When We Last Met
Xander wasn't exactly sure why he was standing here. A bunch of guys, older, wiser, far more got-their-act-together than he could ever hope to be, milling around, glancing his way and pretending not to be curious. Some didn't bother to pretend -- some simply weren't curious.
Xander shifted uneasily from one foot to the next, feeling more than ever that back-of-the-mind sensation that he was an outsider, had no part of this world. Even if it was just a frat house, even if it was an errand for Buffy. He couldn't say 'no' to her -- unless the question was "Xander, will you carry this heavy box?" A silly errand, pick up a book or paper or something, he wasn't really sure. Buffy had had things to do and would Xander-since-you-don't-have-to-be-anywhere-anyway stop by and get it for her? She'd rattled off a title which he'd dutifully memorised, but for all he knew it was a code for 'I couldn't go one more hour without saying I love you'.
Xander really kinda hoped it was just a book.
He'd argued, just for appearances' sake, trying not to reinforce the fact that he didn't have anything more important to do than stop by campus to get a book from a house full of guys who had futures so bright they had to wear shades. The matching crew cuts were probably just an initiation thing.
Riley had disappeared upstairs after Xander had explained why he was here, fetching the whatever Buffy had sent him here for and leaving Xander waiting, downstairs. Waiting, watching guys wander by, trying to pretend he didn't feel like turning around and walking out and telling Buffy that Riley hadn't been home.
Xander managed a nod at a friendly hello from one of the frat boys passing by; he didn't miss the glance that had accompanied the greeting. Didn't mind being checked out, even if it felt more impersonal than flirtatious. If he hadn't been severely outnumbered by 10-to-1 odds they're straight, he might have indulged in a little checking out, himself. Every last one of these guys was *buff*.
He wished Riley would hurry up, nice as the scenery was. He tried to stop himself from fidgeting, failed, and looked around again. There was another one, sauntering into the main room like he owned the place. Tall as the rest, buff as the rest, crew-cut as the rest. Nothing remarkable about him -- until Xander caught a better look at his face.
Graham. Xander blinked. What was Graham doing here? He shook his head -- asked himself why he was surprised. Graham lived here. He must -- he acted like it, looked like everyone else here, and... why else would Xander know his name, if he hadn't met him through Riley?
He watched Graham cross the room, find something on a bookshelf, and walk towards the opposite doorway. Xander didn't try to be subtle about watching him go. He couldn't exactly remember when Riley had introduced them, but that would explain why he knew the guy's name. Why his face looked so familiar.
Didn't explain at *all* why Xander knew what he looked like, naked. Or how he sounded when he was about to come.
Xander didn't suppose he cared if it was rude to grab the book Riley handed over and bolt from the frat house. Significantly less rude than answering the "why are you turning red, Xander?" question. Much better than the "Graham, come back in here for a second" which wouldn't, couldn't possibly happen next, since there was no way Xander would have answered that question, but this *was* the Hellmouth and you learned fast not to risk things like that. Tempt Fate and you end up dating insects.
Xander opted for the much safer running like hell for his car, jumping in, and thinking up excuses which involved angry girlfriends or gonna be late for work or Buffy really, really wants this book. Two of which he didn't have, and the third... well, it *might* be true. He jammed the car into gear, peeled away from the curb, and hoped a demon would find him to give him something normal and familiar to do. Scream, and go find Giles or Buffy. Possibly hit it over the head, if it weren't bigger than him.
He did glance in the rearview mirror, once, before the frat house got out of sight. 'Huh. So that's where Graham lives.'
Xander woke up in the middle of the morning to find his sheets soaked.
He sighed and pulled them away, making the requisite 'ick' face, even if it *was* kinda nice to know his dreams could get vivid enough to get him off. Would be nicer if he could be awake for it, but then he'd probably be too nervous about the fact he was fantasizing about Graham, to relax and fantasize. Wet dreams were the perfect solution -- except that this was four nights in a row, and it was beginning to get bad enough that Xander was thinking of doing something totally stupid and sophomoric.
Like ask Buffy to ask Riley to ask Graham to come the Bronze, or over to Giles' for one of their not-really-talking-about-real-demons evenings. Xander shook his head at himself as he got out of bed, dragging the soiled sheets off, behind him. Maybe he should ask Buffy to pass a note to Riley to pass along? Ask her to ask him to find out if Graham likes Xander? 'Why not just go up and hit the guy, and see if he follows when I run away?'
Mature solutions aside, Xander knew he was going to have to do *something*. Other than the laundry, which he was doing again now for the fourth time, and thank god his mother didn't notice that sort of thing. It had been more of a blessing when he'd been thirteen and learning how to wash his sheets for the first time, it was still nice to know she wasn't going to be asking embarrassing questions over morning coffee.
He threw in a few stray articles of clothing, including the boxers and shirt he stripped out of standing there by the washer. He set it to go, then headed towards the shower -- and realized for the fourth morning in a row that he was a moron. He was going to have to wait until the washer was done, before he could take his shower.
Xander dropped his head and shuffled towards the "kitchenette" area of the basement. Fine. So he'd make some breakfast and watch cartoons for half an hour. In the buff -- since his robe was one of the articles he'd so casually tossed in the wash.
He detoured long enough to lock both doors to the basement. Just in case.
Because sometimes mid-morning cartoons were boring, and it was more fun to think about the dreams he'd had, when he was sitting naked in the chair and finished with his cereal and still sticky anyway so why not get more so. The dreams were fairly basic -- naked Graham lying beneath him, naked Xander lying on top, both of them moving back and forth, moaning and holding onto whatever was handy. In his dreams they were already sweaty, already beyond saying anything beyond moaning and loud, energetic panting.
He could close his eyes and remember how it felt, that body beneath his, hard muscles and thick, strong limbs -- thick, hard cock against his own slickened cock, sliding against each other as they moved back and forth. He could remember a hand on his arm, hanging on, remember Graham's head thrown back and his eyes closed, the tendons in his neck standing out as he strained, pushing harder, groaning louder, and dreaming so vividly he could have leaned down and tasted the skin even *now*, sitting naked in the chair and remembering it. Vivid enough that his hand wrapped around a fully engorged cock without any teasing, without any first few swipes of a hand to get ready.
Xander let his head fall back onto the back of the chair, spread his legs and pumped, remembering how his dream pushed him so fully against Graham, how his lover had wrapped a leg around his and pushed, how one hand had snaked in between their bodies and touched them both right before a tongue pressed against his neck and they came. He came, biting back his scream by sheer reflex, pumping himself as he kept his eyes closed, kept staring at the pictures in his mind of Graham, lying beneath him.
As his body shook and he began to relax, he tried to reconstruct the next bit of the dream. The part when he and Graham lay limp on the bed, where he watched Graham lying there for a while before Graham opened his eyes and looked at him.
Did he dream that Graham smiled? Xander could never recall. He ran a hand up his chest, seriously in need of a shower, and found himself looking forward to going to bed, tonight.
Maybe he'd just ask Buffy to ask Riley where Graham hung out....
"All right, mister, we've given you two weeks. You haven't done it, so we're going to."
Xander looked up from his sandwich, frantically thinking back to what he'd promised to do for Buffy and Willow. Should he have avoided having lunch at a cafe so close to campus? The two girls were sitting down at the table opposite and beside him, not quite flanking him, but definitely between him and the door. "Um, er, yes?" he managed, after he'd swallowed his bite of bacon, lettuce, and extra mayo.
Willow opened a notebook and pulled out a sheet of paper. "I have here the complete schedule for one Graham Justin Miller--"
"WHAT?!" Xander glanced around the room to find no one was looking over, and lowered his voice anyway. "Graham's schedule?"
Buffy nodded, and took over the confrontation. Intervention? Xander wasn't quite sure yet. "We've listened to you talk about him for two weeks. Talk about him, ask when the next party at Lowell House is, asking me if I see him anywhere, ask me if Riley knows where he happens to be--"
Xander held up a hand -- then set down his sandwich and held his hand up again, this time in a 'stop, now' gesture. "All right, I get the picture. I think you're exaggerating, but I get the picture."
"Exaggerating? Xander, last time you saw Riley, you practically talked him into hosting the next Scooby meeting."
He squirmed in his chair. "Well, if he's going to be a Scoob, he should do his part, right? We've all hosted meetings...or intended to. Right?" He looked over at Willow, but got no help.
Instead he got her smiling, and saying, "From five am to six thirty am, he works out. At Lowell House, so not sure that helps, unless you deliver the paper. Which he never seems to be the one to get, anyhow. From six thirty am to seven, shower, getting ready for breakfast, from seven to eight breakfast and chores -- do you know those guys actually keep their house tidy?" She paused and looked from Xander to Buffy. "No maid service, they all just divvy up the housecleaning and go at it."
"Wow," Buffy said, her eyes going wide. "He's already been trained. That's good."
"I do *not* need Graham trained--"
"I meant Riley," Buffy interrupted. "But Graham, too. Good thing, Xander, you kinda need it. You two should move in together soon."
Xander blinked. "We're not even *dating* yet." He blinked again. "Did I just say that out loud?"
The two girls nodded.
With a sigh, Xander laid his head on the table. "OK, fine. Give me the rest."
Willow grinned at him -- he could tell by the sound of her voice. Triumphant know-it-all Willow grin. "Throughout the day there are several times when he's just not available -- either he's in graduate-level classes which I don't think we can sneak you into, or he's... well, somewhere. Lowell House, but I can't figure out what they're doing. Really quiet parties, or they study *every* night. Even for well-trained college guys, that seems a bit much." Xander glanced up to see her give Buffy a pseudo-worried look, then she continued. "But I've identified two to four hours each day where it would be perfectly natural for you to just... run into him. Say 'hi', strike up a conversation... and stop asking your friends to arrange a chance meeting."
Buffy and Willow looked at him.
"I was being subtle," he tried.
They shook their heads.
"Well, it isn't as if I can just walk up and say 'hi, can I jump your bones?'"
"Why not? Worked for me." Willow stopped and looked at them, as Buffy and Xander gaped at her. "This isn't about my love life, thank you. Shall we move on?"
"Willow, whose bones did you jump?" Xander asked.
"Three days a week he takes a jujitsu class. It's open for all levels, including beginners. I've signed you up; first class is tomorrow evening."
"Um, what? Jujitsu?" He had a sudden feeling his life was spinning out of his control. Which, actually, was an old familiar feeling, so he went with it. "Do I need a gi?"
Willow shook her head. "No, just regular workout gear. You *do*, however, need to go to the bookstore, and pick up the textbook for College Algebra. Don't worry about the other textbooks, since he won't really know if you're going, but the computer thought it a little weird you were taking less than eight hours, so I enrolled you in three classes."
Xander actually waited until she stopped, before asking, "Willow? Classes?"
"Yeah. Graham is a TA for College Algebra. I know math isn't your strong suit, but that's good! You'll need lots of help from your TA." She smiled encouragingly.
"And the fact that I'm not enrolled...?"
"Taken care of," she said simply. "Don't worry - I told the computer your tuition was paid in full."
"Oo! Can you do mine, too?" Buffy asked brightly.
"Didn't have to," Willow told her. "Didn't you know?" When Buffy just shook her head, Willow explained, "You have a scholarship. Paid by a very obscure foundation. Based in England?"
"Really? They're paying my tuition?"
"And your dorm fees. Didn't Giles tell you?"
Buffy looked sheepish. "Um, maybe? I might not have been listening. He says 'school' and I kinda go off in this... school bad, thinking hard, place."
"Buffy, you shouldn't do that. School is *fun* -- and now Xander gets to go, too!"
"Yea, me." Xander twirled a finger in the air. "Couldn't I just strike up a conversation after jujitsu class?"
"It only meets three days a week," she reminded him. "It'll take three times as long for you to get to that point if you're only taking jujitsu with him. By establishing yourself as a familiar face in jujitsu, algebra, and the Boward gymnasium where he places basketball every Thursday and Sunday afternoons, you'll be talking to him casually this time, Friday."
"Basketball? OK, that one I can do. What's Boward gymnasium?"
"It's the school gym nearest Lowell House--" Buffy began.
"Don't I have to be a student to get in? A real student," he added, when Willow gave him the 'd'uh' face.
She handed over a card. Xander took it, and looked at it.
"Willow? Can you get me a driver's license that says I'm twenty two?"
"For the twenty-second time, no. Xander Harris, you shouldn't drink -- you won't have time, anyway. We have just enough time to go to the bookstore and show you around campus, before your algebra class starts."
"I have to go to class *today*?"
"Yes! Classes started a week ago, you're already behind. Which, again, a good thing -- but if you don't show up to class soon, he'll think you're a slacker and he won't be impressed." Willow nodded towards his forgotten lunch. "Now finish your sandwich and we'll go. I put enough credit in your student account to buy all your textbooks -- even if you don't go to your 'Recent US History' and Intro to Design class, I think maybe you should be carrying around more textbooks than just the one. So when he asks what other classes you're in, you can tell him. It'll give you something to talk about. For a few seconds, anyway."
Xander sifted through the various questions he had, while he ate the last two bites of his food. Then, "Intro to Design?"
Willow's grin turned slightly apologetic. "It was the only thing open that fit into your schedule."
"And if I'm not going anyway, who cares if it fits into my schedule?"
"Well, I thought...you *could* go. I know you didn't really want to do the college thing, but this way you could learn some stuff and if you really like it, you could apply again and maybe if you had good grades they'd admit you for real."
"Go to college just to meet a guy?"
"Women have been doing it for decades," Buffy pointed out.
"I am *not* getting an M.R.S. degree, thank you."
"Oo, you really *do* like him."
Xander rolled his eyes. "I'm not talking about Graham."
"You have been for two weeks. Non-stop. We've been clocking it." Buffy smiled at him, innocently.
After staring at his two friends for another moment, Xander put his head back down on the table. He would kill them slowly, later.
After he talked to Graham.
"Er, hey." Xander concentrated on not dropping his books. Imagine this, he told himself. Standing in a university hall, holding onto college-level textbooks, staring at a teaching assistant. His teaching assistant. Looking almost as real as he did in Xander's dreams.
