Title: Two men (and their dog) in a boat
Timeline: Post Chosen. Comics? What comics ..?
Disclaimer: I don’t own any rights to BTVS whatsoever – but a few of the characters in the story are mine, and I have been to all but one of the places mentioned. (And that’s because it doesn’t actually exist, although places like it do.)
Word count: 30,000 (and a bit)
Summary: Giles and Xander go on a trip for the Summer.
Author’s note: This is a long, rambly, summer holiday Fic, in which very little happens, which may be the point. I actually started it for SOG last year, and it turned out to be a little longer than I’d planned. About 20,000 words longer …
“What do you think?”
Xander’s eye narrowed as he looked at the brochure he’d been handed. The photograph on the front was just too English for words – all green trees and dappled water, with some weird Victorian contraption made of brick and wood and darkened steel obscured by the brightly coloured object emerging from within it. “It’s a houseboat,” he said, not getting it at all. “I thought we were talking about getting to see the sights. Why would we want to spend a week stuck on a houseboat?”
“The term is narrowboat,” Giles corrected a little archly, retrieving the brochure and opening it up to study the map inside it. “And we won’t be stuck, we’ll be travelling. Look – the yard is here, on the Coventry arm … so that means we can visit the Cathedral, and Warwick Castle while we’re in the area … and the cut goes up through Birmingham, and round …”
“The what?” Xander interjected, bemusedly wondering when Giles had stopped talking English and started talking … whatever it was he was talking.
“The cut. It’s what canal people call a canal in this country – distinguishing it from the waters of the Broads and those long interminable waterways they have on the continent. Actually,” he continued with a thoughtful look, “they were originally termed ‘navigations’ – but since they were cut out of the countryside by manual labour … labourers bearing the name navies for a long time afterwards as a result – the boatmen who plied their trade along them called them the ‘cut.’ And still do. Don’t look at me like that, Xander. You and I have been firmly told to take a relaxing break. And since I don’t fancy wrestling with traffic jams and motorways, and there is no way I am spending a week sitting on a English beach, summer or no summer, this is an ideal solution. It’s like caravanning. On water. Travelling at no more than four miles an hour, but travelling. Through countryside and village and town – even city. Did you know that Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice?”
“No.” Xander shook his head, making an effort to pull his thoughts away from how distracting Giles’ voice could be once he fell into lecturing mode, and to focus on trying to get his mind round this entirely weird idea instead. Sailing he got – although he didn’t want to do it on anything smaller than a Queen Mary sized cruise liner, thank you very much. The … boat on the brochure was smaller than … “How long is that thing?”
“Fifty six feet.” Giles was perusing the information on the back of the leaflet with interest. “But less than seven wide. So it can fit in the locks.”
“Locks? I thought it was a boat, not a key. Why would we put it in a lock?”
“So we can get up and down hills … Good Lord.”
“What? What?” Xander half snatched the leaflet away, scanning it for indications of potential apocalypse, and Giles laughed.
“Xander,” he admonished softly, “you really do need a holiday, don’t you. And I know this is going to be the one you need – that we need,” he corrected, and smiled – that small, affectionate smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes and made Xander’s heart flip every time he saw it. Well – every time it was directed at him, at least. He knew Giles reserved it for strictly Scoobie interactions, although Buffy was more likely to get a patient sigh with it, Willow’s version was slightly more awed and somewhat less indulgent, and Dawn – Dawn got the loving parent version, which was warm and a little amused and whole lot more … well, fatherly than the one he tended to get.
Which was good. Because fatherly was the very last thing he expected – or wanted - Giles to feel about him these days.
“Imagine,” the smile’s owner said, edging in a little closer and turning the brochure over so that Xander was, once again, staring at that idyllic picture on its cover, “the two us, away from the office, away from the front line, for an entire week – with nothing to worry about but the next lock and the state of the weather. And even if the weather turns bad” he added, widening the smile a little, “we’ll be no more than a step away from somewhere warm and dry. We can moor up, and sit inside and listen to the rain on the roof, all safe and snug, without a care in the world.”
The young man from California – the one Xander had been once, before his home town fell into hell and he’d been forced to find out what the rest of the world had to offer – would have scoffed at the idea. Spend a week stuck in cramped and primitive quarters, miles from anywhere, with nothing to do but stare out at the rain?
