Xander: This is just too much. I mean, yesterday my life's like, 'Uh-oh, pop quiz.' Today it's 'Rain of Toads'.
Willow: I know. And everyone else thinks it's just a normal day.
Xander: Nobody knows. It's like we've got this big secret.
Willow: We do. That's what a secret is, when you know something other guys don't.

.***.

Five months before Xander bled on one of Giles's desk, the Watcher ran into the teen in the middle of Sunnydale well past midnight.

"Xander," Giles said, surprised, "what are you doing out so late?"

"Like it's such a novel concept for Scooby gang-ers?" Xander said, smiling as he shoved his hands deep into his pockets. "I've always wondered – do Slayers need less sleep than us poor normal humans? Cause the Buffster's always out on the prowl all night, up at school all day…."

"It's not necessarily a priority for Slayers to get eight hours of sleep a night," Giles said, slipping easily into teaching mode and forgetting he was supposed to be interrogating Xander on his midnight wanderings, "They have an innate ability to slip into REM cycle as soon as they fall asleep…it's fascinating really."

"I'm sure it is," Xander said amicably even as he yawned. Looking at the tea and milk Giles had left his house for, Xander asked, "You getting all the ingredients to be a stuffy old man?"

"Stuffy old man?" Giles repeated, affronted and undeniably amused.

"It's late. I can't be clever after dark."

"I think the girls would point out that you're rarely clever before dark."

"But the girls aren't here. We can keep that little fact to ourselves."

Giles nodded, watching Xander watch the bar they were stopped in front of. This wasn't a harmless teenage club like the Bronze. This establishment was loud even in the wee hours of the morning, shouts and the sounds of slamming glass and drunken laughter spilling into the still night air. "You frequent the bar often?" Giles asked, keeping his tone deliberately light.

"Uh – no. Not really. I mean – my dad does. I'm supposed to…haul him back home? Not exactly my favorite job."

Giles blinked at this information, and quickly tried to drag up any information he'd ever heard of Xander's family and came up blank. He knew nothing about siblings or parents, of a home life good or bad. He coughed and took off his glasses to clean them on the bottom of his shirt. "Can I offer any assistance?"

"Nah, I'm good." Xander took his hands out of his pockets and crossed them over his chest, then dropped them to his sides, clenched into fists. He took the first few steps towards the bar, saying over his shoulder, "See you tomorrow Giles."

"Have a good night," Giles said reflexively, knowing as soon as the words left his mouth that this wish wouldn't help Xander in the slightest.

.***.

Three and a half months before Xander tried to hide a severely burned hand behind his back, he helped Giles carry the weapons back to his house after a vamp stake down at the cemetery.

"That was an impressive left hook," Giles said in the space between Xander's tired ramblings about the extent of Willow and Oz's relationship. "Your form is getting better."

"Yeah, I think my ability to catch people's fists with my face is getting better too."

Giles smiled a little and Xander, taking the beat of silence as an end to the subject, pressed on with his earlier topic, "I mean, it's not like Oz is a bad guy. I like him. A lot. Nice and quiet, doesn't draw attention to himself. But did you see the way he just dragged Willow away at the end of that little skirmish? That was a man with motives on the mind."

"Are you sure you're not just feeling protective of Willow?"

"Of course I'm protective of Willow! She used to share her fluffernutter sandwich with me at lunch. You don't share a fluffernutter sandwich and then just go on with your lives. A bond is formed there."

"Fluffernutter?" Giles asked, thinking over the word, "This wouldn't have something to do with the peanut butter you Americans swear by?"

"Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Usually you grow out of it by the time you're eight, but there are some things in life too good to be left to children." They were under the lights stakes out in front of Giles's house now, and Xander turned to grin at the older man, who winced at the sight of his face. Xander's expression fell. "Is it that bad? It is, isn't it? So much for my good left hook."

Giles let them into the small house, where Xander promptly dumped the weapons and stood, blinking at the stacks of books. The shelves were crammed full of old tomes, and even more found home in piles along the wall, stacks on the table, lying face-down on the couch… "Sit down," Giles said, as Xander's hand went backwards for the door, "Let me clean you up."

