"Ow! Damn it! Since when do you lock your door?" Xander hopped up and down, shaking his hand briskly to release some of the sting from pummeling Giles's front door. "And what took you so long to answer? Hiding the groupies? Why is it so loud in here? Disturb the peace much?"
Giles leaned an arm against the doorjamb and sighed. "I locked my door, Xander, because it was pointed out to me recently that I have good reason to do so. And you made far more noise with your early morning siege than I have with a few albums. I do have a doorbell, you know."
"Oh," Xander shouted, albeit a bit unnecessarily, over the music. "Well, how was I supposed to know that going all Gilesapalooza was part of your complete breakfast? I knocked like normal people, but you didn’t answer and I got worried. Geez, what are those speakers turned up to? Eleven? Okay, I guess I could have waited until the song was over."
Giles waved Xander into the apartment and then stepped past him to turn the stereo down. "Well, I suppose it’s a rather good thing you didn’t – it’s the Grateful Dead; live album. You could have been out there for hours."
Xander looked at the gleeful grin Giles was giving him and blinked. "Oookay. Let’s start over: I am Xander, unemployed high school graduate and easily freaked out. You are Giles, tea and books guy and not usually the source of freakiness. Okay, remember before you became Keith Richards when you used to be a librarian?"
"From Hugh Hefner to Keith Richards. Well, at least I’m getting younger," Giles murmured.
Xander’s puzzled expression was waved off with a muttered, "Buffy," and then Giles continued, "Yes, let’s do start over. My euphonious preferences aside, why are you here so early in the day?"
"Oh." Xander shrugged. "Willow said she and Oz were gonna meet us here later to go over some more Gem of Amarra research. I figured I’d get here early and finish shelving those books we started the other day."
Giles lifted a brow. "Oh? Well, that’s, uh, that’s surprisingly industrious of you."
Xander shrugged his jacket off and grinned. "Hey, I’ve already gotten more work done this morning than most people do in a whole day." He sighed. "All right, I lay in bed for an extra hour this morning and appreciated how sparkly my new disco ball makes my basement-slash-bedroom look. But that was appreciation of hard work, so same difference. Where do you want me to start?"
Giles glanced around and then said, "I still need to sort most of the books, but if you’ll grab those boxes of albums I brought from my office, the album rack is just there against the wall." He looked back at Xander with a frown. "No donuts?"
Xander knelt down and started emptying the first box of records. "Yeah, well, the campus is closer to the donut shop, so that gets to be Willow's job from now on. I’m living clean and pastry free. Well, you know, until she gets here with them."
Xander looked up at Giles and gave him a thoughtful once over. "Although you look like you’re going for the pastry-free lifestyle. You’re giving off more of a Gatorade/Power Bar vibe," he said with a nod toward Giles’s sweatshirt, running shoes and damp t-shirt.
"Yes, well," Giles said drily, "I actually have done more this morning than most people do in a day." He sat down at his desk and began sorting papers and shortly the only sounds in the room were the scratch of his pen against paper and Xander’s slightly-off key humming to "Sugar Magnolia."
Xander finished sorting the first box of albums into the rack and leaned back into a stretch, popping his back. He looked at Giles’s bent head thoughtfully, all of the reasons he’d been so eager to get here early this morning before anyone else springing to his tongue and then being gulped back down.
He distracted himself by bouncing to his feet and reaching for the second box of records. The few albums balanced on top tilted dangerously, and Xander made a mad grab and what he was sure was a funny dance in place before Giles’s arm shot out.
"Oh, bloody. . .Xander!" Giles sputtered. He caught the edge of one record sleeve before it dropped to the floor. He slid the LP carefully back into the protective inner sleeve and then sighed. Heavily. "Xander, this is an original 1971 release. This album is older than you are, arguably in better condition and at this present moment, at any rate, far more valuable."
"Ouch," Xander muttered. He shifted the box of records, taking better care to keep them neatly stacked. He glanced at The Who album in Giles’ hands. "Huh. That looks like a bunch of guys peeing on a rock."
