Xander walked through the library's door knowing what he was going to find. He walked up behind the minor demon and the cords he was holding carefully, pulling a knife out of his pocket and slicing through them in one quick stroke before the demon realized it, getting all but one. The creature turned to look at him but he did his best not to be scared, or at least not show it. "I read the research on your powers. You can't hold any of us without our consent." He sliced the last cord, letting whomever it was attached to go free, then started to walk toward it, making him move backwards. "You have no power unless we give it, none at all, and I won't let you hurt them again." He lit the candle he passed, tossing the lighter from his pocket onto the table. "Leave here before I trick you the way you did them." He backed him into the cage and shut the door. "There, all better now." He turned to run back over to them, sliding to the floor beside Oz. He nudged his foot, reaching over to wake Giles at the same time. The older redhead blinked and he nodded at Willow so he rolled on top of her, waking her up with quiet words. Giles moaned, holding his head.
"Get up, you've got to banish him," Xander said quietly. "I've got him in the cage."
Giles sat straight up, looking that way. "You did what?" He looked at the younger man. "How?"
"You didn't listen to your own research, G-man. He's harmless unless you give him power over you." He got up, holding out a hand. "Come on, let's get him gone. You can wake Buffy then." He pulled the former Watcher up, steadying him for a second before turning to the couple.
"Where's the book?"
"In the cage," Giles said, and turned. "Oh, dear."
Xander shook his head, walking over. "Move aside slimy. I've got to get a book." The demon snarled but did as he was told since he didn't have a choice. He opened the door, walking in to get the book, knowing that the doorway was covered so it wouldn't get out. "Which one?"
"The blue one," Giles called. "And do be careful. He's still a demon."
"Yeah, yeah," Xander muttered. He pulled down the book and turned to find the creature looking at him. "What?" he asked, starting to walk around him.
"I can give you what you want, if you'd let me go," the demon said persuasively, trying to get himself free.
"You don't have anything I want." Xander looked into his eyes. "There's nothing that I desire that you can bring me."
The demon stepped back, the coldness and emptiness in the eyes and voice chilling him. "You need something stronger than me," he whispered, backing away from him.
"Yup, a Colt." He walked out, letting Oz close the door as he went over to drop the book on the table. "Here, anything else?" He tensed, waiting.
"Xander," Buffy said, walking over to him. "Do you know how dangerous that was? How stupid that was?"
He shrugged. "Sorry to have saved you then." He looked at Giles. "Need me for anything else? If not I'm leaving."
"No, not at the moment." He continued to flip through the book. "Here it is, Willow, please go get the herbs we prepared earlier."
"Bye then, happy spelling without me." Xander turned and walked out, heading outside. He was stopped by Buffy near the edge of the front steps. "What?" he asked, turning around.
"You did something bad and wrong. You shouldn't have gone up against him." She put her hands on her hips. "That was so far wrong it wasn't funny."
"Yeah, I saved you, again. How wrong was that." He started to turn but she pushed him. "Oh, go fuck a tree," he said, pushing her back. "I'm sick and tired of your crap and your anti-gratitude problem. You're not the queen bitch around here and it kills you, doesn't it?" He stepped back. "Never mind, you aren't worth it." He turned and started to walk away again.
"You're just pissed because you're not one of us anymore!" she yelled after him. "You messed up so bad that no one wants you and it's eating you." She turned back around, only to run into Oz and Willow. "He gone?"
"Because of you," Oz said, jogging out to where Xander was walking away. "Hey," he said, stopping him. "How'd you know?"
"I listened to the research you guys were tossing around." He shrugged, turning to him, feeling almost desperate now but not showing it. "Not a big."
"No, it was. It was dangerous. But we appreciate it. I really didn't want to be sleeping forever." He tried to turn him around, but the younger man didn't move. "Not coming back inside?"
"I don't want to be around her." He turned, going back down the street. "I'll see you some other time."
"Wait," Willow yelled, making it to where Oz was. "What's going on?"
Xander turned, walking back. "I just can't take that anymore." He stopped in front of them. "Sorry, but I'm going to leave."
She looked at him, and her face fell. "That's not it," she said, moving closer. "What's really wrong?" She laid a hand on his arm, trying to take away the sadness she could see. "Tell me."
"I'm fine." He shook her off and looked over her shoulder. "Super bitch approaches so I'm going." He turned but the words from Buffy's mouth stopped him.
"What? Running away again?" She headed for him. "I think you owe me an apology."
"And I think that you don't deserve one. Your whole mind is rotted now and I refuse to play into it." He turned to face her, frowning. "Just go back to your own little life and stay there, it's what you're *good* at." He stepped back, shaking his head. "I don't need you to be myself, I don't need any of this."
Giles stepped between them. "That was most uncalled for," he said gently. "I think we should all talk about this."
"Yay, have fun," he said, walking away. "I don't need to be there."
Willow started after him but Buffy stopped her. "No, I have to go talk to him. He's can't leave."
"I think you'd better pay more attention to Oz, Will," Buffy said. She turned her around, facing her toward her boyfriend. "Him, remember?"
"Shut up," Oz said. He looked at the grouping. "I'll go, we still have to talk." He walked off, not knowing why she was so upset.
"Just bring him back," Willow said. She ran to him, pulling his head down. "He's gonna be hurt if you don't." He nodded. "No, I mean really hurt, like never coming back sort of hurt. Just stop him and bring him back."
His whole body went cold. "He is?" She nodded. "Then I'll go stop him, you stop her." He turned, running down the street to the younger teen's house. He didn't bother knocking, just ran in and up the stairs, much to the protest of the people in the living room. He walked through the bedroom door, finding Xander on his knees in the closet. "Hey," he said, shutting it, leaning against it to catch his breath. "We have to talk, you can't."
