Continued from part 1.
Xander couldn't find words to express his joy about that, so he said nothing. Despite everything he was feeling a lot better about life, his soaked feet, his sore ankle, and the knowledge that Giles for sure wasn't into him. Well, maybe not that. He limped his way over to the threshold of the main chamber, following Giles, and ducked into the tunnel. Whatever had made the passage a creepy place was gone along with the wight. There was nothing but a low passage that made both Giles and Xander stoop down to walk through, with a muddy, moldy wet floor, lit only by flashes from his headlamp. The barrow was once again a place in present time. The bones they turned their backs on were of mysterious people long-dead. Not to mention the one poor guy who'd died just yesterday. They'd have to get the body out. No, they'd have to have the police get the body out. There was no covering up a death like this.
He could smell fresh air ahead of him. When he turned the last corner he saw that the giant slab of rock that had blocked them was gone. Three more steps and there was the tangle of rope that Eccles had cut, and a couple of daubs of reflective paint marking where he'd placed the first protective nut in the rock.
They were almost home free. All he had to do was climb out on his gimpy ankle and then haul Giles out. And not get killed by Eccles at the top. Xander sat his butt on a knob of rock and rubbed at his twisted ankle. He could climb on it, but it would be a bitch.
Giles rummaged in his pack and came out with a strange-looking pistol with a long thin barrel-- an air-pistol, the kind that used CO2 cartridge and shot tranquilizer darts. He favored that over the air rifle these days. Giles loaded an air cartridge onto it and stuck it into his pocket. Then he bent and picked up the cut rope. "This is long enough, isn't it?"
Xander hopped down from his perch and made sure he didn't wince. "You're not climbing that. There's no way."
Giles drew himself up to his full height. "Your ankle is injured. And Eccles is up there. I'm perfectly capable."
He was not. He so very was not. But Xander didn't want to rub it in. He said, "Did you or did you not just do two big spells that always make you wobbly right afterward? Yeah. Give me the gun."
"I am not wobbly."
"Your nose is still bleeding."
Giles's hand rose to his nose automatically. He looked at his fingers and swore under his breath. Out came the handkerchief again. He handed over the gun without any more griping. Xander checked the safety, then clipped it to a spare biner on his bandolier, right next to all the other useless junk. Safety on, so he didn't shoot himself. That stunt would definitely be a nice capper to the career of Xander Harris, demon hunter.
"Be careful," Giles said. He reached out as if to touch Xander, then pulled his hand away. He got busy double- and triple-checking knots that didn't need checking.
Lead climbing, in the dark and freezing rain, in a cave, up to a field where there was a madman in league with a wight trying to kill you. Or suck your soul out to feed his own life essence, which was the same thing as "trying to kill" and he couldn't procrastinate any more, could he? Xander reached up and hooked a solid grip onto a lump of rock. He stepped away from the cave floor and up. Left foot, right, and yeah, that hurt. It wasn't buckling, though, so he ignored the pain and stood up on it.
Once he got into the groove he was fine. He sweated freely inside the jacket, good and warmed up and limber. Step, get secure, find a place to wedge some protection in. Clip his rope in, look around, find another slabby bit of rock to grab, move. He was maniacal about his line of protection. He used maybe twice as much as he would have if he was lead climbing with his buddies, thinking about how bad Giles was at this climbing thing. Well, in comparison bad. Overall Giles was okay. Giles. Warm on top of him, heavy, insistent. Tongue in his mouth. Wow. No, don't think about that now. Think about the fact that the next foothold was going to pop his head over the top, and Eccles might be there.
Xander stopped where he was, leaning against the shaft with his feet braced out wide. Little flakes of snow drifted down onto him, through the opening onto the real world above. The air in his nose was cold and so was the rock under his hands. It would be just his luck to survive the wight and the cave and six years of constant vampires only to get offed by a dorky necromancer in a wool cap. What to do about it?
He wasn't a ninja, but he was going to play one on TV right now. Go.