The slightly older man, stifled by the heat of Africa, heart sick from battles and loss and bare and bitter victories, desperate for a little peace and quiet – not to mention some time to explore some recent and very interesting developments in his life – looked up into hopeful eyes and returned the smile with one of his own. “Sounds good to me,” he said. “You gonna pack a few books, or you gonna leave them behind too?”
“Xander,” Giles said very solemnly, putting his hand over his heart to add weight to his words, “if you agree to this trip, I promise – no, I swear, that the only books we will have in the cabin will be one of your trashy mystery novels, a guide book or two – and possibly a copy of the Lord of the Rings, since did I promise Andrew, somewhat foolishly I admit, that I would get you to read it, one way or the other. But nothing work related. Or even academically related. If you insist.”
“Nah.” Xander grinned and shook his head. “I’m not that cruel. Work you can definitely leave behind. But I’m not going to stop you buying the old and stuffy stuff while we’re away, because – well, you and bookshops? That’s a whole love affair I don’t get, but do get a kick outta watching it happen. But don’t expect to read everything you buy. Not until we get home again, k?”
“Duly noted.” Giles firmly pushed the rest of the leaflets – spas, country hotels, historical cottages to rent, and all the way too much activity stuff – to one side, and reached to pluck the chosen one from Xander’s clutch. “Anything else I need to promise to make you come?”
The snigger was impossible to smother. Giles blinked, clearly went back over what he’d just asked, and rolled his eyes, looking momentarily mortified. “Xand …” he started to say, then stopped, pressing his lips together and trying very hard to regain his dignity – before losing it altogether in a snigger and snort of his own. “You,” he accused, with the sort of warmth that made Xander feel all gooey inside, “are a bad influence, you know that?”
“Mmhuh. But you love me anyway, right?”
The look this earned him was worth any number of weeks in a cramped cabin somewhere. “Much to my total and continuingly utter astonishment,” Giles allowed with the hint of a martyred sigh, “I do. A little more every day,” he added – words which turned Xander’s inner sense of gooeyness into ridiculous mush. “Lord help me …”
The Lord, Xander thought, was probably too busy laughing to intervene, which was probably just as well. It was entirely possible that there were whole pantheons of gods currently splitting their sides at the unlikely turn of events that had – quite literally in some ways – brought the two of them together in a collision of misunderstandings, mixed messages, awkward realisations and totally bemusing revelation. And, okay, so maybe Dawn and Andrew had been willing pawns in the Powers’ game playing, and Willow and Buffy had been sufficiently amused and entertained by the idea to help them create their conspiracy, but – if Xander was going to blame this on anyone, it would be Cordelia for dropping those early seeds of doubt in his mind, and Anya for encouraging him to fantasise about bringing a third partner in their bedroom …
… and a little, just a little, on Ethan Rayne, an ancient Etruscan sex demon, and his own willingness to demonstrate just how he’d earned his raunchy nickname in the Fabulous Ladies Night club on that fateful road trip, which seemed so long ago now.
“Yeah,” Xander grinned, climbing to his feet. “Love you too, Rubear.” He had to slide himself behind the man’s seat in order to navigate his way from desk to door, so he took the opportunity to pause and wrap his company in a friendly bearhug as he passed. He leant his weight on the solid warmth of broad shoulders and spared a second to nuzzle and kiss the nearest earlobe. The one with the discretely delicate gold ring looped though it “You wanna go boating, we’ll go boating. Just so long as it’s far away from demons and dead guys, and all those go-to girls that … yeah,” he concluded, a little shakily. “You know.”
“I know.” Giles’ answer, like the hand that he laid over the fingers clasped above his breastbone, was gentle. They both really, really needed some down time, and not just because the last would-be-apocalypse had nearly gone pear shaped when an over enthusiastic slayer had charged in at precisely the wrong moment. Bad things happened. They came with the job, and Xander was well aware that not everyone was going to make it every time. He just did his damnedest to make sure that his girls were trained, and ready, and knew enough not to make stupid mistakes, for the same reasons that Giles worked liked a Trojan every day (and half of the nights) to make sure that they had the best intel, and the best resources, and the best people doing the things that needed to be done … and when you worked that hard, and that long (and rarely got any thanks for it, either) you got tired. Physically, mentally, and emotionally tired.
And maybe that had been the cunning in Dawn and Andrew’s cunning plan – arranging things so that, while – from their own perspectives - neither man would ever think to complain, or even try to find the space to take the breaks they needed, once they had became … involved, they would inevitably both fall over themselves to make sure the other did.
Continued in Part Two