It was on the third day that Xander had had enough. "That's it!" he said, jumping up from the sheeted couch on which he had been sprawled. "If I have to watch one more minute of Univision soap operas, I'm gonna pull a Jack Nicholson."
"Really?" Oz's eyes didn't move from the screen. "'Cause I find the predictability of the narrative structure oddly soothing."
"Sure," Willow said, not looking up from her book. "Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl are separated by the evil scheming of boy's identical twin..."
"Exactly. It's a classic that transcends cultural differences."
"Oh, you've just got the hots for Christina," Xander said, looking at the flickering image of a dark-haired woman with a substantial and constantly heaving bosom.
"She is attractive," Oz acknowledged, "but I've got a strict redheads-only policy these days. Not too many of those on Spanish soaps." Willow looked up then and grinned at him.
"If we were going to be trapped, couldn't we at least have been trapped in a house that gets cable?" Xander moaned. "How much longer can this reality storm-thingy last?"
"The answer to that question hasn't changed since an hour ago, Xander," Cordelia snapped. "Giles doesn't know. Though I hope it's over soon, because I'm missing the big Neiman-Marcus semi-annual sale."
"Did you ever stop to think that Neiman-Marcus might not even be there when this is over?"
Cordelia paled. "No," Willow said, "Ethan said that pretty much everything should go back to normal once the storm passes."
"Except for there being some more dead Sunnydalers, and I guess that is normal around here. But that's another thing I don't like. Being shacked up in a semi-abandoned house with that nutcase Ethan."
"He did save our lives by warning us," Willow said. "He didn't have to do that."
"Oh, you just like him because he gave you those books to read. Better not let Giles see the titles."
Willow shifted and dropped the book into her lap. "Xander," Buffy called from the next room, where she had been doing katas across the bare floor all day, "I think you're already deep into Nicholson-land. Relax. And stay away from typewriters, okay?"
"I have an idea," Cordelia said brightly. "Why don't you go upstairs and bother Giles and creepy guy instead of us?"
"I'm not sure that would be smart," Willow said. "It's always pretty tense between them. I don't know if Xander should wander into the line of fire."
"Well, maybe one of them will take his head off. Besides, he could steal one of those bottles of liquor Ethan had."
"Do you think he'd be any more fun drunk?" Buffy asked dubiously.
"Fine!" Xander threw up his hands. "I'm going upstairs. At least Giles abuses me in a classy way. With an accent and everything."
Once he'd gotten upstairs, though, Xander began to wonder if it was a particularly good idea. Giles and Ethan did have bad blood between them, and, with his luck, he'd walk right into some disintegration spell one of them was casting. In real life, you didn't get a saving throw against stupidity.
But the voices he heard coming from one of the rooms were quiet. Almost...friendly. As he cautiously pushed the door open, he saw that the two of them were sitting at a table with a bottle of whiskey and two half-full glasses, focusing intently on...a game of Scrabble? They didn't even look up when he came in.
Well. Board games, he could do. Xander wandered over to them and looked down at the board. "I must be bored, 'cause I want to play next. Can I?"
"Not that I wouldn't love the opportunity to gaze on your profile at leisure, Xander, but I think the stakes are a little rich for your blood," Ethan said.
"You two are betting on Scrabble? You've gotta be kidding me."
"Not quite," Giles murmured, his eyes fixed on the board. "You see--"
"Hey," Xander noticed and interrupted, "'exaudi' isn't even a word. Neither is 'orationem'--"
Giles's hand shot up and covered his mouth. Xander made a noise of protest. Ethan chuckled. "Xander," Giles said carefully, "promise me you won't read any more words which, which don't look like words to you off the board."
Xander nodded, and Giles took his hand away. "Okay. The hell?"
"We're playing a variant in which magical words are allowed."
"Magical words. Wow, you actually found a way to make Scrabble duller. Congratulations, G-man."
Giles rolled his eyes. "There are special rules. If a word you complete destroys the board, or any of the pieces--"
"Or the building," Ethan interjected.
"Then you lose. If your opponent is unable to make a move--"
"Say, because he's turned into a ferret, or his hair has caught on fire..."
"--then he forfeits automatically."
"Oh." Xander took a long step back from the board. "You guys are into the high stakes."
"Yes, well, adults have to make their own fun, too," Ethan said.
"But how can you tell whether a word is a real magical word, and not just, you know, 'supercallifragilistic--'"
This time, it was Ethan's hand covering his mouth. "That is a real magical word. In the right circumstances--of which this board provides most--it summons a woman you have to marry. Understand?"
Xander pushed his hand away. "Hey, I could use a--"
"For the person who started the spell." Ethan looked down at the board. "I can't remember whether that would be me or Ripper, actually, but it would be tragic, either way."
Xander coughed. "Um, right. But, he asks without using any more examples, how do you tell whether a word is real?"
Giles nodded to the stack of volumes on the floor next to the table. "It has to be in a standard reference work."
"Doesn't that take a lot of time to check?"
"Yes," Ethan said. "So there is a special penalty if you challenge a word incorrectly."
Ethan raised his eyebrows and looked at Giles, who turned bright red. "It's not, not that special."
"Oh, you're much too modest," Ethan purred. "Let's just say that you were right, Xander: we do play for high stakes. Very high."
Xander turned even redder and raised his hands. "Okay, okay, I get it. Can we just--"
"Half a tick," Giles said to Ethan at the same time. "Too modest? You've been making improper challenges on purpose, haven't you?"
Xander took one look at the self-satisfied expression on Ethan's face and fled.
When Xander came downstairs, Willow was dyeing Oz's hair as he sang to her tunelessly, while Cordelia was painting her toenails. "Okay, I've got to go find a more manly atmosphere," he said, and went to see Buffy.
