Sandy Places Among the Angels

Part Two

Xander had his backpack slung over his shoulder. It was heavier than it used to be in high school -- not because he had never carried too many books around in high school, but because somehow college books were thicker and heavier. He suspected they even used heavier paper, just to make it feel like you were learning more.

He'd parked his truck down the block a ways from the office. Finding parking in the area was tricky, and he'd only had to promise the sacrifice of a small lemon to the gods of parking to get the one he'd found. Angel wouldn't mind if he did that, here, would he? Probably not.

His first day on campus had gone pretty well, though it was going to take him a while to be able to find all his classes without resorting to a map. It had definitely kept his mind occupied -- which was exactly what he had needed.

The past weekend had been fantastic -- not just with getting everything unpacked, which they'd finished by Saturday noon. But the rest of the day, and Sunday, had been... fantastic. Giles had even taken him shopping, pointing out in that dry tone of his that Xander would need to own things like paper towels and dish soap and vacuum cleaner bags. Xander had figured he'd have worked that out for himself, eventually. But it was nice letting Giles take care of things. Take care of him.

Sunday night, though, when it had come time for Giles to leave, he'd been hard pressed not to invite Giles to stay. He'd seen it in Giles' eyes -- that he was half-hoping Xander would need him to remain. Xander had scared himself by how much he wanted to come up with a reason, no matter how lame. They had finally simply acknowledged that Giles had to go, and Xander had been left alone in his apartment.

Until Spike showed up. The sex had kept Xander's mind off Giles, as had the worn into exhaustion sleep that followed.

Getting ready for school that morning, and then school itself, had done the same. But now... He had no homework to keep him busy, and he was actually not interested in sex again right now -- otherwise he'd have simply gone to Spike's place and woken him up. But he felt a little guilty about using Spike, even if Spike didn't seem to care *why* Xander had been so eager to spend hours last night having sex. Later tonight would be soon enough to head over to Spike's place, even if it left him at loose ends for a few more hours.

To keep himself distracted, he'd decided to drop in on Angel. Maybe Angel's detective agency would have something interesting he could help with -- a crime to solve or demons to catch. If not -- they could at least hang out and Xander could make the vampire squirm by making veiled references to someone talking to Giles behind Xander's back.

Xander found the front door to the building, pulled it open, and ran up the stairs to where Angel had said his office was. He reached the door and had just pulled it open, when he heard a familiar voice inside. It was a voice he'd never expected to hear again, outside of ten year high school reunions.

"Cordy?" He hurried in, and found her standing in the middle of the office, hands on her hips, staring at the wall like she was about to recommend a fancy French painting to hang there. Angel was behind her a few feet, wearing a pained expression that told Xander that Cordy was not, as he might have feared, there to hire a vampiric investigator.

She turned when the door opened with a professional smile, only to have it fade when she saw who it was. "Oh. It's just you."

He ignored her unenthusiastic greeting, on the basis that Cordelia knew she couldn't convince him to marry her and keep her according to her high and exacting standards. "Hey, Cordy. Angel -- um, what's up?" He glanced towards the wall they'd been looking at, just in case. Nope, blank white wall. Not bleeding or oozing.

Cordelia sighed. "Not much unfortunately. I thought you were a client."

She paused then added hopefully, "You're not, are you?"

"Um, no. I'm a friend," he explained, slowly. "You remember me from high school?" He saw Angel smirk, then hide it quickly.

She rolled her eyes. "Like duh. Of course I remember. But that doesn't mean you can't hire us."

"Us?" Xander felt his eyebrows shoot up, and he looked over at Angel. Angel just shrugged and opened his mouth as if to explain, but Cordelia beat him to it.

"Us. Angel Investigations."

"As in... hi, I'm Cordelia Chase and I work for Angel Investigations?" Xander hazarded.

"No, *you're* Xander Harris-Giles, college student. *I'm* Cordelia Chase." She laid a hand on his shoulder and looked at him earnestly. "Try to keep up."

"And I work for Angel?" he teased. A thought occurred, and he asked quickly, "You don't go out and kill messy demons, do you?" She'd probably thump him for being all 'you can't do that, you're a girl' on her -- but she *was*. Not the Slayer kind, either, no matter how many things she'd killed in high school.

She put her hands on her hips and glared at him challengingly, ready to thump. "What if I do? You got a problem with that?"

"Er-- you carry something large and sharp, don't you?" He backed up a half-step, giving Angel a glare for standing there and letting Xander put his foot in his mouth -- as well as for letting Cordelia go out and try to get herself killed. Angel just gave him a helpless half-shrug.

Cordelia whapped Xander in the arm. "Stop that. You act like I've never faced a demon before."

"Um, then normally you spend the next two days complaining about it. I never thought you'd go out of your way to hunt them down. Couldn't you get a job as a waitress while you look for acting jobs? Er-- you are still doing the famous actress thing?" It was *possible* that she'd become all concerned about the fight for justice and Good, and discarded her plans to be rich and famous. Possible.

But he hadn't seen any prophecies about the world ending this week, so he doubted it. Giles had assured him that almost every apocalypse was written down *somewhere*.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Of course I am. But, really. Me, a waitress? Please."

"Good point. So... you're really working for Angel?" He gave Angel another curious look, and Angel shrugged again. That was so not helpful. "For how long?"

"As long as it takes. Hey, this business needs *someone* who actually keeps track of the important things. Like getting paid." Now she was shooting a pointed look at Angel.

"I promised to pay you," Angel said easily. "After we got a paying job. That paid."

Xander was about to ask how business *was* going -- he hadn't worried when it was just Angel, working for himself. Angel didn't have to worry about bills, or rent, or incidentals like food. Not that the vampire didn't pay those things -- but he had two hundred and forty years' experience at figuring out how to do it when the money wasn't rolling in. But he didn't ask, since there was no graceful way of doing so in front of Cordelia.

"Exactly," Cordy was telling Angel. "And that's what you need me for."

"Well, um, best of luck," Xander told her. Not sure he wanted to be wishing them monsters, but maybe Angel wouldn't *really* let her get into any danger.

Angel spoke up, with the air of someone who has been patiently waiting until it was safe to do so. "So, Xander -- if you didn't need a investigator-- er, and his capable assistant," he added after Cordelia gave him a glare. What... um... can we do for you?"

"Just trying to kill time," Xander admitted. "Classes started today." He shrugged his backpack off his shoulder, and dropped it on the floor. "I've already got assignments to finish and I figured - what better place to avoid doing them?"

"I can understand that. It's not like there's *any* work getting done around here." Cordelia gave Angel another pointed look.

"I said there was filing to be done," Angel replied.

"Which I would do, if there was somewhere to actually put the files," she shot back.

Angel looked like he didn't -- maybe 'still' didn't -- have an answer to that one.

"Is there a decent place to get a soda around here?" Xander asked. The conversation he'd apparently interrupted looked like it might have been rather entertaining. Angel and Cordelia, who knew?

"There's a shop across the street," Cordelia told him. "If you're going, can you pick me up a diet soda for me while you're there?"

"Sure. Angel?"

"I'm pretty sure they don't carry my brand," Angel replied dryly.

"Oh, like you can't eat potato chips? Drink soda?" He'd seen Spike eat as much pizza, bread sticks, and cookies as Xander did, as long as there was no garlic involved, of course.

The face Angel made at that was quite eloquent an answer.

"Calzone?" Xander offered, unswayed.

Angel just Looked at him.

"Right. I'll just surprise you." He grinned, and left his bag in the office.

It didn't take him long to run across the street and get 'non-studying' supplies. Four sodas -- one for Angel, just in case -- and a healthy assortment of pre-made sandwiches, chips, and junk food. He had enough that Cordelia and Angel could have some -- but not so much that he couldn't eat it all, himself, if they actually declined. Just enough that he could carry them back without dropping anything, if he was careful.

When he got back, he kicked at the office door, and Angel opened it, giving the bags in Xander's arms a slightly horrified look. Xander held one of the sodas towards him, and Angel took it, reflexively. Then he looked down at it with such an expression of distaste that Xander was hard pressed not to laugh.

He held it out for Xander to take back, as soon as Xander had freed up his hands by setting bags down on the desk. Xander ignored him, handing Cordelia her soda. Angel followed him, still holding out the soda, expectantly.

Xander wondered how long he could get Angel to keep doing that. He knew the only way to find out was to test it. Good scientific research, and all. He opened one of the bags and told Cordy, who had been eyeing them but politely not saying a word, "Help yourself." She gave him a sudden, bright smile and did so. Angel tried to give her the soda, but she ignored him as well.

Xander dug through the bag, figuring that handing Angel a sandwich was just pushing it. He contented himself with a sandwich for himself, a bag of pretzels, and a candy bar, before he grabbed his backpack and headed over to the tacky, cheap green couch and settled himself on it.

"So," Cordy started as she opened her own sandwich half-sitting, half-leaning against one of the desks. "How's college going?"

Xander snerked. "Well, the first day was rough. I had to drag my ass outta bed at *9am*. Then -- classes. We had actual lectures -- one professor even handed out the schedule of tests and papers and there's one due in two weeks!"

She studied him for moment before she shook her head and smiled. "And you're loving every moment of it."

Xander didn't see any point in denying it. "And I have lab tomorrow! It's like getting credit for doing stuff I did at home for fun!"

"You have a weird idea of fun." She wrinkled her nose at him.

"You don't like blowing stuff up?" he asked, innocently. When she just gave him a look, he said, "I bet you don't like driving fast or belching, either."

"Um," Angel tried to interrupt -- still holding the soda out to Xander.

"Do you know how many times I had to wash my hair to get the smell of pink koolaid smoke out of it?" Cordelia demanded.

"Twice?" Xander was pretty sure it had only been twice - that'd she'd been there when the thing had blown up.

Angel finally went over to set the soda down on the desk. Xander checked his watch and saw Cordelia doing the same. They gave each other grins.

Before Angel could set the can down, there was a knock on the door. Xander watched -- exchanging more smirks with Cordelia -- as Angel went to answer the door, the soda still in his hand. On the other side of the door was a guy who looked like he might be in actual need of an investigator. He was dressed in what looked to Xander's practised eye, second-hand clothes -- neat, but worn and mismatched.

