Pairings: Giles/Xander (Xander/Faith, Xander/Larry, Giles/Ethan mentioned)
Summary: How it happened when Xander got thrown out of his house just minutes after he turned eighteen.
Warnings: Xander is still in high school, though he’s 18.
Notes: Betaed by secondalto, who unstuck me. Written for cya_ficathon round five.
Word count: 14.6K
Wanted: S3 setting, some plot (however small) other than the romance, an important first (you decide what); some location (in Sunnydale) we never saw in canon
Unwanted: extreme angst, extreme schmoop, any direct reference to Xander/Willow
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.
Distribution: Hey, whatever. Just let me know.
Nominated for round 5 of the Fang Fetish Awards, Xander's Corner.
Xander hitched his duffel bag higher on his shoulder and kept moving past the cemetery gate and its deep shadows. How many cemeteries did Sunnydale have, anyway? Xander counted, from memory. Twelve cemeteries, and at least forty churches. All for a population of twenty thousand. One church per five hundred people, which still meant a lot of lazy-ass people on Sunday mornings.
Numbers, numbers. Xander let them distract him while he made tracks down Main Street. The school was two miles from his house. He could normally jog that in under twenty minutes, though the duffel made that speed impossible. Why hadn’t he thought to grab his skateboard? The duffel was stupid heavy. But what could he have left behind?
But there was the student parking lot, and the cluster of school buildings looming up behind it, and the library building on the right. The lights were on, which meant Giles was there and Xander wouldn’t need his key. For a minute he considered hiding until Giles left, then decided against it. Giles sometimes pulled all-nighters, if he was wigged about something.
He went in and dropped his duffel on the study table. Safe. For now. He’d lived through yet another late-night walk on the Hellmouth.
Giles emerged from his office. “Oh, it’s you, Xander. Thought it might be Buffy.”
“Haven’t seen her. Anything up?”
“Not really. I was just… just filling out some paperwork.”
“Snyder leaning on ya?”
“No. The Council. Termination forms. Legal things. Health insurance forms. Took them a couple of weeks to get them to me, so of course now they demand immediate response.” Giles pulled off his glasses for a moment and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. He still had the bandage on his hand from that night when the others had fought the Hellmouth. The night Xander had slept with Faith and had it all come clear.
Giles resettled the glasses on his nose and seemed to look at Xander for the first time. “Xander! What happened to your face?”
Xander lifted a hand to his eye and cheekbone, gingerly testing how swollen they were. “You don’t wanna know. You shoulda seen the other guy, though. Man, his knuckles took a real bruisin’!”
Giles vanished into the office and emerged a moment later with a plastic bag of that blue gel stuff, wrapped in a little towel. The good thing about Giles’ office, or the sick thing, depending on how you thought about it, was that there was first aid stuff in there for just about anything short of major surgery. Xander took the bag and held it to his face and tried not to wince too much.
“Oh!” Giles said. “It’s past midnight. It’s your birthday now.” He moved over to the rare book cage and began rummaging.
“Hello, age eighteen and my legal majority,” said Xander, trying not to be too sarcastic. His father had chosen a fine manner of noting the occasion. The night had been so awesome until Xander walked through his front door to find him waiting, fists already balled. Somebody’d seen Xander at the movies and called his dad.
At least the cold pack had numbed his face now.
Giles reappeared, holding a big box with some wide ribbons around it. “Er, happy birthday,” he said, and handed Xander the box.
“What? You didn’t have to…”
“Just open it,” Giles said. He had a little smile on his face. Xander held the cold pack up with one hand and tugged at the ribbons with the other.
Apparently Giles liked giving people weapons for their eighteenth birthdays. Buffy had gotten a seriously awesome sword, after the hullaballoo about the test had died down. Willow would probably get a wand that could kill at fifty paces or something, when her turn came. And Xander got this crossbow.
