Disclaimer: None of the characters herein are mine. They belong to Joss, Mutant Enemy and whoever else they belong to. Not me. Also, I'm not makin' any money here, cuz that'd be dumb, and would open me up for all kinds of lawsuits.

Summary: Xander comes back from his summer trip exactly the same as he always was. Only not.

A/N: AU from S4. Anya and Riley will show up eventually, although Riley only because some basta -erm, a friend convinced me to. I've stolen from lines from lots of episodes all over, both before and after season 4. And sometimes even given them to characters who didn't say them. Please don't kill me for it.

Pairings: B/X, W/O. . . others

Feedback: Yes, Please!!!

She sat alone on a couch in the back of the Bronze, sipping her drink and moping at what she felt was a complete lack of a social life. She was so wrapped up in staring at her drink that she didn't notice as a male figure stealthily moved out of the shadows, slowly approaching her from behind. As she brought her drink back to her lips again, a pair of hands quickly slipped over her eyes, and a raspy voice said, "Guess who, Slayer."

Acting on instinct, Buffy Summers whipped around and backhanded her unknown assailant in the face, causing him to fall quickly to the floor with no small amount of force.

"Geez, Buff. Way to welcome a guy home," he said.

"Ohmygosh, Xander!" she said, rushing over to where he lay on the floor. "Don't do that!" she yelled, hitting lightly on the arm.

"Okay, okay, I get it," he said, standing up. "No sneaking up on the Chosen One."

Buffy pulled him into a quick hug, and they walked back to the couch she'd been sitting on.

"When did you get back into town? How was your trip? Tell me everything!" she said.

"Pretty much now, fun and eventful, and 'no, that would take way too much time.' Besides, I'm still recovering from that savage beating I just received," he said, putting on his best wounded puppy face.

"Well, that's what you get for sneaking up on poor defenseless women like that," she stated simply.

Xander merely raised his eyebrows at her.

"Okay, so maybe not so defenseless. But you should know better than to sneak up on me like that! And what was with the voice, you sounded like. . . some. . . really old, smoker guy."

"Some really old smoker guy? Way to be one with the adjectives, Buff," he joked.

"Well, it's late, and I'm tired, and. . . and since when do you use the word 'adjectives' like an English major?" she asked.

Slipping back into the raspy voice, and giving his best evil grin, Xander replied, "You'll find I'm just full of surprises."

"And there you go with the voice again."

"Well, I had to do something to while away the hours on the road. Once I got past Oxnard, Uncle Rory's radio cut out, and I was lacking in the funds department, so I played around with scary voices that I could use to make nightly patrols just that much more fun. You like?"

"Whatever makes you happy," she said, smiling.

"Well, good," he said, relaxing into the couch a little more. "So, where's the rest of the gang?"

"Umm. . . Willow and Oz are doing. . . Willow and Oz things, and Giles is probably asleep by now, and I am here being Miss Single Sunnydale."

"Miss Single Sunnydale, huh? No guys have checked in at the Summers motel?"

"That better not be implying something about my dating habits."

"Ah. . . no. Not at all. I was merely enquiring as to the nature of your social life while attempting to fit as much of my foot in my mouth as is humanly possible."

"Oh. Well that's okay then. And to answer your question, no. No guys have checked in. They just drive right on past, ignoring the 'Vacancy' sign, and head towards a nicer place to stay," she said.

"Well they must not know what they're missing," he said, flashing one of his trademark goofy grins. "So, what's the what for the night?"

"Actually, I was about to pack it in and go back to the dorms. There's not much happening here. Still the remnants of the annual summer lull in vamp activity."

"And a big 'woohoo' was heard. The last thing I need right now is evil undead. I have enough to deal with, going back to the oh-so-fun place that I call home," he said sarcastically.

"You ok, Xand?" Buffy asked, a note of worry in her voice.

"Yeah, just not looking forward to going back there. Dad's gone all summer without yelling at me, so I'll get to listen to his rants for a while before he passes out. Hey, maybe he's already passed out! Ooh, happy thought!" He glanced down, and noticed the concerned look on his friend's face. "Ahh, don't worry about me, Buffster. Nothing I haven't dealt with before."

