Sandy Places in the Soul

Part Two

"Oof!" Xander blinked, trying to catch his breath in time to be coherent enough to defend himself again. He managed to raise his arms in time to see a worried face peering down at him. Xander relaxed, and stayed lying on his back.

"You okay?" Buffy asked, offering him a hand up.

"Oh, sure! Why wouldn't I be?" He got to his feet, then looked around the mats. "Have you see my head anywhere?"

She looked a little embarrassed. "Sorry. Guess I should've pulled that last kick a bit more."

"Hey, it's fine. I'm good." He caught Giles looking at him, faint worry on his face. Xander groaned loudly. "But I may not be able to carry large stacks of books for a few days."

"Nice try," Giles said, "but you're still helping in the library."

Xander pouted, but grinned as Willow laughed. Shaking off the last of the effects of having his breath knocked out of him sideways, he went over to his best friend. Smiled. Put his arm across her shoulders companionably.

Willow gave him a suspicious look.

"Willow!" he said in a bright cheery voice. "You love libraries."

"Xander." Giles waited until he looked over. "No passing the buck."

"I wasn't passing the buck! I was just thinking, company would be nice." He gave Giles a hurt look, then quickly gave Willow another cheerful smile.

"I'm meeting Oz for lunch. Sorry."

"You don't know what you'll be missing. Fun with the alphabet, aerobic exercise going up and down the steps to the stacks..." When she just shook her head, he looked over. "Buffy!"

"Oh no. I have major day of shopping planned. And I'm going before my Watcher finds something else for me to do."

Xander sighed. "Fine. Leave me alone with the old man."

Buffy grinned. "OK!" She grabbed her bag, and headed for the doors. Willow grinned, gave Xander a wave, and followed.

Leaving him alone with Giles who was standing and watching him, arms crossed over his chest. "Old man?" he asked mildly.

Xander grinned as sheepishly as he could. "Gosh, look at all these cards that have to be filed away. I'd better--" He headed over towards the card catalogue.

"And 'company will be nice.' I'm not company?"

"No, you're the warden. You have to stand around and glare at me, to make sure I'm doing this right." He frowned at the first card he'd picked up, turned it upside-down, then back again. "This one isn't in English. Unless this is *your* hand-writing..."

"Very funny." He walked over and glanced over Xander's shoulder at the card. "Malwalthian demon."

"We're adding these to the card catalogue?" Xander looked at him in disbelief. He tried to read the card again, and still couldn't tell if it was upside-down. Then he twigged. "This is written in Greek!"

"Very good." Giles' voice held approval. "And we're not adding them to the public card catalogue."

"I don't think it would make a difference," he began, then added quickly, "Not because no one uses the card catalogue anymore since Ms. Calendar's class put the catalogue online, but because no one will be able to read the card. In Greek." He paused, and held out the card. "Um, where do you want it to go?"

There was another, smaller cabinet in the corner, that was locked. Giles walked over and pulled out the keys. "Over here."

Xander gathered up the stack of non-English cards and carried them over, trying not to chortle triumphantly. Filing cards *was* much easier than shelving books. Even if it was sometimes more fun -- but only when Giles didn't *mind* if he got distracted by reading the books he was supposed to be shelving. But since that meant shelving at a rate of one book per hour, and the stack of books was at least a hundred large...

"And when you get that done you can help me with the books."

"Oh, goody."

Xander flipped through the cards, wondering why Giles was just standing there, waiting. So far, all the cards were in Greek, which meant he couldn't read them. He glanced up and saw Giles watching, amused. Before he could admit defeat and hand the cards over to Giles, the writing changed. This one he recognized; he'd been studying it as part of his demonic chem courses. Terazu, one of the more common demon languages. He filed the card away. The next one was in Terazu as well. Also filed. He heard Giles moving away to start with the books.

He managed to file a dozen cards, then he set aside a few written in something that looked like Morse code. Then several in Getherian which he filed, then a short stack of more indecipherables. He set those aside and went to grab a pile of books. Giles gave him a sidelong look when he joined him in the stacks.

"Left the weird ones for you," he said casually, reading the spine of the first book. One he'd read before, so he could shelve it quickly.

"I have some beginning books on most of those languages, if you're interested...?"

"Maybe. I've kinda got my hands full right now." He read another spine, and stopped, set the other books down and opened it. As he skimmed the introduction, he said, "Wouldn't mind learning Italian."

"Italian? Why Italian?"

"It's sexier than French." Xander waggled his eyebrows.

Giles rolled his eyes. "How about Latin?"

Xander frowned slightly, and flipped to the table of contents of _Grepers Soliloqy_. "I don't know. Is it sexy? The only things I've ever heard said in Latin are spells." He had no idea what he was looking at, but he had the feeling it was something naughty. He'd have to check it out.

"It's the basis for most of the so-called romance languages."

"So was Neanderthal grunting. You don't see me picking *that* up." He started reading the first chapter, leaning up against a bookcase.

"Have you listened to yourself, first thing in the morning?" Giles teased.

Xander grunted. Flipped another page. "Hey! This stupid book is about economics!" He glared at Giles. "You just stood there and let me read it..."

"You didn't go up in smoke or anything."

"I might have. These books are dangerous!" He quickly shelved it, and grabbed another book. He didn't recognize the title, and, with a suspicious glare at Giles, opened it.

"And speaking of smoking..."

"Yeah?" This one actually looked promising. History, granted, but one of the chapter summaries mentioned Barnabas the Wizzy, whom he'd read about in Dem Chem.

"Have you been?"

The question was asked so casually, it triggered Xander's alarms. He looked up to find Giles watching him with an expression he'd never seen on Giles' face before. "Have I been what?" he asked carefully.

"Have you been smoking?"

Xander blinked. "No."

Disappointment flitted across Giles face and he sighed heavily. "I thought you didn't want to lie anymore."

Xander slammed his face into neutral surprise. "You're saying I'm lying to you?" He had no idea how Giles had found out -- it had only been one, and he'd been very careful not to let his clothes smell of smoke. There was no reason to think Giles *should* know.

Giles pulled out the pack of cigarettes that Xander had been carrying in his jacket and tossed it to him. "There's one missing."

He stared at the pack, in sheer disbelief. "You took that out of my jacket." He looked up at Giles. "You *counted* them? You took them out of my jacket and *counted* them!?"

"I had reason to, didn't I?"

"Because you don't trust me." Xander slammed the book he was holding closed, but set it down more carefully. "You going to put a camera in my bedroom next?"

"Your indignation would hold more weight if you hadn't just lied straight to my face."

"So you're saying you knew you couldn't trust me *before* you went through my stuff? Or you went through my stuff first, and now you feel justified?" Xander's voice was tight and controlled -- he could feel his rage and hurt telling him to do something. Scream, throw one of those precious books across the room.

"Xander--"

He stepped back, once, and decided to go with that feeling. He turned and walked away.

"Xander!"

He broke into a run -- heading for the door.

~~~~~

He wandered for a while, his heart-rate slowed back down now. He'd run out of the school, run away even though he had no idea if Giles had tried to follow him. He was so angry he could barely think clearly. He jammed his hands into his pockets, and found the pack of cigarettes there.

Defiantly, he pulled it out. Put one in his mouth and lit it. Felt a lot more like Spike as he smoked it, than ever.

"Hey, Xander!" a friendly voice called from behind him.

He stopped, and turned. "Devon! Hey, man, what's up?" He gave the other boy a friendly grin.

"Not much, having a little party tonight and just getting supplies." He hefted the bags from the liquor store. "You coming?"

"Party?" Xander raised his eyebrows. He remembered Oz mentioning it -- in the context of telling Willow they shouldn't bother going. He smiled. "Yeah. Need a hand?"

Devon handed over half of the bags with a grin. "Haven't seen you around lately."

"Sorry, been trapped. Grounded again, you know? Hey, where's your car?"

He grimaced. "Transmission blew."

"That sucks. We celebrating it's demise, or it's eventual recovery?"

"Not sure yet. Do we need a reason?"

"For a party?" Xander shook his head. "Party's reason enough."

~~~~~

The music was loud, the place was crowded. Xander didn't know half the people there and he wasn't sure Devon knew them either. He didn't care. No one seemed to mind if they knew you or not, they just mingled, talked, and danced. Drank.

Xander was out on the porch, having another cigarette when someone -- Judy? Trudy? did it matter? -- came out and handed him a cup, gave him a suggestive smile. He brought it to his lips dubiously. He'd watched Devon making up the punch that everyone was drinking; most of the bottles he'd helped carry had gone into it.

She, whoever she was, giggled and took a drink of her own. Not at all his type, even accounting for gender. But thinking about what he *did* want made him want to stop thinking and enjoy himself. One sure way to do that. He took a drink, choked back a cough, and gave Giggle Girl her suggestive smile right back.

A few hours later, most of the party goers were sitting down. Or lying down, or leaning, or had already disappeared behind doors or to home. Xander was leaning against the kitchen counter, arguing with Devon and Mike about the best flavor of potato chips. They'd had visual aids earlier, but they were now gone.

Someone had set them free on the front lawn.

Xander was trying to explain why chocolate potato chips were the best idea, when someone tapped his arm. He looked over and grinned, slinging an arm around Oz. "Hey! Party, man. Man, party. Have a potato."

"Thanks. Been here a while, huh?"

Xander nodded. "Since... um... earlier."

"Uh huh, that's what I thought. How about we be somewhere else for awhile?"

He grinned. "OK." He gave the guys a nod. "See you later." He stumbled around a chair, and found Oz' hand still holding onto his arm.

Oz guided him around all the objects that seemed determined to jump into his path on the way to Oz's van.

"You're pretty good at this," he said, admiringly. "I usually just let 'em fall down in the living room."

"Willow would pout at me if I let you get hurt," Oz replied, leaning him up against the side of the van as he turned to open the door.

Xander nodded. "She's got the meanest pout this side of the Missillipi. Misslepee. Missassussa. That thing in the middle with all the water."

Oz nodded in agreement, then wrestled Xander into the seat and buckled his seatbelt.

"Hey, where's my cigarettes?" Xander started searching his pockets. "Damn it, if Devon bummed them while I was drunk, I'm gonna be pissed." He giggled. "I'm already pissed," he said in a British accent.

"Totally wasted," Oz agreed. He shut the door and then went around to the other side, climbing in behind the wheel.

"Where we going?" Xander asked, suddenly realizing that they were leaving.

"Home."

Xander shook his head. "No, can't go home. Wanna go back to Devon's."

"I think you've had enough of Devon's for tonight. If you stay there much longer you'll pass out."

Xander frowned. "Couldn't pass out -- there wasn't any room left. That's why we were in the kitchen."

"I'll take you someplace where there is room, then."

"Cool!"

Oz nodded, then turned his attention back to his driving. Xander entertained himself trying to remember the fingering for the Flugelhorn. He was pretty sure he could have played "Oh Say Can You See" if he'd had a real horn, when he recognized where they'd just stopped.

"You brought me here."

"Yep."

He frowned. "I don't think I should be here like this." Giles would probably not like it. It was probably against a rule, coming home drunk and smelling of whatever it was his shirt smelled like.

Oz shook his head. "Best place to be when you're messed up is home." He undid his seatbelt and hopped out.

"No," Xander protested. He waited patiently until Oz had come around to his door, and opened it. "No, cause you don't live with Giles."

"You got me there." He leaned in and undid the seatbelt, then hauled Xander out, and only his presence kept Xander from collapsing to the pavement.

"You don't know what he's gonna do!" Xander continued, letting Oz steer him towards the front steps. "He's gonna look at me. And sigh. He'll take off his glasses and rub his eyes..."

"The brute."

Xander nodded, glad Oz understood. But they were still heading up the stairs to his apartment. He tried to untangled himself to go back downstairs, but Oz seemed to have more arms than Xander did. They kept going up.

Then they were at the door and Oz shifted his grip enough to knock.

"Hey, I think I have a key to this place." Xander tried to locate his pockets, so he could search for them.

The door opened before he could, revealing a very worried Giles.

"Don't take your glasses off," Xander warned him.

"He's a little wasted," Oz said.

"I think that would be an understatement," Giles said, letting Oz transfer the job of supporting Xander to him.

"I'm not undersatyred!" Xander protested. Then he giggled, when he realized what he'd said. "I'm satyred. No, I'm not," he corrected. "No cute guys. Only girls." He looked up at Giles. "Why do only cute girls flirt with me?"

"Because you're cute," Oz responded. "Least that's what Willow says."

Xander grinned. "Hey!" Then he frowned. "Doesn't count. You're taken." He tried to dodge the wall as it wove towards him, but Giles pushed him back towards it. "Stop that."

Giles didn't let go. "I fear if I do stop it, you'll fall down."

"Running me into the wall is beater? Betted. Bummer."

"I'm not running you into the wall," was the patient answer. "I'm guiding you towards the couch." And that piece of furniture did seem to be getting closer.

He tried to pull free. "I don't need your help." Any idiot could sit on a couch by himself. Even if the couch was swaying.

"Humor me."

"Why? You saying something funny?" He looked over at Giles -- who was swaying, as well, but not in time with the couch. He frowned. He tried again to pull free so he could talk to Giles properly.

"You are determined to end up on the floor, aren't you?"

"It's closer, anyway. Who said I wanted to be on the couch?"

Giles didn't answer, but didn't let go either. Xander tugged again, harder, growing more irritated. He stumbled sideways, but still didn't get free. "Xander--" Giles was beginning to sound exasperated.

"What?" he snapped. He tugged again, thinking it had been a lot more fun at Devon's.

His guardian's expression darkened. "We'll talk about you being at Devon's, tomorrow."

"Talk, talk, that's all you ever do. And glare. Let *go* of me! I said I didn't want your help." He dug his heels into the carpet, pulling hard. He stumbled free this time, falling to the floor. It took him a few moments to get to his feet again.

"Happy now?"

"Better." He scowled at Giles. He wished the man would stand still. He wasn't sure why, though. Just a vague memory of wanting to tell him something. Or avoid him?

He watched Giles sigh and shake his head. "I don't know what I'm going to do with you."

That irritated him. "Who said you have to do anything with me?" He took a step towards the couch, and ended up closer to Giles instead.

"We'll discuss it in the morning."