Giles looked up, a slight grin curving his lips. "Erm, actually according to the photographer, not all of the band mates were able to, ah, produce that effect. So much of it is just splashed rainwater to create the impression."
"And here I thought you Brits were so good at taking the piss. Another illusion shattered." Xander shook his head in feigned disappointment.
Giles graced him with an eyeroll before crossing the room to place the record on the turntable. He spared a glance at Xander and his progress before he settled in again behind his desk.
Xander turned back to the album rack and cleared his throat. "So, whatcha been up to lately? Other than sweating to the oldies, that is?" His back was turned, but he didn’t need to see the glare to feel it. "I mean, ah, what’s that you’re working on? More Gem stuff?"
"Hmm?" Giles looked down at the paper before him, a distant look in his eyes. "Well, no. Although I’ve found reference to the Gem being located here in Sunnydale, the sources are fairly cryptic as to its actual location. I suppose we’ll begin with the cemeteries and see what we can, well, what we can dig up. Once Willow and Oz arrive, at any rate. No, I’m actually taking a bit of break and writing a letter."
"A letter?" Xander lifted his head. "Like 'my baby wrote me a letter' writing a letter?" He grinned at the look Giles’s gave him. "What? That's 70s. My mom's K-Tel collection does not lie. Huh. Letter writing. Old school. I don't think I've written a letter since I wrote my Grandma in ninth grade to thank her, oh so sincerely, for the bright pink Fonzie t-shirt she sent me. In 1994. Think about that one for a minute. You'll get it."
Xander looked back at the records in his hands. "Okay, where does Two Thousand One Hundred and Twelve fit into the alphabet? And you didn’t answer my question."
Giles, instead, glanced at the album in question. "You haven’t given me a moment to answer and that’s read as Twenty-One Twelve and it goes with the Rs, under Rush." His pen stilled. "Xander, are you shelving each record alphabetically?"
Xander swallowed. "No?"
Xander could swear that Giles hid a grin, but it was quickly covered with a coughed, "Alphabetically by artist please. And to which question did you want an answer? What have I been doing with my time? Or why I am writing a letter?"
Xander shrugged and began peeling albums back off of the rack. "Either. Both. Just, you know. Talk. Fill the quiet. Not that the music isn’t amazing, I mean…"
Giles set his pen down with a wry smile. "I suppose a case could be made that 'My Generation' hasn’t aged well as a rebellious anthem. In answer to your question, I’ve been filling my time with…activity. Running. Research. Organizing. And I am writing to a friend of mine from England. Olivia."
Xander grinned. "Wow. You have friends besides that freaky Ethan guy? Impressive."
"Xander…" Giles began slowly.
"Kidding! Kidding!" Xander said, his hands lifted in defense. "So. Olivia. A friend. Who’s a girl. A friend with girl-like qualities. Wait - was she one of those freaky bacchanals-and-orgies friends, too?"
Xander hadn’t thought it was possible for Giles to look more English, but apparently it was. If Xander had to pick an SAT word for Giles's expression, he’d call it aghast. Bordering on agog.
"Bacchanals and…and…and orgies?" Giles sputtered. "What…never mind. Never tell me. No, Xander, Olivia is a friend from my tenure at The British Museum. She was a graduate student and worked as a docent when I was a curator there."
"Heh. Docent." Xander shrugged at the head tilt that earned him. "It’s a funny word. Graduate student, huh? That’s like, what, more college than regular college? Wow. So I guess she’s not all old and stuff…?"
"No," Giles said succinctly. "She’s not ‘all old and stuff.’ She’s barely 30."
"Cradle robber!" Xander gasped in appreciation. "So, what, you guys are gonna hang out, sniff some books, brew some tea and….oh my, God, HUGH HEFNER!"
Giles settled back in the chair and crossed his arms before answering. "Yes, Xander, Olivia was my guest when Buffy made that oh, so pithy comparison. Are we done here?"