It was cool. Mega-cool. It was like Giles’ good crossbow, only newer, all modern materials and fiberglass and sexy smooth black surfaces and just an amazing texturized grip. And the sights came with a night vision attachment, which was going to come in handy. They sat together on the study table, going over all the features and reading out choice bits of the owner’s manual to each other. Xander did a few test shots, even, down the length of the library to the target on the far wall. It was smooth. So smooth. Xander hit three bullseyes without even trying. And re-cocking it was a snap.
Xander laid it down on the study table, finally, and just looked at Giles. “Man, I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” said Giles. “Just watching you with it is enough.”
Xander reached out and patted Giles’ shoulder, which was the closest he figured Giles would allow to a hug.
“Can I leave the crossbow here? Or maybe at your place? I kinda don’t have a safe place to keep it at the moment, and I’m thinking maybe Snyder won’t want me carrying it with me all the time.”
“Certainly,” said Giles. “You have a key to the cage. Just store it in there. Do you need a ride home at all?”
“Uh, no, not really. I have this paper to write, see, and I thought I’d just camp out here in this place of useful books and write it and…”
“Xander.” Giles was looking at him, looking at his face, at the duffel bag, at the way he couldn’t keep his knee still, but didn’t say anything more. Xander wondered uneasily just how much Giles could read in his face. Maybe the whole thing.
“Come on,” Giles said, eventually. “I’ve a sofa that’s comfortable enough for now, and a spare room. We can clear the books out this weekend.”
“Uh. You sure? I mean, it’s me. Not somebody you actually like.”
“Xander,” said Giles again, and gave him a look. It was a complicated look, but Xander thought he knew what it meant. It was everything they’d gone through together in the last two years, all rolled up into a we’re-buddies-but-I’ll-never-say-so tilt of the chin.
“Just until I can get a job,” said Xander. He picked up the crossbow case, and Giles took the duffel. “I’ll get my own place when I get a job.”
“Xander, you’re going to graduate before I’ll let you worry about a job. Come on.”
And that was how Xander Harris moved in with Rupert Giles.
The next morning was a little too rushed for them to talk at all about what the scoop was, what with Xander oversleeping because of being up till three AM and all. He had a nifty shiner. He just had time to admire it in the bathroom mirror before Giles was calling him from the front door. No being late to school with Giles driving you there. He was early enough even to stop by the secretary’s office to file his change of address.
Xander told wild stories about how he got the black eye when people asked, a different story every time. Though usually he based them on things that had really happened to him while patrolling with Buffy. He loved telling people about vampire stuff that was completely true. It made their scoffing that much more fun. At lunchtime, he carried his tray over to Larry’s table and sat down.
“Xan! You’re here! I tried to call you this morning, but your dad screamed at me. So I hung up. What happened to your eye? You didn’t have that last night.”
“My old man happened to it,” said Xander. “Some friend of his saw us at the movies and called him. He gave me this and threw me out. Says no son of his is gonna be a— Well. A bunch of nasty words.” Xander sighed. He liked the vampire stories better.
“That’s a hate crime,” Larry told him. “We can throw the book at him.”
“No! No. Please. I don’t want a fuss. I’m out of there, that’s the important thing.”
“Yeah, okay. If you’re sure,” said Larry, doubtfully. “Look, hey, Friday night? Cibo Matto at the Bronze? I’ll have the car, so we can maybe, um, head somewhere private after. If you wanted. Not that there’s any obligation just because we’re dating—”
“Yeah,” said Xander, quickly, before Larry could break into one of his sensitive new-age man spiels about consent and feeling comfortable. Larry was hunky, yeah, but if Xander knew even one other senior guy who wasn’t straight, Xander would so be on him instead. Which made him feel a little guilty, but he liked Larry, really, and he thought Larry was maybe as horny as he was and as curious about how it all worked with two tab As to manage. The makeout session they’d been able to get in last night, before Larry’s self-imposed physical fitness-inspired curfew, had been pretty steamy.
So freakin’ steamy. Xander felt his cargo pants getting tight at just the memory. Oh yeah.