"Feh." Xander shook his head. "I don't want to." He tried to turn around -- the front door had been back behind him, someplace. "I wanna go back." He had to get his cigarettes from Mike, anyhow.

"Oh, no. You're not going out again." Giles grabbed his arm.

Xander turned back, shouting, "I am so!" He had to get his cigarettes. Then he blinked. Stared at his hand.

Stared at Giles -- whom he'd just struck.

"Oh, god," he whispered, suddenly finding himself on his knees.

Giles knelt beside him. "Are you done?"

He nodded, staring wide-eyed at the trickle of blood running down Giles' lip. He could hear himself still saying, "Oh, god," over again.

He felt Giles hands on him, pulling him back up. "Let's get you off the floor."

"I'm sorry," he tried to say, not sure if he had said it loud enough, so he said it a second time. When he realized he was still saying it, he slammed his mouth shut and just thought it.

"I know."

"I didn't mean it, I swear, I didn't, I won't... please don't. Please." He let Giles help him stand, afraid even so of what was going to happen now.

"It's all right."

"Please," he said again, and he tried -- less urgently, but no less desperately -- to get out of the man's grasp again.

"Xander..." He was being pulled closer.

He started to beg again, and realized there was probably no reason. It had never worked, anyhow. He clamped his jaw shut and waited. He wanted to close his eyes, but that wasn't safe. Then Giles' arms were closing around him, holding him tight.

He had no idea what was going to happen. Did Giles want to make sure he couldn't get away? He didn't struggle. He knew he deserved whatever he got. And if it meant being thrown out, as well -- it was, after all, the worst thing that could happen to him.

He had no doubt now, therefore it would.

But nothing happened, except Giles kept holding him. Slowly, he reached up and grabbed onto Giles' sleeve.

"It's all right," Giles repeated softly.

"I didn't mean to," he whispered. That had never worked, not even when he'd been small enough that it could have been believed. But he heard himself saying it, anyway.

"I know. I know you didn't."

The voice was so gentle, Xander found himself believing it. He buried his face in the shoulder of the man holding him.

He had no idea how long they stood there like that, but finally Giles moved back a little. "Come on. Let's get you to bed."

This time he didn't struggle. Let Giles guide him, surprised to find out just how unsteady on his feet he really was. Then they were in his room and he was being lowered onto his bed. He tried to unbend his fingers, seeing the fabric of Giles' shirt caught there among his hands. But he couldn't get the command down from his brain to those digits, and they remained firmly lodged where they were.

Giles looked at him for a long moment. "Would you rather sleep in my room tonight?"

He tried to look up at where the voice was coming from, but his head was suddenly ringing. For all he knew, the voice was in there, too.

"Right." He was being pulled back to his feet again and they were moving out of his room and down the hall.

He didn't stumble so badly this time, and when Giles eased him down again to sit on the bed, he was able to let the arm holding him, go. Briefly, anyway, though he reached out again a moment later when it tried to go away.

"I'm not going anywhere," Giles reassured him. "I'm just going to get your shoes off."

"Oh." He let go again, and watched, waiting to see that Giles really didn't go too far.

Giles knelt in front of him and then he felt his shoes and socks being tugged off.

"You're down there," Xander said.

"Yes, that's where your feet are."

"Oh." He leaned farther forward to see, and found himself beginning to topple off the bed.

Only to be caught by Giles and pushed back into a sitting position. "That doesn't mean you have to join me."

"But I wanted to," he said easily, but let Giles steady him on the bed.

"Of course you did." He pulled Xander's shirt over his head.

When the shirt cleared his line of sight, he found himself looking at Giles. There was dried blood on his lip. "Oh." He wanted to run away from it, but wasn't sure he could even get to his feet.

Seeing where he was looking, Giles gingerly touched the spot. "It's not bad."

"I hit you." He could feel something shattering. "I just wanted him back -- I didn't mean to hit you."

"I know."

He slid forward again, this time less topple, more control. He landed where he'd been aiming -- Giles' lap. He grabbed Giles, and held on tightly. Giles didn't say anything, just stroked his hair gently. "I made him go away," Xander said, shakily.

"You didn't have a choice."

"I want him back." He pressed his face against Giles' chest. "I want him back."

"I know." The soothing stroking continued.

Xander found himself crying, then, and he had presence of mind to keep his face pressed hard against Giles, to silence his voice. Giles just continued to hold him until he fell asleep.

He woke up and decided he must be dead. Either that, or the Hellmouth had decided to give him the flu. A special hellmouthy flu which involved parts of his brain being larger that his skull. He groaned, then grabbed his head as the sound seemed to reverberate. It felt like he could feel each little sound wave.

Xander tried to bury himself under the pillow. Maybe if he suffocated, he'd feel better.

"Good morning," came an overly cheery and overly loud voice.

He groaned again, and pressed the pillow over his ears. The pillow was pulled away and a glass and some pills were put in his hands.

"Uh?" he managed, blinking blearily. Then he recognized the water and aspirin, and tried to sit up. Giles sat on the bed beside him and helped him up. He went first for the aspirin, getting them onto his tongue before taking a single drink of water -- which, as soon as the liquid hit his tongue, turned into gulping the entire glass without stopping.

"Better?"

"Bathroom. Then, possibly." His head was still spinning, and everything was entirely too bright and loud. Not quite dead, though. He moaned when he tried to move. "This is my punishment, isn't it? To not die?"

"The beginning of it, yes," Giles told him cheerfully.

Xander just moaned again, and fell back onto the bed.

"When you're ready, I've got breakfast waiting."

He winced at the thought of food. "That's part of my punishment, too, isn't it?"

Giles merely smiled. Xander rolled over and tried again to bury himself under the pillow. Unfortunately, as soon as he moved, his bladder informed him that he had consumed a *lot* of liquid and wouldn't he hate to have a pee in Giles' bed?

"I'll be in the kitchen if you need me," Giles informed him, standing and heading for the door.

Xander stayed where he was for as long as he could, then slowly and carefully dragged himself out of bed. He felt like he'd rather be dead. Undead, even. It *had* to be better than this. As he staggered towards the bathroom, he asked himself what on god's black earth he'd been thinking of.

It was tricky to figure out, since a lot of last night was hazy. He remembered a pretty girl, kissing her in a closet. No symbolism there, he muttered. And something about potatoes, and Oz, and...

"Oh, fuck."

He had hit Giles. Hard enough to draw blood. He felt his stomach try to rebel at the memory. He stumbled into the bathroom -- feeling his head spinning, not sure if he was going to faint or throw up, possibly both. He'd *hit* Giles. Gotten drunk and hit him.

No better than his own father.

The thought echoing over and over in his mind, he slid to the floor. He would have thought, of anyone, he would know better. Know not to do this -- drink until he couldn't control himself, then hurt somebody he loved. Apparently, though, he did not. Or maybe it was just as they said: like father, like son. He pressed his hands to his face as he started to tremble.

Did it get easier the next time? Had his father been this remorseful the first time, ashamed and scared that he'd done such a thing? How many times had it taken before he stopped caring? Xander slammed himself back, furious with himself, head exploding both inside and out as it connected with the tiled wall.

"Ow."

There was a soft knock at the door. "Xander? Are you all right?"

He laughed. Oh, yeah, he was great. Just perfect.

"Xander?" The level of concern in Giles' voice increased and he cracked the door open.

"Yeah?" God, Giles must have the patience of Confucius -- hadn't he been the one to invent the tea ceremony? Anyone who could sit through *that*... Xander realized his thoughts were wandering a bit too far afield, and wondered if he was still slightly drunk. No, he couldn't possibly feel this bad and still be intoxicated. "I can understand why
some people stay drunk."

"That only delays the inevitable." Giles crossed the room and knelt beside him. Reaching out, he gently brushed away tears Xander hadn't even realized he'd shed. "But it's more than the hangover that's bothering you."

Xander looked up, dumbfounded that Giles would be acting like this. As if nothing untoward had happened, at all. Or perhaps he was just waiting for Xander's head to clear before tearing into him.

"Come on. Let's get you off the floor and we'll talk."

"That sounds familiar." But he let Giles help him to his feet. "Um, I gotta--"

Giles nodded. "I'll wait outside."

Xander tried not to think about what Giles was going to say to him when he came out. He had a feeling, though, he was about to discover what was worse punishment than grounding. What if he'd lost the trip to England? Or his correspondence classes, which Giles had pulled so many strings for him to take in the first place? Worried, he left the bathroom. He couldn't think of anything else that Giles would consider punishment.

Giles was waiting for him in the living room. He looked up when Xander entered and for the first time, Xander noticed the developing bruise at the right side of his guardian's mouth. His steps faltered. He looked away, down at his hands. He'd hit Giles.

Praying that Giles had meant what he'd said about never throwing him out, Xander forced himself to look back up and accept what he would be given.

The look on Giles face was not what he had been expecting. Compassionate, affectionate even, with no sign of the anger or condemnation he had feared.

"Um, did I come into the wrong living room?" Xander glanced behind him, looking for the portal to his home dimension.

Giles smiled faintly. "No, right living room."

"You got the right script? Xander screws up royally, Giles gets mad?" He was confused -- Giles was *entirely* too calm.

"Do you want me to get mad?"

"No!" He shook his head rapidly, and instantly regretted it. "Ow." He leaned up against the wall. "Why *aren't* you mad?"

"You didn't mean it." Giles paused. "That doesn't mean we're not going to talk about it."

Xander groaned. He walked around the end of the couch, but sat on the floor and leaned up against it. He took a couple long breaths, waiting for the pounding in his head to slow down. Then, "OK."

"I am sorry if you think I invaded your privacy. But your actions lately have been..."

"What did I do?" He knew what he'd done *wrong*. "That made you think you had to check up on me?"

Giles looked away. "You've been... indulging in self-destructive behavior. I saw... myself."

"Saw yourself what? Oh. Saw *yourself*." Xander nodded. "I guess I can't exactly say I wasn't. I just... thought I was hiding it better." He smiled ruefully.

"Not from me." He shrugged diffidently. "Watcher and all that."

Xander saw the diffidence, saw how yet Giles wasn't angry. He had every right to be, if not for the cut lip, then for everything else. "Do you want me to tell you what I did?" he offered, thinking of the one thing he regretted most.

"If you need to."

Xander laughed, not quite as bitterly as before. "Will it affect my final punishment?" Then he shook his head. "I just want you to know I'm sorry I lied to you. About smoking."

Giles nodded. "Thank you."

He reflected that he might not *have* to tell him -- Giles seemed to know what he'd done, already. With, perhaps, one exception. He had to look away, as he began. "Skipped school, four times. Got stoned -- only the one time. Had three cigarettes before last night -- couldn't tell you how many I had at the party. The party -- well, that's obvious. Wasted out of my mind. Um, and I took a book out of your office."

He sat very still, knowing that he might have an angry-Giles, after all. The books Giles kept in his office were there because they were too fragile or too dangerous to be kept in the main library. "Which one?"

"Corner's Delight." It had been sitting right beside the one Willow had wanted him to borrow. He'd picked it up briefly, then. Gotten as far as the table of contents before Giles had told him to set it down.

Xander knew he was in big trouble when he watched Giles' face pale. "Where is it?"

He got to his feet as quickly as he could and went into his room. The book was under his bed, wrapped in a cloth designed to protect magical objects from detection. He hadn't wanted the book stolen while he was borrowing it without permission. He brought it out, and handed it over.

"You didn't do anything--"

"I couldn't get all the materials. There *was* one, but it calls for two spellcasters and I didn't think I could talk anyone into helping me." He'd considered keeping that one in reserve, though. Spike or even Dru might have--

Giles was staring at him in horror. "Do you realize what would've happened to you if you had?"

With a very bad feeling, Xander shook his head. "I read the spells a dozen times, and I didn't see anything--"

"That is the book that contained the spell that raised Eyhgon. Every spell in it is not only the spell as written, but also a compact with a demon."

Xander stared at Giles. "As in, do this spell for you and you become my slave?" He felt the floor wobble.

"Those are the mild ones."

He closed his eyes and dropped his head. Oddly, he found himself remaining calm. He would have guessed screaming fits, but instead, he was calm -- thinking rather clearly. He could almost hear Ms. Montgomery's voice saying, "Let's review" as he thought back: He'd skipped school. Smoked, lied about it. Hit Giles -- albeit unintentionally. Nearly sold his soul to a demon.

Generally, proven that he was untrustworthy around anything that required common sense. In fact, the only thing he hadn't fucked up was helping Buffy slay vampires.

Maybe his father had been right. Raised by mongrels, all he was good for was an offering -- be the good soldier and stand in the front, kill until they kill you...

He could feel himself compacting. Like huge metal walls, closing in to take away everything he'd thought he could be -- but was, apparently, even worse off at for trying. The only question left, was what would happen today. What would Giles do -- he opened his eyes to see.

Giles, still pale, set the book aside and got to his feet. He crossed over to where Xander was standing and hugged him tightly. Xander let his arms go around Giles, but he kept thinking. If he didn't do anything, he couldn't fuck it up. If he stopped wanting to do things, he wouldn't forget, and try.

If he stopped caring, he wouldn't miss it.

He thought of the next-to-last lesson for his dem chem class, still sitting on his desk. He should probably return it, with a note to his professor. Quit before he failed *that*, too.

"I thought I was protecting you," Giles murmured, half to himself. "But I forgot ignorance only makes you more vulnerable. I'm sorry. I won't make that mistake again."

Xander focused on what Giles was saying, and found himself confused. Had he missed something? He pulled back a little, and Giles let go of him.

"At the very least you need to know enough to decipher the risks and benefits of a spell."

And even more confused. Why would he need to know? He'd -- oh. Giles didn't realize. Xander shook his head. "It's OK, G-man. I won't be picking up any more books."

Giles gave him a questioning look.

The walls he'd rebuilt started to ache a little at that look. At the sound of his voice saying 'G-man.' He tugged on them harder, forcing them to stay. "Don't worry about me doing it again."

"I won't be, after I know you know enough to figure out the risks."

He laughed. "I've got it figured out -- magic, bad. Unless you're somebody like Willow." Somebody who's good at everything she does.

Giles frowned at him. "What do you mean?"

"Someone who's good at that stuff." He'd never even wanted to do magic -- not once he'd realized Willow had a natural talent for it. He hated trying to do anything she could do, had ever since they were five and had been trying to learn how to roller skate. He'd given them up when she'd been the first to stop falling on her face. Luckily she'd never wanted to try a skateboard.