"Shut up and go away. They need you," he muttered calmly. He tossed something onto the bed. "There, you'll know afterwards so that no one has questions." He stood up, tucking something shiny into his belt. "Now, go away." He was really calm. He had been shown how empty his life was without them over the last few weeks and it was something he couldn't deal with anymore. "Just get out of my way," he said, just a little too calmly. He had done all he needed to and now the calm place was completely bare. It was time.
Oz shook himself from his reflection on the gun, looking up into the eyes - the cold, dead-looking eyes. "You can't. She'll follow."
"That's your problem," he said, pushing around him to get to the door. "Just take care of her better and it won't happen 'cause no one like me will hurt her again." Xander opened the door, frowning at his parents. "Oh, shut up and go away. I'm not letting you say *shit* to me anymore." He pushed past them, heading down the stairs.
Oz picked up the book, holding it and looking out at the hall. "I've got to stop him." He pushed past the adults in the hall, making it to the backyard in time to see the younger man pointing the gun at Angel.
"Yeah, but it'll be really painful and give me a minute more." He fired, then jogged to his Uncle's car, pulling out of the driveway.
Oz hurried to him, helping him up. "You okay?"
"Yes, but you've got to stop him. I've seen more living corpses."
"You drive," he said, tossing the keys. "I'll figure out where he's going." They hurried to the van in Willow's drive, pulling out after him. Oz looked through the journal, trying to find a constant place mentioned. "Where's Leaping Rock?"
"Out by the lake, that little place where people used to make out until someone took a header there one night." Angel turned the van around. "That sounds like an ideal place to me." He turned briefly to look at the book. "Say why yet?"
"I'm reading that part now." He grimaced, tossing it onto the dash. "Doesn't matter. We have to stop him and we can fix everything else later." He jumped out when the van stopped, running toward the figure he could see in the dim moonlight. "Xander, don't," he said, slowing down. "Just stop and talk to me. We can get this all figured out really fast."
"Just stop," he said, not turning around. "You don't need me, you don't want me, and you don't even appreciate me. I don't even know why you're here except on general principles." He took the gun out of his belt, then tossed the car keys over his shoulder. "Make sure it gets back to my Uncle, and not my father please." He looked down at the gun, wiping a smudge off the shiny surface. "And go away. I don't like people watching me."
"No," Oz said, moving a little closer, picking up the keys on the way. "I don't think it'd help if I walked away. Willow would kill me then herself just so she wouldn't be alone." He moved a little closer, frowning. "Come back away from the edge, it's not real stable."
Xander laughed a little. "Like that matters?" He turned to face them both, tears running down his face. "Just go away. You're wanted and needed and liked. Just leave me alone." He looked at Angel. "You too, take him with you."
"No." He put his hands into his pockets. "But come back from the edge before you fall." He saw the incredulous look. "Would you want it to be an accident?" He shrugged. "Seems to take the feeling out of it." He leaned against the convertible's side, not moving any closer. "Doesn't matter to me though, you were right about that."
"Not helping here," Oz told him. He looked at Xander, seeing the pain now. "I want to talk to you. We can work this out, I'll back away from her and let you have her."
"I don't want Willow," he said, wiping his face off. "That's not this!" He turned back around. "Just go away." He raised the gun, but Angel had him in his arms, holding him tightly to his chest before he could do anything. "No! Let me go!" He struggled but he wasn't getting out of them. He felt the pricks against his neck and struggled some more. "I don't want this either! I hate you!"
"I know," Angel said, pulling back and watching as he fell unconscious to the ground. "That's why I did it." He turned to look at Oz. "Take him back in his car. I'll drop your van at the school." He walked away, getting in and pulling away.
Oz knelt down beside him, checking the pulse. The weak pulse. "Where do I take you?" he asked himself, taking the gun and putting it in his waistband, in the back just in case it went off while he was carrying him back to the car. "Come on," he said, lifting him up. "I'll bring you to Giles and he'll fix it. He always does." He grunted, walking him over to sit in the front seat. He buckled him in then tossed the gun onto the dashboard before walking around to get in himself. "I'm sorry and I don't even know what I did." He started the car, backing away.
Nobody noticed Faith and her two vampire helpers walking out of the woods, or her crying.
Giles looked up as his door was knocked on, going over to answer it. He blanched at the young man carrying the other. "Put him on the couch." He closed the door after them, walking after them to question Oz. "What happened?" He took the gun, making a face, then looked up sharply as he remembered earlier in the evening. "He was where?"
"Someplace called Leaping Rock." He handed over the diary. "His," he said, backing up. "I don't even know what I did but it must have been pretty horrible." He sat down in the chair, looking at the man on the couch. "Angel saved him, I wasn't getting through," he said quietly.
"I don't suspect you would," he said, testing the teen's forehead then looking at the neck. "He's still living, we can figure this out and heal it."
Oz stood up, shaking his head. He handed over the car keys. "I'm not sure that's possible anymore. You didn't see his eyes." He turned, walking out. "I can't be here," he called.
"Of course not," Giles muttered, "it's partially your fault but you don't know how to fix it so I have to." He set the keys and the gun down, walking over to his chair to read the journal, trying to figure out how to mend the younger man this time. It was a few minutes later when he heard the groan, so he looked up. "Back with us again?"
"Damn, Oz," he muttered, covering his eyes. "Why couldn't you just leave me there?"
"Because none of us want you to go that way," Giles said, moving over to sit beside him. He looked down into the pained face. "I still didn't thank you for saving my rear earlier though."
Xander looked at him, then the book. "Found it out?" He got a confused look. "Not that far yet?" He got a head shake, which made him stare in shock. "You didn't?"
