Act Of Nature - Chapter 10
written by Jane Davitt & WesleysGirl





The day had dawned a little bit brighter than the few before it - not exactly sunny, but at least not raining. By now Xander had learned that 'not raining' was usually about the best you could hope for, so the fact that the familiar sound had been missing as he gradually swam back up to consciousness had sort of set the tone for his mood.

He'd slid an arm around Giles, not trying to wake him, just wanting to be that close, and when Giles had stirred and turned in his embrace and kissed him - well, that had been even better than what he'd hoped for. They'd spent almost an hour just talking - and sometimes not, sometimes just lying there together - and just when they'd started to get other ideas of the naughty touching variety, the sound of Mrs Stewart in the hallway outside the room had stirred them out of bed.

Xander hadn't even been upset by it. It was the day before Christmas, Giles was there, and as far as Xander was concerned, they had plenty of time.

A long leisurely breakfast, with eggs and toast and bacon, had been accompanied by a pot of coffee and the same kind of conversation he and Giles had been having on the phone for weeks. Mostly casual, occasionally more serious, but punctuated by some laughs. It felt unbelievably good. Xander didn't have any trouble thinking that he'd been happy to do it for the rest of his life.

Finally, a little bit before lunch time, they managed to get themselves together enough to set off on the walk to the village.

"It took weeks to get used to the whole not having to lock the house thing," Xander said, as he closed the door behind them.

"I can imagine," Giles said. "It's going to be quite a culture shock for you when you come back to London." He took a deep breath of the salt-laden, damp air and sighed happily. "I can smell the sea. Proper sea. Sunnydale might have had a beach, but it wasn't the same, somehow."

"Yeah, what with it actually being hot and sunny," Xander said, grinning to show Giles that he was mostly kidding. Everything was green here, the grass always long and thick and perfect like on a golf course - or okay, maybe a neglected golf course - and as they started down the road they could hear the sea birds calling overhead and the crunch of the rocks under their feet.

"It's not natural," Giles said, sounding very English as he strode along. "Hot and sunny should be restricted to three weeks a year at most, so it's properly appreciated." He gave Xander a sidelong glance and then confessed, "Well, possibly I miss the sun a little... but not at Christmas, though I doubt we'll get much seasonal snow here now the storm's moved on."

Three sheep scrambled out of their way, bleating frantically as they scattered in all directions. Giles laughed. "I wonder if they're the same ones who nearly got run over by John's cab when he was bringing me to the house. I don't know how he missed them, but I suppose you get used to it after a while."

"It's weird how they run away from people like we're scary, but they act like the car isn't even there," Xander agreed, thinking of the times John had been giving him a ride and they'd had to wait while the sheep decided to get out of the road. The ones that had just trotted off stopped and bent their heads to the ground again, munching on what he thought might be thistle. "I wouldn't know what to do on Christmas if there was snow," he admitted. "I think we only ever had it in Sunnydale that one time. Not that it wasn't festive."

"Festive? Mystical snow designed to keep Angel alive was festive?" Giles shook his head, grinning. "Not the word I'd have chosen myself. And if we get enough to make a snowman, I'll be surprised, so don't panic that you'll have to dig us out of a drift."

"It's not like I'd mind being snowed in with you," Xander said, feeling kind of shy all of a sudden. He glanced at Giles quickly before looking back in the direction they were walking.

A hand on his shoulder brought him to a stop. Giles was smiling at him as if he'd just had an early Christmas present. "If I could arrange that, I would," he said. "I can't think of anything I'd like better than it being just the two of us... but even without the snow I'm looking forward to the rest of the holiday." The road was empty; even the sheep seemed to have wandered away. Giles stepped in close enough that he could kiss Xander briefly, with lips cooled by the wintry air, and said softly, "Especially if I can persuade you to stay awake a little longer tonight."