He could feel himself getting a little hyper. He'd always had to keep moving, it helped distract himself from thinking about things.

"Xander, you could be good at it."

Laughing, he shook his head. "It's OK, you don't have to tell me things like that." He smacked the voice inside his head that wanted to hear it anyway. That way leads to dark things, he told it. He stepped farther away from Giles, wanting to maybe go to his room -- he could play computer games all afternoon, not risk anything more than a sore wrist. Except Giles wouldn't be through with him, yet.

Giles was looking at him strangely now, a look on his face that Xander hadn't seen in quite some time. "Yes," Giles said slowly, "I think I do."

Xander paused for a moment. His walls were shaking, and he had to concentrate to keep them steady. "Are you--" he began casually, then realized that casual could be taken for flippant in this context, and continued more seriously, "gonna ground me? Or something else? Have you decided yet?"

"Yes. It's obvious you need something to distract you from getting into trouble. And I think I have just the thing."

He nodded, calmly. He could take whatever Giles had to dish out. Because he'd earned it, and because punishment was... well, taking punishment *was* one thing he was good at.

"Lessons."

"Huh? For what?" Xander felt like he'd once again missed part of the conversation.

"On spells, for one thing. History perhaps, and some of those languages we were discussing earlier. More demonic chemistry--"

Oh, those. He shook his head smoothly. "Don't need it," he said, and his voice was too quiet. He needed to say something funny, so Giles wouldn't realize what he'd said.

"Who said you had a choice? This is your punishment."

He nodded. He'd do it, and maybe, when he messed it up, Giles would let him stop. He had an image of Giles' face when he realized that Xander couldn't do it. Maybe he'd stop trying.

Giles reached out and gently lifted his chin so he had to meet his guardian's gaze. "You needn't look like it's a fate worse than death. You have the ability, you just need the knowledge in how to use it."

Xander shook his head again. "I'll just mess up, again."

"Everyone messes up. That's what the lessons are for. The same as Buffy's training -- you mess up in a safe environment so you won't when it counts."

He gave the walls a hard thump -- stupid things were trying to listen to Giles, tell him he was right. "I always mess up," he found himself saying.

Giles frowned at him. "That is your father talking. And it is far from the truth."

"Haven't you been watching these last few months?" Xander asked incredulously. "You know, the only reason I didn't start stealing is because--because, well I don't know why. I probably would have gotten around to it, too."

"Maybe," Giles allowed. "I did."

Perversely, Xander laughed again, this time with actual amusement. "Is there anything you *didn't* do? So I can at least be original next time?"

"I didn't ask for help when I needed it."

"Oh." Xander stepped forward again, taking Giles in a hug. He suddenly found himself wondering if there was a way he could go find that Giles. Because maybe there was a reason Giles was proving so good at this. He suddenly realised his walls had crashed without him really noticing; all he wanted now was to make the shadows go away.

Giles' arms went around him in return. "You're not messing up now," he said softly.

Xander smiled, but asked, "You're not either, are you? I mean... you ask now, don't you?"

It was Giles' turn to shift uncomfortably. "Well, I--"

Xander leaned back, just far enough to look at him. He didn't bother to ask; he could see what the answer would be.

"We all have our faults."

He tapped Giles on the chest with one finger. "You have to ask. From now on, you have to ask. If I have to... have to give up cigarettes and Devon's house and skipping school, and have to learn Latin, then you have to ask."

Giles stared at him for a long moment then nodded. "That seems only fair," he said, his voice huskier than normal.

Xander waited. Looked at him as Giles didn't quite meet his eyes.

"I... will ask."

He waited some more.

Giles lifted an eyebrow. "What?"

"And what haven't you asked for recently?" It felt weird, kind of, to be asking -- like suddenly he was the grown-up.

"Well, um..."

"Besides the name of the brewery which makes honey cider," Xander allowed.

"Ah." Giles closed his mouth again, with a ghost of a smile. "Then there isn't anything recent."

Xander considered the reply, then decided to believe him. He nodded. "So... crises over? Diverted? Delayed for bad weather?" He tried grinning, and found that it didn't hurt. His headache must have fallen to the aspirin.

The grin called an answering one to Giles' face. "It would appear so."

"You said there was breakfast?" he asked hopefully.

"I did. I take it you're feeling better?"

"Um," Xander delayed answering while he thought it over. Not that he couldn't tell if his head hurt or his elbow ached from *something* he'd done last night and didn't really want to know about. Rather, he wanted to make sure that admitting to feeling better wasn't going to herald a return to certain parts of the conversation. Lecture. "Yeah, I guess."

"Good." Giles clasped his shoulder. "We'll eat and then we'll discuss your new schedule."

"My... am I gonna have *any* free time?" He didn't bother giving Giles a pleading look. He'd lucked out with lessons as punishment and didn't want Giles to take them away.

"Of course. In a month or two."

"By summer?" Xander perked up. "Oh -- because school will be out."

"I won't make you study on the plane to England."

He found himself smiling, surprised. "We're still going?"

"We're still going." Giles seemed surprised as well. "You thought I'd cancel the trip?"

Xander shrugged. "I didn't know what else you could do... other than take away the dem chem classes and you already said I have to take *more* of those."

"I think the results of last night were better punishment than anything I could come with. I'm sure you won't be getting drunk again any time soon."

"I don't think I could ever drink again," Xander said quietly, unable to tear his gaze away from the bruise on Giles' lip. "Didn't--didn't he feel the same way?" he asked softly.

"Your father?"

"Why didn't hurting me make him want to stop?" What if it turned out it *wasn't* enough? What if he got drunk again anyway...

Giles chose his words carefully before answering. "Some people can't face what they've done. When they drink, they don't have to. It can become a vicious cycle."

"Even if that's what makes them do it again?"

"Even then."

Xander moved himself back into Giles' embrace, tucking his head against his shoulder. It didn't make him feel any better, but... it helped. They stood there for several moments, silently.

Finally, Giles asked, "Breakfast?"

Xander nodded. "Breakfast."

~~~~~

Xander frowned at the book in front of him. Giles had assured him -- three times now -- that it was written in a language he knew. The symbols scattered across the page looked familiar, and he didn't doubt he knew them -- until he tried translating what they meant once he'd put the words together.

"Rot the nose of a hedgehog, plus the green baron?" he finally read aloud. He looked up and found Willow watching him from across the table. The library was otherwise quiet, as such places were meant to be. Which this library often wasn't.

"Is that any relation to the red baron?"

"You know, I'm not sure." Xander reread the sentence and scanned the one after. "If I find the word "Snoopy" in here, I'm giving Giles back his book and going outside to shoot some hoops. Punishment be damned."

"I heard that!" came from the direction of the stacks.

"At least you'll be set if we're ever attacked by a vicious hedgehog," Willow said encouragingly.

Xander rolled his eyes, glancing towards the stacks. Then he leaned forward, and stage-whispered, "Have you noticed how he hears *everything*? I mean, the stuff you don't want him to hear -- but when you walk right up and say 'hey, you wear that same tweed coat every Tuesday,' he doesn't hear a thing?" He glanced towards the stacks again, conspiratorially. "I think it's a spell of some sort. We gotta look it up, find a counter-spell."

"You'll have to master the language in that book first," Giles' voice drifted out of the stacks. "And there is a difference between not hearing and ignoring."

Xander just looked at Willow, who was giggling quietly. "See?" Then he sighed. Break time over, he had to get back to figuring out what green barons and hedgehogs had to do with anything he needed to know about.

He had a lot of studying to do, and despite the fact that he enjoyed it -- sitting here, or at home, Giles always somewhere nearby, sometimes Willow, too -- the work was hard. At least, it was when Giles handed him a book in what he *knew* was not really Greek, and said "here, we'll talk about it on Friday".

Those talks were the best part of all this studying. Giles did not dumb down the concepts, and expected him to keep up. Xander was slowly beginning to believe that he could do this. That he wasn't going to mess up.

It was the nicest feeling he'd had since he'd passed his dem chem 100 exam. Or since last Sunday, when Giles had given him a Dead Puppies CD, with only the request that he not play it too loudly. Or possibly since the Monday a week before that, just after the party, when Giles had taken Xander on patrol with him-- just the two of them half a cemetery away from the Slayers.

He wished he could have gone tonight, but Giles informed him that his studies came first, he didn't need to be out on routine patrols. Xander would've argued, but this was his punishment after all. He shouldn't be enjoying it all the time.

Just most of the time. He reread the sentence after the one with the green baron, and decided he needed another break. If goslings really were the best thing to prevent demon spawn, he wasn't sure he wanted to know about it right now. He slid the book away from him and stood up, stretched, then headed up to find Giles.

Giles was only a few rows back, shelving books. "Problem?" he asked when Xander joined him.

"My head's throbbing." He went up to Giles, snuggled up against him, and looked pitiful for all he was worth.

"I used to have a professor who said that if your head wasn't throbbing you weren't reading it right," Giles commented, but hugged Xander with a sigh.

"Can I go out on patrol with Buffy tomorrow? Please? Just this once then I swear I'll read all about geese and green people."

"Xander--"

"Please, dad? I promise I'll finish the book." Xander gave him one of his better pleading faces.

"You know that isn't going to work."

He leaned back, and asked in a normal tone of voice, "What isn't going to work?"

"The 'call him dad and get whatever you want' trick," Giles said calmly.

Xander blinked. Then, "But it has to work! It always works!"

Giles shook his head. "Sorry."

He stood there in shock. His best weapon, ripped from his arsenal... "That is so not fair." He turned and very deliberately stomped back down to his chair. When Willow gave him a questioning look, he said, "We are gonna find that spell." He grabbed the book and opened it, and began reading it with furious determination.

For one sentence.

"What are snugwarts?"

~~~~~

Xander had made it all the way to the end of the page, an hour later. He knew nothing more than he had when he'd started, unless the ancient prophecies were *serious* when they said that nylon would be the ultimate downfall of darkness.

"Ready for a break?" Giles asked, coming out of the stacks and joining them at the table.

Xander gave him a suspicious look. "Depends. Do we have to shelve books? Sand stakes?"

"Eat junk food?" Willow put in with surprise, as Giles put a cooler on the table.

Xander closed his book and scooted his chair forward, even as he gave Giles another suspicious look. "What's the catch? Is it gonna ensorcell us into going home and mopping?"

"No catch." Giles smiled at him. "Consider it a reward for hard work."

He glanced down at his book. "One page?" He reached for a package of twinkies and a soda, anyhow.

"You haven't given up."

"You don't know that," he muttered. "I could have been sitting here staring at the book and thinking about the new kid in our science class."

Giles lifted an eyebrow. "Have you been?"

Keeping a straight face, Xander said, "Well, he's about two inches shorter than I am, and wears Wrangler jeans with ripped pockets, he's taking shop and has last period free, because he only ever carries four text books--"

"Ooo, the cute blond that sits in the back row by the window!" Willow grinned enthusiastically. "He's yummy looking."

Xander grinned. "Don't let Oz hear you say that. But did you see him two days ago? In that black turtleneck?"

"Yeah. And Monday he wore that blue shirt. Brought out his eyes."

"Didn't it though?" Xander was leaning forward, arms across the table with his snacks safely in front of him. "I heard Cassie say he was at the Bronze last night. We should go--" he glanced upwards, "next time I get a reprieve."

"Perhaps for your birthday," Giles allowed.

"Oo," Xander said brightly, "Did you hear that? I get to go outside on my birthday!"

"Well, it's hard to set up a surprise party with you there," Willow pointed out.

"It's hard to set up a surprise party with you telling me about it, too," he said reasonably, grabbing another package, this time of chocodiles.

"Oh, right. Just forget I said anything."

He nodded. "See, if you'd helped me find that spell to counter Giles' hear-anything spell, I'd tell you about the memory experiment I discovered in my dem chem text."

"It's not a spell," Giles reiterated patiently.

"Yes, dad," Xander replied, with the tone of exaggerated 'yes, of course, if you say so,' that one used with senile parents. Then he stole a second soda before Giles could take the cooler away.

Willow was giving them both an "isn't that sweet" smile. Xander started to call her on it, then remembered what she knew that made her think it would be sweet. He took another package of chocodiles and looked at his book.

He mock glared at Giles when he stole one of the packages he was hoarding in front of him. "Did it look like I was done with that?" he scolded, then glanced over as the library door swung open. Felt the twitch, but it wasn't bad enough to show. Getting better. He smiled, though, when Kendra walked in.

"Good evening," Giles greeted her.

She nodded, politely, respectfully. Xander watched with delight, about to tease her, when he saw the look on Giles' face. Yeah, Giles loved his own Slayer, but there was no doubt the well-trained Watcher in him wished Buffy were more like Kendra.

It was, if nothing else, easier to get a report out of her that made sense.

"How did patrol go?"

"It went well, sir," she said calmly, staring straight ahead. Mostly -- her gaze flickered to Willow, and she smiled the tiniest bit in response to whatever Willow had done. "I found three vampires. All now slain."

"Way to kick vampire butt," Xander congratulated her, earning a look from his guardian.

Which he returned with a 'what?" one of his own. Giles returned his attention to Kendra, who was still standing at attention. "Were they all together?"

"Two were. Just fledglings. The other was... different. Harder to kill." A grimace of distaste crossed her face. "And he would not be quiet, the entire time we were fighting."

"Oh, shoulda left him for Buffy. She likes that kinda thing." Xander smirked.

Giles gave him another look. Then he asked her, "Was there anything unusual about him? Other than a tendency to babble?"

"He had very blond hair. Bleached is the word? An accent like yours." Another grimace. "He kept calling me 'pet'. It was annoying, but not too unusual for a vampire."

Xander was suddenly very glad no one was looking his way. It took him a few centuries -- or seconds, probably -- to pull his heart back down into his chest and make it start beating again. "Was he wearing a black leather coat?" he asked, numbly. Trying to hide the numbly...

Willow's eyes lit up. "Oo! Yeah, was he? It sounds like Spike. Did you dust Spike?"

Kendra shrugged. "He did not give me his name."

"It certainly sounds like it could have been him," Giles put in.

Willow bounced excitedly. "How exciting! Buffy will be so happy." She turned her happy grin on Xander, who somehow managed to smile, and nod back.