Rocks, snow, mud under his hands. He got a knee up on the surface squishing into cold mud and that was it, he was out. He scrambled away from the hole and into the snowy field, fumbling hopelessly for wherever it was he'd stuck the air pistol. He couldn't get his hands on it, but it didn't matter. There was no one in sight. Xander stood and turned slowly, scanning for Eccles hiding behind something. No sign. He'd discovered that he could do brave, but he didn't get the payoff of nabbing the baddie.
It had turned colder while they'd been underground. It had been snowing for a little while and the fields were frosted over white. The Rover had a good inch on the roof. The Ford hatchback was conspicuously not there by the Saab. Eccles had a solid head start, probably, because there were no tire prints in the snow showing where it had gone.
Xander swiveled around slowly. Then he saw it, the dingy red car, tucked nearly out of sight at the hedges by the gate.
The voice came from behind him. Xander stifled the urge to swear even more crudely, just to annoy the guy.
"Hey, wight-lover," he said.
"Hands up and turn around."
Xander closed his jacket just enough to hide the air pistol, then raised his hands in the air. He turned slowly. There was Eccles, with a wooden rifle held in one hand. Not so great for shooting, but he didn't have to be accurate over any distance more than a few feet. Xander's mouth tasted like metal but he kept his gaze steady on Eccles's face.
"You two have seriously discommoded me."
"You think? Just wait till Giles gets his hands on you. You'll learn why his friends call him Ripper."
Eccles laughed. "I expect he'll be trapped nicely down there without you."
There was a certain amount of dismaying truth to that. Xander settled for sneering, but Eccles smiled at him unpleasantly. Not buying it. He shifted the grounds of attack.
"How you feeling without your pet wight? Feeling a little, oh, old? Creaky? Ready to fall over dead?"
"Hardly. Now. Back down into the hole with you. You can join your employer, or whatever he is."
"It doesn't matter to me whether you're alive or dead when you hit bottom. If you want to live a few hours longer, climb."
Xander rolled his eyes. "You're a real tool. No."
Eccles smashed him in the ankle with the rifle barrel, hard. Xander went down like he was a professional soccer player. He rolled onto his face, whimpering and writhing as if he'd just broken a bone, working his hands around to get hold of the pistol.
"Get up, you sniveling American dogsbody."
Xander didn't move. He had it. Pistol unclipped, there under his body where Eccles couldn't see it. Safety thumbed off. He said, "Was that supposed to be an insult? 'Cause I have no clue what that means."
"Get up or I'll shoot you."
Xander rolled and kicked out at where he guessed the rifle was. He connected with Eccles's shin instead. That gave him just enough time to lift the pistol. He pulled the trigger. At this distance he couldn't miss, and he didn't. The dart went right into Eccles's stomach, under where his arm was held in that absurd plaid sling. He looked down at the dart, up at Xander, and then he raised the rifle. At this distance he couldn't possibly miss either, and Xander stared into the face of the man who was about to kill him.
Then the rifle barrel wavered, and tipped to the side, and over he went. The snow crunched under his body. He tried to sit up, and then his eyes closed. He was out.
Xander breathed. His hands were shaking now. He carefully put the safety back on then returned the air pistol to its home on his bandolier. He picked up the rifle, found the safety, and thoughtfully set it down on a rock far out of Eccles's reach. Only then did he sit down in the snow and look at his shaking hands. He'd lived. A squeaker, but he'd made it.
Why did he always get horny at these moments? Every time he made it out, he had the urge to find some guy and jump him. His timing sucked. All he had was Giles, and Giles was-- still stuck at the bottom of a hole.
