Warnings: The aftermath of character death, suicide attempts, angst, hurt/comfort. Death of another major character (not Xander or Giles).
Disclaimer: I claim no ownership and am making no money.
Continued from part two.
ThreeA week later Ethan reappeared unannounced on their doorstep, a suitcase in hand and dark circles under his eyes. He'd come straight from the airport, he said, by train. Xander recalled the trip. How long ago? A month ago? Less. An eternity ago. Giles made tea for the three of them, and they sat around his kitchen table and drank it. Ethan refused to say anything until they were settled. Xander watched him swallow his tea, upending it as he'd upended his pint in the pub that time.
Giles poured a second cup for him, then said, "You've seen Angel?"
"Yes, talked to him less than a day ago. Angel, and that young witch Tara. And I made my little visit to charming Sunnydale. I ran the tests."
"And?" Giles said.
"You're right. The Hellmouth is poison." Ethan slammed his mug down. "I ought to have sussed this out myself, last time I was there. I knew something was going odd with my spellwork."
"Yes. Though once I was sure what was going on, I didn't dare exert more than the minimum. It's unclean, Rupert. Once you know what to feel for."
Giles sighed. "Thank you for going. I'd have done it myself but-- I trust you."
"Trust?" Xander said. "You trust this guy?"
"Yes," said Giles, absently. He had another gulp of tea. "You talked to Tara, on the other issue?"
"Yes. Though I think she's right; it's the same issue. The key is distance from the Hellmouth, and distance from the Slayer. Then steps can be taken to clean up the damage. Or kill the intruders."
Xander had no idea what this conversation was about. He thought about asking, but Giles looked too serious and strained for Xander to even contemplate interrupting. "She's clean?"
"Yes. Now. She saw a cleanser. That vampire fellow, Spike, was also clean, but he'd never been infected in the first place. He didn't participate in the spell, I take it?"
"No. It was just the four. Anya, Tara, Willow, and Xander here."
"Ah," said Ethan. "He'll need checking."
Giles' hand got tense on his mug, then he abruptly drank the rest of his tea down. "Yes. Of course. There's bound to be something going on."
Ethan reached out a hand, and Giles took it. Then Ethan set his free hand against Xander's forehead. He opened his mouth to protest, to demand to be told what the hell they were talking about, but then he shut it. The air got oddly thick, hard to breathe and staticky. Xander realized that Ethan was using magic somehow, with Giles' participation.
Giles shook his head. The static faded. "Nothing."
"I wonder... Get out of the room, Ripper. As far away as you can get. Piss off."
Giles muttered a bad word under his breath, but he obeyed Ethan and vanished down the hallway and into his bedroom. He called out, "Far enough?"
Ethan had his eyes on Xander's head. The air went odd again. Ethan shouted, "Yes. Stay there."
Xander fidgeted in his chair. What was the point of this? What was the point of anything? Why not just give up? Perhaps that was the point. Ethan would see how useless he was, and help him end it. Or maybe Ethan could summon a demon using Xander's blood. Make his death useful.
Xander shuddered. Something was going on. He hadn't had those thoughts in days--
"Copped you, you little buggers," said Ethan. The air crackled around his hands, and the hair on the back of Xander's neck stood on end. "Ripper! Get in here."
Giles came down the hallway at a run. He stopped in the doorway and swore. "Two of them. Bloody hell."
"Tara had a different sort, I think. And only one. Notice how you cow them? Being a Watcher is good for something."
Xander finally couldn't take it any more. "What in the merry hell is going on? What are you talking about?"
Ethan sighed. "You have two demonic hangers on. I expected to find one. Tell me, Mr Harris. Have you been seeing unpleasant visions? Hearing voices?"
"I--" Xander stopped and looked at Giles. "Yeah. Um. I thought it was just, um, bad self-talk."
Giles shook his head. "Xander. You should have--"
"Yeah. I know. I thought you'd have me carted away in a straightjacket."
"Please trust me. I can tell the difference between genuine insanity and demonic influences. Or at least I can definitively diagnose the latter."
"But it's been so much better in the last couple of weeks. I thought I was getting better."
"You were. You are. Much better. Don't doubt that." Giles' eyes went unfocused, and he brought his hands up. The air went fizzy again. "Marked. Can't hide now."
