Giles hugged his friend and housemate. When he could feel the younger man start to get warm he stepped back, looking away from the light blush. "Sorry about that, I'm just glad that you're all right." He looked around the ruins of the school. "I suppose you'll be leaving soon." He coughed lightly when there was no answer, looking back at him to see those deep eyes focused on his face.
"Not for a few days. I've still got some stuff to get orderly." Xander moved a little closer. "I'll be back."
"Oh, I know that, it's just that things tend to be more ... more interesting when you're here." He blushed a little himself then pointed toward the apartment. "I should... should probably go." He nodded at himself. "Yes, I should go and you should go celebrate your victory." He turned around, walking away. "I feel like a bloody teen again," he muttered.
Xander turned, walking over to his friends. "He's going home." He sat down beside them, watching the emergency crews work on what remained of the school.
Xander bounced into the apartment to find his friend getting slowly drunk. He sat down on the couch, watching him from the corner of his eye. "I'll be back," he said softly. "I promise to come back to bug you some more." He shifted some, getting a little closer. "You okay? You're being that quiet guy again." He risked a glance, seeing the calm mask the older man wore. He went back to watching the small fire. "We okay?"
"Fine," Giles groaned, shifting to put his feet up. "Just wondering what's next." He looked at the younger man. "Do you know where you're going yet?" He finished off his glass of scotch, just holding it now for something to do with his hands.
"North, then East. I'm going to try the spinning method each morning." When he glanced over again, he saw the slightly confused look. "You spin around a few times then jump and turn then point." He grinned, just a little. "Not real scientific, but hey, I'm going to see stuff."
Giles smiled, turning to watch the fire again also. "I'll be here if you need me. Actually, I'm not sure what I'll be doing now but I'm sure I'll be here." He brought his feet down, starting to get up.
"I'll miss this," was whispered across the small space.
"We can do this again when you get back. You'll need time to find a new place."
"The paternal unit's counselor said it'd be best for him if I moved back, but with some changes and more freedom." His eyes dropped to the floor. "Something about amends. But I don't want to, I like this. The quiet and stuff."
"You'll do what you feel best," Giles said, getting up to sit next to the younger man. "I'll still be here, no matter what you decide." He lifted a hand to rub down the strong back but let it drop into his lap again without making contact. "Do what you think is right for you and I'll still be here." He stood up. "I'd best go to bed. The School Board has called an emergency meeting and I know I'll be asked why the books weren't in the building." He patted the dark hair as he passed, making his hand not linger too long. "Good night."
"Night." Xander turned to watch him walk up the stairs then went back to staring at the fire.
Giles looked at the box of stationary beside him on the small table, then at the car just disappearing around the corner. "He wouldn't have used it anyway," he told himself, closing the door. "He might give you a call now and again but he's not a letter writing sort." He walked into the kitchen, surveying the remains of the farewell breakfast. "He'll be fine," he told himself, picking up the dishes to wash them. "He's lived here his whole life and he's survived, he'll be able to save himself out there."
"But you'd still rather be there to do it for him," Oz said from the doorway.
At the first word, Giles spun around, dropping the plate in shock. They met at the mess, cleaning it up together. He pulled himself back together as he cleaned, pulling back out his usual calm facade. "What...Why are you here?" He stood up, walking the pieces to the trashcan.
Oz pulled out a letter. "He asked me to save you from empty house syndrome." He handed it over, then sat at the table. "And he wrote that out last night for me to give you." When he saw the still body go even more rigid, he helped the older man over to a chair and sat him down in it. "You need help now or later?"
"Could...could you just stay for a while?" He looked up to see the nod as he set the letter down. "I'll read it later." He continued to touch it, move it, until finally the fingerprinted blob of wax was lifted for him. He picked it up to look at the pages filled with dense writing, some of it crossed out. "You made him send the original?"
"All thousand pages of it," Oz said dryly. "It's an interesting look at how his mind works."
Giles read each word, laughing and smiling at some, ready to cry at others, but by the end he felt cherished and almost loved. He got up silently, heading to put it into the box he kept mementos in. He smoothed over the envelope as it sat inside before closing the box slowly, putting it back into his bedside table. When he got back downstairs, he was surprised to find Oz not only still here but doing the dishes for him. He patted the younger man's shoulder as he passed him, picking up the dishtowel to help.
