Sandy Places Overseas

Part Two

Two days later, Xander was beginning to think he liked England. Almost used to being so many hours off his schedule, almost used to the mostly-familiar food and deceptively-not-familiar language, his grandparent's house was, at the least, a place he could see visiting again.
Often.

They hadn't gone wandering about the city much, other than a few, select bookstores. Giles was waiting until he was ready to deal with a few million strangers -- though Xander wasn't sure it was strangers he was worried about. Regardless, he was enjoying himself, today. "You did *what*?"

Giles shifted uncomfortably on the rock he was sitting on. "It's not that unbelievable."

"But *here*? We're like, what, thirty yards from the house?" True, you didn't have a completely clear line of sight to any windows, from here. Trees blocked almost everything.

But still.

"It was dark. And rather foggy."

He shook his head. "I cannot *believe* I got in trouble for getting drunk and smoking and... well, everything else I did. Geez," he looked around, trying to envision what Giles had described. OK, bad idea. "Man, naked?!"

"The ritual required we be clothed only in the moon's light." Giles' tone was halfway between justification and embarrassment.

He laughed. "Yeah, ritual. Five fourteen year olds, naked, outside? Uh-huh -- did you actually do a spell?"

That earned him a Look. "Why am I telling you this again?"

"Um--" He thought fast. "So I won't have to make the same mistakes you made?" Because the thought of a young Rupert Giles, outside on a wild summer night, eyes blazing and dressed only in fog and faint wisps of moonlight... Oh, yeah. Bad thought. Think Spike.

Naked, in moonlight.

Xander told himself to think something that wouldn't make his jeans bulge where anyone, especially Giles, could see.

"I think you are enjoying this too much."

"No, no, no" he said quickly. "I'm shocked and horrified that you would do such a... irresponsible and dangerous thing. Corrupting your friends, and... uh... tracking mud all over the floor afterwards." He shook his head, looking stern. Then he broke up, laughing at the expression on Giles' face. As he watched, Giles' expression softened into a smile of real affection. "Someday I'm gonna find out how many of these stories you make up just to make me laugh at you."

Behind them, a strange voice said, "I'd be willing to verify some, if you like."

Xander spun around, surprised he hadn't noticed anyone approaching. An elderly but still spry man stood there. It was a stranger but the family resemblance to Giles was obvious.

"Uncle Percy," Giles said, in a surprised and pleased voice, standing and walking over to Xander's side.

Xander stopped trying to figure out how to back up a step unobtrusively. "The pilot?"

Percy smiled. "Been telling tales, has he?"

Xander nodded. "He's been showing me around the grounds," he offered as an explanation.

"We weren't expecting you." Giles was half a step ahead of Xander, now. Xander hadn't decided yet if he were over-reacting.

"Yes, I was at Mursten's all morning. Thought I'd drop in and see you, while I was in this part of the city." Percy smiled, cheerfully. "I only got back to the island yesterday; been in France for three weeks. Anyhow, I didn't intend to interrupt, just wanted to stop and say hello." He made no move to come any closer -- Xander got the impression he was about to
walk away.

Giles gave Xander a questioning look.

"I saw the wings you gave dad."

Another smile graced the old man's face. "You still have those?"

"Of course. Closest I'm ever going to get to my own, I'm afraid."

"It's still not too late, you know," Percy said, seriously. "Perhaps not a fighter, but a small twin engine or even a helicopter."

Xander glanced at Giles, wondering how he would take this suggestion. Surely it wasn't anything he hadn't already thought of, himself.

"Where would I find the time?"

"It only takes a few weekends to learn the basics," Percy said. "I suppose you might not have much time to fly, but you still can learn. Before you get too old." The expression on his face was almost dark, scowling as if with displeasure. Xander knew what it was, though, and turned back to Giles. If he had to, *he* could ask to learn, and drag Giles along with him.

Oo. A helicopter. A *helicopter*.

"I... will give it some thought." Xander could hear the waffling in his guardian's voice.

Yeah, all he needed was a nudge. "Would I get to go up in the plane?" Xander carefully sounded excited, but not hyper. He didn't want Giles to give up his flying, to allow Xander to do it instead.

"Don't see why not," Percy answered, winking at him.

"That would be so cool." Xander grinned at Giles.

Who raised an eyebrow. "I seem to be outnumbered."

Xander just smiled innocently. A similar one appeared on Percy's face. "As a matter of fact, I've a friend who owns a small plane. We could go up, while the two of you are here. Let you get a feel for it."

Xander watched as pure, unabashed delight blossomed in Giles' eyes. "You sure it would be no trouble?"

"For you? No trouble at all, Rupert."

Xander waited until it was clear Giles wasn't thinking of any more actual, good excuses, and gave Percy a 'covert' thumbs-up.

"Next weekend, then?" Percy asked.

"Yeah!" Xander answered. He glanced over and found Giles rolling his eyes. "Say 'yes, thank you,' dad."

Another eye roll. "Next weekend would be fine."

"Excellent," Percy said with a slight chuckle.

Xander just shook his head at Giles. "Raising you is so *difficult* sometimes."

Yet another eye roll, this one accompanied by an affectionate smile.

Xander turned to Percy. "Do you know how to fly a helicopter?"

~~~~~

Xander stopped trying to control his need to bounce all over the place by the time they went inside. They'd sat on the rocks talking with Percy for nearly an hour, and Xander was glad he'd dropped by. More glad they'd talked Giles into doing this. Not because he got to go along -- which he did! -- but because Xander still felt Giles needed a vacation from being the grown-up. At least he needed to have fun more often.

Giles had continued to smile indulgently, but there was a hint of a bounce in his own step. They'd said good-bye to Percy at the driveway, and now Xander was debating heading for the library, heading for the stack of books he'd bought, or wandering around to find his grandmum.

Everett came down the stairs while he was still trying to decide. "Ah, there you two are. I was beginning to think you were going to stay out all day. Did you enjoy your walk?"

"Yeah!" Xander grinned. He quickly edited out half a dozen things Giles had told him -- which his grandda probably knew about, but pretended he didn't. "We met Percy, and we're going flying next weekend. Do you know where grandmum is?" He was hoping she was near -- possibly in -- the kitchen. Food good. And she fed him sugar.

"In her study, I believe."

"Thanks!" He headed down the hall, wanting to tell her all about what he and Percy had done. He had a feeling she'd be pleased. He'd gotten just around the corner when he remembered that they had, earlier that morning, talked about going out to dinner. He stopped to go back and ask if they still were doing so. Before he rounded the corner again he heard his grandda's voice, and he stopped.

"Flying, Rupert?" There was no mistaking the tone of voice.

"It's just one afternoon," Giles replied, sounding defensive. "Xander wanted to go."

"So this is just an excursion. Introduce Xander to Percy?" This tone was different. Xander couldn't tell if Giles' father disapproved. He certainly didn't sound encouraging.

"Does it matter what it is?" If anything, the defensiveness got stronger.

"No, of course not." Everett sounded dismissive. "I think... you should do whatever you can, for Xander. If he'll enjoy that sort of thing, then by all means."

Xander heard Giles sigh, the sound carrying a weariness that he'd rarely seen in his guardian. "Yes, father." Xander scowled. This wasn't about *him*. Couldn't his grandda see that? "If you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do."

Xander pressed himself against the wall, knowing it wasn't going to hide him -- but fortunately, Giles didn't come his way. Xander considered if he should sneak away or actually go confront his grandda. Then he heard Everett mutter a quiet curse.

It was enough to make up his mind for him and he moved forward to go talk to Everett. He had no idea what he was going to say... accuse his grandda of upsetting Giles? If he were blind enough to not know, Xander wasn't sure he could convince him. But he rounded the corner, and saw his grandda look over at him with a slight look of surprise.

"Xander, wha--"

"We aren't doing it for me," he said simply.

"You were listening."

"I was on my way back to ask if we were going out to dinner. I-- didn't mean to eavesdrop." Which wasn't true, but he hadn't intended anything by it.

Everett sighed, sounding very much like his son. "I always seem to say the wrong thing with Rupert."

"Why don't you go tell him what you want to say, then?" He walked forward, ready to escort him to Giles, if he had to.

"It's not that easy."

That made no sense. "How can it not be easy? You love him, right?"

"Of course." He spread his hands. "He's my son."

"Then why wouldn't you want to... say what you want? What you really feel? How can you not wanna be nice to him if you love him?"

"I try, but..."

"But what?" He found himself wavering between hurt, for Giles' sake, and anger. "How can you let him think you don't-- that you think-- You don't even have the excuse my father had. He at least didn't like me. But you don't have any excuses -- why can't you just say..." His emotions reached up and choked off his words and he turned and walked away quickly.

Most of the things he really wanted to say, weren't intended for his grandda, anyhow.

He ran up the stairs to his -- Giles' -- room. Flung himself onto the bed, half-aware that this bed was so much larger than his bed at home, and the larger size of the room all made for much better running-in-and-flinging-self-on-bed. He landed in the middle of the bed, bouncing once as he grabbed the pillow. Not sure what was bothering him most, he reached over and grabbed Jesse, his stuffed wolf, as well.

He was a little worried he was gonna get into trouble for what he'd said to his grandda, but he wasn't sorry he'd said it. If he did get into trouble, that was OK.

He wasn't sure how long he'd lain there when there was a quiet knock at the door. He hesitated before calling 'come in' and asked himself if he cared who it was. It was an interesting experience to realize there was more than one person who might be knocking. "Come in."

The door opened and Maggie looked in. "Xander?"

He rolled partly over, so he could look back at her. "Yeah?"

"Everett said--" She cut herself off, looking at him, eyes full of concern. "Are you all right?"

He nodded, though he probably wasn't. But he wanted to let her know he wasn't freaking out. Just... upset.

She came in all the way and sat on the edge of his bed. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Xander scooted up, turning around and leaning up against the headboard. Jesse was tucked under an arm, and he looked at his grandmum. "What did he say?"

"That you were upset by something he said. And that you mentioned your father."

"Yeah." He looked away. "I didn't mean to say anything... I shouldn't have. I just wish grandda would say what he wants to. How he feels."

"So do I," Maggie said with a sigh.

Encouraged, Xander asked, "Why is it so hard for him? Why can't he just *say* whatever it is he really wants to?"

"Speaking his feelings has never been easy for Everett. And when it comes to Rupert..." Maggie shook her head.

"How can it be hard to tell someone you love them?" Xander felt himself growing impatient. Not with Maggie... rather, he wanted to go back down and demand to know why his grandda would refuse to tell his son anything of that sort. "Withholding it when you feel it is as bad as just not feeling it at all." Suddenly he knew what was bothering him the most -- to think that Giles might feel the same thing Xander felt.

"It was the way Everett was raised. How his parents related to him."

"But--" He realized there probably wasn't any point in arguing with her about it. She probably knew it all better than he did. Xander shook his head. "It makes him feel like grandda doesn't care. I know what that's like and it's awful! How can he *do* that?"

"He doesn't know any other way to relate."

"So he'd rather hurt someone than learn something new?" A fierce stab of anger hit Xander, and it took all his concentration to not jump up and run down to find his grandda. Poor Jesse the wolf was being strangled, though. He tried to relax his grip.

"He doesn't know how." Maggie's voice was soft and he could hear the sadness in it.

Xander rolled his eyes. "It isn't that hard. Hell, I can say it in five languages, by now. If dad has his way, I'll be able to say it in twelve by the time I'm twenty." He wanted to scream. Instead he threw Jesse across the room. Then he screamed. "It's a fucking waste!" And wondered if he was allowed to curse in his grandparents' house.

"Yes, it is."

He looked over at Maggie and realized she felt the same -- how much she felt the same. He got up off the bed and went over to pick Jesse up. Smoothed his fur, then went back over to the bed. Holding him out, he asked, "You wanna throw him, too?"

She smiled and gently pressed the wolf back into his hands. "I usually throw some of Everett's shirts. Wrinkles them horribly."

Xander chuckled, once, and laid back down on the bed. "It doesn't work, does it? It hurts so much," he added, his voice breaking a little.

"I know," Maggie said softly, offering a hug.

He crawled over and into her embrace. As soon as her arms tightened around him, he said, "He never liked me, never loved me, and it hurt so bad. I don't want him feeling like this..."

"I know."

Resting there, Xander realized there was really nothing more to say.

~~~~~

"I want chocolate."

Maggie raised an eyebrow. "For the entree?"

"Chicken mole'?" He tried for cute.

Giles put a hand on his shoulder. "Whatever you decide will be fine, mum."

Xander gave Giles a stricken look. Then he stage-whispered, "You're not helping! I want her chocolate mousse pie." Maggie had made one a few days before -- possibly to console them both over the idiocy that was reserved British gentlemen.

"Trust me," Giles whispered back.

He shook his head. "I know she'll make one for dessert. That isn't the issue. I'm hoping for appetizers and entree, as well." The only reason was that he wanted to know just how far he could push. Being spoiled was a new and dizzying experience -- and if he could get nothing but chocolate all day, he wasn't going to miss his chance.

"Perhaps some after-dinner hot chocolate," Maggie mused.

"Oh! Yeah, good one." This grandmum thing was definitely the best.

"I fear I'm going to have to serve something else for appetizers and entree for the chocolately challenged."

Xander blinked. "There are people like that?"

Maggie winked. "Sadly, yes."

Xander grinned, then noticed the look Giles was giving them both. "What?"