Though his last comment didn't seem to make her any happier, she accepted it for what it was.

"Well. . . wanna give me a ride back to campus? I could use the company," she said. "And who knows? Maybe Willow will be there, and you can say hi to her."

"I would love nothing more than escorting you to your humble abode, Miss Summers," Xander said, standing and extending his hand to help Buffy off the couch.

Taking his hand, Buffy smiled and said, "Thank you, kind gentleman."

She looped her arm into his and together they walked out of the Bronze.

* * * * *

Buffy unlocked the door to the room she shared with Willow and poked her head in.

"Hello?" she called out. There was no answer. "Darn. No Wills. Oh well. You wanna come in for a few, check out the new Summers/Rosenberg pad?"

"Sure thing, Buff," Xander said. "How could I pass up on spending time in the room of my two favorite women in all the world?"

"I don't know," she said. "How could you?"

". . . I think that's kinda the point. I can't."

"Right," she said, opening the door fully, and stepping inside. "Well come on in."

Xander followed Buffy into the room and looked around.

"Damn Buff. This is a nice place. Huge, for freshman housing, or so I assume from the movies I've seen." he said. "How'd you guys get this room?"

"I don't know," she said, sitting down on her bed. "Cosmic karma payin' us back for saving the world so many times? We have kinda cornered the market on averted apocalypses."

"That must be it. . ." Xander said, skeptically.

"Well, either that, or Willow hacked into the housing department and got us one of the best rooms on campus?"

"Cosmic karma?"

"It's what we tell those not in the know. Although, we tell them it's because our high school blew up, not because we save the world a lot. So, really, what'd you do on your trip?"

"Ohhh, man. I don't wanna get into that tonight. I need sleep. What time is it?"

"Umm. . . It's 1:30."

"What's Will doin' out at 1:30 in the morning on a. . . what day is this?" Xander asked, sitting on Willow's bed.


"What's Will doing out at 1:30 in the morning on a Friday?"

"Well, technically Saturday, I suppose."

"So, what's she doing out at 1:30 in the morning on a Saturday?

"Her boyfriend?"

"Oh man," said Xander, rubbing his hands on his face, and stretching out on Willow's bed. "I so didn't need to hear that."

"Do I detect a twinge of jealousy, Mr. Harris?"

"No," he said, matter-of-factly. "You don't. I just really don't need to think about my best friend since pre-school like that. Okay, yeah, so there was the Fluke, so obviously, I already have. But, it's different."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, I mean, yeah. Oz is a great guy. But, she's my Willow, you know? And I feel a sort of. . . older brother need to glare menacingly at any guy who looks at her wrong, and threaten them with grievous bodily harm."

"Grievous bodily harm?" she asked.

Xander nodded. "But I really can't do that with Oz, so I feel. . ."

"Impotent?" Buffy suggested, jokingly.

"I was going for useless," Xander said, leaning up and glaring at his friend.

"Oh. Well, you're not useless, but when it comes to Will and Oz, you're pretty much gonna have to deal."

"Thanks, Buff," Xander said, yawning. "That's the sympathy I know and love."

Getting up, Xander said, "I guess I better get going, if I wanna sleep in my own fold-out couch in a wet basement tonight."

"Pity quest much?" she joked.

"Not really," Xander said. "But after three months on the road staying in motels, which, okay, some of them were fairly sketchy, but still, that rat- hole isn't something I'm looking forward to."

"If you hate it that much, why not just sleep here tonight? I'm sure Will won't care if you take her bed, and you can wait to face your room with a good night of sleep behind you."

"Wow. That's some choice, huh? Stay here in this palatial room with a gorgeous woman and a soft bed, or go home to my creaky, thin mattress and see what new smells I can find."

"Palatial?" she asked, choosing to ignore the other key word in that sentence.

"Like I said, full of surprises. I learned a lot of stuff on my trip, all of which I promise to share with you tomorrow. As for your offer. . . while I would love to sleep here, I think it would be best if I didn't give dear ol' Dad another day to work up his yelling scheme."

"You sure?"