"Dried eggs are gross."
"Very true," he said, smiling just a bit. "Thank you for that."
"The last draft was about four lines." He handed over a pot. "Want me to hide here today?"
"If you wouldn't mind," he sighed, relieved. "It's just so quiet without him." He put the dry pot away, turning back around to see the other two of his children/students walking in. "You missed him I'm afraid."
Buffy shook her head. "We came to see you, saw him last night." She handed over a simple piece of paper. "From girly-guy."
"Don't make fun of Wesley like that," Willow said. "I'm sure if he were at home he'd seem more manly."
"Not really," Giles muttered, holding it up to read it. "Well, it appears Faith was transported with him back to the Council." He refolded it, putting it into the trash. "She'll receive care over there."
"Did it say if they called another girl?"
"No." He patted Buffy's shoulder. "Even if they do, I doubt you'll meet up with her." He looked at Willow, who was fidgeting. "What?" he asked, very tired at the moment.
"She's not coming over here," she blurted out, then covered her mouth.
Oz groaned. "Will, did you hack them?" She nodded, just a little. "Good girl." He kissed the top of her head as he walked past her to put something up.
"I always knew you had a little Evil Willow in you," Buffy said. She received frowns from everyone. "I don't deserve frownies. I even talked to Xander last night and ...and he even talked back." She licked her lips at Willow's muttered comment about forcing him to. "But I was good. I apologized for real and everything." She looked at Giles. "Didn't he say it was all okay before he left?"
The older man thought for a second. "No, but we didn't talk about all of you at all. Actually, we didn't speak much." Oz patted him on the arm. "Why don't you all go have a picnic or something? A celebration of sorts?"
"Uh-huh, you're just desperate for aloneness." Buffy stood up. "I got to go deal with angry parents who are miffed because I trashed the school." She looked at Willow. "Wanna come help me explain?"
The redhead shook her head. "No thanks, my parents want to lunch with me in appreciation of my graduating." She looked at Oz, blushing a little. "Sorry, they said alone."
"No big, I'll help him clean then scout new cage sites." He waited until they were alone. "If you want me to be here to breathe, that is."
Giles smiled. "Please, the space needs filled with noise. It's gotten used to it." He looked around the kitchen then at the doorway. "Would you like to go read? There's nothing in here left to do." They walked out and he noticed a gaily-wrapped present sitting on his chair. "Did you bring that too?"
"Nope, was there when I came in." Oz pulled a book down off the shelf, sitting down to read it in the extra chair, avoiding even touching the couch. He looked up to see the older man still looking at it. "Open it?"
"No." He cleared his throat to get rid of the sudden squeak. "No, thank you." He picked it up and sat down in its place, looking at the dancing cows playing on the paper. He smiled, opening the simple paper card. "Play now, work later. Worked for me," he read. "Oh, Xander." He shook his head then carefully opened the paper, saving it to look at later. "Book of the month club?" he wondered out loud.
"He said you could start your own library, you just needed fun the reading material section. A few times really." He looked up and slightly raised an eyebrow. "Open it."
Giles opened the box then started to laugh. He pulled out the first book, a Dr. Seuss compilation. The next one harkened back to many nights spent arguing over the shows Xander used to watch, and make him watch with him - a book to explain Star Trek to him. Then came a few fantasy novels by authors he knew the group of teens favored for fun reading. At the bottom was one last book with a card on top of it. He looked at the title as he picked up the card to read. "Some light reading if you feel you absolutely can't live without paranormal stuff. Maybe to ease yourself into the other stuff." He smiled, putting it aside to pick up the book. "I'd heard this book was good." He looked up then held up the book so the younger man could see it. "Firefly by Anthony. It's about a creature that traps its victims by pheromones." Oz shook his head once then went back to his reading. Giles smiled as he set the box aside, settling down to explore his new books.
Xander grunted as he looked at the map then back up at the way he'd been pointing. "I'm not ready to go back yet," he told the offending paper. "I'll call him tonight, make sure he got the new books okay." He folded back up the map and walked around to get back in. He slipped in another tape before pulling onto the highway.
