrendered her chair to Xander. He quickly found the email and judging from the size of the attached file, she had managed to find at least almost all of what he'd asked her for. The brief note Willow had included confirmed that:

Hi Xander,

Here are all the photos I have -- I even managed to get a couple from mom that I'd forgotten about. I can give you physical copies when you get home. I think it's great that you're finally showing these to Giles. And I want some new photos to add to my collection so remember to take all those tourist vacation shots. --Willow

He grinned at her note. Willow and his grandmum would get along just fine. He had a feeling he could just mention Willow's request to her, and Willow would get the photos before they even got home. Nervously, he went to the first attachment. The file names told him exactly what each one was -- date and description making actually looking at the photo almost superfluous. He opened it, then turned the screen so Giles and Maggie could see.

A simple photo, him as a baby, staring more or less confusedly at the sleeping newborn nearby. Identical smiles of delight appeared on Giles and his mother's faces.

"I don't know why she didn't give you this one, instead of the embarrassing one," he muttered.

"Maybe because the other one is just you," Giles offered absently.

Startled, Xander smiled. He hadn't thought of it like that, but... yeah. It made sense. He moved to the second attachment, and opened it. The files were in chronological order -- otherwise he would have left this one. Deleted it, maybe, except deleting any like this would mean deleting half of them.

The photo was him, almost two years old. Standing facing the camera, holding a cookie out towards the person behind the camera. The expression on his face was solemn. Too solemn for a toddler.

Giles' hand came to rest on his shoulder, squeezing briefly as he stared at the photo. The look on both his and Maggie's faces made him think they would give him whatever he asked for at that moment.

He just opened the next file. The embarrassing infant photo was the last one of him actually smiling. Maybe *that* was why Willow had given it to Giles.

The next photo was of Willow's third birthday party. Willow was blowing out the candles on her cake while he sat beside her watching with a wistful expression. The picture would've been cute if you didn't know his history.

This time it was Maggie who reached over and took his hand. Xander was grateful they didn't say anything -- not offering to let him stop, not offering him words of comfort he already knew. This wasn't about telling them anything they didn't already know.

He opened the next one. This was he, Jesse, and Willow, running through the sprinkler. You couldn't see his face in this one, his back was to the camera.

Which meant you *could* see the long line of band aids running in a line down his upper arm.

He watched Giles tense, could almost feel his anger and concern. The conversation he'd overheard earlier came back to him. It made him think again about opening one of the others. Luckily, the very next one was better. He opened it, and they saw a group of people gathered in a driveway which was cluttered with items for sale. Xander, age five, was kneeling in a older woman's lap. His arms were around her neck, as if hanging on so he wouldn't fall.

"That's my grandmother," he explained.

"She has kind eyes," Maggie said with a smile.

"She was--" he stopped before saying 'the best'. She wasn't, really -- in retrospect. She hadn't ever let him go live with her, despite how often he'd asked. He suspected she'd been afraid of confronting her son about what was going on. "She was nice to me," he said instead, realizing how lame that was. But she had been, and as a child, that had been the most important thing.

"I would've liked to have met her," Giles commented.

Xander was about to close the photo, when Maggie said thoughtfully, "She looks tired."

"She was 62 in this picture," Xander told her. "I think..." He searched his memories of her, trying to look at them from his current, older and wiser point of view. "I think she was sick a lot. When I stayed with her, she never did much -- I think she didn't have the energy."

"But she cared for you." He heard just as clearly what Giles didn't add: That she had kept him safe for a time as well.

"Yeah. She did." Feeling a little braver, he carefully opened the next photo.

He and Willow were sitting on the ground, playing in the dirt. Still age five, Xander was concentrating on a blade of grass in his hands. The bruise covered his entire left cheek. He knew it wasn't the only one he'd been sporting at the time of the photo, but none of the rest could be seen.

Giles' hand came up and caressed Xander's cheek where the bruise had been. Xander looked up to find Giles looking at him. His eyes were dark, and sad. "I wish..." Giles began.

Xander leaned back a little, against him, resting his head on Giles' stomach. "Willow offered to fix these, once," he said quietly. "In photoshop -- take away all the cuts and bruises."

"But you didn't take her up on it," Maggie murmured.

"I... thought it would be lying. About what happened."

Giles nodded slowly. "Surviving that has made you who you are."

"Besides, mom always lied about it. Had so many stories about how I got the bruises. Everyone believed her. Except Willow and Jesse."

"No more lies," Giles agreed.

Silently Xander returned his attention to the photos. Opened the next, a photo of the three of them, dressed for Halloween. Willow was a fairy princess, Jesse was a soldier. He was a vampire. Xander blinked at it, then laughed. "I'd forgotten all about those costumes."