Xander ran back to the white fang rock and leaned over the opening and shouted. Giles's voice came up the shaft, but Xander couldn't make out the words. He got himself roped in again, fast. He yelled down to Giles to start heading up. For good measure he tugged on the rope in the pattern that meant "yeah, climb up", if Giles remembered it, and of course Giles would remember that. He could probably do Morse Code on the rope and Giles would get it. Giles was good with that stuff as he was mediocre about the climbing part. And indeed, there came the tug pattern that meant Giles was on his way up. About halfway up non-shouting conversation was possible again, though Xander didn't much feel like talking. His inappropriate urges had faded, thank God, and he was left with bitter thoughts about what had happened in the barrow and before. He listened to Giles grunting as he climbed, coiled the rope, and thought about bravery.
Stones, he had them. Now what?
Giles got his hands onto a rock and levered himself up more gracefully than Xander had. He rubbed his forearms and took a few steps toward the Rover. Then he saw Eccles's unconscious body, lying there on his side in the snow.
"You got him," Giles said. He looked annoyingly surprised.
"Yeah. Wasn't a problem." He'd had more than enough time for his adrenaline to fade, so that came out normally casual.
Giles knelt down by Eccles and checked his breathing. He produced plastic ties from his pack. One zipped around the guy's ankles neatly.
"Gimme your cell."
Giles handed Xander his phone and returned to the business of trussing up the baddie. It had a signal, thank goodness. That was the thing about England. No matter where you went, civilization was twenty miles away as the crow flew. That was what made the place feel alien to Xander, not the rain and the water lying around on the ground willy-nilly in ponds and little streams. The people everywhere, around them in space and time. Buried everywhere, in pits and barrows and crypts and churchyard graves and sprawling cemeteries with moldy marble angels weeping over them. England was haunted by people dead and alive, far more than the Sunnydale Hellmouth ever would be.
Giles took the phone from him when Xander got through to emergency services and put on his full educated accent, the one that got the people around him hopping to do whatever Giles asked. The British empire voice, all starch and snipped-off ends of words. Xander wondered if Giles talked like that in bed. That would be-- inappropriately hot. He was letting somebody from the Council have it at full blast, which was doubly hot.
"Look, I don't give a toss what you think. Your man's been rogue for centuries and that's that. I'm setting the civilian authorities on him. He'll be in jail by the time you get here."
Giles sounded as if he'd lost more than simple patience and he jabbed his finger at the hang-up button so hard he missed it. "Idiots. Their fathers knew him so he must be a fine fellow. See how well that worked out? Their fathers knew him because he's a bloody necromancer. Anyway. The police are on the way."
"Good." Xander decided not to point out that Giles had been the same kind of idiot; Giles already knew. He turned away from him and took a few steps down the hill, away from the white fang rock. The snow was coming down fast now. It was the light, fluffy kind, not the heavy wet kind it had been earlier. Giles came up beside him.
"Not the best of endings for this one, I'm afraid."
"Yeah, not what I'd have picked for my last case."
"Excuse me? Last?"
"Yeah. I'm going back to California after this."
Giles looked shocked. Good. Xander was getting back in touch with the anger he'd had to put on hold back in the barrow. He said, maybe only a little maliciously, "Yeah. It's not working out."
"I thought it was. We did rather well as a team just now."
"Not so much from my point of view."
"Xander." Giles's voice went all high-pitched and stiff, the way it always did when he was nervous. "Is this about what happened in the barrow?"
"No. You did what you had to. We're not talking about it."
"We're not. Talking. About it." There were lights visible on the road now, red and blue flashes against the white of the snow. Xander watched them pause at the gate while some guy hopped out to open it, as he had that morning.
"If only to allow me to apologize. It was a dreadful imposition and it will not happen again. But--"
"I realize that my intimacy was unwelcome but it felt necessary in the moment. I could have found another way. I should have."
Worse and worse. Xander's face went hot with shame. "First rule of holes, Giles, stop digging."
"It's great you saved me, awesome, but quit rubbing in that it was a pity fuck. Kiss. Pity whatever the hell that was. Oh, you know what I mean. You don't like me. I get it. You made yourself clear. I'm bugging out of your life now."
"Oh," Giles said. "Oh."