"No, I've only gotten to the fourth entry." He helped him sit up. "Was that part of it?" Xander nodded but didn't speak, he was on the verge of tears again. He gathered the young man into his arms, holding him tightly. "Just relax. You are wanted and needed. By me at least." He rocked them silently, letting him get it all out. "There," he said, helping him lay back down. "Now, I would like to see you sleep while I read this. Would that be acceptable?"
"Why are you asking?" he said softly, wiping his eyes, then at the damp spot he'd created on the white dress shirt. "Sorry."
"No, don't be. I really don't mind that sort of thing. I'm surprised that it didn't last longer."
"I'm a man of short emotional swings," he said, trying to smile a little and failing miserably.
"Don't do that. I'd hope that you didn't have to pretend with me after earlier. But if you do, I'll have to do something drastic, like tell Angel to come talk to you again."
"Is he okay?" He got a confused look. "I shot him to get away from him."
"Ah, no he'd be fine. A little lead wouldn't hurt him, it'd come out later." He patted the hand playing with the blanket. "You're safe here, sleep now." He stood back up, going back to his chair. "I'll just be over here, say something if you need me."
"No, I... thanks," he said, closing his eyes.
"I'm not letting you be thrown to them again," he said softly. "Don't worry about it." He sat down, putting his feet back up to start reading the journal again.
Giles got up, sighing, when he heard the knock on his door. He checked the time, two am, but went to answer it anyway. "Yes?" he asked the unfamiliar man standing there.
"My son here?"
"Yes, on the couch." He waved him in. He watched him walk over to look at the boy in disgust and pick up his gun.
"Can't even do that right?" he said, bending down.
"I believe that might be counterproductive." He frowned at Xander's father, making his displeasure known. "I think maybe he would be best handled by someone that he trusted to care for him."
"Hey, he's yours. I don't want him back." He stood up, looking Giles over. "I'm sure you can deal better with a weak guy like him." He pushed past, walking out and slamming the door.
"What a prick," he muttered, going over to check on his student. "You're safer here anyway," he said softly. "You never have to go back there again. I'll send Willow and Oz to get your things." He brushed a lock of hair around then went back to his chair, and his reading.
Giles looked up at the body walking through his kitchen. "Look at me please," he said, wanting to see if anything had changed. "Well, you look a bit more lifelike this morning. Sit and I'll fix you something." He brought the pan off the stove; pulling down a plate, taking his Grandmother's advice - eating something could start to cure any problem.
"Don't argue," he said forcefully. He set the plate down in front of him then got him some silverware and a glass of milk. He sat down across from him. "Your father showed up last night." He saw the scowl. "You're staying here now so it's not an issue." He grimaced a little. "Had I known this earlier I'd have called someone on him and had you removed to a better home."
"It's not your fault," Xander said, moving the meat around on the plate. "And I can get a place."
"Huh?" He looked up, shocked. "Why not? You can't keep me, I'd be in the way."
"There's exactly a month and a half until graduation. You are staying on that couch so I can keep an eye on you and help you. If you continue to argue with me over it, I'll cast a spell on you until you decide it's a good thing to be here." He tapped the table. "Now eat, I know you're hungry."
Xander took a bite and then grabbed the salt, sprinkling a little on it. "It's good," he said, eating some more.
"Thank you." He sat up a little straighter, looking out the window. "Do you want to talk about last night?" He saw the shoulders slump. "You'll have to eventually."
"Then I'll do it then." He took another bite then drank some milk. "I'm sorry, they shouldn't have brought me here."
"No, they should have. This is somewhere neutral to you, someplace that you can come to think of as safe. If we're being truthful there's no other place else I'd have you be at the moment, no one else I trust to help you."
"I don't need help."
"Then why were you about to die?" He turned to face him, seeing the hard and tense face. "Don't even try to think of having another go at it. You're not leaving this house until I'm satisfied that you're not that far gone again." He looked at the plate. "Did you want more?"
"No thanks." He pushed the plate away, leaning on the table. "I didn't want you to know."
"That you'd been depressed for over a month now? I think it's some of my concern."
"No, it's not." He looked up. "It's not your concern."
"I care, it's my concern." He reached over to pat the still hand. "What happens to all of you is my concern but you need me more, I think. I couldn't have turned you down if you'd just come to me. Speaking of which, why didn't you?"
"I didn't want to talk about it, it sounded stupid to me."
"Emotions aren't stupid, they're a part of life. Some of us just have deeper ones than appear to others." He smiled slightly. "I believe Oz was almost ready to panic when he brought you over."
"Panic or bring you over?"
"Bring me here?"
"Yes, he did." He leaned a little closer. "As I said earlier, I can't think of a better place so don't even protest. You need someone that's not part of the problem to care for you for a while and I'm good enough at that. No horrible pet disasters in my past or the like." He saw the faint grin. "Ah, so I see you know about those."
"Yeah," he said, looking up. "I know about pet disasters." He laid his head back down. "Are you sure?"
"I'm quite sure that if you tried to leave that you'd end up tranquilized on the couch. Now don't argue with me. I've sent Willow over to gather your things and bring them back here."
"I have tons of crap."
"And I have storage space. We'll arrange for you to have a few drawers for your things in the living room somewhere and you can have the couch until you're ready to leave this summer." He patted the hand again then got up. "Are you sure you don't want any more food?"
"No, thanks." He looked up at the man passing him, stopping him by grabbing his wrist. "Really. Thanks."
"You weren't listening, I could do no less." He hugged him a little then took the plate and glass, taking them to the sink. "Go take a shower and get cleaned up. I know you probably want one."