Giles and Maggie laughed along. "If you had only knew..."

"Well, I think the next year I was dressed as the Mad Scientist's creation. Willow was the mad scientist, of course. Jesse was Igor."

"So you had the starring role," Maggie said with a smile.

That made him smile, too. He'd always thought Willow had been the star -- she the Creator, after all. "Yeah, I was Xandenstein."

"Accept no substitutes." Giles gave him a teasing grin.

Rolling his eyes in an expression of faked humility, he opened the next photo. Another birthday party, Willow's seventh. He and Jesse were watching Willow handing out plates of cakes -- both of them glowering from their chairs in the corner.

"And what would the story behind this be?"

"Um, I'm not sure. I think Jesse was making rude comments and Willow decided he needed to wait until last for a piece of cake." He kept his gaze on the photo, innocently.

Giles raised an eyebrow. "Only Jesse."

Xander turned his innocent, surprised look on Giles. "*I* didn't do anything. I was... keeping Jesse company. So he wouldn't feel... um... self-conscious."

"Of course."

Widening his eyes a little, he said, "I *never* do anything wrong. I told you that." Beside them, Maggie giggled. Xander gave her a grin, then quickly returned to his 'innocent me' look.

"How noble of you."

"Damn straight." He nodded, then moved to the next photo.

It showed him and Willow and Jesse, eight years old, playing a board game. Xander's arm was in a cast, the cast covered entirely with teddy bear stickers. Involuntarily, Xander glanced down at his arm. Maggie ran her hand lightly, down it, and he realized she'd been told the story. He moved on to the next.

This one was taken at the zoo -- the first class trip they'd gone on. They were standing in front of the gorilla enclosure, Willow and Jesse were smiling for the camera. Xander hand his fingers wrapped around a belt loop of Willow's jeans and he was looking towards one of the gorillas.

"And just what were you thinking in that?"

"I was thinking I wouldn't mind being a gorilla. They looked so big." So strong. Like no one could hurt him if he were like them,

Giles looked at the picture then turned and studied him for a minute. "I like you the way you are."

"Yeah, well, being an animal has its perks." Wouldn't it have been so much more fun to have been possessed by a gorilla's spirit? They only ate fruit and plants, at least.

His guardian just gave him a look. Xander tried out his 'innocent me' expression again. Then he went to the next photo.

There were quite a few altogether, more than he remembered. Willow must've saved every one. There had been as many with visible, obvious-if-you-knew signs -- pictures of him sporting bruises and haunted eyes -- as there were of everything appearing almost normal.

When they reached the end, he made sure they were all saved to Maggie's hard drive. "She said she'd have hard copies for us, when we get home. So you won't have to look at jpegs," he told Giles.

"I would appreciate that." Giles mouth curved up into a half smile.

Xander sighed. "I bet she even makes some wallet-sized ones."

"I'll have to get a bigger wallet."

"You could take one out."

Giles considered. "No. I don't think I could."

He turned to Maggie. "I *do* get a copy of him in that rabbit suit, right?"

"I am sure that can be arranged," she replied with a smile.

They both turned as someone cleared his throat.

"Yes, dear?" Maggie asked.

Giles looked slightly disgruntled. "I suppose my opinion means nothing in this."

"No," Maggie replied with a smile. "I'd think you'd be more concerned about the photo I'm giving him of you in that tweed diaper."

"Mum!"

Xander blinked. Then he was laughing too hard to stay upright.

~~~~~

They spent most of the day intending to explore the grounds. Giles got as far as mentioning a couple spots he wanted to show Xander in particular, then on their way down the hall got as far as the library. By dinner, Giles swore that *tomorrow* he would show Xander the rest of the house, and the grounds.

"And maybe we can go shopping, as well," he said as they sat down for dinner in the dining room -- Maggie had teased them, saying one meal in the library was enough for one day.

Xander raised an eyebrow. "Shopping for what?" He was pretty sure he'd hidden the distrust from his tone. Since Buffy wasn't here to drag him through a thousand and one stores...

"There's a couple of rare book stores nearby that I used to frequent," Giles said casually. "I thought we might see if they're as interesting as I remember."

"Bookstore?"

His guardian nodded with a faint smile. "Ones specializing in the obscure and rare."

Xander grinned. "Bookstore. Bookstore, bookstore!" He bounced in his chair, gave Giles a grin, and proceeded to imitate a small red furry muppet. "Bookstore! Bookstore, bookstore." His grandmum had been feeding them biscuits all afternoon.

"That would be a yes, then."

"Bookstore."

"You've reduced his vocabulary to one word," Maggie observed to her son.

Xander held up his fingers -- carefully not flipping his grandmum the bird. "Book. Store." He waited. Added a finger. "Chocolate."

"Oh, dear," Giles murmured.

"Oh dear?" Maggie asked.

Xander restrained himself for a second before whispering, "Bookstore."

"Things that induce hyperactivity," Giles explained to his mother.

Xander looked innocent.

"I've created a monster," Giles mock sighed.

"Good." Maggie said firmly. She turned her attention -- ostensibly -- to her dinner. She passed a dish to her husband, who was apparently trying to pretend he wasn't amused by the conversation.

"So shall I plan on an outing tomorrow morning?"

Xander pulled his hyperactivity in long enough to give Giles a thoughtful look and say, seriously, "If you think we can get past the library, this time."

Maggie laughed. "You have four weeks to practice, you know -- getting past the library. And you do remember that the post delivers to your part of the world."

Xander nodded, feeling triumphant. "Bookstore?"

Giles nodded. "Bookstore."