Xander nodded. "Yeah. It's really not that bad. I'm just worn out."

"Okay," Buffy said, getting up to give her friend a hug.

Pulling Buffy in close to him, Xander said, "I missed you guys."

'Mmm, Buffy hugs. Good stuff,' Xander thought.

"Awww," said Buffy, smiling. "We missed you too. Now scooch. I need to sleep, too."

"Night Buff."

"Night Xan," she said, closing the door behind him after he left.

* * * * *

The car died about two blocks away from his house, so, making sure he had a cross and a stake in his pocket, Xander grabbed his bags and walked the last bit to his house.

Xander went around to the back of his house, not wanting to wake his parents. He found the back door unlocked, and took the stairs down to his room in the basement, pulling the door shut behind him and turning the lock.

Throwing his bags down as he turned on a light, Xander pulled off his shirt and pants, and began to rummage through one of his bags for the gym shorts and ratty t-shirt he slept in. He heard some creaking from the floor above.

"Guess Dad didn't pass out yet," he muttered, as he continued to look for his sleepwear.

* * * * *

"Harold? Harold! Harold Mitchell, wake up this instant!"

"What is it, Jean?" asked a sleepy Harold.

"I think I heard somebody downstairs!" she whispered urgently.

"Jean, there's nobody downstairs," he said wearily, knowing his efforts were futile.

"Well, go check anyway!" she said.

Harold sighed. "Yeah, okay."

Getting up from his bed, Harold pulled on his robe and slippers, and walked down the stairs, yawning. Upon reaching the kitchen, he noticed a light on in the basement.

'I didn't leave that light on,' he thought, quickly waking up. Harold looked around for a weapon. His eyes latched onto a carving knife lying on top of the kitchen counter. Picking it up, he approached the basement door.

Harold slowly opened the door, and looked down into the basement. The door creaked a little, and a male voice said, "It's just me, go back to sleep."

Harold slowly crept down the stairs, holding the knife close. The stairs creaked as he moved down, and he saw the well-muscled form of a young man pulling on a white t-shirt.

"I said it's just me," the man said, walking towards the couch.

"And just who the hell are you?" Harold asked.

The young man whirled around, a look of shock on his face.

* * * * *

Xander spun quickly, to see the source of this unknown intruder in his house wielding a very large, scary knife.

"Whoa," he said. "There's no need to go knifing anybody."

"Who the hell are you?" the man asked again. "And why are you in my house?"

"Your house?" Xander asked. "I'm Alexander Harris. I've lived here my whole life."

The man looked at him suspiciously. "Harris?"

"Yuh huh. The guy whose parents house you're currently holding a big knife in?" he said, flashing his best 'don't kill me' grin.

The man looked at Xander again, apparently trying to figure out if he was telling the truth.

Xander's surprise was apparently enough to convince him.

Lowering the knife, he said "Well. Um, I don't quite know how to tell you this. My name is Harold Mitchell, and I live here with my wife, Jean."

"You. . . live here?" Xander asked, confused. "With my parents?"

"Um. . . no. They sort of. . . moved," Harold said, quickly becoming uncomfortable. "Maybe you want some coffee?" he asked, motioning upstairs.

Xander stood there in stunned silence for a minute, eyes wide and disbelieving. "Christ!" he yelled.

Then he looked at Harold. "Yeah. Coffee. Thanks."

Harold and Xander went upstairs, both shaking their heads the entire time.

* * * * *

Once Harold had put on a pot of coffee and woken Jean, the three of them sat around the kitchen table.

"So. . ." Xander started, "When did you move in here?"

"Um. About two months ago," said Harold. "Jean and I had just gotten married, and my company transferred me here."

"Uh huh. And you ended up in this house how, exactly?"

"Well, before we moved, we lived in Seattle, in a furnished apartment with a couple of roommates. So, we were looking for sort of the same deal here, only without the other people. So I checked with a realtor in town, and he said that he had exactly what I was looking for, and it had just gone on the market a day before. The sign hadn't even been put up yet."