He tried harder not to drop his books, and re-thought his decision to go to his first ju-jitsu class tomorrow. Maybe if he bought a jockstrap to hold everything down....
"Hey. You here about the quiz?" Graham stood up from where he'd been sitting at his desk, both of them ignoring the glances sent their way from the other TAs in the office. Five desks sharing one room, Xander wasn't sure if he were glad the other TAs were here to give him the safety of not having to think of something clever to say beyond "Yeah, the quiz" -- or wishing they'd all go, so he could say something clever, should he think of it.
Willow had given him a list of conversational opening lines, but they hadn't ever worked when he was ten, or fourteen, so he doubted they'd work now. It suddenly occurred to him that back then she'd been *hoping* his conversational gambits would fail. Had she sabotaged him by feeding him dumb lines?
"Sit down over here," Graham was saying, and it sounded a little loud, a little formal -- as though Graham was saying one thing and thinking another. The interruption into his thoughts saved Xander from deciding if he should be mad at Willow, or glad she'd liked him that much. He sat down beside Graham's desk and set his books on the corner. He glanced around the room again -- the other grad students were no longer paying them any attention. One was reading, another looked to be grading papers. The third was staring out the window.
He was probably working.
"So, do you have any questions?"
Xander turned to Graham, and had to blink a couple times to figure out if he'd zoned out of part of the conversation. Had he used any of Willow's lines? "Um, not sure. I got most of the questions right...."
Graham nodded, seriously, and said, "But you wanted to know why you got number three wrong?" It sounded weird, again. Like he was reading from a script.
Xander kept a smile off his face, and shook his head. "I know why I got number three wrong. What I don't get is how I got the others right."
"Oh, I don't mean I cheated. A friend helped me study, though, and she... well... she *said* I knew this stuff. Only I don't think I have a clue what I'm doing."
Graham was narrowing his eyes slightly, looking at Xander as though he weren't completely sure Xander was human. Or sober.
Xander decided he'd better try something else before he just blurted out 'Can I buy you a drink, soldier?' "What *was* the answer to number three?"
There was a moment when Graham didn't move, didn't respond. Just stared at Xander measuringly, before he pulled out his own textbook and flipped it open. Xander scooted forward so he could read over Graham's arm, rather than dig out his own book. Graham glanced his way, but didn't say anything, other than to point out a passage and begin explaining.
For the next fifteen minutes Xander listened to Graham lecture. It was fascinating, in an abstract, don't really have to listen sort of way. He alternated between looking at the book as Graham pointed out passages, and watching Graham talk.
The presence of the other graduate students confined his contributions to the conversation to "what page is that, again?" and "didn't we learn about that in the last lecture?"
Graham didn't seem to mind. He kept talking about math, teaching Xander the stuff he'd missed by spending the lectures all last week sitting in his seat and staring at his TA. Not that he'd stared the *entire* time. But he'd maybe spent more time looking, than not. Graham was interesting to watch, at any rate. Whether he was sitting in a chair looking bored as he heard the same intro-level lecture for the hundredth time, or sitting in a chair repeating facts and figures for the hundredth time to yet another freshman, or sitting in a chair saying "Are you getting any of this?"
Xander blinked. "Um, yeah. I am -- really. I guess I shoulda been writing it down?" He guiltily began digging through his stuff, wondering if he even *had* paper and pens with him.
"Not if you can remember it," Graham said.
"Like I said, I should be writing this down." He continued to dig, then stopped as he found Graham holding out a pen. "Um, thanks. Do you-- Thanks," he said again, as Graham held out a piece of notebook paper. "I guess I'm not really prepared for this college stuff."
"You started a couple weeks late."
"Yeah. Um, yeah." He couldn't remember the cover story Willow had concocted for him. Something clever and fully provable, he was sure. Graham was looking at him, the barest hint of a smile on his face. It made Xander want to grin back at him. Instead he glanced over at the other graduate students. Still reading, grading, and staring. "I'm still getting into the swing of things."
"If you need more help, you know you're always welcome to come back."
Xander nodded, slowly. Trying not to read anything into those words. TAs had office hours, *every* student was welcome. That had been Willow's whole reasoning behind getting Xander enrolled in the first place. "Um, yeah, I know. I mean, thanks. Yeah, I will." Suddenly it was as if his own script had hit the last page, and he floundered for something not-stupid, and not-revealing. "I think I got it, now, thanks. I should go."
He grabbed his stuff and hurried out of the room. He didn't hear Graham say anything, behind him, and he could only hope he hadn't terminally embarrassed himself, and ruined his chances of looking anything like a number one dork.
He was halfway down the hallway when he realized he still had Graham's pen. He pocketed it, thinking at least he had an excuse to go visit Graham, again.
Xander looked up as Willow sat down beside him at the cafeteria table he was allowed to sit out, now, without mooching. Willow had gotten him meal cards for free, too. Go, Willow. "Well, what?"
"Report! It's been two weeks. When are you two going out?"
Xander didn't dignify the question with a response. Mostly because it would have come out as a stuttered squeak, and Willow would just get all big-eyes and 'but Xander, you *have* to!' on him. He took another spoonful of whatever green thing he'd bought, and ate it. It really wasn't bad, if you pretended it was supposed to taste this way.
"Mm?" he glanced up, as if he had no idea what she wanted.
Willow was eyeing him. Then, "You haven't even asked him out, have you!"
"Do you mind not yelling it all over the cafeteria?" He scrunched down over his tray, in case everyone in the room wanted to look over and get a glimpse of the guy who couldn't ask someone out.
"Xander, we went to all that work!" She frowned. "You can't just wimp out on us."
"I'm not wimping! I'm just... taking my time. I don't even know if he's interested," he said quickly, as though the excuse had just occurred to him. It wasn't as though Willow *did* know what Graham's sexual orientation was, and this obstacle might buy him some time.
But Willow's frown turned more serious. "You're right -- I can't believe we forgot to check that. I covered *everything* else, what was I thinking?" She shook her head. "That's OK, we can take care of that right now."
Before Xander could stop her, Willow was standing up, and yelling. "Riley! Buffy, over here!"
Xander groaned, and hid his head in his arms. "I'm a dead man. Thanks, Willow, love you, too." He felt her pat his arm.
"There, there, Xander. It'll all be over, soon, and you'll be having wild hot monkey sex with the cute stud-muffin of your dreams."
He was *so* glad his head was down. He didn't plan on raising it anytime soon. A year, say, about the time he stopped blushing.
"Hey, Willow, Xander. Xander?" he heard Buffy's voice say.
He didn't look up. Just said, "Hey, Buffy," towards the table.
"Is he OK?" Riley asked.
"He's fine. Ignore him," was the first useful thing Willow had said all day. Then she had to ruin it by saying, "Riley, I need to ask you something."
"Whoa! No, nonononononono!" Xander sat up, wondering if it would be more effective to try to stifle Willow, or to simply run.
"No, what?" Riley gave him a confused look.
"Is this about Graham?" Buffy asked.
"What about Graham?" Riley asked, sounding suspicious. Then his eyes went wide. "You mean *Xander* is the one you snuck into college because he has a crush on Graham?"
"It is *not* a crush!" Xander snapped, glaring at him. "I got over having crushes when I was fifteen and she turned out to be an insect." Then he blinked, and looked back at each of the three people staring at him with annoyingly smug looks on their faces.
Willow smiled. "See? So, Riley, I need your help."
"Is this gonna end up embarrassing Graham?" Riley asked, and Xander was pleased to hear the tone of voice that said 'because if it is, no way am I helping'.
Willow smiled. "Nope. If it works, it'll end up with Graham having lots of yummy sex."
Xander's head hit the table once more.
Giles looked up from his newspaper, and stared at Xander for a moment. He was obviously torn between acting as though something were seriously Hellmouthily wrong, and telling Xander to sod off.
Xander stepped away from the front door of Giles' apartment, locking it before he did though he knew it wouldn't make any difference. "Come on, G-Man, you gotta hide me." He tried not to sound as though Evil Things were after him to suck his brains out and leave his corpse on the flagpole.
"Er, why exactly? What am I hiding you from?" Giles hadn't stood up from the chair, though he had put down his newspaper. Progress of a sort, Xander reasoned.
"Buffy and Willow. Possibly Riley." They weren't right on his trail -- else he'd have just said 'don't tell them I'm here' and gone straight for a closet to hide in.
Giles rolled his eyes. "No. I'm not getting sucked into the mess which is your life. Get out."
"I'm not getting in the middle of this. It's bad enough I have to listen to those two girls plot out ways of getting you laid. I don't want to--"
"They plot *here*? In front of you? You *know*?" Xander had to stop and breathe, and try to kick his neurons back into working order. Giles knew? The details? And he hadn't *stopped* them? Er, not that he'd have been able to stop Willow, when she was determined. Xander hadn't ever been able to stop her in nineteen years. Why should anyone else be able to?
"Of course I know. I try not to know these things, but it's impossible. Like trying to stop Spike from being annoying -- I'm thinking of writing a book, based on everything I've overheard about you three, from you three... only I'm afraid they'd publish it as speculative fiction."
"Um, does that mean you're going to let me hide?"
"That means I'm going to send you on your way, so I can have a nice, quiet afternoon." Giles was standing up, now, as if he was really going to throw Xander out.
"But they'll find me!"
"What makes you think they won't find you here?" Giles asked, sounding entirely too reasonable.
"Because I never hide here! They'll look at my house, the Bronze, school, the Shell station, but they won't look here."
Giles was looking at him with a puzzled expression. "Why would they look at the Shell station?"
"Night shift cashier."
"Oh? I thought you were working the night shift at the supermarket."
"Can we get back to places I can safely hide from my friends?"
"Yes, well, you are correct in that they'll look for you in all of those places." Before Xander could reaffirm his logic, Giles continued, "However, when they fail to find you, they'll come here and ask me if I've seen you."
Xander brushed past that minor detail. "And you'll say I'm not here!"
"Because you won't be."
"No, because I'll be hiding!"
Giles was looking at him, now, like Xander was insisting on being a pine tree when he grew up. Which he hadn't done since he was four. "You'll be hiding?"
"Upstairs under the bed," Xander suggested.
"Out back, in the garden?"
"In the bathroom?"
Xander paused, and stared towards the bathroom, from which Spike's yell had come. Then he looked at Giles, who stammered, "He's chained up in the bathtub."
"Oh, and that's *so* much better than what I was thinking."
"Xander, look, wouldn't it be easier, in the long run, to just give in and let them have their way?"
"They want to drag me to a party."
"Yes, so I heard, last night."
"At Lowell House." Maybe Giles hadn't heard *all* the details.
"Yes, and Graham will be there. Honestly, Xander, it seems like a lovely opportunity to get to know the young man better."
"Because he'll be there!!" Xander shouted.
"Er, yes. I gathered that was the whole point."
Xander wanted to bang his head against a wall. Didn't anyone understand? "Giles, lemme walk you through this scenario: Buffy and Willow got Riley to talk his House into throwing a party. To which several people have been invited, including myself."
"With you so far." Giles obviously had no idea why he was explaining.
"Graham will be there."
"Buffy, Riley, Willow will all be there."
"And I'll be there."
"You're not going to chicken out and hide during the party?"
"Why do you think I'm here? But that's not the point. At least, not the entire point. It's part of the point, if you let me hide here they won't be able to drag me to the party and I won't be there. But the real point is, if I *am* there, so will everyone else."
Giles waited, then took off his glasses and rubbed his temple. "Xander, do you *have* a point?"
"That *was* the point! Giles, he'll *be* there! I'll have to talk to him in front of everybody! Haven't you ever heard of performance anxiety?"
"Ah." Giles nodded. "Since they'll all be watching, and waiting for you to... er... succeed in charming the young man."
"Or fall flat on my face, which is more likely. Giles, maybe you could do a magic spell and turn me into... a... a... a demon or something, for the night?"
Giles grinned, briefly, then looked stern. "No, Xander. I'm afraid you'll have to figure a way out of this on your own."
"You sure I can't hide here? I won't make any noise -- you won't even know I'm here. Like Deadboy Junior - quiet as a mouse."
Giles jerked his head towards the bathroom. "He's only quiet because I put the telly in there."
"I can watch telly -- er, television. Quiet! Promise?" Xander wasn't above begging, even if Giles held it over him for the rest of his life. There were some things that were more important -- and making an idiot of himself in front of Graham *and* his friends, was currently top of the list.
But Giles was shaking his head. "No. Now, I'm going to have to kick you out, and let you take your chances. If you run, you might make it to the park before Buffy decides to patrol there."
"I'll pay for the pizza."
Giles paused. "I'm sorry? What pizza?"
"While I'm here, hiding all night. I'll pay for the pizza."
"Good *bye*, Xander."
"I'm not going to invite you to my funeral!" Xander told him, as Giles pushed him towards the door.
"Just to the wedding?" Giles said, as he opened the door and nudged Xander outside. Xander stumbled out, and turned in time to see the door closing. Hadn't he locked it? He jumped towards it and tried the doorknob. It turned, but there was a chair barring the door.
"Have fun at the party, Xander!" Giles called back.
So far the conversation had gone well, Xander thought. He took another swallow of his non-alcoholic drink and waited for inspiration to strike. All he could think was 'Hello? Non-alcoholic? This is going to help me relax?'
At least Graham had a real beer. Maybe *he'd* relax, and say something. Otherwise one of the five or seven or possibly all thirty people in the room would walk over and say something. That would be bad. Not that standing in the middle of the large room at Lowell House during a crowded party next to the man about whom he'd been dreaming about wasn't already bad. Every time he glanced away, he saw another of his friends pretending to be ignoring them. Pretending to be chatting and dancing and having fun, and not really staring at Xander and Graham whenever they weren't paying attention.
"You're not stalking me, are you?"
Xander spent a moment choking on his drink, then tried shaking his head and looking as innocent as possible. He doubted it would work. "Stalking you? Me? Stalking you?"