"I didn't say anything."

Xander just pointed at Giles' eyes.

"I'm going to start wearing dark glasses."

"But then will I know what you're saying?" Xander stepped closer to Giles, giving him his best learned-this-look-from-Willow. Giles didn't answer in words, but the rolling of his eyes spoke eloquently.

There was a soft 'ahem' from the doorway, and Xander glanced over. Xander took a step back, his amusement fading into the polite veneer he'd managed whenever he'd seen Everett lately. As he had every time he'd observed this, Giles gave him a questioning, slightly puzzled look.

"Yes?" Giles asked his father, who was looking at him expectantly.

"Mr. Porter just phoned. Asked if you could come down to headquarters -- swears it will only take a couple hours." Everett glanced very briefly at Xander as well, but his expression didn't change.

"He always says that." Giles sighed. "I suppose I had better before he decides to come here, instead."

"You're going to Watcher Headquarters?" Xander asked. They'd been planning to go visit next week -- Giles had promised a lengthy tour during which he could harass the council members.

Giles grimaced. "Being summoned, more accurately. No doubt Porter wants to take the opportunity to berate me in person."

"Are you gonna miss dinner?"

"Barring Armageddon, I will be back in plenty of time."

"Good. Because otherwise Uncle Percy and I will have to swap *really* embarrassing stories." He forced an easy smile. He wasn't worried -- too much -- about being left alone with his grandparents and Percy.

"The horror." Giles smiled as he got to his feet.

Xander stuck his tongue out.

A brief smile, then Giles' expression turned serious. "You'll be all right when I'm gone?"

"Sure." He nodded casually. Not too fast, not too obvious. "If you're late can I have your piece of pie?"

"Added incentive to be back here in time."

"Or added incentive for you to be late." Xander grinned.

"I'll see you later. *Before* dinner."

"Meanie." Xander pouted.

"Aren't you the one who says, 'All's fair in love and chocolate'?" Giles grinned and left.

~~~~~

Xander spent the rest of the afternoon in the kitchen with his grandmum, learning how to make a pie crust and practicing his Greek. Maggie taught him a few choice phrases in Latin, as well. Alas gallinaceas de viae lacteae.

'I want a Milky Way.' Useful stuff.

Late afternoon came and Percy arrived. Xander started casting glances toward the front door, as Giles should be back any time. Maggie kept Xander busy, helping her while Percy and Everett talked in the study. Then they were setting the table, and Percy came in, and still no Giles. Xander told himself the unsettled feeling he had wasn't anything to worry about.
Yet.

Then the time they were to eat came and went. Maggie held up starting, and now Xander wasn't the only one glancing toward the door worriedly. When the phone rang, they all jumped. Everett went to answer it. Xander couldn't hear the softly voiced conversation but as he watched, Everett went totally pale. And his expression...

Xander stood, nearly dropping his chair to the floor in his haste. Maggie and Percy were right there, as well, all three gathered around as they heard Everett say "How badly?"

Xander found his hand being grabbed, and squeezed tightly.

"I see. We'll come immediately of course."

No one said a word as Everett hung up the phone, and turned to them. "Rupert's in hospital--" was as far as he got. Xander squeezed the hand in his tighter. Then everything sort of settled down, far away, like it did when the vampires finally came out to play. He heard the words "car accident," "unconscious," and "still looking at him" as Everett continued talking.

Xander turned to Maggie. "Do we need to turn anything off in the kitchen?"

"I..." She looked stricken, but after a few seconds a very familiar determination settled on her face. He'd seen it often enough on her son's face. "No, everything's under control there."

He looked back at Everett, who nodded. Percy said quietly, "I'll drive, then, shall I?" before gently herding them all towards the door.

~~~~~

The trip to the hospital seemed to take forever, but eventually they pulled into the parking lot. Xander followed closely behind as they headed inside. He was familiar with hospitals, too familiar -- though he couldn't remember feeling quite this much nothing. When Willow had been taken to the ER for stitches, he'd felt jumpy and hyper, trying to keep the nine year old from crying as they cleaned her up. Every time they went to get themselves bandaged up after a good night's slaying, he'd felt only the adrenaline high.

And when they'd brought him to the hospital after his father had tried to kill him, he had been so full of emotion he'd felt like he'd been leaking all over the place. But this was different. When Maggie took him into a waiting room to sit with her, he just felt nothing.

Everett went up to talk to the nurse at the reception desk to find out where Giles was and how he was doing. Percy stood beside them in the waiting area, glancing down at them then back at Everett, all of them trying to hear whatever the nursing sister had to say.

When Everett came back, he looked significantly less worried. "He has a concussion and a broken wrist. But other than that, he's all right."

Maggie sighed, sounded for all the world like she might've collapsed, had she been standing. Everett went to her, sitting beside her and embracing her. Percy clapped Xander on the shoulder, and Xander just looked up at him, then over at his grandda. "Do we get to see him yet?"

"They said one person could go back." Everyone looked at Xander.

He started to offer to let Maggie go. Got as far as opening his mouth when, instead, he stood and looked for whomever would show him where to go. The nursing sister whom Everett had been talking to was waiting for him and smiled kindly as she led him further into the hospital.

"What happened?" he asked in a low voice. Hospital hallways tended to make him subdued.

She glanced at him. "Side impact car crash. I'm afraid I don't know much of the details."

Xander frowned, worried. It didn't sound like anything demonic, or vampiric, or anything evil of the call in the Slayer sort. A mundane car crash... He suddenly needed to see Giles, very badly.

He didn't have to wait much longer; the next room they passed, the nurse stopped in front of and gestured him in. Giles was lying on a bed, surrounded by the usual array of machines, tubes in his arms and the soft beeping of a monitor.

All noticed and forgotten as soon as he saw Giles' eyes on him. Xander swallowed. "Hey. Hit something?" His voice was shaking as he walked over.

"Something hit me actually," Giles replied, holding out the hand that wasn't in a splint.

"We forgot to teach you to duck?" he asked, still lightly. Then his hand touched Giles' and he had to hold himself very still. "You're OK?"

"I will be." Giles smiled faintly. "Being hard-headed does have some benefits." His expression turned serious and he clasped Xander's hand tighter. "You?"

Xander noted the placement of bandages. Recalled that no one had said anything about his ribs. He leaned forward and slid one arm across Giles' chest, and hung onto him, pressing his face into the sterile sheet that smelled like hospital-laundries everywhere. He was enfolded in turn in an one-armed embrace.

It was incredibly awkward, bending his knees so he could lean over and hold on. He didn't care, stopping thinking about it as he closed his eyes. "I thought I told you--" he choked out, before stopping so he wouldn't have to force himself to talk when he couldn't, really.

"Does this mean I'm grounded?"

"Stop it!" he shouted, standing up and trying desperately to control himself so he wouldn't get thrown out. "You're not--" He realised he was about to say something stupid.

Giles had half sat up, wincing as he did so and wordlessly held out his hand to Xander again.

Xander moved immediately forward and laid a hand on Giles' shoulder. "Lay down," he said gently, fears swallowed by other needs.

"Yes, that might be a good idea," Giles said faintly, letting himself be pushed back down.

Xander helped ease him down, and spent a moment fussing over the arrangement of the IV tube. Far too much experience, he told himself, as he made sure Giles was once more as comfortable as a man with a concussion could be. "You need anything? Drugs? Water? Mousse pie?"

Giles chuckled at that, wincing a little. "You left me some?"

"We didn't eat, actually. Waiting for you to get home." Voice tried to crack again. Xander frowned, instead. Told himself he could deal.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't do it again," he whispered. He took hold of Giles' hand, again and held it carefully.

"I'll do my best."

"Good. Did they say... if you're staying here for very long?"

Giles started to shake his head then thought better of it. "Not long. As soon as they put a cast on my wrist--"

"Can I stay?"

His hand was squeezed again. "Of course."

He had to occasionally step back, out of the doctors' or nurses' way, but for the most part he reminded right at Giles' bedside. When they had the cast on, one of the sisters asked if he would like to step out for a moment, to let one of the other visitors in. She said it kindly, made Xander think that no one had actually asked her to relay the request.

When he saw Giles about to tell him he needn't, Xander smiled. "Actually, yeah. I have to go do something, anyhow."

"You're sure?"

"I'll be right back." He let go of Giles' hand -- then leaned forward and laid a very light kiss on the unbruised portion of his forehead. He considered the dozen things he wanted to say, and finally just repeated, "I'll be back."

He carried the look on Giles' face with him as he turned and walked back to the waiting room. He told, then twice reassured Maggie that she could go in. Then he looked around. "Anyone know where the gift shop is? I need to buy some stickers."

~~~~~

Maggie asked him if he wanted a plate brought up, but Xander shook his head. He wasn't sure he could eat, not even a slice of her pie. He sat in a chair pulled up beside Giles' bed -- he wanted to crawl in there with him, but knew Giles didn't need someone jostling the bed. Xander had had concussions before. Sometimes breathing made you nauseaous.

They'd brought Giles home, gotten him to bed with much fussing and worrying -- at one point making Everett comment that they had, perhaps, too much help before stepping out of the room with Percy in tow. There had been a long moment right after, when Giles had become more silent and his eyes had drifted to the door, full of something similiar to hurt. But as soon as he saw Xander watching him, he shook it off and went back to enduring the fussing over him with good humor.

Xander decided that it was a good idea to try yelling at his grandda, again. Not now, though. Now he sat quietly and watched Giles sleep. He'd thought he'd be full of dark and frightened thoughts, now that everything was finally still. Instead, all he did was sit and watch. Fought the urge to crawl into bed.

A soft creak at the door made him look up. Everett stood in the doorway. Xander scowled, before quickly trying to work his expression back into something polite. His scowl faded a little as Everett came in, his gaze focused on his son.

"How is he?" Everett asked softly.

"Sleeping."

"Good." He stared at Giles for a long moment, his expression more unguarded than Xander had seen before.

He really did love Giles. That was clear. Xander suddenly felt sorry for him, that he couldn't actually say it. He waved his grandda over. Everett gratefully took the other chair, glancing at Xander before his gaze seemed drawn back to his son. "He's gonna be OK," Xander said, knowing it was probably not necessary, or expected. He just didn't know how to introduce the conversation he wanted to have.

"Of course he is." Xander wasn't sure if Everett was trying to convince him or himself.

"I... I'm sorry for how I've been acting lately," he offered.

Everett glanced at him again. "I've probably deserved it."

Xander leaned forward, resting against the side of the high-back chair. "Why can't you tell him? Why's it so hard?"

"I try. But I always say the wrong thing."

"Do you love him?" he asked quietly.

"Of course I do." His gaze was drawn back to Giles. "More than that, I'm proud of him."

Xander flicked his gaze to Giles, dissappointed to see he was still asleep. But perhaps if grandda practised, now, it'd be easier for him to say later. "How come you don't just say it, then?"

Everett continued to stare at his son as he answered. "I pushed him so hard when he was young. He was so...he had so much potential, I just wanted to see him succeed, to live up to it. And he did, he has, but I've withheld my approval for so long, he doesn't believe that I can actually give it."

"So you prove it to him by still not telling him?" Xander shook his head. "That doesn't make sense." He wished he had a tape recorder or something to play this back.

"Every time I broach the subject, he assumes I'm upset with him and he says something, then I say something back and..." Everett shrugged defeatedly. "And we're back where we started. Or further apart."

"Maybe you should try... not broaching the subject. Just say it." Xander shifted in his chair, beginning to feel a little self-conscious. "Say 'I'm proud of you' then walk away before you can say anything that'll make him think you're qualifying it or something."

Everett smiled faintly, looking very much like his son just then. "Just like that?"

Xander grinned. "It's easy." He turned to Giles and said, softly but quite clearly, "Son, I'm proud of you." Then he grinned at Everett. "See?"

After staring at him for a long moment, Everett turned back to Giles. "I'm proud of you, Rupert," he said in a very quiet voice.

Xander didn't bother trying to hide his grin. He reached over and patted his grandda's arm. "See? It's easy. Now try, 'Xander, I want to buy you a car.'"

Everett laughed softly and patted his hand. "Nice try, Xander."

Xander smiled, then gave his grandda a more serious look. "Thank you." Then he winked. "I'm proud of you."

"Thank you." His grandda got to his feet. "I should go; you should get to bed," he suggested.

"Yeah." Xander nodded, knowing he wasn't going to sleep any time soon. He turned back to Giles, settling in to watch him as Everett left.

Only to find Giles' eyes open and watching him.

He blinked. "You heard--"

"Every word."

For a second he thought he'd need to apologize. Badgering Everett probably wasn't polite. Then Xander smiled. "You heard every word."

"Every word," Giles repeated, with a bit of wonder in his voice. "Thank you."

He grinned, and bounced in his chair. "Welcome." He bounced again. He decided he loved this expression, almost as much as he loved the one when Giles was looking at him like he loved him. Or the 'dad' look. The best part about this one, though, was that he'd never seen it before.

And now he was.

"Here I thought he was upset about the car earlier..." Giles continued, still looking somewhat dazed.

"Oo, maybe I shoulda have asked him to buy *you* a new car." Xander leaned forward, stopped himself before he touched the bed. Jostling, bad.

But Giles held out his non-casted arm invitingly. Gingerly, he crept onto the bed. Moving slowly, freezing once when Giles rolled slightly towards him as the mattress dipped. Soon, though, he was lying on his side, tucked up beside Giles, not caring that he was still wearing his shoes and would probably regret in the morning when he awoke, having slept the night on top of the duvet.

"Much better," Giles murmured, sounding half asleep again.

"Much," he agreed softly, watching as Giles closed his eyes. "Go to sleep," he whispered, sure that even as he spoke, the words were no longer needed.

Giles' steady breathing eventually lulled him into following.