He told Willow the truth too, during study hall, though not the part about why his dad was so mad. He was still holding onto that secret while he got used to it himself. He also told Willow about moving in with Giles, which Willow said was a good idea. Then she gave him his present, which was Snoopy boxer shorts and socks. Last year it had been South Park Cartman boxers, which had made Xander snort milk out his nose.
Buffy had Snoopy pjs for him, which made Xander suspect they’d coordinated. But the loot haul was overall megatastic.
No apocalypses came up during the day, unless you counted the pop quiz in Xander’s trig class. He hung out in the library until Giles was ready to leave in what he figured would become their new routine. At Giles’ door, Giles handed him a brand new key and asked him to do the honors. Xander shuffled in place, and tried to think of something to say and failed, then unlocked the door. Giles collected the mail and carried it to his desk to sort. Xander dropped his backpack by the end of the couch then undid his keyring to put the new key on. After a minute, he took off the keys to his folks’ place and stuck them into a pocket of his backpack.
Giles went to the kitchen and took a tumbler from the dishrack. He poured himself a full glass of something tawny-colored from a bottle. Xander wandered over to look. Talisker. Scotch whisky with no E. Smelled like ass. Giles didn’t appear to think so. He took a gulp, then another. Then he re-read the letter in his hand.
“Sup?” said Xander.
“Do speak the Queen’s English,” said Giles. “What is up, is that my… my replacement is on his way.”
He had another gulp. Xander was starting to get scared by that. He’d heard Buffy say before that Giles sometimes drank when he was freaked out, or felt trapped. And Xander had to figure that getting fired from the job he’d spent his life preparing for might qualify as a freakout situation.
“Wyndam-Pryce. Roger’s son. Dear Lord. Last I heard, an insufferable prig of a head boy at the Academy.”
“Something like class president, but chosen by the instructors.”
“Oh. You weren’t one, I take it.”
“I was, actually, but I suspect it was more because of the rugger than because of the Latin.” Giles got a little misty-eyed at that, and had another mouthful of Scotch.
“So he’s like, what, my age?”
“No, no. That was some years ago now. He’ll have just finished his training. Wet behind the ears, inexperienced pup!” Giles turned on Xander fiercely. “He’ll get her killed!”
“Hey, Giles, maybe he’ll turn out to be okay. I mean, you haven’t seen him in years, right? He might have learned something.”
Giles finished his glass, and stared at the letter some more. “Maybe,” he said, at last. “I can make enquiries.”
He went to the kitchen again, and Xander was scared for a second that the whisky-pouring would recommence and Giles would turn out to be just as bad as his parents. But Giles didn’t pour a second one. Instead he looked at Xander, maybe a bit unsteadily, then he went to the fridge and started pulling out stuff to make dinner with. He apologized to Xander for the dinner later, which staggered him, because it was the nicest home-cooked meal he’d ever had: amazingly tasty fancy sausages, a veggie-heavy salad, and some great bread. But apparently Giles thought it was sub-standard.
Xander insisted on doing the dishes afterward. “I gotta earn my keep somehow,” he said.
“You don’t need to earn your keep at all.”
“Yes, I do. Oh. And what are the rules, anyway?”
“Rules? I’m not your parent, Xander. You’re eighteen.” Giles took the plate Xander had just washed and started drying it.
“Yeah. Okay. But still. There’s gotta be stuff you hate and stuff you insist on.” Xander handed over the second plate.
“No rows on weekend mornings. God, sleep is impossible during the week. I beg you to let me sleep in.”
“No arguments there, big guy. I’ll be zee-ing right alongside you. Well, not alongside you, exactly, but you know what I mean.”
Giles glared at him briefly. “There are some chores you can do if you’d like to help out. Recycling, cleaning the kitchen, that sort of thing. But I won’t insist. If you choose one thing to do to please me, make it your studies.”
Xander shrugged a little uncomfortably. Nobody had ever much cared about that before, except for Willow. He was also convinced he’d better do all those things Giles mentioned, just to keep him from being annoyed even for a second that Xander was mooching off him.