"Yeah." Graham looked perfectly serious, but Xander could tell, somehow, that he wasn't. The way the very corners of his eyes crinkled, slightly, as he stared at Xander. "You're in my class. You come to every one of my office hours. You're in my jujitsu class. You play ball at Boward on Thursdays. You've been to every party thrown at Lowell House this month." Graham took a drink of his beer. Xander didn't know if this was his cue to deny everything, or if Graham was just getting warmed up.
"And that makes you think that means I'm stalking you?" were the words the came out of his mouth. He felt like smacking himself in the forehead -- he sounded so smooth and in control. It could only mean bad things were on the horizon. He should run, now, while he had a chance.
"You come to every one of my office hours."
"Um, yeah? I'm lousy at algebra."
"That's not normal behavior, even for someone lousy at math. It's like you aren't a real student."
Xander opened his mouth to protest, and stopped when he saw it. That evil little gleam in Graham's eyes. Instead, he said, "And therefore I'm a stalker?"
Xander waited for elaboration. "And...?" he prompted. Maybe they'd slipped real beer into his bottle? He was feeling... good.
"You're too good for a beginner, but you haven't taken any formal martial arts training before. Which means you follow so other discipline."
He almost said 'slayer-fu'. But it wasn't real beer, so Xander was able to hold his tongue long enough for his reply to be a neutral one. "It does, huh?"
"Unless you're just in it for a new experience," Graham continued. There was something in his eyes, which made Xander grin.
"Oh, I'm always in it for the experience." Then he *really* felt like smacking himself. God, he was already flirting. He hadn't even convinced Graham he wasn't a psycho, yet, and he was up to flirting. At least Riley had assured him that Graham wouldn't kill him for it -- wait, did that mean Riley had asked Graham if Xander could flirt? Or had it been a generic inquiry? Xander glanced over to where Riley was pretending to be into Buffy. He looked back at Graham, nervously.
"Parties," Graham continued.
"Riley's fault. He's dating Buffy, so he invites her friends to the parties. Not my fault."
Graham shook his head, but continued down the list. "Boward."
"Boward. Basketball on Thursdays."
"You don't play on Sundays, which is an obvious attempt to make me think you aren't stalking me."
Xander pointed a finger at him. "I'll have you know I work on Sundays. Otherwise I'd be there, not stalking you. I'd be playing basketball."
There was almost a smile on Graham's face, for a second. Then he looked serious, and shook his head. "You can't play basketball."
"That was the other thing. That made me decide you were stalking me."
Xander sighed. "I didn't mean to, you know. But my friends kinda got it into my head that I'd never get anywhere on my own. I didn't *ask* to turn into Stalker-Boy."
"It's all right," Graham said, in an understanding tone. "You should have seen Riley making sure I was properly dressed for the party. I went through four shirts before he said I could come downstairs."
"It's a nice shirt," Xander allowed. And it was -- tight, thin material, stretched across Graham's chest and arms and... no, not looking down. 'Even if it's only at his stomach, don't look down.' He glanced down, quickly. Very nice.
"Thanks." Graham was taking another swallow of his beer. Looked like just about the last one, from the way he titled the bottle all the way up, and swallowed. Lips pressed against the rim of the bottle, throat working the last gulp of liquid... Xander pinched his hand, hard.
"So it's OK?"
It took Graham a moment of blinking at him, before he answered. "Sure. As long as you don't start taking photos to blackmail me."
"Ph-ph-photos? No way, I'd never-- I don't even own a camera." Xander had to try very hard not to drop his drink. Flash-image of Graham, standing on a mountain trail, somewhere. Head thrown back, laughing, while the camera clicked. Must have been one of the photos on Riley's bookcase, Xander realized. Less embarrassing than thinking of Graham, spread-eagled on a bed, posing... "Get you another beer?" he squeaked.
"Sure." Graham handed him his empty, and Xander hurried away to the bar, and tossed the two bottles in the glass bin. Maybe he should grab a real beer, for himself. Except then he'd say things out loud, that were so far still safely trapped in his head. He turned around to grab another non-alcoholic drink, and found someone standing behind him.
"Um, hello?" The tall black man stared at him for a moment, the warning on his face perfectly clear. It took Xander a moment to interpret *exactly* what the warning said. Then -- "Geez! Does *everybody* know?"
The guy shook his head. "I'm Graham's roommate."
"You're not gonna give me the shovel lecture, are you?" Xander asked, amazed he'd said it without stammering.
But the guy was just staring at him, whether measuring Xander for a coffin or just measuring him, he didn't know. Wasn't gonna ask. Then the guy shook his head. "First Riley, now Graham. Maybe you should tell me who's available in your group so I know what's coming."
"There's Spike," Xander heard himself say. Then he really did smack himself on the forehead. "I'm gonna just go back out there and try not to continue sounding like a moron."
Xander hurried away from the bar, and thought for a moment of losing himself in the crowd. Except that he had Graham's beer, and it really wasn't polite stalker-behaviour to abandon your victim in mid-party. He took a deep breath, wondered why Willow was still pretending to be more interested in talking to that blonde girl than keeping an eye on his progress, and went to find Graham again.
He found him standing in the same spot, only now there were three guys there with him. Guys from Lowell House, it looked like. Xander hesitated, then just walked up behind Graham. "Here," he said quietly, handing the bottle out.
Graham took it with a nod and a "Thanks."
Xander stood there, listening to the guys talking about somebody named Chris, and his most recent getting dumped by his girl. Xander didn't remember ever being introduced to a Chris, didn't have a clue who they might be talking about.
He stood there for a few more minutes, then glanced at his watch. Nearly ten o'clock. He nudged Graham.
"Hey, I gotta get out of here. Great party." He set his unopened drink on a table.
"You're taking off?"
"Yeah, sorry. The student-thing is just a cover. I'm really a working man." He half-smiled. Graham really looked upset that he was leaving.
"You gotta get up early?" Graham said, sounding like he understood. But yeah, Xander could hear it now, too. Upset. Before Xander could respond, someone from the group grabbed Graham's arm and asked him something. Xander slipped away, heading for the front door before he ended up hanging out another half hour just because he wanted to.
He got down the front steps, then heard his name. He turned around to see Graham hurrying after him.
"Hey. You, um, really have to go?"
Xander shrugged. "Gotta work."
"Not much of a stalker, taking off like this. Aren't you supposed to sit outside my place all night in a beat-up-car?"
Xander narrowed his eyes. "Graham, you sound like you have some experience with this." Then he laughed at the expression on Graham's face. "Nah, I can't. I have to work -- eleven pm to seven am."
"Oh! You mean... you have to go now." Graham looked at his watch. "It's only ten."
"Gotta head home and change. Get my polyester uniform of doom."
There was a twitch in the corner of Graham's mouth. "A man in uniform, huh?"
Xander smiled, slyly. "Yeah. You know what they say about us."
With a straight face, Graham said, "They look better out of uniform?" While Xander gaped, Graham said, more shyly, "I'll see you tomorrow in class?"
"And tomorrow afternoon in office hours." Xander got his jaw working again. Just in time, too, because Graham was *damn* fast. He was turning around and running up the stairs before Xander was through realising that he'd just been kissed.
Xander blinked at Willow. "Huh? What? Am not."
She grinned at him and stole the soda from his tray. "Are too. You're bouncing, and that's not allowed."
Xander couldn't decide if he was supposed to know what she meant, so he just stole the cookie from *her* tray. "Not," he asserted, though probably the way his leg was going up and down counted as bouncing. But it was just that he'd had sugar for breakfast - cheetos and zingers and a Big Slurp soda. Maybe he ought to find a job at an all-night health food store. "Why isn't it allowed?"
"Because you've been on two dates, already. You can't bounce anymore."
Xander just watched her sip his soda. When he got his jaw working again, he said, "Two dates? I haven't been on *any* dates." Not counting, of course, the wet dreams he *so* wasn't telling her about. But Graham hadn't even really been there, for those, so they hardly counted as dates.
Willow set the soda down, and stole the orange from his tray. Xander studied her tray, trying to decide what he should go for. Red jello? Not likely. Green stuff? Maybe... "Two dates. The party-"
"Doesn't count. Riley invited me - which means if anything I was dating *him*. Which I'm not, hi, Buffy."
"Hi. Who are you not dating?" She gave him a frown. "Xander Lavelle Harris, if the name 'Graham Miller' comes out of your mouth in response to that question-"
"That's what I'm trying to say! I haven't been on any dates. The party doesn't count because Riley was the one who invited me."
Buffy blinked. "Well, you're not getting *Riley*. He's mine - so back off!"
"I wasn't on!" Xander held up his hands. Then stole Willow's roll. "I was just telling Willow that I'm not dating Graham. Yet! I mean yet, put that down." He shied away from Buffy, who hesitated before putting her butter knife down.
"The party counts - he kissed you, didn't he?"
Xander found Buffy and Willow grinning at him - in a way that told him that his brief confession to Willow the morning after the party had made the full gossip-rounds. He hadn't yet been tagged for details, which worried him. They had to have gotten details from *somewhere* if they weren't asking him. And if that somewhere was Riley... or Graham...
"Xander! Stop thinking about Graham's lips and pay attention!" Willow interrupted his thoughts.
"Huh? I wasn't!"
"Liar." But Willow smiled. "Second date, yesterday afternoon. Granted, no kissing, but you were alone together for an hour." She exchanged a knowing smile with Buffy.
Xander had to think about that one for a moment. The kiss *had* been nice. But-- "I went to his office hours! For Algebra!"
"Which, since he now knows you aren't *really* going to class in order to learn math... simply wasn't necessary. For the usual reasons." Willow set the orange peels on his tray. Xander stole a pat of butter from Buffy's tray, and got his hand whapped.
"Sorry," he said, and moved his hand a couple inches to reach Willow's butter.
"I've never understood why you two don't just trade trays... or even buy the food you want in the first place," Buffy said.
"We were doing math," Xander told Willow. "Working on those polynominal things. We have a test next week."
"But you don't have to take the test," Buffy reminded him. "You've made contact, you can freely say 'hey, let's go have a picnic' or 'hey, let's go to the movies' or 'hey, stick your tongue in my mouth' without... what?" Buffy looked from Willow to Xander. "Oh, what? You guys are allowed to talk about bone jumping, and I'm not?"
"I never talked about bone jumping," Xander reminded her.
"No, but you've been bouncing all day, which makes me think there is bone-jumping in the near future."
Xander felt himself blush from head to toe, and stole Willow's red jell-o. Which, disgusting, but better than saying 'oh, yeah!' "I think we should have dinner, first."
"Oo! A third date!" Willow clapped. "When? Tonight? Where are you going?"
Xander just glared at her. "First date, thank you very much. And I don't know. I haven't asked him."
"Haven't asked him?" Willow frowned, then pouted. "Why not?"
"Willow, don't you have anyone else to yenta for?"
"Nope," she said proudly. "Buffy here's all Riley'd up, and Giles swore me to secrecy about Olivia coming back to town... except I think she's only coming as far as Los Angeles because she says Sunnydale gives her the creeps. Um, don't repeat any of that to Giles, OK? I was sworn to secrecy."
"Mum's our word," Xander said, mirroring Buffy's locked-mouth gesture. "But what about you? Don't you have anything you could be doing, rather than heinously miscount the number of dates I've had?"
"Well, I'm already to second base with Tara, so I don't really need-"
"Tara?" Xander scooted forward in his chair. "Who's Tara?"
"Willow's girlfriend," Buffy told him. "Get with the program."
"Which program would that be, the 'all Scoobys are gay' program?" Xander asked thinking he was kidding. Then he started counting in his head. If they nominated Riley for Scooby-hood, it would ensure at least one straight man. And, technically, they were all bi, anyhow... which meant Riley might... Xander shook his head. Not going there. Cute, yes, but Buffy was stronger than he was.
Buffy and Willow just looked at him like he was saying the sky is blue and vampires are icky. Xander sighed, and shook his head.
"I keep saying I need the memos. They *never* give me the memos," he muttered.
"What are you talking about?" Buffy asked. She'd stolen a brownie off Xander's tray, and now she bit into it. She frowned. "I don't get it. Where's the thrill?"
"You have to let it grow on you," Willow explained. "Keep trying."
"Excuse me?" Xander waved his hand, trying to get the girls' attentions. "Can we get back to Willow's dating a girl?"
"Oh, and we made such a big deal about finding you sucking face with Larry, last year?" Willow rolled her eyes. "Or is this different because I'm a girl? Guys can be gay but girls can't? Though, culturally speaking it's easier for women to get into relationships with other women, than it is for men to get into relationships with other men, because our society encourages affection between women whereas men have to be all manly and slap each other on the butt."
"Which, if you think about it, can be pretty gay," Buffy pointed out.
Xander decided he might as well concede defeat - not that he'd ever stood a chance - and stole an apple from Buffy's tray.
"Hey! I-oh. Um, still not seeing the thrill."
But the smile on her face made Xander think that maybe she did. Xander just bit into the apple, and wondered if it would be easier to wander campus looking for Graham while trying to drum up the courage to ask him out on a date.
Then again, Graham had kissed him. Maybe all he needed to do was get in proximity, and Graham would ask *him*. Only Graham hadn't, yesterday, during the hour they'd discussed algebra and tried to get Xander prepared for the test. Which, granted, he didn't have to take. But he hated to flunk, when they'd been working so hard on getting the algebra into his brain.
And Graham looked so cute when he sighed in exasperation because Xander *still* didn't get it. Or when he smiled and nodded when Xander did. Or when-
"Hello? Earth to monkey boy? Come in, Xander."
"Monkey boy?" Xander gave Buffy a confused, hurt look. It cleared instantly when he saw Riley headed towards their table. With Graham. Who-hoo! He stayed in his seat and did *not* bounce, despite anything that might be claimed later. He did scoot his chair over to make room, in case anyone wanted to sit down next to him.
Which he did, and Xander still didn't bounce, and he scooted over again when Riley sat down on his other side, between him and Buffy. That got him closer to Graham, which, again with the who-hoo. But got him farther away from the macaroni and cheese on Willow's tray which he'd been holding out for.
"So!" Buffy interrupted the round of hello-heys, and they all looked at her. She smiled. "Hey."