~~~~~

Xander peered over the railing to look down into the front room. It was the first room off the foyer, and it was currently serving as the coat check room. There were three people down there whom Xander had never seen before. Apparently his reprieve was over.

He wasn't surprised -- yesterday his grandparents had fielded numerous phone calls, giving out updates and explaining that they were having no visitors that day. Today, though, all bets were off.

Xander didn't mind -- he certainly couldn't tell everyone they couldn't come see Giles, just because it gave *him* the wiggins. It was a big house; it would be easy enough to stay out of the way until everyone was gone.

Among the general murmur of conversation below, he heard his name and then saw Maggie look upwards. He fought the urge to step back, managing to simply stand where he was and meet the gazes of the people all now staring at him. He also fought the urge to hold up his arms and say "My Fellow British!" -- it didn't have quite the same ring.

Maggie gave him a reassuring smile and he almost had enough courage to go down and join them. He *knew* these people wanted to meet him, too, but somehow knowing that made him even more self-conscious about doing so. Didn't want someone to shake his hand and belt out "so! you're the boy Ol' Rupert rescued from a monster, eh?' Or worse, have someone ask where he'd
come from at all.

He stayed for a moment longer and then he turned and ran. Maybe he could go hide in the library. Even if someone came in after him, they might not see him, amongst all those books...

But he found his footsteps carrying him towards his bedroom. Giles' old room. Probably a better place to hide, he told his subconscious. He had books in there, anyway, and there was always the tree.

He only made it partway down the hall when he heard Maggie's voice call his name. Swallowing hard, he stopped and turned.

She walked up to him, her expression one of understanding. He smiled disarmingly. "Hey. I figured I'd just let everyone catch up on old times." He knew he wasn't fooling her, but maybe she'd let him get away with it.

"They've gone in to see Rupert." She leaned down enough to meet his gaze. "They'd like to meet you if you're up to it."

"Oh. Yeah, they... I guess they would. I do. I mean, yeah." He shrugged. "Why not?" There were only three of them, after all. And Percy hadn't been so bad. He realized he'd probably draw more attention to himself if he kept hiding.

Maggie reached out for his hand. "I was going to get together some tea and snacks for them. Would you like to help?"

Xander smiled. "Yeah. I'm good at snacks."

It didn't take long for them to get a pot of tea made, and a tray of biscuits put together. Xander returned his grandmum's reassuring smile, then they headed for the den. He could hear voices talking before they entered, among them Giles' which bolstered his courage.

He stepped into the room with Maggie, who cheerfully announced they had brought tea. Everyone turned to look... Xander concentrated on setting his tray down, then moving over to stand beside Giles' chair. Giles gave him a welcoming smile and unobtrusively covered his hand with his own.

"So, this is Xander?" said the older man, in a decidedly British tone. Xander hadn't realized British accents could sound quite so... British.

"Yes, it is." Giles sounded so proud, that Xander felt himself beginning to blush.

"I'm Dorothy, Percy's sister." The woman came forward, holding out a hand. Xander took it and shook it briefly, silently thanking her for not going for the cheek.

"And this is her husband, Nigel, and my cousin Jeremy," Giles introduced the others.

"Hey," Xander managed, shaking two more hands. Then he waited.

"So you're the one taking care of Rupert now," Jeremy began. "Got to say, I'm relieved. Man always has needed a keeper."

Xander glanced down. "I do my best."

"We'll have to talk sometime when you're here. I'll tell you some stories about Rupert when he was your age."

"I've been collecting embarrassing ones," he said, hoping his enthusiasm sounded more enthusiastic than it felt. He glanced down at Giles, found Giles watching him, and encouraging look appearing when their eyes met. Xander smiled, more honestly.

"I've got a few that would fall in that category."

Xander looked back up, and gave Jeremy a hesitant smile. Maybe there were advantages to this relatives thing.

~~~~~

Hours later, he was convinced there was definitely too much of a good thing. He stopped trying to carry his part of the conversation, answering when asked a question, but sitting quietly beside Giles otherwise. Giles was shooting him increasingly concerned looks, and finally Xander saw him cast an appealing one at his mother.

With the smooth ease of an experienced hostess, Maggie announced the visit over. Barely had she mentioned that her son needed his rest, did she have them all on their feet and headed for the door.

Xander looked up at Giles, apologetically, only to find Giles smiling at him. He blinked, confused. Maggie came back and stood in the doorway. "Do you boys need more tea?"

"That would be lovely, Mum, thank you." Giles looked over. "Anything for you?"

"No. Uh, soda?" He glanced at the tray of biscuits and saw plenty still there. He turned back to Giles, again perplexed.

"Coming up," Maggie said with a smile before leaving again.

"Um... you're looking at me like that," Xander accused.

"Like what?"

"Like you're proud of me when I'm thinking I screwed things up." He frowned, knowing what Giles would say to that.

"That would probably be because I am."

He had three choices -- roll his eyes, because, yeah, this was exactly the way Giles was and nothing was gonna change that; sigh despondently because Giles didn't ever blame him for the little stuff, and it was damn disconcerting. Third, he could do what he was starting to do, anyhow, while he'd thought over his options.

Sitting on the floor near Giles' chair, he was in a perfect position to lean over and rest his head on Giles' knee. Giles reached over and stroked his hair gently. "You're being too hard on yourself."

"But I should be able to do this. They're just people..."

"They're not just people. They're family."

"That's the point! I should be able to spend more than three hours with them." Xander had a sudden realization where he was -- sitting in a den, in a large house in England. Sitting with Giles, his head on Giles' knee. All they needed was a fireplace and snow and hot cocoa, and they'd be...

"Xander, who has hurt you the most in your life?"

"Poodles." He'd been peed on, once. Ruined his tennis shoes. Then he looked up. "I know. My parents. But these people aren't like that -- you and grandmum keep telling me they aren't."

"But somewhere in your brain the word family is attached to pain." Giles looked down at him eyes full of compassion. "Lessons learned that early are hard to overcome."

"But..."

"But?"

"I know better," he said, weakly. He should know better, by now.

"Your head knows better. Your heart is still learning."

It was possible. Might explain why it still *felt* so difficult, no matter how many times he told himself he could do this. He wrapped his arm around Giles' leg, and hoped to god his grandmum didn't pop in with a camera. Giles continued to silently stroke his hair.

He sat there quietly for a few minutes, simply enjoying the sensation. Then he asked, "How are you doing? Head still hurt?" He glanced at the cast and half-grinned. He'd had to buy duck stickers, instead of teddy bears. "Arm itch?" he asked in an innocent tone.

"It hasn't yet," Giles said with a slight exasperation.

"Oh. Well, don't think about it, because then it'll... but your head's OK?"

"It still aches but not as badly."

"Good. Do you want anything?" He looked up again, dislodging Giles' hand.

"Actually, I think I have everything I need right here."

Xander looked around the room. "We aren't even in the library."

Giles shrugged. "Can't read with this headache anyway."

There was another joke just waiting to be added -- but Xander just smiled and laid his head back down. He could deal with being all someone needed.

~~~~~

The next morning Xander was in the library after breakfast. Slumped down in a chair, book propped up on his knees, he was set to not move for anything less than running out of snacks. He heard the doorbell ring, then, and stopped reading, to listen.

Unfamiliar voices. Lots of them.

He closed the book, finger carefully marking his spot, and headed out into the hallway. He couldn't head in to get a look at whoever had arrived without being spotted, but he counted the number of voices.

Maggie had mentioned more relatives would be dropping by, today. Giles had told him he didn't have to make an appearance but he wanted to try anyway. He listened as his grandmum directed the visitors to Everett's study. Xander snuck down the hallway in time to peer around the corner. Three adults, two kids.

Maybe later. He turned and snuck upstairs.

Retreating to the bedroom, he flopped down on the bed, his eyes lighting on the phone. Maggie had said he should feel free to call home anytime and there was one person he really wanted to talk to. Picking up the receiver, he dialed the number from memory.

It wasn't long before he was hearing a familiar voice saying, "Yeah?" He sounded half-awake.

Just that was enough to make him grin. "Hey!"

"Hey!" The surprised delight in Spike's voice made him grin even harder.

"Did I wake you?"

"Yeah. Don't mind, was dreaming about you. Like this better; how's the homeland?"

"Very British." He leaned back against the headboard getting comfortable.

"Really?" Spike sounded surprised. "Didn't used to be."

"What did it used to be? Spanish?"

"Used to be all Anglo-Saxon. Lots of drinking and shagging. Still lots of that, really, only they wash up afterwards."

He grinned. "Things haven't changed much."

"Too bad I can't be there -- bet I could show you some great clubs... if they're still around."

"When was the last time you were here?" he asked curiously.

"Oh, um, maybe fifty years ago. Or seventy." There was a pause. "Possibly a hundred."

"Things might have changed just a little since then."

"Really?" There was the sound of rustling, then Spike's voiced came back. "What've you and the old man been up to, then? Seeing all the fun spots of the Rich and Tweeded?"

"We haven't done much sightseeing yet. Well, outside Giles' parents' house. It's big enough that it could use a tour guide." Xander paused, wondering what Spike's reaction to the next bit of news was going to be. "And Giles was in a car accident three days ago."

There was barely a pause before, "He's all right, then?" The tone was affected disinterest. Xander wasn't fooled.

"He'll be fine. Just got a concussion and a broken wrist. But it could've been a lot worse." Xander heard the waver in his voice as he voiced that thought that had been lurking in the back of his brain ever since it happened.

"So now I 'spect he's hanging about letting you tend to his every whim." The casually cheerful tone was back. "Must be rough."

"Actually he's trapped in grandfather's study with a mob of relatives."

"Oh, that *does* sound painful. Explains why you're hiding out making phone calls."

"They're a bit... overwhelming." Overwhelming didn't begin to cover the panic he felt when he thought of joining them.

"Want me to come bite 'em? Well, boat won't get there by the time you head for home... maybe I can call someone and have them go do some biting."

"Spike! You can't bite Giles' relatives!" he said through half-laughter.

"Why not? They're human, aren't they? Got blood in their veins?" Spike sounded pleased with himself.

"They're *Giles'* relatives."

"Oh. So you're saying if I arrange to have some of Giles' relatives bitten, you'll pout at me until I promise never to do it again." Spike sighed.

"I still have that water gun with holy water too."

"Gonna hit me from all the way over there?"

"I won't be in England forever."

"Gonna stop by? Got a home-coming all planned. Involves lots of not being dressed."

His grin widened as a shiver went through him at the words. "Somehow that doesn't surprise me."

"Well, since you helped planned it, what with all that moaning at your going-away party..."

"I wasn't the only one moaning."

"As I recall," Spike said, sounding more posh as he pretended to be affronted, "I wasn't the one who denied moaning, afterwards. Therefore, you needn't try holding it over my head."

"You did deny whimpering, though."

"Because I don't whimper."

Xander snorted. "Right. Big bad vampire doesn't whimper."

"And don't you forget it." There was a pause. "Though if you wanted to try to prove me wrong, could add an extra couple of days to the coming-home celebration."

"I'll bring a tape recorder."

"Sorry, pet, doesn't work. The vampire thing, you know," Spike said breezily.

"Nice try. I live with a Watcher, remember? I know what the vampire thing entails."

"Oh, and how many audiotapes of vampires have you heard?" Spike challenged.

"One." He grinned triumphantly. "Angel protesting he couldn't be taped actually." There was a pause. Then Xander was listening to the sound of Spike's full-throated laughter. "Never underestimate the courage or the ingenuity of Willow."

"Remind me to be nice to her -- and get me a copy of that tape, will you?"

"It'll be your birthday present. If I knew when your birthday was..."

"Day after you get back," he said immediately.

"How convenient."

"Aw, you wouldn't really make me wait until September, would you?"

"Is that when it really is?" He was suddenly intently curious to know the answer.

"Um, yeah. Can't I have the tape before then? I'll get the little witch a dead mouse or a sprig of sparrow's bane or something," he offered.

"What day in September?"

"You'd really make me wait?"

"I might if you don't tell me," he threatened, knowing he wouldn't.

"16th. Wanna know what day I was killed, too? I should get two parties."

"Greedy." Xander refused to think too closely about the concept of a deathday party.

"Not to sound totally blond or anything, but 'duh'."

"Will you wear a funny party hat?"

"Depends. Is anyone else going to be at this party besides you and me?"

Xander suddenly pictured a birthday celebration for Spike in his and Giles' living room at home with all the scooby gang there. He shuddered. "Depends. How do you feel about receiving multiple stakes as presents?"

"Right. You and me, both of us wearing funny party hats and icing," Spike said matter-of-factly. Then in a more wheedlesome tone, asked, "Do we have to wait til September?"

Xander laughed.

He talked with Spike a while longer, then realized he probably should make an appearance to Giles' relatives. He felt better now, and though he wasn't sure he was up to getting his cheek pinched, he did feel he could handle some introductions and polite chit chat.

Or possibly he'd just say hello and sit with Giles.