"Yeah, I need one, I'm all sweaty." He stood up, pushing the chair back under the table, and left to head up the stairs.
"We'll get you fixed and over this, even if I have to beat them myself," he muttered. "Especially Buffy, who really could use it at the moment." He ran some dishwater, cleaning up the breakfast mess.
Xander looked up at the person standing in the doorway, walking away from them. "People are here," he said, passing his host to go hide in the kitchen.
Giles looked at Oz and Willow, motioning them in. "Thank you for getting his things." He looked at Oz. "And for other things." He stopped Willow when she tried to go after him. "No, I think he needs some time alone at the moment. Write him a letter and I'll see he gets it." She nodded, chewing on her lip. He took the box Oz had, putting it onto the couch. "Is this everything?"
"No, most of it's in the storage place on the corner, where his father put it last night." Willow sniffled. "I want to hurt him so much right now."
"Save your strength," Oz said. "I think there are a few more ahead of you." He looked around the corner, seeing the dark head almost peeking around. "Can we talk for a minute?"
"No, I think it's best if you all had some time apart. What he's feeling right now is best not shared." He looked at him. "Write it in a letter and I'll give them to him. Hopefully by then, he'll have calmed down enough to want to talk to you both." He frowned. "Do try to keep Buffy away from him for a while though. I think I need to have a long discussion with her before they meet again."
"I want to miss a few days anyway," Xander called from the kitchen. He came out, ignoring his friends. "I don't think I can handle school tomorrow."
"You'll be going back for your test on Wednesday?" He got a nod. "I can accept that as long as you use the time to think and work some things out in your head. It might actually help to have some cooling down time."
"Thanks," he said, giving him a timid hug and retreating into the kitchen again.
Oz handed over the storage place's key, and the other one he held. "His father's a shit but Will said it's all there. That's the extra key to the car, which his uncle he wouldn't take back." He stepped back. "When he's ready to talk to us, call and we'll come over. We both want to see him better."
"I will," he said, nodding. He pocketed the keys, walking them back out. When he turned around, the younger man was standing behind him. "You'll have to work it out with them sooner or later."
"Not right now though." He looked up. "That's something I can't handle yet."
Giles wrapped an arm around the tense shoulders. "Then we'll approach that problem slowly." He nodded so they looked around the room. "I can start emptying a drawer for you if you're ready."
"Yeah, I need to change." He opened the top of the boxes, shaking his head. "Mostly clothes, Willow must have repacked them." He touched the top shirt and sat down, picking it up to hold it. "I screwed them up too."
"She was just as much at fault. You didn't force her." When he didn't get an answer, he turned around to find him just staring at the shirt. "It'll work out," he said softly, coming over to sit beside him. "It'll all be fine by graduation. I'm sure of it."
"I'm not." He looked up, taking a deep breath. "I don't think I want to know them for a while."
"Then don't," he said, taking the shirt to put in the cleared drawer. "Switch your seat in any class that you share with one of them. You can come hide in my office during lunch if you want also."
"Then I'd run into *it*."
"Now, now," he chided gently, taking the next outfit that was handed to him. "I agree Buffy needs to be corrected, but calling her 'it' isn't very appropriate."
"It was nicer than what I was calling her last night," he said. He moved to the other box, handing over that stuff too. "It's a lot nicer than what she's called me in the past few weeks."
"Then she needs to be beaten." Giles turned to smile... a very nasty one. "I believe a word to her mother might end some of the problems and some time away from all of you might help also."
"But the ascension. You need her there."
"You're just as necessary." He stopped, looking at him. "Are you withdrawing your help?"
Xander shook his head, smoothing over the next t-shirt. "No, I was thinking of researching, like, here? Maybe?" He took a deep breath. "I could make notes and I could still work on it but I wouldn't have to be around them which would cause less problems with the group and ..." He was stopped by a nudge to his knee. "Huh?"
"That sounds like an ideal solution for the most part." He took the shirt, putting it away. "I don't think it would be too hard to accomplish. I'd still see you everyday, at least, and you could hand over your notes." He turned back, expecting more things. "No more?" He got a head shake so he closed the drawers. "Just be careful with the top one, it's a little loose due to its age."
"You trust me around antiques?" he asked, shocked. "Me?"
"Yes, I do. I trust you around me, and I'm one."
"No, you're not," the teen said forcefully. "You're not old or worn out. Or even used. You're smart and wise and good." He pulled his knees up to his chin. "What do I need to do to earn my keep? Clean a little?"
"No, not a thing. Just keep your own mess down to a minimum and we'll get along well." He sat down in the chair. "You see me like that?"
"For always. You've always been answer guy and mentor guy to us." He shrugged lightly, wrapping his arms around his legs. "And you're not that old. Just forty or so."
"Or so," he agreed. Giles smiled a little. "I think that's the nicest thing any of you has said to me since I met you." He looked down. "Thank you."
"Not a big," he said, "you deserve it." He grinned a little. "You sure? I can do laundry and stuff. I'll even learn how to cook."
"No, you're not a maid. You're a guest and don't have to do anything."
"But that's not fair." Xander moved the boxes, taking their place on the couch. "I should have to do stuff."
"You will. You'll go to school and do your homework." He heard the snort. "And try to make decent grades for a while longer. Plus you'll be researching, which is a great help at this time." He smiled softly. "Don't worry so much. You can't disappoint me unless I come down to find a horrible mess some morning."
"Nope, I'll try to keep my messes organized." He grinned, just a little. "But if you're sure..."
"Very." He stood up, stretching. "Are you hungry?"
"Giles, I'm a teenaged male, of course I'm hungry. I'm just munchy hungry, not real food hungry most of the time." He looked up as the older man passed by. "Why?"