"It's nothing," Xander said, a little too quickly, "Come on, Giles. It's late, and I have a geography test that I'm already going to do badly on, but if I find a map tonight I can at least get France and Italy right."

"Look at this," Giles said, picking up a stack of books and taking a browning map from under them, "And I'll get some bandages."

Xander took the map and peered at it for a moment, blinking hard to keep himself awake. He pointed to a small island, "That's England, right?"

Giles leaned over, "That would be Iceland," he prodded Xander's finger over an inch, "that's Great Britain. Are you expected to know Scotland and Ireland too?"

"I don't know. Probably."

Giles reached for Xander's hand again, about to point out the other countries as he would with a child, but as soon as his fingers closed around Xander's wrist he pulled away, "don't touch that!"

"Are you injured?" Giles asked, taking the hand again even as Xander tried to tuck it under his armpit.

Xander sighed and stuck his wrist out, "It's nothing. Just a little sore from breaking that vamp's nose."

Giles prodded the ring of bruises and turned the hand over, staring at the red rash-like cuts. One had re-opened, the blood redder than the other scabs. "This looks like you fell, not punched someone."

"Fell, punched…" Xander said, waving the explanation away, "I do a lot of both in these little scraps, right? Hard to remember where all the hurt Xander comes from."

"Perhaps you should stay out of the fray until you heal," Giles said, still scrutinizing the wrist, "And a visit to the hospital may be in order."

Xander jumped up from the couch at that, upsetting a stack of books piled nearby, "Nope. No thank you. No early morning hospital visits for Xander. I'll just grab an icepack at home. Thanks Giles! Bye!"

He was at the door, hand on doorknob, when Giles said, quietly, "That wrist is newly injured, but you didn't fall tonight."

Xander squeezed his eyes shut, smiled too widely, "Yeah I did, Giles. It's all right. I'll just go home. 'Night."

He closed the door slowly, softly, and left Giles standing amidst his books with a bandage in his hand. He'd forgotten to take a look at the cut on the teen's forehead.

.***.

Two months before Giles saw all of Xander's bruises, every last one, the teen beat the Watcher at Monopoly.

Willow had found the old board game on a forgotten shelf under the counter at the front of the library and had brought it out in the after-school hours on a day when there was, surprisingly, so major threat to save the world from. Even more surprisingly - everyone agreed to play. Buffy quickly lost interest after the first ten rounds left her in jail four times; Oz eventually teamed up with Willow and they owned a whole side of the board, though unfortunately that side started on Baltic Avenue; Giles spent his money wisely and collected railroads with the enthusiasm and single-mindedness of a child; and Xander…Xander was lucky.

"All Harris's are lucky," Xander was saying when it was just him, Giles, and Willow around the game. Oz had climbed onto a nearby table and fallen asleep, one arm thrown behind his head as a pillow. Buffy threw knives at a dartboard and muttered to herself as they kept missing the mark. "I mean – not at big things. My mother is pretty dead set on gambling away my inheritance. But give us your every day board game with dice and we'll win every time – that's a nine Will. Right on Boardwalk."

"I can add!" Willow said, but she'd been wobbling on the edge of bankruptcy for the past hour and handed her money over gladly before going to lay on top of Oz, who threw his free arm around her waist.

"Luck is not a bad thing to have," Giles said, moving his racecar onto one of his own properties. "And there's some evidence that some people are in fact more predisposed to be lucky."

"Yeah, I don't get to be smart or coordinated," Xander said, getting his $200 for passing Go, "but damn if I didn't get my humor and my luck. No one in my family has ever died of cancer. I mean – liver failure sure…that's the game! Damn, that was fast."

Giles had landed on the thrice-hoteled Park Place and swore after doing a quick calculation. "Losers clean up," he said as Xander waved all his money at Buffy, who looked like she could not care less, "Winners make another pot of tea."

"Still with the tea? I think that can cause liver failure, too."

"Maybe you can lend me some of your luck," Giles said, looking out the window. The game had started directly after school, but it was now well past ten o'clock.