He promised Spike he'd call again soon, then hung up the phone. Giving Jesse a quick squeeze for luck, he left the room and headed downstairs.

~~~~~

He heard the voices long before he got the stairs, the general level of the conversation telling him there were much more people down there than when he'd snuck away. He hesitated before continuing down. He could do this.

He'd faced hordes of the undead. A houseful of British relatives should be a piece of cake. Granted, he was unarmed, and several of these relatives were better trained than he was. But there was still something to be said for facing up to something slimy and gross. Or to relatives.

Hopefully the two would be mutually exclusive.

Xander made sure his face wasn't showing any of the timidity he felt, and headed towards the study Giles had been in, yesterday.

"You must be Xander!"

He stopped and found himself faced with a woman, smiling brightly and bearing down on him. Middle-aged, and looking faintly of the rest of the Giles' clan he'd met so far. "Yeah. Uh, hi."

"Oh, what a lovely accent. I'm Patti by the way. One of the numerous cousins." She held out a hand.

"Thanks," he said, slightly bewildered. He didn't *have* an accent. He did hold out his hand, though. He glanced around the room and noticed everyone else was watching them. Two little kids who were arguing over a toy seemed to be ignoring him, actually.

"We're all very curious, you know. The family curse, that: curiosity."

"Oh?" he managed, keeping an eye on the two other adults who had come over. One held out a hand.

"Nathan," he said, by way of introduction.

"Elliot," the other put in, with a friendly smile.

Xander kept smiling and shook both their hands. He glanced back at Patti and found her still smiling, eagerly.

"So how do you like England?" Elliot asked presently.

"I like it. We haven't seen much besides bookstores, yet."

Nathan laughed. "That sounds like Rupert all right."

Xander smiled, decided he'd done plenty towards being met by relatives, and said, "If you'll excuse me?" And headed out of the room to find Giles.

It wasn't as easy as he thought it would've been. Everywhere he turned, there were strangers. But strangers that were all eager to meet him. It wouldn't have been so bad if he could have found Giles. But he wasn't in the study, nor the library, nor his mum's study... Instead it was as if Xander was totally surrounded by a mansion full of strangers.

Strangers who kept following him and asking him over and over how he liked England.

His answers were getting increasingly short as his nervousness and anxiety grew. He did spot Everett, once, who told him Giles had been out on the back porch, and hour earlier. When Xander headed that way, he found only a group of kids, ages ranging from his own to much younger. It was getting to the point that if he didn't find Giles soon, he was just going to retreat back to his room.

Xander was about to ask the kids if they knew where Giles was, when they looked over at him. Their elders had all been friendly and polite. These kids were frankly out-and-out staring. Some curious, some with that dreaded measuring stare. To hell with what they thought of him -- he turned and went back inside.

And into more relatives. He found himself backing up into a wall alcove, trying to disappear. For a moment, they thankfully seemed to vanish. Xander turned around, facing the wall, and tried to take a deep breath. He rested the palms of his hands on the edge of a pedestal upon which sat a large blue and white vase.

It was shaky, but the second seemed a little easier. He stared at the vase, and tried to calm down. It was pretty, the designs on it seemed to be raised from the ceramic surface. His fingers twitched, tracing the line of the designs in the air.

From out of nowhere a cane came down on his hands as they rested on the edge of the pedestal. "That's a priceless vase. You shouldn't touch."

Xander didn't jump. He looked up, pulling his hands back -- stinging from the blow -- and found an older man frowning at him. "I wasn't--" He took a step backwards, started to explain he hadn't been doing anything wrong -- then turned and ran away.

He didn't stop running until he was back in his room, the door shut behind him. He paced, a bit, before going over to the bed. He grabbed Jesse and sat up near the headboard where he had full view of the door so he could see anybody coming.

He suddenly felt eight years old again, hiding in his bedroom, praying his father didn't come after him. He hated the feeling, Hated it with a passion, wanted to go to Giles and be told it wasn't true, that nobody was going to hurt him anymore.

But his hands were still stinging. It was so little compared to what he'd lived through before but...

They'd told him he'd be safe here. He'd been told no one was going to even show *up* if he couldn't handle it, and now here they were, dozens of them, everywhere. And Giles was no where to be found.

As if the thought had summoned him, there was a knock on the door. "Xander?"

He froze. "G-giles?"

The door opened and Giles looked in. "Are you all right?"

Xander glanced behind Giles, and saw no one else there. He relaxed, a little, and felt like whimpering. Instead he tried to get control of himself.

"No, I can see you're not." Giles came all the way in and crossed the room to sit on the bed beside him.

"I'm all right," he said -- declaration suitably marred by the faint whisper he'd said it with. He leaned against Giles, pressing himself into the embrace Giles had barely begun to offer. Giles' arms closed around him, his uncasted hand coming up to stroke Xander's hair. "I'm all right," he said again, just as quietly as the first time. He wriggled closer and told him, "I wasn't going to touch it." He had had no idea it was valuable, but he wouldn't have. Wouldn't have damaged it, in any event.

"Touch what?"

"The vase. I didn't touch it." He didn't know if the man, whoever he was, had gone off and told on him. 'Keep those children from wreaking havoc all over the house.' His uncle had said that, once, before they'd stopped inviting Xander's family over.

"What vase?" Giles sounded, if anything, puzzled.

Xander pressed his face into Giles' chest. Giles didn't know. So he tried to say it. "He hit--" His stomach churned.

The arms holding him, tightened. "Who?" Giles asked in a low, dangerous voice.

"I don't know. I don't think I met him. I might have, there were so many--" He was shaking, and felt Giles tighten his embrace.

"It's all right. I won't let anyone hurt you again."

'You keep saying that.' It was on his tongue, but he didn't say it. Knew it was unreasonable to think Giles would always protect him from everything -- despite the little voice that was hoping he would. "It didn't hurt," he said, a moment later, sounding if not feeling more genuinely calm.

"Didn't it?"

He considered it -- he couldn't even feel the stinging, any more. "No, it didn't." Startled him, yes. It hadn't really hurt.

Giles pulled back long enough to give him one of those looks.

"Scared me," he admitted. He looked at the backs of his hands. "But he didn't even leave a mark."

"Not physically."

He didn't reply to that. He stayed nestled in the safety of Giles' arms, regaining his lost equilibrium. Then, "I wasn't *gonna* touch it, anyway."

"I know."

The feeling of safety made him a little bolder. "Why'd he hit me? It wasn't his vase, was it?"

"Shall we go find out?"

Xander swallowed. He'd just as soon not leave the bedroom until everyone was gone... except Giles had that edge in his voice. A very tiny smile appeared on Xander's face. "Are you going to yell?"

"Quite possibly," he admitted.

Xander hesitated. "I don't want to get anyone into trouble."

"*You're* not getting anyone in trouble."

But if he didn't say anything, no one would get into trouble. Xander knew that.

"I can find out myself, if you'd rather," Giles offered gently, the edge in his tone fading slightly.

Xander pressed his face against Giles' chest, again. Voice nearly muffled by Giles' shirt, he said, "It was an older guy with a cane." He didn't know if he'd said it loud enough for Giles to make out what he'd said. Hoped he had. Hoped he hadn't.

"Do you want to come down with me?"

He smiled. Didn't say 'duh', but he crawled up off Giles, and to the end of the bed. Giles gave him an encouraging smile and stood, holding out a hand to him.

Xander left Jesse on the bed, not needing that sort of attention. Then he took Giles' hand, and went with him, out of the room.

Nobody saw them coming down the stairs, but as soon as they stepped into the room they were noticed and the conversation quieted, becoming quiet murmurs as all eyes seemed to be on them. Xander dropped back, letting go Giles' hand and looking down at the rug. Giles reached back and laid his hand on Xander's shoulder, squeezing reassuringly.

"Rupert?" Someone spoke, Xander didn't know who. The woman continued, "It's good you found him -- now we can all--"

"I'd like everyone to go, now. Please."

"Er, what?" There were surprised questions from several in the room.

Xander felt his heartrate speeding up. He reached out and tucked his fingers into a fold of Giles' shirt, curled them around the loose cloth. The hand on his shoulder squeezed again. "I appreciate your concern, but all this... attention is a bit overwhelming for both of us right now."

Xander smiled a bit, relieved at the way Giles had shared the blame for kicking everyone out. Relieved he was actually kicking everyone out.

Some of them looked like they wanted to protest, but one look at Giles' face seemed to change their minds. With some confused mutterings, but no loud protest people began to file out.

"Uncle Charles, if you could stay a moment please."

The man who'd struck him, stopped. Xander looked up long enough to see a confused expression on the man's face, before he dropped his eyes back to the carpet.

"Rupert?" Maggie's welcome voice appeared, and Xander glanced up again to see her ushering people out even as she came into the room.

"Uncle Charles and I have something to discuss, Mum." Giles' voice had gone hard again, with a faint tremor of anger underlying it.

"Oh?" Maggie sounded intrigued -- and hurried the rest of their guests out. Then she walked over to stand by her son.

When it was just the four of them, Giles pinned Charles with an angry stare. "Did you hit Xander?"

"What?" Maggie gasped, and she reached out for Xander's hand.

Charles looked surprised. "I certainly did not!"

"With your cane? To keep him from touching a vase?"

"What?" Again startled, but less so. "That wasn't hitting him, Rupert. I merely warned him off -- it was the Bellerby vase in the north hallway. Worth--"

"I don't care what it's worth," Giles cut him off, voice cold. "You. Don't. Touch. Xander."

"But, I..." Charles sputtered.

Maggie took a step forward. "You think I would care more about that old vase than Xander?"

"It was just a tap on the hand!" Charles exclaimed, looking exasperated.

Maggie stepped forward. "Have you completely lost your sense?"

"Have you taken a look at what your 'tap' did?" Giles asked, his outrage plain on his face and in his tone.

"I barely touched him -- I'm sure there's no mark. I've been disciplining my children for years -- believe me, I know how hard not to hit."

Xander peeked up at Charles, watching with some interest.

"Xander's father didn't," Maggie said quietly.

Charles' mouth snapped shut. His gaze went from Giles to Maggie, then rested on Xander. Giles tugged Xander to his side gently, wrapping his arm around his waist protectively. "You do not have my permission to discipline Xander. And nobody, *nobody* strikes him."

Xander stifled the urge to stick his tongue out and say 'neener'.

Charles, however, was looking rather upset. "I didn't... I am sorry. I didn't mean anything of that sort. I--" He glanced over at Giles. "I didn't intend to hurt him. It was merely reflex -- I'm sorry."

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to."

"Xander?" Charles turned to face him.

Xander stayed where he was - behind his dad and grandmum. Giles nodded at him encouragingly, but showed no signs of making him move. Xander settled for giving Charles an expression of listening.

"I'm sorry, Xander," he began in a tone of sincerity Xander had never heard before. "I hadn't meant to hurt you."

Everybody looked at Xander, waiting patiently. Xander just wanted to hear him say he was sorry, again. After a moment he realized that no one was going to do anything until he did. He nodded at Charles.

"I think you should go now, Charles." Maggie said, moving forward to escort him out.

Charles stepped back with a nod, heading for the door before Maggie could reach him.

"Uncle Charles?" Xander said, before he could go.

"Yes, lad?"

"Thanks for apologizing." It felt weird -- it felt kinda nice.

Charles nodded, then walked out. Xander realized as he walked out, that they were alone in the house again.

Finally.

He reached his arms around Giles' waist and hugged him. Giles turned and pulled him into a full hug. "Better?"

"Yeah."

~~~~~

Xander was curled up in a chair almost large enough for him to curl up in. He had one foot propped up on a footstool, the other leg draped over the arm of the chair. A book was in his lap, and he had the notebook balanced on his knee. He'd been there for an hour, working on this, and he was beginning to think Giles and his parents had conspired on this to keep him
quiet.

Admitting defeat, he looked up and asked, "What's a seven letter word for "gross"? I think I need it in Greek. Possibly Crogein."

Giles looked up from his own reading, sitting in an identical chair nearby, feet up on another footstool. "Gross as in large or gross as in..." He paused, obviously searching for the proper description.

"Um..." Xander looked down at the crossword puzzle. Training for Watchers, or so his grandda had blithely said when he'd handed Xander the booklet. 'Ways to make Xander's brain hurt' was the real description, he was thinking. He blinked at the clue, and read, "Gross as in 'delightful'? OK, that would make it Crogein."

"It would indeed." Giles nodded towards a slim blue volume laying on the table between them. "Crogein/English dictionary."

Xander looked at the book in astonishment. "You have *got* to be kidding me." It wouldn't have been so bad had the book looked obviously like a small print run, slap it together kind of book. But this was as well-bound and gold-edged as the rest of the books in the room.

"A good deal of chaotic prophecies from the eleventh to fifteenth centuries were written in Crogein for some reason. Enough that some enterprising Watcher-archivist at the end of the last century put that together."

"Oh. And here I thought I'd found a new career." He picked up the book and looked up the word 'gross'. "Think anyone needs a Sun Valley/Latin dictionary?"

Giles smiled. "I know there have been times I've felt in need of some kind of translation."

"Yeah, but is translating for you gonna be a full-time job?" Xander looked up, grinning. Wondered why it sounded like such a good idea.

"Perhaps you could branch out."

"Translate for Buffy, too?" He realised the word 'gross' wasn't in the dictionary, and tried looking up 'delightful'. Eight letters. He thumped himself in the head with the slight book.

"Trying to learn through osmosis?" Giles asked him with a faint smile.