He went into the bathroom to brush his teeth and change into sweats and a t-shirt to sleep in. He looked at his black eye in the mirror: shading down into greenish already. Spit, rinse. Giles’ toothpaste tasted weird. His bathroom smelled odd too, not bad at all, just like it had been cleaned with something that smelled different from what Xander’s mom used. Giles used a different kind of laundry detergent. He could smell that on the towels. He figured he’d get used to it, and in a month he wouldn’t even notice.
Xander put on the Snoopy pjs and emerged from the bathroom. Giles was coming down the stairs with an armful of blankets. He had on a bathrobe, cinched tight. He raised his eyebrows at Xander.
“Present from Buffy,” said Xander, grinning. “Goes with the boxers from Willow. If you wanna see those.”
Giles flushed. “I am going to pretend you never said that.” He threw the blankets at Xander, who caught them with a grunt.
“Good policy! Night, big guy.”
And that was how Xander’s eighteenth birthday went.
The next night, when they got home from school late, Giles changed into patrol clothes: jeans, boots, dark shirt, field coat. Xander looked at him, then put on his combat boots too.
“Xander, you don’t have to…”
“Hey, new crossbow, remember? Wanna try shooting it at something for real.”
Giles grinned at him, and Xander grinned back. It was good to be with somebody who understood the important things. The two of them got themselves set for a foot patrol, then trooped out to the Citroen.
“We gonna meet Buffy?”
“No. Buffy’s somewhere else tonight.”
Giles was driving south and downhill, toward the Pacific. Docks section of town, home of Sunnydale’s tiny fishing industry and significantly larger whale-watching industry. Giles didn’t head toward the boaty part, though. He turned east.
They arrived at a place Xander hadn’t been to in, wow, ten years: the Sunnydale Boardwalk. This was a tiny amusement park near the beach. It had gone out of business ages ago. They’d had a carousel, and dodge-em cars, a tiny Ferris wheel, and one of those little kiddy coasters. It was all fenced in now, with chain link fence. Giles led the way to a place where the fence was all ripped apart, and they ducked inside.
The buildings looked run-down and horror-movie creepy. Stuff hanging off, paint peeling, deep shadows where anything could be lurking. Abandoned stuff always looked scarier at night. But then, this was Sunnydale, and expecting a horror movie to start happening was never unreasonable. But he was armed, and he was with Giles.
The pair stopped at the carousel, which wasn’t merry and didn’t go around any more. Giles played his giant flashlight over the wreck. The plastic horses were missing legs, chunks of their manes, sometimes even their entire heads. Xander remembered when he’d graduated from riding the lion, which didn’t go up and down, to riding one of the horses on poles. Long time ago. The lion was covered in spraypaint now. He shuddered.
Giles broke the silence. “There’s… has Buffy ever talked to you about her first Watcher? Hmm, I’m not surprised. He died in front of Buffy. Took his own life rather than allow himself to be turned. It happened in an abandoned amusement park, near a ruined carousel. Buffy… Well, she doesn’t like patrolling here. So I do it every couple of weeks.”
Giles led them around the carousel, toward what had been a snack shop. Xander unslung his crossbow and got a bolt loaded up as they walked.
“Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t she be keeping you away?”
“That’s not how these things work. All right, careful here.” Giles shone his giant X-Files-style flashlight through the broken-open window of the snackshop. Xander covered the door with his crossbow. Hand a little sweaty, but steady.
“Clear,” said Giles. “I confess I patrol here more often than I need to. It’s… I find it almost peaceful. A good place to think.”
“Oh. Didn’t mean to intrude on your think-time. Sorry.”
Giles led them back to the bumper cars place. “No, it’s good you did. I’d likely have brooded if I were alone.” He sighed.
Somebody had carefully boarded up the bumper cars ride, and somebody else had less carefully removed about half the boards. The metal floor was still there, and the grating on the top where the car masts brushed and shot off sparks. Xander looked for a big clump of heavy cars somewhere, as Giles shone his flash around, but the floor was clear. Somebody had taken the cars away for a ride somewhere else. Xander wondered where they’d gone. Somewhere in the midwest, where it was all corn and flat plains and no vamps? What was painted on them now?