How exciting.

Spike was dead.

~~~~~

He was glad that he had an excuse to leave the apartment before the party. Giles had given him permission to go out -- originally to allow his friends to set up the surprise party. Now, it was just to give him some time out of the apartment, part of his birthday celebration, an evening free of lessons.

Xander was grateful, because it was getting harder not to act like his world had crumbled around him. In the week since Kendra had so calmly announced she'd slain Spike, Xander had spent all his energy giving no one reason to question his behavior.

Inside he'd been screaming. It was one thing to have sent Spike away, knowing he was still out there somewhere. This was something totally different. This was... irredeemable. Even if Xander had sworn never to see Spike again, it would not be like this. Nothing could be like this, except-- what it was.

Xander hurried, pulling his duster more tightly around him, not caring that the night was warm. He wandered the streets aimlessly, not even surprised when he realized he was heading for the factory.

He'd been thinking of coming here, ever since that night. Come here to somehow verify for himself that Spike was gone. The trouble with vampires was lack of anything substantial left after they'd been slain. How was Xander supposed to recognize Spike's ashes, among the decades of dust?

At the least maybe he'd been able to let his guard down for a little while, let himself feel what he'd been trying not to feel. Grieve for Spike.

He let himself into the warehouse, and stepped cautiously inside. Did vampires ever return as ghosts? Would Spike be haunting more than his dreams? Was it pathetic that he actually was hoping for that?

The warehouse was silent, still as death. Appropriate, though when the undead had lived here, the place had seemed... well, not cozy. But certainly full of energy. Xander walked farther in, looking around. Something felt odd about the place.

It looked the same as always -- at first glance. But looking closer, there were small things out of whack. Things moved a little. Places that should be covered in dust, were clean.

Someone had been here. Someone... Spike? Xander's heart started beating more rapidly. He found himself wondering how long had Spike been in Sunnydale before Kendra found him. By how many minutes, days, had Xander missed his chance to see Spike one more time? He moved deeper into the place, looking for more signs, needing to know as much as he could.

He found them. Spike's bed had blankets thrown across it, not made, but quite obviously someone had slept there. He froze, half-tempted to go over and feel the mattress to find out if it were still warm. Then he laughed, a bit hysterically. As if that would tell him what he really wanted to know. The laughter turned into sobs almost without him noticing. Spike was gone. And this was all he had left. An empty warehouse covered in dust.

The touch on his back startled him, and he began to wipe at his face, not wanting to show his grief to some stranger. Instead he heard, "Xan?"

He spun around and stumbled backwards, staring at the man who stood there. This was it. He'd finally gone crazy.

Spike stepped closer, reaching out for Xander's arm. The look on his face was pure concern. "Xander? Did you miss me--?" There was an odd catch in his voice, an echo of light-hearted arrogance laced with something else entirely.

"You-- You're de-dead," he stammered.

Spike blinked at him. "I'm what?"

"Kendra staked you." He asked in a small voice. "Didn't she?"

Spike patted his chest. "Don't see any holes." He looked down at himself. "Don't see much dust." Then he looked up at Xander, half-smiling. "Nope, think I'm still undead. Sorry."

Xander stared at him. He was starting to believe. "Spike?" His voice trembled as much as the hand he reached out.

Spike took it, held it firmly in a grip of cool strength. A grip he knew, a grip which had held his hand and his cock and his face, cool and confident and never wavering. Never threatening.

Without thought, he stepped forward and held onto Spike with all his strength.

Spike held him, and soon he heard whispers. "It's all right, Xander. It's all right. I'm here, luv. Everything's going to be OK."

"I'm sorry," he said, realizing he was repeating that over and over.

"Don't be, you had every reason to ask me to go. If I'd thought you didn't, I would have stayed. Argued with you -- and won," he said in his typical self-assured tone.

"You came back." There was a lot more he wanted to say but that was all he could get out.

"Had to."

"Why?"

Spike just held him, not answering. Xander couldn't tell if he didn't know, or just didn't want to say.

"Are you staying?"

"Depends. On whether you tell me to go away again or not."

Ask him to go away again after the last two months without him? "I don't think I could," he said, laying his head against Spike's shoulder.

Spike just squeezed him, tighter. "Didn't know if you wanted me around, but I missed you. Been watching you since I got back - trying to anyway. Old man not letting you out much, is he?" His voice tried for the carefree, teasing tone, and mostly failed.

"I'm being punished. I did a lot of... stupid things." He tried to smile, though he wasn't sure how successful he was. "Almost made sleeping with a vampire look tame in comparison."

Spike's eyebrows went up. "This I have to hear." His mouth quivered a bit, until he broke into a wide smile.

That smile made it easy to return it in kind. "You want to hear how stupid I am?"

"Nah, know you're not stupid. Want to hear about you being naughty." He grinned, and now Xander could see the hint of a leer. All he needed now was for Spike to waggle his eyebrows come-hitheringly...

Just like he was doing now. Xander groaned. "I'll tell you later," he promised, before leaning in and kissing Spike.

He felt Spike bounce a little, scooting himself in against Xander as he was kissed. This was the feel, the taste, he'd been trying to remember, trying to relive. Imagination and half a pack of cigarettes paled to insignificance compared to this. He held on tightly, relishing every second.

Spike just pulled him in, hands on his back and digging into the jacket to pull him even closer. Spike's tongue pressed on his, alternating fighting for entrance to Xander's mouth, and cajoling Xander into his.

Xander clutched at Spike's shirt convulsively and whimpered into the kiss. The fear and grief when he thought Spike was dead still was thrumming along his nerves, making him even more desperate. He heard something, Spike's voice with words not quite vocalized; he refused to pull away and let him speak. Instead he dug in harder, hands and tongue, swearing not to let go.

He felt Spike relax, then, and stop trying to speak. He leaned forward, nudging Xander ever so gently. Xander moved backward, willing to follow Spike's urgings, as long as he didn't pull away or stop kissing him.

They stumbled a few steps, stopping once to let Xander regain his balance, Spike holding onto him as he got his feet under him again. Still kissing. Still hanging on, then moving backwards again until there was something at the back of his legs.

It took him a moment to realize what it was; he figured it out about the same time Spike was pushing him back on the bed, coming to lie on top of him. Spike settled on him as though he weighed nothing at all -- light as a blanket, covering him from head to toe. Only the feel of his mouth told Xander there was something more here. Something real.

Until opened his eyes, and saw Spike, still staring at his mouth.

"Don't stop," he pleaded, his fingers trembling as he reached up to trace Spike's features. "I need--"

"Shh," Spike said, and then he was there again. Kissing, touching, pulling clothes open so he could feel flesh on flesh. Spike pushed his groin against Xander's, and Xander let out a whimper. A hand burrowed underneath him, between his back and the bed, and brought him close.

This was what he needed, to feel Spike against him, on him. But it still wasn't enough. He surged upwards and wrapped his arms around Spike, pulling him even closer. Spike's body pressed down along the length of his own, trapping him, smothering him. It was perfect.

It was real. The edge of Xander's desperation faded a little and he was able to pay more attention to what was happening. Spike was still moving, slowly, undulating against him. One hand was splayed on his back, the other twisted in Xander's hair -- the only sign that maybe he was as desperate as Xander.

Spreading his legs, he arched up, groaning at the increased contact, wringing a matching groan from the vampire. It sounded as good as it felt, so he did it again. There was a growl, then, hard and deep, and it drove him even further against Spike's body. One hand frantically pushing between them, reaching for zippers and a little more freedom to enjoy, Xander couldn't quite hold back long enough for Spike to finish the task.

He was pushing against the vampire, unable to stop or pause and wait, breath coming in gasps, his hands still holding onto him tightly. Then finally, somehow Spike had their jeans open enough that Xander could then feel fingers on him, grasping lightly and tugging him free, pressing the tip against Spike's stomach.

That did it. Xander screamed as his climax engulfed him, burning out everything else. He heard a muttered, "Oh, Christ," and Spike's grip on his back tightened. As Xander came back to himself, he found Spike thrusting harder against him, eyes rolling back in his head.

Xander leaned up and bit at Spike's neck. Spike screamed, came all over him. He collapsed on top of Xander, then stopped moving all together. Wrapping his arms around Spike, Xander hugged him tightly and waited for the vampire to recover.

"That was bloody well not playing fair," Spike finally said, pushing himself up enough to grin down at Xander. "Do it again as often as you can."

"It's a deal." He could feel himself smiling so widely his face was beginning to hurt but he couldn't stop.

Spike looked at him for a moment, then just tilted his head. Obligingly, he leaned in and nibbled at the offered throat. The resulting growl was wonderfully encouraging.

"You really like that, huh?"

Spike answered by baring his neck again. Xander bit again.

Spike whined. His hands gripped Xander's arms, hard, while the rest of his body started to go limp. Most of his body. Xander was beginning to get curious. Just how far could he drive Spike just by doing this?

Spike looked down at him. "You stopped," he said invitingly.

"Just planning my attack," he said blithely. Then started nipping at Spike's neck again.

Spike wriggled happily, craning his head back as Xander began biting up along his neck. Xander bit down, once, over the jugular and Spike moaned and rolled onto his back. Xander followed the movement until he was lying on top, straddling Spike's hips. He bit again at Spike's jugular.

The sound Spike made wasn't something Xander was ever sure he'd heard before. Long, and wild, it echoed throughout the warehouse. It ended with a whimper, and Spike's hands clawing at him again, for more. Xander gave it to him, wondering why it had never occurred to him that biting would be a turn-on to a vampire.

But it certainly was, at least to this vampire. With every new bite, Spike made a noise -- anything from a moan to a whimper to an out-right yell, Spike vocalized everything his bonelessly-unmoving body could not. It made Xander wonder where else he should bite. He pushed back the sleeve of Spike's shirt, and tried the forearm.

A lovely scream, and Spike was begging, now. Moving over Spike's chest, he unbuttoned just enough of the silk shirt to bare a nipple. He bit down on it. Spike arced his back, fairly thrusting himself through the leg Xander had thrown across Spike's thighs.

Xander pulled back, looking down at the vampire's face. Spike's eyes were wide, focused on something high above them. The muscles in his neck were tensed, and his mouth was open, as if sense-memory told him he should be panting for air right now. As he watched, that mouth moved, and he began to form a word. It looked like 'Xan'.

He felt a surge of warmth and arousal at the sight and quickly lowered his head again. Slithering down Spike's body, pulling his jeans farther out of the way, he hovered over the vampire's erection.

"Xaaaaan," came the hoarse plea. Spike jutted his hips upward.

Grinning, Xander closed his mouth around Spike's length, letting his teeth scrape gently. Spike howled, and his entire body tensed. Replacing his mouth with a hand, Xander turned his attention his attention to Spike's balls, biting down hard.

Spike nearly spasmed, his shout one of surprise and arousal, even as he began coming all over again. And all over Xander.

He looked up at Spike's face, licking his lips, shivering at the taste. Spike's eyes were closed, and his chest rose once, then fell, before it stilled. Then Spike lifted his head, and half-smirked. The image of arrogance was marred by the unfocused look in his eyes.

"Keeping you," he said.

Something inside Xander came to life at those words. "Good," he sighed in satisfaction.

Spike reached out for Xander's arm, and gave it a tug. He went willingly. With a smirk, Spike pulled him closer, until he was close enough to kiss. Only Spike didn't. Instead, he licked Xander's cheek. "Somebody needs a bath."

"And whose fault is that?" He didn't quite pull off the accusing tone he was trying for. Hard to make a believable accusation when you were grinning like an idiot.

"Hmm... don't know." Another lick. "Good thing you don't have to go anywhere. This could take awhile." He licked again.

"Yeah," he said faintly, shivering. "Good thing."

Another slow lick, this time across his nose.

Xander giggled, then closed his mouth tightly, trying to keep from doing so again. Giggling was just so...

Spike licked him again, down his nose. Another giggle escaped. "Spike!" he protested.

"Wha?" he got, then Spike placed his mouth *over* Xander's nose.

And Xander found himself dissolving into hysterical laughter. When he was finally able to control himself long enough to look at Spike, he found the vampire watching him with the most self-satisfied expression Xander had ever seen. Outside the feline family.

"Behave or I won't bite you again," he warned, trying to sound stern. Hard to do with the happiness bubbling up inside him.

Spike grinned happily. "Bite me again, and I won't clean you up. Well, until afterwards."

"Decisions, decisions."

Spike just waited, with an air of infinite patience.

Xander flopped over onto his back and spread his arms wide. "Clean now, bite later."

"Then clean again? Hm, not as efficient as it ought to be. But still, a good decision." Spike crawled above him, and began licking him again. Chuckled whenever Xander giggled, which was often, since Spike returned to lick his nose every third lick or so.

Xander was also beginning to squirm. Spike's tongue running over his skin was doing more than making him laugh. But Spike just held him steady and continued licking. Ignored the way Xander's breathing changed, and the way he kept trying to nudge Spike down, to lick at other places.

He was driving Xander crazy. "Spike," Xander moaned as the vampire's tongue flickered over his nipple.

"Hmm?" came the apparently disinterested response. The tongue swirled around his chest towards the other nipple.

He meant to say, "Don't tease" but what came out sounded more like a strangled groan.

"What was that? 'Lick my ear, Spike'? Yes, if you want me to." And he moved to do just that.

With another frustrated groan, he arched up against Spike, trying to bring attention to where he really wanted Spike to lick.

"What? Oh, right," Spike said knowingly. Then licked his other ear.

Xander finally grabbed ahold of Spike's head and pushed it downward towards his groin.

"Don't tell me I got you messy down *there*," Spike continued in that infuriatingly amused tone of voice. But then -- god, finally -- he licked Xander's erection. Once, long and slow. "Yep, suppose I must've. It's all wet and sticky."

"All your fault," he groaned out.

"Then I suppose I ought to do the upright thing and... do the upright thing."

Before Xander could smack him, Spike's mouth descended on him. Thought disappeared then, and he gave himself over entirely to feeling.

Spike enthusiastically bent to task, showing more skill at licking than any single lick at any other part of Xander's body had hinted at. Or perhaps he was just so fired, so ready, that any touch would have sent him spiraling into it. He didn't care either way, he just wanted Spike to keep doing what he was doing, wanted this to last forever.

But Spike touched him, again, still licking and now sucking ever so slightly -- and Xander found himself begging for *something* to stop, just so he could breathe again. Or maybe he needed something to start, something more than licks and touches -- only he couldn't get his mouth to work to demand anything more.

There were sounds coming out of his mouth, whimpers and moans, but he couldn't control them, he was so caught up in the sensations. For a heartstopping too-long eternity, nothing changed. Spike continued the too-light touches, the almost-enough licks, until Xander was ready to pull himself out of his skin and demand it stop. Demand more. Demand something, if only he could think of what.

Then he felt a finger slip inside him.

He cried out, suddenly knowing what he wanted. "Yes... please... Spike," he babbled.

He felt his legs being lifted, his jeans pulled up and off. Spike gave his erection one last swipe of the tongue, then Spike began fumbling for something. He had left one finger inside Xander, and was now wriggling it a little, until Xander heard a soft "Aha, knew it."

"Hmmuh?" Xander managed, lifting his head and forcing his eyes open to look at Spike.

Spike was holding a small tube in his hand. He popped it with one hand, giving Xander a grin. Xander shivered at the sight and spread his legs even further. When Spike moved forward, there was a moment right when he was barely touching Xander, when he stopped. "Xan?"

"Y-yes?" he managed, trying to keep from wriggling in an effort to entice Spike to get on with it already.

Spike slowly began to push inside. Then he leaned down and kissed Xander's leg, which muffled his next words.

"Wha-?" The word came out more as a yelp as Spike hit his prostate, but he desperately held onto thought. Spike couldn't have said what he thought he'd said.

Could he?

A few more thrusts and his own thoughts were beginning to lose coherence. Finally he gave in, letting the sensations become his entire world. Letting Spike become his entire world.

So why, in that dizzying place of sensation, he heard it more clearly this time, he couldn't have said. But heard it he did, and it drove him over the edge.

"I love you."

His climax exploded over him, blocking out everything else.

