This is my entry for the Spook Me Halloween Ficathon on LiveJournal. Of course I had to write about my Giles. (grin) I was supposed to write a spooky story using prompts they sent to me. My prompts were ghost, dinosaur, and the movie titles Corridors of Blood and The Creature Walks Among Us. I'm not sure if it's scary and I'm not sure I did it justice, but here's what I came up with. As a side note, the title actually means "a night at the museum" in Italian. It seemed an appropriate title, although a bit Ben Stiller, so I put it in a language that wasn't English so it would look classier. (g)

Title: Una Notte Al Museo
Author: Laura Sichrovsky
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rating: PG or FRT
Pairing: None
Warnings: None that I can think of unless museums scare you.

Season: Takes place in season three.

Summary: Giles has to recover a cursed object from the museum. He takes Xander with him and things don't go the
way he planned. Can they accomplish their mission and still get out alive?

Spoilers: None really.

Disclaimer: This is where I put the statement saying that I do not own Buffy, Giles (Heh! I wish!), Sunnydale, or anything relating
to the show. No one is paying me to do this and if you feel the sudden urge to send me gifts, you might want to talk
to someone about that. Joss Whedon owns all things Buffy and has not given me permission to use these characters
as I have so if you have problems with the story, please send the pretzel bombs to me, not him.

Author's Notes: This is my entry for the Spook Me Halloween Ficathon on LiveJournal. Of course I had to write about my Giles.
grin I was supposed to write a spooky story using prompts they sent to me. My prompts were ghost, dinosaur,
and the movie titles Corridors of Blood and The Creature Walks Among Us. I'm not sure if it's scary and I'm
not sure I did it justice, but here's what I came up with. As a side note, the title actually means "a night at the
museum" in Italian. It seemed an appropriate title, although a bit Ben Stiller, so I put it in Italian. :),Thanks
need to be given, and here is where they go. Thanks to Joss for creating characters so fun to watch and to borrow
for a bit. Thanks to Tony Head for making Giles so amazing. I tried to fight it, but he was just too remarkable
not to fall for. To Jessica and Jen for the betas and last minute help. I appreciate it! You guys are the best! To
Ann for everything. You inspire me, you keep me writing, and you make my ramblings make sense. I love you,
dear! To Samuel for the last minute beta and for understanding. You have no idea how much that means. Thanks
to my amazing husband for the beta and for not freaking about the men who live in my head. I love you so.

Una Notte Al Museo

"Remind me again why we're here," Xander said, his voice echoing through the stillness of the dark museum.

He looked around, noting the deepening shadows and picked up his pace, moving closer to Giles, who walked in front of him. The older man was a shadowy outline in the blackness. Xander once again nervously looked around, but the darkness in this area was almost complete. Up ahead he could see shapes illuminated by the sickly green light of an Exit sign.

Giles hadn't responded yet and Xander suppressed a shiver of unease. He wanted to say it was because the two of them were so alone in the empty, rambling museum, but "alone" wasn't a word he would use to describe how he felt; "watched" was a more accurate term.

Xander shook off his discomfort and walked even closer to Giles, who still hadn't said anything. Xander made a face and tried again.

"Giles?" When Xander was still ignored, he felt the first stirrings of anger. In a flash of irritation, he decided to get Giles's attention. "Hey, G-man!"

Okay, that came out a lot louder than he'd intended and man, did this place have an echo. He didn't remember that from his fifth grade fieldtrip. Giles had stopped dead, turning around to face him and while Xander couldn't see the older man's face, he was pretty sure he knew the expression on it.

It would be that fussy, angry look, the one Giles called "testy." His brow would be furrowed, his lips tightly pressed together, his eyes narrowed; all in all, a sure sign he was upset. Xander was momentarily tempted to turn on his flashlight just to see if he was right. Instead he decided to try an apology.

"Oops?" He'd meant to say more, but that was all that came out.

"Xander, please," Giles said, sounding exasperated. "We aren't supposed to be here. Let's not call attention to ourselves by shouting."

"I wouldn't have been shouting if you'd answered me the first time," Xander said defensively. "Besides, it wasn't my idea to spend an entire Friday night in an empty museum. I could be home eating cheesy chips in bed you know."

"Yes, I do know," Giles replied in a much milder tone. "And I do appreciate your help. I would appreciate it even more if you could do it quietly."

Xander opened his mouth to say something snarky, but ended up laughing. The phrasing, the tone, it was so decidedly Giles. He heard the Watcher shift slightly in the darkness and stopped chuckling.

"We should go back to our investigation," Giles said quietly.

Xander saw Giles's shadowy outline move forward and hurried to join him.

"Giles?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you…are we…I feel like we're being watched."

"That could just be the security cameras," Giles said calmly.

"Security cameras?" Xander was incredulous. "We are being watched? Then what's with the stealth mode?"

"Of course the building has cameras," Giles replied distractedly. After a minute he turned his attention back to Xander. "But there's nothing to worry about. The head of night security is a friend of mine. That's how we got in here in the first place. Earl is the only one who'll see the tapes. They only get passed on if he notices something odd. He knows we're here, so as long as we avoid the other guards, we are fine."

"Earl?" Xander blinked, marveling that their whole plan hinged on the trustworthiness of someone named Earl. After a minute the rest of Giles's spiel sunk in. "Other guards?"

"Three other guards. However, they carry flashlights and make noise. It shouldn't be hard to know they are coming and avoid them. And if they manage to sneak up on us, Earl will flash the overhead lights to warn us."

"Great," Xander muttered, trying not to be uncomfortable with how much this Earl featured in the plan.

Giles didn't seem to notice as he kept walking. They came around a corner and by the dim glow of the security lights, Xander saw that they had entered the dinosaur exhibit.

They'd only gone a few feet when Giles stopped, causing Xander to pull up short in an effort not to run into him. Giles was looking up at the shadowy outline of a large dinosaur. Like most of the displays in this section, it was a plaster recreation rather than actual bones and Xander found himself staring into a large mouth filled with long sharp teeth, while beady yellow eyes glared at him over a scaly green snout.

"It's an Allosaurus," Giles said quietly, still looking up.

"Looks kind of like a T-rex," Xander replied, looking around the room. He still felt like they were being watched and he didn't think it was Earl.

"They were a bit," Giles said, his voice carrying respect. "Smaller though. Which made it lighter, faster, and more deadly. But everyone is impressed with the Tyrannosaur's size, so this dinosaur doesn't get the respect it deserves."

Xander turned to look at Giles, who was still studying the Allosaurus.

"You really do know everything, don't you?" He tried to make it sound light, but he really was impressed.

"Actually, this was a passion of mine for a while." Giles turned to face him, his hands in his pockets as he shifted from one foot to the other. "After I found out I couldn't be a fighter pilot, I was directed to branches of science. When I was eleven I found all this fascinating. I decided as long as I had to go into science, this was what I wanted to study."