Xander had just topped off the hot water in the tea pot and was bringing it back to the table when Angel slipped into the room. His entrance was silent as usual until the door to the library banged behind him, loud enough to startle Oz and Willow out of their doze. Loud enough for Xander to yelp and trip over his feet, spilling the tea and breaking the pot and little tea cups that were next to it.

"Xander!" Giles barked out over the chorus of scare much? and are you okay?s. And then he was somehow towering over Xander and looked so angry and he reached down to grab one of the pieces of broken glass that surrounded Xander…

And took his hand back quickly when Xander visibly flinched away from him, a noise like a small scared grunt escaping his lips. Giles stilled, examining the teen closely, "What's wrong?"

But even as the words left his lips Xander was laughing nervously, running a hand through his hair, "Sorry Giles. You British people have to have more than one teapot around, right? I mean, not having a back up would be just asking for trouble."

"Oh – yes. In my office. Are you all right, Xander?"

"Oh yeah, great," Xander gave Giles a wide, fake smile and looked at a point over the librarian's shoulder, "How 'bout knocking before you slink in, Angel? That's a serious misuse of vamp powers!"

In the argument that followed, and Xander making another cup of tea, and Oz being surprisingly good at finding pieces of broken glass, one would think that Giles would forget that when he bent towards a prone Xander on the floor, the teen had looked at him fearfully, had flinched away from him. And for the most part, Giles did forget, until he couldn't ignore the problem any longer.

.***.

Five weeks before Xander would start shaking when Giles bandaged him up, the teen asked the librarian to buy him beer.

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Xander actually looked at the face of the man he was propositioning and his face lost all color. "Oh man…is there any way we can just forget I did that?"

"I don't think so, no." Giles crossed his arms over his chest, staring with what Xander had dubbed the 'creepy librarian stink eye.' "Why are you asking people to buy you alcohol?"

"Umm…because I'm not twenty-one and can't buy it myself?" Xander tried, then sighed. "Look, usually my friend Patrick works the store for the night shift, and we're pretty tight and he'd sell me the dumb six pack. But Patrick got totally sucked dry by that rogue vamp last week and the new guy is just huge and scary."

"None of this is a good explanation for why you want to imbibe in the first place," Giles pointed out, though even as he remained the aloof teacher he could feel himself cracking – Xander looked scared, and embarrassed, and Xander would make the worst secret alcoholic. There was a story here, and Giles would listen to all the inane ramblings to get to the bottom of it.

Xander fidgeted and looked back up at Giles with an uncharacteristic defiant glare, "would it help if I said you'd be helping me out a lot?"

"Yes," Giles said slowly, trying to piece all of this information together into a coherent story, "But I still need to know the particulars. Do you intend to drink this beer?"

"No."

"Then why exactly -"

"Jesus – it's for my dad, okay?" As soon as the words were out of his mouth Xander looked like he would very much like to stuff them back in. He continued, lowering his voice, his face turning redder by the second, "Look, my dad just gets these – ideas and he can't let them go. So, like, an hour ago this idea was to drink a six pack while watching reruns of I Love Lucy – weird, right? But the idea was not to go to the store himself, because that would have been too much work, so he woke me up and told me to go buy the beer and normally that wouldn't be a problem but it wasn't until I was here that I realized Patrick was d-dead and now I look like a punk kid trying to get people to buy him alcohol and this looks really bad so we should probably pretend it never happened, okay?"

He stood there fidgeting while Giles regarded him with that look, like Xander was something to be pitied when he wasn't he was fine. This country was going to the dogs – how is it fair that he helped battle the forces of evil on a weekly basis and he couldn't buy a six pack for his troubles?

Finally, Giles spoke, "I didn't know your friend died. How are you taking that?"

Xander gaped at him, "That's what you took from that? I'm – I'm fine. Patrick was a cool dude and he'd buy be coffee sometimes – I think he might have been into me, my life would be so much easier if I were gay – but we weren't besties or anything." He broke off, staring in the window of the twenty-four hour convenience store and seeming to lose his train of thought. Then he snapped back to Giles, mouth twisting into an amused smile, "But seriously, that's all you took from that?"