Being young and able to get an erection in about three seconds came in handy a lot less often than one might think, and this happened to be yet another one of those times. "Considering I don't have any plans to work for six straight hours today, I think I can probably manage to stay awake at least until you get into bed this time. Once you're there it'll be up to you to keep me occupied." He reached out to rub his palm over Giles' slightly scratchy jaw. "And since no one's supposed to come around tomorrow, we could always pretend we're snowed in."

He was aware of how close together they were standing, and of how really good Giles' eyes looked behind his glasses, and how much he really wanted to kiss Giles and keep kissing him until it got dark, or someone came along and threw rocks at them, or... something.

And hey, look at that. Thinking about the whole rock-throwing thing seemed to be at least a partial cure for an untimely erection.

You learned something new every day.

Giles shivered and somehow Xander knew it wasn't from the cold, which made him wonder if Giles was dealing with the same problem he was - which made him want to offer to help, but he knew how a truck could appear out of nowhere, and the island was flat enough that anyone in that small white house half a mile away would probably get a great view if he tried.

"Well, if I get a moment, I'll give some thought as to what I can do to you that will keep you up," Giles said, keeping his face straight for about two seconds longer than Xander managed.

He snickered behind his hand and nudged Giles' shoulder with his own. "Come on, get moving. Don't you know standing outside in Scotland is like an open invitation for rain?"

"I wasn't aware it needed one," Giles replied, setting off again. "It's more like a gate crasher. Speaking of water; tell me there's a pub in the village? London beer isn't much of an improvement on American, and I've been looking forward to a decent pint."

Xander nodded. "Not an actual pub, but there's a restaurant at the hotel with a bar. Good food, too. I was thinking we could have some lunch while we're there, what with it being your last chance to both not cook and not have to eat my cooking until the day after tomorrow." He figured he wouldn't mention that it was the same bar where he'd gotten so very, very drunk with John the night they'd almost gotten together.

"Fine." Giles turned his head to look out at the sea and then asked, "I don't imagine there're all that many hotels on the island, so would this be the one that you used to go to on a Friday night with the work crew?"

Damn. He should have made a list of all the things he'd told Giles, because trust someone like Giles to remember every little thing he'd mentioned. "Yeah - it's pretty much the only place to go if you don't want to drink at home alone." Xander heard how that sounded and hurried on past it. "The hotel's closed over the winter - until March, I think - but the bar and the restaurant are open because it's where everyone hangs out. I sort of get the impression that it's a lot more formal during the tourist season."

"Xander -" Giles sounded as if he was going to say something that would take them right back to that night, do not pass go, do not collect... but just as Xander was starting to feel a flush creeping over his face, he finished his sentence by nodding at a bird circling high over their heads. "I should have brought my binoculars. I think it's a black-throated diver though."

Wondering if he was supposed to ask what else it would be, but not figuring he'd know the difference anyway, Xander said, "You have binoculars? Why Giles, how very James Bond of you. Are they those high tech ones with infrared?" He had to be being totally obvious in not wanting to talk about John, and he wasn't even sure if avoiding the topic was the right thing to do.

"Just the regular sort, sadly lacking in anything but the ability to magnify," Giles said, a little dryly. "Xander, I'm not entirely certain what's troubling you, but if you've just realized that the bar's likely to be full of people you know, and wishing we were going somewhere else, we can do. Or just shop and eat back at the house." He stretched out a hand as if he was going to give Xander's arm a reassuring pat, clearly thought better of it, and let it drop back. "Sorry."

"The bar is never full - at least not at this time of year, chances are good I'll know everyone there, and it doesn't have anything to do with me not wanting... whatever it is you're thinking. For people to know about us, or whatever." Xander tried to remember if he'd forgotten anything. "I don't want to go anywhere else. This is, you know... where I always go." He wasn't sure that would be enough to clue Giles in on the topic he didn't exactly want to mention directly. "Oh. And don't be sorry."

Giles still looked a little concerned. "Xander, there's no need for anyone to know anything about us, other than the fact that I'm your friend and employer. None of their business. I'm not telling you to lie, but you're going to be here for a while finishing the renovations, and I'd rather not have your job made difficult by gossip." He glanced around at Xander. "Though after yesterday morning's wake up call, perhaps it's too late for that?"