Xander swallowed hard and turned his attention briefly back to Giles's albums. "No. I’m sorry Giles, it’s just kind of...okay, try to imagine how we feel seeing you all...all..." He waved at Giles. "With the t-shirts and the toned arms, and uh, not that, but the loud rock’n’roll and the jogging and the grinning and the...the, well my mind’s saying 'booty calls' but I so don’t want to call it that."
"Please don’t," Giles sighed. "Xander, I..." He gave Xander a long look and then rubbed his forehead wearily. "I know that you and Buffy, and even Willow, have me neatly sorted into a box labeled 'Librarian,' but I did have a life before all of this, before Sunnydale. I’m human, and thanks to Buffy and my own good luck, not yet dead. I realize that a large part of the reason you all see me in such a narrow fashion is due to my own choices in that matter. I distanced myself from you all, for several reasons, most importantly to protect myself and Buffy in the event that something should..."
Xander’s expression darkened at the thought of the many somethings that had and could still happen to Buffy. He met Giles’s gaze with an expression of implicit understanding.
"But for other reasons, as well," Giles continued. "Although the age difference you perceive is not quite as...Mesozoic as you all try to make it, it is there. I couldn’t allow myself as a Watcher, as a teacher, to blur those lines. Any…affection I felt, any attraction..." his voice became hurried, "anything beyond that of myself as, I suppose mentor will do as well as anything, was out of the question. And now, here we are: each of you adults, discovering your own interests and passions and boggling merrily at mine."
Giles cleared his throat. "I’m planning to invite Olivia again for a brief visit. Because I want the company, the companionship. Because I miss discussions that don’t hinge around," he gestured toward the books on his desk, "vampire cults and mythical jewelry. Because I miss England, and English voices," he said with a nod toward the stereo. "Because, in short, Xander, if I’m honest with myself, and for some strange reason this morning, honest with you, I’m lonely, and I don’t expect you to--"
"I had sex with Anya."
Xander’s abrupt interjection was punctuated by the sound of the door hitting the far wall. Oz and Willow stood in the doorway, a still life in donuts and laptops.
Giles's expression was somewhere miles beyond mere aghast. "I’m going to shower," he said abruptly and headed up the stairs.
"You had sex with Anya?" Willow gaped. "And Giles needs the shower?" She turned to Oz. "What did we just walk in on?"
Oz cocked his head toward the stereo. "Pretty sure it’s Pete Townsend. But I can’t listen to The Who without reliving that Toyota commercial sellout, so I might not be in the best frame of mind to judge this scenario."
Several hours and possibly several deep album cuts later…
There were very few pluses to living on the Hellmouth, Xander thought, but one thing you could always count on was monster research overriding all other conversation. The fact that Xander’s contribution to the research had been turning on the television made him feel oddly proud. Simple, but effective.
They had made their way back Giles’s for the debriefing after Buffy’s showdown with Spike, which had earned Spike a one-way ticket out of Sunnydale, Buffy a shiny new piece of man jewelry and Xander a spanking set of bruised ribs.
Xander had tuned out most of the post-almost-slayage discussion due to the chorus of pain his ribs were blaring out, but he did pick up on the fact that Buffy was giving the Gem of Even-More-Vampire-Super-Powers to Angel. Xander was making himself okay with that, not only because Willow had asked him to, but because Giles had gone along with the idea. He figured if anyone had a right to weigh in on Buffy’s Angel decision, it was Giles.
Giles had worn those little concern lines he got around his eyes...and geez, when had Xander started noticing those...but they had faded quickly and Giles hadn’t made any objections, so Xander figured he could be okay with going along with the plan, too. Not that his failure to do so would have resulted in anything more than an irritated Buffy, but hey, marvel at the maturity.
Xander watched as Giles waved Buffy, Willow and Oz out the door, on their way back to campus. He took a brief moment to appreciate a further respite from an "I had sex with Anya" conversation with Willow, the first being preempted by the discovery of Spike’s tunneling, the second by Willow’s concern over the "Vampire Smash!" state of Xander’s ribs after his run-in with Spike.