A little later, after lunch, he looked at the letter he'd written while he ate. He debated silently whether or not to send it, ending up with the send side.
"To your girlfriend?" the waitress asked as she poured him some more water.
"Nope, one of my best friends." He put some money down as he drank the water then got up to leave, dropping the letter into the mailbox as he went past it. He did his little spin/jump/point thing then headed in the opposite direction knowing that way was opposite from home.
Giles looked at his new apartment, smiling. It had a nice common area in front and was a little more cramped but it was fine for just him. He walked in and laid down on the couch, pulling up the afghan that his mother made for him, taking a deep sniff of the smell embedded there. He'd like this place too when he got back.
To his surprise, not even Xander's smell calmed him. He got up, deciding to check the mail. "Maybe another book will come," he told himself. He walked the seven blocks to the Post Office, feeling very at ease once he got there. He opened the little metal door, smiling at the notice that said he had a box. He took it and the envelope with cowboys shooting at trains out, smiling even more. He retrieved his box, waiting until he was outside to open it. He smiled at the selection, another book by Anthony, and headed home to read his letter.
Xander looked at car, grimacing. He kicked the fender, hopping around after hurting his foot. He looked up. "If I go back that way, will you let the car start?" He turned to see the smoke gone now. "Point taken, thank you!" he called, getting in and turning it around.
He made it all the way to Portland that day, stopping at a small motel for the night. At the first gunshot he got up and quickly left, not even wanting to take a chance after the trip he'd had so far.
Giles looked up at the person standing in his doorway, the scold about knocking instantly leaving his mind. He got up, pulling the younger man into his arms to hold tightly, having missed him terribly.
"You moved without telling me," Xander whispered against the firm shoulder. "You need to be whipped with licorice for that."
Giles pulled back, just enough to be able to look at him. "It had too many memories." He led him to the couch, watching as he sat down gingerly. "Why are you back so early?" he asked. He moved the book, sitting down very close to the younger man. "Did something happen?"
"Every time I pointed it was back here." Xander shifted to look at him. "I took the hint when the car kept overheating." He touched the older man's fingers. "Just as soon as I turned around, it quit."
Giles smiled. "It's always best to take those portents seriously." He saw the quick flash of pain as his friend moved again. "Did you hurt yourself?"
"Nah," he said, "the guy with the gun did. He got really upset when my car broke down right in front of where the cops were trying to close his drug and ho corner down." He grinned, just a little. "I only got a graze and he missed the car." His breath left him as he was pulled into a really tight hug. "Hey, I'm fine," he said, pulling back some but staying in the arms. "That was about three days before I figured things out in the middle of a desert I didn't plan on going through." He relaxed back into the hug. "This feels nice though."
Giles held him for a few more moments, just to comfort the poor guy of course, then pulled back. "Let me go run you a nice warm bath," he said, starting to get up, only to be pulled back down.
"I have to go back to the parents' house so they don't self-destruct and take the rest of the town with them." He looked into the deeper eyes. "Not my favorite choice but the family said it was my responsibility." He swallowed. "I'm supposed to start renting off them in a week." He shifted a little closer. "I don't want to but I have to."
"I'll still be here," Giles said gently. "No matter how bad it gets." He brushed his thumb over the strong jaw. "Come, let's get you into a nice warm bath." He stood up, holding out a hand. "What else did you see?"
"Not much. A really big ball of ear wax." He grinned at the shudder. "Gotcha." He ran into the bathroom before the hands wanting to tickle him could get him. When his water was ready, he stuck his head back out. "Want to do the talking thing again?" He took the soda with a grin and hurried into his bubbles so they could talk.
Xander walked up behind Oz silently, then rested his chin on the older teen's head. "You wouldn't believe the trouble I get into alone," he said. He was grabbed and pulled around by his friend. "Really strange stuff too." He grinned a little.
"Have fun?" Oz asked after letting him go from the hug. "Strange stuff?"
"Uh-huh. I was heading in the wrong direction so the car kept dying. Until I turned around, then it quit doing it." He picked up a peanut from the bowl on the table. "Figured that out in the middle of a desert I tried to get away from and three days after stalling in the middle of a police bust of a drug dealer-slash-pimp who shot at me." He stole another nut, cracking it. "Tried to get picked up by a serial killer. All sorts of good stuff." He ate it, looking at his friend.