The guy looked at Angel, then grinned. "So you're the vampire with the soul, huh?" He spoke with an Irish brogue, the words flowing with that musical rhythm Xander sometimes caught the ghost of in Angel's voice. The stranger glanced down at the can of soda Angel was holding and took it.

"Thanks."

"Cheater," Xander said quietly, but Angel didn't even glance back at him.

Cordelia giggled before jumping to her feet and moving forward. "Welcome to Angel Investigations. We're here to help the hopeless."

The guy gave her a surprised look, then as his gaze shifted to Xander, Xander waved.

"And you would be the guy who's at the heart of the matter."

"Er?" Xander tried to look innocent, because he was pretty sure he hadn't done anything... today. "What'd I do?" He glanced at Angel, but he looked as confused as Xander. Not an old friend, then.

The guy smiled at him. "Long story, I'll explain it later."

"O-K." Xander stared at the guy for a moment, wondering if this was a joke of Spike's.

"Can I help you?" Angel asked, a hint of a demand in his tone. The newcomer gave him a disarming smile, and Xander decided he liked the guy, whoever he was. Unless he was a bad guy, in which case... well. It wasn't like Xander had such good luck with *not* hanging out with bad guys.

"Francis Doyle at your service. I was sent by the Powers That Be."

"Do they need a private investigator?" Cordelia asked, obviously trying to be polite and cheerful, but also obviously wanting to ask Francis Doyle if he was nuts.

"What Powers?" Xander asked, intrigued. "What do they Be?"

"You don't know?" Doyle sounded surprised. "You've already been working for them for years."

Xander exchanged a bewildered look with Cordelia and Angel. "I've been working for Giles," Xander said. "And the California State Public School system."

"The Public School system have preventing apocalypses on their curriculum, does it?" Doyle asked.

"The one in Sunnydale does," Cordelia said, matter-of-factly. "I have it on my high school transcript."

Doyle gave her a look that said he wasn't quite sure whether to believe her. Cordelia didn't crack a smile, and Xander found himself wondering if maybe she *did*. Would it be extracurricular? Or one of the elective courses? And why hadn't he got credit it for it on his transcript? He'd saved the world more often than *she* had, and his college was more likely to believe it, too. He made a mental note to talk to the dean and see if he could get credit for it.

"Um, sent by The Powers That Be? For...?" Angel spoke up. It didn't sound like he knew who the powers were, either, or believed that Doyle wasn't a bit too raving maniac to be a paying client.

"To help you. And to let you know what They want you to do." Doyle made a vague gesture at his head. "Visions."

Xander could see that this explanation wasn't helping any of them. Unless he actually *meant* what it seemed like he'd just said. "You have visions?" Xander guessed.

Doyle nodded, but Angel was still looking confused. "And these visions do... what? Exactly?"

"Give me damned awful hangovers for one thing."

Cordelia frowned. "So you came to ask us for some aspirin?" Xander suppressed a laugh at Doyle's rolled eyes. He didn't do it as well as Giles, but it had its effect, as Cordelia looked like she was about to thump him -- probably would have, if he weren't a total stranger.

"I came because they told me to," Doyle said in a level voice. "Because they have things they want Angel here to do." He grinned at Cordelia suddenly, with just a touch of a leer. "Not that I wouldn't accept anything you want to give me, Princess."

For a split second Cordelia looked like she was going to object to the rude comment -- then she decided to just focus on the 'Princess' part, and she smiled at Doyle. Xander didn't know whether to warn the guy or not. He decided not -- if the guy was having visions from some Powers That Were, surely they'd warn him.

"They... um... want to hire us?" Angel asked again, in a tone that said he thought he should have stayed downstairs this year.

"Um, not exactly," Doyle replied. "'Hire' implies payment."

"Ah." Angel nodded. "We do favors for these Powers, and in exchange they... don't make our lives difficult?"

"Pretty much. Fighting for the Good is supposed to be its own reward."

The last was said deadpan, the tone marred only by another eye roll. Xander decided to give it a 'five' on the Giles-O-Meter.

"Great. Still no income," Cordelia said, and she wandered back over to the second bag of junk food, and dug out a bag of M&Ms.

"So... was there something we're supposed to do, um, now?" Angel asked, trepidatiously.

Doyle grinned. "As a matter of fact..."

~~~~~

By Wednesday, Xander suspected that between classes, helping Angel, and Spike, he was going to spend his weekends sleeping. Except, of course, he also suspected that both Spike and helping Angel would spill over into his weekends. He'd have to spend his holidays home, sleeping.

Of course, if *Spike* had anything to say about it, only he would be spilling over into anything. Spike had spent all Monday evening being snarky about Xander's choice of activity -- "If you were bored, why didn't you come by my place, instead of hanging out in singles bars looking for slimy, mucky things." He'd been referring to Angel, of course, not the demon they'd been after.

He'd complained again when Xander had gone out with Angel, Doyle, and Cordelia the following night, as well, but was finally mollified now -- because they'd found the demon and Angel had taken care of it, and Xander was now home where he belonged.

At least he seemed mollified, Xander noted. At the moment he was wandering around Xander's apartment, poking at things and picking stuff up, moving them, putting them down somewhere else, as if silently commenting on Giles' decorating skills. Or perhaps he was trying to leave his mark on the territory.

"So, no plans for tonight, then," Spike asked, suddenly, after not saying a word for the last twenty minutes. Xander had been taking advantage of the silence to work on his homework.

"Nothing demon related at least," he responded, not looking up from the book he was reading. "Just normal demonic college homework type stuff." He looked over, briefly. "Which, OK, is demon related. But not in a bad way."

"Mm." Spike wandered over, and peered down at Xander's books. "What is that?"

"Homework."

Spike whapped him on the back of the head, and pulled the out chair beside Xander's, plopping down into it. "Meant the language."

Xander rubbed the back of his head and glared at the vampire. "Ow."

"Never heard of it. 'Ow' a demon language?" Spike picked up one of the notebooks -- one Xander *wasn't* using, surprisingly -- and opened it. Closed it again when he saw it was full of blank pages.

"What are you doing?"

"Nothing. TV remote's dead, needs new batteries. Pizza isn't here, yet."

There was a listlessness in Spike's voice that made Xander look up. "You're pouting."

"Am not!" Spike frowned at one of Xander's textbooks, and flipped it open. He flipped through a few pages before closing it again.

"And fidgeting," Xander noted.

"I'm not," Spike insisted. It made him sound -- and look, a bit -- like a three year old.

"Uh huh."

Spike glanced up, sharply, something in his face that was not quite anger, but not just irritation, either. For a tiny, infinitesimal second, Xander had the impression the vampire was going to leap across the table at him and... He shifted in his seat a little as his body reacted to the thought. Spike's eyes widened, slightly, back to normal and the moment was gone. Xander's heart was still pounding, though, and he was sure Spike could smell him. When Spike's eyebrow quirked and he glanced up again, Xander was sure of it.

Ah, the hell with it, Xander decided. It wasn't like he was going to be able to concentrate on his homework with Spike looking at him like that anyway. Carefully, he closed the book and laid it on the coffee table. Then *he* leaped across the table and pounced *Spike*.

Spike looked startled, and caught him, bracing himself so they wouldn't fall backwards.

"Hi." Xander grinned, easily settling himself into Spike's lap.

Spike narrowed his eyes. "What're you doing, now?"

"If I need to tell you, I'm going to be extremely disappointed in you."

He leaned in and began nuzzling at Spike's neck.

He felt Spike's hands moving -- touching his back, then his arms, then his legs as if he couldn't decide where to start ravaging, first. But then those hands were insanely pushing Xander away. "Nope. Not in the mood."

"No?"

"Nope." Spike looked away, his expression the very picture of... pouting.

"You sure?"

Spike didn't answer; he reached around Xander and picked up another textbook, and began flipping through it. This one was at least in English, so it was *remotely* conceivable he was actually skimming it.

Instead of letting Xander jump him.

Well, two can play at that game, Xander thought. "All right. If that's what you want." He got off Spike's lap and went back to his own chair and sat down, picking up his textbook again.

Spike didn't come after him. He kept skimming the textbook like it was actually making any sense to him -- which, as it was History of Demonology, it might well have been -- and ignored Xander.

At least he was pretending to ignore him. Xander could tell by the amount of fidgeting and sideways glances, though, that he was waiting for Xander to try again. Except he wasn't going to. He could out-patience the vampire any day -- at least when Spike wasn't actively touching him, or stripping in front of him.

Spike let him get back to his homework, and work quietly and uninterrupted for almost three minutes. Then he sighed. Xander carefully hid his smile and pretended to keep reading. Spike sighed again, just as softly, but with a touch more pout to it. It was getting difficult to keep his expression blank, but Xander managed.

A few moments passed, then Spike shifted a bit in his seat and flipped another page -- almost at a rate that said he might actually be reading it. Good on him, Xander thought. He could help Xander with his papers in-between pouncing him. But otherwise, Spike didn't do a thing.

It was apparently time to up the ante a bit. Xander leaned back in his chair and stretched slowly. Spike said nothing, then got out of his chair... and walked over to the couch, and sat down. That lasted until he rediscovered the remote needed batteries. But surprisingly, he just walked over to the television and turned it on.

Okay, that was too much. "Spike!"

"What?" Spike looked over, startled.

"You'd rather watch television than pounce me?"

He saw Spike shrug, and open his mouth to say something -- no doubt 'there's a game on' or something else equally annoying. "Er, well, no--" Spike said instead, thereby granting himself another night of unlife. Xander put his pencil down, since he apparently didn't have to slay his boyfriend just yet.

"Well, then?"

"But I'm aggrieved," Spike said, sounding perfectly ridiculous. "You spent two nights with *Angel* and got home too late for any shagging whatsoever, just a 'no, Spike, I need some sleep'. Now I'm supposed to just forget it, and shag you?"

Xander blinked. "Let me get this straight. You don't want to shag me because you wanted to shag me before and I was too tired?"

Spike was definitely pouting, now, and there was no way he could deny it without bald-faced lying. "Well, you wouldn't have been too tired if you hadn't been off hanging out with the Poof Lord himself, and--" He waved his hand, as though indicating everyone else in the world.

"I'm not too tired now," Xander pointed out, in what he thought had to be a reasonable tone, even if he was thinking about how ignoring Spike might not be a good idea, too.

"Bad enough I couldn't stop by for a quick shag while dad was here," Spike continued, as though he hadn't heard.

The very thought made Xander twitch. "Do you want to get staked?"

Spike looked at Xander's crotch.

Xander rolled his eyes. "That wasn't what I meant, but take it however you want, since I *am* trying to get pounced, here."

"Yeah, *you're* trying to get pounced." But Spike sighed, again, and suddenly it wasn't like he was trying to tease Xander into making the first move.

Xander suppressed a sigh of his own and got up to go sit beside Spike. Why was dealing with his boyfriend never easy? Spike just rubbed his nose, and stared at the television screen, not even glancing over at Xander.

But in a serious tone, Spike finally said, "Isn't what I thought it was gonna be."

"What isn't?" Xander asked quietly.

"Living in LA. Thought -- you know. Out of the house and on your own. Thought we'd be almost living together, except for the 'vampire doesn't actually live here' thing and me not answering the phone." He shrugged, and wouldn't look over at Xander. "Last few days I've seen you less than I used to back in Sunnyhell."

"Oh." Xander didn't know what else to say.

But Spike reached over, holding his hand out for Xander's. "Missed you." He sounded like he knew he was pouting, and wasn't going to apologise for it this time.

"Missed you, too," he replied, taking Spike's hand.

Spike's fingers twined with his, and they sat there, quietly, staring at the television. Spike scooted down, after a moment, until he was low enough to rest his head on Xander's shoulder.

"We never got to do this back in Sunnydale," Xander said after a few minutes.

"What, argue about not having sex?" Spike asked, in a light tone. "Sure we did. Always ended in shagging."

"No, this." He gestured with his free hand. "Just sit and cuddle and watch bad TV."

"Hm. Yeah." Spike shifted a bit, re-settling himself against Xander's side.

He didn't say so, but Xander could tell that the vampire was enjoying it as much as he was. Perhaps not quite as much fun as sex -- but nice, all the same.

"I like it," Xander said softly.

Spike didn't answer, but he squeezed Xander's hand, again. Neither of them moved, even when the bad TV got even worse.