Xander didn’t move from his seat on the floor as he watched Giles place a record on the stereo and adjust the volume before heading into the kitchen to rinse out their glasses. He figured since Willow had given him a pass on the Anya discussion and he’d given Buffy one on the Angel decision, he could give Giles a break, too, and head out before either of them felt the need to bring up how Giles's "lonely" confession related to Xander’s sex life.
Giles appeared in the doorway from the kitchen just as Xander was slowly and painfully dragging himself to his feet.
"Hey," he said, not looking in Giles's direction as he gave him a wave. "I’ll clear out of here, too, and I may not be up to coming over again for a while to finish the shelving, but I saw an ad the other day in the back of Science Fiction World about these energy bars you can buy by the case and sell, and that should put my financial worries on definite hold--"
"We should tape those ribs," Giles interrupted.
"Wha--?" Oh. His bruised ribs. Which hurt to touch and when he breathed, even the look Giles was giving them was making him ache. Them ache. Yes, good, he thought, taping, wrapping -- activity.
Giles would tape his ribs and there would be minimal talking, no more than "Here?" and "Ouch!" and then he would be out the door. All of his weird thoughts about over-sharing and how they had been sidelined by Giles's own over-sharing would be forgotten. Except that Giles was back with the bandages now and he seemed to be waiting for something. Which was, of course, for Xander to take his shirt off, so that the taping could commence.
Xander unzipped his fleece vest and carefully eased it off. His shirt was accompanied by a muffled grunt of pain as he pulled it over his head. Then Giles's hands were there, cool and steady, against the purpled bruising on his side and Xander forced himself to relax to keep from jerking reflexively away from even the lightest of touches.
"You slept with Anya? That was rather sudden, wasn’t it?"
Giles's voice was as cool as his hands, but Xander jerked just the same, his eyes wide.
"Oh, er, sorry," Giles said, sounding anything but, "I thought perhaps the pain would provide a distraction from what is no doubt a bit of embarrassment over that inexplicable declaration."
"So many words," Xander murmured. "You couldn’t just say 'what the hell?' and leave it at that? Trust me, 'what the hell' covers oh, so many things."
"All right, then, Xander," Giles said as he began to slowly and carefully wind the tape around Xander’s midsection, his hand firm on Xander’s lower back to provide stability. "What the hell?"
Xander fixed his gaze on the large wall clock to his right and began addressing it quietly, spelling out Anya’s impromptu visit to his basement with a minimum of detail – and although he did feel the need to include the Cran-Apple, he glossed over the black condoms – ending with her post-sex declaration that she was over him and her sudden anger at his acceptance of that.
"And then Anya found me today at the campus when I looking for Buffy. And how she found Buffy and Willow’s room when I’ve been there before and still got lost, I’ll never know. But she started in with something about how maybe she wasn’t over me, and I was in such a hurry with all the 'Spike!' and 'Gem!' and the irritation of Buffy not, you know, actually being in her room, that I blew Anya off. I told her I didn’t have time." He sighed. "I feel like a dick."
Giles was thoughtful as he began to ease the clips onto the bandages to hold them in place. "You accepted an offer of no-strings sex from an attractive young woman that you knew, but didn’t yet know well enough to compromise an established friendship. An attractive young woman, who if what you say is true, was standing naked in your bedroom when she made the offer? And something tells me you can’t imagine why she made the offer in the first place."
Xander stilled, his head too muddled with the confusion of Giles's hands on his bare skin and what sounded like it might have been an acknowledge of what Anya had seen in him. He floundered for a minute and then did what he did best. He deflected. "Yeah, pretty dickish of me, huh?"
Giles breathed a chuckle. "Oh, yes horribly so," he said lightly. "I’m afraid there will be no end to your opportunities to display, er, further dickishness. Congratulations, Xander, you took it like a man. Yet there’s no use regretting those things that can’t be changed; the thing is to decide if the regret you’re feeling now is worth taking advantage of such future opportunities."
Xander struggled his shirt back over his head. "Gah! You know what freaks me out the most about this? It was bad enough when I thought that I had been a jerk and then Anya shows up and I’m sure I’ve been a jerk, but now it’s out there for everyone!"