And then he was right up in Xander's kitchen, invading his personal space in a way that Giles never did. He was mister standoffish. Normally. Now he was so close Xander could smell his aftershave. Still sexy. Xander looked into his eyes and for the life of him he couldn't make himself stomp off despite everything. Giles looked defiant and happy. Happy?
Of course the police convoy jounced their way into view across the field just then. Xander broke eye contact and pointed, silently, at the little car sliding its way along the snowy track.
"Bugger." Giles turned away and headed down-slope to meet the police.
The next few hours were more awful than the time they'd spent trapped in the barrow with the wight, in Xander's opinion. One hundred percent less threat to being alive, yet just as soul-destroying. Necessary, however, because Dalziel was no longer missing and was instead known to be dead. And they had a body to extract from the barrow. There might, Xander thought, be even more people down there Eccles had killed recently. The county probably had missing person cases going back centuries that were his doing.
And then after they got the body out, Giles and Xander had to be questioned about why they were there and what they had done. Those questions got a lot more polite after Giles's Council credentials were trotted out. The battle against the supernatural was a bit more in the open here in England, at least in some circles. And the soul-destruction came along with over-sweetened too-strong tea. With a mug of that stuff in him Xander could face any amount of questioning. He felt almost okay when they sent a medical type around to strap up his ankle properly so it wasn't annoying him so much. The place where the rifle barrel had caught him was bruised up and his ankle had done the predicted swelling.
When they were released at last, the sun was long since set. It was still snowing, had been snowing for hours. They stood by the Rover, peering out at the white mounds over everything. The drive home was going to take forever. Hours in a car with the guy he'd just sort of dumped. Hooray.
"There's an inn I've stayed at before," Giles said. "In the next town."
"Fine," Xander said.
Back into the Rover they went, this time with snow flickering down in the headlights. Snow covered the roads, thick and barely rutted, but this was what the Rover did best. Twenty minutes of crawling along one of those curling, winding country roads to the next village over, and they were parked at the inn.
Xander hopped out of the truck and into eight inches of snow. There were Christmas lights in the windows of the inn, red and green and white blinking candles shining out. He followed Giles toward them. The snow squeaked and crunched under his feet.
Snow for Christmas. It was his second Christmas in England. The first one it had just rained on them and been cold and muddy and dismal. At least they'd spent that one at home. Next year he'd be back in California, probably. On the Hellmouth again, providing his services as a lame-ass curse-breaker while trying to stay out of Willow's sight. Heat waves for Christmas. Why didn't the idea make him happy?
For the first time since they'd left the barrow, Xander remembered he was miserable.
He was more miserable five minutes later, when the innkeeper broke the news that she had exactly one room free for the night. Everyone was snowed in, very busy, yes, thanks, one room with one bed because it was the bridal suite, and would that suit the gentlemen?
"It'll be perfect for us," Giles said. He was looking at Xander, not the innkeeper, and his chin was thrust out. "We're in a celebratory mood."
"That's lovely. Why don't you go in and we'll get you a spot of dinner."
Giles smiled his most charming smile at the innkeeper. He detoured to the men's room on the way in to the main room. Xander continued on to a free table against the wall, where he could stick his leg out in front of him. It had been a long, stupid day. He watched Giles appear in the room, spot Xander, and head over to the bar. Xander continued watching him, for lack of anything else to do. Giles had an exchange with the bartender that pleased him for some reason, then made his way over to where Xander sat stewing. In his hands were a pair of small steaming glasses. He set one in front of Xander.
"Wassail," Giles said, with a glint in his eye. "Traditional holiday drink. Happy Christmas, Xander."
"Merry Christmas to you, Giles," he said, only a little bitterly, and drank. The world's hottest, sweetest, apple-est, cinnamony-est, alcoholic thing. Not bad. Not bad at all. Xander had another good gulp. He could feel the warmth threading all the way through him from his stomach out. Good stuff. He tipped his head back and let it rest on the wall. This was the other side of Giles's England. The outdoors was drenched with whatever precipitation variant the island had decided to dump on them today, but there was always a pub, and it was always warm and dry inside. And it always had something good to drink. Tea, beer, weird fruity spiced hot things. No good coffee, though. First thing he'd do when back in the States was get a big mug of joe with cream and sugar. And a donut. Plain, so he could dunk it.