"Will that work?"

"Not that I've been able to see."

Xander considered trying the 'crawl over to Giles and look cute and hope he takes pity on me' approach, but it *was* only a crossword puzzle. He should save being cute for things like chocolate. He looked up as his grandda walked into the room, and Xander grinned. "Do you know a seven letter Crogein word for 'gross'?"

Everett looked at him. "Did you try the Crogein/English dictionary?"

He tried the cute pout. "Yes. Found 'rfuiane'."

"That's the verb form."

Xander opened the dictionary again. "If I have to teach myself conjugation, just to finish this stupid puzzle..."

"That's the point," Giles put in with a smile.

"It is *not* the point. The point is to keep me out of the kitchen until teatime." Xander frowned at the puzzle while he wrote in 'rfeian'.

"It seems to be working. On both points."

He stuck his tongue out at Giles. Xander caught Everett grinning, briefly, before he turned his attention back to the puzzle.

"I had to do that puzzle when I was young as well," Giles reminisced, glancing at his father.

"As I recall, you finished it in record time," Everett replied hesitantly.

A flicker of surprise crossed Giles face. "I spelled number twelve across wrong."

Xander peeked through his eyelashes, watching his grandda without raising his head. Everett was looking away, his expression one of discomfort. "The idea was not to be perfect. It was to simply practice what you'd been learning."

"That wasn't how it felt at the time," Giles said carefully.

"Yes, well..." Everett was very carefully looking at the bookcase across the room. He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I was more concerned with seeing you succeed than letting you know when you had. I suppose I was afraid that if I stopped pushing, you'd stop trying."

Xander held very still, not wanting to jump up and cheer until everyone had a chance to say everything they ought.

"Did you really think so little of my determination?"

There was no reply, and Xander wondered if his grandda was going to give up, and leave with things only half-said.

Finally, he said softly, "I remember how I felt, when I was told my life wasn't my own." He still didn't look at his son, but his voice was less hesitant. "I remembered thinking what I wouldn't have given to be rid of it all, allowed to do whatever I liked. I'd... I'd wanted to be a writer, when I was a lad."

"You did?" Giles asked in a surprised tone.

"Had notebooks filled with stories." Everett smiled, briefly, then his face went dark. "My mother tried to tell me keeping my official journals would be my writing."

"It's not the same thing, is it?" Giles asked softly, understanding. Everett shook his head. "There's nothing that says you can't start writing again now."

A faint smile appeared, but Everett shook his head. "I'm afraid I'm woefully out of practice. I wasn't...very good at it, besides. Just a young boy's fantasies." He seemed to realise what he was saying, and his face smoothed over. "Ah, listen to an old man ramble. I came here to tell you that Maggie wants to borrow Xander for the afternoon. Said something
about pie crust."

Giles smiled and glanced over at Xander. "I'm sure he'd be amenable."

Xander thought it over for a few seconds. "Pie crust? Hm..." He set the books aside and jumped up. Took three steps towards the door, then stopped and turned back. "Um, how is twelve across spelled?" He looked at the book of crossword puzzles still in his hand.

Giles and his father exchanged looks. "That would be telling."

Xander gave them both dirty looks, before stomping off towards the kitchen. Maybe Maggie would check it over for him, and at least let him know if he'd gotten it right.

~~~~~

It was a little bizarre to be sitting on the left side of the car. More bizarre to be driving on the wrong side of the street. Not that he was driving -- he'd asked, though he hadn't really wanted to actually do it. London traffic? Not in this lifetime, even with a native guide and an A to Z.

"You're sure I get to harass them?" he asked, dubiously.

Giles glanced over at him and smiled before turning his eyes back to the road. "I'm sure. I'm quite looking forward to it actually."

"I don't want to get you into trouble," Xander continued. Granted, Giles probably wasn't talking about smoke-bombs in the toilets kind of harassment. Not that *he* had ever been the one to do those things. He'd only carried the stuff for Willow.

"You won't. Well, no more than I get myself into."

"So, then, it's OK I brought the squeaky Gromits?" He'd discovered that placing a toy in the right spot behind a door was perfect for making said toy squeak when the door was opened. And when you first replaced the squeaker with something else...

That got him another glance though Giles did nod.

Then again, Giles hadn't found the Gromit he'd left in the library. Maggie had found it, then laughed as hard as Xander, once she'd recovered being startled. She'd taken him to buy a few more, so they could experiment on the best squeaker-replacements.

He tried for an innocent grin, just in case. What he really wanted to do was get home, so he could try them out at school.

"I will, of course, disavow all knowledge of such things," Giles commented.

"Even when we get home?" he asked eagerly, clamping his mouth shut too late.

"That would depend greatly on the situation."

"Oh." Xander considered how Snyder would feel about Gromits that sounded like ghosts and kerluc demons, scattered about the school. Detention for life was a fair bet.

On the other hand, hiding them at Spike's place...

"Maybe I should just plead the fifth and not reveal my Master Plan."

"Master Plans tend to be best kept secret."

Xander snorted. "You say that like you don't always know what I'm up to, anyhow."

Giles just smiled mysteriously.

Xander folded his arms. "All right, tell me what I'm planning to do with the Aero chocolate eggs."

"You're taking them home for your friends. Not including the two you sat aside for yourself."

Xander kept his jaw from dropping by narrowing his eyes at Giles. "How do you do that? And I set three aside, only I ate one already."

"Ah. I stand corrected."

Xander waited. Then, "You didn't answer my question."

"No, I didn't, did I?" Giles smiled again.

"You're gonna just sit there and act mysterious and not tell me, just like you did when I wanted to know if I had 31 down in the right language." He hadn't managed to finish the puzzle, yet, but couldn't figure out which clue he had wrong.

After a moment, Giles said softly, "It's in Sumerian."

"I have to know *Sumerian*?" Xander whirled on him in disbelief. "Sumerian? I am *not* learning Sumerian. No more dead languages. No more languages that only dead people speak. Not even if it's the only way to order good chocolate through the mail." Then he dug the puzzle out from under the car seat and looked at 31 down.

Giles pulled the car into a parking spot and turned to face him. "Do you really feel that way?"

"I reserve the right to wait until I actually become fluent in two languages, before starting a new one," Xander replied, erasing what he'd written and trying to remember what the Sumerian word for 'ducks' was and if it was spelled with three 'm's or two.

"Two m's," Giles told him absently.

"Don't tell me!" he protested without thinking. Then he looked over. "Um, I mean, 'school hard, studying bad'?"

His guardian smiled faintly. "I think you just blew your slacker cover."

Muttering, "I think I blew it the day I found out about demonic chemistry," Xander filled in the clue. He realised he could fill in another, and quickly did so. He had two more clues filled in before he looked up to see Giles smiling at him.

"I *was* wondering if I perhaps was pushing you too hard, but..."

Xander closed the book and got out of the car, tossing the book in the seat. "I like it that you push. It... makes me think you care -- I mean, I know you do. I just--"

"Want a break sometimes."

But Xander shook his head. "Want a *warning* sometimes. I don't care if I end up learning Sumerian. I'd just like a list, or something. So I know what to expect."

"A warning."

He shifted from one foot to the other, closing the car door and walking around to where Giles was waiting. "I don't like surprises, sometimes." That was why Willow had told him about his birthday party 'surprise'. Accidentally on purpose.

Giles nodded slowly. "No surprises. We can sit down when we get home and discuss what you'd like to learn."

"I'd like learn what I'm supposed to do with the map island." Willow was already past that point, checking maps and not telling him what he was supposed to be looking for. He had no idea how she was doing it, since he was pretty sure she wasn't sneaking over and playing on his computer while he was asleep. Somewhat sure.

"Map island?" Giles looked at him uncomprehendingly.

"Riven. Willow gave it to me when we finished Myst."

"Ah. Computer game."

"One day they're going to take over the world." Xander fell in beside Giles as they headed towards the rather non-descript building.

"The horror."

"I could get Othello downloaded for you, if you like. Start you off easy."

With a wary glance, Giles said, "You're trying to corrupt me."

"I think its only fair." An idea occurred, and Xander was hard pressed not to grin so widely that he'd frighten Giles off. "If I have to learn Sumerian, you should have to learn to play a computer game. Or use Excel or something."

"Can't get you to have pity on a poor concussed watcher?"

"You won't be concussed forever." He gave Giles a dirty look. "And no fair re-injuring yourself just as you recover, to avoid it."

Giles opened his mouth and then closed it again without saying anything. Xander turned to look at the building they'd come to visit. Big, featureless -- nothing at all like the Council for Fighting Evil ought to look. It looked like just another building, perhaps government offices. Giles caught what he was looking at. "Bit of a letdown isn't it?"

"Shouldn't there at least be gargoyles?"

"They flew away."

Xander grinned. "The funny part is, I believe it. Even though you either hope I'll believe you so you can say you're kidding, or that I'll think you're kidding so you can say it's true."

"That would about cover it."

He looked back up at the building, then shook his head. "Gargoyles wouldn't help."

"Probably not."

Xander took another step towards the building when he stopped and returned to the car for his backpack.

Giles waited for him with an indulgent smile. "Ready?"

"Yup." He slung the bag over his shoulder. He did have two Gromits in it, ready and waiting. And somehow he knew, if he asked, Giles would tell him where would be the best spots to leave them.

~~~~~

The interior of the Council building was much more satisfying, on a purely aesthetic level. The floors were covered with thick, dark carpets and the walls hung with pieces of art from all centuries, covering all range of creature and situation. Xander suspected they were all realistic, probably even educational.

He'd been introduced to only a few people; there weren't many folks roaming the hallways. Fortunately, two of them had been Council members whom Giles had indicated could be harassed. Just in case Xander was making a list.

Which he was.

So far most of the people he'd been introduced to had seemed to dismiss him just as quickly as they'd notice him. It seemed to irritate Giles a little but only someone who knew him as well as Xander did would notice. Xander didn't mind as much. It was better to be dismissed than have too much attention -- especially if he wanted not to be at the top of anyone's list of culprits when they discovered the Keloj ash he had a small bag of, and planned to sprinkle on the office chair of some really annoying person.

Possibly the old geezer who had just asked, before Giles could even finish saying hello, whether he was ever going to get that Slayer of his into shape. Giles had answered respectfully enough, but his irritation was evident in his posture.

Yeah, definitely a candidate. As soon as the guy was gone, Xander looked over. "Do you wanna do it?"

"You are a bad influence on me."

He reached into his backpack and dug out the small plastic baggie of ash.

"I am not seeing this," Giles vowed.

"Not seeing this? I thought you were the one not *doing* it?" Xander shrugged. "Tell me where his office is, and I'll not do it."

For a moment he thought Giles wasn't going to tell him, but his guardian finally shook his head with a sigh. "The last door on the right."

"Cool! Er, I'm gonna go wander along and see what's down here, OK?" Xander gestured vaguely towards the hallway Giles had just indicated.

"Try not to get cau-- into trouble."

"Who, me?" Xander gave Giles his very best even-Willow-falls-for-this-one-sometimes expression of innocence.

"That's what I thought."

"When have I ever gotten into tro-- uh. I'm gonna be right back." He quickly turned and headed down the hallway.

Giles' soft laughter followed him.

At least he was laughing about it, Xander reflected. He hurried to the door, listening very carefully for signs of passers-by. At the door itself he paused, listening intently and checking his slayerette-trained instincts for signs of occupation. He slipped the door open and stepped inside. A quick check around and he was headed over to the chair. Without touching the chair or the desk, or anything on them, Xander opened the bag of ash and sprinkled the clearish-white stuff everywhere.

A few minutes' exposure to air and it would turn even clearer. A few minutes' exposure to a pair of trousers, and suddenly said trousers would have large gaping holes in them were the body heat had activated the ash's more... acidic properties.

Demonic chemistry was a godsend for the practical joker. It made Xander wish he'd discovered it sooner. It also made him wonder why Giles had been so pleased to realize he was interested in it. Also why Giles had bought him the third chem set, which was subtitled "101 Ways To Burn Things You Can Replace".

Xander wadded the bag up and whispered a short spell he'd picked up from Willow. The plastic began melting quickly, then vanished entirely. Willow used it for recycling otherwise-unrecyclable plastic. With a satisfied grin, Xander headed back to the door. Listening again for passers-by, Xander slipped out, shut the door, then headed back down the hallway.

Giles was standing where he had left him, deep in conversation with another old fogey of some sort. Giles seemed to be actually enjoying -- or favorably tolerating -- the conversation, so Xander didn't interrupt it. He stopped before he reached them, looking first at one of the painting on the wall -- this one depicting a small herd of vampires being vanquished by the sunrise. It wasn't a very interesting painting, but it was more fun than being polite to yet another council member. Suddenly he realized he could hear other people talking.

"--tell you that fire wouldn't work against Gurulifeger demons. They'd just grin at you and proceed to bite your head off."

Xander took a step towards the doorway through which the voices were coming; as he got closer, he saw there was a short hall leading off from the main corridor. To one side in a sort of study-alcove, were three guys -- baby Watchers, Xander realized. One of them sneered at another, a slight, dark haired man wearing glasses. "And what makes you such an expert on Gurulifeger, Wesley? Faced many of them, have you?"

Xander took another step closer, still unnoticed by the three. Wesley was looking offended, but answered in a stilted tone, "If you had read the Draviticae--"

The third man laughed. "The Draviticae! Wesley, no one believes that pile of rubbish!"