Oz started to choke at the word 'shot' and he had almost fallen over by the words 'serial killer'. He pulled the younger man's head around to look him in the eyes and said one word, "Babysitter," very slowly.
"Nope, don't need one. It was my little guardian angel telling me to come back." He stole another nut. "How's your vacation been so far?"
"Boring." He looked at his bandmates, who all decided to leave. "We heard you were going to move back to your folks'."
"No choice. Rest of the family decided it was my duty to move in and keep them from self-destructing." He grimaced, picking up another nut to take out his frustration on. "Not what I wanted." He looked into the lighter eyes. "They'll leave me alone for the most part and I'll be a renter. And yeah, I have your and Giles' numbers if it gets too intense."
"Just as long as you still have them," Oz said, popping a piece of nut into his mouth, after prying it out of the tight fist.
"I'd hug you but everybody that's watching us would be jealous." He grinned. "Want to hear about my two-day job when the car broke down the third time? I got to be the lady that wore the fruit bowl hat." He wiggled his eyebrows. "Very funny picture too."
Oz shook his head, starting to laugh. "Xand, you never cease to amaze me." He patted the younger man's back. "After our set. Eat the nuts, Will's out of town and Buffy's out doing her thing." He was still shaking his head as he got up to go to the stage. "Only you," he muttered, walking away.
Xander made puppy eyes at the waitress. "Can I have a coke to wash these down? He said I could have them." She nodded, walking away. He ate another nut as Oz's guitar blasted out over the crowd.
Xander waited for Oz to quit laughing at the picture of him in drag to get serious. "Thanks for watching out for Giles for me. He needed somebody."
Oz laid a hand on the younger man's arm. "No big. I needed him just as much." He rubbed over the tense muscles, wising leaving out all he had done to keep the older man sane and happy. "You don't want him to know about all your adventures, right?"
"Yeah," Xander sighed, "I think he'd be a bit pissed at some of it. He knows about the graze, I sat funny and he caught me." He shifted some. "I like him. Like really like him but I'm not sure if I *like* him, ya know?" He saw the nod in the dark. "I'm not usually like that but he's sweet and nice and he likes me."
"A love between you two could be a complicated thing," Oz agreed.
"I know," Xander said, picking up the hand off his arm to play with it. "He could get into trouble and that rumor would start back up and stuff. I'm not sure if *it's* strong enough to go over all that."
"You have time," Oz reminded him, balling his hand up to stop the fingers brushing his palm. "Don't, we aren't like that with each other." The younger man flushed and withdrew his fingers. "Thanks, that was about to get intense." He leaned closer, kissing his cheek. "I like you, but I'm with Willow." The blush darkened.
"So," Xander said, grinning, "want to hear more about waitresses who decided I needed a mother figure or do you want to help me figure out why a serial killer that likes blondes came after me?"
Oz gave him a funny look but went with the subject change. "Waitresses, the other's a scary thought." He looked out windshield. "Did they get him?"
"Yup, as he was leaning over to kiss me. Whole bunches of police and bright lights, but only a local news crew. Thank you again," he said, looking up. He looked back at his friend. "My guardian angel lives on rooftops," he explained at the confused look.
"Good. If you'd been a born-again nut I'd never let you near Willow again." He coughed a little. "She had a run in with a few recently."
"Do I need to go find another psycho to get them?" He looked really serious but Oz started to laugh again. "This is me not joking here."
"No, she scared them off with some fake 'magic'." He calmed down. "Thanks, I needed that release."
"No big, it's kinda cool to see you laugh." He grinned. "There was this one waitress that told me she wanted to diaper and breastfeed me..."
Xander looked up from his bed as a redheaded body flew at him, making him 'oomph' and hug her tightly. "I'm guessing here, but either your trip sucked or he told you." She nodded, squeezing him harder. "That wasn't an answer," he noted, tickling her.
She squealed and rolled off him, much to the pleasure of the man on the stairs, who walked over to sit in the chair. "I only told her about the car stuff," Oz said as he crossed his hands behind his head.