~~~~~

He woke up to Spike licking him again. "Isn't this where I came in?" he joked weakly.

"Actually, you came out. I came in." Spike frowned. "All right, so it wasn't one of my better ones. M' brains leaked out everywhere -- which was your fault."

"Nope, can't be my fault. Since it's your fault my brains leaked out." He wrinkled a nose. "Does this mean we're lying in a puddle of brains?"

Spike snerked. "I wondered what this stuff was." He held up a hand, a thin cord of semen dripping down it. "Not much in the way of brains for either of us, though."

Xander stared for a long moment. "First off, ew. Secondly, being told I have no brains isn't a new experience."

Spike's face changed slightly, and he leaned down. Kissed him. "You," he began, in a no-nonsense voice, "have brains in your hair."

"They have a shampoo for that, don't they?"

"Probably. Not licking it out of your hair, that's for damn sure."

"Wouldn't want you coughing up a hairball."

Spike smiled, then said with laughter in his voice, "You are gonna need a shower, pet, before you go home. Luckily for you, I happen to have one nearby. Complete with stall built for seven."

Xander sat up. "You going to join me?"

Spike looked around at the empty warehouse. "Think there'll be room?"

"For what?"

"Me, along with the six other invisible people in the shower." He thumped Xander lightly on the head.

"Oh. Right. Sorry. Melted brains, remember?"

Spike just leaned back, and held out a hand. As Xander took it, he frowned.

"What? What's wrong?"

"Have to give you a shirt."

He looked down and saw the large stains on the shirt he still wore. "Um, yeah. Looks like."

Spike tugged him closer, and gave him a kiss. "Good thing it's your birthday. Now I don't have to try to find a copy of 'Caliph's Talisman'."

"How did you know I wanted--"

Spike smirked. "It's what all demonic chemists want. There's only fourteen first editions in existence, you know." Spike was leading him towards the rear of the factory, where Xander had never been.

"I know." Even the Watchers Council didn't have a copy; he knew because he'd asked Giles. "You were going to get me one?"

Spike looked coy. "Don't you need a shower?"

"Hmmm... shower, priceless first edition. Shower, priceless first edition. This is supposed to be an equable trade?"

Spike said, "No, it's 'shower with fingerpaint soaps, priceless first edition'."

"Ah, that makes all the difference." He grinned, feeling happier than he had in a long time.

"So? Shower," Spike said happily, tugging him along.

"Shower."

~~~~~

Spike walked across the room, fully naked, towards the chest where he kept his clothes. The room was still warmish from the shower, but Xander was shivering already.

Perhaps it was just watching Spike, leaning down to open the chest.

"Nice view," he heard himself saying.

Spike looked at him without standing up. "You want red, or... red?"

"Gee, what choice. How will I ever decide? Guess I'll go with... red."

"Excellent." Spike stood up with a handful of clothing in one hand, and a handful of something else in the other. It was a package, wrapped in-- Xander looked closer. Then laughed.

"The last time I saw paper like that it was at a 7th birthday party." It had been his present to Jesse -- the fire truck he hadn't gotten for his own birthday two months earlier. Jesse had let him play with it, though.

"Yeah, well, it was all I could find." Spike looked embarrassed.

"No, it's great, really." He smiled. "Thanks."

"Welcome." He handed it out. "Er, unless you wanted these first," Spike held out the clothes, then pulled them back. "No, never mind. Want you naked when you find out what it is."

He looked at Spike suspiciously. "Some kind of sex toy or something?"

Spike looked affronted. Which, given his current state of debauched nakedness, looked absolutely... well, sexy. Before his body could react to that thought, Xander turned his attention to opening the gift. Fun though the reacting would be, he really didn't have time.

Spike leaned forward, peering down at the package then glancing back up at Xander, waiting for him to open it. After a brief internal debate about being careful or just ripping the paper off, he settled on the latter and rather gleefully demolished the wrappings.

Spike took the torn paper from him, wadding it into a ball and throwing it into the corner. "Well?" he prompted, when Xander just stared at his present.

It was a first edition copy of Caliph's Talisman. "I thought you were kidding," Xander said, reverently running his fingers over the lettering on the cover.

"About your *birthday* present?" He sounded amused, faintly shocked. Which meant he was serious.

"You didn't even know that I'd--"

He looked up, and found Spike just watching him. "Hoped you'd... let me give it to you. Was going to send it with Angel tomorrow, if I didn't manage to see you tonight." He was tracing a finger along the top edge of the book as he spoke.

Xander covered the vampire's hand with his own and met his gaze. He couldn't think of anything to say except, "Thank you."

"Think I deserve a kiss for this one?" he asked with a slow, come-hither and kiss me smile.

With an answering grin, Xander leaned over and obliged.

When they broke apart, Spike gave him the look again. "Think it's worth two?"

Xander laughed. "Next you'll be asking if it's worth a blow job."

"Isn't it?"

"Next time," he promised, leaning in for another kiss. "I've got to go."

"Go?" Spike looked surprised for only a second before nodding, albeit reluctantly.

"I'd stay if I could."

Spike nodded, then his face was split by a sudden, mischievous grin.

"What?" Xander asked suspiciously.

"If your Watcher asks where you got it, tell 'em Bork gave it to you. Friend of Angel's -- blame the fancy schmancy gift on him."

"Bork," Xander repeated dubiously.

But Spike just nodded. "Friend of Angel's-- well, sort of. Owes him a couple huge favors. It's not completely unreasonable that he'd give him one of these to even the score." Spike blinked at his still-disbelieving, still-confused face. "Oh, come on, Xander. Bork's a Terflig demon. Sometimes not-evil, and they've got their paws into a bit of everything. Besides, it'll be fun watching Angel try to cover for us when you say it's
from him."

"He knows you're back?"

"Um, no. Don't *think* so. But he's good at improvisation," he said with an earnest tone that made Xander distrust him completely.

"Right." He nodded, planning on sneaking the book in and avoiding the conversation entirely.

Spike slid closer, then, and stole a third thank you kiss. Xander finally pulled back and quickly got dressed before that kiss could lead to a fourth -- or something more. Spike pouted at him for a moment, then he shrugged and dressed quickly, as well. He looked at Xander, then down at himself.

"What?"

"All we need to do now is bleach your hair--"

"Oh no." Xander backed up, holding his hands up defensively. "No messing with the hair."

"Just one little stripe, and we'll see how it looks." Spike reached for his hair.

"Touch the hair and I will not be responsible for my actions."

Spike froze. "Er, in what way?" he asked, carefully.

"Squirt gun filled with holy water, springs to mind."

Spike frowned. "That would be 'bad'. What if we dyed it purple after bleaching it?"

"Spike--"

"Red?"

"I thought you liked dark hair. Me, Drusilla. Speaking of who, where is she?"

Spike's cheerful grin died a little. "Asia."

It was Xander's turn to frown. "I thought you were going to Spain."

"We did. She met someone, some smarmy chaos demoness. She said since I had-- someplace to be, she'd be heading off into the wilds of Asia for a decade or twelve." Spike had reached out for Xander, and was now toying with the buttons of his shirt.

"She left you?" He stared at Spike disbelievingly.

Spike continued toying with Xander's buttons. "Not really. We'll find each other again." His gaze flicked up to Xander, briefly.

Xander swallowed, wondering if he was imagining what wasn't being said. "I'm glad."

Spike didn't say anything. He continued to play with the buttons on Xander's shirt -- Xander suddenly discovered three of them were undone.

He covered the vampire's hands before he could totally undo his getting dressed. "I've *really* got to go."

Spike started to push through Xander's hold, then he relented. "Yeah. Got a party to go to?" Once again, his face melted unexpectedly into a mischievous smile. "If they have ice cream..."

"Oh no. You leave the ice cream alone. Ice cream is one of the major comfort foods."

"I wasn't going to *do* anything to ice cream. I was *just* going to say, don't think about licking any apple pie ice cream off anyone's skin, is all."

He groaned and leaned his head against Spike's shoulder. "You had to go there."

"I'm only trying to look out for you," Spike insisted. "Don't want you choking on the ice cream, or going all flustered when someone tries to offer a second scoop."

"You're trying to drive me crazy."

Spike hesitated, then asked, "Is it working?"

"What answer would get you to stop?"

Spike sighed. "Neither. Go on." He took a half step back, away from Xander. "Save me a piece of cake?"

"Sure." He hesitated then offered, "You can stop by after everyone has gone and Giles is asleep."

"Really?"

Xander smiled shyly. "Really."

"A piece from the edge? If it's a square cake?" Spike's fingers had somehow found his shirt buttons again. Xander swatted them, lightly.

"I'll see what I can do." He leaned in and kissed him one more time before breaking away. At the door, he stopped and looked back at Spike. "I'm glad you came back," he said, the closest he could come to saying what he really felt.

The way Spike's cheerful grin melted into something else made him glad he'd said it -- and made him think that, perhaps, Spike knew the rest.

~~~~~

Xander surveyed the apartment. It was, to put it politely, a disaster area. He was only glad it hadn't been *his* doing.

That is, entirely his doing. The remnants of the wrapped presents -- paper, bows, boxes -- were his doing. The icing on the wall was Willow's fault. He looked over at Giles, who was also surveying the mess. "Call the maid?" Xander suggested.

"This is almost enough to make me consider getting one."

"Or maybe a handy cleaning spell?" Xander looked over at Giles' bookcase. The left-handed one had become *Xander's* bookcase, as the two in his room were now full. This one was almost full. How had *that* happened? he wondered.

"Only spiritual cleansing. Sorry."

"Bummer." Xander returned his attention to the area near the couch. The empty pizzas boxes were more or less neatly stacked -- a good place to start, then. He'd been hoping for a few slices left over for breakfast, but no such luck.

He had managed to save a couple of pieces of the cake by dint of cutting them and then mock-snarling at anyone who went near the dish. Willow had teased him about it, but he'd told her he just wanted them for tomorrow. Even then she'd tried to snag a fingerful of icing, until he'd hit her with the pitiful puppy dog eyes. Granted, she'd only giggled... but she'd left the cake alone, too.

Now they were safely wrapped up in the fridge. Xander grinned in anticipation of sharing them.

"Right. The food debris needs to be cleaned up tonight, but the rest we can leave for tomorrow." Giles smiled as he moved forward and started gathering plates up. "It was a good party."

"It was an excellent party!" Xander bounced a couple times, trying to think of one or two of the best parts, and failing to think of anything that had been less great than any other. "They just keep getting better and better -- I hate to think what'll happen four years from now. Oo! Can we go to Disneyland?"

Giles paused, and looked over at him. "Well, not right now."

"I meant for my 21st birthday. Think we'll have reached that level of cool party by then?"

"Perhaps. I refuse to wear any mouse ears, though."

Xander stopped, and pouted at him. "Not even for me? Daddy, please?"

Giles glanced up from his gathering. "That," he said, "is not playing fair."

Xander blinked. "I'm supposed to play fair? I'm an only child -- Willow always said only children are supposed to be spoiled. That means mouse ears." He turned back to gathering trash, to hide his grin.

"I'll buy a pair for you if you want."

Xander hesitated, knowing he could very easily get Giles to cave in by playing on his sympathies. That smacked of *truly* not playing fair, though. He considered his other options. He looked over at Giles. "Pluto ears?"

And had to duck the pillow that Giles threw his way.

"I'm detecting a note of reluctance," he said, then laughed at the exasperated look Giles gave him.

"Very astute of you."

Then again, if there was ever a time to not play fair... Xander frowned, just a little -- enough to hid his grin. In a hurt, disappointed tone, he said, "You just won't do it, because you know I'll take embarrassing pictures of you to show Buffy and Willow."

"And this is supposed to make me change my mind?" Giles smiled faintly.

Shaking his head smoothly, Xander said in a normal tone of voice, "This is just me, practicing."

After a moment's silence, Giles said calmly, "You don't need to, you know."

"Don't need to take pictures of you in Pluto ears? Why else would I make you buy them?"

That earned another small smile. "That wasn't what I meant."

Xander realized what he *did* mean, probably. He paused from where he'd been gathering cups. "Would this be my cue to apologize?"

Giles shook his head. "Nothing to apologize for."

As he went back to gathering cups, Xander ran that through his mind. Did this mean he could get away with anything he wanted, or that he was just already good at begging for things? He suspected neither, because Giles wasn't looking at him with like he wanted to grab onto him and not let go, nor looking at him like he didn't know if he had the strength to endure.