~~~~~

Xander sat in the front seat and made vague gestures to indicate which building they were looking for. He was pretty sure Angel didn't need the directions -- Angel hadn't ever said he'd been to the campus, but Giles had known the campus was safe at night before Xander had ever told him about it, which he could only know if his resident spy had been there, checking it out. Well, safe as any place was, in LA.

But Giles had not freaked out unduly when Xander mentioned working there late, studying in the labs or getting lost in the library, so he figured Giles thought he was safe from being jumped by boogiemen. Of course, he didn't know Xander brought his own boogieman with him -- one who could be counted on to sit quietly in the library for hours, just to make Xander nervous.

Xander's personal boogieman was home tonight, since Xander had warned him in advance that he was giving Angel and company a hand with their latest case. It involved what they thought might be a Murkwellia demon, and Xander had done some research on them yesterday, up in the school's library. Murkwellia demons were small, squat, and odiferous -- and their psychotropic slime had to be counter-acted by an antidote which Xander had whipped up during lab, that afternoon.

"They don't do anything else, do they?" Cordelia asked, from the backseat.

"You really don't want to know, Princess," Doyle assured her.

Xander could *hear* her wrinkle her nose. "If I get *anything* on my clothes, Mr. Sunshine up there is paying for the dry-cleaning. Or replacements."

Xander glanced over his shoulder. "You didn't have to come," he reminded her, knowing what her response would be, but wanting to tease her regardless.

"Oh, like I was going to let you three deal with this on your own. I don't think so."

"You say that like we can't handle a simple Murkwellia demon," Angel protested. Then he added, very quietly, "nest."

"What?" Cordelia demanded.

Xander found himself grinning. It should worry him that facing a demon horde of any species would be amusing -- but Angel was so... un-Buffy-like. This was nothing like going on patrol with her, or going out to fight whatever evil monster Sunnydale had spawned, that month.

"I'm sure it's a small nest," Doyle said in a placating tone.

"According to the text I read, they usually have families of ten to twelve children," Xander said, in a helpful tone.

Angel gave him a look that clearly asked him whose side he was on.

Xander shot back his carefully perfected "I have no idea why you're looking at me that way" look.

"We have to kill children?" Cordelia was asking, in an about-to-be-distraught tone.

"We're not killing anything," Angel said quickly. "We just need to get them... relocated. To... um... another dimension. One that Murkewallia demons everywhere consider to be a plush, luxury home. It's species-ish of us to think of such places as dank, wet, and depressing."

Cordelia didn't look convinced. But she repeated, "Relocating?"

"We discussed this," Angel told her. "While you were... doing something to your nails. If you'd been listening--"

"Are you accusing me of not paying attention?"

"Um-- Oh, look! We're here," Angel said, as they neared the parking garage. Halfway down the block, actually, but Angel seemed suddenly very intent on the buildings. "One of these is your building, right?"

Angel craned his head around, searching for it.

Xander grinned, and glanced back at Cordelia. She had her arms folded across her chest, as if scowling -- but she was grinning as wide as Xander. Doyle looked amused, as well, though he was trying to hide his grin from Angel.

Angel quickly found a parking spot and stopped the car. "Everybody ready?"

"Angel, we're just going in to pick up a beaker from the lab. I think we can handle it." Xander turned his gaze on Doyle, then Cordelia, as if checking out their weaponry, battle armour, and readiness.

"Why don't you two go get it," Doyle said, nodding towards Cordelia. "Angel and I will hang out and wait for the campus police to tell us we can't park here."

Angel opened his mouth, but then glanced at Doyle and shut it again without saying anything.

Xander and Cordelia got out of the car and headed for the elevators which would take them to the fourth floor, where the walk-over was. Xander's department was in the building next door, to the west. It amused him that he'd only been here a couple of weeks, and already he thought of it as 'his' department. Only two of his professors even knew his name.

Granted, the dean knew his name, because apparently someone's adopted father had called twice over the summer to make sure Xander's previous class credits had been applied to his transcript, and for something else Xander was pretty sure he didn't want to know the details of. A couple more years of this, and Xander was going to have to talk to Giles about being over-protective.

"This is nice," Cordelia said, looking around them as they were waiting for the elevator. She sounded surprised.

"Dobbs has the finest parking garage this side of the Rockies!" Xander said proudly. When Cordelia gave him a 'ha ha' look, he added, "There's even places on the fifth level where the students who don't drive, can park."

"Considering what some of your fellow students are, I don't think I want to know."

"One of them arrives in a Studebacker." He actually didn't know how most of them got to campus -- Joe, one of the third year students, swore they weren't allowed to teleport onto the premises. But Joe was a Spuj demon, and everything Xander had ever read about Spuj demons said they weren't exactly truthful.

Large, bright red, and excellent cards players, yes. But not truthful. Cordelia was giving him amused, but doubtful look. "Uh huh. You're going to tell me anyway, aren't you?"

"I would -- but they won't tell *me*. I think they're afraid first years will try it themselves, or something. End up halfway inside a wall. Dean Krager says if we make him excavate us out of the walls, our folks will pay for it."

Cordelia glanced sideways at him. "Giles would *love* that."

"After everything *he* did as a student, I don't think Giles would be able to say anything about me transporting myself inside a wall." Xander escorted her into the elevator and hit the fourth floor button. "Don't look up," he warned her.

"Why?" she asked, immediately tilting her head back to do so.

Xander didn't say anything, as she read. Or tried to read -- perhaps she was just staring in amazement. He'd spent an hour riding the elevators, his second day here. The students had a tradition of decorating the ceiling of the elevators -- everything from graffiti to test answers which might or might not be right to what might be moltings. Xander hadn't identified everything, and wasn't sure he wanted to.

"What's that over..." Cordelia began pointing at the corner.

"It's Furgish. I haven't translated it yet. Or did you mean the blue stuff?"

"I don't want to know, do I?"

"Probably not. But I'm assured it isn't toxic." They hadn't said not toxic to *humans*. Just 'not toxic' - and since demons had told him that... They reached the fourth floor, and Cordelia was still staring at the ceiling. "Want me to leave you here and go get the stuff?"

That got him a dirty look as she followed him off the elevator. There wasn't anything else worthy of note along the way to the lab. Not compared to the elevator, at any rate. Xander did point out where the student lounge was, where one of his classes met, and where the Hogid Demon Moths left their eggs during class.

Cordelia just gave him another look that asked if he were kidding -- but Xander wasn't about to tell her that he wasn't. When they reached the lab, he quickly went in and got the beaker he'd prepared earlier, and left to ripen. He poured it into several small vials and stoppered them, then they headed back to the car.

Cordelia stared at the elevator ceiling again, on the way down. Then they were walking back to the car, and Xander could see Angel, standing off to the side, hands in his coat pockets and acting like he wasn't doing anything. Doyle was leaning against the car, actually *not* doing anything. But he had an air about him of having just done something, an aura of smugness that seemed very familiar.

Probably because Spike had it almost all the time. Xander looked from Doyle to Angel, again, and was reminded of what Spike had said -- about Angelus. He looked at Doyle, again.

Then he looked at Angel, who was giving them a smile of greeting and bouncing towards the car. Doyle smirked when Xander glanced at him again.

"Ah! Got it, Xander? Great, let's get going." Angel jumped in the car, not glancing back to see that they were following. Doyle saw him looking and gave him a little smirk before following.

Xander climbed into the backseat, and in so doing, caught sight of something he hadn't noticed earlier. Parked at the very end of the garage, in the shadows was a large black car. Someone working late, which was no big surprise. There was something weird about the car, though.

Cordelia nudged him, and gestured towards the front seat. Doyle was grinning, and Angel was looking uncomfortable. Xander made a mental note to corner the vampire later.

Xander forgot about the car, and concentrated on looking for more weird looks between Angel and Doyle. He and Cordelia chatted, about nothing in particular, and watched the two in the front seat. Neither Angel nor Doyle said anything revealing on the drive over, but it was still entertaining to watch them act like they weren't doing anything.

Finally, though, they reached the apartment complex. The Murkwellia nest was reportedly in the laundry room, or possibly the basement -- or possibly anywhere, according to the manager. He'd been rather incoherent on the phone, according to Cordelia. Xander distributed a vial of the antidote to the psychotropic slime to everyone before they headed inside.