"You wanted to be a dinosaur guy?" Xander asked, looking at Giles in surprise. "What happened?"

"As always, I had to go with what was practical." Giles looked at the floor and Xander could almost hear the regret in his voice. "Archaeology and ancient languages were more compatible with my calling."

"So you gave up another dream for the Watcher thing?" Xander asked, feeling sorry for him all over again. If any of them got the short end of the stake it was Giles.

"It's not so bad really," Giles replied, looking up and smiling. "I actually enjoyed going on digs and knowing these languages has come in handy a time or two. But I suppose I'll always have a soft spot for fighter jets and dinosaurs."

Xander was about to say something about dreams and sacrifice when he heard a noise behind him and whipped around to see what it was. He could see that the security lights did little to illuminate the exhibits, leaving the displays as hulking shadows in the half light. He squinted, trying to see even a hint of movement.

"Is everything all right?" Giles asked.

"I'm trying to see what made that noise."

"What noise?"

"You didn't hear it?" Xander asked, turning back to Giles.

"I heard the air conditioning turn on."

"Oh," Xander said, feeling foolish. "That must have been it."

He turned away from Giles, walking further into the exhibit. He could hear the Watcher's footsteps behind him and slowed, allowing Giles to catch up. They walked in silence and Xander was about to ask a question when he heard a rustling sound behind them. He stopped, turning to look.

"Don't tell me you didn't hear that," he said to Giles.

"Actually I did hear it," Giles replied, a frown on his face.

"It sounded like something moving through that plasticy jungle," Xander said, squinting to see in the darkness.

"It did sound like something moving," Giles agreed. "It must have been one of the guards. We should find cover."

"Giles, guards don't skulk through the fake ferns."

"What else could it be?" Giles asked reasonably, putting a hand on Xander's shoulder to guide him into an alcove.

Xander didn't have an answer, but he was pretty sure there weren't any guards around. They stood in the alcove, straining to hear a repeat of the noise. After a few minutes Giles leaned out, looking around.

"They must have passed another way," he said quietly, turning to look at Xander.

Xander nodded, not convinced, but he followed Giles out.

"Hey, what are we looking for?" Xander asked suddenly. "You never told me what this cursed thing was."

"Well…it's a jewel." Giles said, somewhat evasively.

"What kind of jewel?"

"A…green one."

"A green one?" Xander tried not to laugh. "Very specific. Where do we find this green jewel?"

"I…I don't know," Giles mumbled.

"You, what? We don't know what we are looking for?"

"I know it's a large green jewel. I know it's attached to…something. I know it came in with one of the last three shipments and I know it's cursed."

"I guess that last part is the important info." Xander said with a sigh.

They were coming to the edge of the dinosaur exhibit when Xander heard the rustling again. He looked at Giles who was looking at him. They turned, both searching the darkness for something, anything. Xander was just turning back to Giles when he saw the movement. He whipped his head back and blinked. He had to be imagining it.

"Giles?" He fought to keep his voice even. "Look to our left. Over by the boulder. The four legged dinosaur with the crest? I think it just moved."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Giles blinked in surprise, looking not at the dinosaur display, but at Xander.

"You are joking, aren't you?" Giles said, not sure how to interpret the boy's serious tone.

"No, really not." Xander replied quietly. He was standing stiffly, looking at the dinosaur he'd indicated.

"Is it moving now?" Giles was trying to determine if this was some sort of prank.

"Not right this second," Xander answered. "But please, watch it for a minute or two."

Giles sighed, but found himself staring at the Deinonychus. It was a good display really. The plaster replica was very detailed and had been cast mid leap as it chased a small furry mammal. Giles was just about to turn back to Xander and ask what the joke was all about when he actually did see movement. But it wasn't the dinosaur. It was something just beyond it, hidden in the foliage.

"There," Xander said, his voice quiet, but strained. "Did you see it?"

"I saw something," Giles replied. "But it wasn't the dinosaur, although I do understand how with this lighting you might think so. Look past the display, over in those bushes."

Xander leaned forward, his eyes sweeping the room.

"I don't see…wait, is that a person?"

Xander turned and went back into the exhibit at a run and after a minute, Giles followed him. Giles came around the corner to see Xander just standing next to a plant with a perplexed look on his face.

"I swear there was someone here," Xander said as Giles caught up with him.

"I'm not disagreeing," Giles replied, looking around. "Did you see where they went?"

"That's the problem. I saw what I thought was a girl. But when I came around the dinosaur, she was just gone. Giles, she couldn't have been out of my sight for more than ten seconds. Where could she have gone?"

"Did you see where she was standing?"

"Over there, next to that rock."

"This is good," Giles said, climbing over the railing that surrounded the exhibit. "We'll be able to tell by her footprints which direction she went."

He gingerly walked along the edge of the display, trying not to disturb the dirt. He looked back over at Xander, who was standing, leaning against the rail. Giles looked questioningly at him and Xander indicated that he needed to move to the left a bit. Giles left the edging and stepped behind a large plastic bush. After a minute, he found what he was looking for. Two rather small footprints that could only belong to a woman. But there was something off about them. Giles frowned.

"Everything okay?" Xander asked.

"Hmm? Oh, yes. It's just…" As he looked, it all fell into place and his eyes widened.

"What?"

Giles walked slowly back to the railing, his mind trying to make sense of what he'd seen. He easily climbed back over and stood next to Xander.

"Hey, G-man, you are starting to worry me."

"I'm starting to worry myself," Giles replied, shaking his head. At Xander's raised eyebrow, Giles sighed. "I found the footprints."

"And?"

"And there were two odd things about them. First, they were barefoot. The person who made them didn't wear shoes."

"That's not too weird," Xander said, smiling a bit. "If the girl wanted to move quietly she might have taken them off. Could you tell which way she went?"

"That's the other odd thing," Giles replied, running a hand through his hair. "There was just the one set of footprints. It's like…"

"She just disappeared?" Xander supplied for him.

Giles looked out into the darkness and nodded.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Xander looked at Giles, the first stirrings of real panic beginning to thread through him. Giles was the bravest person he knew and anything that could make the Watcher start jumping at shadows could not be good. He was about to ask what they should do when he saw Giles shake this off. Xander had heard this phrase before, but never had he seen anyone do it so literally. Giles shook his head, then his whole body followed suit. He took a deep breath and stood up taller.

"This is getting us nowhere," Giles said quietly, but firmly. "We need to stop chasing phantoms and find the jewel before the guards find us."

"But Giles," Xander started.

"Do you know what it was?"

"No, but…"

"Do you know where it went?"

"No." Xander was beginning to understand; they couldn't chase what they couldn't find. "Okay, where to?"