He opened his eyes again to find Giles watching him over his glass. He had that glint in his eye still, the one he'd had back at the site before the police had arrived. The one that said he thought he was going to get his way. Which he wasn't. Xander was leaving.
"I'm leaving," he announced, just in case Giles had forgotten.
"So you said."
"I'll try to be out by the end of January. I'll pay rent if you want after you give me my last paycheck."
Giles drank some wassail and set this glass down. Xander did the same.
"May we discuss this first?" Giles said, politely.
"Yeah, if you want," and if it came out sounding a little sulky it was probably because he felt sulky. Xander picked up his half-empty cup and frowned into it. He set it down again. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. If Giles started talking about Xander's inappropriate feelings and how he could overlook them, he'd take off and spend the night in the truck.
"Discuss," he said, eyes still closed. He waited for a while, listening to the noise of music and conversation in the room.
"I was thinking," Giles said, at last, "that I owe you an apology."
Xander opened his eyes. "You do."
"For not believing you about Eccles."
"You don't trust my judgement."
"I do. Ordinarily. That time, I-- It's difficult to explain."
"Maybe you should try."
Giles picked up his glass and had a hefty slug of wassail. Xander watched him swallow, consider another swig, then set the glass aside. He leaned back against the wall of the pub, much as Xander was doing. Middle-aged English guy in baggy sweater with a ragged sleeve, a little gray in his hair, a pair of glasses that was maybe hip for a professor but not exactly high fashion. Why did this guy make Xander's pulse race? Sword in his hand, knife in his hand, ball of glowing energy in his hand. And the way he walked toward the danger when everybody else was running away.
Giles cleared his throat. "Eccles..." He trailed off, then tipped his head back against the wall of the pub and continued. "Eccles made an insinuation that hit upon all my insecurities about you. It put me off balance. That was likely his intent. He's a canny one. He fooled me and trapped us. If you hadn't been able to plan an escape route, we'd have died in there."
Xander shrugged. "I'm not the one who saved us."
"You banished the wight."
"We both contributed. We work well together. Always have. If you choose to go I shall miss you dreadfully."
"You never seemed to notice me." That definitely came out sulkier than Xander felt.
"I did. You must believe that."
"You didn't appreciate me until I quit."
"No, that's not it. I never knew what to say to you. You came here at a time that was rather awful for me. For us both, I suppose. Adjusting to Buffy-- to not being a Watcher any more. You fit yourself into my new life so smoothly I barely noticed. When I'd got my feet back under myself I found you were simply there, handling things I didn't enjoy thinking about. I was used to it. It was rather nice to have, well, backup. At last."
He smiled at Xander as he said that, a shy smile that was made Xander's heart thump stupidly. Xander had some more wassail, on the theory that it would stiffen his spine even though all it was really doing was making him feel like he'd felt in the barrow when Giles had been kissing him. Warm all over. Warm all the way down.
Tactical error. He pushed the empty glass away.
Giles said, "My, my growing emotional entanglement made it worse. I was fretting about whether I was fawning over you. Being too attentive. Upsetting you. I seem rather to have over-compensated."
"Entanglement? What are you talking about?"
"To begin with, I quite mistook-- That is, I knew you'd been seeing men, so it wouldn't have been utter insanity, but I--"
Giles was stuttering. That was odd. Xander turned away from Giles stubbornly. He wasn't going to fall for it.
Then Giles said, "I'm going about this all wrong. Back up. What do you know about wights?"
Xander turned back to him out of sheer surprise. That voice had been pure old-fashioned Giles lecture voice. It took him back to the Magic Box, that table, and a box of donuts. He answered before he realized he was speaking. "White, cloudy, silvery blood, suck the will to live out of you before they eat your life energy. Really cold."