~~~~~

Xander considered it an accomplishment that Giles had asked him only three times if he was sure he felt up to going. The last time had been entirely reasonable, when Xander had gotten his second good look at where he was. He'd never been to L.A., but he was sure the comparison was closer than it was to Sunnydale. Small and Californian, this was not. But, as he'd said -- bookstore -- so they'd snuck past the library and gone to visit DelBorigoss.

He did manage not to rubberneck the entire trip to the bookstore, although he wasn't sure he didn't want to just spend an hour standing on a sidewalk, staring. Any sidewalk. Maybe his grandmum would take him out so he could stare without Giles hanging about looking at him like he was being precious.

Of course then he'd have to deal with Maggie looking at him like that... but somehow that was different. On her it looked good. On Giles it looked... well, all right. It looked like something that needed a liplock. But he wasn't thinking those thoughts, so he didn't need Giles standing around making him think those thoughts.

Giles gave him a questioning look and he realized some of what he was thinking must've showed on his face. He went for outraged innocent 'who me I was looking for the bookstore -- look there it is! books!' expression. He raised his eyebrows.

Giles looked heavenward for a moment and shook his head with a faint smile. Luckily they were almost to the bookstore, otherwise Xander would have felt obligated to raise one eyebrow further. He did, however, do a quick mental check of his wallet, which was more difficult than usual considering he was dealing with pounds instead of dollars.

He knew he had enough to buy whatever he wanted -- if he didn't want to have any cash left for the month. On the other hand, he reminded himself as he followed Giles to the front door, he had two or three someones who would probably buy him everything he wanted. The reflexive guilt kicked him at that point, and Xander decided that he'd leave that for later in their vacation, when he really was short of cash.

A small bell over the door rang as they entered. The shop was dimly lit and crammed full of overloaded bookshelves. It smelled like, well, like the library at school, way back among the furthest stacks. Giles' domain.

The scent immediately put Xander at ease. He stopped just inside the door, and looked around. Rubbernecking here wasn't going to get him any Looks. Not, really, that he cared. He wished Willow could be here, though.

Someone cleared their throat right by his ear and he suddenly became acutely aware that Giles was standing right behind him, close enough he could feel the heat of the man's body against his own.

"Wow."

It wasn't just that there were a lot of books. It was that none of them looked new, none of them looked like there was more than a single copy on the shelves. There were no mass market, coffee table books. OK, maybe Giles' coffee table. But more than that was the feeling that, when he tried to ask that intuitive little voice which way he should go to find that *one* perfect book, all he got back was "Bookstore".

Giles nudged him gently from behind.

"What?" He tried to read the cards hanging from some of the shelves. He wasn't sure they were supposed to be helpful. Was 'Egg' supposed to be a genre or an alphabetical listing?

"You can see them better if you actually move out of the doorway."

"Really?" He started to grin, then hurried forward when he noticed another customer heading for the door. He heard Giles' quiet chuckle behind him as his guardian followed him deeper into the store. Xander decided not to try to do this in any organized fashion. He stopped at the third bookshelf, and starting reading titles.