Giles smiled at him and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"This way should lead us to the ancient civilizations section."

Xander followed slightly behind, happy to be away from that feeling of being watched. They rounded a corner and this time it was Xander who pulled to a stop, causing Giles to turn around and look for him. Xander stood with a smile on his face looking at the exhibit they'd just entered.

"Xander, we need to move along now," Giles said, walking over to stand next to him. "It's growing late."

"Yeah, but do you see where we are?" Xander turned to face Giles, his grin getting bigger.

Giles looked around, his expression one of total confusion.

"I see pictures."

"Not pictures, Giles. Posters. Movie posters. More than that, classic movie posters."

"I'm still failing to see the appeal," Giles replied.

"Giles, these movies are the best!"

"Corridors of Blood?" Giles asked, walking up to a movie poster in a glass frame.

"That was pretty freaky," Xander said with a grin.

Giles just raised an eyebrow at him and moved on to the next poster.

"Now, this one I know," Giles said, walking up to the poster. "I saw this one when I was at University."

"The Creature Walks Among Us?" Xander asked, joining him. "Is that the monster from the Black Lagoon?"

"It is," Giles replied. He smiled at Xander. "This was playing at an art house with the original Creature From the Black Lagoon. A few of us from my dorm took dates and went to it. It was actually quite fun."

"Well, check you out, G-man, sounding almost like a normal guy."

"Thank you so much for that." Giles made a face at him.

"Oh, now this is one of my favorites," Xander said, moving three posters down.

Giles walked over to join him and leaned in to get a closer look.

"What exactly is that?" he asked.

"The Beast with a Million Eyes," Xander said, turning to look at him incredulously. "You've never seen it?"

"I've never even heard of it."

"Oh, come on. Space ship lands in the desert, big, scaly, multi-eyed monster takes over the minds of unsuspecting people and animals, wacky fun ensues."

"That's your idea of fun?"

"It's just a movie, Giles. It is just a movie, right?"

Giles turned and walked away without saying a word.

"Oh, it so has to be just a movie," Xander said, following him. "Giles?"

Giles still had his back to Xander and now Xander could see his shoulders were shaking.

"Giles?"

Xander slowly walked around to face the older man, only to see that Giles was stifling laughter.

"Oh, now that was so not funny!" Xander tried to be outraged, but seeing Giles so amused, he couldn't help but join in. He found himself chuckling even as he lightly punched Giles on the arm.

"You should have seen your face," Giles said, trying to reign in the laughter and failing.

"Yeah, well, I'm so going to remember this when Christmas comes around this year. Nothing but coal for you, buddy. And the next time Willow tells me how harmless you are?"

"Willow says I'm harmless?" Giles asked, still chuckling.

"Well, okay, so she's never actually said it. But I know she's thinking it."

Both men looked at each other, struggling to keep straight faces, then suddenly they both started laughing again.

"We really must be more serious," Giles said, gasping from his laughter. "We are going to get caught."

"I wonder what they'll think when they find us," Xander said, looking at the floor. He knew if he looked at Giles they would both start all over again.

"Most likely that we're mental," Giles said casually.

Something about that got them both chuckling again. Xander was about to say something about being too crazy to be mental, when a noise to his left stopped his laughter and made him turn. He could feel Giles step up beside him, but he didn't turn to look. Xander squinted in the darkness trying to make out any shapes.

"Tell me you heard that giggle," he said quietly.

"I did hear something," Giles replied.

"What do we do now?" Xander was still peering into the shadows hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever was doing this.

"We go back to looking for the jewel." At Xander's incredulous look he continued. "Xander, we don't know what this is and we aren't prepared to track it."

"We know it's a girl."

"No, we don't know that. We're guessing based on a brief sighting and a quiet giggle. That doesn't tell us much."

"We know it wants to be found."

"What makes you say that?" Giles asked, looking at Xander.

"Giles, it's following us."

"It may simply be curious. Or it could be attempting to lure us into a trap."

"By running away?"

"Xander, I understand your curiosity, but we simply aren't prepared. We'll come back another time with equipment."

"We have equipment?"

"Well, I do have some of the tools professional ghost hunters use."

"You do?" Xander looked at him with wide eyes.

"I have a thermal imaging camera, an EMF meter, and an infrared camera. I picked them up a few years ago with my Christmas bonus."

"Watchers get a Christmas bonus?" Xander was shocked.

"No, but museum curators do." Giles was smiling at him. "I did have a life before you lot."

"And you bought ghost hunting equipment?" Xander returned his smile.

"I thought it might come in handy," Giles said with a shrug. "I'll talk to Earl and we'll come back better prepared. Finding this jewel really is important. If it should fall into the wrong hands…"

Xander nodded, turning to follow Giles from the room.

"Hey, Giles, if it falls into the wrong hands what?"

"I'm sorry?"

"You said if the jewel falls into the wrong hands, but then you left it hanging. What exactly does this thing do?"

Giles kept walking, his head down. After a minute he said something, but Xander couldn't understand it.

"What?"

Giles repeated himself, but Xander still couldn't hear him. He picked up his pace, reaching Giles, placing a hand on his shoulder to slow him.

"Giles, seriously, I have no clue what you just said."

Giles stopped, turning to face Xander, but looking at the floor. He didn't say anything.

"Giles?"

Giles sighed and looked up. He fidgeted slightly, even going so far as to reach for his glasses, then let his hand fall to his side.

"I…don't know."

Xander blinked.

"Is there anything about this thing you do know? Oh wait, we know it's green. Giles!"

"I wasn't given a lot to go on. Officially, I don't work for the Watchers' Council anymore. My sources have dried up and I have to get information on my own. A friend who works for the Council thought I'd be better able to handle this, less likely to cause a fuss than a team of Special Ops boys. He called to inform me the jewel was here. He didn't seem to know much else."

"How did he even know that much?"

"It showed up on a manifest and a Council employee flagged it. My friend is delaying the report on his desk. If we don't find it, he'll have to pass it along and a team will be sent in."

"For a jewel that we can't even prove is bad? Giles, what if it isn't cursed? Then we're just stealing."

"I did find a picture," Giles said, pulling a piece of paper from his pocket. "This is the Eye of Sedit."

Xander looked at the hand drawn picture. It was an oval green stone with an angular cut.

"Giles, this could be any green stone. We can't be sure we have the right one."

"Look closer. In the middle. Do you see that crescent?"

"You mean that C? That could be the artist's signature."

"Xander, this was drawn by a Watcher. He wouldn't sign it. That crescent represents the moon, the symbol of Sedit. This stone was marked. And the Watcher that sketched this did it so the stone could be identified."

"And this Sedit is?"

"He's a South American devil."

"So, there isn't any way this can be a good thing." Xander sighed.

"Not likely."