"Apparently, um, your parents decided to move, and for the right price were willing to leave the house pretty much as it was. Furniture and everything. So Jean and I came down, took a look, and decided that, with a little work, the house would be fine. They packed up their clothes, a few pictures, and left. The Har. . . um, your parents, said that they wanted to leave everything about this town behind," Harold said, quietly.

"I guess that included me," Xander said, angrily. "Look, I'm sorry about this. They didn't tell me anything. I've been on the road for the past three months. My parents. . . well, they weren't exactly the Cleavers." He shook his head.

"Well, if you need a place to stay for a few days. . . " Harold offered.

"No, I wouldn't want to inconvenience you," Xander said. "I'm sure I can stay with one of my friends. Can I use your phone?"

"Of course you can, feel free to call whomever you want." Jean said.

As Xander walked to the phone in the living room, Jean found her hand shaking with anger.

"That poor boy," she said quietly, when Xander was out of hearing distance. "I can't believe his parents would just abandon him like that."

"I know," Harold replied. "Although, he didn't seem too surprised. Maybe he's just in shock."

Xander returned to the room. "Okay. One of my friends is going to come pick me up. I'm really sorry about this," he said. "I just. . ."

"Oh, don't worry about it, honey," Jean said. "If there's anything we can do. . ."

Xander smiled a melancholy smile. "Thanks. Um. . . look, I know they sold you this place as it is, but I was wondering. . . there are a few things, not many, but a few, that are really important to me."

Xander looked at them, questioningly.

"Of course," Harold said. "Feel free to take whatever of your stuff you want."

Xander nodded. "I'll just go downstairs and gather up my stuff. My friend should be here in a few minutes."

The Mitchell's nodded at him, and watched him go downstairs.

"What an astounding young man," Jean said. "His parents just left him without telling him a thing, and he was more concerned about hassling us than about his own problems."

"Kind of incredible, isn't it?" Harold said, more a statement than a question.

Harold and Jean looked at each other lovingly. "I only hope that we can do as well, when it's our time," Jean said.

"Did you guys happen to keep any of the pictures that were downstairs?" Xander asked, coming up from the basement.

"I think so," Jean said. "We haven't really thrown anything out yet. There's a couple of boxes in the closet, let me get them."

Jean got up and moved to the closet in the hall. When she returned, she set two boxes down on the table, and Xander started to look through them. When he was half way through the first box, his eyes lit up, and he grabbed a photograph that was still in its frame.

"Oh, thank God," he said, showing them the picture. "I don't know what I'd have done without this."

They looked at the picture. It showed Xander with his two best friends, Buffy and Willow, during a peaceful day at the park. They all looked happy.

Jean and Harold smiled when they saw it, and Xander continued to look through the box. Finding nothing, he started in on the second box, when somebody knocked at the door. Xander looked up.

"I'll get that," Harold said, "You keep looking. Find what you need."

Xander smiled at him, as Harold moved towards the front of the house. Xander kept looking through the box, and found two more pictures, one of himself, Willow, and their old friend Jesse who had died more than two years ago. The other showed the whole Scooby Gang, including even Angel and Cordelia.

Harold opened the front door, surprised to see an older man wearing tweed and glasses.

"Oh, um, I'm sorry, I seem to have the wrong house," the man said, in a British accent. "I was looking for Alexander Harris's house?"

"No, this is the right house," Harold said.

"Um. . . right," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Rupert Giles."

"Harold Mitchell," Harold said, taking Giles' hand. "I think you'd better come inside."

Confused, Giles walked into the house as Xander put the pictures in his bag.

"Xander?" he asked. "What's going on?"

Xander saw Giles and smiled. "Hey G-man. Surprise! My folks moved out over the summer."

Giles looked shocked, as Harold sat at the kitchen table with his wife.

"They did what?"

"They moved. Hasta la vista. So long, bye bye," Xander said, bitterly. "Um. . . do you think I could crash at your place for the night?"

Giles looked at the young man, with sadness in his eyes. "Of course, Xander," Giles said. "My spare room is yours as long as you need it."

"Thanks, Giles. These folks were nice enough to let me grab some of my old stuff," he said, smiling sadly. "I'm sorry again about this," Xander said, turning to Harold and Jean. "I'll be out of your hair in just a minute."