"If it was rubbish it wouldn't be in the inner library. It happens to be a most reliable source on the entire Gorian class of demons." Wesley was apparently trying to control a fierce frown.

"Reliable!" The first man laughed. "Tell you what, Wesley, next time you come across a Gurulifeger demon, you just tell it you won't be killing it. Randolph and I will have our incineration spells ready."

Xander said calmly, "He's right. Fire won't kill them."

Three sets of eyes turned to stare at him. "And you would be...?" the first man asked.

"Someone who's killed a Gurulifeger demon with a hacksaw."

Wesley looked thoughtful. "Yes, that would work."

Randolph scoffed. "You can kill a lot of things with a hacksaw. Fire would be much easier, and safer. Distance weapon, you realize," he finished in a patronizing tone.

Xander just looked at him. "We tried fire. The demons laughed at us and tried to bite Willow's head off."

Wesley started to grin, then looked alarmed. "Goodness! Was she all right?" Then his expression grew thoughtful. "Willow? I don't recognize that name. Is she a member of the Left Hand?"

Xander shook his head. "She's a Scooby," he answered with a grin.

"A Scooby." Wesley frowned. "I don't believe I know that division."

"It's an elite task force, charged with assisting and supporting the activities of the current Slayer/Watcher team." Xander rattled the phrases off easily, as if he wasn't making things up on the spot. He noticed the dubious frown of the other two, and just gave them an impassive stare.

Randolph's friend said, "I don't believe you. You barely look old enough to have taken your A levels. You couldn't possibly have seen a Gurulifeger demon, much less *killed* one."

Wesley, however, was studying Xander closely. "You're American."

"Yep. And yes, I have killed a Gurulifeger demon. It was about to eat one of my friends, and Buffy was busy with the other two."

Wesley's expression become one of realization. "You're here with the Slayer's Watcher, what's your name-- Alexander?"

"Xander, yeah."

He watched with some amusement as the three reacted. Wesley seemed intrigued -- Xander recognized the 'can I ask you a thousand questions' look. Randolph looked reluctantly impressed. The third was sneering in a whole new manner. Holding out his hand, Wesley introduced himself. "Wesley Wyndham-Pryce."

Xander shook it. "Hey. Xander Harris Giles." He was in no way used to saying that -- but he managed not to grin like a moron as he did so.

"Randolph Peterson," the second man said, holding out a hand.

"Glenn O'Neil," the third said, keeping his arms crossed in front of him.

Xander gave him the sort of smile he usually gave vamps about to be dusted. "Pleasure is all yours." He heard Wesley stifle a cough and glanced over in time to see him hiding a grin. Glenn scowled even deeper then, gathering Randolph with his eyes, turned and left.

Xander watched them go, then turned to Wesley. "Actually, if you use fire on a Gurulifeger demon, they don't grin. Haven't really got the mouth for it."

"I've seen pictures. They do seem to have entirely too many teeth for such an expression."

"All the better for biting your head off with." He cast a glance down the hall where the two Watcher-wannabes had vanished. "What's this Draviticae?"

Wesley smiled. "One of the rarer texts on demonology. They have a copy here in the library."

Giles had promised they'd spend a day in the library -- tomorrow. Xander had to struggle to not say 'can we go see it?' now. Besides, he was a little intrigued about this Wesley guy. He'd never met a Watcher besides Giles who seemed... approachable.

Wesley was continuing, "One of many. I'll tell you, I could happily live in that room for several months at least."

Slowly, Xander smiled. "My dad promised to show me the library tomorrow -- said something about waking up at 5am, and bringing a sack lunch."

Wesley grinned back. "You might think about bringing supper too."

"Actually, I think he mentioned supper... and sleeping bags."

"Sounds like a man after my own heart."

"You wanna join us?" Xander asked, half-joking, half-serious. It'd be fun to get to know someone closer his own age who also understood the Watcher thing. Wesley didn't seem too stuffy...

"Me? Oh, I wouldn't want to intrude..."

"Why not? We could use a native Guide; Gi-- dad hasn't been here for a few years. I bet they have all sorts of new acquisitions he'd need pointed out." He shrugged, not sure exactly why he was trying to talk Wesley into it. Maybe it was just that he was the first person he'd met in the Council building that he didn't mind spending more than a few minutes with.

Certainly the others were all bores. But even though he could see the same hints of stuffy over-educated Watcherness in Wesley, there was something else. Something that made Xander feel... unthreatened.

"Well, if you're sure Mr. Giles wouldn't mind..."

"Of course I won't mind." Giles walked up, and Xander stifled a groan at the look of 'that's my boy' on Giles' face. It was still embarrassing.

Wesley straightened almost to attention when Giles came in.

Giles held out a hand and gave him a gentle smile. "Rupert Giles."

"Of course you are." Wesley had a rather idiotic grin on his face. "The Slayer's Watcher."

Giles' smile turned modest, half-shaking his head as if that needn't mean as much as it did. Xander decided he was going to like Wesley a great deal. Especially when Wesley suggested they avoid the west wing of the building, as there was a committee session in progress -- which meant a high concentration of Junior Council Members hanging about.

~~~~~

Three days later, Xander juggled the bags he was carrying as his grandmum set hers down to open the door. They had devised a solution to allow those relatives who wanted to visit Rupert, the chance to do so -- without Xander being around. Yesterday Everett had taken Xander on a tour of London -- showing him the best tourist stuff like the changing of the guard. Xander had loved it -- discovering a shared enthusiasm with his grandfather for games of strategy. They'd spent the entire night over an Othello board.

Today it had been Maggie, taking him to shops and booksellers. "I'll go get the rest," Maggie said, heading back to the door.

"They're gonna think we bought out the city," Xander said, looking at the bags. "DHL is gonna love us, though, when we ship this all home."

"Just making up on seventeen years of spoiling," she assured him with a wink and a grin.

Xander grinned. Hefting one of the bags -- books -- he said, "I think this probably makes a huge dent in the spoiling owed. Luckily, there's still Christmas."

"Still Christmas for -- good Lord." Giles walked into the foyer and looked down at the array of bags. "Mum, you *do* know they have stores in California? They sell... what *is* this?" He peered into one of the bags.

Maggie slapped his hand and took it away. "No peeking."

"What?" he straightened up, startled, then started to smile. "Is one of them for me?"

Xander snorted. "Like we'd tell you if it was." He took pity on his guardian's curiosity, though, and handed over one of the smaller bags he was carrying. "You can look at these, though."

"You're sure," Giles asked taking the bag, but not looking in.

"Well, you have to *share*," Xander added. He'd barely had a chance to read more than a third of any of them, at the bookstore.

Maggie gave them both an amused smile as she took some of the bags. "I'll have these boxed up to ship home, those other two you can take with you."

"Thanks, Mum," Giles said absently, as he began to go through the books Xander had bought.

Xander waited a moment before asking in a casual tone, "Can I borrow your credit card? We wanna go back out tomorrow."

"You do know we only have so much room at the apartment."

Xander opened his mouth to retort, when he realized -- it was a good point. He looked down at the bags still at his feet. "I don't even have bookshelves for these, do I?"

Giles shook his head. "And you've already taken over half of mine."

If he hadn't already seen the way the library here was crammed, he'd have suggested leaving some here. He suddenly saw just how much *stuff* he'd bought -- today alone. If he counted all the things he'd been buying since they'd arrived in England... "I guess I can take some back."

"I didn't say that," his guardian interrupted.

Xander hadn't even thought about it -- being able to buy, or have bought for him, anything he wanted -- he hadn't even thought about whether he really had room or need for it, at home. "A couple of those I was gonna lend to Willow, anyway."

"For the moment, if we don't have enough room, I can always move some to my office at the school."

"You're already kinda crowded there, too," Xander pointed out. "I guess I didn't realize how much stuff I was getting." He shrugged an apology.

Giles reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder. "If all else fails, we'll just have to get a bigger place."

Xander laughed, shaking off the sense of guilt with relief -- he didn't *want* to give any of it back. "Where? We already have the biggest floorplan in the complex." But he leaned over, gave Giles a one-armed hug -- and stole one of the books out of Giles' hands.

"That's an interesting one."

"Have you read it?" Xander started flipping through the pages to the spell which had first caught his eye.

"No, but I took a glance at the index."

"Look at this!" He found the spell, and held the book open. "There are spells in here about Slayers." Only three that he'd found mentioned The Slayer specifically, but that was three more than he'd ever seen before. Giles looked closer, reaching out to take the book back. "I'm not sure what it means, but it looks like a cool spell. Slayer combo. I think you can take other people, and make a Slayer out of them. Or give the Slayer special powers..." He trailed off as he watched Giles reading.

"Yes," Giles said distractedly.

"And one where you can turn a Watcher into a jerboa," he added, wondering if Giles were even still hearing him. If he knew what the little rodent-creature's name even was.

"Mm-hm."

"Grandmum says she has everything I'd need, to try it out." He watched as Giles continued staring at the page in front of him, and tried not to grin in case he suddenly looked up.

"Of course, if you'd like," Giles replied absently.

Xander knew that if he said anything more, he'd probably get Giles' full attention. So he nodded, picked up his bags, and said to himself, "Good thing I stole that business card out of Murgenson's office. I think I can use it as a totem..."

There was a long pause, then Giles was looking up at him. "What?"

He looked back, innocent expression plastered on his face. "What?"

"I didn't just hear what I thought I heard, did I?"

Xander shook his head. Managed to look so serious that Giles gave him a suspicious look and flipped through the index, again.

Then he looked up and gave Xander his best fatherly forbidding stare. "No transmutation spells."

"But--!"

Giles just continued to look at him.

Xander frowned. "It isn't a transmutation spell! Sort of," he protested.

Still Giles continued to stare.

"It's more of a... um... OK, it's a transmutation spell. But it doesn't have to be a jerboa. I could turn him into a capybara." He gave Giles his pleading-eyes.

"No rodents."

"A squirrel? Are they rodents and please god don't tell me to look it up."

"It is a rodent and no, no squirrels."

"Mongoose?"

Giles began to smile. "No."

"What if I just made him *think* he was a mongoose?" Xander had no idea if there was such a spell in the book, but if he got a 'yes,' it would be worth searching all the books to find one.

"He's bad enough as a human."

Xander pouted. "You never let me have any fun."

That caused Giles to give him a look of disbelief.

"Unless you wanna volunteer?" Xander asked in a hopeful tone.

"For what?" Giles asked suspiciously.

"The spell, duh! I promise I'd turn you right back."

Giles stared at him for a moment, then turned and walked off, muttering in Aramaic.

Xander waited until he was almost out of the foyer, then called after him, "Was that a yes or a no?"

"No!"

"You don't love me anymore," he said, not quite shouting loud enough to be heard.

Or maybe he had because Giles stopped, turned around and came back. "We do not turn the ones we love into rodents."

"Mongeese are rodents?"

Another stare and Giles was walking away again with more muttering.

Xander waited til he was at the threshold again. Then, "I *knew* you didn't love me."

"No transmutations!" Giles called back.

~~~~~

Xander got his stuff put away upstairs -- trying to keep the guilty impulse squashed. Finally he reasoned that if, as Giles kept insisting, he *wasn't* the grown-up, and therefor wasn't the one responsible -- if he shouldn't be buying all this stuff, someone would have said something. Not quite earth logic, as he suspected Buffy would say...but enough of an excuse to leave the bags and head back down in search of his grandmum to see if it was time to start teasing Giles.

They'd called Percy while they were taking a break for lunch, and had made all the arrangements for tomorrow. Xander and Maggie had debated just how long they could go before letting Giles in on their surprise. The hardest part was keeping him from making other plans. Luckily, Xander had finally found that he could keep Giles from making any plans simply because most of his plans involved Xander. It had become a small challenge to his guardian-manipulating ability.

Of course, there was always the back-up plan. Tell Giles.

Xander hurried downstairs, and found his grandmum talking with her son in the kitchen. Xander skidded into the room -- he'd discovered early on that the floor was slippery enough for sock-foot skating. He crashed into Giles, who caught him with an amused look. "Sudden cookie attack?" his guardian asked.

Xander blinked. "There are cookies?"

Giles nodded to the plate Maggie was filling with all kinds of good things. Tea time, Xander remembered. He went over towards the plate, slipping a bit unintentionally in his haste. He grabbed for a chocolate thing he hadn't seen before, then remembered why he'd come down. "Are we doing anything tomorrow?" he asked.

He watched Giles visibly thinking about it. "I don't think we've agreed on plans yet. Have you decided what you want to do?"

"Is anyone coming by?" Xander asked, a touch of doubt in his voice. He still wasn't really enthused about relatives visiting, but that wasn't why he cared, this time.

"Not that I know of." Giles looked questioningly at his mother.

"I haven't heard a thing," she said with a tone of innocence Xander only knew was exaggerated because he knew she'd asked Percy to let everyone know they wouldn't be at home.

Giles turned back to Xander. "What is it you want to do?"

Xander opened his mouth to answer, then stopped. Then he started to smile. "Can we visit Grubenhager's again?" He named a supply shop that specialized in demonic academia which Giles had shown him a few days before.

"Is there anything you haven't bought from there already?"

Xander looked surprised. "I can't just browse through everything I've seen twice before?"

"If that's what you really want to do..."

He gave Giles a tiny bit of a pleading look. Then he said, "Drugin said they were getting a shipment today."

Giles sighed. "I never said we couldn't."