So he had demons on his shoulders. He didn't rate the angel and devil combo, one with halo and one with trident. No, Xander Harris, screw-up, got two devils. No good guy saying nice things, telling him to give his parking space to the handicapped dude. "You getting rid of them?"
Giles looked at Ethan, who said, "Don't stare at me. Wrong sort of power. Your department, mister Watcher."
"Can't do it on my own."
"You need a Slayer."
"No," said Giles, sharply.
"Take the lad to church. That'll work."
Xander shivered. Didn't like that idea. "I'm not religious."
"Why on earth not? Gods are real." And Ethan's hands glowed with power for just a moment, strong enough that Xander shrank away from him. Then he ignored Xander to say to Giles, "Any holy place."
Giles shrugged. "In the meantime, Xander, stick close to me. This is why you've been feeling better since you arrived. And this is why you've needed to stay physically near. I suppress their activity."
"It's because I'm from a long line of Watchers, and I'm a consecrated Watcher myself. I have an intrinsic power that suppresses demonic action. Makes them weaker. It's... one of the reasons Slayers need Watchers."
Xander stared for a moment, then shook his head to clear it. He wanted to know again, more urgently before, just why Giles had come back to England. If Buffy needed him so much, why was he here?
Giles sucked on the earpiece of his glasses. "The question remains, where did those things come from? Same place as the demon Buffy killed the day she was resurrected? Does Willow have one?"
"That's a list of questions, Ripper."
"And what about Buffy?
Ethan's face changed. "I didn't see her. Angel refused to let me. Said she was still, what was his phrase, medicated up to the eyeballs."
"I should go to her. Get one of your friends to magic me a passport." Giles made a face.
"Let them try to clear her of demons first. She threatened your life, Rupert."
"She wasn't herself."
"Excuses. By your own report she meant it." Ethan stood. "Well. I have a warm bed calling to me. And jetlag about to hit me in the back of the head."
The three men trooped to the front door. Xander followed, wondering when Buffy had threatened Giles' life. Nobody had mentioned that before now. Giles didn't seem to be taking it seriously, but Ethan was. Which was strange. The whole thing was Ethan was weird. The guy was being human, not trying to ruin Giles' life at all. And Giles was definitely not punching him out.
Giles helped Ethan into his coat. "I trust you'll have a report in the post to me this week."
Ethan laughed. "Why should I bother? I've just told you everything you need to know."
"Ethan. If you don't write the report I can't get your travel expenses reimbursed and--"
"Yes, I'll write the bloody report for you, Rupert. I swear, you've gone so dull in your middle age. Speaking of which, say hello to Marta for me, would you?"
And Ethan was gone, disappearing down the sidewalk in the direction of the city center.
Xander shut the front door. "Time to come clean," he said to Giles.
"Yes, past time, I think."
Back in the kitchen, Giles ran water into the teakettle and set it on the stove. This was a two pot afternoon, apparently. Major amounts of soothing needed. Xander did his half of the tea ritual: clean mugs, spoons, more milk in the little jug, sugar bowl. Giles measured leaves into the strainer. He had the same china pot Xander had seen him using in Sunnydale. He leaned back against the counter and stared into space. He looked worried, Xander noticed.
"Spill. What's this about Buffy threatening your life? She didn't mean it, right?"
Giles sighed and took off his glasses. He inspected them, then tossed them onto the counter. "She did mean it. We fought about... Dawn, and other aspects of her life. I felt she was, ah, abusing my good will to take care of things she ought to. Though I was willing to help, to teach her, she had to make some attempt. And I insisted she seek professional help. For her emotional issues. Her depression."
"And she threatened you?"
"She accused me of trying to take Dawn away, which was pure madness. Took an axe from the Magic Box wall. I thought my time was up. Killed by my own Slayer. Then she just... switched off. Threw the axe into the floor at my feet, left. I was badly shaken by it."
Xander watched Giles, standing with one hip against the kitchen counter, toying with the lid of his teapot. His shoulders were slumped. This was not easy for him to talk about.
He'd met Giles a couple of weeks before Buffy, because Willow always had hung out in the library, but he'd only got to know the guy when Buffy had showed up. The two of them had always been a unit in Xander's mind. The Slayer came with a Watcher. He had clear memories of the Giles and Buffy alliance against the world, the pair of them wordlessly scheming to keep Wesley alive and under control, Dawn safe, the demon threat of the moment contained. Buffy loved Giles, just a fact of life, though if you asked her she would wrinkle her nose and insult the tweed even though he hadn't worn it in years and she knew it. And Giles loved Buffy, though the repression aura around him kept you from asking him because it just wasn't talked about. That love was gone. Shattered. Smashed into a million pieces by that leap from Glory's tower.