He shrugged a little bit and watched as a bigger rock skittered along in front of his foot. "I don't know. I sort of get the impression Mrs Stewart doesn't talk about the people she works for. But then she knows about John. Um, I mean, not about me and John. Not that there's a me and John to know about." He was babbling again. Great.

"Xander!" Giles sounded exasperated now, though still with enough love in there that Xander didn't feel like cringing, the way he used to way back in school, when Giles got mad at him. "I get it. You and John used to drink together in the hotel, there's every chance he'll be there now, and you think it's going to be awkward. Well? Did I miss anything?"

And of course that thought - that John might be there - hadn't even occurred to Xander, which just made him feel stupid. He made himself keep walking, hunching his shoulders a little bit. "Okay," he said, like he was admitting that he killed puppies in his spare time, "maybe I'm a little freaked out." He quickly added, "But not because we might see John there. More because that's where I was - where I got drunk - the night he and I... you know. And then there's the whole you being there, and me being there, and I didn't want you to feel weird about it... which obviously you wouldn't have if you didn't know, and you wouldn't have known if I hadn't opened my big mouth." He glanced at Giles hopefully. "This would be where you do me a really big favor by telling me to shut up."

Giles made a sound that reminded Xander of Mrs Stewart when she got worked up over something he'd done, or not done, or done wrong, and shook his head. "No. This is where you do me a favor by telling me when something like this is on your mind, instead of letting me think up explanations that just make things worse." He shook his head, a smile beginning to curve his lips. "Look on the bright side though; at least now, when I unerringly choose the seat John was in that night, I'll know why you turn pale with shock."

Xander smiled back, relieved that Giles wasn't mad. "Well it's not like we did anything at the bar," he said, trying to joke a little bit. "Other than get drunk, and I'm not planning to do that today."

"So where did you - no. Forget I asked," Giles said, looking as if he'd give anything to have not asked that question. "It doesn't matter." He gave Xander a rueful smile. "I think getting freaked out is catching, and it's not even in my vocabulary. I'm trying not to think of you with John in any number of places around the house right now."

He wondered if maybe he should take a lesson from before and not say anything, but this might actually make Giles feel better. "It wasn't in the house," he offered. "If, you know, that helps."

"I can't believe I'm admitting it, but it does." Giles gave him a despairing glance. "Can we talk about something else? Tell me in great detail about your plans to improve the central heating system in the house, or something equally fascinating."

"Sure. Yeah." Xander rubbed the back of his neck as they turned a gentle curve in the road, then pulled his collar a little bit higher. "Nothing wrong with the central heating. It's more the insulation that's an issue, but I've got someone coming out the second week in January to blow some in. See, it doesn't make sense to do it until the electrical work is finished, because the insulation makes it harder to deal with the extra wiring, so it's one of those things where it really does matter which order you do stuff in. Actually that's the case with a lot of construction and renovation, which is why you can get so thrown off schedule when something's delayed." There was a bird eyeing them from the branch of a nearby tree, and he figured he might as well take advantage of that to try to get Giles talking. "What's that one?" he asked, gesturing at it.

"Hmm?" Giles stared at the bird for a moment and then watched it fly off. "Oh... a kittiwake, I think. Fairly common. Speaking of wildlife, we must go down to the beach behind the house sometime and see if we can spot any seals; have you ever seen any?"

Xander told himself, very firmly, that he wasn't going to get all weird about every place he'd been with John - not even if the beach near the house was where they'd... almost... "Seals?" he said, secretly impressed with how normal his own voice sounded. "Yeah, a couple of times. Usually in the water though."

"The cold water," Giles said with a shiver, glancing at the sea, which was a chilly green today, reflecting the clouds scudding overhead in the brisk wind. "I don't think the Slayers we send here will be doing much swimming somehow."