"Remember -- you're paying my dry cleaning bill," Cordelia reminded Angel.

"What did you do about dry cleaning back in Sunnydale?" Angel asked, a slightly exasperated.

She gave him a look. "I didn't get icky, in Sunnydale." It was patently not true, but back in Sunnydale, she'd had her daddy around to pay for things like new clothes in lieu of dry cleaning the old ones.

"We'll keep you out of the direct line of sliming," Doyle promised her.

"Yeah! I'll go in ahead of you," Xander offered.

"Just remember to duck," Angel warned him, with a frown. He looked actually like he wanted to forbid Xander but knew better.

Xander wanted to stick his tongue out and say 'neener neener', but he didn't. Angel might take it as an excuse to make him watch the car.

"I'll duck behind you, you big hunk of studly... studliness," Xander said lightly.

Angel looked at him for a moment, then headed off, muttering, "I hate my life."

Xander knew he was going to enjoy the evening -- if only because of looking forward to telling Spike all about it and making him laugh at Angel, in absentia.

They entered the building, which already had developed the distinctive odor the books said all Murkwellia nests did. Xander wondered idly how to get the smell out of carpet or, say, clothing. Definitely the kind of thing that would lower property values if the landlord couldn't manage it.

He made a mental note to look it up as he walked down the hallway -- dutifully behind Angel and Doyle, and in front of Cordelia -- until they reached the hallway where the sign for the laundry room was located. There were three arrows. "Looks like we're splitting up," Xander commented.

Angel looked even less pleased about that.

"Three directions," Xander continued. "Cordy, you wanna go with me, or Angel?" He ignored Angel's slight scowl.

"Angel," Cordy finally decided. "Someone needs to keep him out of trouble."

"I don't--" Angel began. He shut his mouth when both Cordy and Doyle looked at him. "I apologised for that."

Xander looked over, interested. "I miss something?"

"No," Angel said quickly. "Cordelia, shall we go?"

Xander made another mental note: buy Cordy lunch. Regularly. He gave Doyle a nod, though, and turned towards his own hallway. With a quick pat to make sure his beaker was still within quick reach, he headed down it.

He could hear Cordelia needling Angel, as they started off. Then the voices faded and the only sound was his own footsteps. The hallway was as boring as you would expect a hallway to a laundry room to be. The paint was peeling, and was an ugly off-white color that Xander was glad he'd never seen before. He hoped he'd never see it again.

There were a few doors along it, and since none were helpfully marked 'laundry room', he stopped at the first and carefully pushed it open. Tense and ready for anything he peered inside, to find a broom closet. Relaxing a little, Xander closed and turned back to the hallway... and had to restrain a yell as he found a vampire standing in front of him.

"Christ, Xan, don't scream, you'll bring 'em all running down here." Spike dropped his cigarette butt, and ground it out under his boot. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?!"

There was a brief scowl, then his expression cleared. "Just... thought, you know. Could help out. Keep the weasels from eating your heart out." He sounded defensive, the jut of his chin daring Xander to claim there were no heart-eating weasels in LA.

There were, and one of them was on the mathematics faculty at Dobb's. But that was getting off the point -- as Spike no doubt intended. "You're following me."

"Am not," Spike declared, with the audacity to sound sincere.

"Uh huh. You just felt a sudden need to wash your clothes in a Murkwellian infested laundry room?"

"No." Spike gave him the patented Spike 'you're a git' look. "I got here before you did."

"And the question of why is still hanging in the air, here..." Xander said, having learned that patience and persistance were the only ways to actually get Spike to answer.

Spike shifted from one foot to the other. "Er, don't you have to be getting on? Check the rest of the rooms?" He nodded towards the door.

"We will. Soon as you answer the question."

Shrugging nonchalantly, Spike said, "Was bored."

Xander remained quiet and just looked at him, waiting.

"You know, staying at home. Watching cable -- gets dead dull, after a bit."

More waiting.

Spike sighed, rolled his eyes. Xander reflected that he got a lot of that. "Wanted to make sure Goldilocks didn't let you get eaten by something. Which, seeing as how he let you go wandering off by yourself--"

"*Let* me?" Xander repeated. "You make it sound like I'm a five year old wanting to go out and play in traffic or something."

Spike blinked. He almost looked like he was gonna back-pedal out of it, then he scowled. "Yeah -- what if this thing you're after is ten feet big and has two heads? Breathes fire? Er -- bad example, vampires couldn't help. Breathes poisionous gas?"

"It doesn't. Just oozes ooky slime."

"Yeah? How'd you that isn't dangerous?"

"It's only dangerous if you don't have the antidote." He held up the vial he'd kept for himself.

"Oh. Er, well, then," Spike's tone sort of trailed off, then he suddenly said in a more defiant tone, "How do you know they don't have dangerous friends? Over visiting for tea?"

Xander sighed. "Spike, I have done stuff like this before, you know."

"Um. Yeah, I know." Spike looked caught between sheepish, and still defiant.

"Don't you think I'm capable of taking care of myself?" He let just a bit of mostly faked hurt creep into his voice.

Spike sighed. "I *know* you are. Mostly. Doesn't mean..." He mumbled something Xander couldn't make out.

"What?"

Finally -- a bit sooner than Xander had anticipated -- Spike looked him in the eye. "I don't *know* you can handle it unless I'm there to *see* that you handle it. And if there's something you can't handle... maybe it's something that I can."

Xander opened his mouth to answer and then closed it again. There wasn't really anything he could say to that, other than, "Okay."

Spike smiled, suddenly, as though Xander had offered him a night of fun. Perhaps he had, if they did run into a ten foot tall friend over for tea.

He dug into his pocket for an extra vile of the antidote which he handed to Spike. Spike took it, and pocketed it where he could get to it quickly. Then he gestured at the door again.

Ridiculously pleased that Spike hadn't questioned him on it or insisted on taking the lead, Xander headed towards the door. As they headed back out into the hallway, Spike fell into step just behind him. After a moment, he asked, "Oi. What are we doing, anyway?"

Xander stopped and looked at him. "You don't know?"

Spike blinked at him. "How would I know? You never told me. Just said you were off to get into trouble with Angel and his lot, and I should stay home like a good vampire."

"Okay, first of all, the words 'good' and 'vampire' in the same sentence in reference to you -- no. Second, we're here to relocate the Murkwellian nest to somewhere they won't be lowering the property values."

Spike stared at him. "That's it?"

"What were you expecting -- that we were going to teach them algebra?"

"We're rousting Murkwellias? Bloody hell -- you do it. I'll watch. Except, take off your jacket, so I can see your arse."

"The coat stays," Xander said firmly. "I've got stuff I need in the pockets." What he didn't say was that knowing Spike was oogling his ass would be way too distracting in a fight.

There was a great sigh from the vampire, as if all the weight of the world had been laid on his shoulders. "Fine," he said plaintively. "Be that way."

"Nobody invited you, you know."

There was silence. Xander walked a bit farther down the hallway, with Spike following -- Xander guessed he'd see him pouting, if he turned and looked.

He didn't look. He hadn't done anything wrong and wasn't going to be guilted by a pouty vampire. There was another tiny sigh, then Xander reached the second door. He could tell, somehow, that despite Spike's pouting and sighing, he was on alert. Given the vampire's heightened senses, that probably meant that this was the door he was looking for. He tensed as he opened it.

At first he saw nothing -- a dark room, with vague shapes that might have been a row of washers and dryers. But behind him, Spike was still tense. Xander almost turned to look at him, to ask him a question, but stopped himself at the last moment. If there *was* something in here, looking away would only give it a chance to jump him.

He pushed the door open wider, but didn't go in. The light from the hallway showed the washers and dryers, as predicted. Before he relaxed and told Spike off for making him jumpy - something moved. Now he did jump, even as he fumbled in his pockets for the weapon he'd brought.

He could see them, now. Hunkering in the corners, and the shadows. There were a dozen of them, at least. Pulling out the small tape recorder that was his defense, Xander pressed the 'play' button. The effect was instantaneous. The Murkwellias let out tiny shrieks, and began scrambling about. Behind him -- Spike began singing along.

"I met her at the 7-11
now I'm in 7th heaven
tell me, tell me
can this be true
I never thought I'd ever
meet a girl like you"

This time Xander did spin around to stare at Spike, open-mouthed. Spike looked back, innocently. "What? Like the Ramones, great band. Saw 'em play in London, and New York. Er--" He pointed over Xander's shoulder.

Xander glanced back to see the Murkwellias starting to creep toward him, leaving bright purple slime trails behind them. He held up the tape recorder, and the demon clapped their hands over their stomachs. But one of them crawled forward, again, and Xander could hear, over the din of the punk rock music, that it was babbling at them.

What surprised him was that he recognized the babble. Lowering the volume on the recorder, he tentatively replied back. "Can you understand me?"

The demon in the front babbled again, then stopped, and began making different sounds. It babbled a bit, then stopped, then started up again -- this time in a language Xander knew.

"Yes," he responded in the same language, mentally thanking Giles for forcing all those lessons on him. "I speak Terazu."

The demon bobbed its head, and rattled off more words as fast as it could. Xander couldn't catch all of what it said, but he heard, "Please, masters," and "whatever you want", and "no more horrible noise".

This might be easier than he thought. Grinning, he said, "I'll make the horrible noise stop if you go away and make your nests somewhere else. Somewhere there's no beings like me."

The demon bent forward, hands still pressed to its stomach. It spoke more slowly, this time, and said, "I came here, bringing my family, to live without tax. If we go back to where we came from, we'll have to pay even higher taxes."

Startled, Xander had no idea what to say. "Oh. Um..." He thought frantically. "Maybe you can just move somewhere else here in L.A.? Somewhere that isn't already inhabited?" There had to be plenty of musty, dank abandoned buildings somewhere. This was LA - they had everything.

The little demon looked around. "This room was not inhabited."

"The building is, though."

The demon seemed confused. "Others in the building live in this room?"

"This room is a... place of ritual for them," Xander improvised quickly.