They climbed a set of stairs and found themselves standing at the mouth of the Ancient America exhibit.

"Well then," Xander said, walking forward. "Let's get looking."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Giles turned to look at Xander, admiring the boy's courage. This whole excursion had taken a turn for the odd and he could only hope they'd find the jewel. As the two of them walked among the exhibits, Giles allowed himself to relax a bit and admire the artifacts. While his field of study had been Ancient Egypt and the Occult, he had an appreciation for the civilizations that had been in the Americas as well. He was looking at a carved Onyx leopard statue when Xander called him.

"Hey, Giles, is this what we're looking for?"

Giles walked over to the glass display case Xander was standing in front of. Sitting on a shelf was a necklace. It was beaten gold surrounding a green oval stone. Giles leaned in, looking closer. It was an impressive piece of workmanship and the stone was the right shape and size. Giles pulled a flashlight from his pocket, shining it on the stone.

"This one doesn't have the crescent," Giles said, feeling a stab of disappointment. "But that was a good catch on your part. It looks very similar.

Xander nodded and moved on, going to examine a display further down the wall. Giles concentrated on the area around him, losing himself in the Aztec artwork. He found a vase that had a green gem set in it and thought he might have found what they were looking for, but closer examination proved him wrong. He was getting to the point of deciding there were too many artifacts with green jewels on them, when Xander appeared at his side.

"I'm pretty sure I found it," he said quietly. "I'm also pretty sure we're being watched."

He turned and walked up some stairs to a middle level and Giles followed behind him.

"What makes you think we are being watched?"

"Can't you feel it? That sense that someone is right behind us, studying us?"

Giles thought about it and realized that Xander was right. Something was observing them. Xander turn to the left, stopping in front of a display case containing several items from the Mayan Empire. On the bottom shelf, to the back was a golden crown that Xander was pointing to. Set at the front of the crown was a green oval stone. Giles pulled out his flashlight and looked closely. In the middle of the stone he could see the outline of the carved crescent. He felt a surge of excitement.

"Xander, this is it," Giles said, turning to look at the boy, who was standing just behind him. Xander nodded.

"What do we do now?"

Giles dug in his pocket and pulled out a large green stone. Xander blinked at him.

"It's a replacement. It's a real gem," Giles assured him. "But it's not cursed. We'll take the one from the crown and replace it with this one. The value should be the same, but this one can't hurt anyone."

"You think of everything, don't you?" Xander asked, stepping forward to help.

"I do try." Giles smiled at Xander.

"Well, did you think of how we are going to break into a locked case?"

Giles pulled a thin piece of metal out of his pocket.

"What about the alarm?" Xander asked, putting a hand out to stop Giles.

"Earl disabled all the alarms," Giles said with a smile.

"Okay, who is this Earl guy?"

"I told you, he's a friend. He's also on the Council payroll."

"He's a Watcher?" Xander looked at him in shock.

"No, he simply does occasional favors for the Council in exchange for payment."

"Huh, is there anyone the council doesn't pay?"

Giles made a face and Xander had the grace to look embarrassed.

"Right, well, they used to pay you. And I'm so not making this better. Hey, what are you going to do with that piece of metal?"

Giles chuckled at Xander, watching the relief cross the boy's face. He took the metal pick and approached the case, kneeling in front of it.

"When I was a youth I was very good at this. I have on occasion had need to use the skill."

Xander moved in, kneeling next to him. Giles shifted his weight, moving slightly so the boy could see what he was doing.

"This case depends on the alarm, so the lock isn't the best," Giles said, concentrating on what he was doing. "It's a simple matter of using the pick to move the tumblers."

"How do you know if you moved them the right way?" Xander asked.

"You can feel them click a certain way."

"A certain way?"

Giles stopped what he was doing and looked at Xander. He moved over again, a little farther from the lock and gestured for Xander to move as well. He handed the boy the pick. Xander looked at him with a mix of shock and mild horror.

"Me? You want me to do it?"

"You can at least give it a try. Put the pick in the lock."

Xander did as he was told and Giles could see that he was shaking slightly. Xander inserted the pick and looked at Giles.

"Now what?"

"Can you feel the tumblers?"

"How do I know?"

"Slide the pick a bit. Do you feel the metal pins rubbing against it?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Alright, move the pick just slightly. Do you feel the notches?"

Xander moved the piece of metal around, his face a study of concentration.

"Okay, yeah, I feel them."

"This is a series of small pins of varying length. Springs at the top of the shafts keep the pin pairs in position in the lock housing. When you insert a key, the series of notches in the key push the pin pairs up to different levels. The correct key will push the pins up so that all of the upper pins are inserted completely in the housing and opens the lock."

"Okay and this helps me pick the lock how?"

"To pick this sort of lock, you simply move each pin pair into the correct position, one by one. You insert a pick into the keyhole and begin lifting the pins. Let's start with the first one. Can you feel the notch?"

"Yes."

"Use the pick to push the pin."

"Which direction?"

"You'll have to try both. The direction it moves is different for each pin. You move the pin around until it falls into place."

Xander closed his eyes while moving the pick around a bit in the lock. Suddenly, his eyes flew open.

"I felt this…click?"

"That was the pin falling into the proper position. That means you did it right."

Xander grinned.

"Now what?"

"Do the same thing for the next pin. The sequence will be slightly different, but the end result should feel the same."

Xander fished around in the lock for a couple of minutes before the pin fell into place. He turned to Giles, grinning.

"Check me out. I'm the total criminal."

Giles chuckled.

"And what does that make me?"

"A bad influence," Xander replied without missing a beat.

Giles laughed again, then turned serious. He realized that at the rate Xander was going, they would be here for quite a bit longer and it was time they couldn't afford to spend.

"You are doing quite well with your new life of crime, but we need to hurry before a guard finds us," Giles said gently. "You can practice later on the door to my flat."

Xander chuckled and handed the pick to Giles.

"I'm holding you to that."

"Why am I suddenly thinking that was a bad suggestion?" Giles said, inserting the pick and feeling the pins. After a minute or so, the last pin clicked into place and the glass door swung open.

"That was fast," Xander commented, his voice slightly awed.

"That's the result of a misspent youth."

"So now what do we do?" Xander asked as Giles reached into the case.

"We get the gem off the crown," Giles replied, taking the artifact out.

He pulled a hooked pick from his pocket and began to work on the edges of the stone being careful not to damage either the gem or the crown.

"Hey Giles," Xander said quietly from where he knelt a foot or so away. "You say we don't know anything about this curse."

"That's right. I couldn't find any written record of what the curse does, just a listing of its existence."

"So you don't know what triggers the curse."

"I don't even have a theory," Giles said, not looking up from his work. He'd loosened one side of the gem and was gently working the pick along the edge.

"So, how do you know that you aren't going to set off the curse right now?"