Xander pushed the wattage up on his pleading look, anyway, just for practise. "But you had that look in your eyes that said 'god help me, I've created someone who creates monsters.' And you wanted to stay home and be boring and read more of that boring Sotheby's thing."

"I think you're reading far too much into my look." Giles managed to look affronted, despite the amusement in his tone.

Xander mock-glared. "You're going to deny you want to stay home and read Sotheby's Catalog of Old, Over-priced Stuff?"

"It isn't boring," Giles protested. "And what does it matter whether I read it or not, you who've been reading about microbiology, the worst sort of boring when it comes to biology. It isn't even *supernatural*, it's plain ordinary--" He stopped, suddenly, then demanded, "What makes you think I'd be looking at Sotheby's, at any rate?"

"Because you've been carrying the book to bed?" Xander saw Maggie grinning at them, and winked.

"It is hardly the first book I've taken to bed." Giles was trying for wounded dignity, but not quite succeeding. He was doing a better job of pretending to ignore his mother's amusement.

"I've never seen you take a catalog to bed before," Xander pointed out.

"Then we should work on your powers of observation."

"Oh, I've seen you take *books* to bed. But a catalog? Isn't that a little... weird?" He managed to look all prim and proper -- or at least more innocent.

"Not that you've ever gone to bed with a book -- or catalog, and don't deny you hadn't the Video Gamer under your pillow every night for two weeks."

Xander just looked shocked. "I'm a kid! I'm supposed to do things like that! That's why you bought me a flashlight, so I wouldn't have to set the sheets on fire trying that spell Willow showed me."

"I didn't hear you say that last part," Giles said primly.

"You didn't know? I almost got the water--" He shut himself up, realising that maybe Giles really *didn't* to know why Xander had suddenly spent his allowance on several sets of sheets a couple months ago. Not that Spike hadn't been responsible for one set, but that was even more one of the things Giles didn't need to know.

"Please remember that if I know about something, I have to react to it," Giles said calmly, flicking a glance towards his mother, who was stifling laughter.

"I know nothing about the missing chocolate bourbon biscuits."

Giles blinked. "They're missing?"

Xander blinked. "What's missing?"

Giles opened his mouth to answer then closed it with a shake of his head.

"So, it's OK?" Xander asked.

"What's okay?"

"Grubenhager's."

"Yes. It's okay." Giles' expression was a mixture of exasperation and affection.

"Um..." He glanced over at his grandmum, who was watching them silently, her eyes alight and her giggles almost under control.

"Is there something else?" Giles asked with faked wariness.

"Could I maybe borrowsomemoney?" he said quickly. Not because he'd need it -- since they *weren't* going to Grubenhager's tomorrow. Rather, he had the urge to see just how far he could push before Giles either handed over his wallet, or went and hid in the library for the rest of their visit.

Giles gave a sigh that was obviously meant to be exaggerated and reached for his wallet.

"Not *now*. At the sho-- um, now's fine."

"How much?"

He thought it over, seriously. He actually still had enough to last him the rest of the next week, unless he went back to the corner shop for more chocolate. And Giles was still being entirely too accommodating. "Forty?"

The money was handed over with no further comment. Xander took it, folded the bills and pocketed them. Wondered if he should have asked for sixty.

"Will that be enough?"

He pretended to think it over. He ignored his conscience and said reluctantly, "I *guess*."

Again he got the look with the raised eyebrow.

"I don't need that Turkish amplifier," he admitted, reluctantly.

The look intensified. "Actually, you probably don't."

Xander looked put-upon, but inwardly he relaxed. Nice to know Giles wasn't so far gone he was going to let him buy *anything* he wanted. Or said he wanted. "The mini?" he asked, though, just to be sure. It *was* a cool toy.

"Entirely overpriced and all flash, no substance."

"Digital camera?"

Giles frowned. "Why do you need a digital camera?"

"Because... um..." He thought fast. "So I can talk to grandmum, and send her pictures. You know how she likes pictures." It suddenly occurred to him that he might have just talked Giles into getting him a digital camera when all he'd wanted was... Well, he wasn't sure. Hadn't intended to ask for a camera, though.

But talk about cool toys...

"Well, we'll just have to get you one," Maggie spoke up when Giles didn't answer.

"And one for you, too," Xander pointed out. No point if they couldn't *trade* pictures. He caught Giles looking amused -- then rolling his eyes when he saw Xander and Maggie look at him. Xander pointed out, "Which means you can still get me a GPS tracker."

"I do hate to sound like I'm repeating myself, but why do you need a GPS tracker?" Giles asked.

"You shoot a bug into some creepy crawlie -- or creepy running-fast thing, and we can track it down. Or I can find myself if I go hiking in the Andes. I could use it to find my way to class next year - they added two prefabs." He saw Giles' dubious look, then tried, "Underwater camera?"

"No."

"Palm pilot?" He tried, not knowing exactly what it was, but knowing that Willow had waxed eloquent over one for two weeks - and might still be doing so in their absence.

His guardian hesitated. "Maybe for Christmas."

Xander grinned. Maggie shook her head and asked if Xander wanted to help her with tea. He nodded, but before he followed her out, he turned back and asked Giles, "What's a palm pilot?"

There was a moment of surprised silence, then Giles said quickly, "If you don't know what it is, you won't miss not having it."

"I will so. I'll notice not getting something I don't know what is, and know you didn't get me one."

Giles said something under his breath. It sounded like a prayer.

But Xander took another step after his grandmum, not pushing the issue. He didn't care about a palm pilot, except maybe about getting one for Willow. But it was nice to know Giles hadn't lost his head about spoiling him. Completely.

Besides, if they were going to be spoiling Giles, he needed to be sure things were kept properly balanced.

~~~~~

"So, will you boys be home for dinner?" Maggie asked, her smile widening as she met Xander's gaze. They were seated around the table just finishing up breakfast, and Xander was having great difficulty sitting still.

"If we're not, you better send out a search party," Giles joked, "because it will mean we've got lost in the store."

"Not to worry, Maggie," Everett interrupted smoothly -- as if Xander hadn't coached him carefully. "If I'm dropping them off, I'll not be waiting around for hours when I've gone to pick them up, afterwards."

Giles gave his father a startled look. "You don't need--"

"I've business at The Crutein's, just down the street. I won't be long, but you two will have plenty of time to get your browsing done."

Xander glanced over at Giles and added, "And the three of us can stop by Tandie's cart for lunch?"

"I think that can be arranged." Giles turned back to his father. "Thank you, then."

Everett nodded, his expression quite impassive. Xander grinned, and looked around. "Are we ready to go yet?"

"If you're finished decimating breakfast."

"Um." Xander checked out the table -- most of the plates were empty. He spied one last muffin, and grabbed it. "OK, I'm finished." Giles gave him a look but didn't say anything. Xander held the muffin out to him, raising an eyebrow. When Giles just shook his head, Xander asked, "Well, why'd you say anything, then?"

"I didn't."

"Did."

Giles opened his mouth to reply and then shut it with a shake of his head and a sigh.

"Good choice," Maggie said, patting his hand. "Though you'll recall you've brought this on yourself. All those times I warned you -- someday you'd have a child to do to you as much as you did to us.""

"Thank you, mother, I certainly needed to be reminded of that."

"What'd he do?" Xander asked with interest, brushing Giles off as he tried to point out they should be on their way.

Standing, Giles quickly asked, "Shouldn't we be going?"

Xander glanced at his watch. "We can wait five minutes, can't we?" He glanced towards Everett for confirmation.

Giles gave his father a look. Everett consulted his own watch. "Yes, I think we can spare a few minutes for your grandmum to embarrass Rupert."

"How generous," Giles sighed.

Maggie took pity on him, and just said, "I think we've managed to torment you enough for one breakfast. Perhaps you three should be going."

"Yes, we wouldn't want for Grubenhager's to sell out of anything before we get there." Giles' slight sarcasm was belied by the eagerness with which he took a step towards the doorway.

"If they do, we can go back on Monday," Xander pointed out. Then he grinned innocently when Giles gave him another Look.

"You're feeling chipper this morning," Giles accused.

"Too much chocolate," Xander replied, finishing off the muffin and heading over towards the door where Everett was waiting. He looked at Giles. "Aren't you coming?"

Giles followed, muttering under his breath.

Xander caught a wink from his grandda, and decided to give Giles as much grief as possible before they arrived. If Giles was *ever* going to forgive and forget, it was going to be today.

Besides being fun, it had the added effect of keeping Giles from noticing right away that they weren't heading towards Grubenhager's. But when Everett turned away from the city even distracted Giles noticed. "Have they moved the store in the last week?"

"Hmm?" Was all he got from Everett. Xander just gave him a 'lost tourist, why are you asking me' shrug.

"We're going in the opposite direction," Giles pointed out, as if no one else had noticed.

"Are you sure?" Xander gazed out the window, fighting to hide his grin. "Are we lost?"

Everett cleared his throat. "We're not lost." But Xander heard the rest -- 'and *you* tell him why.'

"If this is a shortcut, Dad, it's going to be the longest shortcut in history," Giles said dryly.

"It isn't a shortcut," Everett said. He looked in the rearview mirror, catching Xander's eye. Xander figured they were probably close enough, and scooted forward to lean over the front seat. Besides, soon it would be obvious where they were going.

"Guess what," he said. Giles looked at him, eyebrow raised. "We're not going to Grubenhager's."

"I had gathered that."

"Wanna know where we're going?"

"I'm almost afraid to ask."

"Aw, you'll love it! Really. I swear. I think." He paused. "If you don't love it, we can go to Grubenhager's."

"That's comforting." Giles looked at him for a moment then continued, "So where are we going?"

"Airport." Xander grinned, watching closely for Giles' reaction.

"Airport," Giles repeated slowly, clearly not getting the implication right away.

"A little airport. Mostly they have private hangers," Xander expanded.

He could see the exact moment when Giles figured it out. "Where Uncle Percy-"

"Keeps his twin engine," finished Everett. He glanced over at his son. "Xander thought you might try leaving without accepting Percy's offer." He sounded a bit awkward, as if embarrassed by his participation.

"I hadn't really thought about it," Giles admitted seeming a bit stunned.

"Percy said you'd told him you didn't want to try it while your head still hurt. But you've been saying for the last three days you felt fine." Xander paused. "If you really don't think you're up to it, we can do it next time. You can do it next time -- I'm still going up!"

"No, that's all right. I feel quite well," Giles said faintly.

"Yes, you sound it," Everett observed in a dry voice.

"Well, it is a bit of a surprise," he countered.

Xander wrapped an arm around Giles' neck, giving him a light squeeze. Giles hugged him back. "I didn't know you wanted to go flying so badly."

"Me?" Xander repeated, surprised. Then he saw the look in Giles' eyes. Tease him back, would he? "Other than being afraid of heights, yeah, I wanna go flying," he said breezily.

"For someone afraid of heights you spent a remarkable amount of time with you face plastered to the window on the flight over from America," Giles observed with one raised eyebrow.

"We never flew upside-down, either. Percy says he'll do a roll if we ask." He realized that sounding that excited about it disproved his claim he was afraid of heights. He tried to think of something else, while wondering if he was ever going to *really* win a battle of wits with Giles.

"Were you intending on asking?"

He considered for a second just how 'better' Giles was probably feeling. Then he grinned, cutely.

"Perhaps I'll have to ask Percy to teach me that move," Giles mused.

Xander bounced in his seat.

~~~~~

He looked over the bags. Everything he couldn't fit in them would be boxed for shipping, but there was a lot of stuff he wanted with him, to show Buffy and Willow and Oz as soon as they got home. There was also the small bag of stuff he was taking home for Spike -- not that he'd said as much. The rest of it... "Can I just ship all my clothes home?"

Giles smiled from where he stood by the door. "What were you planning on wearing in the meantime?"

"I didn't mean *all* my clothes." There were a couple things in particular he wanted to have with him. Otherwise, how much clothing did he need to take a plane ride home?

"Just most of them," Giles said, knowingly.

"I don't have room for my other stuff." Xander gave Giles a look. "I bet *you're* already all packed, again." He sighed.

"You needn't make it sound like an accusation." Giles moved further into the room. "Perhaps I can help...?"

"Can you magically increase my weight allowance?"

"We can pay extra for you to take one more bag."

"How big?" He started recalculating what he could pack.

"A large suitcase."

"Who-hoo!" Xander leapt over a pile of books, and sat down to reorganize the stuff he'd set aside to box. As he began putting things into a pile, he looked up at Giles. "What?"

Giles was standing there smiling at him. "Nothing."

He couldn't quite help smiling back. Much as he heckled Giles for it, he loved it when his guardian got that mushy, sappy look on his face when he looked at Xander. He hoped he never stopped seeing it. That thought reminded him how close he had come to doing so, and his smile faded.

Picking up on his change of mood, Giles moved towards him. "Xander?"

He suddenly found himself asking the question he'd been worrying over since the accident. He'd shoved it aside forcefully, that first night watching over Giles. He'd tried not to think about it at all, which meant mostly only at night, when he was alone in bed. "What'll happen to me if you--"

An unfair, and selfish question, and he couldn't quite finish asking.

"If I... get into another car accident?"

"If you die," he said quietly, barely able to believe he'd said it. That he was sitting there calmly, looking up at Giles.

Giles moved the open suitcase to the side and sat beside him. "I've set up a trust fund for you for one thing."