"Don't be silly," Jean said. "This wasn't your fault, and really, it's no inconvenience. I'm just sorry this had to happen."

"And don't be a stranger," Harold added. "We want to hear from you. Besides, you've still got some stuff left here. You'll have to come back to get that, won't you?"

Xander looked at the couple and nodded. "Thanks. I will, yeah." He picked up his bags and looked at Giles. "You ready?"

Giles nodded.

"Thanks again," Xander said to the Mitchell's, and he walked out the front door.

Giles stood in the living room for a moment.

"He'll be alright, won't he?" Jean asked him.

Giles smiled at her. "Xander is one of the strongest, most capable people it has ever been my pleasure to know," Giles said, smirking. "Although I'll deny I ever said that, if asked."

Jean smiled at him. "If there's anything we can do to help. . . "

"Of course," Giles said. "I'm sure he'll be back soon to collect his belongings." He looked towards the door. "Well, I'd best be on my way."

"Oh, one last thing," Giles said, as he left the house. "This town isn't the safest place on Earth. Just a friendly warning, I wouldn't make a habit of inviting anybody you don't know inside after dark."

* * * * *

Giles unlocked the door to his apartment and led Xander inside.

"The guest room is right down that hall," Giles said. "Help yourself to anything in the kitchen, although there's not much. I've yet to go shopping this week."

"Ahh, acting like a true gentleman of leisure, eh G-man?" Xander said.

Giles smiled. "Yes, well. . . this has been a rather relaxing summer. I must admit, not having to deal with that troll Snyder has seriously brightened my outlook on life."

Xander laughed at this. "Well. . . anyway. I'm pretty tired. Do you mind if I hit the hay?"

"Not at all. Make yourself at home."

"'Kay. And Giles?"


"Thanks. For. . ."

"Of course," Giles said, understanding the unspoken words. Xander was thanking him for more than just the room. "Goodnight, Xander."

"Night, Giles."

* * * * *

The next day, Xander woke up to the sunlight shining into Giles' guest room. Walking out to the living room, he saw Giles sitting at the table with a cup of tea, and reading a newspaper.

"Mornin' G-man," he said.

"Xander, how many times must I ask you not to call me that name?" Giles asked, repeating his old protest with a smile.

Xander smiled back at him.

"Did you sleep well?"

"Like a baby," Xander said. "No, better than that. Like a baby on tranquilizers. That's one comfy bed you got in there. Yourself?"

"I slept quite well, thank you. I have some bagels. Help yourself, if you wish."

"Thanks," Xander said, moving into the kitchen. "I'll start looking for my own place soon. Although, I suppose I should also look for a job," he said.

"Don't worry about it, Xander," Giles said. "You have a place here as long as you wish, there is no hurry."

"Thanks," Xander said, cutting a bagel and dropping it in the toaster. "So, what's the plan for today? Any big evil on the horizon that needs researching?"

"No, nothing like that," Giles said. "Although Buffy and all are coming over around noon, just to check in."

"Cool beans," Xander said, glancing at the clock on the oven. '11:34. Just enough time to eat and grab a quick shower,' he thought. When his bagel was ready, he sat down across from Giles, stole the sports section, and ate in silence. Quickly finishing the food, Xander cleared his plate.

"So. . . uh, is there a shower?"

"Oh, yes. You can use the bathroom right across the hall from you. The water pressure's a little low, but it should be adequate."

"Thanks," Xander said, moving towards the back of the apartment.

* * * * *

Buffy, Willow and Oz walked into Giles's home five minutes before noon.

"Hi Giles," Buffy said as she entered the apartment. "What's happening?"

Willow and Oz followed her in, holding hands, each waving with their free hand.

"I don't suppose you've ever heard of knocking?" Giles asked.

"Sure, I've heard of it," Buffy replied. "I just don't believe in it. Besides, if you had to invite me in, how would you have known I'm not a vampire?"

"You mean besides the fact that it's the middle of the day?" he asked

Buffy tilted her head to the side for a second, as if listening to something.

"Giles, who's in your shower?" she asked, heading to the back end of the apartment.