"If touching it initiated the curse, we'd see evidence of it by now." He'd worked the pick almost completely under the stone. It was only holding on by the barest moorings.

"I wasn't talking about touching it," Xander replied, watching him closely. "I was talking about taking it off the cro…"

Xander was cut off as the stone finally gave way, falling into Giles's hand. As it did, there was a sudden explosion of light, illuminating the whole room and momentarily blinding the two men. Giles closed his eyes against it, but he could see the dark after image, like a negative, even with his eyes pressed shut. After a minute, he realized he could see the light through his closed lids and he marveled at its intensity.

He became aware of a noise on the edge of his consciousness, a keening wail that was rising in pitch and volume. He fought to keep his eyes closed, needing to see what was making the noise, but knowing he wouldn't see it through the brightness of the light anyway. He noticed that Xander was standing next to him; he could feel the warmth from the boy, could feel his nearness. He reached out a hand putting it on Xander's arm.

"Giles?" He could tell from Xander's tone, from the roughness of his voice, that he was yelling, but he could barely hear the boy over the noise.

"I'm here, Xander," he shouted back.

"What do we do?"

Giles didn't have an answer. They had to know what they were up against. He had just decided to tell Xander to keep his eyes closed and that he would open his own eyes to see what was happening, when suddenly the noise was gone and the light against his eyelids dimmed to nothing. Giles took a breath and carefully opened his eyes.

He was squinting at first, but his eyes involuntarily widened with shock when he realized what he was seeing. Standing in front of him was a girl. She had long black hair and was wearing what Giles knew to be a Mayan burial costume. There was a soft nimbus of light surrounding her, but her face was etched with scarcely controlled anger.

Giles's attention was dragged back to the situation at hand as he felt Xander shifting next to him. He turned to tell him it was all right to open his eyes, but saw that Xander was already staring wide-eyed at the girl in front of them. He was shaking slightly, but he stood his ground and Giles was suddenly very proud of the boy. He was about to ask Xander how he was doing when the girl caught his attention.

She was closer to them now, though Giles hadn't seen her move. She was looking at them, her expression bordering on rage.

"How dare you take what does not belong to you." Her voice was quiet. Giles would have sworn it came out from between clenched teeth, if she'd had teeth. Yet somehow, her voice seemed to echo around them, everywhere and nowhere. "Put back what you have stolen, grave robbers."

"We have stolen nothing." Giles would never know where his courage came from. Perhaps it was from years of fighting next to the Slayer, of seeing what really lived in Hell and what happened when it got loose, but he found that he wasn't afraid of this girl. He stepped forward, holding up the uncursed stone. "We were simply trading it for this one."

The girl tipped her head and looked at him, her eyes narrowing.

"Why would you do this?"

Giles considered his options, then decided on the easiest course. He would tell her the truth.

"The stone in this crown is cursed. We were replacing it with a different one, one that can't hurt anyone."

The girl looked at him and then she laughed harshly.

"You are too late for that."

"I'm sorry?" Giles knew he must look completely confused.

"How did you learn of this curse?"

Giles blinked, slightly thrown by the change of subject, but he quickly recovered.

"We read about it in a record of the ancient peoples who used to live in the lands south."

"What do you know about it?"

"Only that the gem was cursed."

"But not by whom or for what purpose?"

"I'm afraid not."

The girl looked at him and nodded, soundlessly moving in a way that would have resembled pacing, had she not been gliding.

"My father was the chief of our town," she said quietly. Giles was once more puzzled by the subject shift, but he shook it off, watching the girl. "I was his only daughter. He made the mistake of trusting the wrong men, priests of Shalieman whom he thought had the best interests of our people at heart. But they were dishonest. They only wanted wealth and power. They demanded that my father give them positions in his government. When he wouldn't, they cursed that stone. No one knew what they had done. A few weeks later the entire city celebrated my sixteenth birthday. I was now of age and could be crowned a princess of my people."

She stopped talking and turned to look at Giles and Xander. Her face was stricken, her expression one of infinite loss.

"The instant the crown touched my head my life was over. I remember a shock that ran through me, it felt as if I was on fire. And then I was standing, watching my father holding my lifeless body. I thought I would go on to the afterlife, but the curse was not that merciful. I am tied to this stone. Where it goes, so must I. For centuries I have been trapped and now I am here."

"And you guard the stone because it controls your spirit," Giles said, watching her closely. "That's why you were following us; to see to it that we didn't steal the jewel."

"At first I was curious. I've never been this close to anyone like you. Watching you and your son made me long for my own father."

"He isn't my…" Before Giles could finish the thought, Xander elbowed him in the ribs.

"Now might not be the best time for trying to explain our family dynamic," he said just under his breath. Giles nodded. The boy had a point.

"And what now?" Giles asked the girl. "Now that you know why we're here, what will you do?"

"You are here to stop a curse that's already taken place," the girl responded. "It was aimed at no one but me. It cannot harm anyone else."

"It would still be better to err on the side of caution," Giles said gently.

"Wherever you take that stone, I go too," the girl said. "My spirit is bound to it, the final twist of the curse. I cannot be freed and I must stay with the gem. Where would you take me?"

Giles blinked. This wasn't something he'd thought of.

"I was planning on destroying the stone," he said.

"It cannot be destroyed," the girl responded. "It was forged in magic and it can't be broken or even damaged."

"There has to be some way," Xander said, speaking up for the first time in a while. The girl shook her head. Xander turned to Giles. "We have to help her. You wanted to protect people from the curse? Well, there she is. Protect her."

Giles sighed, understanding Xander's frustration. He was feeling it too. It hardly seemed fair that this child would be trapped for eternity as part of a political game.

"There's no way at all to break the curse or destroy the stone?" Xander asked, a frown on his face.

"None," the girl answered sadly. "The gem was made by dark forces. It's filled with the essence of a demon and it can never be unmade."

"If it could be?" Giles asked suddenly, an idea coming to him. "If the jewel could be destroyed, what would happen to your soul?"

"If the curse was broken, I suppose I would be free," the girl said, looking at Giles.

"What exactly do you have in mind here?" Xander asked, frowning.

"It was forged by magic," Giles said, his expression thoughtful. "If magic created it, magic can destroy it."

"Do you know any spells that might do that?"

"One," Giles said, somewhat hesitant.

"What aren't you telling me?"

Giles looked at Xander and knew that he had to tell him the whole story; he owed the boy that much.

"I know a spell that could release the dark forces in the gem, but to do it, I'll have to pull them into me, then discharge them."

"Pull them into you? Why does that sound dangerous to me?" Xander looked a little wild around the eyes.

"There is some risk." Giles tried to sound casual.

"What kind of risk?"

Giles sighed.

"When one takes forces like that into one's body, there's always the risk that they…won't leave."