Riley and Willow grinned. Xander glanced over at Graham and wondered if he was sitting too close. Should he scoot back? Would Graham misinterpret that? But was he feeling crowded? He wasn't saying anything, and he wasn't looking over at Xander, but he wasn't leaning back or scooting back or anything. Just sitting there, glancing from his own tray, to Riley, then quickly around the table before looking down again.
Which maybe explained why he hadn't said 'want to go to dinner', yesterday, during office hours. The man was more nervous than *he* was. Xander tapped him on the arm. Graham looked up, somewhat startled but hiding it well. "Yeah?"
Xander pointed at the macaroni and cheese. "Could you hand me that?"
Looking no less confused, he reached over and picked it up. He looked at Willow, first, questioningly. Willow was very carefully talking to Riley about something Xander wasn't following, because Graham had the most adorable expression on his face, forehead all wrinkled as he tried to figure out what was going on. Graham did hand the macaroni and cheese to Xander, who thanked him and began eating it.
Willow glanced down at her tray, then at Xander's, probably wondering if going for his tuna salad was worth it.
"Did I just steal her food?" Graham asked.
"Huh?" Xander stopped eating, and looked at him. Looked at Willow, as if he had no idea what was going on. "Oh. No, relax. I did, I just used you as a conduit. She knows."
Graham didn't look any less confused, but he did seem willing to accept the explanation. Riley told him, "I did warn you."
"No, you said *your* girlfriend was the weird one. You never said her friends were bizarre, too."
Willow and Xander looked at Riley with echoing expressions of outrage. "Bizarre! I like that. See if I ever make a special frog's leg potion for your door to keep away the poltergeists." Willow turned her head away from Riley, to pointedly ignore him.
"I've been meaning to ask you about that - is it *supposed* to smell like cinnamon?"
"Oh, I put that in so it freshens the room while it spells away evil." Willow grinned.
Graham was looking even less re-assured. "Don't worry," Xander told him. "She almost never does spells on people they don't want done. And they all mostly work right, too!" He beamed proudly at her. She smiled back, then looked hurt.
"I didn't mean to make Buffy and Spike fall in love. Do I have to keep apologising for that?"
"Yes, you do," Buffy told her. "I'm still getting mail from Bride magazine, wanting me to buy a subscription."
"I'm sorry," Willow said meekly.
Graham was looking faintly panicked. Realising he might actually run away, Xander tried to turn the conversation away from things weird. He had to rifle through half a dozen topics, disregarding each as Hellmouthy or Scoob, and thus too weird for normal joes. Finally he just said, "You wanna go out Friday?"
Which brought the conversation at the table to a complete stand-still. Everyone looked at Graham, who looked like he was torn between saying yes, and hiding.
Quickly, Xander tried to backpedal. "You can now say yes, and we can head off ostensively to make plans, when in fact you're taking be out back to threaten me not to embarrass you like this again."
"That works." Graham nodded, and stood up. Xander stood as well, stole a cookie from Graham's tray, and preceded him away from the table. He ignored Willow's parting shot, because he didn't really need to be reminded that he had a curfew.
When they got outside, Xander grinned. "Um, you know I was kidding about the threatening part, right?"
"I'm not sure," Graham said seriously. "It depends."
"On whether you meant it when you asked me out."
Xander couldn't stop the wide, dorky smile that spread across his face. "Of course I meant it. I wouldn't ask you in front of a half-dozen strange friends, if I didn't mean it. Well, half a half-dozen. They're gonna ask me for a report the next day, though, so we have to go someplace respectable."
Graham stared at him for a moment, amused and trying not to show it. "Report, huh? Those can be rough."
"Yeah. So keep it in mind if you decide to get fresh."
He nodded, seriously. "I'll do that."
"So. Walk me to class?"
"I can do that." They started walking down the sidewalk, away from the cafeteria. As they passed Winslow Hall, Graham asked, "Where's your class?"
"Science building. History 103, 20th century military history. I get to read about wars and stupid politicians. We're having a quiz on World War II at the beginning of class - maybe you can help me study?"
There was a slight hesitation before Graham said, "Yeah, I can do that. Um." He glanced at his watch. "What time does your class start?"
Xander grinned. "Two o'clock -- tomorrow. Wanna walk slower?"
Graham stopped walking, and stared at him. Slowly, though, he began to smile.
"Oh, god, there," Xander whispered, and he hoped he'd said it loud enough because he wasn't sure his brain cells could produce speech again. He counted himself lucky he'd managed to say it once.
"Hmm?" Graham didn't lift his head, nor did he stop what he was doing, to ask more clearly for Xander to repeat himself.
Xander put his hand on Graham's head, to make his point. *Here*. Graham must have understood him, because he stayed right there and nibbled some more.
"Oh god," Xander breathed, and tried not to scream loud enough to disturb his parents, two floors up. Graham's teeth nipped his skin, right along his collarbone, and Xander had to concentrate on remaining standing. He could feel the goosebumps rise -- along with everything else long risen -- and shivered, clutching at Graham's shoulders. He hoped the other man was secure on his feet, because Xander was swaying. Or the room was spinning.
"There?" Graham asked, and Xander scowled.
"Yes, there. Don't stop and ask for directions -- just keep going. I'll scream if you do something wrong."
Graham smirked. "You're supposed to scream if I do something right."
Returning the grin, Xander leaned in and kissed him. Long, and completely, licking Graham's tongue and pulling at his lip, he felt the heat of Graham's mouth on his own and nearly forgot his witty come-back line. When he could breathe again, he said, "Oh, I'll scream then, too. You'll be able to tell the difference."
"I will?" Graham raised one eyebrow, and trailed a finger down Xander's back. Xander couldn't remember how he'd come to be wearing only his pants, while Graham was still wearing his jeans and shirt.
"Y-yeah, oh, yeah," Xander sighed. He shivered again and grabbed Graham's shirt. "You'll be able to tell by the way I throw you across the room as I scream." He winked.
Graham responded by wrapping his arms around Xander, and lifting him up. "You're gonna throw me across the room?"
Xander didn't answer. It was difficult to form a reply when his body was being held so tightly against Graham's. Xander suspected by the way Graham's eyes were losing focus, that Graham was close to losing the thread of the conversation, as well. "Well, not in the literal sense," Xander finally gasped, then he wriggled invitingly.
"Where's the bed?" Graham gasped.
Graham turned, and took a few steps -- still holding Xander -- then deposited him onto the bed. Xander landed sitting up, and bounced as he realized where his line of sight was. "Take those off," he commanded, reaching out, not to help, but to touch until there was skin.
"Yes, sir," Graham whispered in a teasing tone, and slipped off his shirt, then out of his jeans.
"Ah, I like a man who's always prepared." Xander grinned, not taking his eyes off the naked skin that the removal of the jeans had displayed. "Or maybe you just didn't *have* any clean underwear?"
He glanced up when Graham didn't answer. "I'm going to plead the fifth," he said, looking nervously away from Xander's gaze.
"I like a man who begs," Xander said softly, giving Graham a wink when he blushed. Then he reached out, ran one hand lightly up the length of Graham's cock. Smooth, and hard, he had the kind of body that begged to be shaved, so his lover could run his fingers everywhere and touch smooth skin.
Possibly not the thing to suggest on a first date, Xander mused. Then Graham was moaning, and thrusting his hips forward, and Xander repeated the stroke he'd just made.
"Oh, god, Xander...."
His grin turned evil and Xander continued stroking, pulling just hard enough here, tugging there, scraping the balls lightly with a fingernail each time he pushed his hand back again towards Graham's body. Graham's hands landed on his shoulders, and Xander could see that he'd better get the man on something besides concrete so he wouldn't break his kneecaps, or back, when he fell.
He scooted backwards on the bed, keeping ahold of Graham's cock and tugging him forward by pulling on it gently. Graham smirked, but came forward willingly. Xander kept his hand on Graham's cock, but turned him around until he was sitting between Xander's legs. Xander leaned back against the back of the couch, grateful he'd stolen three extra pillows last night to stuff down into the gap between mattress and couch. He spread his legs and began jerking Graham off, the motion so familiar it was almost like he was doing himself.
But there was no missing the weight of Graham's body, nor the sound of his desperate moans as Xander moved his hands, twisting his fingers around a testicle, running a thumb around the head of his cock. Graham had grabbed onto Xander's legs, each hand gripping a thigh just above the knee. At one point Xander was seriously worried about the continued well-being of his bones -- but then Graham writhed against him, leaning his head back on Xander's shoulder, and he suddenly found he could care less. He wrapped an arm around Graham's chest and held him tight, and continued his hard, fast strokes.
Graham moved one hand, and held onto Xander's arm as he began to shove his hips upwards, pushing himself harder into Xander's fist. Soon, all Xander had to do was hang on, leave his hand where Graham could use it, and watch and listen as Graham came.
He kissed Graham's neck and rubbed his hand along Graham's leg and up his torso, as Graham slowly collapsed inside Xander's embrace. His body was pounding with heat, soaking into Xander's body through his chest, and his groin, and his legs. Xander squeezed his legs tight, giving Graham a full body hug.
Then Graham opened his eyes and returned the evil smile. Before he knew it, Xander was lying on his back, with Graham above him, and he was losing the last of his clothes.
"I like a man who's prepared," Graham said, when he discovered that Xander wasn't wearing underwear, either.
"In my case, it was... uh... oh, god... purely the state of my laun... dryohgodhgodohgod." Xander could already see spots on the ceiling as Graham placed his mouth over the tip of his cock. He had to try very hard not to shove it inside Graham's throat, knowing it was bad manners to choke a guy *before* he finished giving you the blow job. But then Graham was sucking, lightly, and he had to be glad Graham's hands were on his hips and his weight was bearing him down, because otherwise, Xander knew, he'd have been flying off the bed.
Afterwards, Xander collapsed onto the bed and thinking seriously about curling up and falling asleep. Maybe even grab the sheet from wherever it had ended up.
Or maybe he'd just fall asleep. Do the sheet thing and moving into a comfortable position thing, later. Beside him, Graham moved. Closer? Closer would be good... damn. He was getting out of bed. Xander opened one eye and looked up. "Hey?"
"Hey. I gotta go," he said simply.
Xander pushed his head up, blinked, then nodded. "Yeah." He'd had loved to crawl out of bed and go with, but he couldn't. Couldn't move. He'd worked all night, got home around seven thirty... and found Graham on his doorstep by seven forty-five. Now it was nearly nine, and he had to get *some* sleep. Graham, for his part, had whatever it was he had to do on Saturday mornings. He'd *had* his sleep already, the ingrate.
When they'd agreed to go out on Friday, they hadn't realized that neither of them were actually free. A short discussion had revealed that the first time both had free was Saturday morning after Xander got off work. It hadn't taken long after that to realize that the only thing worth doing on Saturday morning involved cartoons, sleeping, or sex. Graham hadn't quite met Xander's gaze when Xander had said he didn't like most kids' cartoons, and wouldn't be needing any sleep.
Now, though, Xander was most definitely in need. Graham was still standing beside the couch-bed, however, looking down at him. Xander knew it wasn't because he looked irresistible. He *felt* disgustingly icky. But Graham smiled. "I'll, uh... see myself out."
"No, I can..." Xander brought his hands up underneath him, started to push, and thought again how nice it would be to be asleep.
That was the drawback - one of several - to working all night and going to classes in the afternoon, hanging out on Buffy Patrol in the evenings. He got to grab a few hours' sleep in the mornings, and a couple more when normal folk were eating dinner. Weekend catch-ups worked great, as long as you didn't have to crawl out of bed to escort your lover to the door.
Lover. Xander's eyes popped open as Graham bent down to pick up a discarded pair of jeans. Suddenly he was feeling very... tired. "Mrumgle thum," he said as his face hit the pillow.
"You wanna borrow shower?" Xander tried again, waving his hand towards the bathroom in the corner of the basement.
"Oh. Yeah, thanks. I guess I better." Graham glanced down at himself, then gave Xander a small smile and dropped the clothes he'd been holding, onto a chair.
"There's towahlthum un murm," Xander told him, yawning.
Then Graham was beside the bed again, crouching down so Xander could see his face without lifting his head. "Go to sleep, Xander. I can find everything." Xander managed a nod. Graham didn't leave, though. After a moment of watching him - and Xander *knew* it wasn't because there was something adorably cute about the way his face was squished against the pillow - Graham asked, "Can I... I mean... when are you.... Are you working, tonight?"
Xander blinked. Oh. Yeah. He grinned. Second date. "I'll be conscious again by five. Don't work again until Monday night."
"So, you wanna... get together?"
"Absolutely! We could meet and go get some pizza and catch a movie. Or you can come back here at five after five and find out if I'm really awake, yet, or not." The way the pillow was hiding half of his face probably meant Graham couldn't tell how hard he was blushing.
It would have been OK if he could, because Graham was looking pretty cute, himself, with the red face and pink ears and not answering the question. Not out loud, though the way he was grinning told Xander the answer was 'yes'. It meant that he'd have to think of something to say to Willow, when she called to ask how their date went. He was *not* telling her what they'd really done, in case she asked him for details. Or congratulated him.
Maybe he wouldn't answer the phone.
Graham was grinning, now, and looking pretty darned edible. Xander thought about how much effort that would take. "I'll see you tonight, then." Graham stood up and headed for Xander's shower, and Xander let his eyes close, and prayed that he would be awake by five. After a moment, the sound of the shower running intruded on his nearly-asleep drowsiness.
Graham was in his shower.
Xander was off the bed before his body could remind him he was *supposed* to be exhausted. Then the sight of Graham's startled and happy smile made his body and mind forget all about the prospect of sleeping.
Xander was strolling down the sidewalk towards Willow and Buffy's dorm, enjoying the nice sunny day. He'd had a nice, uneventful shift at work last night, had slept in all morning, then had skipped his Algebra class.
He was skipping all his classes, and was going to ask Willow to un-enroll him in the university, since their objective had now been met. Had been met quite nicely, and quite often, over the last three weeks. Lovely as it was to learn things he didn't need to know (and he wouldn't be making the mistaking of saying that around Giles, again), he would be happy to get a small portion of his life back. Besides, if she didn't un-enroll him, he'd have to take his mid-terms.