No. Not smashed by that. Smashed by what they did when they resurrected Buffy. Xander had smashed it, when he'd agreed to help Willow. Didn't that just make him sick.
Xander watched Giles fidget, and wondered how you apologized for something like that. He had no idea. Instead he said, "Can't blame you. I've had a Slayer try to kill me. I had no chance."
"Indeed. I... that was when I made my mistake. I rang the Council, using the emergency line. Reported it. Reported all my fears about her mental state. They sent an observer over to confirm. He wrote a report that gave them a major wiggins, as you'd say. The Council decided they'd had enough of this particular situation. What did they call it? Our dysfunctional relationship. They recalled me. I refused to leave, naturally, so they pulled some strings with my visa. I'd foolishly given up my residency after, um, after her fall, and I was vulnerable."
The teakettle went. Giles spun off the gas and poured water.
"Rather than get involved in a deportation mess and a legal wrangle, I chose to retreat and sort out my visa. Which I've been unable to do. They've been preventing me. For my own good, they tell me."
"Why do they care?"
"They've given up on Buffy. Written her off. But I've got training and skills that they, ah, value."
Giles' disdain was evident in his voice. So he still loved Buffy, then, despite the axe. Loved his Slayer, distrusted the Council. Situation normal; Buffy fucked up.
"And... the threat is still real to them. Buffy calmed down, but never took it back. And then when she heard I was leaving, she leapt to conclusions I was unable to talk her out of. She, ah, renewed the threat, to me and to the fellow they'd sent to replace me. Then he disappeared. They suspect her."
"I think she's innocent. I think she's... I started looking into what might be affecting her the moment I got back here. I contacted Ethan, because he's trustworthy, skilled, and not associated with them."
"And he's your best mate." Xander imitated Ethan's voice on that phrase.
Giles looked at Xander oddly for a moment. "Yes. I have a couple of best mates, you know."
He poured tea, and there was silence for a few minutes, broken only by the clinking of teaspoons and the sound of Xander's breath across the top of his mug.
Giles said, muttering almost, "I've had a theory for some time, about the effect of the Hellmouth on magic. I didn't cast much while I was there, because it always felt wrong. Odd. And spells had side effects I couldn't recall from their descriptions. I started looking into it when I got here. To see if that resurrection spell might have... brought Buffy back wrong. Because the alternative was..."
Too nasty to think about. If that was really just Buffy being herself. Xander understood that particular urge for denial.
"We're still unsure about that. Ethan's confirmed that the effect goes in at least one direction. The caster is, ah, cursed, the degree and duration of the curse affected by the magnitude of the spell."
"Jesus. Willow's been using a lot of magic this year."
"Yes." Giles was looking at him sadly.
"What? Don't tell me. Don't fucking tell me. What happened to her?"
"No, nothing! Nothing like that. She's doing just fine, according to Ethan's report. In rehab."
"She's been taken away to magical rehabilitation. The coven I'm associated with now sent some people. There's a facility in New Mexico."
"How'd I miss--"
"We timed it for just after you left for LA."
"Oh. Okay." Xander thought about that, and was okay. Mostly he didn't care. Willow with a magical smack habit, Willow sober, Willow alive, Willow dead. He hadn't wondered how she was doing since he'd gotten off the plane. She'd burnt the last bridge. He'd been acting as if she were dead. Was that the curse thing? Acting to break up his oldest surviving friendship?
"This curse. It's affecting me too? Because I helped Willow?"
"Why? I mean, I've helped her do magic before, but this?" Xander gestured to his head, to the demons that Giles seemed to keep looking at, warily.
"What's the largest spell you've seen performed on the Hellmouth? The most difficult? The one that used the most magic?"
Xander was starting to get a clue. "Buffy's resurrection. Willow... Willow had snakes running around inside her. It was seriously freaky."
"Yes. A great power exertion produced an equally great curse. The four of you have all been suffering. The Hellmouth is having its revenge on you."
"And this is what's screwing me up. You'll get rid of these things and I'll feel better."
Giles shook his head again. "I wish it were so simple. The damage done to your, ah, emotional state was all real. The demons pushed on you, and suppressing them has obviously already allowed you to begin recovering. But the events of the last year-- they're real. Anya is truly dead. You truly attempted suicide, because of something inside you. Some real urge they were able to work on."