They turned to head toward the Ferris wheel and holy shit! there was a vamp coming past the snack bar. It started heading toward them, running straight at them. Stupid. They were always so stupid. Giles held the flash on it. Xander tracked, led ever so slightly, and let fly. Hell, yeah! Bullseye!
“Well done,” said Giles. He put up his stake.
“I don’t think so,” said a voice behind them.
Xander jumped a foot in the air and came down turning. It was right fucking on them. He smashed the crossbow in its fangy face, dropped the bow, and fumbled in his pockets for a stake. Came out with a bottle of holy water in a squeeze cap, his own clever choice. Sprayed holy water out and around, while falling back. Got it in the vamp’s eyes, which bought him another few seconds. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Giles fighting with a second one. Giles had just kicked it in the face. Xander dove into the pockets of his jacket again. There was the damn stake.
Chest, stake, stab. Shower of dust and echoing death-scream.
And a moment later, a second death-scream.
“Damn,” said Xander, bent over, panting. Three at once, pretty much. That had been a squeaker.
“Too bloody right,” said Giles.
Xander held up a hand, and to his surprise, Giles high-fived him. “Well done,” Giles said, for the second time.
Giles picked up the flashlight again and spun slowly, scanning. Xander retrieved his crossbow and checked it out. He hadn’t broken it. Good. He loaded and cocked it.
“We’re likely done here,” said Giles. “I never see more than two, usually.”
“Ya hungry? I’m hungry.”
“I could eat.”
“There’s an In-n-Out on 101 fifteen miles south of here.”
Giles flashed a shy smile at him, and they headed back to the car. On the highway, puttering south, Xander flipped on the Citroen’s ancient radio and fiddled.
“It’s no use,” Giles said. “AM only. You get either salsa or Barry Manilow. Or sports.”
“Not baseball season, therefore sports do not exist. Okay, there has to at least be a classic hits thing. What good is a nighttime burger run without the radio? Yeah, here we go! The Boss!”
Xander sang along happily to “Thunder Road”, then to a Who song, then to “Sweet Home Alabama”, which he swore he heard every time he turned on a radio. To his surprise, Giles didn’t groan or tell him to shut up or demand that he change the station to something playing tweedy stuff like opera. He just drove them south on 101, along the Pacific, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the snare. This was sort of neat. It was like Giles had decided he was no longer a grumble target, but instead a human being, and had unbent all at once.
They got to the interchange where you could peel off east into valley suburban hell or continue south down the coast into beachy suburban hell. Xander directed Giles off and around the maze of feeder streets to the burger place. They parked, cutting off “Hotel California” right in the middle. They walked went inside to order. It was pretty empty inside, though a constant stream of cars were hitting the drive-through.
Giles stared at the sign and didn’t seem to know what to do. “It’s an odd menu,” he said to Xander.
“Simple. Classic. Burger, fries, and shake. Chocolate is traditional. Some people choose strawberry instead. And I am told that there are people who get their burger animal style. But I am not one of them.”
“Yeah. With mustard or something. So for me: double-double no onions, fries, chocolate shake. And to hell with it, I’m ordering for my friend here, too. Cheeseburger no onions, fries, chocolate shake.”
“Uh, animal style, please.”
They sat at a table inside at the window and watched the stream of cars go past the drive-through, waiting for their food. Giles fidgeted with his keys on the table. Xander amused him by making up a story for what each key was for: dungeon, crypt where he kept the Holy Grail, his vault at Gringott’s, the Aston Martin, the Summers’ back door. Which made Giles flush for some reason and rush to the next one, which Xander decided had to be the key to a deposit box in his numbered bank account in Switzerland, where he kept five passports for five different countries under five different names, plus a silenced semi-automatic.
Their number was called just then. Xander bounced up and brought their tray back. Giles bit into his burger cautiously, then pronounced it good.