"Ah! Speak of the cute devil." Xander grinned at Willow, who had just walked out the front door of her dormitory. She had books in her arms, but Xander knew that didn't mean she was on her way to class. Willow tended to carry books with her, everywhere.
"What are you up to?" she asked, a hint of accusation in her voice.
"Me? Why would I be up to anything?"
"Because you're smiling. You only smile when you're happy. And someone of a suspicious nature would think there was a *reason* you were happy."
Xander tried to look offended, but he couldn't manage to stop grinning. Willow laughed at him, then linked her arm in his, and headed down the sidewalk with him.
"So, tell me everything!"
"Willow, I told you everything last night!"
"No, you didn't. You only told me everything up until last night -- and, I might add, without lots of details. You think I can't read between the lines? I know what you two are up to on those three other 'dates' per week you don't tell me about!"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Xander protested. He looked around at the warm, sunny day. It really was gorgeous out here.
"Uh-huh. There! I knew it."
"Huh?" Xander looked over and found her pointing at him. "Where? What?"
"That smile. That sappy, all is right with the world smile."
Sheepishly, Xander... smiled wider. "Um, can I plead the fifth?"
"No! I want details. Um, not *details* details, mind you. But I deserve to know more than you two went to the movies on Sunday, and played miniature golf on Thursday, and watched basketball on Saturday."
"We ate pepperoni pizza while watching the basketball game," Xander offered.
Willow whapped him on the arm. "Since last night! And you told me that part, already. Sometimes I think you two have G-rated dates just so you have something you can tell me about."
"Us? What? Me? Not tell?" Xander tried again to look offended. Or maybe innocent. He wasn't sure, but since it obviously wasn't working, he didn't worry about it.
Especially since she was right. The first 'safe' date they'd gone on had been the first Sunday. They'd gone to dinner at Burger Fiesta: burgers, tacos, and conversation about football and cars and other manly stuff. They'd both known they were acting for the benefit of the to-be-relayed-to-Willow report, and the "date" had lasted exactly thirty-three minutes.
Then Xander had declared it over, and they'd gone back to Xander's place and had their fourth date. That one he hadn't even alluded to, though Willow had somehow guessed.
"Xander...." Willow was giving him her resolve face.
"Um, yes, Willow? Best friend for life, smartest person I know, prettiest girl I've seen, reddest hair and meanest growl?"
She giggled, then went right back into her resolve face. "Tell!"
"Xander, I went to a lot of trouble to get the two of you together. You owe me!"
"Oh, speaking of which, you can get me out of school now."
"What? Out of... Xander, don't you *want* to go to college?"
Xander blinked at her. "Is this a trick question? Willow, please, I'm dying here -- you put me in *algebra*. I have tests every three weeks! And history -- they expect you to write a *paper*! I don't need college, and now that Graham answers my phone calls, I don't need to be enrolled."
She frowned, then looked a little hurt. It was for real, Xander knew. "But... I thought you were enjoying yourself. Learning all kinda of cool, collegey stuff."
"Sorry. I just don't think I'm cut out to be college-guy." He stopped walking, and reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. "I really appreciate it, though. Not because of Graham -- though happy about that, make no mistake. But I know how much it meant to you. I... I know you were trying to make me part of the group, again, by getting me into college with you two." From the way Willow was making her eyes go wide, he knew she was gonna deny anything of the sort. He kept talking, to forestall her. "You were right, I was, and being here... helped. A lot. But it also showed me I'm *not* college-guy. I'm good with dating college-guy, and being a hanger-on in the world of academia."
"But... but Xander, you can't work at the gas station all your life! This is your chance to get a degree, and make something of yourself!"
"Will, you don't need a degree to make something of yourself. That's one reason I'm ready to get out of school. I'm not getting anything out of it, except Graham, and I've *got* him, so I don't have to-- what?"
Willow was grinning. "You've got him? You've *got* him! Oh, Xander!" Then she was hugging him, tightly, around the neck.
"Willow? Hey, Will? Ack?" He tried to peel her off him, and failed. "Hello? Willow?"
She finally let go -- still beaming at him and bouncing, but now he could breathe. "Oh, Xander, this is wonderful! Hey! You and me and Buffy, we should all go out on a triple date!"
"Won't Riley, Tara, and Graham object?"
Willow whapped his arm, again. "I meant *with* them. Silly. But you're not off the hook yet, buster. What's this about not being college-guy? You're as smart as any of us, Xander. And you said you were doing well enough in class."
"That's not the point." Xander shook his head, then looked around at the campus. How could he explain that it just didn't feel right? He didn't care about his classes, didn't have any interest in finding others he would care about, and, frankly, was more interested in spending his former-class-time doing anything else, but going to class.
"So what *are* you going to do, if you aren't staying in school?"
"I've got a couple jobs in mind," he admitted. One he'd heard about from a friend of Graham's, at Lowell House. It didn't sound like much, working as a copy boy at a local magazine house, but it was a day shift, and had some chance of turning into something more than gas station manager, or just head flunkee. The other one sounded more promising. He'd gotten a call from the construction boss he'd worked for the previous fall, the same one who'd fired him for being sick for a week after being on the job for five days. He needed experienced workers, and figured Xander was at least more experienced than the kids just out of high school and migrants just out of the truck.
"Well, that's good." Willow was obviously trying to sound happier than she felt.
Xander gave her hand a squeeze. "I'll still be around, Wills. You know me -- like a bad nickel. I'll always turn up."
She sighed, then smiled, and returned the hand-squeeze. They resumed walking, though Xander still had no idea where they were going. They walked in silence for awhile, and Xander found himself thinking how cool it would be if he got the job he wanted. It was a temporary job, which he hadn't and wasn't going to tell Willow. But it was a real job, real wages, and a chance to do something more interesting than make change for insomniacs and night-dwelling demons who drove BMWs.
"So, you're happy, then?" Willow's voice intruded on his thoughts of celebrating his successful job-getting, or commiserating his job-not-getting.
"Huh? What? Oh... yeah. Yeah, I am." He felt like smiling, again, and tried to keep it under control.
"Yeah," Willow matched his dreamy smile with one of her own. "It's like... floating on air, isn't it?"
"I would have said riding a roller coaster, the part where you go flying down the slope, screaming your head off, but you love every second of it."
She gave him a knowing look. "At that part already, huh?"
"The oh my god, do I really love him? part."
Xander blinked. "I was talking about the sex!"
"Uh-huh." Then she grinned. "Really? It's *that* good? Tell me!"
He had thought it would have been really difficult. Then he thought it would be easy. These were his friends. People he'd known for years, who had seen him at his worst -- in Speedos -- and at his best... er, no, they hadn't seen that, had they? Xander sighed. No wonder his final conclusion had been 'Run away before they see you!'
It was a couple hours before sundown, and he was walking towards the Bronze where Willow had decided they would all have a date. Triple date, Buffy with Riley, Willow with Tara, and he with Graham. At the Bronze. Together. Dating.
Graham had said 'yes', when Xander had asked. The jerk.
Xander sighed, and tried again to tell himself that this would be easy. They were his friends, or significant others of friends, which meant they'd be sympathetic towards him and his own wanna-be Significant Other. Right? Just because one of those significant-other-of-friend was a good friend of Graham's, and Willow and Buffy had taken to giggling behind their hands whenever Xander tried carrying on a conversation with them.... He *didn't* mention Graham in every other sentence. No matter what Willow said. Besides which, 'Tara' wasn't the most common word in the English language, though you wouldn't know it to listen to Willow talk.
So maybe they'd all be too distracted by their own interests to make this difficult. Willow and Buffy would be so into talking to and dancing with Tara and Riley that they wouldn't notice that Xander and Graham were talking about the basketball game, or whether it made any logical sense at all to publish pictures of a stealth jet, and pretending they were only friends. Certainly not dancing. Graham didn't dance more than Xander didn't dance.
The only time they acted like they were dating was when they were alone at Xander's place. Granted, that meant 'having sex' or 'post-coital nap' and little else. And what was wrong with that, Xander demanded of the sidewalk heading towards the Bronze. Getting closer, now, and soon he'd be too late to claim a flat tire on the car he had actually sold last week, but none of them knew that, yet. He could duck into a shop and use the phone, call Willow's answering machine and explain himself away. Grab Graham before he got to the club and they could sneak off to act like they were dating.
He looked up and smiled, waved at Willow. Tara was standing behind her, a faint smile on her face as she glanced towards Willow; a shy, uncertain one when she returned Xander's wave, with just her fingers. "Hey, if it isn't two lovely ladies hailing me in front of all to see and be made jealous by." Xander grinned, and was momentarily sorry he'd said it so loudly when Tara blushed and looked down. "Too bad for me it does nothing for me."
Willow was rolling her eyes at him. "Are Buffy and Riley here yet? Have you-- where's Graham?" Willow began looking around, as they headed towards the club entrance. "Xander?" she asked in a scolding tone. As if he'd got mud on Graham and broken him, so he couldn't come out to play.
That thought distracted him from making too pithy a remark -- mud wrestling, hmm, yeah -- and he just said, "He's meeting me here. If that's OK with you, mom?"
Her smile turned indulgent. "Yes, it's OK with me. But next time I want warning. For almost a second there I thought you two had broken up and we were gonna have to forego fun, to feed you chocolate."
"He can't break up with me," came Graham's amused voice from behind them. "He has my wallet."
"I what?" Xander thought back. That would have been the 'what's in *this* pocket?' game. Wallet? There had been a wallet? "Oops? Why didn't you call?"
"I did, about a half hour ago when I finally noticed. I guess you were already gone."
"Sorry. We can swing by my place and get it. Um, if you need it now, we can go--"
"Nah, that's OK. Later's good. You can pay for my drinks." Graham gave him a small smile. Xander grinned back. Maybe they were both thinking - retrieving wallet = being in Xander's basement. Could be nakedness involved...
"Hello? Are they even listening to us?" Buffy asked.
"I think they're thinking about sex," Willow said.
"What!? Was not!" Xander spun around to find four people staring at him -- and Graham -- with varying degrees of amusement on their faces.
Riley took pity on them, and tugged at Buffy's arm. "Shouldn't we go inside where the music and drinks are?"
That got them moving towards the Bronze entrance again. Graham fell into step beside Xander, and said quietly, "You weren't? I was."
Xander managed not to trip, and instead looked over and said, "Isn't this the third time you've left your wallet at my place?" He leered. Graham just looked confused, and shook his head.
Xander paced outside Giles' apartment for ten minutes before finally going to the door. He'd been debating not whether or not to go in, or whether or not to ask his question once he did -- but whether or not he was completely insane and if it had any bearing on his problem. He wasn't completely convinced Giles would tell him if he were insane. Or was it the other way around? But he'd finally accepted the fact that he wasn't getting anywhere by retracing the path in front of Giles' place, and went inside.
"Ah, Xander. Ready to sit for awhile?" Giles greeted him, for once not giving the door a swear-that-was-locked glare.
"Um, sure, OK, yeah." Xander walked over towards the couch, then walked in front of it, turned, walked back. Headed for the chair, then turned, thinking maybe the couch was better, and when he reached the end of that again he thought maybe he'd stand, and then should he stand by the kitchen or over by the desk where Giles was or-- "Eep." He stopped, looking at Giles who had stepped in front of him.
"Now, tell me what's bothering you. And please be as vague as possible, if this concerns your sex life."
Xander looked up at him. "Can you tell if someone is insane, or just psychic?"
Giles's expression only changed marginally -- he was already looking like he was only humouring Xander's appearance and obvious need for someone to ask for advice which he could then disregard. Xander waited for him to ask for some clarification, while trying to figure out exactly how he would offer it without convincing Giles he *was* insane. Finally Giles said, "Please tell me this *isn't*, in fact, about your sex life."
"Not directly. I think we can have this entire conversation without my saying anything about having sex with Graham. Um, except one part."
Giles nodded. "All right. You promise to be vague for that one bit?"
Xander nodded. "I promise."
"Why do you think you're insane?"
"I didn't say me-- uh, right. The 'I have this friend' thing isn't gonna work, is it?" Giles shook his head. Taking a deep breath, Xander explained, "Graham likes diet coke. And westerns, and hates really stupid comedies. We went to a movie last week, I picked the film and bought the snacks... and I got everything right."
"Well, obviously, you're insane. I appreciate your stopping by--"
"Giles, you don't get it!"
"Because you haven't exactly explained it, Xander," Giles said, a hint of genuine patience in his voice. "Knowing what he likes and doesn't like is usually considered a good thing."
"Not when no one told you what he likes."
There was a pause. "I'm sorry?"
"He never *said* he wanted diet coke. Willow didn't have it in her research information. I don't *think* Riley said anything...."
Giles looked faintly confused, but not concerned. "You must have simply observed it, then. You've been to any number of parties where he would have been drinking, or may have mentioned what he wanted."
"That's what I thought." Xander leaned forward, and was encouraged when Giles didn't start leaning back, edging away from him. "I figured, maybe I had a lucky guess with the movies thing. Then I asked him about Minnesota."
Xander waited for Giles to ask. Giles was waiting, not asking, until he rolled his eyes and said, "For god's sake, Xander, just tell me why that's important. You needn't have dramatic pauses all over the place."
"He's from Minnesota. Well, he lived there for about ten years, as a kid. He told me that part. *After* I mentioned it. That he was from there -- Giles, Willow didn't tell me that part. Riley didn't tell me -- *no* one told me! And I was right! I knew!" Xander jumped up from the couch and began pacing again. This time Giles didn't stop him. "Giles, in my life I've dated an insect, a mummy, two psychotics, and... um... Larry. OK, he was normal. But I'm not exactly batting an average, here. Is Graham some kinda thought-leaking telepathic demon? Has the Hellmouth seeped into my brain and made me hear things? Am I nuts? Am--"
Giles was on his feet, now, catching Xander by the arm and trying to hold him still. He succeeded, marginally. "Xander, Xander!"