"Won't leave? Giles are you saying you might be permanently possessed by evil?"

"All I'm saying is that it's a possibility."

"And if that happens? What do I do? How do I get rid of them?"

"You can't" Giles said quietly. "If they take over, I'll be…well, I won't be in me anymore. They'll have shunted me out to take control."

"But we can get you back when we kick them out, right?"

"Xander, when one deals with this kind of thing…"

"Giles."

"No. There won't be enough of me left to bring back. If they take over…you'll have to kill me."

"I'll have to what?" Xander stepped back, his eyes wide with horror. "No. I can't. I won't. Don't even ask. God, Giles, how could you even think that?"

"Xander, if you don't, they'll keep control of my body. They'll transform it and use it to hurt people. We can't allow that. You'll have to stop them before they learn to control my body and become too strong." Xander was looking at him, his jaw clenched. Giles reached out and touched his shoulder. "I trust you. I wouldn't have asked you to come with me tonight if I didn't."

"How do I…" Xander swallowed convulsively, his face a study in pain. "What do I use to…if I have to…"

Giles nodded, walking over to a display of swords and spears. He picked up a bronze sword with an ornate snakehead hilt and handed it to Xander.

"The easiest way is to just behead me. No question as to whether or not it worked."

Xander took the sword, looking at it like it was the enemy.

"How do I know when to use it?"

"If you have the slightest doubt…"

"No. I won't hurt you unless I know there is no way we can get you back. How do I know?"

"I'm not sure, as I've never done this spell before, but I believe my eyes will glow and my skin will change color."

"Great. Why can't we ever have something that isn't so dramatic?"

Giles smiled at him and put his hand back on Xander's shoulder.

"We wouldn't want life to be boring, now would we? Xander, you can do this. You might not have Buffy's Slayer powers, but you have a good heart and great instincts." He paused for a minute, then looked Xander in the eyes. "I may never have told you this, but I am incredibly proud of you and the man you are becoming. Not everyone could live this life and come out sane. You have met the challenge and gone beyond. Every time I watch you face whatever the Hellmouth throws at us, I can't help but be amazed at your courage."

It's all for show you know," Xander said, his eyes clouded over with pain. "I'm usually so scared that I can't think. If I am brave, if I do the right things, it's because I'm following the example of the only adult I trust, the only adult who trusts me. Now, you had better come out on the other side of this. I mean it."

Giles smiled at him and nodded, then turned to the girl.

"We're going to help you."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Xander stood off to the side, holding the sword at the ready and watching as Giles settled himself cross legged on the floor. Giles had gathered a few things from around the museum and was now setting up to start the spell. Xander was trying very hard not to panic. He was all for freeing the girl and de-cursing the stone, but he wasn't sure this was the best way to do it.

Giles looked up at him and smiled reassuringly.

"Are you ready to start?" He asked gently.

"I'm as ready as I'm going to get," Xander said, trying to keep the bitterness from his voice. There was something so unfair about this whole situation.

Giles had commandeered a pot from the guards' lounge and he had placed some dried grass into it. Xander now watched as he set fire to the grass, fanning away the smoke to keep the fire alarm from going off.

"Powers of the Nether kingdom hear our plea." Giles's voice was strong and reassuring. Xander shifted the sword to his stronger hand and moved closer to Giles just in case. "Senta la nostra richiesta. We willingly ask to make a trade. Anima per anima."

Xander watched as Giles used his pocket knife to cut his left palm, dripping blood onto the fire. The flames turned an odd green color.

"Accept our offering, unworthy as we are," Giles said, his voice becoming slightly louder. "La mia anima è la vostra. La mia anima è la vostra. Il mio corpo è il vostro. Call me worthy, accept my offering, and grant me favor!"

The smoke from the dying fire began to coalesce, thickening and turning an odd orangish color. Xander felt the first real stirrings of unease as he watched the smoke writhe like a living thing. It twisted and coiled, slowly circling Giles's head.

"Occorra la mia vita," Giles said, his voice taking on the cadence of a chant. "Uniscasi con me. Sono il vostro. Sono il vostro!"

The smoke curled tighter as it circled the Watcher. Suddenly, Giles's body stiffened as the direction of the smoke changed and it went up his nose. He began to choke, his body trembling. Xander jumped forward, his heart pounding in his chest. Giles gasped, his eyes flying open. He looked at Xander.

"Stay…back." His voice was harsh and it was obviously an effort to get the words out.

Xander swallowed, nodding and stepping back. He hefted the sword, watching as Giles closed his eyes once more. The Watcher was still trembling, his face a study in agony. Xander bit his lip and looked away. He heard a gasp and turned back, his eyes widening in horror.

Giles was curled up in a ball, his breath coming in gasps, his head was down, but Xander could see the trembling was more pronounced. It looked like the muscles beneath Giles's skin had come alive. They were moving and twisting; Xander could only guess at how much that hurt.

Suddenly, Giles's head came up, his eyes flew open. Xander took an involuntary step backwards when he saw that they were glowing red. Giles looked at him and Xander saw with growing unease that the trembling had stopped. Giles looked around the room, then turned back to Xander with a smile.

"You can put the big knife away, boy." The voice was harsh, the accent guttural; it was everything Giles was not.

"I'm…I'm pretty comfortable with it." Xander struggled to keep his voice steady. "And you would be Sedit?"

"Something like that. What an interesting host." The smile widened and Xander felt his skin crawl. The creature held Giles's hand out, palm up and a flame appeared in the middle of it. "This one has power. He never uses it, but I can."

Xander felt his whole body grow cold. This was what Giles had warned him about. He must have known that the demon would not only have access to his body, but also his magic. For now it seemed the devil could only do parlor tricks, but Xander knew that given time, he would use that magic to do real damage. He swallowed hard, blinking back tears as he realized what he was going to have to do.

Xander lifted the sword again as he began to slowly circle around to get behind Giles. The creature was watching him, the red eyes glowing brighter.

"What do you think you are doing?" it asked.

"Just studying you," Xander replied as inoffensively as possible. "I've never seen anything as powerful as you."

"Liar."

"No…I…"Xander paused as an idea came to him, so perfect in its simplicity. "I was just…"

"You want something." The demon's eyes narrowed.

"No I don't," Xander moved more obviously now, stepping to the side of the creature.

He looked down, then looked quickly away. The demon looked down as well, a cold smile coming to his lips. It reached down to the floor beside it and picked up the green stone.

"Is this what you want?"

Xander began to shake his head, then stopped.

"It's worth quite a bit of money," Xander said, looking at the floor.

"Ah yes, money. I suppose I might need some now that I am in this host." It held up the stone, looking at it in the glow from the security lights. After a minute, it placed the stone on the floor next to the smoking pot. "You can leave now boy. I require no further assistance."