Giles raised a finger. "Barrow-dwellers, drawn to concentrations of sorrow and grief, carrion-eaters who feed upon the fading energies of the dead. Also upon heat. Essentially benign, in that they are inimical to life but not driven by malice. What is the defense against them?"
"No clue." Giles gave him a look, and Xander apparently still had a weakness for Giles-glares. This annoyed him; shouldn't he be over it now? "Having a tongue shoved down your throat by a guy who doesn't like you?"
"Okay, fine, I still have no clue." Which was a lie, because he wasn't that pig-ignorant, but he was sulking. Dammit. "What's the defense against wights?"
"There are several. Open flame harms them, as does direct physical attack. Other acts interfere with their ability to feed. Anything that grounds your emotional state. Anything that can generate feelings of hope. And of, of love."
Xander felt that shame-flush creeping back onto his face. "What's your point?"
"Have you asked yourself why I kissed you in the barrow?"
"Pity. Pure pity. You knew it would make me feel hopeful."
"No. I was saving myself. I had no idea it would work on you as well as me."
"Why would that work on you?"
Giles merely tilted his head and glared at him. No, it wasn't a glare, exactly. It was the face of a Giles who wanted to spit out a comment that was withering and funny at the same time. Only he wasn't saying it. He was just watching Xander patiently.
"Oh," said Xander. "Oh."
Giles said nothing further but merely picked up their empty glasses and shoved his chair back. Xander watched him head over to the bar and get them refilled. There he stood, one foot on the bar rail, being charming to the barman. Giles, the guy with the unsettling talent for magic and the disturbing talent for knives and the definitely freakish book collection fetish. The guy who was deadly accurate with sarcasm at ten paces. The guy who hadn't so much been ignoring him the last year and a half. Giles, the guy who was in love with him.
That guy came back to the table with more wassail. He set the glasses down without a word. Xander took his glass from Giles and sipped it quietly, head tipped back against the wall again. Being warm, safe, and a little tipsy made things look a lot better than they had in the afternoon. Many, many things.
Then Giles spoke again. "I was thinking again."
"You do that a lot," Xander muttered.
"That was it was time to have new business cards made."
"I speak for us all when I say, huh?"
"Harris and Giles, Investigations and Curse-breaking."
"Now you're mocking me."
"I meant that." Giles sounded serious. He leaned forward over the table. Xander frowned at him. He was back to digging himself into holes. Then he said, "Become my partner in the business."
"Yes, partner. We both make the decisions, handle the money, deal with clients, carry Council credentials."
Giles sat back and Xander let that idea sink into him. Partner. Full-fledged partner. His mind rattled around like a hamster running the wheel at top speed. No need to go back to California. No sunshine, no donuts, yes four million kinds of rain, yes good beer. Yes to Giles? Yes to the guy who got nervous about emotional entanglements?
Something occurred to him. "No more this is my assistant Xander, he carries the heavy stuff and looks hunky."
That glint was back in Giles's eye. "You plan to stop looking, er, hunky?"
"My muscles are beside the point and you know it. Answer me."
"No more failing to introduce you or introducing you as my assistant. Instead you will perform the introductions exactly fifty percent of the time."
Xander thought about some of the starchy old men they met on their stranger cases. "That might not be completely necessary. But I appreciate the spirit of the offer."
"And about the other matter--"
"The other? Oh." The other matter. The emotional entanglement thing.
"We can go on ignoring it if you'd prefer. If you're still angry with me. But since we are both, ah, agreeable, perhaps we might, um, get together that way as well. I am, it seems, rather fond of you. Which is to say, well."
Giles was staring off somewhere over Xander's shoulder when he said that. It was about the most stuttery, wordiest proposition Xander had ever received. He bet that it wasn't the wordiest Giles had ever delivered in his life, though. Giles had two modes: Ogg Grab and Mr Stammer. Apparently the stammer-man was in the house, all entangled.