That seemed to startle the demon -- it raised its head and bobbed it again. "Of course! The strange boxes which rumble -- we meant no harm, masters. We can be packed up and moved within the day." There was a pause, then it asked, "Do you know of any good real estate agents?"

~~~~~

Spike entered the apartment ahead of Xander, and went straight for the couch. He flopped down on it, as though the evening had been long and hard instead of what it really was, which had been a lot of talking on Xander's part, followed by some bullying by Angel to help the Murkwellias find a new place to live. There'd been no fighting and nothing had needed to be killed.

But Spike sprawled on the couch like he'd been fighting with a dozen demons and barely escaped with his life. He laid his head back, then lolled it over to look at Xander. "Be a good lad, and bring me a beer?"

Xander stood and stared at him for a moment, then went and got a soda for himself.

"Oi! Xander!" Spike sat up and gave him a stricken look.

"What? You know where they're kept."

"Fine way to treat a guest."

"You're not a guest. You're my boyfriend." He took another swallow of the soda and came and sat beside Spike.

Spike gave him a sideways glance. "That means I get my own beer, and suck you off?"

"Um..." Xander wasn't sure that this wasn't a trick question. The trouble was -- which was the wrong answer? Anything that didn't lead to getting a blowjob was bad, but "yes" was so obvious it had to be wrong.

Spike looked away. "Wonder if there's a game on." He started looking around for the remote.

"There's not." As winding him up and then going to watch tv had become Spike's favourite way of proving he was evil, Xander had taken precautions and unhooked the tv.

"Might be a good movie, then," Spike replied casually, still hunting. "Where's the remote?"

"I sent it to a pocket dimension."

Spike looked at him, surprised. "What for?"

"I didn't like the competition." He tried out a pout of his own.

With an evil grin, Spike leaned over. "Didn't you?" Then he dove in and gave Xander a kiss, with a slight pull at his lower lip. Go pouting, Xander thought, before giving up thinking in favour of kissing Spike back. Spike took the kiss eagerly, for a moment. Then he broke the kiss -- and bounced to his feet.

"Now what?" Xander asked a little suspiciously.

There was an innocent look, which told Xander he was going to have to slay his boyfriend. Maybe dump him head first in the tub and point out he didn't have to breathe, so there was no point in complaining. "I have to get my beer."

"Oh." He blinked, decided there was no point in protesting, given what Spike had said. Then he sat back against the couch cushions, relaxing. "Okay."

Spike narrowed his eyes. "You're not making me stay here and kiss you?"

"You want a beer, who am I to stop you?"

Still looking at him suspiciously -- as though *Spike* had already forgotten what he'd said, which was impossible -- Spike took one step towards the kitchen. Then he stopped and waited.

Xander cocked his head to the side. "Forget where the fridge is?"

"No..." Then Spike shook his head slightly, and went into the kitchen. He came back a moment later, with a can of beer, and settled himself back on the couch.

Xander took another swallow and glanced sideways at him. "So..."

"So? Is there really nothing on the telly?"

"Nothing on this tv."

"Is watching tv the best way you can think to pass the time?"

Spike appeared to think it over. He started uncurling his fingers, one by one, as though counting. "Got my beer, and now... oh. Blow job?" He actually made it sound as though he'd had no idea his comment earlier would have been taken seriously.

"You had mentioned it," Xander said casually. If Spike thought Xander was going to beg, he had another thought coming.

"That all it takes?" Spike laughed, once. "Can I mention you loaning me a hundred bucks?"

"If you don't want to, I can go do some homework--" He started to get up.

"Can I help? I can blow you while you write your essay."

Tonight was apparently 'let's strangle Spike' night. Xander had forgotten to look at the schedule. "I thought you'd rather watch tv." He kept his voice calm and even.

"You said there wasn't anything on," Spike replied, just as even toned.

Mind games with a hundred and twenty six year old vampire -- who was going to win? Xander sighed. He was too tired for this. "Look, do you want to have sex or not?"

Spike shrugged. "Sure." Then he was suddenly down on his knees, beside Xander, and was unzipping Xander's jeans.

Xander arched up into the touch, his head falling back against the couch. "It's about time." He no longer cared who'd won the mind games. If he'd lost, he would take him punishment like a man -- like a man getting a blow job. Loudly and with much moaning.

"Eew, pushy," Spike said, giving him a eyebrow wriggle. Then he had Xander's cock out, and in his mouth, and Xander had barely any time to think about vampiric speed. Then he wasn't thinking at all, caught up in just feeling. Spike knew exactly what he was doing -- how to get him hard, how to bring him to the edge of screaming, without any delay. He could feel Spike's fingers, teasing his balls, and feel a tongue and teeth alternating between long, hard sucks.

He tried to sit still but it was beyond him at that moment; he couldn't stop himself from arching upwards, thrusting into Spike's mouth in an effort to get more of the sensations Spike was giving him. Spike responded by sucking harder, driving his mouth lower. He seemed to be pulling Xander in, encouraging him, as he swallowed him. Everything vanished except Spike's mouth and what it was doing to him. When Spike deep-throated him, even that disappeared as his world exploded.

He came back to awareness to find Spike still kneeling in front of him, watching his face. As soon as Xander's vision cleared, Spike grinned. "You are so dead when I can move again," Xander told him.

"Well, deader than usual."

Spike looked surprised. "I'm dead? What did I do? Fetched my own beer, gave you a bloody nice blow job -- I'd think that puts me in your good graces."

"After I practically had to beg you."

"That wasn't begging. Hell, that was practically asking."

Xander waved that away. "Details, details. Point is that you made me ask."

Spike laughed, once. Then he stopped, and tried to look abashed. He was grinning to hard to manage, though. "Yes, you're right. I made you ask." He leaned in, resting his cheek on the inside of Xander's knee. "S'there anything you want me to do to make it up to you?"

"I'll let you know in a minute when I catch my breath." But plans were already starting to flow through his brain. Spike continued to look up at him, once again resembling nothing more than a smug, over-confident cat. Right down to Spike licking Xander's leg. "That's not helping."

Spike stopped, immediately -- though he didn't remove his mouth from Xander's leg.

Xander looked down at him and considered. "You know, you're wearing far too many clothes."

Spike leaned back on his heels and slipped his shirt off. Then he resumed his previous position, right up to placing his mouth on Xander's leg. He quircked an eyebrow at Xander.

Again Xander made a show of considering for a moment. "Nope. Still too many."

There was a pause before Spike leant back again - this time rolling back all the way to sit on his butt. He unlaced his boots, pulled them off and set them aside. Then he removed his socks, and resumed his position mouth-glomming Xander's leg.

"Still too many."

"Christ, Xan, all I've got left are my jeans." Spike scowled -- but his eyes were bright, and dilated a bit wider than usual.

"And your point would be?" He kept his expression the same almost blank, slightly interested one. He was quickly getting more than slightly interested, but he could hold out long enough to get Spike naked and doing something... more interesting.

"*You're* not naked," Spike pointed out. As though it mattered now, and hadn't when he'd been licking Xander's leg through denim.

"We're not talking about me. And you're still dressed."

Spike opened his mouth, but didn't say anything. He stood up, and unbuttoned his jeans. He paused, again, toying with the fly.

"If you'd rather play with yourself than have me play with you, keep doing what you're doing." Xander put just a hint of steel in his voice. Spike started, though he controlled it quickly. But he slid the jeans down, kicked them off, and stood there, naked. He didn't move to kneel again.

Xander allowed himself just the barest hint of a smile. "Good," he murmured in approval, wondering how long Spike would play along. Probably for the duration -- as long as he didn't get impatient and skip right to the fucking. But for now, Spike waited. Didn't move, didn't fidget -- after a moment, the only part of him that was moving, was his cock, as it grew harder.

Xander got up and walked around Spike, eyeing him up and down, but not touching. Spike's erection raised; otherwise, he didn't move. Wanting to get some kind of reaction, Xander reached out and ran one finger lightly down Spike's spine to the top of his buttocks. Spike's muscles contracted -- buttocks tightening, back straightening. He didn't move away or into the touch, though.

Xander continued walking around the vampire, touching him lightly here and there, with no pattern or plan beyond making Spike react. He saw Spike close his eyes, then his mouth opened, slightly. No noise, yet, and no more movement.

It was becoming a challenge now. Xander upped the ante by dropping kisses in among the random touches. There was *almost* a sound, like a strangled moan. Spike seemed to catch it at the last second, and there was only the noise of an exhalation. He did wobble, though, when Xander kissed the small of his back. Xander grinned at that and repeated the motion, the nipped at the same spot. There was a very soft whimper, and Spike swayed backwards. He caught himself almost immediately, standing still, but his back muscles were all tensed, now.

Another nip, and Xander concentrated on making a passion mark. This time there didn't seem to be any effort to hold back the moan. It was low, and drawn-out, and Xander could just imagine the way Spike's face would look - eyes closed, and attention lost to sensation.

He loved seeing Spike like that, knowing that he was the cause. It made him feel powerful, being able to do this, knowing that Spike was letting him do it. He let his mouth drift lower. There was a mumble, mostly incoherent, but Xander could make out the intent. Spike was swaying, again, and no longer succeeding in any effort to hold himself still. Reaching out to hold onto Spike's hips, Xander nipped at his skin just as the curve of his buttocks started, then licked at the top of his crevice.

"Mruaaaaaaaaaaaaa," he heard. "Xan..." Spike moaned, pleadingly.

"What do you want?" he asked in a low voice, then licked again.

There was more muttering, as though Spike couldn't even form words enough to beg. Then heard a rasp of breath, and Spike said, "Please..."

"Please, what?"

"Please, please," Spike begged, and he bent his head forward, one hand coming up, slightly, as though for balance. "Anything. Touch me..."

Such desperation deserved a reward. Xander pulled Spike's buttocks apart, and swiped his tongue over his lover's opening. Spike moaned, and tilted forward, swaying precariously.

"Oh, god, please," he repeated.

Xander stopped teasing, pushing his tongue inside. He could feel Spike losing his balance, could hear him losing his mind as he gasped, and moaned even louder.

"Fuck, oh, Xan... god, yes," he started muttering, and the sound of his voice urged Xander on. He fucked Spike with his tongue, losing himself in the sounds his lover was making even as he fumbled under the cushions of the couch for what else he needed. It was awkward, but Xander wasn't about to stop what he was doing, and somehow managed everything one handed without interrupting the rhythm of his thrusts. Spike was soon swaying, back and forth, in time to each thrust of his tongue. Xander had no idea how Spike was managing to stay upright, but he was, no matter how far he moved. His moans were growing louder, and more desperate, and punctuated with pleas.

"Fuck, Xan, more, please, fuck..."

"Yes," Xander muttered as he stood up, then pulled Spike to him, guiding his erection to Spike's opening and slowly pushing inside.

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, god," Spike breathed. He reached back and grabbed onto Xander's arm, with one hand, and hung on tight.

Xander had to agree with the sentiment. He didn't take Spike like this often and he always seemed to forget exactly how it felt -- being inside him, inside a body cool and tight. With a long low groan he began thrusting. Spike's entire body was moving, now, back and forth, though which of them was doing it, Xander couldn't be entirely sure. Spike's head fell back, and he was gasping, trying to form words. Xander licked at Spike's throat right over his jugular then nipped, very lightly.

He felt Spike spasm, jerking forward, voice caught. Silent, now, as he came, hips moving back and forth sharp and quick. Gasping out Spike's name, Xander held on tighter, pushing into him fast and hard, coming himself after a few more thrusts. Somehow they stayed standing, as their orgasms faded. Spike was hanging onto both of Xander's arms, now, and Xander could feel his legs trembling. Or perhaps his own were trembling.

Then Spike began to collapse, very slowly. Xander yelped as he tried to hold the vampire up and only ended up collapsing with him instead. Spike chuckled weakly as they landed, holding onto Xander to make sure he didn't roll off. He smiled, and closed his eyes -- as though fully prepared to have his post-coital nap right there.

"Spike."

"Hrmm?" He sounded a little more awake than he appeared.

"There's a perfectly good bed in the next room."

"Hmm. Yeah." Spike didn't move.

Xander sighed. He hadn't really thought the vampire would give in, but it had been worth a try. Spike wriggled a little, pulling Xander closer, as though he were a vampiric teddy bear. Now there was an image he so did not need in his head. The thought of a giant stuffed animal with fangs couldn't be shaken, though, and he found himself chucking over it.

Spike opened one eye, and gazed at him. He didn't ask, though, just stared at Xander with a one-eyed challenge that he explain -- no doubt without saying the phrase 'Spike, you're so funny when'. Xander tried to get the laughter under control enough to answer but Spike looking at him like that just set off another round.

"Right, then. Be that way." Spike closed his eye and went back to not moving. It just made the resemblance to a vampiric teddy bear all the more evident and caused Xander to laugh harder.

Spike ignored him. After a moment, he seemed to be very deliberately ignoring him -- his eyes were squeezed shut, and his grip on Xander had tightened. "S-sorry," Xander managed, even though he was still chuckling a little.

Spike poked him hard in the ribs, with one finger, and frowned. He didn't say anything, however, and didn't move otherwise.

"I was imagining you as a teddy bear."

Both eyes opened. The look of disbelief, mixed with the obvious concern that Xander had completely lost his mind, did nothing to dispel the mental image Xander had of the stuffed vampire bear. "Have sex with your stuffed animals a lot, have you?" Spike asked.

"Um, ewww," he responded, wrinkling his nose at the thought which *did* kill off the giggles. Mostly. "But I did cuddle with one. When I was little."

"All right," Spike replied, in a 'let's humour the insane human' tone.

"You think I'm crazy," Xander accused, managing to sound hurt.

"Having sex with a vampire makes you think of teddy bears. You think you're not?"

"Not having sex. Cuddling."

"Um, Xan, hate to tell you this -- but there was sex. A few minutes ago. Did you miss it?" Spike was giving him a worried look, like maybe Xander had got a concussion earlier and hadn't thought to mention it.

"Yeah, but that was then." He tightened his hold on Spike. "Cuddling now."

"With your own personal teddy vampire," Spike said, still in the tone that said he thought he was dating an idiot. The effect was lost when Xander looked at him, though, because Spike's expression was utterly relaxed and happy, and still just a few moments away from falling asleep.

"Pretty much, yeah." Briefly the thought of how many times he had cuddled with Giles impinged on his consciousness before he pushed it firmly away.

Spike sighed, then closed his eyes once more. "Can we nod off, now?" he asked, plaintively.

"We're not going to make it to the bed, are we?"

"Bed?" Spike sounded like he hadn't even known there was a bed.

Xander chuckled again. "Yeah. That big piece of furniture that's flat and soft to lie on in my bedroom. 's how the room got it's name."

"Oh. What about it, again?"

He thought about hitting the vampire but decided it was too much effort. "Never mind."

"Right, then." Spike fell silent. For almost a minute. Then, "Oi. Shift off."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"You're still holding onto me."

"Oh." Spike loosened his hold, slightly.

Xander tried to pull back, but couldn't. "Still holding."

Spike sighed, loudly, and let go. "Fine. Shift off *now*?"

He did so, unable to hold back a tiny sigh at doing so. Then somehow -- he missed it only because he blinked -- Spike was standing, and had picked him up. Slung Xander over his shoulder, of course, and was carrying him towards the bedroom. He yelped belatedly. "Spike!"

"What?" Spike kept walking.

"If someone told you this was romantic they were wrong!"

"Dru always laughed," Spike said, off-handedly. Then he stopped, and Xander felt himself being tipped over, then he was falling -- onto the bed.

"I'm not Dru," he said, blinking up at his lover.

"So... want me to take you back to the living room?" Spike reached for his arm. Xander grabbed Spike's hand and pulled. Spike landed on top of him and they both bounced.

"Oof!" He nonetheless wrapped his arms around the vampire tightly.

Spike snuggled in, immediately, and tucked his head in the crook of Xander's neck. Then he went completely still, again. Two seconds later, Xander would have sworn he was fast asleep.

Xander sighed and settled in himself. The idea of a vampiric teddy bear didn't seem quite so funny now. It seemed more comforting. As he began to drift off, he half-expected Spike to prove himself wide awake, by making one more snarky comment. Complain about being hot, or the mattress too soft. But Spike didn't move, and he didn't even breathe.

Xander wondered idly when that stopped creeping him out. Then he was asleep, and if Spike wasn't, really, it no longer mattered.