"So, what's going on up there?" Buffy asked, pausing in her moves as he came in. "It's awful quiet. Tell me Giles killed Ethan."
"No, no, they're actually getting...uh...pretty cozy up there. Bonding with Jack Daniels and Milton Bradley."
Buffy raised her eyebrows. "Milton Bradley?"
"Yeah. They're playing Scrabble."
"It's true. It boggles the mind, but it's true."
"Okay, this I have to see," Buffy said, starting to push past him towards the stairs.
"I really don't think that would be a good idea," Xander said, moving to block her.
"Why not? Finally, a chance to look over Giles's shoulder and criticize all his moves!"
"I think it's Ethan's moves you'd be seeing," Xander muttered.
"Nothing, nothing. Look, they, um, they chased me out. I don't think they want...kibitzers."
"Rats. You should at least have taken a picture."
"Oh, no, I shouldn't have," Xander said fervently and went back to the living room, leaving a puzzled Buffy behind him.
Later that night, as everyone else downstairs slept, Xander paced around restlessly. Serial murder was starting to seem like a valid entertainment option. At least it would stop Oz from snoring. He was interrupted in these thoughts by a bang, then loud squawks, curses, and shouts, from upstairs. When he got up there, the air was full of thinning smoke. Giles was bandaging Ethan's wrist while Ethan scowled and pushed tiles around with his other hand. "Really, Ethan, you called the demon yourself," Giles was saying. "Every single one of the words except the last was yours."
"When I set up the spell, I didn't think you'd actually finish it," Ethan sulked.
"No," Giles corrected him, "you just didn't think I'd be able to make it recoil on you." He looked down and smirked. "While, at the same time, landing a triple word score."
Ethan tried to keep the scowl on his face, but quickly succumbed to laughter. "True. Well, will you at least kiss it and make it better?"
Giles was just lifting Ethan's wrist to his mouth when Xander coughed. "What happened?" he asked, as Giles hastily dropped Ethan's arm.
"Nothing," Ethan said.
"Nothing out of the ordinary, at any rate," Giles added. "Ethan cheated."
"It's against the rules to summon demons?"
"House rule. Ever since a certain incident where the wrong sort of demon got called."
"Summon one succubus instead of an incubus," Ethan muttered, "hear about it for the rest of your life."
"How cruelly I mistreat you, Ethan."
"I think I deserve credit for that 'incident.' If it hadn't been for that, Randall would probably have died a virgin."
"Funny, I don't remember him being appreciative afterwards. He couldn't walk for a week. And the poor bastard had only been watching the game."
"Well, you were the one who deflected her attentions onto him."
Xander cleared his throat, suddenly interested. "You can...summon sex demons?"
"It's rather simple, actually. You just--"
"Ethan, should you tell him how to do that, you won't be hearing about it for the rest of your life, because I will end your life on the spot."
Ethan gave Xander an apologetic look. "Sorry. You heard him."
"Come on, Giles, what harm could it do?"
"Xander, a succubus, or incubus, has inexhaustible sexual potency."
"Well, no more than your average chaos sorcerer," Ethan qualified.
"I'm still not seeing the problem here, G-man."
"It's insatiable. If not driven off, it will continue to copulate with its victim until the victim dies of exhaustion."
"Which would take longer for some people than for others," Ethan said
Giles gave him a look. "Indeed. I would still have won the game."
"Are you sure?" Ethan asked innocently.
"I'm winning it now, despite your best attempts to simulate one."
Even to learn the secret of summoning a sex demon, Xander couldn't take any more. He was going to find somewhere to sleep that featured neither snoring werewolves nor crazed Brits, if it was the last thing he ever did.
"Xander? You're sleeping in the bathtub?" he heard Willow say some hours later.
"I had my reasons," he mumbled, sitting up.
"Well, come on! It's morning, and the storm's stopped! We're no longer living in an Escher painting!"
"Really?" He followed her out into the living room. Sure enough, the world outside looked normal...or as normal as Sunnydale ever got, anyway.
"It's too bad," Oz said, "I was getting all these ideas for Dingoes videos."
"Right. Hey, has anyone told Giles?"
"No, not yet," Willow said.
This time, when he opened the door, he saw on the floor a tangle of pillows and blankets and sleeping Brits. He turned bright red. "Um, Giles," he said quietly, but it was Ethan's head that rose.
"The storm's over."
Ethan gestured to him to be quiet. He grabbed a shirt from the floor--Giles's, from the way it hung around him--buttoned it, and came out into the hallway, closing the door. Xander did his best not to look down. "Don't wake him. It's the first he's slept in three nights, and you're not undoing all my hard work."
"Tiring him out," said Ethan, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "I was losing the games on purpose. I knew that with enough forfeits--" "Okay, okay."
"You are a most curious young man, Xander. You ask so many questions that you don't seem to want the answers to."
"Yeah, well..." Xander cast around. "I don't think you could have beaten him even if you wanted to."
Ethan shrugged. "Perhaps not. I wasn't fighting defeat as hard as I could have, at least. The point is, I got him to sleep, something he obviously needed. You're not waking him up."
"But the storm's over. We can go."
"Then go. Surely you don't need him to hold your hand as you cross the street?"
Xander frowned. "I'm not sure I want to leave him here with you."
"Then stay yourself; I don't care."
"Maybe I will."
Ethan turned to go back into the room, then stopped. "It could be several hours," he observed. "How shall we pass the time? A nice game of Scrabble, perhaps?"
"You know what?" Xander said instantly. "I've changed my mind. Tell him we'll see him in the library later."