“So what you’re saying is you like it animal style.”
“Yes, Xander, I like it animal style.”
Xander burst into helpless giggling, which slowed him down eating his burger. Giles finished almost before he did. Giles left most of his fries, so Xander snagged them.
“Past eleven,” Giles said. “School night. If we head home now, I’ll get six hours, which will be utter luxury. Unless Buffy calls at three.”
Xander binned their trash. “Does she do that often?”
“When she doesn’t simply burst down the door.” Giles started the car and they headed back north on 101, to the sound of “Sunshine of Your Love”. Which, Xander gradually realized, Giles was singing along with, under his breath.
And that was how Giles learned what animal style was.
On Friday night, Larry dropped Xander off at Giles’s flat, at home, at around one in the morning. One wet goodnight kiss, and then Xander was out of Larry’s mom’s car and heading down the steps to the little patio. The light was still on, and the door unlocked. Giles was home, and awake, reading in the armchair, so Xander locked up and turned off the outside light.
“Hey,” said Xander. “Thought you were beat.” Buffy had indeed burst in at three in the morning last night, convinced that apocalypse was threatening. But it had just been a Vahrall demon, patiently diagnosed by Giles while he swabbed mud and blood from her forehead.
Giles made a non-committal noise, and stuck his finger in his book. It was a library hardcover, and it had a painting of a ship with sails. He looked tense to Xander, maybe a little grumpy. But Xander had specifically asked him during dinner if there was any time Xander was supposed to be home, and Giles had repeated that comment about Xander being an adult now, and Giles emphatically not his parent. So Xander didn’t know what the deal was. Or even if it had anything to do with him at all.
“Saw Buff tonight,” he said. “At the Bronze. With Deadboy. She said they’d patrol later.” Xander and Giles both rolled their eyes. Giles seemed to un-grump a little.
Xander slumped down on the couch at the end near Giles’ chair. After they’d left the Bronze, his night had been both awesome and weird. Sort of a theme recently.
“You okay?” said Giles.
“Yeah! Uh, yeah. Kinda. Just confused about stuff.” On his stomach right now, right now, under his shirt, was a mess from where Larry had come against him and him on Larry and they hadn’t quite had enough kleenex to clean it all up. Which in one way was really exciting and in another wasn’t, because… well, that was the confusing part.
Giles shifted in his armchair, and picked up the glass that had been sitting on the floor next to it. He sipped. More of the Scotch, only this time it looked like it had fizz in it.
“What sort of stuff?” he said.
Xander pondered how to answer that. Giles was straight according to all the signs Xander had seen. Which included a morning when Giles had gotten out of the passenger seat of Miss Calendar’s car in the faculty parking lot wearing the same tie as yesterday, and had kissed her for a really long time before they went into the school through different doors. Which kiss Xander had replayed a whole bunch at private moments, and used as technical reference when he got to try it out for real. So Giles, straight. Xander decided to keep it generic.
“Well, just… how do you know what you want? You know, really.”
“What is the context?” Giles said, cautiously.
“Okay, it’s like this. You’re eating an apple for the first time. And it’s okay. It’s ya know, apple-y, and juicy, and stuff. But you think, that can’t be all fruit has to offer me. Maybe an orange will do it. And just the thought of an orange gets your mouth watering. So you eat an orange, and it’s really great, and you’re all yay! orange! But then there are seeds and maybe it wasn’t so great after all. And you think, man, I shoulda stuck with broccoli even though they say it’ll make you go blind, and then my metaphor went way out of control.”
Giles looked bewildered. “Um.”
“Only I’m talking about people instead of fruit.”
“Yes, I’d gathered that. Well, um, it might be the specific, uh, pieces of fruit in question that are the problem, rather than the whole concept of fruit. Things are more, more enjoyable when one is with the right person. So, perhaps a, a pear next time?”
Xander opened his mouth to try to explain apple versus orange, then shut it. He wasn’t ready for that. Then, “I think it might have been okay if I hadn’t tried to have a conversation with this person. That was the part that ruined it.”