"Need to think about that one," Xander said. "I'm good with the business plan, though."
"Do we have an agreement?"
"Yeah. We do."
Giles extended a hand over the table and Xander reached out to meet it. They shook hands. Then they remained like that, hand in hand. Xander wasn't going to be the one to let go and apparently Giles wasn't either. It was going to get awkward in another minute because what ought to happen next was a kiss, and Xander wasn't sure if that would go over well in a random country inn full of wassail drinkers. Not that it would stop him. The smile on Giles's face was something to see. If this went on ten more seconds he'd have to give in and kiss him. Oh god.
The waitress appeared with an armful of plates just then, putting a merciful end to his quandary. She loaded the table with food. Dinner was the roast beast, potato, and two veg rib-sticking variety. Lots of rich brown sauce of some indeterminate kind, all in vast quantity. Xander ate all of it, even though his stomach was fluttering, because it turned out he hadn't eaten since the morning and he was starving. And yes, he was freaked. Giles wasn't. Giles was calm. And he had that glint in his eye again and a little smile on the corner of his mouth that was just for Xander.
He'd never noticed before that Giles didn't ever swap hands. The knife stayed in his right hand, and the fork stayed in his left. Bizarre. Xander performed his knife swapping dance and shoveled the last of his roast beast into his mouth. He set down his fork and shoved his plate away. Now for the important question, the one that would determine how his evening went.
Dessert, yes or no? The innkeeper was there, telling them all about the strange Christmassy dessert things she had, and letting them know that their room was ready. Their one-bed room. Xander's opinion of that had changed radically over the last hour. But did the gentlemen want suet pudding with black currants or whatever the hell it was first?
"No dessert," Xander said. "It's been a long day."
Giles looked at him and he looked at Giles. Xander was certain they understood each other perfectly.
"Right, then," Giles said, to the innkeeper. "We'll just turn in."
"Up the stairs and along the hallway, at the very end. You'll have a nice view of the snow out the window in the morning."
"Thanks," Giles said. He took the key and held it up between them. Was that a smirk on his face? Xander tried very hard to keep himself from grinning in response. Probably he was failing. Definitely he was failing, but Giles was already striding out of the public room and across the entryway to the aforementioned stairs and Xander had to scurry to catch up. He found Giles dawdling, two steps up from the bottom.
"Where were we?" Giles said. That glint was back and it had gleamed right out into a look that reminded Xander of why his oldest friends had that silly nickname for him. Uh oh.
Then Giles was on Xander again, hand on the back of his head, one knee nudged up between Xander's. Xander was pinned to the wall. He knew he was about twice as strong but he was a-okay with being pinned. And kissed. And groped. On a stairway about ten feet away from a room with a bunch of people in it. God, this man could kiss. He was hot in Xander's mouth, and insistent. He knew what he wanted and was taking it, right there in the hallway. Giles had him completely hard in his pants in about ten seconds and halfway to coming in another thirty. Then Giles let go of him and stepped away. Xander leaned against the wall and tried to get his breath back and figure out what had just happened.
"I beg your pardon," Giles said. "Just wanted to be sure."
"Sure of what?"
"That you-- Oh, never mind. Upstairs with us."
Giles hauled him away from the wall, turned him, and propelled him in the direction of the stairs. Xander's ankle was bad and walking was awkward for erection-related reasons, but he found a way to make it work. He didn't dare not, what with mister humping him in the hallway right behind him, bumping into his ass deliberately. Where was the stammering man now? This was the Giles who kept a switchblade in the pocket of that jacket with the leather patches on the elbows.
Giles pinned him against the door of their room with one hand planted on Xander's chest. Xander was fine with that, too. He stayed where he was put and waited while Giles got the outsized key into the old-fashioned lock. It was apparently harder than it looked to get the key into the lock and the door opened. Maybe that was because Giles couldn't stop kissing him. And because Xander had a hand on his ass, pulling Giles against his chest.