Xander stared at his dirty spoon. "The sucky thing inside me. Like everything about me. Broken and useless."
Giles sat back in his chair and braced his hands on the edge of the table. "Xander. I've been where you are. Twice, in my life. After my foolish and selfish demon-raising killed a friend. After Jenny, though that was a bit, ah, more of an overreaction in the moment. Both times... there was something about my life that was unbearable to me. Not about me. About my circumstances. What I was doing. I wanted to kill the life I was leading, not myself. Not truly."
Xander thought about that. Giles reached over and took his hand, and continued.
"Find that thing, kill that, not yourself. Remake your entire life, if you must. Dedicate yourself to something outside yourself. It's what I chose to do. The way I found to keep going."
Giles laughed, a bitter little laugh, and Xander echoed it. He squeezed Xander's hand. "It hasn't entirely been easy. But I'm here, with you, my dear friend, and I've had a lot of wonderful moments in those twenty years. You, you--"
"Giles. I get it. I'm gonna think about it. The other thing I think about... I figured out why you had me read those stories about that Seymour guy. The hole he left in their lives."
"They're weird. But. I'll think about it. What I want to kill instead of me. But mostly... Giles, I want to kill these, these things. Shoo!" Xander pointed at his shoulders.
Giles smiled, a quick nervous thing. "They're more, ah, up here." He indicated the air just over Xander's head. One of the benefits of being a sorcerer, or maybe of being a Watcher, being able to see the undead.
"Can we do it soon?"
"We'll go to the early Sunday service at Christchurch. It should be quiet enough. I know the rector. I attend, now and then." Giles cleared his throat, and Xander thought he looked embarrassed. "I need the extra jolt of power that being on consecrated ground gives me. Not powerful enough by myself. In the meantime, stay close to me."
Giles made him get dressed up to go to church, which Xander thought was fair. He was even able to do it. Wesley had packed a suit, at least, though Xander couldn't find any ties. He didn't own any that weren't clip-on, so maybe Wesley had sneered at them and refused to touch them. Giles gave him a tie to wear, then showed him how to tie it.
They walked, as they walked everywhere. It wasn't far, though it was pouring rain. Giles had an enormous black umbrella, spring-loaded, industrial. The rain spattered onto it. His legs got wet from the knees down. Puddles, water rushing in the gutters, cars driving past on wet streets. The bricks of the sidewalk were slick under his dress shoes. More than once he slipped and had to grab onto Giles' arm. Why was Giles so solid? He never wavered, never showed any signs that this was going to be awful. Every step closer to the church started to bother him. He had no idea why. He walked slower and slower, until Giles stopped and asked him what was wrong. Xander just shook his head.
Giles raised his hand and said something in another language, in a commanding voice that echoed in dimensions that didn't strictly exist. Xander went weak at the knees for a second, then shook himself all over.
"They're kicking up a fuss. Know what we're about to do. It'll be over permanently soon."
Giles took his elbow, just as he had that first day in Heathrow, and led the trembling Xander up the steps into the church. He put them near the back, where they were mostly inconspicuous. He did it during the service, while the priest was praying and they were all on their knees. It didn't take any Latin chanting or hand-waving, just Giles' hand laid on the back of his head. Xander felt it build and surge and then roar in his head. One last burst from the voices, telling him it was no good, he might shut them up but he'd always know they'd told the truth, that he was useless, that he was stupid, that he'd killed Anya, that he'd failed Buffy, that Giles secretly hated him.
Giles slumped, and blew out a breath. "Done," he said, under his breath. Sweat was dripping down his face.
And Xander knew it was over. It was like walking out of a club where the music had been blaring so loud that you couldn't hear yourself think. Silence ran around inside his head now, just a faint ringing remaining, echoing. Xander slumped on the bench and huddled in on himself, listening to himself think. He stayed that way for the rest of the service, unmoving, while Giles stood and sang. Even when Giles had suppressed them, they'd still been there, eating his hope. They'd been with him for months. Since September. So long that Xander had almost forgotten what it was like without them, without demons whispering in his head. How had he not noticed this?
Because before then he'd had his grief for Buffy weighing him down. He'd traded grief for a curse. He'd never do that again. Grief was painful. Grief was awful. But it was human. And it ended.