Xander stopped trying to pace, and stood more or less still. He hadn't felt this panicked outside, earlier. Hadn't felt this panicked all the times he'd thought about what he'd been noticing, and telling himself he wasn't really noticing. There was just something about the calm way Giles was listening to all of this, that made him ready to panic. "I told myself it was perfectly normal. Coincidence. That we were just... in a groove, somehow, that we knew each other because we were meant to be or something. But he doesn't know anything about me and I know his scar is from falling off a fence when he was twelve!"
"Calm down," Giles said, holding onto Xander's arms with both hands. "We won't solve anything by panicking."
"We solved the Musthla demon invasion by panicking," Xander reminded him.
"Er, yes. But that was pure happenstance, and it was only the one time. Now, look. There is an explanation for this. Whether you've overheard this information from somewhere and don't recall, or you've observed things and figured out what they mean, or--"
"Or I'm telepathic and my brain is gonna fry!"
"Well, if that's the case, I'd like to have your collection of comics."
Mouth open, Xander just stared at him.
In a gentle tone, Giles said, "There are ways to find out if you've become telepathic. Or indeed if there is anything magical or 'Hellmouthy' going on." He pulled on Xander's arm, tugging him towards the couch once more. "Are there any other incidents?"
Xander let himself be guided back to the couch. He still felt like running out and finding a tree to hide in, but he sat down, elbows on his knees, and rattled quietly. "You remember how I said I'd have to tell you something about my sex life?"
Giles sighed. "Yes."
"Um, I... when we... oh, hell. I can't say this to you."
"We can still look into--"
"I know we've... um, done something. Together. But when I said 'wanna do it again' he said we hadn't before. He did, and we did and it was as great as I remembered." Xander managed to avoid being pulled into the memory of that afternoon, by the sheer, frantic worry. "I remember he left his wallet at my place a few times. He says only done it once." He looked up at Giles, wondering if he have to be locked up before he went crazy. Or until.
"Hmm." Giles rubbed his chin, and looked off into the near distance. Xander waited, and Giles just kept saying 'hmm' and not looking at him.
"This is bad, isn't it?" he whispered.
"What? No, not necessarily." Giles went over to a bookcase and began looking for a book. "It could mean any number of things. Not all of them bad."
"So... how do we find out?" Xander managed to ask without much waver in his voice. He'd had Hellmouthy things happen around him, for years. Usually they didn't happen *to* him. When they did, he usually didn't have time to watch them come upon him, slowly.
"We should first rule out a couple of perfectly normal possibilities. Either you've noticed things that you don't consciously recall noticing, like a stated preference for diet coke, or Graham simply doesn't recall little details that you do."
"Getting rimmed is not a little detail."
Giles dropped his book. He gave Xander a reproachful look. "I did ask you to be vague."
"Y-ye-yes, well, let's... get the easy part over with." He came back over to Xander, and sat on the coffee table in front of him. He unwrapped a piece of cloth he'd been holding, and removed a pocket watch.
"Is that a magic watch?"
"No, it's simply rather old. I'm going to hypnotise you, and we'll determine if you've seen things you don't quite recall seeing. Or hearing, or... um... we'll see if you simply don't consciously recall these things. If this proves fruitless, we can use one or another spell, to determine if you're under the influence of anything magical."
Xander wasn't completely convinced this was going to work. Perhaps, he figured, it was because he wasn't exactly sure what Giles was hoping to accomplish. But he trusted Giles, and his only other option was to freak out. "You're not gonna make me dance around like a chicken, are you?"
"What? Oh, I hadn't thought of that. Post-hypnotic suggestion... I could suggest you get a horrid, searing pain every time you call me 'G-man'." At Xander's expression, he sighed. "I'm only joking." He held up the watch by its chain, and it began to sway slightly. "All right. Now, relax. Look at the watch."
"It's a nice watch. Who--"
"Don't talk, Xander. Just look at it, and listen to my voice. And relax."
Xander dutifully looked at the watch, listened to Giles, and told himself to relax. The watch casing was etched on one side, he saw, and the chain was a lighter gold colour than the watch itself. Giles was talking about how tired he was getting, and how he should keep looking at the watch, and how his eyes really ought to be closing. He continued looking at the watch, anyway, even though he blinked a couple of times. It was spinning, a little, light from the kitchen glinting off the watch as it moved. Giles' voice was quieter, now, and Xander felt like he'd missed hearing a couple words. Xander blinked again, and thought about telling him to start over because he hadn't heard it all. Then he closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, he couldn't bear to look up at Giles.
Xander had come out of the hypnotic state with the images still swirling in his mind. Giles had told him to focus on Graham, to think of nothing but the times he'd spent with Graham. It had awoken the memories he'd been dreaming about ever since he'd seen Graham at Lowell House, the very first time. He'd been able to make himself remember, and he'd slowly seen the images. Images of him and Graham, laughing in the middle of a park -- in Florida. Images of him and Graham in a bed in a hotel room, whispering to each other in spanish, and laughing. Images of Graham, in fatigues, waving him forward.
Images of himself, staring into a mirror at a man who was not Xander. Graham had been behind him, somewhere, muttering about shaving cream and didn't he think he was taking field kits a little too far. The man in the mirror had laughed.
"You know what this means?" Xander asked. He sat on the couch, hands clasped together tight. If he let go he might do something with them, and doing anything felt like the first step towards panicking. Or freaking out -- he wasn't sure which. All he knew was that he was half a step away from bouncing off the walls and he wasn't sure that he wouldn't end up breaking things if he did.
"I understand what happened," Giles replied, still sounding calm and soothing, like he was trying not to spook Xander any further. "I'm not quite sure I understand what it *means*."
"I don't even know what happened," Willow put in. She was looking worried, sitting in between Xander and Giles, looking from one to the other. Giles had phoned her after Xander had recovered from the hypnosis and had been unable to get much coherent speech out. That was Giles' claim, at any rate. Xander was sure he'd repeated himself often enough that Giles *had* to understand what was wrong.
But maybe not; in any event, he had Willow to tell. As if telling it again would help? Xander took a deep breath, and said, "It isn't me that knows him. Remember that Hallowe'en, when we all turned into our costumes?"
Willow nodded, eyes wide but staring steadily at him. "You turned into a soldier."
"Yeah, but not 'a' soldier. I turned into the guy whose BDUs I was wearing. Private Robert Hendrick. He... he's the one who knew Graham."
"OK," Willow said, nodding. "So that explains how you know stuff. And remember things... that Robert knew?"
Xander nodded. Tried not to think about the dreams he'd had, dreaming of being with Graham, feeling so good, making them both laugh. Wanting just to be with him. They hadn't been dreams -- at least, not his own. They'd been memories. Someone else's.
"Um, so, you aren't insane, or anything. Right?" Willow glanced up at Giles for confirmation. Giles nodded. "So, what's the problem?"
Xander took another deep breath. Still wasn't helping. "Robert's the one who loved him." Before Willow's confused look could do more than turn into happy surprise because he'd used the 'l' word, he continued, "And I don't think Graham's speaking to me, anymore."
"Huh?" Willow sat up straight, an alarmed expression on her face. "What do you mean? What happened?"
"This morning. We were at my place after I got home from work. We... um... right, vague, were in bed afterwards and we were talking. I asked him how long he'd been a Marine, because we'd... um... more vague stuff." He shot a look at Giles, and said hurriedly, "Iwantedtoseehiminhisuniform. He said he wasn't a Marine. I said he was, he said he wasn't. He left pretty soon after that. When I asked him if I would see him tonight, he said he wasn't sure."
Reaching over to take his hand, Willow said, "That doesn't mean you won't see him again. Xander, once you explain how you knew..."
"I'm supposed to tell him I was possessed one night, by the spirit of his old boyfriend?"
"Maybe you can say... um... that you knew Robert? He told you about Graham, and you only just remembered?"
"That does sound like an excellent suggestion," Giles put in. "Assuming you intend to never tell him about... things."
"Is Buffy going to tell Riley about... things?" Xander asked. It was the other problem he'd been debating -- thinking up until recently it was his biggest problem. He'd meant to have a heart-to-heart about it with Buffy, see what she was going to do.
"I don't know. She hasn't, yet. But... I think she's going to. Not soon, but eventually."
Willow and Xander were now both staring at Giles. "She's really serious about Riley, isn't she?" asked Willow.
"She seems to be, yes."
"And... are you all right with that?" she asked, carefully.
Giles looked surprised. "Why wouldn't I be? I'm delighted that she's found a boyfriend, someone normal, to share her life with. And if she truly *can* share her life with him... all the better."
Xander thought he sounded a little worried. But he didn't say anything, because then they'd both focus back on--
"Xander, if you *do* decide to tell Graham the truth, you might talk with Buffy, first. If Graham goes to talk with Riley about it, and he doesn't know anything..."
"I think I'm not gonna tell him." Because it wouldn't matter, would it?
"Why not?" Willow sounded like she was just waiting for him to speak, so she could shoot down his arguments.
"Because it isn't fair to Graham," he said quietly.
"Telling him the truth? Xander--"
He shook his head. "Because he... he likes me, right?" He paused while Willow got a silly smile on her face. "And I... I'm not the one who likes *him*. Robert does. Or did. Whatever of him is in my head, is the part that..."
"I think he did," Xander admitted, miserably. "And it means I'm just leading Graham on, and I can't really ever feel what I let him think I feel because it isn't me. And if I tell him the truth, he'll know it isn't me, and who would want to date a guy who's just possessed by the memories on someone who loves you? If he loved Robert, still, they'd still be together. So he must not want to be with Robert, and the Robert in my head wants to be with Graham, who wants to be with Xander..." He dropped his head into his hands. "I knew this was going to turn out like this. Not *exactly*, but when have I ever dated someone normal?"
"I thought you said Larry was normal?" Giles asked, absently.
Not raising his head, Xander said, "Larry and I didn't officially date. It doesn't count. All we ever did was kiss -- and I don't even mean that vaguely."
He felt Willow pat his arm. "Xander, I'm sure there's a way around this. You can't just give up -- you two have been so happy, since you started dating."
"How do you know Graham's been happy? You didn't even know him, until you started spying on him for me."
"Riley said so. He said Graham's been positively glowing, lately." Willow smiled, smugly.
But it made Xander feel worse. He was gonna have to break up with Graham, and Graham wasn't going to understand why, and it was going to make him miserable, and... and Xander didn't *want* to make Graham miserable. Thinking about it made that Robert-part of his brain scream at him that if he did, he'd rip his lungs out. He pressed his hands into his eyes. If he could somehow exorcise that part of his brain, get rid of Robert Hendrick once and for all... he could break up with Graham with, maybe not a clear conscience, but without feeling like it was really his own heart that was breaking.
But it explained why his heart felt like it knew Graham well enough, to break.
"Xander?" Willow rubbed his back, but he didn't look up. "Xander, there has to be something we can do."
"There is. Unpossess me. Make me forget *everything* Robert knows." Make him forget how much he liked seeing Graham's eyes light up. Make him forget the hours they'd spent, lying together, looking at each other and feeling as if there was nowhere else in the world better to be. "Get rid of that voice in my head that's screaming at me for letting him go."
"Giles? Is there a spell for that?"
There was silence while Giles thought through the mental catalogue of his books. Then, "Yes, I believe there is. I hadn't thought of using it, since none of you seemed... harmed, by your memories of that Hallowe'en. But it's a rather straight-forward procedure. It will block the memories, though, rather than exorcise them. You won't be rid of them, but you won't be able to access them."
"As long as I can't think things Robert should be thinking, that's good." Xander finally raised his head. Willow reached over and wiped a finger across his cheek.
Then she smiled. "You can't break up with him, though. If we do this, you'll be just you, in your head. And Graham still likes *you*. Maybe... maybe you really do like him. Even without Robert's memories telling you that you love him."
Xander blinked at her. "You... you think?"
"Well, he's cute, he's smart, and he likes your jokes. If I didn't think he was good for you I never would have set you two up."
"Wills, you set us up because you were tired of me babbling about him."
"That, too. Now, is it a deal? You don't say anything about being possessed. We'll think of something to tell him about your remembering he was a Marine. Or you can just have sex with him until he forgets you ever mentioned it."
"Pardon me," Giles interrupted. "I'm still in the room. You're both required to be vague."
Willow turned to Giles, and said in a confused tone, "That was vague. Wasn't it? I didn't say 'sweaty hot monkey se--" She looked at Xander, who had clamped his hand over her mouth.
"When can we do this spell?"
"As soon as we get all the ingredients," Giles replied, sounding relieved they'd changed the subject. Xander was tempted to change it back. "I need to check the book, but I think we've everything except the dried snail slime."
Xander watched him head towards the bookshelf. "You just said that to get back at me for saying 'rimming'."
"I didn't, but as you've said it again, I might add birds' livers to the potion, and make you drink it."
"Rimming?" Willow asked.
Xander jumped up from the couch. "How about if I go to the magic shop and buy the snail slime?"
"Rimming?" Willow asked, again, standing up then following him as he headed over to read the spell over Giles' shoulder.
"Do I need to buy anything else?"
"Rimming?" Willow asked him, again.
Xander saw Giles smirk. "Perhaps Willow should go with you. She's more familiar with the ingredients..."
"Thanks, Giles. Remind me to tell you about the rubber." His grin faltered as he realized -- that was a memory, too. Not his. He spun on his heel and headed for the door. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
Willow didn't say anything, until he had almost closed the door. Then he heard her say to Giles, "What's rimming?"
Xander shut the door fast, and ran.
Graham had been staring at nothing, glumly, for the better part of an hour. Classes and check-in were over, and the marines had the rest of the afternoon to themselves until dinner and patrols. All morning he'd gone through the motions expected of him, as a graduate student and a soldier, and he was pretty sure no one really noticed that he hadn't quite been paying as much attention as he could have.
He had a problem, and he wasn't sure what to do about it. It wasn't the sort of thing he could ask his buddies about, nor could he request a private meeting with any of his superiors - even though his problem impacted them all, and they needed to know about it.