They had reached the outskirts of the village and were walking past small houses in grey or white painted stone. "Want to shop first or eat first?" said Giles, looking around curiously.

"Shop first, if that's okay," Xander said, pointing toward the low building that housed the only decent sized store on the island, unless you wanted to count the one that was part of the Abbey.

Inside, the general store wasn't any bigger than a convenience store would have been back in California, but the selection wasn't bad. It didn't carry anything except non-perishable food - and Xander figured that was one of the reasons the restaurant at the hotel did such good business, at this time of year anyway. He and Giles strolled down the first aisle, which was mostly touristy-type gift items like knitted sweaters and jewelry, then paused at the end as Xander picked up a can of cocoa powder.

"This could come in handy," he said. "You know, what with pretending we're snowed in and all."

Giles smiled at him, reaching past him for a packet of Jaffa Cakes. "It doesn't come with the marshmallows in over here, does it? Was that a terrible shock?"

Xander looked at the back of the can. "I don't think this kind even comes with sugar. This is serious cooking we're talking about here." There was a recipe though - a little more complicated than 'just add boiling water,' but still not too hard. He could deal.

"I'll hold your hand through the complicated bits," Giles said, "but you can wash the saucepan afterwards." He glanced around the shelves. "I brought a Christmas pudding with me, though you'll probably hate it. Can you think of anything else we need for dinner tomorrow?"

"What is with that whole Christmas pudding thing anyway?" Xander asked, distracted by a glass jar filled with weird brown lumpy things in what might have been syrup. "Is it just one of those traditions? Like fruitcake?" He looked up at Giles. "Wait, maybe they're the same thing."

"Not exactly, but perhaps you have to grow up here to be able to cope with that much dried fruit in one place." Giles reached out and tapped the jar. "Chestnuts. Again, very traditional, though we used to roast them, then burn our fingers trying to peel them." He smiled at Xander. "Do you feel as if you're a long, long way from home? Is there anything traditional you want to do tomorrow? I noticed you didn't decorate or put up a tree yet, but we don't have to bother as it's just the two of us."

Xander set the chestnuts - if Giles was even telling him the truth about what they were - back on the shelf. "I thought about a tree, but... I don't know. I mean, we could still get one if you want to. It's not like cutting down one little tree would be that much work, I just..." He shrugged, not even sure why he didn't care about having one. Maybe it was that being here, so far away from everything he'd ever known, actually felt safe, and he wasn't too anxious to recreate the traditional Harris Christmas if he didn't have to.

"Seems a shame to cut one down. And the needles get everywhere." Giles sounded comfortably indifferent and Xander relaxed. Then Giles lowered his voice slightly, though the background music blasting out carols was loud enough that he really didn't need to bother, and added, "And I draw the line at mistletoe, as that implies there's a special place to kiss you, when I plan on kissing you in all sorts of places."

Giles shouldn't be able to get him hard just by looking at him in a meaningful way and trying not to grin. It wasn't fair.

On the other hand, it definitely held a lot of promise as far as the bucking of traditional Harris Christmases went, and Xander was all for that.

Sadly, he'd also totally lost his train of thought. "What are we looking for again?"

Giles did grin then, but it softened to a smile. "I can't think of anything else I need," he said, making it plain he wasn't talking about self-indulgent festive goodies. "Unless -" He looked a little flustered suddenly, and Xander wondered why he was blushing when he wasn't the one standing there thinking about which bits of him were going to get kissed where in the hopefully near future. "Xander, I'm not saying we'll need them, but I didn't think to bring any, uh, supplies, not expecting, I mean, not wanting to assume, and it occurred to me that - unless you have some on hand? Otherwise - oh bloody hell, stop grinning."

Flustered was, quite possibly, the best look ever on Giles. It made his eyes look really soft, and he got these little worry lines around them that Xander wanted to smooth away with his fingertips, and... well, there was just something about Giles looking so vulnerable that made Xander's heart melt. "It's okay," he said, tempted to tease Giles but thinking that with his luck karma would come back and bite him on the ass if he did. "We're covered." He considered the wording there and grinned wider in a self-deprecating kind of way. "In both the metaphorical and literal senses."