~~~~~

Xander had completely taken over Cordelia's desk. He was pretty sure she didn't mind -- since she wasn't there, and wasn't due back for hours. Xander would hopefully be finished with his homework by then, and have his stuff out of the way.

He had discovered that Angel's office was the best place to get any real work done. Angel was reluctant to distract Xander with *his* work, even though Xander didn't like not being asked to help out and usually managed to invite himself along anyhow. He did appreciate being left alone, though, when he had own work to do, and that was something he didn't get quite enough of at home.

Or at school. Or the cafe down the street from his apartment. Even in full sunlight, Spike always found some way to show up, and "help" until Xander slammed his books closed in frustration -- sometimes thumping Spike over the head with them for good measure. Spike wouldn't follow him here, though. Much as that bothered him -- bothered them *both* -- Xander wasn't above taking advantage of it.

The door opened and Xander looked up to see Doyle entering. Xander waved, then looked back down at his books. He'd never been really good at writing essays -- who knew that a chemistry degree would involve *essays*? But he had a paper due in two weeks, and he was beginning to suspect he would have to use it as an excuse to go home for the weekend, so Giles could help him. Even though 'helping' would consist of cajoling him into doing all the work himself, and making Xander cocoa while he worked.

He'd tried to make cocoa himself, but it never tasted the same. Spike had made cocoa once -- and that was an experience Xander wasn't sure he ever wanted to repeat. Spike swore up and down he hadn't put anything in it. But Xander had known he was lying -- he just hadn't been able to figure out what he'd put in it.

He sighed, and stared at his books. Maybe he should ask Angel to make cocoa. Angel could make a pretty good breakfast - cocoa was a part of breakfast.

"Coffee?" Doyle asked, pouring himself a cup from the coffee maker in the corner.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Why not?" He was slowly developing a taste for the nasty stuff -- but Cordelia's coffee was, admittedly, the best of the nasty-stuff he'd found. Xander figured he just had to keep drinking it until he got used to the taste.

Or until he got attacked by a coffee-demon, after which he could legitimately refuse to touch the stuff ever again.

Doyle poured him a cup and even fixed it the way he liked before bringing it over. "Thanks." Xander took the cup, sipped it without making a face, and set it down. Score one for the coffee-drinker.

"Y'welcome."

Xander looked at his books, again, and groaned. He dropped his head onto the desk. "Do you know anything about the Rvizian Uprising of 1386?"

"Nope, sorry."

Xander groaned again. "Why do they make us learn *history*? I'm a chemistry major. When am I gonna need to know anything historic?"

"Those that don't learn the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them," Doyle quoted, pulling up a chair to the desk. "Maybe I can help. What is it you're trying to do?"

"Avoid flunking." Xander looked up, and realised he could detect something familiar about Doyle. Something that reminded him of...Giles.

Doyle smiled. "What's the assignment, I meant."

"I think it really is 'avoid flunking'." Put Xander pulled out the list of essay topics. All of them were about the Rvizian Uprising in one way or another -- because, according to the professor who might just be old enough to have *been* there, the Uprising was the pivotal something or other than enabled certain kinds of demons to... well, something.

The problem was that the textbook had been translated from the Rvizian language, and sometimes Xander thought that the meanings of the words changed according to the lunar cycle.

Doyle looked over the sheet. "Have you decided which topic you want to write about?"

"Number three. The one about the origins of Staedler University." Because he'd actually heard of the place before. Nothing substantial, just somewhere, in passing. But it seemed cool to think of studying something in school that actually related to something in the real world. Admittedly, anything in a 'history' class was supposed to be related. But it still seemed more real, somehow. It was as good a reason to pick a topic as any, Xander figured.

"Okay. So what do you know about it?"

"I know there's a University called Staedler, which was founded by some group that was involved in the Uprising."

Doyle waited.

Xander looked at him.

"That's it?" Doyle asked with an expression of disbelief.

Xander wondered if the cute look would work on Doyle any better than it worked on... well, anyone. "It's more than I know about the other topics."

"When is the paper due?" Doyle asked, voice a bit pained.

"Two weeks from now," Xander assured him.

"Right. What you need then is a study plan. You need to figure out what information you need to know and where to find it."

Xander narrowed his eyes. "You've done this before."

Doyle coughed. "I... um... mighta... beenateacher." The words were muttered fast and barely understandable.

"College? High school?" Just his luck, of course, to be constantly surrounded by people who thought education was a good thing.