That was sort of exactly the problem. He couldn't even ask Riley or Forrest to meet him someplace private for an unofficial, off-the-record meeting. He wished he could talk to Xander...
But that was the rest of the problem. Xander.
Just who the hell was he? How did he know things he wasn't supposed to know?
Graham had been worrying about it since yesterday morning, when Xander had stammered a question that normally would have been adorable, and would have had Graham saying 'yes' to everything Xander was asking. Except what Xander was asking, he didn't know. He couldn't know, so what had gone wrong to make Xander ask a guy who was supposed to be a civilian graduate student, to wear his Marine uniform sometime?
Graham knew he was lousy at Covert Ops. 'Lousy' when compared to the rest of the guys in his outfit - not so lousy when it came to fooling the general public. You didn't get tapped for a project like the Initiative if you tended to spill your beans to the first pretty face you saw. Admittedly, most Marines didn't have to dress up in jeans and tshirts and pretend that getting a Master's project approved was the most important item on the agenda -- which reminded him, he had to get Professor Macey to sign his proposal.
But despite the added complication of keeping quiet about his duties, Graham knew he hadn't told Xander anything he shouldn't have. He'd never mentioned the military at all, except for the Air Force and god knew there were enough jokes there to keep a man busy and away from the topic of the Marine Corp. He didn't have anything in his room, or anywhere in all of Lowell House that gave any indication that he was a soldier - none of the guys did. They had regular inspections for just that purpose, and he'd have heard long before now if there was anything incriminating in his room.
Besides which, Xander hadn't spent much time in his room. Other than parties in the Lowell House common rooms, he and Xander spent most of their time in Xander's basement... in the bed, or hanging out together someplace public. As little as Graham talked, he was reasonably certain he could recall accurately that he had never said anything Marine-like. No code words, no 'gotta be a grunt to get the joke', not even a slip of the 'sir' that couldn't be explained away as politeness.
The only possibility was that he'd talked in his sleep. It was the only *real* possibility, because the other explanation was that Xander knew because someone *else* had told him. Someone like a snitch, weaseling his way into a free lunch from the reporter he was giving a scoop to. Someone like an agent, sent in by another branch of the government who wanted to know what was going on in that project nobody knew about. Someone like a demon, disguised as a human to get the low-down, before launching an all-out attack.
Graham was hoping he talked in his sleep. Even if it would be for the first time in his life.
When he'd first decided to accept Xander's offer of a real, actual, let's get together date, he knew that someone in the Initiative had already done a background check. A standard check on Buffy Summers, her family, and friends had been done when Riley first started dating her. She and all her friends had passed, and according to the agents who'd done the checks, there was nothing too bizarre in their files if you ignored a penchant for blowing up high schools. Graham remembered high school, and couldn't really blame them.
He didn't know if anyone knew how much time he was spending with Xander, and if that had prompted anyone to do a second, deeper background check on him. Graham was pretty sure no one knew *what* he was doing, because no one had called him in for a don't ask, don't tell, don't let the door hit your ass on the way out' little talk. But no one had told him to keep away from the guy because he seemed a little weird, and no one had told him to spend *more* time with him and find out all he could.
So either no one suspected him, or he was really, really, good.
Or Graham talked in his sleep. He was still hoping for that one.
He knew, though, that he was going to have to tell someone, soon. The longer he kept this quiet, the more likely the military would decide that he was guilty. No matter what they discovered, failure to report would be dereliction of duty.
Only, no matter what it turned out to be, the best bet was that he and Xander would no longer be friends. Either Xander was a bad guy, or he'd be pissed off that Graham had turned him in... or any of a half dozen other permutations that ended up with Xander hating his guts and never speaking to him again.
If Xander was one of the bad guys, that shouldn't be a bad thing. But Graham didn't want Xander to be one of the bad guys. He wanted Xander to be a good guy, a see-him-every-day guy... a sleep with him every chance they got, guy. He liked Xander, liked him a lot. Liked him enough that he was beginning to think that if he hadn't had this problem arise, he'd have had another, equally potentially serious one: how to keep Xander around, when there was so little of his life Graham could offer him.
He'd been thinking he could ask Riley about that one, at least. He didn't know if Ri had any answers, but they could at least get drunk together and commiserate. But the question was irrelevant, now. Unfortunately.
A quick glance at the clock told him that if he kept this up, he'd succeed in sitting in his room brooding for another two hours until dinner. That wasn't really the way to convince anyone that there was nothing wrong. With a resigned - and suppressed - sign, he picked up his jacket and headed out. He could sit at a coffee shop and pretend to read, and no one would be the wiser.
"Hey! Are you waiting for Xander?"
Graham looked up, and smiled when he saw Buffy. He nodded when she made a move towards the chair beside his, and she sat down. "Hi. Um, no, I'm not. Just reading." He couldn't remember which book he'd grabbed to fake it with - it wasn't like he'd seen any of the words he'd been staring at for the last twenty minutes.
She peered at the cover, and frowned. "A Survey of the History of Geological Structures of North America. Gee, I hope that's for a class."
Graham grinned. "Um, yeah. Sort of." He set it down, hoping she didn't ask him anything about it - and reminded himself not to pick up any of Forrest's books, again. He waited for Buffy to continue the conversation, then realized she was waiting for *him*. "Um, you meeting Riley?"
"Nah. He's got something school-related to do. I'm supposed to be studying, so I figured - what better place to study, than a coffee shop that serves biscotti and huge muffins?"
"Yeah. That's... what I thought." Nevermind that there was only a single cup of coffee in front of him, which he'd barely touched.
"I'm going to get a mocha, and chocolate chip cranberry muffin. Want anything?" She'd popped up again, leaving her bookbag on the table. Graham shook his head, and spent the time she was in line trying to think of what else he could say to her. He'd never really had a conversation with Buffy, before. About her, yes. He *knew* he couldn't repeat any of those comments to her, though. Not that they'd been mean, but he didn't know her well enough to tease her about making her boyfriend walk into walls.
Talking to guys was so much easier. Whether they were strangers, or the guy he was waking up next to, there was never any doubt about what he could say - but even better was that there was never any doubt about whether he should be saying anything at all. Guys did the grunt and point method of communication so much better. It was a heck of a lot easier than trying to say 'how's the weather?' and sound like you meant it intelligibly.
He hadn't thought of anything to say by the time Buffy returned. She set her coffee and food down, dragged a book out, and proceeded to ignore them. "I didn't know you were into geology. Aren't you getting a degree in math?"
"It's to supplement a seminar on geostatistics," Graham said smoothly. He had no idea where that comment had come from. Hopefully it was enough, because he also had no idea what to say next.
Luckily, Buffy was blinking at him. "Oh. Geostatistics? This is... math, I'm guessing?"
"It's math," Graham replied, nodding.
"Ah. I know math. I know math like algebra and geometry. I'm even taking a math class next semester. Maybe. Do they offer any easy ones?"
"Calc five is easy."
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. "Willow says that. I don't believe her, either."
Graham just shrugged. It had occurred to him that he might have something he could ask her, if he could just get up the courage to do so, and risk fielding awkward questions of 'why do you want to know?' He spent a few more minutes talking about undergrad math courses and math professors, hoping he didn't sound like a complete dork. It shouldn't matter, Buffy was just his friend's girlfriend, as well as his boyfriend's friend... his head was starting to hurt.
When the conversation hit a lull, he told himself now or never. Even if knowing meant he was no closer to solving his problem... "Hey, Buffy. Um. How long have you known Xander?"
"About four years. Why? You already at the 'what do I buy him for his birthday' stage? Because he lied - his birthday was three months ago."
"Did he tell you he had a birthday coming up and he wants you to take him to dinner?"
"Uh...no." Graham was suddenly understanding some of Riley's comments about conversations with Buffy.
"Why... oh. I was just... wondering. About... stuff." OK, so he hadn't thought out his line of questioning this far. He couldn't just come out and ask 'is he a demon?' - and not only because Buffy would laugh at him for thinking demons were real.
"Stuff? Childhood stuff? I know some stuff, but you can always ask Willow. She's known him all her life - they shared diaper bags. Or so Willow's mom says. Willow and Xander always turn kinda red when she says it, so I'm guessing it's true."
"Oh." That was good, right? Did baby demons wear diapers?
"Willow knows all there is to know about Xander. Well... maybe not *everything*. But you could ask her. Or ask me, and I'll ask her."
"I was just... wondering. About how he grew up. If he'd always lived in Sunnydale." Graham had no illusions about why he'd got a 'D' in Covert Ops. All he needed now was for Willow to show up, and Buffy would tell her to ask his questions...
Buffy's face darkened, a little. Graham sat up, trying not to appear as suddenly interested as he was. "Yeah, I guess if you've spent any time at Xander's house, you probably heard stuff. They've never really done anything - that I know of. His folks get drunk and get loud, and sometimes when his mom is drunk she kinda forgets that she has a kid, you know? But I asked Willow, and she says that's as bad as it ever got. I think she would have kidnapped him, otherwise, so I figure she's right. Doesn't make it any easier to listen to, though." She brightened, suddenly. "Why don't you just hang out at Lowell House?"
"Um, I... the guys don't really... Ri knows, and Forrest, my roommate. But-"
"Ah. Say no more. I suppose you could rent a room..." She winked. "But if you just want someplace to hang out, you're welcome to stop by Willow's and my dorm room. We like cute guy company. Or there's Giles' place. We hang out there all the time-" She stopped, and for some reason looked like she wished she could take back what she'd just said, or been about to say.
"Thanks. I... it isn't a problem, really. I was just wondering." He didn't actually know what Buffy was talking about. Xander's parents were almost never awake, or home, when he was visiting Xander. It wasn't difficult to figure out, though. He felt an inexplicable urge to go find Xander, and drag him out of that basement, and put him up in an apartment somewhere. Take him home and keep him under the bed. In the bed, rather, except then of course everyone would know...
"So was that what you wanted to know?" Buffy interrupted his musings. Probably a good thing, since they were all going towards the 'Xander in bed' area of his brain.
"Um, yeah. Mostly." He knew this whole conversation was going to be a bust - all he had to do was get out of it as best he could, without saying anything else that she might ask Xander about. Tip him off, if he was tip-off-able. If he was up to something. If he wasn't... Graham knew this was why he hadn't wanted to have this conversation with *anyone*.
"OK." Buffy nodded, and finally turned her attention to her coffee and muffin. For a moment, anyway, then she looked back at him. "Graham, can I ask you something weird?"
"Sure." Couldn't be any weirder than his own questions.
"Does Riley believe in monsters?"
Xander was still obsessing over whether, what, why, and when to talk to Graham. He was seriously leaning towards the 'say nothing, do nothing' option, and pretending that everything he felt was him. Even if it wasn't... it *felt* like it was, sorta, and Graham certainly wouldn't know the difference. It made that sick, scared feeling go away a little, whenever he tentatively decided to do nothing.
Except there was still the sick, scared feeling that was from knowing that it *wasn't* him. He didn't love Graham, maybe he didn't even like Graham, or lust after him, or... It would have seriously creeped him out to think that the memories of a possession were controlling him this way, except that what he felt instead, was denial.
They *felt* like his own emotions. Some of them, anyhow. In those times that he un-decided to pretend that nothing had changed, he felt relief. Along with sick and worried and everything else he'd been feeling since he'd realized what was going on in his brain.
He'd brought the ingredients back to Giles' place, and watched as Giles and Willow got ready for the spell. Hypnotizing him to forget Robert's memories, let him try to find out what *he* felt -- sounded like a great plan. Until he started wondering if maybe it *wasn't* him, at all, and something in him started objecting to anything that meant losing Graham. Was that Robert, objecting? Was it him?
Xander had listened to the muddle of thoughts and emotions in his head until he couldn't take it any longer. He'd jumped up and asked how long until they'd be ready -- when Giles had said 'half an hour' he'd taken the opportunity to go for a short walk, and obsess.
Since then he'd come to no conclusions other than he really, really didn't want to do this. He didn't want not to do it, either. What he wanted was to wake up and discover it was all a dream, and that Graham was lying beside him, sound asleep. Xander rubbed his face, and sighed. The trouble was, he *knew* the right answer. Let Willow and Giles do the spell and get rid of Robert, and let Xander find out the truth. If he *didn't* feel anything for Graham, then it was Robert's memories making him so crazy. If he *did* feel something, then losing Robert's memories wouldn't matter.
It didn't help turn him around and make him walk back to Giles' place. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk wasn't going to solve anything -- wasn't propelling him towards the decision he knew he had to make. Undergo the spell, and start over, without those memories confusing things.
What if he didn't like Graham, anymore?
Xander shook his head. He owed them. He owed it to Graham, and to himself, to find out. He could decide what to do after he knew -- even if he decided to pretend, and be what Robert had wanted to be, if only to quiet that softly wailing voice in his mind that said 'turn back'.
If Robert's memory was the only part of him that wanted to be with Graham... he'd end up being pleased he'd undergone the spell. If he ended up still liking Graham, the spell wouldn't matter -- the only thing it would do would be taking away the things he knew that he shouldn't have known. He'd still see Graham, only now he'd have to ask if Graham wanted olives on his pizza, or if he'd ever gone skinny-dipping, or...
Why had his feet stopped again?
He looked down at them, as if asking those extremities what they thought they were doing. His own mind had a mind of its own - why not other bits of him, he thought, then laughed, harshly. Another deep breath. He wasn't a coward. He'd done too many things, been afraid of too many things, to be a coward now.
He continued on.
It took him an extra half an hour to return to Giles' place, heart racing and palms sweating -- he had to wipe his hands on his jeans again before he reached up to ring the doorbell -- before stopping himself and simply opening the door. "Hey, guys, I--"
Giles and Willow were looking at him. So were Buffy, Riley, and Graham.
"Hey, what's up?" Xander shifted nervously. "This isn't an intervention, is it? I swear I've been a good boy lately. Er, mostly." His gaze slipped over to Graham, and he grinned. There was a ghost of a return grin flashing across Graham's features, before it died away again into expressionlessness.
"I think it best if we all sat down," Giles replied.