The last look was the one Xander saw every time he had more the four sodas in one day.

On the other hand, maybe Giles meant he didn't need practice simply *teasing* Giles. Only if he'd meant that... He realised he didn't know what Giles had meant. Didn't even know what he was trying to tease apart from that quiet statement. He realized that Giles was still talking and tuned back in. "--leave the rest for tomorrow."

Xander set down the rest of the cups he was holding. "Sure!" He grinned brightly.

Giles shook his head and smiled affectionately at him.

With a faked-sheepish grin, he picked the cups back up. "You *said* leave the rest for tomorrow. I *heard* you," he said as he carried them to the kitchen.

When he came back out, Giles was waiting for him. He pulled Xander into a hug. "Happy Birthday."

He returned the hug as hard as he could. "Thanks."

"You've been so quiet lately. It's nice to see you smile again."

Even as he started to smile again, the thought of *why* he'd been so hyperactively happy tonight made his stomach tighten. There was no way he could tell Giles that "Will" was back. But the other option was to lie to him. "Yeah, I just needed a break from all that punishment," he managed to tease Giles in a light tone.

"Is that it?"

"The cake was good, too."

Giles just continued to look at him with a faintly quizzical smile.

"And the presents." He thought of the book he'd snuck into his room, and was unable to hold back his excited smile.

"Ah, yes, the presents. Quite an impressive haul."

"I'm gonna need another bedroom to store all my stuff." He grinned.

"There's, um, one more," Giles said, suddenly diffident.

"Oo! Really?" Xander bounced. "These are always my favorite."

"They are?"

"Sure. You always save the-- neatest ones for last, when everyone has gone home."

"I'm not sure this one will live up to that billing, but..." Giles took a small gift-wrapped parcel out of his pocket and handed it over.

Xander accepted it eagerly, and wasted no time in ripping the paper off. He had a weird flashback to earlier that night -- book, eager gift-giver watching closely. He blinked at the CD, and turned it over. "Is this--?"

"It's me. Singing. I thought..." He shrugged. "It was a silly idea."

But Xander had his arms around Giles' neck, before he even got past "silly". He didn't say anything, not sure what he *could* say that wouldn't be insensible babble. Or embarrassing. Giles was still for a moment, then hugged him back. "It think it's wonderful. My second best present this year." Xander squeezed his eyes shut as he heard what he'd said. Well, he'd been thinking that maybe he'd have to ask Giles about safe-keeping for "Bork's" book.

"Second-best?"

Another sheepish grin, this one sincere. "It kinda slipped my mind, with the party and everything..." He let go of Giles and headed for his bedroom. Still trying frantically to think of a way to explain it.

Giles was still standing where he'd left him when he came back. Wordlessly, he held out the book. Giles took it. "Is this--"

Xander nodded. "Don't get me wrong. I love that you made the CD. But I think I could buy my own car *dealership* with this as collateral."

Nervously, he waited for Giles to stop staring in disbelief, and say something. Giles was trailing his fingers over the title reverently, much as Xander had when he'd first gotten it. "Where did you get this?"

Xander sighed. "A... friend of Angel's. Said he owed Angel a few huge favours, and he... um..." Xander found himself suddenly speaking very rapidly. "I sorta only met him recently, but he gave it to me for my birthday tonight. This is his shirt -- mine kinda got stained and I'd bring him home to meet you, but he's not exactly human and I didn't know if that would matter."

"By not entirely human, you mean--?"

"Terflig." He didn't know if he would have to strangle Spike, or give him the blowjob he'd been after.

He could see Giles relax a little at that. "What's his name?"

"Bork." Oh, yeah. Strangling him. He'd never intended to lie to Giles -- but now, it wasn't as though he could do anything but continue the fiction Spike had suggested. Well, maybe the sex first. Then strangulation. Although an undead, unbreathing creature could probably have sex before, during, and after being strangled. Wouldn't quite have its intended effect.

Giles was still watching him strangely. "And you really like this Bork."

He nodded, tried to hold himself still. Thought about what Spike had *said* to him, and nodded again, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from saying it out loud.

"I'd very much like to meet him sometime."

Xander froze, forced himself to relax. "I'll tell him. He-- he's kinda skittish around, um, grown-up humans. Even though Terfligs aren't genetically evil, they don't always have a good reputation. He's a little shy about meeting anyone human, especially, you know, the Slayer's Watcher." He hadn't realized he'd still possessed the ability to bullshit at highspeed. Xander gave Giles as sincere a look as he could. "But I'll let him know he's invited."

Giles nodded, still with that strange look. "All right."

Bizarrely, Xander was struck by the urge to...give him something. Happy as he was about his birthday, and presents, and the CD and book, and ecstatic as he was about Spike -- somehow, what he really wanted tonight was to cuddle in Giles' arms. "Um, I guess... there's someplace I can keep this? Safe?"

Visibly shaking himself, Giles nodded. "We can put it with my rare books, if you'd like."

"Yeah. Well, *tonight* I'm gonna read it cover to cover. Tomorrow we can lock it up. Um, unless tomorrow *you* wanna read it cover to cover." He grinned.

"It wouldn't hurt to review it," Giles agreed, looking down at the book, himself, again.

Xander grinned, knowing the distracted look creeping onto Giles' face. Then he realized that if Giles got sucked into reading it *tonight* -- he wouldn't be able to. Granted, Spike was dropping by, but that would be at *least* two hours from now.

Giles was opening the cover now and glancing at the index.

"Um," Xander moved forward, reaching for the book. He didn't think he'd have to wrestle the book away, but if he waited too long he'd have to see Giles get that disappointed look when Xander took his book away.

He watched as Giles tore his gaze away from the page to look up at him.

"Book?" he half-asked, half-whined.

"Oh. Yes." Chagrined, Giles closed it and handed it back over. "Sorry."

Xander grinned, even as he held the book against his chest, protectively wrapping his arms around it. "You can have it *tomorrow*. Or possibly the day after. If you're good."

"If *I'm* good." Giles lifted one eyebrow.

But Xander just nodded, seriously. "I've already *got* the book, I don't have to be good."

"You do need time to read it."

Xander just nodded again. "Don't worry; I'll share." He looked down at the book. "Well, eventually." He stared at the cover -- this book was nearly seven hundred years old. Each page preserved by a spell, the thick paper and hand-written lines still as they were the day they'd been bound into the book, hand-stitched into the spine.

He realized he'd been staring at the book for several moments, and looked back up with a jolt. Giles was smiling at him amusedly. "I'm gonna go to bed now," he said quickly.

"I thought you might be."

He just grinned, and headed towards his room. Stopped at the door, and turned back. Giles was still looking at him, he raised an eyebrow in question as Xander faced him again. "Thank you."

His guardian nodded and smiled again. "Happy Birthday."

With one more bounce, Xander turned back to his room, heading for the bed blindly as he opened the book once more. He felt the mattress bounce underneath him as he jumped onto it, sprawling across the covers as he began reading.

~~~~~

He had the feeling he'd dimly heard the knock once already, when a rapping on the window drew his attention away from the book. Xander raised his head and grinned at Spike, who was giving him an exasperated look. Putting the book aside, he went over and opened the window. "I was... uh... reading."

"Saw that. Good, is it?" Spike leaned forward as far as he could -- lips first.

"Very." He grinned and leaned forward to kiss Spike.

"Good. Didn't know if you'd actually be able to read it yet -- I only got as far as the preface when my eyes swam back into my skull. Didn't know if that was the point -- you demonic chemists are a weird lot."

"No swimming eyeballs so far. Must've been a vampire thing."

Spike scowled at him -- for a second, then his face lit up. "Cake!" he exclaimed quietly. He leaned forward, looking around, and scowled again as he hit the boundary of the window.

Reaching out Xander touched his hand briefly. "It's in the kitchen, wait here and I'll go get it."

"Where am I gonna go?" Spike leaned against the window.

"Right." He began backing up for the door, still watching Spike.

Spike was just leaning forward, watching him. Then he realized Spike was *watching* him, in that "I've undressed you with my eyes twice, and I'm trying to decide if I should dress you in leather, or just a pair of socks" kind of way.

He felt himself blushing. "You keep looking at me like that and I'm going to forget what I'm going after."

"Cake."

"Right." He bumped into the closed bedroom door and fumbled for the doorknob behind his back. Spike's gaze tracked his body again, and Xander could swear he heard the decision made for leather. He finally managed to get the door open, but found he couldn't break away from Spike's gaze. "I'm not the cake, so stop looking at me like I'm dessert."

Spike looked at him, smiling slightly. "No. Not dessert."

Xander gulped. "I'll be--" He gestured at the opened door, then finally managed to tear himself away and headed for the kitchen.

He stood in front of the fridge for a few seconds, letting the cool air remind him that there was someone sleeping nearby who wouldn't be pleased to find him in bed with a vampire. Then he grabbed the two plates and a couple of forks, and went back to his room.

Spike was exactly in the same position as when he'd left and Xander felt his steps falter under that gaze again. It made it difficult to walk forward -- as if with each step, Spike turned up the intensity until, when he was almost close enough to hold out his hand, moving became almost impossible.

Spike licked his lower lip. "Cake?" he held up one hand.

"Cake?" Xander repeated.

Spike took a half-step backwards. "Yeah."

Xander stepped forward and banged his leg against the window sill. "Ow."

Spike chuckled. "Don't drop them." He moved back farther, though, then reached out for the plates. "Give 'em here."

Suddenly remembering the plates he held, he handed them over. Spike took them, then waited while Xander climbed out of the window. He carried the plates as they climbed up onto the roof, where they could sit down.

"So."

Spike was still holding both plates, looking at them like he was trying to decide how to eat them both with no hands free. Xander was tempted to wait and see what he figured out, but took pity on the big bad vampire and took back one of the plates. Besides, this way he made sure he got his piece.

He yelped when Spike started patting Xander's pockets. "What are you doing?"

"Forks? Spoon? Or do I get to smear it on your stomach and lick--"

"You start doing that and I'll probably fall off the roof." He pulled out the forks he'd gotten and handed one over. "Here."

"Won't let you fall," Spike said as he took the utensil. He hooked a leg underneath Xander's, providing an oddly secure anchor.

"How comforting." He'd meant it to sound sarcastic, but it hadn't come out that way at all.

Spike just glanced at him, then took a huge bite of his cake. He chewed, then stopped, his eyes going wide. "Chocolate raspberry with cream cheese frosting?" he said around the mouthful.

"If you don't like it--" He reached for the plate.

Spike pulled it out of his reach. "I didn't *say* I didn't like it."

"Just so you know you don't have to eat it if you don't."

Spike gave him a dirty look. "Touch my cake and I'll tell you what you can replace the raspberry filling with."

"Ew. There goes *my* appetite."

Spike swallowed another bite, then said, "Well, if you don't want your piece..."

With a huge put upon sigh, Xander handed it over. "Now I know I'm crazy. I'm voluntarily handing over chocolate."

Spike took the plate and set it down, between his legs. Returning to his own piece of cake, he took another bite before saying casually, "Didn't know you hated custard filling so much."

"Holy water. Squirt gun. I'm sure I have one in my room."

Spike gave him a hurt-innocent look. "What'd you *think* I meant? Strawberry?"

"Hasn't anyone ever told you that vampires can't pull off innocent?"

"Can too."

Xander shook his head, grinning. "Nope. Not even close."

"Can." Spike took his last bite of cake, set the plate down, and picked up Xander's. Asked him again, with a quirk of an eyebrow.

Xander nodded in permission, even as he kept arguing. "Can't."

"Can." He started to take a bite, then gave Xander a slightly guilty look. "It really does taste good that way, you know."

"With strawberry?" He grinned.

Spike made a face. "Don't like strawberry-flavoured *anything*."

"No?"

"Not even edible underwear." Spike shuddered.

"Not even eating strawberries off my--"

This time Spike gave him a woeful look. "Sorry. I'd be happy to flick 'em off you and just lick you bare, though."

Xander sighed tragically. "Another fantasy shot down by reality."

"Melon balls?" Spike offered. "Or caramel sauce?" The second piece of cake was disappearing rapidly.

"Melon balls." He laughed, even as he shifted nervously at the mental picture.

"Yeah." Spike's voice dropped. "Set 'em along your torso, after they've been chilled. You have to keep from moving, so they don't roll off while I eat 'em, one by one."

Xander shivered.

"And if they're in *season*, they'll be all juicy. As they warm up, the melon juice starts dripping everywhere..."

"I'd get all sticky." When did his voice get so small?

"Yeah. Wouldn't *that* be a shame." Spike took a last bite of the cake, and licked the fork clean. Licked a bit of frosting off his finger.

"A shame. Yeah." He swallowed hard and drew one leg up to hide the effect Spike was having on him.

Spike set the second plate down, then leaned over to whisper, "Can smell you, ya know. Besides which, I've seen it already."

"We're on the roof, Spike."

The vampire blinked at him, and leaned back slightly. "Um, yeah? And?"

"It's a very long way up."

"Told you, I wouldn't let you fall." He suddenly grinned. "You think I've never made love on a slanted roof, before?"

"And how many times have you fallen off?"

"Once. But it was entirely Angelus' fault." Spike frowned. "And he wasn't even getting any -- bloody ponce was down on the ground, screaming up at us."

Curiously, he asked, "What was he screaming?"

"Um, something like, 'Get the hell off my roof', or some such idiotic nonsense."

For some reason the picture of Giles standing below them yelling the same thing popped into his head and he began to giggle hysterically. He felt Spike's leg tense, and an arm draped across his shoulders. Without thought, Xander leaned against him.

They sat quietly for awhile, looking out at the empty courtyard below. After a few minutes, Spike asked, "Speaking of Angel... did you get to blame him for your book?"

"Only in passing. Blamed the non-existent Bork." He grinned, but still felt a little funny about it. He didn't like lying to Giles.

"He's not non-existent," Spike protested. "He's real. A wimpy little Terflig, jumps at shadows and has a squished nose, and everything."

"Wonderful. Giles thinks I'm dating him." He was a bit mortified. What kind of taste would Giles think he had?

"Oh?" Spike sounded completely, utterly, hopelessly amused. "Well, we don't have to tell *him* that Bork's got a squashed nose. Can tell him he's devilishly handsome, sharp wit, that's he's the big, bad-- oh, right. Not that part. We can tell 'em he's handsome, though."

"'We'?"

"Well, yeah! Who do you think's gonna play the role of suave, debonair Bork? Not the *real* Bork." Spike gave him a flat look, which not entirely hid the gleam in his eyes.

Xander saw where this was going and gulped. "No. No way. Uh-uh. Forget it."

"What? It'll be perfect. I get a little hair-dye and some putty on my forehead -- or maybe a glamour? Go meet the old man and let him know what a fine, upstanding young man his kid is dating."

"He's a Watcher. Don't you think he'd be able to spot that kind of thing?" Oh, this was a Very Bad Idea.

Spike shook his head. "He won't notice. And if he does, he'll think it's to hide other things -- like a squashy nose. Or maybe I can tell him it's to hide my being there, from my *own* stuck-up, don't mess around with humans, parents."

What was even worse, was that it sounded like Spike had already thought this through. "What part of 'No' isn't getting through? And Giles isn't stuck-up."

"He doesn't mind that you're dating a Terflig demon? Didn't even mention you might want to try your own species first?"

"No, he didn't."

"Really. Man has bigger wrinklies than I thought. 'Course, if he didn't mind Buffy dating *Angel*, he can't exactly forbid you to date a packer demon."

"If he thought I was dating someone bad for me, he would. No matter the species." And there was the guilt again at lying to Giles and doing something he knew he wouldn't approve of.

There was a bit of silence, marred only by the sounds of traffic not far away. Spike squeezed him a little, and said, "If you want me to go--"

"No!" he denied immediately. Then more calmly, "No. Tried that once already. Didn't work."

"Good." Spike sounded just as determined as Xander felt. "You want me to have the real Bork stop by? Pick you up for our dates?"

He shook his head. That would be an even worse deception.

"OK." Spike moved a bit, then kissed Xander on the cheek. "I do get to see you sometimes, don't I?" There was a note of uncertainty in his voice.

"Whenever I can get away," he promised. Though while he was still under punishment that wasn't going to be very often, he thought glumly.

"S'all right, Xan. Don't mind waiting... as long as I *do* get to see you."

"You can always come knocking at my window."

"Watch you undress?"

Xander shivered again. "Maybe."

"Watch you... sleeping?" Spike's mouth suddenly moved right next to Xander's ear.

"I-If you want."

Spike kissed his ear and said nothing. Xander just leaned more firmly against him with a sigh.

They stayed that way for a long time. Sitting on the roof, watching the night go by. Eventually, the cool night air stole the last of the heat from Xander's body -- cuddling with a vampire was no resource for heat. He didn't have to say anything, however, before Spike asked, "Time to head down?"

He nodded. "It was my teeth chattering that gave it away, right?"

"That and the fact that you're starting to feel cool to *me*." Spike stood up easily, standing slightly down-slope from Xander. Xander climbed to his feet more gingerly, trying not to picture himself slipping and going over the edge. Spike gripped his biceps firmly. "Told you," he scolded. Then, "Just keep your knees bent and feet flat on the shingles."

He nodded. "Right." But he still reached out and grabbed hold of Spike's arm, gripping it tightly. Spike walked backwards, down the roof, guiding Xander along above him. "Shouldn't you be watching where you're going?"

"I know where I'm going," Spike replied, sounding actually reassuring. "Consider it a supernatural vampire power -- the ability to walk backwards without falling off the roof." He stopped at the edge.

"Unless someone yells at you."

"Wasn't walking backwards when Angel yelled." Spike pulled Xander towards the edge. "The wall's not two feet down, remember?"

"Right." He smiled nervously.

Spike knelt on the edge of the roof, then he was standing on the wall below. Still holding onto Xander's arms, easing him down to sit on the roof. "Now. That wasn't so bad, was it?"

"It would be just my luck to survive everything I have only to break my neck falling off the roof when I was a step from safety."

"Haven't you been listening to me? Said I'm *not* letting you fall."

He stared into Spike's eyes for a long moment, and saw something that made his heart beat faster. "I think I've already fallen," he whispered.

There was a flicker of something in Spike's eyes, then a tiny grin appeared briefly before Spike was kissing him hard. Xander wrapped his arms around Spike's neck and kissed him back. Somewhere in the middle of the kiss, he felt himself being lifted. Mid-air, tongue in his mouth, and arms around his waist until something solid was under his feet again.

But he still felt like he was floating.

When Spike let him go, he gave Xander another cheeky grin. "So? Safe and sound."

"Yeah." He grinned back idiotically.

Spike gave him a miniscule nudge. "You wanna head towards the window? Or is this warm enough for you?"

"Almost too warm."

"Then maybe you should stay out here awhile, cool off." Spike looked him up and down. "Could take something off."

"Or..." He took a deep breath and continued in a rush. "You could come in."

Spike blinked. The tiny grin was coming back. "I could. I'd even be gone before dear Rupert found me here. In your bed, legs entwined, all naked and warming," he kissed Xander, "you up."

Xander glared at the vampire. "If he did, I'd be grounded until I was 40 and you'd be dust."

"So we'll be quiet." Spike kissed him again, running his fingers underneath Xander's shirt.

"We're still on the wall."

"Yeah? Maybe we should... get off, then."

He grinned. "Shouldn't we go inside first?"

"Yeah, reckon we should." But Spike didn't move. A gust of cold wind came up and he started shivering again. Spike ran his hands up Xander's arms. "You're freezing, luv."

"I no-noticed." His teeth were beginning to chatter again.

"Inside, Xan," Spike nudged him again.

He nodded and with a minimum of fumbling, slipped through his open window. Spike stood there and watched him, a forlorn and expectant expression on his face. Xander reached out a hand to him. "You coming?"

"Is this an official invitation?"

He nodded.

With a half-smirk, Spike said, "Have to actually say it, luv."

"Oh. Sorry. Come in?"

With that, Spike came inside.