Xander swallowed and nodded. He took the sword and moved towards the exit. The demon seemed to dismiss him, turning to face the spirit girl, who up to this point it had ignored.

"Ahh, the sacrifice. What a beautiful girl you are."

"You will free me now?" Her voice was steady and regal.

"I own you. You belong to me and you will go nowhere."

"But…" The girl looked confused.

"When your soul was tied to the stone, it was tied to me. You are mine. So child, come to me and let's see if you are worth the price." He held out his hand and the girl was drawn to him. Xander blinked as he realized she was becoming more solid the closer to Giles that she got.

He knew he couldn't wait any longer. He crossed behind the demon, who was busy pulling the struggling girl to him. From this angle, all he could see was Giles's back and he felt a tremor go through him. How could he kill the man who was his friend, the only person who believed in him? His courage faltered, he couldn't lift the sword.

The demon had finally succeeded in bringing the princess to him. Xander blinked as he realized that she was completely solid now. The creature pulled her close, his hands digging into her arms. She gasped in pain, her eyes going wide. Xander felt anger surge through him when the demon drew her to him and roughly kissed her.

"Oh the things I can do with this body," it said with a wicked laugh. "With this body and an unwilling slave."

Xander knew this was not what Giles would want, he knew what he had to do. He took a deep breath, lifting the sword and taking aim.

"Please forgive me, Giles," he whispered as he brought the blade down with all the strength he had.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Giles was in Hell. At least it seemed that way to him. From all his reading he'd been prepared to be shunted, sent out to the abyss when the creature took him over. He was not, however, prepared to be a prisoner in his own body. He could see everything that was happening, but he was powerless to do anything about it.

He could feel the drain on his energy when the demon accessed his magic and he tried to fight it. He must have had some measure of control as he could feel the demon's frustration at only being able to do minor things. This was another unexpected side effect; he could feel the creature's emotions, though they were vague. It was like a string that bound them together.

He felt lost and confused. This was nothing like he thought it would be and he retreated to what he knew would calm him: analyzing the problem in detail. He was still in his body. What did that mean? Was this how it was going to be forever? He didn't think so. So, if he was still here…the war wasn't over; he could still get his body back. But how?

He tried forcing his will on the demon only to be overwhelmed by the anger that flooded the bond. He couldn't force it out, he couldn't control it. What was left? Something nagged at the edge of his consciousness. He was bound to his body. Now the creature was as well…or was it? When it was linked to the girl, it used the gem. It had been trapped in the jewel…now it was free. But it obviously wasn't fully tied to Giles yet or he'd have been shoved out of his body. It was at an in between stage…like colonizing a new world. It was establishing a bond here…but its base was…Giles froze. Its base would still be the stone, at least until it took complete control of him.

It would be partly in him and partly in the stone…this meant something. It nagged at him and he put all his efforts to following the logic threads. His attention was diverted when the demon pulled the princess to them, feeling his stomach lurch at the thought of what this monster was going to do to her. He tried again to exert his will, to disrupt the flow of magic, only to feel the anger slap at him again. He pulled back to his own thoughts, blocking out the girl's noises of pain and fear through a need to keep his own sanity. He could feel the creature growing stronger, as more of its power moved from the stone to Giles. Power…the thought caught Giles's attention. The demon's power was what protected the stone, it was the magic that made an ordinary stone indestructible. But…but now that power was divided, neither fully in the stone nor in Giles. What did that mean?

With a sudden insight, Giles understood. If the demon's power was divided, it was weak on both fronts. It couldn't expel Giles, nor could it protect the stone. If the stone was unprotected, then it could be destroyed. And if the stone was destroyed, the demon would have no power center as it didn't have a complete hold on Giles. The stone had to be annihilated. If they could do it now, the demon would be defeated.

Giles turned his attention to what was going on around him, anger running through him as he heard the princess softly crying, knowing what the demon was doing to her using his body. He pulled the anger to him, hoping to use it to take over, if only for a moment, but he felt his rebellion crushed by the ties that bound him to the demon. He felt a momentary rush of disappointment, but then he heard a noise behind him and he suddenly remembered Xander.

He thought the boy had left, perhaps to get help in the form of Buffy, but now he realized that Xander was still there. If he could only get a message to him, let him know that he was still in here, that they could kill the demon. He was still working on how when he heard Xander's voice.

"Please forgive me, Giles."

The full implications of that sunk in as he heard a blade whistling through the air. He had the time to feel terror, but not anger. Xander was doing what he'd been told to. Giles pushed himself to share the consciousness with the demon, seeing out of his own eyes, knowing what was coming. He heard the blade, felt that the demon had heard it too, he could feel his head turning, see the blade coming at him.

And then it was past him, moving with amazing speed and power to crash into the floor. Giles felt the floorboards shake, the sound was deafening. There was a roaring sound and the room was filled with a swirling light. Giles felt like something heavy had slammed into him. It took him only a second to realize what had happened. The sword hadn't hit the floor, it had hit the stone.

He was overwhelmed by the feelings of rage that flooded the quickly dissipating connection. He mentally shook himself, forcing himself forward, and understanding that he was now the one in control. The light swirled round the room, an illuminated tornado, the howling sounds shook the glass in the display cases. There was one last despairing shriek and the light momentarily coalesced into the shape of a scale covered demon and then it exploded in a shower of sparks and smoke.

The sudden silence pressed on Giles's ears as he turned to look at Xander. The boy was standing, looking overwhelmed, the sword clattering to the floor as he simply let it go. Xander looked at him, tears in his eyes.

"I couldn't do it," he whispered. "I tried to, but I couldn't."

Giles stepped forward and Xander moved back, looking at him, fear moving in his eyes.

"Xander, it's me. It's Giles." He smiled reassuringly at him.

"Giles?"

Giles nodded, not moving, giving Xander time to adjust.

"How do I know?" Xander asked, his eyes searching Giles's face.

"Ask me something only I would know."

Xander was still watching him, the way he held himself, the expressions on his face. He saw Xander look into his eyes and watched as the boy's whole body relaxed and he smiled.

"Something only you would know? What's Buffy's bra size?"

"Xander!"

Xander grinned unrepentantly.

"Hey, you've bought her training clothes. You'd know."

Giles tried to glare and him, but couldn't help smiling.

"I take it you are satisfied that I won't be sprouting horns anytime soon?"

Xander nodded.

"What was it that convinced you?"

Xander looked up at him and Giles was stunned by the affection and friendship that he saw in the boy's expression. Xander smiled.

"I looked in your eyes and I saw…well…you."

Giles wanted to say something, but he was at a loss for words, so he settled for putting his hand on Xander's shoulder.