There were two options that Giles could see here: on the one hand, he could make his excuses and leave and Xander would still be here, asking the kind of people going to cheap all-night stores at one in the morning to buy him beer, and he might get picked up by the cops or worse. On the other hand, Giles could buy the alcohol himself and hand it over to Xander and wish the teen a good night and pretend none of this ever happened.

He really hated binary options, and usually he was adept at figuring out how to go behind door C…but whether blame lay in the lateness of the hour or in the confines of the situation, Giles couldn't see another way out. "You should get some sleep Xander."

"Yeah, I know," Xander said, and yawned to punctuate the sentence. He looked at Giles resignedly – there was no way for him to further influence the situation. All he had left to do was wait.

And though Giles thought it was the wrong choice, it was the more right one in the situation. "Hold on. I'll be back."

He went into the convenience store, pretending this was really the right thing to do, pretending he didn't hear the heartfelt "thanks a lot, Giles," directed at his back.

.***.

Two days before Giles watched one of the strongest teens he knew hover on the verge of tears, Xander said something he didn't pay attention to. Later, he'd wish with all his heart that he did.

"What are you doing this weekend, Xander?" Giles asked. It was only them left in the library. It was Friday night, date night, and Xander and Cordelia were in one of their frequent off-again periods. Xander was just swinging his backpack over his shoulder, but didn't look anxious to leave.

"The usual I guess. Tomorrow's my parent's anniversary, so I'm making them dinner."

Giles smiled, "Can you cook?"

"Not really. Honestly I hate their anniversary almost as much as they do. Usually I crash with Willow but she has a boyfriend now and I actually like Oz. He's a pretty level-headed guy, but I don't want to have a werewolf on my case if he found me snuggling in bed with his girlfriend."

"That's probably for the best," Giles agreed absent-mindedly, flicking through a new edition of Vampyres of the Western World. "Goodnight, Xander."

It was a dismissal, a cue for Xander to leave the librarian to his books, a hint that Giles didn't care, not really. And Xander was used to that, so he left, and Giles always regretted that.

.***.

Giles went to the library late Sunday night for more books and took the knife out of his inside pocket and held it in front of him as he opened the door to the. The lights were on. Something else was already there.

He nudged open the door, leading with his right side, with the knife. It was quiet, the only sound the buzzing of the fluorescent lights. Until – what was that? From in his office?

In a couple of quick strides Giles was there, and he threw the door open to find - "Xander?"

For a moment the teen was a blur of motion as Xander quickly turned to face the librarian, putting his fists up like he was about to fight. "Oh. Giles."

"What are you doing here?" Giles exclaimed, looking at his desk where the First Aid kit was open and had obviously been rummaged through. "How did you get in?"

"One of the windows in the back near the encyclopedias doesn't close right. I kind of tumbled in." A drop of blood fell from Xander's closed hand onto the polished mahogany of the desk. They both stared at it for a long second.

"How badly are you hurt?"

"It's not bad," Xander said, shaking his head as if this would convince Giles. "Really. Just fell down and I was walking near the school and thought – hey, Giles always has a good First Aid kit. So I let myself in."

"Perhaps we should have a conversation about breaking and entering. Later." Giles grabbed Xander's hand, "Let me see. How bad is it?"

"Not bad," Xander said even as he opened his fist to reveal a long, deep, jagged cut across his palm.

Giles tried not to let his surprise show. "Xander, this is very serious. You'll need stitches."

"You can do it," Xander said, wincing as Giles probed at his hand. "Can we just skip the hospital?"

About to lay down an executive order and say no, we can't just skip the hospital, Giles looked up at Xander's face and thought better of it, "You'll have to sit down. And this is going to hurt."

"What doesn't?"

Giles found the necessary equipment in the First Aid kit and cleaned the cut, which leaked blood as fast as he could mop it up. "You'll have a scar," Giles said after ten minutes of quiet. Xander's mind was somewhere else entirely. "How did you hurt yourself this badly?"

"I fell."

"Onto a piece of glass?"

"Uh – yeah. Littering a huge problem in Sunnydale."

Giles shook his head looking at the hands. There was something off here, from the torn fingernail to the bruises on the knuckles, to everything that he'd seen of Xander in the past five months. "Are you sure that's how you got this cut?"