Two minutes later he had totally lost track of Giles. Anywhere else, the thought would've been disturbing. Here, he was surrounded by books.

~~~~~

According to his watch, two hours had gone by. It felt like he'd barely had time to search a single long bookshelf, though as he looked around, he realized he'd covered the entire front quarter of the store. Mr. Stevenson, behind the counter, had let him stack his selections near the cash register on the table there, apparently for that express purpose. Xander decided it was time to start looking around for Giles.

He finally found his guardian reading a book over near the right wall. Giles looked up when he approached. "Taking a breather?"

Xander shook his head. Trying to not sound as sheepish as he felt, he asked, "How many can I get?"

"How many have you found that you wanted?"

"Five that I really want. Seven that I really and mostly want. Total, twelve."

"Only twelve?"

"Well, there's five I wanna get Willow. And two I think Buffy would like, and two for Oz - I *think* they're journals by some guy who was a werewolf a couple hundred years ago. And Angel--" He stopped as he realized Giles was looking at him.

"What about for yourself?"

Xander glanced down at his feet. "I didn't get that far."

He could feel Giles smiling at him. "Do you want to look now? Or come back later?"

"If I look now, I'm just gonna find more books."

"Yes, that is what one does in a book store. Well, besides simply browse."

"And have to carry them." Xander half-smiled.

"Actually, they have a delivery service for good customers."

"Are--" He stopped. "All the way to Sunnydale?" Of course they were good customers. Mr. Stevenson had already known his name when he'd told Xander he could stack his books on the table.

Giles nodded. "Though if there are some you want to read while you're here, we can just have them delivered to the house."

"But none of them are for me," he reminded Giles. "Oh." Right. He'd said he didn't want to look because he didn't want to carry them. Hadn't mentioned that he was beginning to feel a lot like he had during the shoe debacle. He glanced down -- the boots they'd bought that day on his feet. Comfortable, too. "What are you getting?"

Giles gestured to a small pile of three tomes that sat next to Xander's much larger one. Xander walked over and picked the first one up. He tried to read the spine, then gave Giles a confused look.

"We can work on you learning to read it this fall if you'd like."

Xander groaned. He hadn't even started *Latin* yet. Then a horrible thought occurred. "How long am I gonna have to take extra lessons?"

"I thought you were enjoying them." Giles looked a bit uncertain.

"But every time I start to get a handle on one language, you add another. Pretty soon I'm gonna be geeky and no one but you and Willow will understand me." He tried looking put upon, but Xander could see Mr. Stevenson, behind Giles, grinning broadly.

"You can stop any time."

Xander blinked. "But you said... didn't you say... huh. You *didn't* ever say how long they were gonna last." He narrowed his eyes. "You sneaky guy."

Giles just looked at him, though Xander could see the corners of his eyes crinkling up in a barely restrained smile.

"Just for that I'm gonna..." He knew he didn't want to quit any of his extras lessons. Perhaps when school began, he'd cut back. He wasn't going to threaten to actually misbehave, again, that was for sure. And threatening to drink more soda was moot -- he did that, anyhow.

Giles stood waiting patiently for him to finish his threat with an interested expression.

"Make you buy my books." All right, not *much* of a threat. But fiscally a sound option. For his own wallet.

"I was going to do that, anyway."

"You were?"

He nodded.

"Even the ones for everyone else?" Which was cool if not, he could just go back and pick out some for himself.

"That's up to you. Would you rather buy them yourself?"

Xander opened his mouth. Then stopped. They were supposed to be *his* gifts, not Giles'. On the other hand... "Could you tell me how much I'm trying to spend, first?"

"Let's see." Giles stepped closer and looked at all the prices, frowning as he added and translated into American. "About $235, roughly."

"Dollars? Pounds?" Xander wondered why he was having trouble breathing. Hell, he'd only brought $500 with him! He glanced at the stack. Everything except Willow's could go back on the shelves.

"Dollars."

"Eep." He started separating the books into two stacks. Five books for Willow, looked to only be 150 something. Pounds, probably.

Then Giles was handing him something. Brightly coloured somethings. He started, but didn't take it. It looked like as much money as he already had on him. "I forgot to give you your vacation money before we left," Giles explained.

"I get vacation money?" Xander tried counting the bills in Giles' hand. If he had the conversions right, it was... a lot.

"Yes. It's an old family tradition."

"How old?" The question slipped out before he could tell himself it was a rude thing to accuse Giles of. He took the money, and eyed the two stacks of books.

"Very old. Very, very old."

Which probably meant it had arisen sometime in the last ten seconds. Xander grinned. He was looking forward all over again to going to Egypt, and Spain, and Iowa. Then next year they could go to Disney World.

"If you need more, please ask." Giles looked at him seriously. "I don't want you to have to worry about money."

Xander started to tease him, asking for a thousand upfront and he *wouldn't*. Then he took a deep mental breath, and let it out slowly. Like opening his eyes and seeing things that had been there all along.

It was a kid thing. He didn't have to worry about money.

Giles must've seen the realization on his face because he merely nodded and went back to the earlier subject. "Do you want to look some more?"

"I think the word we're looking for here is 'duh'."

There was an entire back half of the store he hadn't even gotten to look at, yet.


Next Part