"Elementary school."

Xander blinked. "Are you serious?"

"You think I would admit to such a thing as a joke?"

"I admit I'm a demon magnet, as a joke." Xander shrugged. "But... I just meant that's not what I thought you'd be. Have been. Um -- how often did you make your students write five page essays?"

"It wasn't a big requirement in third grade," Doyle admitted.

Xander put his head back on the desk. "I'm doomed. I'll end up cutting pictures out of construction paper to represent the Uprising." He paused, then said more clearly, "No offense."

"Just because I taught at a more basic level, doesn't mean that I can't help with something a bit more advanced."

"No construction paper? Because I was never really good at that sort of thing. I glued my fingers to the desk."

Doyle chuckled and held up a hand. "No construction paper. I promise."

Xander looked at him, doubtfully. "Well... all right. You can help." He pushed the open textbook towards Doyle. Even if no cocoa were involved, any help was better than staring at the book until his eyes bled.

Doyle took it but asked again, "What do you need to know for the paper?"

"I don't know. It's in there somewhere -- I think. The prof said it was all in the textbook." Xander sighed. If he hadn't only been at this, today, for twenty minutes -- he'd think he was overdue for a break.

"You haven't read it yet?" Doyle sounded surprised.

"I've read parts of it. Looking for the chapters that have the stuff I need for this question."

"Have you found any?"

"No." He felt like he was back in high school -- or before, really. Back when schoolwork had been one thing too many and it was easier to copy off Willow, than try reading the book. At least this time his excuse was better. "I know I'm behind on my reading. But my other classes are all labs and projects, and between helping here, and S-- uh, m... my boyfriend, I guess I let this one slide."

He could picture Giles' stern look, at hearing such an admission. Then he didn't have to picture it, because one just like it was on Doyle's face. "You really shouldn't let him distract you from school, at least that much."

Xander shrugged. "He tries not to. Well... no, he doesn't. But--" Xander sighed. "I know. But it's hard saying 'no' to him."

Doyle looked at him appraisingly for a long moment. "Maybe if you weren't hiding him--"

"Hiding him?" Xander tried to sound confused -- since there was absolutely no way he could *stop* hiding him. He'd hidden Spike for two years, now. He was getting pretty good at it.

"Maybe you had reason back in Sunnydale, but here-"

Xander gaped at him. Doyle could *not* be saying what he was saying. "What do you mean?" He didn't know. He couldn't -- how could he know?

God, who *else* knew?

Actually, he was pretty sure no one else knew -- because Giles hadn't shown up to slay Spike and drag Xander back home.

"Relax. No one's telling tales that aren't their own. I have visions, remember?"

"You... you saw... him? Us?" Doyle knew? What did Doyle know? What did he think he knew?

"That's usually what happens with visions -- you see things."

"What did you... I mean... why..." Xander knew he was babbling and took a deep breath. "What exactly do you know? And if you know why I couldn't say anything in Sunnydale, you know why I still can't."

"It's an entirely different situation here. And as for what I know..." Xander watched as a faint blush colored the other man's face. "Let's just say it's enough."

"Oh, god." Xander hid his face in his hands. He had to take several deep breaths before he could speak, again. "It isn't different, though. I... would still be in trouble if certain people found out." He wasn't sure he would ever be able to look Doyle in the eye again. Nor was he certain he would ever be able to have sex with Spike, again.

Okay, that was a very slim possibility, but still...

"But those people aren't here. Unless you don't think you can trust Cordelia?"

"She might tell. She knows--" Xander looked up at Doyle. "You... do you know who he is?" Maybe Doyle didn't really know, and didn't understand why he couldn't trust anyone except Angel.

"Name's Spike. Relative of Angel's."

"OK, so you know he's a vampire. You get why I can't let my friends back home know? Cordy might... she might think she was protecting me."

And if anything happened to Spike -- if he were killed by some well-meaning friend... or family... Xander wasn't entirely sure what he would do. He didn't often think about how much he loved Spike. It scared him, quite frankly, and he had enough to worry about without adding that to the pile.

"I think you give the Princess too little credit," Doyle told him.

Xander shook his head. "You don't understand. Spike is-- well they all think of him as one of the bad guys. There's no curse on him or anything, keeping him in line. They'll all freak and decide he's got me under some kind of mesmerization or something. They'll *kill* him and think he's making me tell them not to!" Xander suddenly realised he was nearly shouting, and tried to pull himself back.

Doyle laid a hand on his arm in a calming gesture. "Angel knows, don't he? He'd vouch for Spike."

Xander gave him a flat look. "The only reason Angel trusts him is because he keeps an eye on him, and threatens Spike every so often -- last time it was 'pull out your entrails and make them into a hat'. I think he comes up with them up while everyone thinks he's off brooding." Of course, Spike always seemed to enjoy the bi-weekly threat, looking forward to the phone call or brief visit and plotting things to respond in kind with.

Once he'd asked Xander to let him paint Xander with blood and lie on the floor, when Angel was due over to visit in person. Xander had argued him down to using ketchup before realising Spike was *serious*, and saying emphatically 'no'.

"But if Angel really thought you were being... mesmerized, he'd be doing more than that." Doyle sounded so reasonable about something that was totally freaking Xander out.

"Well, Angel knows I'm not -- but if Cordy finds out and calls home, my dad, Buffy, Willow, and Oz will be on my doorstep with stakes a blazin."

Not to mention the consequences from the entire revelation of his having lied so thoroughly, to Giles. While he might not end up admitting that Spike was the 'Will' he'd sworn never to see again, the invention of 'Bork' was enough of a lie to seriously damage any credibility he had with Giles. He could easily see Giles deciding that Xander wasn't trust-worthy, didn't deserve any of the things Giles had given him. Inviting him into his home, and family, only to be so betrayed...

Xander knew he was possibly over-reacting. But he didn't want to hurt Giles, and by this point, the only way to avoid that was to never, ever let him find out about Spike.

"And you think Cordelia won't understand."

"I think Cordelia would call my dad."

Doyle sighed. "It's your decision of course, but I think you're making your life more difficult than it has to be."

"Risking Spike's life is not making things difficult." Xander stared at him, and tried to make this as clear as he could. "I'm not risking his life. At all."

"And if I told you that you wouldn't be?"

"Huh?" Xander shook his head. "There's no way you can know that."

Doyle just looked at him, as if he was waiting for something to sink in.

Xander felt stupid. But he said, belligerently, "Besides the 'I can see visions' thing."

"The vision thing hasn't steered me wrong yet."

"You... you saw Spike... not get killed? People knew?" He wasn't sure exactly how these visions worked, but he was willing to be convinced. Why? Because Doyle was right. It did make his life more difficult, keeping Spike hidden from everyone but Angel. But he'd never let himself consider the possibility of telling anyone.

Doyle looked at him seriously. "I wouldn't be urging you to open up if I wasn't sure."

Xander couldn't see any hint of uncertainty in Doyle's expression. He tried to think about it. Rationally, asking himself what he would gain, versus what he stood to lose. He could mix the separate areas of his life, let Spike go with him all the way when he helped Angel with a case, instead of skulking about until Xander could cut himself loose. He could let Spike tag along when Xander came to Angel's office to study, because it wasn't Spike he was trying to get away from -- it was Spike trying to distract him. And here at Angel's office, Spike would... Well, all right. So Xander would have to find someplace else to hide and study.

But -- "I can't lose him," Xander said. Did he trust Doyle enough, to risk Spike's *life*?

"I promise you, telling won't risk Spike's life."

"You--" He cut himself off. Asking if he really meant it was redundant -- Doyle wouldn't be telling him he could, if he weren't sure.

Unless this was a clever ploy to get Spike slain.

Xander wanted to whap himself, but didn't. There really wasn't any reason for Doyle to do something so convoluted -- if he'd had a vision telling him that Spike had to die, he'd just tell Angel. "I'll have to talk to Spike." This wasn't his decision. Spike might not want anyone to know -- he might prefer hiding, to hanging out and making nice with Angel, Doyle, and Cordelia. Xander looked down at his textbook, and suddenly felt the urge to concentrate on writing his paper. "I'll talk to him," he said again.

Doyle nodded, then pushed the textbook back towards Xander. "In the meantime, I suggest read everything the professor assigned instead of trying to guess where the facts are."

Xander scowled. "You *were* a teacher."

"Told ya."