"Oh, that's okay then." Xander pulled himself up until he was sitting and she was sitting at the foot of the bed. "What's up?"
"Please don't go back out," Willow said. She looked at her boyfriend, who nodded. "We missed you, it was no fun and boring here without you." She pouted. "You pulled all the scaries away."
Xander looked at Oz. "And you didn't tell her what?"
She scowled at them both. "I read news from other cities and watch Headline News. Which you made both of, I might add. Not your name but I knew it was you." She moved closer. "I should chain you to the van, on the inside because I'm being nice, and not let you go ever again."
"Then you'd never get make out time with Oz," he reminded her. "And I'm fine. My non-Hellmouth living guardian angel was just showing me I was going in the wrong direction." He patted the side of her face. "I won't go back roadtripping. 'Kay?" She nodded, a happy smile evident. "You're being easy to please today. What's up?"
She shrugged. "Not sure, just a good day." She looked at her boyfriend. "For a few more days."
"Oops, shared too much with the didn't-need-to-know-that guy." Xander got up, stepping toward Oz, hands held up. "Not my concern, his concern."
"I think she meant my cycle, not hers." Oz looked at her. "Having both of us snarly wouldn't be good."
Xander patted the older man's shoulder gently. "You can always hide here those days. I bet even Giles would let you hide there."
Willow pouted. "I'm not *that* bad guys. I hardly snarl at all. So there." She nodded, just once.
Oz looked up. "I think she has drive-lag. I'm going to go stick her in bed and come back." He got up, holding out a hand to her. "Come on, Will. Before you traumatize him forever."
"Take your time, I'm just doing want ads today." Xander lay back down on his bed, rolling to his side to look at the paper, falling into a nice nap after a few minutes. It was the body crawling in with him that woke him up, making him roll over to snuggle sleepily. He opened his eyes to look at him, then hopped backwards. "Anya! What are you doing?" he yelled. He looked at the stairs, seeing Oz turn that little corner. "Hey," he said, backing away and making her pout, of course.
The older man took up his former seat and position. "She followed me here, demanded that you keep her." He gave him an innocent little look, an almost exact copy of the younger man's own. "Who were you expecting?"
"That's not a here-and-now conversation. Anya, I need to talk to him. I'll see you later." He waited until she was gone to sigh and lay back down.
"He wouldn't just crawl in," Oz said softly lest a parent or girlfriend overhear.
"Wasn't just thinking about him," Xander admitted. "And I know that."
"I wouldn't cheat with you. I'd never hear the end of it."
Xander tossed a pillow at his friend. "I know, but she'd kill me first." He let a short laugh out. "I can imagine what she'd say I was possessed with."
"Succubus." He shrugged. "You'd make a cute one though."
"Wouldn't I have to be an Incubus 'cause I'm a guy?"
"Xand, this is the Hellmouth, plenty of people are changed by it." He saw the embarrassed look away. "Yeah, an Incubus then," he said, trying to cover it up.
"Thanks." Xander bent over the side of the bed, getting a present. "Here," he said, tossing it over. "My travel journal. Got all the good things in it." He sat back up.
"Private thoughts," Oz said, very serious. "You sure?"
"Yeah, I made that one for you. I picked out a few more books for Giles and got a bunch of funny cards for the girls." He moved to roll onto his side. "Just the interesting stuff."
"Yeah, I'd not tell me some of the stuff she found either." He raised an eyebrow. "No comment on the police picking on you?"
"Not many, most of them were nice when they found out they'd made a mistake." He made a face. "Still have to find a job."
"Pizza place on first, hot dog place, and a few wait jobs." He opened the Disney paper, shaking his head at the Goofy/Pluto couplings on the book. "Naughty you." He looked over the top to see the grin. "Was that the other odd job on the way?"
"I carted a 'star'," he did the finger quotes, "around to a few stores. Was fun looking at all the porn stuff. Matter of fact, she's gonna send me some of her stuff 'cause I treated her like a person." Oz made an 'ah'ing noise and gave a small sideways nod. "I'll share if you ask nicely though."
"Sure, could use some new stuff. Last month, Will took a black marker to one of my magazines and colored clothes on them." He opened it to flip through a few pages. "Dear Oz's diary?"