He eased down onto the couch. "Which, okay, is totally my fault, but God, why is it that every time I get laid, it’s time to round up the gang and talk about it? Is it because it’s only been an annual thing, so far? ‘Cause trust me – love to change that."
Giles settled onto the far end of the couch gave Xander a look that Xander wasn’t sure how to categorize. "Xander, hormones aside, why did you sleep with Anya? Was it anything beyond a lovely young woman and opportunity presenting itself?"
Xander stared at him mutely, that big clock behind him ticking louder than the sound of their breathing. He opened his mouth to answer, closed it, and then opened it again. "I was lonely. I mean, I wish it had been with somebody I was dating, or somebody I know or at least somebody I’ve had a conversation with that was more than, 'Evil men and their entrails!' you know?"
Xander looked down at his lap and voice steadied. "Because Willow has Oz and now Buffy’s Bronzing it up with that Parker guy, and," he waved a hand toward Giles's desk, "you’ve got mail-order companionship…oh, that sounded skeevier than I meant it to."
"Perhaps not quite so poorly stated," Giles said quietly, with a small wince at Xander’s chosen adjectives. "Olivia is also a lovely young woman, and one with whom I’ve had wonderfully challenging conversations, but the fact is that, while I do appreciate not having to converse about vampires and the like, it’s still an inescapable part of my life, and not one I’m sure she can fully understand. Perhaps I’m also taking advantage of opportunity, rather than opening myself up to possibility of someone who could be all of those things. Of course, the one time I did find that, it ended rather badly. And let’s just say that the places I’ve looked for it again haven’t always been the most, er, appropriate..."
Xander listened to Giles's voice trail off, and he felt the need to fill the sudden silence with something, but he wasn’t sure what. He thought he knew what Giles meant, at least from Giles's perspective. From his own, Xander would just once like to be the one doing the choosing, making the first move, rather than accepting what was dropped in his lap, or in Faith’s case, pounced in his lap. Maybe then it wouldn’t feel as if he were just going through the motions because he felt it was what he was supposed to do.
Maybe they both were doomed, and there was no chance for love on the Hellmouth when most of your life was too freaky to share, or the person you chose to share it with turned out to be even freakier than what had come before. As freaky as the fact that he was sitting here counting Giles's eyelashes, and that really wasn’t one of his typical avoidance strategies.
Xander lifted his head, glad for the sudden distraction as the record changed. "Hey, I know this one."
Giles looked perplexed, and then a bit surprised, as if Xander had figured out the answer to an important question. "You know...?"
Xander nodded. "This song. My mom used to play it a lot. It’s The Beatles, right?"
Giles lifted a brow. "Yes, George Harrison. I’m somewhat surprised, actually. With what little I know of your mother, I would have pegged her as Paul-girl." He smiled fondly at Xander’s confusion. "That reference, like so many of the things we’ve discussed tonight, is one you’ll get when you’re older."
Xander nodded. "I’ll just have to take your word on that, 'cause right now...not much makes sense. But you know that thing you said? About distancing yourself from us? You don’t have to, anymore." He took a deep breath. "And anything else I say is just going to sound dumb, right? I mean, I’m sitting here with 'Lonely is the Night' stuck in my head, and something tells me you don’t share my dad’s love of Billy Squier."
Giles grimaced and nodded his agreement as Xander got to his feet. "If you’re heading home," Giles said, "I think I’ll change and have a quick run. I’m afraid this much introspection is gearing me up for a long night of...well, trust me when I say it involves too much Scotch and too many previously unreleased B-sides."
"Okay," Xander nodded. "And thanks for..." Xander waved at his securely bandaged ribs. "I, uh, will be back over, at some point, to finish shelving. Some of those records don’t even have names printed on them, and well, I like a challenge."
"As do I," Giles said with a measured look, and Xander wasn’t even going to attempt to deconstruct that.
"Okay!" Xander said as he opened the door. "I’ll just leave you to your exercising and your," he cocked a finger at the stereo, "English voices."
"Xander?" Giles’ voice was soft through the half-closed door between them. "They don’t always have to be English."