Giles led him out afterward, and they walked back home, west across Bath, still in bucketing rain, even colder than before. Gray skies and falling water, and the scent of snow in the air. It would probably freeze overnight, but that was okay. It was supposed to freeze in winter.
Xander blew out a long breath. It plumed in the air in front of him, and was gone.
"Yeah. Jeez. You know what it feels like when you wear a hat that's too small? And then you take it off, and you realize you've had the world's worst headache because of it? I feel exactly like that."
"Thinking clearer now?"
"Lots clearer. Giles, oh, man, Giles. Thank you."
"You're most welcome."
Xander shook his head. It wasn't enough, just saying thank you. He'd find a way to repay Giles some day, for all this. For letting Xander come here and live. For figuring out what was wrong. He spent the day lost in thought, sprawled out in the armchair in Giles' office, drifting with the kite, turning over possibilities in his head. Visualizing himself in a dozen different futures, and imagining which ones he could live with.
That night he slept on his own, on the living room sofa, and did not dream. He missed being next to Giles, but it felt so good not to need anybody else that he decided he could do without. So good to be able to stand on his own again. When he woke in the morning and felt that, for the first time since Anya's death Xander knew he could live.
It had snowed overnight, then the clouds had been blown away by a brisk wind. It was cold but sunny, so after breakfast they took the landlady's border collie for a long walk along the river path, along paved paths where the snow was already melting in the sun. The walk slowly warmed them. Puck seemed not to notice. He ran ahead of the ambling men to nose around, then circled back periodically to herd them forward. Xander liked the dog. He was opinionated and bossy and had a sense of humor. Xander hadn't known dogs could be like that.
Xander watched him snuffling at the base of a tree, busy decoding the messages left for him by dozens of passing dogs.
"How are you feeling this morning?" Giles said.
"It's like you said. Anya's still dead. I'm still fucked up. But now there's nothing making it worse. It's like somebody stopped punching me in the face every five minutes."
"Why do you keep saying you're, er, fucked up?"
"'Cause I am, dude." Xander stuck his hands in his coat pockets. Time to go for it. "I'm going to tell you the real story now, and we'll see if you can stand being near me after this."
Giles whistled, and Puck bounded over to his heels. The three resumed their slow progress along the path toward the city center.
"I killed Anya. I started the whole thing. She's dead because of me."
Xander lifted a hand to stop Giles. "I know what you're going to say. I didn't swing the sword. I didn't make the Slayer so high on magic that she couldn't tell a friendly demon from a vampire."
"So in what sense did you kill Anya?"
"I set the whole thing in motion. I panicked and broke up with her. That's the part nobody else knows. I broke up with her. And that's why she went demon again."
"No. Listen. There's a reason it freaked her. She wasn't the first for me."
Xander took a deep breath. "First lover to die because of the Hellmouth. Jesse was."
Xander watched Giles think, and saw the moment he remembered. He'd only met Jesse a few times, back when he was new to Sunnydale. "Your friend. I remember thinking, when I met you, that you were inseparable. You and Willow and Jesse."
"Death did a pretty good job separating us. I staked him myself."
"Jesse was already dead. You know this."
"Yeah, I know. But it talked like him. Looked like him. And I staked him. He was my first. You didn't know that."
Okay, that hadn't been so bad. It helped knowing what Ethan had told him, that Giles wasn't straight himself. "Nobody did. Not even Willow. There were lots of others, later, but he was the first."
Giles touched his shoulder. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. I-- I might have been able to help, if you'd confided in me. But we didn't know each other yet."
"Yeah, s'true. But see, the point is, I've known I was gay all along. Every single second that I was with her. Every time we had sex, I thought about guys to get through it. She was my cover. Every so often it would build up and I'd go find some guy to do it with. Stranger, preferably. Lots of fifteen-minute stands in restrooms, ya know? And then something happened to make me just explode."
They came to rest alongside the weir. Xander turned his back on it and sat on the rail. Puck kept going, and fetched up near a bench about fifty yards further along.
"Tell me," Giles said.
"Willow told me that she wasn't gay. But it was cooler to be gay. More Wiccan cred, she said. None of the real witches were straight."
Giles spluttered. "That's utter bosh."
Xander shrugged. "She believed it. Told me Tara was a prop. She was high as a fucking kite when she said all this. Don't think she'd have said it sober. Dunno if she'd have believed it sober. Dunno if it was even true. I think Willow loved Tara for real, before she went nuts. But I went and told Tara all of it."