“Ah. Well that’s it, then.”
“Guess you’re right.”
There was silence for a few minutes. Giles emptied his glass of fizzy Scotch.
Xander spoke up. “Hey, do you want me to tell you if I’m gonna be out late?”
“No, no, there’s no need. Though given the Hellmouth, I, uh…” Giles trailed off. He replaced his finger in the book with a marker, and got out of the armchair. “Good night, then.”
Xander went into the bathroom to scrub off guy-mess and brush his teeth. He thought about putting on his new Snoopy jammies, but they suddenly seemed really little-kiddish to him. Not the kind of thing a guy who’d lost both of his virginities would wear. The sweatpants would do. He rolled himself up in blankets on the couch and stared at the ceiling for a little while. So apparently figuring out that you liked guys was not enough all by itself. No instant happily-ever-after with rainbow flags. Okay. Fair enough.
And that was how Xander decided to eat more fruit.
The next morning, Giles did indeed sleep in, later than even Xander. Though not as late as he wanted to, judging by how zonked he was when he appeared downstairs. He was wearing jeans and a rumpled sweatshirt, and he looked very un-Gilesy. He sort of poured the cup of coffee Xander fixed for him down his gullet. He opened his eyes then and glared at Xander. “Dishwater. Use at least two more scoops of the beans.”
“Check,” said Xander. He’d already learned that coffee was for mornings, tea for afternoons and evenings, and whisky for the night.
“God. That’s horrible.” Giles shook himself and then seemed to snap into his usual self. “Let’s get your room cleared.”
He led the way to his little hallway, and opened a door next to the closet, that Xander had never seen open before. It was a little room, all right, tiny for a bedroom but still something, full to the ceiling with boxes of various sizes. Some wooden packing crates, but mostly little cardboard moving boxes.
Giles surveyed the boxes, pulled out one and peeked inside. “Chess books? Dear Lord, this is shite. I think most of these are going to be books. There might be some boxes of weapons. And some other things. I’m afraid I packed up my London flat in a great hurry. I shipped some things that I probably ought to have pitched.” Giles sighed. Xander hadn’t thought about that before, what Giles had been doing before he came here to Watch Buffy, and what he’d had to walk away from.
“Well, let’s get them sorted. Occult books by the door, so I can get them to the library. Other books by the fireplace. I will likely sell them to the used bookshop downtown. Personal effects just stack upstairs, by my bed. I’ll sort through those myself.”
“Also by the fireplace. The good ones I’ll keep here. The rest I’ll put in the library for Buffy to destroy.” Giles closed his eyes in mock pain for a moment. Xander grinned. He liked this conspiratorial thing Giles had going with him.
“We’ll worry about furniture after we’ve cleared it. No room for much, I’m afraid. A single futon, perhaps. And a chest for your clothes.”
“Giles, it’s way better than a bench at the bus stop downtown.”
They’d just gotten started when the phone rang. Giles sighed, then went to answer it. “Hello? Buffy, good afternoon. What— I see. Right. Don’t fuss. I’m sure it’s nothing. No, no, I’ll come translate it now, if you like. Where shall I meet— The mall? Buffy, how important can this be if you have time to— Right then. Bloody well have a mocha waiting for me, Buffy.”
He came back to the hallway and watched Xander crack open another box. “I’m afraid I have to go meet Buffy. Sorry to abandon you.”
“Hey, G-man, I am still not going to start complaining. No time soon.”
“Don’t call me that. Want anything in particular for dinner?”
“Dude, anything you want to cook is okay by me.”
“Right. Ta, then.”
Xander kept working for another hour, and cleared away a big dent into the room. The dust made him sneeze a little. He got to a part where a lot of little boxes were stacked up high, as if Giles had partially unpacked a crate then gotten distracted. Way up top was a shoebox, on top of a white file folder box. Xander tugged at the white box, trying to get the pair off at once.