Xander looked like he was about to speak when they heard a noise and turned to see the princess on the floor where the demon had dropped her. In all the confusion they had forgotten about her. Now both men went to her, kneeling on either side of where she lay. She was still solid, but that seemed to be rapidly changing as she looked up at them.

"Thank you," she said quietly, her voice taking on that echoing quality that Giles remembered from when they first met her. She sat up and he realized that he could see Xander through her. "You freed me, just as you promised you would. I cannot tell you how much that means to me. Now I can go on to be with my family."

She stood, fading even more. Now she was no more than an outline of a girl as she walked towards the display case that had contained her crown. Giles was startled to see a man standing there. He was wearing the Mayan robes of office and he opened his arms to the princess, who ran to him, hugging him close. Giles could hear her voice, no more than a whisper in the silence.

"Father."

The man gathered her to him. He looked up, his eyes meeting Giles's. There was a moment where Giles understood everything the man couldn't say, the apologies for involving them, the appreciation for saving the princess, and then they were gone and the room seemed empty with their passing.

Xander looked at Giles, his eyes wide.

"That was…" Words failed him and he simply looked at Giles.

"Yes it was," Giles agreed, nodding.

Xander looked around them, taking in the scorch marks on the walls, the displays that had fallen over during the whirlwind, and the large slash in the floor from where the sword had hit.

"Earl is going to be pretty ticked at you." Xander tried not to smile as he said it.

He's not going to be upset because we are going to clean up as best as we can," Giles replied, kneeling to pick up the crown from where it had fallen. He looked over to where the jewel had been to see only green dust.

"Well, you did say you wanted to destroy it," Xander said from just behind him. Giles looked over his shoulder to see the boy watching him, his expression unreadable. "Are you going to get into trouble for this?"

"As you said, we set out to destroy it. We did do more damage than I had intended, but we can clean it up and what can't be fixed the Council will pay for."

"We're going to clean it up? Where'd this 'we' stuff come from?"

"You did agree to help," Giles said, pulling the replacement jewel from his pocket and beginning the repair job.

"I agreed to help find a cursed jewel, not play clean up crew. I did my part, now you're on your own."

Giles looked up, his attention caught by the serious tone of Xander's voice. Was he really going to just leave? Xander was standing with his arms folded, staring at Giles, his expression somber. Giles blinked a few times. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it because he had no idea what to say. Xander's eyes narrowed as he watched Giles, then suddenly he started laughing.

"You are too totally easy to mess with G-man," Xander laughed, walking over to pick up the pot from where it had rolled during the battle and tossing it into the garbage bin.

"That was cruel, Xander," Giles said, turning back to the crown. He kept his voice serious, but he smiled as he worked.

It took him about twenty minutes to secure the stone in place. Giles put the crown back into the display case, relocking it and wiping the glass with his handkerchief to eliminate any fingerprints. By the time he was done, Xander had cleaned up most of the mess. The rest would have to be done by a professional crew. Giles winced at the thought of having to explain this to a Council accountant. He shook his head and decided that was a worry for another day. He and Xander had done their part, had in fact gone well above the call of duty.

They gathered their things and walked quietly back through the museum, heading for the back door.

"How is it that we didn't run into any guards?" Xander asked suddenly. "I mean, you'd think with the explosions and all that someone would have come to investigate."

"This is Sunnydale," Giles replied with a shrug. "I'm sure the guards have learned the creative art of looking the other direction. In this town it's the best way to stay alive."

"And why haven't we learned this?" Xander asked, hiding a smile.

"Because we're better than that," Giles answered quietly, not looking at Xander in the darkness. "We know what needs to be done and we do it. In other words, we're heroes."

"There goes that 'we' again," Xander said, and Giles could hear the laughter in his voice.

"You're right," Giles said as they turned a corner. "I suppose it is pretty presumptuous of me to say 'we.' I've never included myself in that category."

They had just come to the door that led to the loading dock and Xander stopped short, turning to look at Giles with wide eyes. Giles walked around him opening the door, wanting to put all this behind him. A hot shower, something to eat, and a long nap were exactly what he needed.

He looked over his shoulder, making sure that Xander was following him. The boy was walking, staring at Giles with a confused expression. As they came to the door that led to the alley, Xander caught up with him, putting a hand on his shoulder to get his attention.

"Giles, I…you shouldn't….I'm not…"

"Yes, Xander, you are," Giles said, sighing with exhaustion.

"But I couldn't even do what you asked me to."

"You went with your instincts. Instead of blindly following orders, you followed your heart. And in doing so, you saved my life. If that isn't a hero, then what is?" Giles turned back to the door, opening it and walking out into the alley.

It was still mostly dark, but Giles could see hints of first light at the very edges of the horizon. It was much later than he'd wanted to be here, but all things considered, he wasn't complaining. He heard Xander behind him and turned to the boy, smiling.

"Why don't we go get some breakfast?"

"Where would be go?"

"I believe House of Pancakes is open this time of the morning. I don't know about you, but I'm starving. I'd rather not eat alone. Call it payment for a job well done."

Xander looked at him, his eyes still troubled, but he nodded. They walked the twelve blocks to the restaurant in silence, neither feeling the need for conversation, not knowing what to say if they did. Giles opened the door and stood holding it for Xander. As the boy passed him to enter the restaurant, he stopped.

"I'd put you in that category. I always have."

With that he continued into the building. Giles looked after him, a bemused smile on his face and after a second he followed. He walked up to where Xander was waiting for the hostess to seat them and wordlessly put a hand on the boy's shoulder. Xander smiled at him and he smiled back.

He dropped his hand as the woman came to seat them.

"Just the two of you tonight?" She asked, picking up menus for them.

"Yes," Giles replied politely.

"Why don't you and your son follow me and we'll get you seated."

"Oh, I'm not…" Xander started to say.

"Thank you." Giles violated one of his own rules and talked over the boy.

The woman led them to a corner table and handed them the menus.

"Your server will be right with you." She turned to go back to her station, but then turned back, looking at Giles. "You know, it's nice to see a father and son who get along so well. You must be so proud of him."

Giles looked over his menu at Xander and his eyes locked on the boy's.

"I am. More than he'll ever know."

He smiled at the hostess, who nodded and walked away. Giles knew this moment could be awkward. He simply nodded and returned to perusing the breakfast menu.

"Should we order some juice? Maybe some toast?" He asked, without looking up.

Xander didn't reply and Giles looked up to see what was wrong. He found the boy just looking at him. After a minute, Xander nodded.

"Sounds good, G-man."

"Please don't call me that." The response was automatic, but it drew a smile from Xander.

"You're not the Watcher of me," Xander bantered back.

"Keep that up and you're paying for breakfast," Giles returned.

Xander made a face at him and he leaned back in his seat, smiling at the boy as he contemplated food options. It wasn't how he'd expected to be spending his morning, but he wasn't going to complain at all.

The End