"Hey, I had to call it something." He moved closer. "I found the letters you guys wrote during ... that time. I answered yours in there." He touched the suddenly bouncy foot. "Me too. I have those same thoughts." The foot stopped moving. "And now I'm man enough to say it." He sat back a little. "I also respect you both so you're safe."
"I know," he said, flipping a page. "Other than the bad stuff, how was your trip?"
"Lonely," he said after a second's pause. "No one to talk to most of the time. I think that sort of thing needs to be shared." The book came down a little and the eyes popped over it. "I got some thinking done and one of those things I found was that I'm not happy when I'm alone. I get strange, I wander. I even talk to doughnuts."
Oz shook his head, going back to his reading. "We'll either keep you around or away from pastry then." He dodged the other pillow without looking. "I'm comfortable, thanks anyway."
Xander groaned, lying back on the bed. "I get serious and you make jokes?"
"Cosmic balance." He closed the book. "Let me read and we can talk if we need to."
"Just read all three entries before you come to pummel me." He looked at his friend. "Really."
"I did, I just want some time to think." He scooted forward then stood up. "You going to the research party?" He got a nod. "I'll see you then." Oz walked up the stairs, leaving him with his thoughts.
Xander rushed into Giles' apartment, slamming the door shut, his jacket covering something. "We got to talk," he told the oldest man. When it wasn't automatic, he grabbed his arm. "Like now, in private." He headed back to the bedroom, laying the stuff he'd had hidden on the bed, flipping everything to the right spot.
"I thought you had seen one of those," Giles said dryly. He was stopped when one of the magazines was handed to him, open to show a very familiar young woman. One who was in the next room eating popcorn. He kicked the door shut before he came over to look at the other things on the bed. "Oh, hell," he said, sitting down, looking back at the magazine he still held. "This must have been while she was gone." He cleared his throat, looking up. "How did you get this?"
Xander sat on the floor in front of him. "I needed some extra money for a car repair, two new tires, so I carted around the redheaded woman in there to a few stores where her newest film was coming out and since I treated her like a person, she sent me a promo pack." He looked over his shoulder at the person opening the door. "Oz, man, get in and shut it. You've got to see this."
The redhead closed the door behind him and walked over to look at the stuff on the bed, picking up a video. "Thought that was her." He looked at the two slack jawed men. "This one's a best seller where a friend of mine works." He pushed them aside to sit down. "So, what?"
Giles rubbed over his forehead then dropped the magazine when he realized he still held it. He took off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "I should talk to her." He kept himself from looking at any of the items. "Not a word of this if you please. I think this would set the new town gossip record."
Oz held up one. "Can I make a copy? Can't find it used." Xander nodded, still stunned. "Giles, leave us alone for a minute."
"No, I believe I know what's wrong." He sat on the floor, facing the youngest man. "I know it's shocking to see a friend in one of those tapes but she did that a long time ago. She's a grown woman now and as her friends it's our responsibility to not treat her any differently."
"Which one did you watch?" Oz asked.
"The fairytale princess one." He looked up. "And I liked it."
"I'd hope so. That one was pretty tasty." He picked up the video to look over the back again. "Very."
"I think we should send Willow home," Giles said. "I'll take Buffy aside and have a talk with her." He stood up, looking at the magazine that he'd thrown down earlier. "I wonder how much more she can shock me," he said softly, walking out and closing the door.
Oz leaned closer to Xander. "I have one with multiple women, her virgin performance," he whispered.
"Copy," Xander ground out. He looked into the other man's eyes. "I'll share if you will." He grinned. "And we might even be able to sneak a few out of his stash too."
"Only if you ask politely," Giles said, walking back in. He turned to close and lock the door. "She's most upset," he explained as he checked it, "and the television is in the cabinet." He picked back up the magazine. "She said to have fun with it," he justified. He looked down at the picture, wetting his lips a little. "Very well done." He showed it to them.
"Yeah," Xander said, nodding, "but page fifty was better." He was grinning still as he grabbed it to flip to the page then moved closer so he could see it. "We need really buttery popcorn," he said. Oz nodded, walking out to get some.
When he came back, they all happily settled down to participate in the male bonding ritual of porn.