"Um, yes, well. . . "

The door to the bathroom opened, and Buffy watched as a nearly dry, half- naked and surprisingly fit Xander ran quickly from the bathroom and into Giles's spare room.

"Giles," Buffy said, "why is there a half-naked Xander in your home?"

Willow and Oz looked up at her, surprised, when she said this.

"Xander's back?" Willow asked.

"And half-naked?" Oz asked.

"Well, I do think that's better left for him to explain," Giles said. "Although, as to the last part, I imagine he just finished showering."

Oz nodded, as if this explained everything.

A minute later, Xander came out of the back room, dry and fully dressed in a dark blue t-shirt and a pair of cargo khaki's.

"Hey guys!" he said.

Willow jumped up off the couch and gave him a big hug.

"Do we hug?" Xander asked Oz.

Oz shook his head. "I think we're too manly."

"Xan, when did you get home? And why did you come see Giles before me?" Willow asked, sounding a little hurt.

"I came back last night," he said, "Didn't Buffy tell you?"

Willow rounded on Buffy. "You knew he was back?"

"Well. . . it was late, and besides, I only saw you five minutes before we got here, and there hasn't been much in the way of conversation. He snuck up on me at the Bronze, and I brought him by the room, cuz I knew you'd wanna see him, but you weren't there."

"Will, calm down. It's no big, really. Besides," he said, flashing a big grin, "I'm here now."

Willow smiled at him, and gave him another hug. "I missed you," she said.

"Missed you, too."

Then she slapped him on the chest, before rejoining Oz on the couch. "And what's with not telling me when you were coming home, you big goon?"

"Umm. . . I wanted to surprise everybody? Or, uh, I was running out of money, and couldn't spare the $0.25 for a phone call, cuz I needed it for gas?"

"Oh," Willow said. "Well fine. But see that it doesn't happen again, you hear me?"

"Yes, ma'am," Xander said, saluting her with a smile.

"So, why are you showering at Giles's, Xand?" Buffy asked.

"Ah, well, you see-" he coughed. "I'm kind of, well. . . homeless."

"What do you mean?" Willow asked.

Xander recounted the previous night's events, as everybody listened in horror.

"Oh, Xander, I'm so sorry," Willow said, getting up to give him another hug, which was quickly followed by a hug from Buffy as well.

Oz got up from his seat and jogged out to his van, leaving everybody wondering what he was doing. He came back into the apartment and tossed Xander a pack of Twinkies.

Xander smiled at him. "Thanks," he said.

"Well, it's not a hug, but it's the best I can do," said Oz.

"Yeah. So I called the G-man here, and he picked me up, and here I am. That's the long and short of it. It's probably for the best, anyway. I needed to get out of there."

Willow nodded. She was the only one who really knew how bad Xander's family life had been, though Buffy had an idea from what he had said the previous night.

"Come Monday morning, I'm going job hunting, and after that, well, we'll see about maybe gettin' me my own place," Xander said. "So, anything else interesting happen around here while I was gone?"

"No," said Buffy, "It was pretty much the same old Sunnyhell you know and hate. Oh, but about a month ago, I killed something in that new apartment complex that's going up, over by Chestnut? Man, those places are nice! Expensive, though. . . so probably not what you're looking for."

"And in any other room," Oz said, "the interesting part of that statement would not deal with real estate."

"So, Giles, any new evil we should know about?" Buffy asked. "Any new insanely powerful super-beings that need their butt kicked?"

"Ah, no, not as such. Everything seems fairly quiet on the mystical front, I'm happy to say. Just the normal vampire activity, which should start picking up again soon, if the past few years are any indication."

"So no research?" Buffy asked. Giles shook his head. "Darn, and here I was hoping for another apocalypse."

Taking a deep breath and steeling himself for what he had to say, Xander raised his hand. "Um, actually, I think I've got something we should look into. But it's not evil, though."

"Oh?" said Giles, intrigued.

"Yeah, well, it'd probably just be better if I showed you," Xander said. "And that means we need to go somewhere things don't break quite so easy."

They all looked at him curiously.

"Well," he said, "it's a kind of a thing."


End Chapter 1