He was glad he'd been kind because Giles gave him a look of whole-hearted gratitude and admiration that melted into a distant, speculative stare, as though he was revising plans now that he knew Xander had been a hopeful Boy Scout. "Neatly phrased, Xander. Good. Well, if we're done here, shall we get some lunch?"

After a brief argument about who was going to pay, which Xander finally let Giles do with the understanding that he was going to be the one who paid for lunch, they walked the quarter mile to the hotel. The wind was starting to pick up again, and it was bringing a collection of suspicious looking grey clouds with it that Xander didn't like the look of, but he reminded himself that all they had to do was walk back to Traighshee House and they were home free. Pretend snowed in, even.

They swept into the hotel with the wind at their backs, Xander putting his free hand on Giles' arm for a few seconds to guide him in the direction of the small restaurant.

As he'd expected, it wasn't full, though there were people at a few of the tables. No sign of John, or anyone he knew well enough to do more than nod at, which made things simple. He steered Giles to a table by the window, so they could look out at the bay and watch the white-tipped waves as they curled and crashed against the rocks.

Giles picked up a menu and scanned it. "Anything you recommend?"

"Pretty much everything I've had is good." Xander looked quickly at his own menu. "The Angus fillet - that Glenmorangie sauce is amazing. And the venison casserole." He looked up at Giles, feeling ignorant. "I don't even know what you like."

Giles didn't even look up from his menu. "Yes, you do," he said. "In fact, you're an authority on the subject." He put the menu down and gave Xander a direct look. "The fillet sounds delicious."

You'd think Xander would be used to directness, what with Cordelia and Anya, but for some reason when Giles was looking at him like that, he had a hard time figuring out what to say. Or thinking at all, actually. "Uh-huh," he managed to get out, then he realized that there was someone standing at his elbow, and turned his head to see one of the two regular waitresses.

"Glad to see you've weathered the storm all right," she said, smiling at him. "Can I start you two off with a pint?"

"Do you have any 80 shilling ale?" Giles asked. "I remembering trying that some years back and liking it."

"In a bottle, aye; will that do?"

Giles nodded. "That's fine, thanks."

"Make it two?" Xander wasn't really in the mood for a beer, but he didn't figure one would hurt.

The waitress nodded. "Specials are on the board," she said, indicating the little chalkboard on the wall. "Only two today because of the holiday. I'll be right back with your drinks."

Xander shifted the bag of stuff they'd bought so that it was under the table and out of the way, then grinned at Giles.

"This place seems nice," Giles said, "even if they go in for decorating with animals as much as the person who did Traighshee."
 
He nodded at the far wall which was wallpapered in a deep red and decorated with antlers and some large fish mounted in a glass case.

"At least we can change stuff around at the house," Xander said. He hadn't given much thought to decorating, figuring that whatever he liked would end up being stuff that the Slayers who wound up staying there permanently - well, not permanently, but more permanently than him - couldn't stand. "But yeah, I don't know about the fish watching you eat your dinner thing. I mean, what if you were having fish? It's a little weird."

"It is," Giles agreed, "but if you promise not to laugh, what really used to upset me as a child were the restaurants where you chose which lobster you wanted from a tank, and it was whisked away to be boiled alive." He grimaced. "I've chopped demons limb from limb without a quiver, fished and hunted, so it's totally illogical to be bothered by that, I know."

"Nah, I get that. I mean - they're all helpless in a tank. It's not the same as a demon that -" Xander broke off as the waitress came over to their table with their bottles of beer and two glasses on a tray. "... was in that movie," he finished lamely.

"Are you ready to order?" the waitress asked, setting the second glass down and tucking the tray under her arm.

He'd forgotten about food. "Oh. Um..." Xander glanced at Giles quickly, hoping Giles would actually know what he wanted and give him a few more seconds to think.