The shoebox fell on Xander’s head, and the top went flying off. The contents spilled out over the floor. Letters in envelopes and loose, and a whole bunch of photographs. Xander scrambled and scooped up the stuff. Had it been in any kind of order?
“Woah,” said Xander, looking at what he held in his hand. It was a photograph of a young Giles, maybe a couple years older than Xander was now, all shaggy curly hair in his face, laughing at whoever held the camera. He was sprawled on the floor with his arms around another guy. A really cute guy, slim, with a wicked grin and a lot of wavy dark hair. Xander had seen that guy before too. The costume shop guy, the Eyghon demon tattoo guy. Ethan Rayne. Woah. They looked kinda pally.
Xander couldn’t help it. He looked at the next photograph in the bunch. Giles and this Rayne guy again, same place and clothes as before, only they were looking at each other kinda intensely. Posed, or something. Then another one with them lighting each other’s cigarettes. And in the next one they were kissing. Holy crap. Xander stared at that one for a long time. Giles. Kissing. Another guy. His face wasn’t really visible in that shot, since it was tilted behind Ethan’s. Xander sorted through, looking for another one of them kissing. He did find a fantastic shot of young Giles standing against a white wall, wearing faded jeans low-slung on his hips, and nothing else. Obviously nothing else, because of the little trail of hair running down into the jeans. He didn’t have the tattoo on his arm in that shot. A guitar rested next to his foot, his hand on the neck where it leaned against his thigh. Giles had been way hot however many ages ago this was. He wasn’t slim and waify, like Ethan was. Even in that shot, he looked like he fought demons. He had shoulders, and strong legs. And… Xander wasn’t ready to go there. He moved on to the next photo.
God, how many photos of them were there? A ton. Some of them black and white, with a feel that Xander thought meant they were all taken by one person. Some faded color prints of Ethan or Giles alone, in front of statues or buildings. Vacation photos. Okay, he was getting the idea here. He got all the photos gathered up and stacked in the box again.
Then he looked at the other papers. They were handwritten letters, some of them in envelopes, some of them not. A few postcards, from places in Europe, all with the same handwriting on them. Signed Ethan. Roughly sorted by date. Xander re-sorted them where a few handfuls had gotten out of order. Then he couldn’t help himself. He read one.
Summer of 1976. Giles had been at a Council training class for a few weeks. Ethan had been staying in London. He missed Giles. He wrote about exactly how, and exactly what he and Giles were going to do when they got back together. Xander’s face flamed red, and he nearly shoved the letter back. Holy mother and father of all letters to Penthouse, or whatever the gay equivalent was. That was… Xander read it again. Then he pulled out another one at random. Much more boring, about occult bookshops in Paris and technical magic stuff. Another one: again with the hotness and the ink scorching right off the page.
Xander picked out another one.
The story of a relationship, over about five years, of two guys who loved each other, recording the times when they were apart, and Ethan was missing Rupert. Sometimes he alluded to letters Giles had written to him. Sometimes he was really boring. Sometimes he got into the sex stuff. Sometimes he wrote about their friends. Then a long gap, and then there were four letters in one week in 1978, bitter and desperate. The last letter was awful to read. Giles wasn’t talking to Ethan, was hanging up the phone, wasn’t answering his letters. Was fucking pissed with him about the death of the guy who’d taken all the photos, their friend Randall. Unforgivable stuff had happened, apparently, though Ethan was trying to get Giles to forgive anyway.
Xander put the letters away, suddenly ashamed and sorry he’d snooped. This was stuff Giles would never have shown him voluntarily. It was a whole huge piece of his life that he kept secret. Sex and drugs and demons. Just plain private. He put the lid back on the shoebox and carried it upstairs and put it next to the box of wool sweaters that Giles was never ever gonna need in Sunnydale.
Giles had led a wild life, once upon a time. Xander wondered when he’d stopped. At what age did people go boring? Forty? Thirty? He got back to work clearing boxes, pondering that question.
And that was how Xander found out that Giles wasn’t entirely straight.
Continued in Part 2.