"I was going to start some soup for supper."
"You can make *soup*? Like not from a can?" He walked into the kitchen, shocked. "Hey, I'm impressed. I don't know anybody but grandmas who make soup." He sat on the table to watch him.
"I had one of those and she taught me." Giles turned to look at him and pointed at a chair. "Please." Xander nodded, sliding down into one. "Thank you." He turned back to the large pot. "Would you like to help me? I'd teach you this recipe." He'd let him act for a while longer before breaking down another wall and food always seemed to work with him.
"Sure," he said, jumping up and going to the fridge. "What do you need?"
"Onions and celery. I really don't like carrots so I forget to put them in." He answered the grin with one of his own. "Also those long green things and the garlic in the jar." He turned to pull out a knife and a board, handing them over. "Now, cut them into little pieces of about an inch." He waited but the younger man just looked at the knife. "Something wrong?"
"You trust me with sharp stuff?" He turned to face him. "Am I ready for that?"
"Unless you don't want soup you are." He walked over, taking the knife and putting it on the counter, putting his hands on either side of the younger man's head. "Are you going to try and harm yourself with it? Or me?" He got a head shake. "Out loud please."
"No, I'm not. I'm feeling a lot better now." He moved forward, hugging him. "You're good."
"I...thank you." He patted the firm back. "Now, the soup's not making itself." He pulled back some, after hearing the light laugh. "I had no idea you were this affectionate."
"Not really, well I am but I'm not supposed to be." He picked up an onion, rubbing over the outer skin. "Does this stuff stay on?"
"No. Look at me again please." He waited until the brown eyes were focused on him. "There's nothing wrong with being affectionate. Your father's an ass if he said there was. I just didn't expect you to be so open." He brushed the annoying piece of hair out of the way. "And I don't want you to think that you have to be to gain my approval. My father was much the same way as yours and I've never known anyone that hugged on a routine basis." He let his fingers brush down the stubbled cheek. "You need to shave again."
"I know. I do it about every three days." He grinned a little. "So, it's okay when I need a hug?"
"Just ask." Giles turned back around, letting his hand fall. "Now, chop those quickly, the pan is about hot enough."
"Okay." He cut into the first onion with eagerness, letting his massive amounts of energy out on it.
Xander walked into the school's office, smiling slightly at the secretary. "Hi," he said. "I need to change my contact information and my locker." She walked over to him, bringing him the forms. "Thanks."
"Why do you need a locker switch?" She looked him over, seeing the pain in his eyes. "Oh, you poor boy. Who was she?"
"Which one?" he asked softly. He looked up. "My friends, all of them, and my former girlfriend. I just want one someplace not near their's."
She nodded, going to grab a folder and coming back. "Let's see. We have one open on the West wing but that's near where you are now, or one on the east wing, which is near Willow's boyfriend's." She looked up. "I have seen you four, usually a very nice group." She looked back down. "That's about it. We can't give you one from a deceased student, policy forbids it for the year that they died in so the parents have ample time to deal with it."
He handed back his forms. "I can understand that. Isn't there one tucked away somewhere that no one goes? Like the ones near the shop classes?"
"Well, we have a few down in the Special Ed wing. We could put you down there. We've done it for students that have death threats and the like." She looked at him again. "I'd say you count." She wrote something out and handed him the paper. "Here you go, Xander."
He smiled, leaning across the counter to kiss her cheek. "Proves my theory, secretaries do rule the world." He looked down at it. "I'll make the switch tonight after school's over for the day."
She nodded, checking over his forms. "You're staying with Mr. Giles?" He nodded when she looked up. "Okay, I can put this information into your records this morning and we'll not send anything to your parents' house." She walked back to her desk. "What happened anyway?"
"Lets just leave it at a major falling out, can we?" She nodded, giving him a sympathetic look. "Thanks." He ran out of the office, heading for his first class of the day. He stopped the teacher, who was writing on the board, saying something quietly to her. She nodded, motioning another student over. They switched seats and he was now across the room from his former friends.
Xander ran into the library. "Hey," he said, walking into the office. "How's your day been?"
"Most interesting. I had a call from Snyder since you changed your contact information." He grimaced slightly, turning a page of the book he was looking at. "He was most interested in why you were staying with me."
Xander sat down on the floor next to, but behind, the door. "I changed it so they didn't call my folks. Did you mind?"
"No, not at all." He looked up to smile. "I actually expected it. I told him you were having some personal problems so had come to stay with me for the rest of the year, without going into details, no matter how much he dug for the rationale." He turned the page. "Isn't it your lunch period?"
"Yeah, but I'm not going. I wanted to hide in here. If it's all right, that is."
"Of course it is." He tossed over an apple. "Do me a favor and eat that please. I really don't like them." He grinned at the first crunch. "Thank you. I ate too many as a child." He looked up as the outer door opened, then stood up. "I'll be back, you stay in here." He walked out, closing the door behind him. "Aren't you both supposed to be at lunch?"
"Yeah, we are," Xander heard Oz say. "But we wanted to come give him these."
"I'll make sure that he gets it."
"I brought him some lunch if you know where he's hiding."
"I'll give it to him, Willow, he'll be back in a minute."
The door swung shut but Giles didn't come back so he didn't move.
"Is he really okay?" Oz asked. "I know you're helping but he switched his seats in all his classes this morning to be away from us, Will spent her free period crying on me."
"I believe he needed some time alone to deal with what happened. I'm sure it'll be all right eventually."
"Would that be before or after he goes away for the summer?"
"Hopefully before but I can't promise that. I'll give him these letters and see if he won't respond somehow."
"Thanks, Giles. Oh, and make sure he eats at least the sandwich. An apple isn't enough to keep him going this afternoon."