"I think I'll go with the steak," Giles said, after a glance at the specials. "Medium rare, with potatoes, please."

He gave the waitress a friendly smile and began to pour the beer, tilting the glass so that the head built up slowly, ending up as a thick, creamy layer on the top of the reddish-brown liquid. It looked as if it was something he'd done often enough that he could make it look easy. Xander was more used to beer you drank from the bottle, and he wondered if Giles would pour his for him, or if he should have a go and risk it overflowing. Either way he'd end up looking stupid.

Oh geez, he was supposed to be ordering his lunch. "Um... the venison casserole?" He handed over the menu. "Thanks."
Once the waitress had gone away again, Xander said, "You're supposed to stop me when I do stuff like that."

Giles took an appreciative sip of his beer and then tilted his head slightly, looking confused. "There's so much that puzzles me about that sentence that I don't know where to begin. Help me out by telling me what you think you did wrong." He took another, longer drink from his beer and raised an enquiring eyebrow.

"Talk about demons in front of waitresses," Xander said, gesturing in the direction she'd gone. He picked up his own beer, looked from the bottle to the glass and back again, then just took a sip directly from the bottle.

"Well, I did it first," Giles pointed out. "And I was talking about rending them limb from limb, so I'm the one who should have got a stern stare and a swift kick on the ankle, not you."
 
"You were done talking before she got close enough to the table to hear," Xander said stubbornly.

"And you covered it up perfectly well, not to mention the fact that people hear what they want to, so she would have translated it into something innocuous in her head anyway." Giles shrugged. "I don't see why you're being so hard on yourself about it, but consider yourself forgiven." Xander felt a gentle tap against his leg and jumped. Giles smiled a little wickedly. "And kicked, if that makes you feel better," he added.

"Gee, thanks," Xander said dryly, taking another sip of beer. "Hey, you know, this stuff is pretty good."

"Comes with having centuries to get it right, I suppose," Giles said as the waitress appeared with their food, fragrant steam curling up from the laden plates.

Even though they'd had what Xander considered a decent sized breakfast and it wasn't much past noon, they both reached for their plates pretty eagerly. It wasn't until he'd had at least half a dozen bites of his rich gravy-thick casserole that Xander gestured at Giles' food. "You like?"

"I certainly do," Giles said, "though the walk was supposed to get me fit, not build up an appetite." He sighed. "I hadn't appreciated how much benefit I got from training with Buffy until I stopped. There's a gym at the London office, but it's always full of Slayers, and I find that slightly intimidating to say the least." He grinned, looking a little embarrassed. "Though after years of being called, ‘Giles' at best, and ‘G-man' at worst, ‘sir' is a refreshing change, especially when they get all wide eyed when they say it." He speared a baby carrot on his fork and said wistfully, clearly trying hard to keep a straight face, "None of you ever used to stare at me worshipfully. Total lack of respect. Shocking, really...."

Xander was aware that he was probably staring at Giles kind of worshipfully right that very minute. "You can train with me if you want," he offered, dropping his gaze back down to his plate and taking another bite of venison and pastry. "But seriously, I don't think you should worry about it. I mean... you look good to me." Better than good, and he felt his cheeks flush.

"I do? Really?" Giles looked as if he didn't believe it, but he was definitely pleased, Xander could tell, and suddenly he stopped feeling anything but in a hurry to get home. "I'm still bruised just from holding onto the punch bag you were hitting," Giles said, sounding as if he was making an effort to change the subject. "Possibly we could train in the same room, but I think I'd find you too... distracting." He rolled his eyes. "I suppose that's better than adorable, but feel free to tell me to stop going on about the effect you have on me."

"Why would I want to do that?" Xander asked. "Besides, if I'm remembering right, the last time this happened you said I might need to tickle you to make you stop, and I'm thinking you really don't want me to do that here."