"That's my story and I'm sticking to it," Xander said, then added, hurriedly, "Thanks for patching me up, Giles. I just didn't want the hospital to call my parents." As he spoke he kept his left hand against his side, as he had for the entirety of the night.

Giles finished with his last stitch and eyes the other hand. "Let me see that one, too."

"It's not bleeding!" Xander said quickly, putting the hand behind his back.

"I'll be the judge of that. Give it here."

For a span of five long seconds there was a staring contest and then slowly, very slowly, Xander extended his hand out to the librarian and opened his fingers.

Only years of seeing the carnage of battle kept Giles from blanching at the sight of a very serious burn. He stared at it, then looked up at Xander. "You get this by falling down, too?"

Xander started to nod, and halfway through thought better of it. He took a deep breath that shook halfway through. "No. I – it was my parents' anniversary, right? But I screwed up dinner and kind of set off the smoke alarm and my d-dad," he stammered over the world and fell silent, looking away from Giles's piercing gaze.

"Right," Giles said, taking the burned hand his and running his fingers over it as gently as he could. There were blisters and dead skin. It was a second degree burn, maybe a third, and Giles winced as he imagined Xander trying to twist away, screaming, as his hand was held on a hot burner. "Are there any others?"

It was like telling the truth about one was a floodgate. Xander told him that his hurt wrist wasn't from a fighting vampires but from his mother pushing him down a flight of stairs ("that was probably an accident" he said) He told Giles that the cut hand was from his father throwing a broken plate at his face ("but I totally deserved that one – I broke, like, five plates tonight" he said) He told Giles about being a child and crawling out his window and running to Willow's house and she'd let him cuddle with her in bed and give him breakfast and tell him everything his father said was a lie ("but she has Oz now, so…")

At the end of it all Xander just stared at Giles, waiting for him to say something, anything. He fidgeted in the silence and didn't look at Giles's face until finally he just said, "Look, I'm sorry for unloading all this on you. Thanks for the patch job. I'll just…yeah." He started to stand up, and then said, an afterthought, "And sorry for breaking into the library too. It's only I…didn't know where else to go."

"Sit down," Giles said quietly. He hadn't meant to be quiet for so long, but he was taking the events of the past five months and adding them up and seeing that they equaled nothing good. How had he not noticed before? Taken the time to ask a couple of lousy questions? "We'll come up with a plan."

"A plan?" Xander, who'd just sat down, sprang back up again. "Yeah…no. I'm probably making it sound like it's worse than it is. It's nothing, Giles. I swear."

"That burn isn't nothing."

"I deserved it," Xander said, but he looked confused even as he said the words.

"No you didn't," Giles said, and he forced himself to speak quietly. It was so easy to forget that some of the worst monsters didn't come out of the Hellmouth, and those were the ones with the most power over the psyche of a boy who did his best to make the world a better place. He was angry, but he forced himself to keep the anger out of his tone. "Xander, I promise you – you don't deserve this kind of violence. I can help you."

"I had to deserve it," Xander said, seeming much younger than almost-eighteen, and when he finally looked at Giles again he was blinking furiously, his eyes suspiciously wet. "Or else how does this make sense? I must have done something to screw this up. I always do. Parents are supposed to like their kids, right? I must have screwed something up a long time ago…"

And though Giles wanted to take a better look at the burn, and he would later coax Xander out of his shirt and see and array of old and new scars, not all of them from demon hunting, and though he wanted nothing more than to pay the Harris's a visit, right at that moment the only thing he could do to make up for five months of ignorance and neglect was wrap Xander in a hug. At first the teen stiffened and tried to pull away, but eventually he leaned into Giles's shoulder and stayed there for a long time.

"It'll be okay," Giles said, hoping that he'd be able to honor that promise.

.***.

the end. (love those words)

okie dokey guys, confession time: we've loved buffy since mom first started watching it when we were about three, but never really knew how to touch the show. the writing is so good it's intimidating. so here's our little imitation of joss with our favorite character of xander playing the punching bag. hope someone out there likes it.