"Tara left when you did, you know? Moved out to a cruddy little apartment near the campus. She started having a life. Willow was trying to get her back, though. To use her some more. When she said that, I went over and told Tara. 'Cause I couldn't stand the idea of Willow using her again, casting magic on her to keep her in line. Tara cried, but... she got over it. She started hanging out with Spike when Buffy was beating him up every night and he couldn't take it any more either. And then one day, bam, they were both gone. In LA. She wrote me a sweet letter."
"She wrote me as well," Giles said, quietly, "But she didn't tell me why."
"Willow and Buffy, what a pair. Tara said nice stuff in the letter, about how she appreciated what I'd told her, that it had to have been hard to do but it was important. But then I realized I was just as bad. Just as fucking bad. I just about crumpled from guilt. I couldn't do it any more. And the voice in my head was... you know what it was doing. That's when I told Anya. And. She freaked. And."
Xander waved a hand in the air. And then it had all gone to shit. Twisted. He'd used Anya to desperately reassure himself he wasn't gay. Willow had used Tara to reassure herself that she wasn't straight. Anya had used him to reassure herself she wasn't a demon. Except that it wasn't so.
"That's the part of my life I want to kill. The secrets and lies and hurting people when they find out part. I'm out now. Not going back in."
Xander turned around and watched the river cascade over the weir. He breathed in. It was nippy, but warmer than it had been his first day. There was water in the air, a different scent. The river in motion.
Giles came up and stood next to him, his shoulder brushing Xander's. Xander said, "Three out of four Scoobies, fucking twisted and insane and broken. You're the only smart one of us. You got out."
Giles sighed. "Barely, Xander. Barely. Trial by fire, for all of us. It's over now. For... most of us. But Xander. You must understand. You did behave badly. But how Anya reacted was her choice. She could have cried and insulted you and broken crockery like the rest of us do. She didn't have to go demon again. Her choice."
"Maybe. But I was still a jerk to her. And now I can't ever say I'm sorry."
Giles whispered, "All the more reason to say it to each other while we can. I'm sorry I left, Xander."
"You didn't have a choice."
"I'm still sorry."
Xander leaned against Giles' shoulder for a moment. "It's okay."
"You aren't entirely responsible for what happened, Xan. We all bear part of it. And part of it was the bloody Hellmouth, twisting everything around it." Giles growled, and then swore. "I hate it. Hate that place."
Xander nodded. "Yeah. Never want to see it again. Giles? I want to help. I need to help. With this research thing. I know I'm not much use, but I've got a lot to make up for. That's what I want to do with my life. The dedication thing you did. I've decided. I know it might take a lot of work. School, maybe. But if I'm going to reinvent myself... why not go all the way."
Giles looked surprised. "Thank you. I... Xander. You can do that. You're entirely capable. We'll find a way."
Puck came running back to them. He nudged at their legs, and Xander obediently shoved himself up from the railing. Puck had decided that was enough walking for the morning, and heaven help them if they disagreed with the dog. They retraced their steps in silence. Xander was thinking about what Giles had said, about choices. And evil influence. Maybe it had been an accident, as Giles had maintained all along. Maybe it had just been a Hellmouth-maneuvered series of coincidences.
A thought occurred to him, and it was out of his mouth before he could stop it. "You gonna kick me out of your house?"
Giles laughed. "Why would I do that?"
Xander felt silly. "Cause, I don't know, 'cause I might hit on you? Some guys freak about other guys, you know."
"Don't be ridiculous, Xander. You know I'm dating someone."
"I should tell you that I, ah... I've been known to... Some of my lovers have been men. I don't call myself gay, more bisexual, but I, ah--"
Xander took pity on his stammering and interrupted. "Gotcha. You wouldn't be offended. Not that it's going to happen, 'cause, as you say, hello, dating already. Cool. All clear."
"Good, good. Right."
Giles was, for some reason, blushing. Xander looked away and watched his feet. Step, step, on the cold hard path. He thought about it. "You know, I do feel better. Just saying it out loud. That's..."
"That's an improvement," Giles said, and Xander could hear that he was pleased. "Let's stop for a coffee. My hands are frozen solid."
Puck knew the word coffee, and led the way, tail swishing. Xander followed, shoulder to shoulder with Giles, feeling strangely okay.
Continued in part four.