"He'll not be here then. He'll be researching at home." The door swung shut again after a minute and Giles walked back in, handing over the bag. "They're very worried about you. Willow looked horrible."
"I'll talk to her eventually." He looked at the letters. "I'll read them later, okay?" He got a nod so tucked them into his backpack. "I'm switching lockers tonight so I'll get home a little later."
"Fine," he said, handing over a key. "That's yours, I forgot to give it to you at breakfast." Giles watched as his charge ate slowly. "They're both hurting too. You didn't hurt just yourself that night."
"I know," he said, closing his eyes and leaning his head against the wall, "but I can't help that now."
"You'll have to rebuild your relationship with them and it'll take some hard work."
"Then I'll have to. Just not this week." He took another bite of the sandwich. "She made it?" he asked, opening it to look inside. "She knew."
"She has known you most of your life."
"Yeah, she has." Xander got up, checking his watch. "I gotta go to class. Thanks for the hiding spot."
"It's here when you need it, you know that." Giles watched as the younger man walked out, the door swinging slowly shut after him.
Xander loaded up his small box of stuff, dropping one of the last things into it before looking at the mostly bare locker. He turned to find the Principal looking at him. "What?" he asked, annoyed.
"I was trying to figure out what you did."
"None of your business." He picked up the box and his pack. "I'm almost done."
"So I noticed." Snyder moved closer. "Would you like to tell me why you sent my secretary into a frenzy over you this morning? I don't like it when my staff is disrupted by sudden changes."
"I had personal problems over the weekend. Now I'm dealing." He shifted the box. "Anything else?"
"Why Mr. Giles?"
"Because he's been there for me when everything else went to hell." He nudged his locker shut and started down the hall. "I'll be back in a while if you want to harass me some more." He turned the corner and took a deep breath. "Just one more trip," he told himself, "and it'll be all okay. First day safe." He pushed through the doors, heading down to his new locker. He dropped his bag, startling a little figure in the shadows, then himself when it was the shadow that moved. He set the box into the locker and turned to look at it. "You're not a scary thing, are you?" When it turned into a young girl, he grinned. "Didn't think so." He got down onto her level; he knew that the high school held the Special Ed center for the whole school system, he just hadn't expected such a young kid to be down there. She couldn't be more than seven. "Hi, I'm Xander. I just got my locker switched down here."
"Ah, there you are, sweetheart," a teacher said, coming out of her room. "Did you find a new friend?" She smiled at Xander and put out a hand. "This is Melody and I'm Ms. Harmon."
"Xander Harris," he said, shaking it. "Hi Melody," he said, waving a little. She smiled and waved then hid behind the teacher's leg. "Shy?"
"That too. She doesn't speak actually." She looked at the locker. "Welcome to our hall. Why did they put you down here?"
"Um, nuclear level falling out with my friends and former girlfriend." He shrugged, getting back up. "I asked to be switched and this locker was open. I'll try not to come down too often so I won't interrupt the classes."
She smiled. "Don't worry about it. Just don't slam the doors and we won't know you were here." She looked down at the child. "We'd better go, her mother's due soon." She took the little hand in hers, walking her back to the room. "Nice to meet you, I hope you're able to work it out."
He nodded, turning back to start putting things up. "Me too." He picked up his bag, putting his books in, leaving the box for some other time. He closed the door and looked around, not seeing a lock. He checked the other ones, not seeing a lock on any of them, so shrugged and went back to his old one to get his posters and the last few things. He ran into Oz, who was sitting against the bottom of the bank of lockers. He didn't speak, just opened it and pulled down the first poster.
"Did you ask for this change or was it some sort of punishment?" the older teen asked softly, looking up.
"I asked." Xander took off the little hanger, putting it on the growing pile of trash. "I had it changed. I'm down in the Special Ed wing now." He pulled down another poster, rolling it up to put into his bag. "Why?"
"Because I care." He stood up, touching the moving arm. "Can I talk to you yet?"
"I'd like to have a real discussion." Oz stopped Xander from his cleaning, turning the younger teen to face him. "Please? I want to understand."
"Why didn't you read the journal?" He didn't really want him to know, but he had to know why he hadn't read it on the way to stop him. That was the reason he gave it to him really, so no one would have questions afterwards.
"Because it was personal and I was more worried about stopping you. And I wanted to ask you, not read it. I need to see your eyes when you yell at me."
"Yeah, we can do that, just not now. I'm not ready to put it into words yet." He plucked the last thing from the locker, putting it into his bag, then picked up the trash. "I was going to write you guys back." He walked to a nearby classroom and came back, seeing the hall empty. "Must not have been what he was looking for."
"Nope," Oz said. "Went to send Buffy away." He came back over to him, picking up a bag of stuff. "You forgot this."
"That's my old life. I don't need it. Give it to Willow."
Oz looked at the small bag, seeing it full of stuff. "But you'll need it, just to remember and come back." He looked up but he was alone. He headed down the hall, going to the library to help work on the other problem and take his mind off this one.
Xander looked up from his books, grinning. "Hi," he said, standing up. "I made some food."
Giles took off his tie, nodding. "I'll be back in a minute. Let me go change and wash up." He headed into the bedroom, pulling off his vest as he went.
Xander went into the kitchen, dishing up the only food he knew how to make, setting it on the table and fussing over where things went. He looked up at the cleared throat, grinning again. "It's all I know how to cook. Well, besides the soup you showed me." He sat down in his chair.
Giles looked at the meal on the table, smiling at the pasta with things on top and the garlic toast. "Very nice," he said, sitting down. He handed over a small bag the younger man recognized. "Oz said you left this. He thought you might want it." He watched the usually mobile face look at it blankly. "Was he wrong?"