Xander shook his head. "I mean...I know I'll be eighteen in another year. But--"

"It's not about money," Giles guessed.

Xander looked away. "It isn't... that I can't take care of myself. I just didn't know if--" He cut himself off, again. What were the chances he'd need a new guardian before he turned eighteen? In Giles' line of work, higher than average.

But what if he wanted someone looking after him, even after he became a legal adult?

"If you'd still have a family?" Giles asked quietly.

He shrugged. It sounded rather pathetic -- what he was asking for, after all. Would Giles arrange for him to have a family after his death. As if it were the sort of thing needing to be arranged, instead of just... being there already.

But he still wanted to know.

Giles continued speaking in a quiet, informative manner. "I haven't designated any one person because I didn't know who you would want. But there's quite a list of volunteers."

"There is?" That surprised him. He'd known -- guessed, at least -- that Maggie and Everett would be on the list, as next closest relatives. "Who?"

"My parents, for two. And Mrs. Summers. Willow's parents--"

"Mrs. Summers? Buffy's mom? Ira and Sheila Rosenburg?" Xander tried to wrap his brain around the idea of either of those options. "Willow would boss me around if she were my sister," he said, distracting himself from asking how her parents had had the chance to offer, or been asked.

Giles smiled. "Not that she does that now, at all."

"Yeah, but she'd have the authority on her side, then." He rubbed at his nose, trying not to feel like a five-year-old kid. "They really offered? Said they'd watch out for `me til I was eighteen?"

Giles nodded. "Mrs. Rosenburg pulled me aside at parent-teacher night, grilled me at length about you."

Xander half-smirked. "You'd think she'd have just asked Willow." But the smirk vanished into a real, if small, smile. Then he mock-frowned. "What did you say about me?"

"Hmmm?"

"Did you say anything nice?" he demanded, as if knowing Giles would have been hard pressed. Before Giles could answer, Xander asked, "Did anyone else--" But who else was there?

"Angel has also--"

"*Angel*?" For a split second he thought Angel had volunteered to turn him -- no doubt at Spike's behest. Except Spike would just do it himself, and Angel certainly wouldn't think it a good idea to tell *Giles*. "Really?" But to think Angel cared enough to tell Giles he'd keep an eye on him... that was neat.

"Really."

"Wow. All we need now is Ms. Calendar, and we'd have everybody."

"Um, well, actually..."

Xander stared. Felt his jaw drop and didn't bother trying to pick it up. "She never said anything." She'd sent a couple letters since she'd left, telling them in vague detail about her search for Angel's cure. Chatted about where she was, what she was doing.

Never said 'oh, by the way, put me down as a potential mom'.

"It's not something that is easy to bring up in casual conversation," Giles pointed out. "Or even not so casual."

"Yeah. How do you ask someone to be a guy's guardian?" Which made a second question occur. "Why'd you ask so many people, anyhow?"

Giles gave him an odd, amused look. "What makes you think I asked?"

"They just *offered*?" Xander found himself sitting up straight, shocked. "Just walked up and said 'Hey, if you don't want him, I'll take him'?"

"It wasn't quite put like that," Giles said with a tiny smile. "But otherwise, yes."

Shifting uneasily, Xander wrapped his arms around his knees. Gazing at all the stuff he had scattered around Giles' old room, he asked very quietly, "Why didn't anyone offer earlier, then?" He looked up at Giles. "If you didn't ask... why didn't they offer before?"

"'Before' being...?"

"Before you took me in. If they were interested, why'd they wait until I was already somewhere I wanted to be?" He knew Giles didn't have the answer to that. He wasn't sure he wanted to ask the people who did know the answer. Half-heartedly, he went back to sorting his stuff into piles.

Giles' arm went around his shoulders. "If they had known, they would've."

He dropped the book he was holding, and leaned sideways into the embrace, wrapping his arms around Giles. It was true, and it wasn't, and there was no way to change it, anyway. Trying to lighten the mood, he said, "I guess the only one not on the list is Uncle Percy."

"Did I leave him out?"

Xander froze for a second, then lifted his head. "Him, too?" Darn it, he sounded like a little kid asking if Santa was bringing another present. Maybe Giles was teasing.

"I think your enthusiasm for barrel rolls won him over." Teasing, yes, but not about the important parts.

Faintly, Xander pointed out, "I only made him do four. The other two he did on his own."

Giles grinned. "Not that you complained any."

Still nestled in Giles' embrace, Xander allowed himself to be distracted from the unanswerable questions. "Who asked him to do a loop, then?"

"It wasn't exactly a request," Giles hedged. "I merely asked if it could be done."

"You knew very well he'd do one if you mentioned it."

"I'm not admitting to anything."

Sighing happily, Xander replied, "You never do."

~~~~~

This time he slept more than he'd meant to. The flight back was just as exciting as the flight there -- and as much as Xander tried to keep his face plastered to the window, he found himself nodding off once, regardless. A short nap, then he went back to pointing out clouds to Giles. Finally they were approaching Los Angeles. Xander pretended not to notice Giles' whispered 'thank god'.

The announcement they were landing came over the speaker. "Trip almost over," Giles observed, glancing at Xander.

"Yeah. Home... wow. You realize we've been away for a *month*? I've never been gone that long before, if you don't count four weeks in the hospital. Wonder if Buffy and Willow and everyone got to destroy anything fun?" He saw a familiar mixture of sadness and anger pass briefly over Giles' face at the mention of the month in the hospital but he didn't say anything about that. "I don't mean the liquor store which they already told us -- me about, so never mind. So what's the first thing *you* wanna do when we get home?"

"In the past I've usually go home and collapse." Another glance at Xander. "What do you want to do?"

Xander thought about it. "I suppose we can drop you off at the apartment, and Willow and I can go see if we can get sick on too many cheeseburgers."

"Missed American food, did you?"

"I just want fries without vinegar on them," Xander admitted. In a more serious tone, he said, "I fell out of a tree and broke my collarbone. Got infected. It wasn't... anything anyone did to me."

"Ah. Still couldn't have been very pleasant for you." Giles' expression was mostly unreadable, but most of the hastily-hidden tension was gone.

Xander shrugged. "It was a long time ago. And I remember how the nurses were all really nice to me, bringing me candy and toys and stuff."

Giles smiled at him. "That doesn't surprise me."

"*And* I got to miss the first two weeks of school. Tell me *that* doesn't make it worth while!" Giles might be able to see through his slacker-image , but that didn't mean he hadn't enjoyed not going to school.

"Broken bones as a means to play hooky. I trust you won't be trying anything that drastic, now."

Xander looked shocked. "Are you accusing me of being *repetitive*? Staid? Boring?" He realized his vocabulary was giving him away again. "A doofus?"

"Doofus?" Giles repeated.

"Dweeb?"

Giles gave him one of those looks.

"Aesthetically stifled in my process of creatively displaying a penchant for remaining home from school?" Xander surprised himself when he got that out in one breath.

For a long moment Giles just stared. Then he started laughing. With a grin, Xander settled back in his seat and looked out the window again. The warm laughter definitely made up for that look he'd seen in the other man's eyes when he'd accidentally mentioned the hospital stay. Suddenly he realized he could feel the plane making their final descent and went back to being glued to the window to see as the ground below became bigger and bigger.

"When can we go to Egypt?" he asked, eager to do this flying thing again. Soon.

"Perhaps next summer," Giles said, chuckling.

Which still left the entire rest of this summer. "How about Disney World?"

"Ready to leave again already?"

Xander smiled. "Can I be a pilot when I grow up?" he asked, explaining.

Giles' expression softened. "You can be whatever you want."

"Will you buy me a plane?"

That earned him another burst of laughter. "Instead of a car?"

"No!" Xander looked scandalized. "Not 'instead of'! Geez, what planet are you from? I'm 17 and from one of those most materialistic nations in the world. How could I ever mean 'instead of'?"

"Ah. How foolish of me."

Xander nodded. "Yeah. So. Beech?"

"I don't recall saying yes," Giles pointed out with a raised eyebrow.

"I don't recall you saying 'no'," Xander replied. "I'd let you fly it, too." He was getting another one of those Giles' looks again. "Don't make me say you don't love me," he threatened.

"It loses something when you threaten it ahead of time."

Xander pouted. Crossed his arms in front of his chest and slouched back in the seat. He could feel the airplane beginning to change altitude, so he knew he had to get this done fast, so he could watch the descent.

"We don't need a plane," Giles pointed out.

"Why not?" he asked in an entirely too-interested tone of voice. Tried to get back into the brooding-adolescent slump.

"Why do we not need a plane?" Giles countered patiently.

"I don't know -- I thought we did."

Giles turned the question around. "Why?"

Xander frowned a little. "Why... which?"

"Why do you think... oh never mind."

"Why do I think *which*? That we do or don't need a plane?" He caught the tiny smirk in the corner of Giles' mouth, and put his hands on Giles' arm. Shaking it, he repeated, "Why which what?!"

Giles smiled at him. "We're landing."

Xander immediately spun back to the window. "We're landing!" He heard his guardian's quiet chuckle behind him as he watched their final descent. Keeping his face plastered against the window, he pointed out, "You still haven't said 'no'." His mind was going off the conversation, however, as he realized in less than an hour he would be seeing his friends again.

"I haven't said yes, either."

"You keep saying that, but you keep not saying 'no'." Xander could see the ground below growing more detailed. Cars looked less like ants and more like toys. "Maybe you should be whining to your dad to buy us a plane."

"Somehow I don't see that happening."

"Bet grandmum would buy us one."

"You are not asking my mother to buy you a plane."

At that tone, Xander turned around, briefly. "She would, wouldn't she?"

"We're not going to find out."

"Your mom's the best, you know that?" Xander grinned and went back to watching the ground get closer. Giles hand briefly clasped his arm affectionately but he didn't say anything. Xander watched the landing quietly for a bit. Then, "You know, I--"

He felt Giles gaze on him. "What?" he prodded, gently.

Xander felt a little stupid for saying it, but, "I'm glad we went."

"So am I."

"Are we really going back for Christmas?" Maggie had invited them, and Giles had said, circumstances permitting, they would endeavor to do so.

"If we can, yes."

"And if we can't, they can come visit? Uncle Percy said he might, too. Do you think he really will?" It was bizarre, looking forward to relatives dropping in to visit. But he was.

Giles was looking at him fondly again. "I'm sure they will do their best to do so."

"That'd be cool. I bet Percy and Buffy would get along really well." Not to mention Willow and his grandparents. She'd have those two adopting her within seconds of meeting her.

"Most likely, yes. Once the language barrier is breached."

"Oh, Percy seems like a smart chap," Xander laughed.

"Buffy's language is rather... colorful."

Xander stopped himself from correcting Giles that *Spike* was the one with colorful language and Buffy's was merely picturesque. He was about to try to word his correction some other way, when, "Look! The runway!"

The conversation stopped until the plane actually touched down. Xander kept his attention on the outside, until the please be seated light went out -- well after everyone else had already stood and begun gathering their bags. Xander popped his seatbelt and accepted the bag Giles handed him, then set it on the seat and unzipped it.

Giles lifted an eyebrow. "Usually people wait until they're off the plane to unpack."

"I know. I just need something before we get out there." He pulled the 'something' out, and shook it open. Looking up to see Giles' face as he saw what it was -- what Maggie had brought for him and not let Giles see -- he slipped it on.

"Are you going to wear that when you go for cheeseburgers?" Giles asked mildly.

"Might." He looked down at himself. "It's all the rage among cheeseburger-eating academics, you know."

"You might start a new trend."

"Maybe. Come on! Let's go." He nudged Giles out of the way, and headed towards the airplane's door. Chuckling, Giles followed.

Xander was bouncing again by the time they reached the gate's waiting area. He barely had a chance to scan the crowd before he heard Willow's shout. "Xander!"

Turning, he saw Willow and Buffy waving at them. He returned their wave -- then looked properly and faintly befuddled when the two girls' expressions turned shocked as they saw what he was wearing -- nice slacks and a tweed jacket.

"All right," Buffy said, arms crossed over her chest. "What have you done with the real Xander?"

"Maybe he's been possessed again," Willow said to her. She looked at Xander, peering into his eyes. "Xander? Are you in there? Can you hear me? Don't worry -- we'll find a way to rescue you!"

Xander gave them a nice Gilesian frown of 'we are not amused.'

Buffy turned and glared at Giles. "You assimilated him!"

"Now, Buffy," Giles began.

"It's all right," Xander said in a near-perfect upper-crust English accent. "You can't expect them to accept it all at once."

Willow's eyes went big, and she looked Xander up and down. "Oh, Xander," she said in a tone of heartbreak. "They got you..." Then she broke into the giggles that she couldn't hold back. The next thing Xander knew, he was being hugged by his two friends.

They gave Giles equal hugs, though Buffy gave him another frown for having corrupted Xander. Giles tried to protest that he hadn't anything to do with it, that it had all been his mother's doing.

Buffy just replied, "I can't glare at her so I'll just have to make do with you. Sort of a glaring by proxy."

"You *did* tell her to take me shopping," Xander said, helpfully. Giles' look told him he was *not* being helpful.

"Oo! What did you bring me? Us?" Buffy asked eagerly.

"What makes you think we brought you anything?" Giles asked innocently.

She pouted at him, and Xander noticed that she was as good at it as Willow ever was. Then he noticed Willow was pouting/pleading as well. Xander ducked behind Giles. "You tell them we had to ship all their gifts.


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