The door opened inward. Xander rode it backward, away from Giles so he could catch his breath, and into this alleged bridal suite.
The room was nearly entirely bed. The thing was huge and, in Xander's highly inexpert judgement, a million years old. Four posters, canopy, the works. It was covered with a giant white thing that had to be a duvet but looked too puffy to be a member of the blanket family. Their stuff had been laid across a chest at the foot of the bed. A fire was burning in the fireplace. It was about as perfect as it could possibly get, but then, anything that had a bedlike surface would qualify as "perfect". The back of the Land Rover would work.
Oh, god, he was going to have to have Giles there some day soon. Or Giles was going to have him. Giles was the having type. Also the bend him backwards kissing him type, the ravish him with his eyes type, and the bearing him down onto the bed type.
Xander's back hit the bed and the puffy thing turned out to be slippery because the next thing that happened was that they both slid off to the floor. Giles giggled. He wriggled over and straddled Xander's thighs.
"I'm too old for the floor," he said.
Giles showed no signs of wanting to get off the floor. He wasn't giggling any more but he looked like he might start up again at any second. He looked almost joyful. Xander let Giles pull his shirt off over his head unceremoniously. He tossed it at the bed and didn't look to see if it hit. Giles got to work on Xander's belt buckle. Xander reached up to return the favor.
"Half a tick."
Giles rolled away from him and dug both hands into his trouser pockets. He pulled one hand out with his fist wrapped around something. "The machine in the gent's. Overpriced, I'm sure, but--" Giles opened his fist and a pile of condoms fell out onto the carpet. Xander stared and counted. That was enough for an entire weekend of debauchery, which he doubted they'd be able to get through in one night snowed in here. Never say Giles wasn't an optimist. Or a canny bastard in his own right, to have planned ahead for this.
"Shall I? Or would you prefer?"
"You wear the condom. Eventually. Last time I did this the guy took his pants off first, which I can't help but notice you haven't done yet."
"My shirt's off."
"But not your pants. And you're showing no signs of fixing this."
"Doing what?" Though that had an obvious answer: Giles was busy running his hand over Xander's body, everywhere. Down his ribs, up his stomach, around his pecs, lingering on a nipple, then back down his chest again. Wandering, and looking. Staring, in fact.
Giles said, "Never been to bed with anyone like you."
"Like me? American? Brown-haired? Male?"
"Who knew you were shallow?"
Giles laughed. "Anyone I've ever taken to bed. But--"
"I don't feel shallow about you."
The only thing to do in response that was to kiss the man.
Some time later they found the energy to clamber off the floor and into the ridiculous bed. Which was about twice as big as it needed to be, in Xander's opinion, especially because Giles apparently liked to sleep half-sprawled over his bed partners. Xander was okay with this. He lay awake pinned under a very warm former Watcher, who was nuzzling into his neck contentedly. His ankle still hurt but it was a distant ache, unimportant next to some much nicer aches. Such as the spot that former Watcher had bitten him on the shoulder. That had been the second time, with Xander on hands and knees in front of the fireplace. Romantic, if anything with that much biting could be called romantic. Xander decided it could. And he also decided that he was going to get his own back with the biting in the morning.
"What time is it?" Giles murmured.
Xander squinted at the clock on the bedstand. "Two-ish."
"Christmas Eve day, then. Hope we'll make it home for a proper Christmas eve."
"Don't need it," Giles said. He yawned against Xander's neck and quieted. Asleep, probably. Soon Xander would find out if he snored.
They definitely didn't need mistletoe, though it would be fun to use it as an excuse. Christmas in England again. This year it had snowed on them. Chances were that next year it would rain. That was about like guessing the sun would rise in the east: next year England would rain on Xander Harris. Over and over. It would bucket, drizzle, spatter, shower, and sleet on him. No to 30SPF sunblock, yes to a pair of boots he'd learn to call wellies. Horrible, terrible, awful weather. He wouldn't trade it for anything.