"Huh? Oh, no, it's mine. I'm just not sure if I want it to be." He pushed it away, hiding it behind the salt and pepper shakers. "Eat, tell me how good it is." He took a bite, going back to the person he seemed to be usually.
"I'd rather talk." He took a bite at the pout, then smiled. "You used a touch too much garlic but it's fine otherwise."
"I know, I spilled a little into it." He giggled then took a bite, nodding. "Yup, way too much." He went to the fridge, pulling out a jar of grated cheese. "Makes it all better," he said, handing it over.
"Thank you." He handed it back after pouring a large amount over the top. "How was your day? I didn't hear from you all afternoon so I assumed that it went well."
"It went okay. I moved my stuff down to my new locker in the Special Ed wing, met a cute little student down there that was hiding. Met one of the teachers. Had a short discussion with Oz." He took another bite then added some cheese to his plate. "Nothing overly bad."
"He didn't mention that he saw you." He took another bite then wiped his mouth to get up and grab a drink. "Would you like milk or water?"
"Milk was bad when I tasted it," he said. "Tasted really gross." He turned his head. "Wasn't that great at breakfast either but we left it out in the rush to get going." Giles nodded, pulling out the pitcher of chilled water. "How was your day?"
"Besides another call from Snyder in the afternoon, bothering me for more information, not too horrible. I was shocked when an actual student came in to get a book but she was a transfer so didn't know that she wasn't supposed to read." He put down the glasses, noticing the grin. "She's from the Midwest somewhere. Oklahoma I think. A classic's fan." He took another bite, eating in the quiet for a few minutes. "Did you want to talk about your conversation with Oz?"
Xander shook his head, swallowing. "Not really. He just wanted to set up a time to talk and I told him next week sometime." He picked up a piece of toast to wipe up the sauce and toppings that had been on top of the pasta. "Nothing really major. That, and Snyder actually asked me for information too since I sent his secretary into overprotective mode and it bugged him." He looked up. "Are you going to get into trouble?"
"No, it's not that uncommon. It's not like I'm corrupting you or anything. Unless making you do homework would count for that." He patted the still, tense hand. "Don't worry about me. I'm fine and we're going to get through this. Now eat, before I'm forced to get a dog to start eating the leftovers."
Xander grinned, getting up to grab the pot. "You're not home enough for a dog, maybe a cat though. I've heard they like to curl up in laps while you read." He spooned some more food onto his plate and looked up. "Want some more?"
"No, put it into the refrigerator and I'll eat it for lunch." He watched the short and quick movements, gauging his mood by them. "What was the bag for?" He saw the back stiffen for a second then relax by force.
"Nothing. It's just childish reminders of some good times." He sat back down, pulling it out to look at it. "See this one? The little blue guy?" He got a nod. "That's something that was part of a game that Willow gave me for a birthday present. The rest disappeared one day." He shifted the stuff inside around, pointing at a marble. "This one's from a trip we took to the beach as a kid. I got it from another kid, traded him for it." He set it down. "Just little things that remind me of my old life."
"Your life. There's no old or new to it." He stopped the tapping hand, taking it in his. "You've not changed that much. You're still Xander, and always will be I hope. This is still part of your life. We all have memories, yours are just in that little bag and you'd miss them if they were gone."
"I guess," he said, taking his hand back. "But I feel different. Like I'm not me, like I'm not *that* Xander anymore."
"In a way you're not. You've been through a lot since I first met you. The contents that you put in there changed some. We all change and grow as we age. I'm not Ripper and you're not ten."
"Yeah, I'm not ten." He picked back up the bag to look at it, shifting it around to find something. "See this?" he said, pointing out a ribbon. "That's from a dress Will wore to a dance in tenth grade. It was a nice normal night for us, even if it wasn't for Buffy." He set the bag back down. "I just picked different memories to save I guess."
"We all do that." He sipped some of his water, putting the glass down. "Is there anything in there from this year?"
Xander had to think and look for a few minutes to find the answer. "Nope, nothing from the last year and a half. There's not been anything that I really wanted to add." He looked up, frowning. "I never realized I wasn't making happy memories anymore."
"You are, they're just of a different nature. They aren't associated with things, but with people and the quiet times that you've shared. There could be a locket in there, or a piece of cloth from Ampata's crypt, or even something from the other night, but you measure your memories by the good times and most of them are when you're relaxing and quiet."
"Makes sense." He shook his head. "No, it doesn't. I've had more happy times than that. My life hasn't revolved around fighting. It's had some fun moments and some scary ones but there should be something else in there." He looked over at his friend. "I'm just not sure what."
"Then you'll figure it out and add it to the bag." He tapped the table. "Eat. Don't make me..."
"I know, don't make you get a dog to clean up after me." He grinned, taking another bite. When his mouth was empty, he tipped his head to the side. "Did you bring a book for me to start with?"
"No, I forgot." He frowned, looking around the living room. "I might have something here, if not then you can take a long hot bath to relax and think while I'm gone." He turned back to see the scrunched up face. "You don't do that?"
"Neither was considered a high priority in my family."
"I think you'd be surprised how much you can figure out about yourself in the tub. Do that tonight. Just relax and listen to some music." He saw the pained look. "Your tapes are out there. That's the other thing that was in your boxes."
"But none of the sad music. I don't think I want to listen to the happy stuff." He shrugged. "Can I change the station on the radio?"
"As long as you put it back and none of the neighbors complain about the noise." He stood up, carrying his plate over. "Hurry up and eat so I can wash up."
"I can do that," Xander, said, mouth full. "Really," he added after swallowing.
"It's not fair to you to have to do both."