~~~~~

Xander stood under the shower, trying not to sing as he shampooed his hair. He'd washed it just yesterday, at Spike's place -- but for exactly the same reason, he needed to wash it again. It was still early, barely sunrise, but he'd been unable to fall back asleep once Spike had left. He figured he might as well get up, get an early start on the day. Maybe even make waffles-- with eggs this time.

He finished showering, dried off, and got dressed in a pair of old sweatpants and a t-shirt. As he headed down the hall, he noticed that Giles' bedroom door was slightly open. He stopped, trying to recall if maybe he and Spike had managed to make noise after all. But if so, Giles hadn't said a word -- no banging on the door demanding they cut it out or at least keep it quiet.

On impulse, Xander snuck up to the door and peeked in. Giles was sprawled on his back on in the middle of the bed, arms outstretched, fast asleep and snoring softly. With a grin, Xander considered sneaking in there -- ruffling his hair and tucking him into bed, like Giles had done to him a few times.

He'd actually taken step inside the room, before he realised what he was doing. He stopped. Then again... it *was* tradition, after all. Two cakes, special gift after everyone went home, and a post-party snuggle. Xander crept over and carefully crawled into bed next to him.

Giles murmured something indecipherable and wrapped an arm around Xander. All without waking up. With a happy grin, Xander snuggled in, and closed his eyes. Breakfast could maybe wait a bit.

When he opened his eyes again an uncertain time later, he found Giles propped up on one elbow watching him. "Um, hey." Xander tried for a smile. "Morning?"

"Good morning," Giles replied with a faint smile.

"I was just on my way to make breakfast," he started to explain.

"Were you?"

"But then there was this spot on your bed that was all... empty. And I remembered the tradition."

Giles lifted an eyebrow. "Tradition?"

"Yeah. Post-birthday cuddle."

He could practically see the memories of the year before flowing through Giles' mind. "We've come a long way in the last year."

Xander looked around. "Looks like the same spot to me," he said off-handedly, though inside he warmed at the thought. Not just that he had come a long way -- but that Giles had noticed.

"Actually, I believe it was the couch last year."

"Oh." Xander thought back, wondering why he'd thought he'd forgotten that part. "Felt the same," he offered, and pushed himself upright. Breakfast would be a good choice right now, he told himself. Breakfast and safer thoughts than those beginning to sneak into his brain.

"Cuddle over?" Giles asked with a raised eyebrow and a slightly disappointed expression.

"Breakfast calls." He gave Giles a pout, as though being pulled away by the call of homework, or mopping.

Sighing, Giles sat up. "I forgot for a second: never get between you and food."

"Well, if it's carrots, yeah. Get between me and them all you want. In fact, I'd consider it a parental duty to defend me--" Xander started towards the door, hoping to get out of range of a pillow before--

Too late. It got him in the side of his head. He caught it as it fell, and took it with him. Muttering came from behind him and he grinned as he headed for the kitchen.

~~~~~

The next evening, Xander came home late -- compared to his curfew of late. Buffy had asked Giles to let him accompany her on patrol -- she'd promised there would be no fun had, no goofing off of any kind. She'd confessed she wanted someone to help her study for a chemistry test and, not surprisingly, Xander was her best choice.

Though his current grades didn't reflect it -- they'd suffered during his foray into deliquency, and still hadn't completely recovered -- he *did* know his stuff. Even in the mundane variety. Xander had gotten permission to patrol with her by pointing out that *he* needed to get a good grade, himself, if he hoped to pull his average up.

The fact that he'd let Giles have the Caliph's Talisman to read while he was out had had nothing to do with it. Well, mostly nothing. Giles hadn't called him on the bribe, however. Given him a look that was quickly erased by the absorbtion as he opened the book Xander had handed him.

Now, as he headed up to the apartment, he wondered if Giles would be willing to return it yet. He heard Giles speaking to someone as he made it to the door, his words muffled by the wood. He opened the front door, and stopped. Stared. Dropped his jaw on the floor.

A grinning Terflig demon stood up from where he'd been sitting on the couch, being served tea. A Terflig demon with Spike's eyes.

Xander was going to kill him.

"Hi, Xan," Bork said in a decidedly un-Spikelike manner. Shy and nervous. Bork glanced over towards Giles, "I hope you don't mind that I came over."

"Mind? Why would I mind?" He let his gaze stare wooden stakes at the disguised vampire.

But Bork just shrugged. "Since you told me you'd be with the Slayer this evening -- did you kill anything fun?" Spike's pleased voice bled through the hissed voice of a Terflig, for a syllable.

"Not yet."

There was a faint smile, then Bork's face composed itself neatly into a harmless little packer demon look of attentive politeness, and he handed his tea cup over to Giles. "Thank you for the tea, it really was lovely."

"You're welcome," Giles replied taking it. "It's always nice to meet Xander's... friends."

Spike smiled, graciously. "As I was saying, before Xan arrived, I'd be happy to bring you some of grandpa's old journals. He was at the Battle of Terwin, used to ramble on about it for days."

"That would be most generous, thank you." There was a light in Giles' eyes that always shone at the chance of acquiring new knowledge.

Spike smiled, gave Xander a look that said, quite clearly, 'aren't I good?'

What the look Xander shot back said wasn't repeatable in polite company. "But you have to be leaving now, don't you *Bork*?"

"No, actually, I can stay."

"But-But you have that... thing. With... y'know."

'Bork' gave him a slightly perplexed look. "Your da's invited me to stay for dinner."

Xander shook his head minutely. He felt bad enough about lying to Giles without rubbing his face in it and actively doing it all through dinner...

"If you'd like, I don't see why the two of you can't... go out for a while," Giles said quietly, suddenly reminding Xander that there was someone watching their conversation. Hopefully, not too closely.

The generosity just made Xander feel worse. But he still took advantage of it.

"I don't want to impose on Xander's, um, schedule," Spike said with a uncertain tone that anyone who wasn't Xander would have bought.

"No impostion," Giles said. "Besides, it looks like you two need to talk."

Spike gave Xander a wide, Bork-smile. His nose, he suddenly noticed, was a little squashed. "Great! When do I need to have him home by?" Spike was moving forward, ready to hustle himself and Xander out the door as soon as he had the answer>

Giles considered for a moment. "Eleven. Since you've got school tomorrow."

Spike nodded. "Eleven." He paused, then, in front of Xander -- who hadn't moved to let himself be hustled back out the front door. "Xan, luv?"

"Yeah." He hesitated for a moment, turning back to Giles, who was being so nice to him while he was lying to his face. He was surprised the guilt didn't rear up and swallow him whole. "I won't be late," he managed, then turned and walked out before he could say anything else.

Spike remained silent until they reached the parking lot, then, with a glance back towards the apartment, laughed. "Bloody hell! That was fun. You're right, he's not stuck-up... tight-assed prick, perhaps, but--"

Xander broke in bitterly, "You enjoyed yourself? Good. Glad you had fun making me feel like shit."

The vampire stopped, and stared at him. Mouth gaping open, the glamour washed away like cheap make-up in the rain. "You said you couldn't date someone you couldn't introduce to your guardian."

"And you thought this would make it *better*? By making me lie to his face?"

"But now you don't *have* to. Sneak out and lie to him where you've been. What, you'd rather I showed up like this? Told him you're shagging a vampire who *doesn't* have a soul?"

Xander wrapped his arms around himself. "He would've staked you if you had."

"Yeah? And if he hadn't met 'Bork', how often d'you think we'd have seen each other before he realised you were up to something? Seeing someone you were ashamed to tell him about?"

"And this is better?" he repeated, misery filling him displacing the anger.

"What's *wrong* with it? What did *you* actually say to him that was a lie? 'Yes, this is my friend Bork'?" Spike was still staring at him, looking angry, as well. And confused.

"You don't understand."

"So? Explain it. What did I do that was so wrong? Giles thinks you're dating a fine, upstanding young demon, and we get to see each other." He shrugged.

"I'm lying to him. Not just by omission, like before. But actively." Xander's lip curled up in self-loathing.

For a long moment, Spike stood there. The confusion in his expression died, a little, replaced by blandness. Xander suspected it was hiding a thoughtful look and had no idea why he'd hide such a thing. Finally, Spike said, "So, you want to stop lying to him. But you won't tell me to leave."

"Tried that." Xander laughed humorlessly. "Hurt too much."

Spike nodded. "Right, then." And he turned.

Walked toward's Xander's front door.

Xander grabbed at his arm. "Where are you going?!"

Spike just looked at him, an odd sort of calm on his face. "Going to tell him. Since that's the only other way out of this dilemma of yours."

"No!" Xander tightened his grip. "He'll kill you."

"Not if he thinks you-- like me. He'll try and talk you out of it, but he'll give me a chance. Or you -- he won't kill me for just *saying* it."

"You don't know that." In his mind was the image of Giles beating his father viciously for hurting him. "He'll do whatever he has to if he thinks he's protecting me."

"I wasn't going to tell him I'm a danger to you -- I'm *not*," he added in a soft and peculiar tone.

"I know," Xander answered softly, "but he doesn't."

Patiently, Spike asked, "Then what do you want?"

He sighed. What he wanted he couldn't have. What he could live with was... "I want you in my life. I want to lie to Giles as little as possible and still have that."

Spike considered this, and Xander, silently. Then, in a careful tone, said, "So how, exactly, does this mean you have to lie to him more than as little as possible? He's met me, he's happy -- now I avoid him and you can be as vague or detailed as you like about what we're up to."

Xander regarded him suspiciously. "No more tete a tetes over tea?"

Spike looked back at him, with what looked like genuine repentence. "Promise."

He took a deep breath. It wasn't perfect and he knew he was still going to hate himself for lying... but it was livable. "Okay."

Spike was still looking at him, worriedly. Spike reached up and touched his chin, briefly, as if unsure his touch were welcome. "M'sorry."

With a sigh, Xander stepped forward and hugged him.

Spike returned the hug, then looked at him, head tilted sideways. "So are we still... going out?" There was, oddly, no underlying leer in his question.

He nodded. "Yeah. If I go back now I'd have to explain why."

Spike slid his hand down to grasp Xander's, loosely. "You want to go someplace? Or sneak back to my place and I can apologize all over again?"

"I think I'd like to see what you condsider apologizing," Xander replied with the beginnings of a grin.

"I'll have you know I'm very *good* at apologizing," Spike said with an air of offense. "I happen to have a lot of experience at it. Er, you don't like birds, do you?"

"Birds as in feathers and wings or birds as in women?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "Song birds. You know, put 'em in a cage and they flutter around til you forget to feed 'em and they die? Because I know where I can get one, real cheap."

Xander shook his head confused. "Why would I want a songbird?" The confusion lifted as something occurred to him. "This is a Dru thing isn't it?"

"Spent a lot of time apologizing for insulting her way of taking care of her birds. My fault she needed a new one every week? Or jewelry; know where I can get you something nice."

"My father used to buy me stuff when he was apologizing," he heard himself saying. "Back when he still bothered to apologize."

Suddenly he was being held again, close. Spike's arms wrapped around him, he could feel one hand against the back of his neck. However, Spike said in a cheery voice, "Could just keep saying 'I'm sorry', if you'd rather. Or--" he sounded as if the thought had just occured. "Would you prefer I strip you down and suck you clean?"

Xander shivered at that last. "That was what I was thinking," he answered, doing his best to keep his voice steady.

Spike moved back a tiny bit, and pressed a kiss onto Xander's lips. For a second there was just that: a monent of tenderness, cool night air and a dog barking at the world. Xander let himself slip deeper into the kiss, briefly -- confused when Spike pulled back abruptly.

"Right, well, if I have to have you back here by twelve, we'd better get started."

"I thought that was what we were doing. And it's eleven."

"Here? In the parking lot? Well, all right," Spike moved to kneel in front of him. "Thought it was eleven thirty."

"E-eleven," Xander stammered, his brain unable to decide whether to push Spike away or encourage him.

But he'd waited too late, Spike's fingers were already at his zipper, holding onto the pockets of his jeans as he balanced on the balls of his feet and his knees.

Right in the *middle* of the parking lot. At, what, seven o'clock?

"If I get arrested for public indecency, I'm going to be grounded until I'm 80," he pointed out, but couldn't bring himself to stop what Spike was doing.

"Don't get arrested, then," Spike said, then he was unable to say much of anything. Vampire speed, Xander managed to think to himself, before his brain cells began short circuiting in that age-old 'someone has his mouth on my cock' way. He wondered who was holding him up.

He felt hands gripping his hips tightly; oh yeah, Spike was holding him up. Which was only fair considering he was the reason that Xander needed holding up in the first place. He heard himself groan and quickly stuffed a fist into his mouth to keep from making noise.

His head fell back, threatening to roll *off* when Spike kept... or started... or something, Xander wasn't entirely sure exactly what was causing all those sensations. Tongue, mouth, fangs, god knew what else -- it was fast, and almost furious. He felt something scrape the under-side of his balls, and he bit his hand.

It couldn't last, not with what Spike was doing and the added spice of worrying about being caught. He came with a muffled shout. He felt the press of Spike's tongue as he swallowed, mouth firmly still grasping him. It was enough to make him want to throw Spike down and take him again, right there, laws and decency and Giles coming out to see what the fuss was all about, be damned.

"Spike," he gasped, asking for more or asking him to stop, he didn't know which.

He felt a tongue running the length of his cock, then heard a light smack as his lover pulled completely away. "Yes?"

Xander stared down at him for a long moment trying to remember how to talk. "Apology accepted," he finally managed.

"Oh." Spike blinked at him, looking perplexed. There was a tiny smile fighting its way across his mouth as he said, "Hadn't gotten to that part, yet."

"Yet?"

With a measuring look at his groin, Spike said, "I said 'clean'. You are not clean. There's," he pulled Xander's jeans open a bit, peered inside, then pointed at something. "There's a spot of sweat."

"Oh." The part of his mind where common sense resided was screaming, "Not in the parking lot!"

"No, in your jeans. With the rest of you -- except a couple dangling bits. Why would the parking lot be sweating, anyhow?" Spike must not have expected an answer, because he ended his question with a lick. Two licks.

"Spike!"

He heard a small, very cute voice ask, "What? Don't I get to apologize?"