Xander flipped the book open to the first chapter. He looked at the dense text, then back up at Doyle. "Are you sure I can't make a collage out of construction paper?"

~~~~~

Xander had, for a change, a boyfriend-free apartment. He also had a pizza-free apartment, but there was chinese food leftover from... well, from this week he was pretty sure. Xander didn't actually care as long as it wasn't actively growing mold, demonic or otherwise, and as long as he didn't mention it to anyone, he was fine.

He was sitting at the computer, his textbooks scattered on the desk. He had the very rudiments of a paper started -- an opening line, and three headings on an outline. He still had a few chapters to read, but it was slow going -- Spike's fault, there, as well as a couple of evenings spent hunting down Fruj-ign demons. He'd been steadily working on the outline, however, since he had read one of the chapters covering his topic. He'd had to stop and take a break, though. Not his fault.

He typed on the keyboard, 'Yes, I am. Really.'

His computer beeped and the words, "Are you sure, dear?" appeared below his.

Xander grinned, and typed, "Grandmum, if I weren't, you would know before I did. I'm fine, I have everything I need, and I'm not flunking. Not pregnant, not drinking, not voting the Tory ticket." He sat back and waited. The phone rang and he gave a silent cheer for the technical superiority of having two phone lines, and dug around for the portable. "Hello?"

"Not out running the streets chasing anything tonight?" Giles' voice fell warmly on his ear.

"Dad! Hi. No, staying in to do homework." He scooted back in front of the computer screen. Then, in an indignant tone, demanded, "Who said I run the streets? Angel drives, most of the time."

"Running the streets figuratively speaking," Giles responded.

Xander typed into the IM window, 'Dad's on the phone.' and said, "So what's up? Other than the usual diverting of major disasters and you trying to find yet another book I swear I didn't steal?"

Giles sounded almost casual, as he asked, "Can't I just call to check up --in, I mean check in?"

On the screen, Maggie's response appeared. "Tell Rupert hello."

Xander retorted, "You said 'up'. I heard you say 'up. Your mom says hello, and you said 'up'."

"My mum says? How do you-- You're talking to her on that infernal machine aren't you?"

Xander typed, "He said it! Which of us owes the other money?"

Maggie wrote back, "I think we decided it was a sucker bet either way."

Out loud, he laughed. "She says you owe us both five pounds for losing the bet." He typed, 'We'll make him pay *us* each time he says it.'

"What bet?" Giles was asking.

"Ask your mom."

"Do you want me to hang up and call her?"

"Won't matter," Xander told him, as he typed a warning to his grandmum to expect a call. "She'll still be chatting with me." In other words, Giles would still be ganged up on.

"Yes, but then I won't be chatting with you," Giles pointed out.

Xander sighed. "Oh, all right. Talk to me - but don't blame me if she calls you and asks where her five pounds is. Are."

On the computer screen, Maggie had typed, "He won't be calling me until he finishes talking to you -- an hour or so."

Xander typed back, "An hour? He called me yesterday, and the day before -- it won't be an hour." As soon as he typed it, he realised he could hear her laughing, across the ocean. It suddenly occurred to him that perhaps it was a bad idea to be talking to both of them at once -- somehow they would end up ganging up on *him*.

"Should I call back later and let you chat with my mother?" Giles asked.

"No, it's too hard to tease you by myself," Xander told him. "I used up all my best stuff yesterday." He leaned back in his chair. "We were just amusing each other while she checked her email and I tried to write a paper." Xander thumped his forehead. Yeah, like that would convince Giles it was all right to interrupt him.

"Is that the paper on the Rvizians?" Giles asked, sounding animated.

Meanwhile Maggie had typed back, "No, it'll be more like two hours. Three, if you start talking academia."

"Just started," Xander typed. Then it occurred to him that he was probably a moron. He typed, "Grandma, do you know anything about the Rvizian Uprising of 1386?"

To Giles, he said, "Yeah. I've actually read some of the chapters now, so it's going a lot better." He switched screens for a minute, to stare at the paper he'd begun. He'd typed a cover page, including his name, the date, and the course. On the second page, there was one sentence.

"How much have you got written?" Giles asked.

"I think... I should refrain from answering, on the grounds that I may incriminate myself." Xander knew what would be coming - if not now, then at some point this semester. Not a lecture, but one of those sighs, and head shakes, and a very earnest reminder that Xander *could* do the work, if he just tried. He wondered, if he told Giles about Doyle, if Giles would ease off the teacher-guilt.

Then he could tell Doyle that Giles was -- well, no, with his luck Doyle's visions would tell him otherwise. Did the Powers That Be care about Xander's report card?

They cared about his love life. Xander's throat clenched.

"If you need any help, you know I'm just a phone call away."

"Do you know anything about the Rvizian Uprising of 1386? I asked grandmum, and she hasn't answered yet." Just as he said that, his computer flashed with a notice of an incoming file. He took a look and saw that Maggie was sending him a document.

"Well, actually, I did write a paper on it when I was still in school-"

Xander opened the file. "Yea!" He began typing long and effusive thanks, to Maggie.

"You sound rather... enthusiastic." Giles sounded confused.

"Er, yes, grandma sent me a file. Oh my god, did you really title this thing 'Demons, Rise Up, and Confront Your Masters'?" Xander started howling, and nearly dropped the phone.

"How did--" Giles sputtered.

Xander kept laughing, pausing once to inhale, cough, choke, then inhale again. He tried to type at Maggie, but his hand hit the 'oikmds' keys instead of just the 'omg'. He tried to page down to the first page of the paper, wondering if it got better, when a thought occurred and he tried to speak. "What... oh my god... *grade* did you get on this?"

"I am going to have a long talk with my mother," Giles murmured, then, sounding like an afterthought, answered the question. "A, of course."

"Of course. If they'd flunked you, they'd have had you in their class *again*." Xander snickered, then looked at the title page and howled some more. He managed to type 'title -- bwahahahahaha' at his grandmum.

She typed back an <eg> and "I thought you would enjoy that. Rupert worked so hard at rebelling."

Xander typed back, "He had to *work* at it? Snee-hee-hee."

Over the phone, he could hear a dignified annoyance. Or maybe Giles was holding his hand over his mouth so Xander couldn't hear *him* laughing.

"If he wanted to really rebel, he would've let his grades slip. Rupert always cared too much to let that happen. Even when he was involved in things that he doesn't think I know about," Maggie typed.

"Awww," Xander said aloud. He typed, "What a rebel, to come home with a C! No wonder he never said anything about my Fs."

"Perhaps I should call back later and allow my mother to embarrass me without interruption." He could picture Giles' expression just from the tone of his voice.

"Nooooooo! It's no fun teasing you when you aren't here. Er, phone-here."

"So I should stay on the phone and indulge you?"

"Yes!" Xander knew he sounded delighted -- but he was suddenly hit with a severe need for a hug. It really wasn't as much fun to tease Giles over the phone -- not because teasing Giles wasn't fun. It was, but it just made him miss teasing him in person. He typed a brief thank you to his grandmum for the paper, and wondered if he should tease Giles about taking it and just changing the name and the British spellings.

"Well, since you have the paper, feel free to read it and snicker if you must," Giles offered grudgingly.

"I wouldn't snicker at your paper," Xander said, sounding as hurt as he could. "Just the title page and footnotes."

"What's wrong with the footnotes? If I recall they were quite professional."

"I haven't got that far yet," Xander admitted. "So it's a good paper, then?" he asked, leadingly.

"Well, it did get an A," Giles reminded him.

"What exactly was the topic?" he asked, digging through his papers for the assignment sheet, wondering just how far he would get before Giles laughed at him.

"If I recall correctly, elaborating on the main causes of the revolt in the first place."

"Oh." Xander frowned. In a disappointed tone, he said, "We weren't given that one."

He heard Giles' smile. "You wouldn't have copied it anyway, even if it had been."

He stuck his tongue out at the phone. He typed, "He's being mean to me," at his grandmum, then said, "I couldn't have copied it -- you spelled things funny." He scanned the first page, and was relieved to find his guess confirmed. Funky British spellings everywhere.

"That's proper Queen's English, you."

Maggie typed back, "And I'm sure you're enjoying it, dear."

To Giles, Xander said, "Is 'you' a proper Queen's insult?"

To his grandmum, he typed, "Yes, but... but... I'm sure there's an intelligent retort to that. When I think of one, I'll email it."

"You don't really want me to use a proper insult," Giles warned.

Xander sniffled piteously. "You don't love me. Won't teach me how to hold my own in bars." Not that Spike wasn't teaching him plenty, there. Xander was pretty sure he could shock Giles out of his stammer with some of the things he'd learned. He suspected, however, that Giles would still know more nasty ways to insult a person.

"You're too young for bars," Giles retorted.

"Am not."

Xander typed, "How old do you have to be to go into a bar in England?"

Maggie typed back, "Planning on visiting and doing a pub crawl?"

"Last I checked you weren't," Giles responded. "Did you fall into another dimension for a couple of years and not tell me?"

Xander typed back, "CanIcanIcanIcanI? I'm free for a long weekend in a few more weeks." To Giles, he said, "I'm old enough to go to bars in England. I'm the legal ward of a English citizen. Ergo, I can go to bars."

"In England," Giles replied, voice firm, but with a hint of amusement underneath, that let Xander know he was enjoying the banter as much as Xander was.

"So, I can go, then?" he asked.

"What, to England?"

"Yeah. So I can get pissed."

There was a hesitation on the other end of the phone before Giles spoke again. "You don't really want to get drunk, do you?"

"Not with you around," came Xander's reply, before he could really think about what he'd just said. But thinking about what he was saying took the fun out of teasing them. Xander typed a quick message to his grandmum that he would be right back, and got up from the desk and settled on the couch. It wasn't that he really wanted to get drunk. He just... Actually, he couldn't remember what the point was, other than to get Giles to roll his eyes.

"Are you all right, Xander?" The concern in Giles' voice warmed him even as it made him feel more... unsettled.

"I have a paper due," he whined, as though that was all that was bugging him. Hell, maybe it was. Anything to avoid a paper for another night -- with Spike not around, he had to distract himself. It didn't change how he felt. He wrapped his free arm around his middle, and pressed, as though someone were sitting behind him, hugging him.

Yeah. That helped. Xander shut his eyes.

"Do you want me to come down there?"

"I already have your paper," Xander reminded him. It helped keep him from saying 'yes'. There was no reason he needed Giles to come down. All he wanted was a hug -- and he was supposed to be getting used to not having that all the time. He put his hand over his eyes, pressed the edge of it against his forehead.

"I could... explain the finer details to you," Giles offered, as though he actually thought it was the paper bothering Xander.

"No, I'm good," he said quietly, not sure he sounded convincing, but as least his voice didn't crack. That was all he needed -- break down on the phone, and Giles would be here in two hours.

It sounded great.

He took a deep breath, and held himself together. There was silence for a long moment and then Giles asked, not without a bit of self effacing humor, "Would you mind terribly if I did come for a visit?"

"Always. I mean 'never'. I mean..." Xander rolled his eyes at himself. Then he heard himself say, in a tone he hadn't meant to let Giles hear, "Yes, please?"

"I can be there in a couple of hours."

Xander sat upright. "You don't have to come *now*. I mean... stay under the speed limit." Somehow he didn't feel better. Maybe because Giles *wasn't* here, even if he was coming soon. He probably should have said no, and called Spike. Even if it wasn't Spike he wanted right now.

He heard the smile in Giles voice as he repeated, "I'll be there in a few hours."

"OK. Don't get into any-- if I finish that sentence demons will attack. Drive safe."

"I will. Now go let your grandmother know you're all right."

"What makes you think she thinks I'm not?" He got off the couch and went back to the computer, not really expecting an answer. He typed in, "Dad's coming down to visit."

There was a pause and then Maggie's answer appeared. "What's wrong?"

"I'm going to go now," Giles was saying in his ear at the same time. "I'll be there soon."

"OK," he said, and then Giles hung up. Xander set down the phone, and typed, "Nothing's wrong. We were talking and I got a little 'I need a hug' and he could tell. So he's coming down."

"That's good," Maggie typed back.

Xander smiled. Giles was coming down. Suddenly, he almost felt good enough to work on his paper.


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