"But I'm a big boy and I can do that." He stood up, scraping the stuff off his plate. "You need to be there when they get there, so go and I'll do this." He shooed him out of the way, putting in his own plate and turning on the water. "Go, they need you. I can do dishes."
"If you're sure," he said, picking up his jacket. He got a nod so he patted the younger man on the back and headed for the door. "Relax tonight, Xander, and think." The door closed behind him.
Xander slumped against the sink, letting the happiness mask slip off him. "Okay, I can do that." He turned back to shut off the water, picking up the dish cloth to start on the first plate.
Oz looked up as Giles walked into the library, then looked back down when he saw he was alone. "How is he?" he asked quietly.
"Bathing right about now," the older man said. "I told him to relax tonight so he didn't have to keep the act up for a while." He pulled over his own book, sitting down at the otherwise empty table. "Where's everybody else?"
"Willow has a migraine from the day. Buffy's in the back pretending to be hurt because Will brushed her off when she started again. Wesley and Cordy are out looking for a book at the bookstore." He looked over at him. "Did you give him the bag?"
"Yes, then he told me what some of the things represented. He didn't notice your marble yet but mostly because he was looking for specific things to tell me about." He looked over his shoulder as the Slayer walked down the stairs. "Are you ready to start working tonight?"
"Yeah," she said, sitting down. "Just so long as I don't have to talk about him." She glanced at Oz. "Or have to listen to any more about it." She was pulled into the office by her hair, her former Watcher having had enough of her at the moment.
"Way to go, Giles," Oz muttered, turning back to his book.
Xander looked at the tub like it was a foreign object to him. He looked around the room, then at the shelves of stuff that he could put into the water. He decided to do something simple first, heading for the radio to change stations. He stopped at the oldies station, then turned back to look at the stuff. "What do I do with this?" he asked the bottles, looking at them. "Bubbles? Giles? Not my usual picture of him." He looked at the oils and salts. He picked up the one that said relaxing, sniffing it, then wrinkled his nose as he put it back. "Yeah, right." He looked at the small bottle in the corner, half empty, plain, with no label. He took it down to sniff, then grinned and walked over to start the water running, pouring some into the forming puddle.
Pretty soon he was relaxing, singing along with all the songs about love. He closed his eyes, leaning his head back, just relaxing like he'd been told to. His mind wandered back to his problems, focusing in on them, why he'd run away that night. All the unneeded and unwanted feelings, all the anti-gratitude, all the pain that had been flowing around him for so long, came back out to let him look at it. It was lesser now, more distant, not enough to send him crashing back over the edge into the pain but now he could see all around it. The side issues that had added to it, the main one hiding behind it that he didn't want to acknowledge again. All the little things that he didn't want to deal with in his life because it was too painful.
He chose the first one, letting it flow over him so he could think it through.
Giles walked into the apartment and shook his head at the radio still playing upstairs. He took off his tie, walking up toward the bathroom, stopping at the semi-open door. Xander was asleep, snoring softly in the scented water. He shook his head, knocking as he walked back into his bedroom.
The radio station was turned back and a robe covered body walked out. "Sorry," he muttered, heading down the stairs.
"I take it you liked the bath after all?" Giles said, turning to smile at him. He saw the light blush. "There's nothing wrong with enjoying some small pleasures. That's not a sin."
"I know, it was the getting caught stuff." He turned, running down the stairs. "I'll get it."
Giles frowned, walking down after him. "Who?" he asked, stopping at the door he hadn't heard knocked on. "Did you need something officer?"
"No, I needed to come give Mr. Harris something and take the car." He looked at the younger man. "Sorry, but your father said you stole it."
"No, it's my uncle's." He walked into the living room, grabbing his wallet and the keys. He pulled out the registration, handing it over. "See, not my father's." He heard a muttered response behind him, not turning to see what it was about. "I'm watching it while he's under a DUI thingy."
"Ah, well, let me call this in, son. Go put some clothes on before I get back." He walked away and Xander closed the door.
He turned to Giles. "What was that? The mumbly stuff?"
"I said that your father should rot for harming you again." He waved at the living room. "Go get dressed, I'll wait here." He looked out the small window at the officer in the car, apparently talking to someone with the way his lips were moving. He felt a body at his back so turned around. "He's talking to someone."
Xander nodded, opening the door and walking out. He met the officer next to his car. "Well?"
"We called your uncle and he's going to press charges against your father." He handed back the card and the keys. "I'm sorry."
"That's okay, I almost expected my father to be this bad and mean." He leaned against the car. "I just wish you guys could do something about him."
"We'll do what we can," he said, patting Xander's shoulder. "Go back inside and talk to him, he looks upset."
"That's because he's only met my father once." He waited until the cop was gone before walking back inside, shutting the door before looking at his friend. "They called my uncle and he'll deal with it."
"At least he didn't say anything about you taking the gun."
"Where did it go?"
"I gave it back to your father, I didn't see any other way since he was holding it." He touched the younger man's shoulder. "Would you like to talk about him, Xander? I know he's a large part of your pain."
"Yeah, he is," he admitted, rubbing over his face. "But this has just undone all the good work of the bath. I was just getting stuff figured out when I started to nap."
"When you're ready then." Giles turned, walking up the stairs to his room.
"I'll write it down to think and you can read that," he offered.
"If that makes you feel better but you'll have to actually speak about it sometime." He disappeared through the door.
Xander sat down in front of the couch, pulling over his notebook and a pen, thinking it out on the paper, staring at his little bag of memories. He noticed something funny in it, something new so picked it up to look at it, taking the new marble out to roll around in his hand while he thought, staring at the swirled colors while his mind worked, letting the swirls bring his mind to the same place the person that must have put it in there would if he were there.