"I really don't," Giles said. "I'm too full to defend myself for one thing." He pushed his plate away with a sigh. "That was delicious. Well worth the walk in." He glanced around the room. "We seem to be about the last people here. Did you want dessert, or coffee? Or shall we get the bill?"

Xander looked out the window at the now grey sky. "I say let's get out of here before we get totally rained on during the walk back," he said, nodding at the waitress across the room to indicate that he wanted the check. At the same time, someone familiar walked into the dining room from the bar beyond it. John spotted them right away and smiled a little bit, but hesitated like he wasn't sure he wouldn't be interrupting, and Xander didn't want to wave him over if the whole thing was going to be awkward and if it would make Giles uncomfortable, and...

"You just froze," Giles said, without turning his head, or altering his expression. Xander was pretty certain Giles couldn't see John from where he was, but Watchers must get training in looking around corners, because he said quietly, "If John came in, and it wouldn't bother you, by all means ask him to join us."

"Thanks," Xander said simply, and made a little motion with his head, a 'come on over' kind of thing, and John came across the room toward them. "Hey."

"Hello, Xander. Mr -" John paused, a look passing between him and Giles, then said, "Giles. How are things at the house?"

Xander took the bill from the waitress, who came up and smiled at them without saying anything before disappearing again, glanced at it, and took out his wallet. "Good. Well, you know, the roof didn't blow off or anything in the storm, although from how it's looking like rain out there I guess it could always surprise us." He put some cash inside the small leather folder and set it down on the table.

"And how are you liking the island?" John asked Giles.

"Very much," said Giles. "Though I imagine I'm seeing a different side to it than the summer visitors do. I'd like to come back some day." He stood up, stepping away from the table, and said, "I think the restaurant seems to be closing, but if the bar's still open, would you take a drink with us before we go?" Xander couldn't hear anything in his voice but a casual friendliness, but he had a feeling that there was a whole silent conversation going on over his head.

"Actually there are some things that I need to tend to, but I appreciate the offer." John glanced at Xander, but for the most part his attention was on Giles. "And in any case, I wouldn't want to intrude."

Xander really wasn't sure if it was a good idea or not, but he didn't like the thought of John feeling unwelcome. "You wouldn't be intruding," he said.

"No," Giles said, and he made it sound convincing without making too much of it. "You wouldn't be, John, but I understand if you're busy. Another time, perhaps?" He paused and then added, "I really would like to buy you a drink before I leave."

John nodded. "I'd like that."

Xander snagged their bag from under the table and stood up too, stepping sideways to move in closer to Giles and telling himself it had nothing to do with the thought of Giles and John drinking together. He did feel like he should say something to John - to thank him, or something - but he had no idea what. Which seemed to be his problem a lot of the time, actually. "Thanks," he blurted out. "I mean... well, you know. Thanks. For everything."

He got a slow smile and an understanding look. John always did seem to understand Xander, no matter how drunk, rambling or just plain stuck for words he got, which was handy at times like this. "You're welcome, Xander." John glanced between them both, as if he was checking that they weren't in need of any more help from him, and said, "You'd best hurry if you want to stay dry. Rain'll be here soon. I'll wish you a Happy Christmas, then." He held out his hand to Giles, who shook it, and then turned to Xander, hesitating a little before gripping his shoulder for a moment and then patting his arm. "You'll do," he murmured, turning away.

And Xander was still stuck in not knowing what to say mode, so he just moved a little bit closer to Giles again, until their sleeves were touching. He waited until John had left the room, then glanced at Giles. "Home?" he asked.

"If you think we're done here," Giles said, his tone a little gentler than usual. He turned around and stared out of the window. "We're going to get wet, aren't we?" He sounded resigned to it rather than regretful.

"Probably. But then again, think about it this way," Xander said, as they started for the hotel's foyer, "once we get back, we don't have to leave the house again for at least two days." They stepped out the front door, and it was raining and windy and all the things it had been off and on - and a heck of a lot more 'on' - since he'd arrived in Scotland.

For once, Xander didn't care.

Read: Chapter 11