~~~~~

It appeared as though the universe had decided to pull the cosmic carpet out from under his feet, again. He'd managed to get caught up on all his schoolwork, including his dem chem class -- but before he could so much as breathe, his English teacher assigned a paper.

It wasn't fair. Xander glanced across the room to where Giles was sitting on the couch, reading something and writing notes in a large notebook. He knew he'd get no sympathy for complaining about being forced to read The Illiad for school -- especially since Giles had thought it a perfect opportunity for him to practise his Greek.

Everyone *else* got to read it only in English. He considered getting his revenge by writing his paper in Greek -- but he suspected Giles would consider this as a sign he was ready to start another new language.

"How is it coming?" Giles asked, not looking up from his own studies.

"If I could remeber how to conjugate 'kakos' properly, I'd be using it to describe this paper."

"It's going well, then."

Xander gave Giles a dirty look. "It is *not* going well. I have to have this paper finished by Tuesday!" He looked back down at the mess of notes and half-begun outlines written and scratched out and written in again.

Giles looked at him consideringly for a moment. "Would you like me to help?"

Xander immediately gathered up his pencil and papers, and held them out.

Laughing, Giles got up and came over to sit beside him. "I will take that as a yes."

"Can I just tell you what brilliant obversation I want to end the paper on, and let you take over from there?"

"Is that what you do with Willow?"

"Um?" Xander gave him a cute look. Willow's, actually. "No?" It had been a while since he'd been scolded for letting Willow do his work for him, when he was able to do it, himself. Willow would be mad if he got them scolded again, now.

"Are you asking me?"

He shook his head. "I'm trying to figure out how much trouble I'm going to be in if I say 'mostly' and then you ask Willow not to help me with my papers and she yells at me for making you scold her. I want her to help me with my dem chem experiment -- I need her to do a version of an experiment with magic, so I can compare it as well," he explained quickly. "Not asking her to do my experiment, I was just curious."

Giles considered for a moment. "That would be legitimate assistance."

Xander nodded, encouragingly, hoping that Giles would turn his attention back to the present paper, and away from interrogating him about how many of his papers in the past had been merely re-copied into his own handwriting. Truthfully, not many -- otherwise he'd have had been earning As and Bs his whole life.

Of course, Willow *was* awfully good about dumbing down a paper to reflect the apparent author.

"Just keep in mind I am not Willow." Giles pushed the papers and pencil back towards Xander.

He went for another cute look. "Does this mean *I* have to write down what you say?"

"This means I'll help you figure out what *you* want to say."

"How is that 'helping'?" he muttered, as he picked up the pencil again.

"You can do this, Xander," Giles said patiently.

He sighed. It wasn't often that Giles resorted to actual, straight-forward encouragement. It was fighting unfair -- like calling a certain person 'Dad'. "But I'd rather watch soccer on ESPN." He hadn't been able to do anything slacker, for *weeks*.

"Football," Giles corrected absently. "You have been working hard. All right. You can have the evening off -- after you finish this."

"Really? And it is not, it's soccer. Football is the one with pads and helmets and cheerleaders." Then he frowned. "That means I have to *finish* this today! This afternoon -- didn't *anyone* ever tell you about putting homework off til the last minute?"

Ignoring that question, Giles asked, "How much have you got done?"

"I did my math last night. And my history yesterday morning, and I was working on the parameters of my experiment Friday night, with Willow." He shifted uneasily in his chair. "And I was on the phone with Bork for a couple hours yesterday, and I went on patrol with Buffy and made breakfast this morning and cleaned the kitchen afterwards..." He found Giles looking at him.

"Have you at least read the book?"

"Three times." Was it his fault it was a good book, especially in Greek? Was it his fault Spike knew the Greek alphabet and they'd taken turns reading bits out loud while swapping footrubs?

Giles looked a bit startled and then quite pleased. "This shouldn't be too hard for you, then."

"But--" Mrs. Denton wouldn't appreciate a paper describing the sensual aspects of the Illiad when applied to seducing an already relaxed and willing boyfriend, he was sure. And nothing else came to mind when he thought about what he had to say about it.

"Start with the basics. What was the story about?"

"The Trojan War. The human one."

Giles nodded encouragingly.

"The Trojans and Greeks are fighting because Paris stole Helen and Menelaus and Grokjer want her back. Um, wait, Grokjer wasn't in Homer's version."

"You have been doing your research."

Xander got out a fresh piece of paper for a new outline. At the top, he wrote, 'No Demons'. He looked up. "Was Achilles a demon?" He didn't want to explain that Angel had been the one to mention Grokjer, because it had been part of a lecture about trusting Spike.

"That could be an interesting question for your paper -- metaphorically speaking."

"You don't think Mrs. Denton would let me do it, though." He sighed. "All the interesting stuff comes out of the messers Krubic and Dusinisq' treatise of the war, though." Then he flinched, and looked up guiltily. "Or so I've heard."

Giles smiled. "Your problem seems to be you know too much."

"This is a problem?" For over a year, now, Giles had been after him to learn *more*. No one had warned him there would be consequences, making his schoolwork *harder*.

"You're making this more complicated than it has to be because you're used to having to come up with something you don't already know."

Xander sat for a moment, before conceding his only response to that could be - "Huh?"

"Answer me this without thinking about it first. What is the book about? Not the storyline but the reason it was written."

"Stupidity."

"Why?"

Xander tried to reason out his impressions. "They were all fighting each other, and the gods weren't helping a bit, picking sides and goading them on. But... I guess it was stupid because they were fighting each other. Not anything actually evil."

"There's your thesis, then."

Xander blinked. "Oh. You sure you don't wanna be writing this down?" He held out his pencil.

Giles smiled faintly and shook his head.

With a sigh, Xander looked back down at his new outline-to-be. "Can I watch soccer now, and write this tonight? So I can ruminate on my thesis?"

"You don't need to ruminate. You have all the answers. If you delay you'll just end up trying to complicate it again."

"But the Brazilians are playing this afternoon," he grumbled, even as he dragged his copy of the Illiad towards him. Underneath 'No Demons', he wrote 'Stupid Humans, a Treatise'.

"I'm taping it."

Xander looked up, for a moment utterly surprised. Then he grinned. "You sneaky librarian, you. They're playing Italy, aren't they?"

"I do believe they are."

"And do we have a bet on this game with Ms. Calendar?" He gave Giles a Look.

Giles suddenly seemd to find the ceiling extremely interesting.

"Do we need to have our little talk, again, about gambling?"

Still not looking at him, Giles muttered something almost inaudible.

"Rupert?" he said again, in a very nice approximation of his grandmum's voice.

That earned him a glare.

Xander folded his arms and looked stern. "I don't give you an allowance so you can fritter it away with frivilous and... and... damn, I need a thesaurus."

"Are you through?"

"Depends. Did you make a bet on the Italy/Brazil game? Because Brazil is so totally going to beat Italy, and that means nyah nyah for your hope that England will get to be one win ahead of Brazil."

"You know, you sound remarkably like Jenny."

"So you *did* make a bet on the game."

"Just a small one."

"And you realise that when you lose -- again -- you're going to have to listen to us both cackling?" Xander smiled, triumphant because he'd not only put off working on his paper for a few minutes, but because he could, finally, tease Giles about Jenny again. They weren't back together, might not be for a while yet. But they were acting like friends again.

After the last soccer bet Giles had lost, they'd all gotten to go see Monster Trucks.

"Actually I'll only have to listen to you cackling. Not that I'm going to have to."

"Huh? Don't tell me you convinced her England should win. No, wait -- if you did, why would she bet against you?"

"Jenny's leaving at the end of the school year."

Alarmed, Xander sat up straight. "Leaving? why? What--" He choked off the demand to know what Giles had done.

But Giles heard it anyway. "What did I do?" he finished with a faint smile.

Xander bit his lip, and didn't nod. "Um, I meant, why is she leaving?"

"Her uncle is ill. She's going home to help take care of him."

"Oh." Xander felt a little cheated. He'd been sure something more than that was-- He looked at Giles more carefully. "Is that what she told you? Or what you're telling me for my own good?"

"Am I lying to you, you mean?"

Oops. Xander backpedaled. "No, I mean -- is a conveniently sick uncle a sufficient reason so you don't have to tell me the rest?"

"Xander." Giles caught and held his gaze seriously. "I promise you, if there is ever something I can't tell you, I will be honest about it."

Slowly, Xander nodded. Felt that awful sick sensation in his stomach that made him want to confess everything -- if he didn't know he would lose the two things he needed most, if he did. Giles' respect. Spike. In his mind, he heard himself returning the promise; he kept his mouth closed.

Because he couldn't.


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