Xander frowned. "It's never a good thing when you say that. You say that and then the next thing out of your mouth is--" He stopped himself from repeating the descriptions of upcoming holocausts and ending of worlds that Riley and Graham didn't need to hear about. He tried to think of words to cover, and Willow interrupted.
"It's OK. They know."
Xander found himself staring at his best friend for life, and wondering when *she* had got possessed. Probably around the time she started trying to direct his social life -- which was ever since he'd been four. "Er?" he asked, as glibly as he could manage.
"Long story, or short story?" Buffy asked. Riley was standing beside her, and Xander suddenly recognized the look on the guy's face as determined shell-shock. He recognized it from every other time someone... had...
"They know I'm the Slayer." Buffy looked up at Riley, and got a glance in return. She apparently saw something there that reassured her, because she smiled before turning back to Xander.
"And this is why everyone is staring at *me*? Because I had nothing to do with it. Giles explains it *way* better than me, too." He wondered suddenly, wildly, if Spike were still in the bathroom. Should he call out? Would it change anyone's expression if Spike weren't there?
Then he saw the candles, and the bubbling bowl of something – he hoped he really didn't have to drink the snail slime. Graham took a step forward. Xander didn't look up to see if those shuttered eyes were looking at him, or through him. Or into him, and seeing someone...
"What's the long story?" Xander asked nervously, not knowing if he really wanted to know, but anything was better than wondering if Graham *knew*. If he knew and if he already thought Xander had lied to him, deliberately.
Like Buffy had, only Riley was standing behind her, one hand on her arm and acting as though he would stay there as long as she asked him to. Only Buffy had had a reason to lie, and Xander... hadn't known he was lying. Was that a better defense?
"That's up to you," Graham said quietly. "Are you going through with it?"
Xander didn't reply. He looked at Graham, saw things in the other man's eyes that he could not decipher. He couldn't, but he could. He knew what the hidden fear looked like, what the lines of grief were on Graham's face, and he suddenly wondered where Robert *was*. Would Graham want him to keep those memories, to hang onto someone gone?
"I think I have to," he finally said. Graham nodded, and Xander wondered at the relief he saw. Graham stepped aside, revealing the circle on the floor behind him, drawn in the rug of Giles' living room rug. Xander hoped it was chalk, because *that* much of a cleaning bill was not factored into his budget.
Willow moved aside as well, already digging into the bag, and muttering something Xander had come to know as vaguely witchy. He looked back at Buffy and Riley, their attention back on each other even as they moved to the couch, to observe or help, or stay out of the way, together. Giles was holding a book of matches and beginning to light the first of the scattered candles.
Xander looked at Graham. "If this--" He stopped. He'd decide afterwards, he reminded himself.
Graham didn't answer, but as Xander took a step towards the circle, waiting for Willow to direct him, he felt Graham's hand slip into his.
Xander opened his eyes. He didn't really expect to see anything different -- Giles' living room, his friends gathered in a circle watching him, Graham standing beside him, his hand slipped free during the course of the spell. It didn't take any time at all to notice that he could see nothing different.
Nothing on the outside.
He found Graham watching him, his stoic face hiding what Xander was pretty sure had to be nerves and worry. Fear? Who knew. He didn't.
He didn't. He didn't know. He was staring at Graham's face and couldn't read it, couldn't tell what that look meant. He could feel his heartbeat begin to race and Graham lifted one hand and placed it on Xander's cheek.
That felt familiar.
That sounded familiar. Not soul-deep, not the way it had before, but familiar. Briefly, surface memory flitted through his skin, from the touch of Graham's hand into his mind, and it looked for something more. "Yeah?" he managed, his throat tight and mouth dry. He wanted to grab Graham and hold him tight, and pretend nothing had changed.
"You look like you're about to pass out." Graham's eyes narrowed, and Xander frantically latched onto it, recognising something in it he knew. Xander tried to keep his desperation off his face, and Graham just said, "Maybe you should sit down?"
Why wasn't he asking? Xander wondered. Why doesn't he want to know if it worked? Why don't any of them? He looked around at his friends, found them watching, still, quietly. Buffy and Giles both looked like they always did in times like these. Bad enough there had been so many that he found nothing surprising in their expressions -- worry, confidence, patience. Quietly waiting for him to do or say enough for them to judge the effects of their spell. Willow, also watching, her expression familiar in ways no one else's had ever been -- until Graham, until the Robert in Xander's head had found his long lost love. Xander looked away from her, back at Graham.
He was smiling. Xander blinked. Smiling?
There was a pause, then, and Graham's smile faded slightly, and he tilted his head just so. Xander wanted to reach out and touch his chin, an echo of an intimacy he no longer felt, but that he knew... thought... hoped would be taken the right way. Graham nodded, and said, "Oh."
Before Xander could demand what 'oh' meant, Graham pressed forward and kissed him.
No matter how he shifted, there was a beam of sunlight glaring in his eyes. Maybe if he scooted his chair a little more to the left? Xander glanced over to his right. Nah. He kinda liked where he was, even if he was going blind.
Graham was sitting at the table, to Xander's right. His leg nudged Xander's every so often, and he'd look over at Xander and smile whenever someone said something or someone laughed or someone said Xander's name or Graham's name, or -- actually, Xander realized, Graham was pretty much looking over and smiling at him constantly. Only looking away when he had to make sure the sandwich was going from the plate to his mouth without any unauthorised stops in between.
"We were never this bad," he heard Buffy saying, and Xander looked over to see what she was talking about. Or just to whom. He found Buffy, Riley, Willow, and Willow's friend Tara all looking at he and Graham. Xander glanced over at Graham to make sure he hadn't got mayonnaise on his face or something. Nope, nothing. Just a little confusion, there, which was about what Xander felt.
Xander looked back at Buffy. "Huh?"
She giggled, and gestured from him, to Graham. "You two are so cute! I can't believe you won't let me get pictures."
Oddly -- or perhaps not so -- Riley fielded that one. "Buffy, I already--"
"I know! I know, I was only joking. But you can't deny they're being very cute."
Riley half-grinned. "I think I can force myself to say I don't find either of them cute, at all." He got a Buffy-slap in the stomach, for which he gave her an obliging 'oof'.
"What do you mean you were never this bad?" Xander concentrated on the parts of the conversation he'd been missing, in favor of trying to keep from going blind from sunlight, and keep Graham's hand on his thigh. "I seem to recall quite a bit of insipid mooning and giggling and batting of the eyelashes. And Buffy, you were just as bad," he added, pointing an accusatory finger at his friend. She laughed, and Riley made a noise of protest.
"You were," Graham agreed. "For months, all you could talk about was Buffy's hair, and what she'd said that morning, and where she was going to be that afternoon."
Xander watched as Buffy's expression got all soft, and she turned to Riley. "You did? Months?"
Riley shrugged. "Well, it might not've been... yeah, maybe months." He'd obviously recognized the look Buffy was giving him, and was going for all the romantic brownie points he could get. Wise man, Xander thought, and turned his own attention back to Graham, who still had his hand on Xander's thigh.
The conversation on Buffy and Riley's side of the table grew quiet and incomprehensible to any outsiders, so Xander felt he was safe in ignoring them. He rubbed his foot against Graham's, and looked over at Willow. She was giving him that smug, happy, maternal smile that always made him want to ask her where his allowance was. He'd actually done so when they were six, and she'd given him a quarter. He'd made thirteen dollars off her that way, before he'd realized that she was giving him *her* allowance, and had given it all back. Well, most of it back -- he'd already eaten the ice cream or he'd had given her that, too.
"Yes, mom?" he asked.
"You *are* cute. I'm so glad everything worked out."
Xander was about to respond when he noticed where Willow's arm was, and how it was disappearing under the table at just the same sort of angle... He narrowed his eyes. "Willow? Is your hand in a chaste place?"
She blinked at him, and grew instantly pure, sweet, never me Willow. "No. Why?"
"I'm just wondering why any of us bothered to show up for lunch, if all we're gonna do is play around with our respective respectives."
She laughed, and Graham rolled his eyes. Tara ducked her head, but Xander thought she was smiling under the curtain of her hair. Xander looked more carefully around the table, and raised his hand. "I vote we call it a draw, and each go our separate ways. We've been social, we've eaten most of our lunches, and we'd all like to be behind doors with the person whose hand is on our leg. All in favor?"
There were four "ayes", and something which looked more like a blush than agreement from Willow's girlfriend. Xander figured she'd get over it soon, if she kept hanging around the Scoobs. Xander, however, had other things to worry about.
Graham's hand was no longer exactly on his thigh. Xander was about to gather up the remains of his lunch, when he eeped and jumped up out of his chair. He grabbed Graham's hand -- the same one that had strayed much too close to things he shouldn't be touching in front of Buffy and Willow -- and pulled him after. "Lovely seeing you all, must do it again soon, ta, ta!"
Xander pulled, then pushed Graham away from the table and in the vague direction of his house.
Graham didn't need to be anywhere for an hour. Plenty of time.
He kept looking at his hands. Xander wasn't exactly sure why -- he couldn't remember anything in particular about Graham's hands. Nothing he remembered from remembering Robert's memories -- and following that train of thought had grown easy, in the days since the spell. It would have worried him, but Xander had labelled it and put it in the same mental box as everything else that had happened to him since he'd discovered he lived on a Hellmouth. He didn't have Robert's memories, anymore, but he could remember what he'd noticed -- he knew Graham liked diet coke, and knew he knew it because of Robert. But he couldn't remember the details anymore.
So Xander looked at Graham's hands, and tried to notice whatever it was that made him look. Right now they were resting on Xander's chest and stomach, while Graham was sitting half-beside and half-behind him, legs on either side of Xander. His arms and bare chest pressed against Xander's bare back, clothed legs pressed against clothed legs. Graham kissed the back of Xander's neck.
"Too much?" Graham asked. He'd been asking that a lot in the last couple of weeks.
"No. I don't know why..." He shivered again as he felt Graham's lips touch his shoulder.
They'd had sex exactly three times, since the spell. The first time had been fast, frantic, running home and tearing away clothes to follow up on that first kiss. The kiss which had answered the first most important question on his mind. They'd been frenzied and rough, reassuring themselves, perhaps, that some things would never change.
Afterwards Xander had thought that anyone that way inclined would want to get fucked by someone that looked like Graham. His doubts and worry had squirreled their way into his brain, until four days later, when Graham had finally asked him what the problem was. They'd resumed their pattern of dating -- which meant Thursday mornings, occasional afternoons, and weekends, and they'd simply not seen each other much at all for four days. Talked on the phone, though, and Xander realized that'd he'd said enough for Graham to know there was more Xander wasn't saying.
They'd met again, and Xander had finally admitted what he'd been worried about. Sex that morning had shown him that his body didn't care what his mind thought. It liked this guy and wanted more of him.
By the third time, Xander decided that lust wasn't a bad way to go -- die young from too many orgasms in the shower. In the last week, they'd fallen into the rhythm they'd established a month ago. Sometimes they'd go out, sometimes they'd stay in. Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. They watched football and played basketball and talked about history and classes and things Xander really wanted to do with his life.
There was a whole realm of things they didn't discuss. Xander knew someday -- soon -- they would have to. But right now he was still pretending that his boyfriend didn't know what monsters really were and that the government wasn't digging holes throughout the underground of Sunnydale. Buffy and Riley and Giles could worry about it, and when they'd decided what to do, they would let Xander and Graham know. Good little soldiers like they were.
Xander closed his eyes and leant back against Graham.
"I don't -- nothing. Nothing's wrong." He expected Graham to call him on the denial, but Xander was suddenly realising he was right. Nothing was wrong.
"And that's bad?" Graham asked, sounding like he was smirking, just a little.
The knowledge made Xander relax, a little, even as he demanded, "Hey, leave me alone! I've had a hell of a time, the last couple of months. Last few years! I'm not used to nothing being wrong." He grinned, but he turned around in Graham's arms, and looked at him.
Graham was looking back, serious expression in his eyes. Xander was still learning how to read that, again, but he could tell, now, that Graham understood. Xander gave him a kiss, and thought about spinning back around so they could get on with the being naked and having sex in forty minutes or less. But he didn't. Not yet.
"I keep expecting something horrible to happen, I guess. I feel like I'm walking around on eggs, hoping I don't break something that turns out to be a Horta egg and I get eaten by a pissed off momma alien."
There was a pause. Then, "Have you ever--" Graham cut himself off with a tiny shake of the head.
"No. Well, sorta. But -- mostly no." Xander didn't feel like trying to explain. "All I mean, is, that I... was so ready for the spell not to work. For something to go wrong. I... was so afraid I was going to lose what I felt for you. Now... I'm just waiting for the catch. You know? Things so rarely stay good."
Graham hugged him, and pulled Xander close, leaning them both back against the back of the pulled-out couch. He ran one hand up Xander's arm and down again. Xander watched it. "You said you can't remember him anymore."
"Yeah." The spell had worked. He'd come out of it with nothing more than his own thoughts and feelings. "No more field-stripping an M-60 for me."
Graham chuckled, then continued, still seriously. "You still like me." It was not quite questioning. It had been the only thing on their minds, at first. Did Xander still want to see Graham? The lust was the easy part to answer. The rest had taken some time. He'd thought he'd answered it, though, a week ago. But he still keep thinking... He watched as Graham's hand rested on his wrist, then moved slowly back up, again.
"Yeah. I still like you."
"Still wanna hang out with me."
"And hang in," Xander leered, quietly.
"And nothing's wrong."
"Nothing's wrong," Xander agreed.
"So what are you thinking?"
Xander didn't answer right away. He was still watching Graham's hand, rubbing his arm, tracing an invisible line up, down, back and forth like tracing the path of a lazy brook. He could feel Graham's fingers on his skin as though there were nothing else in the room touching him, but he couldn't tear his eyes away. He loved watching Graham's hands. It was the first thing he'd noticed about Graham, the first thing he'd...
Xander sat upright, and stared at Graham. Graham just looked back, calmly. Xander wasn't so sure it was completely calm, but it wouldn't matter for much longer. He quickly pressed a kiss to Graham's lips, which immediately grew more demanding as Graham opened his mouth and invited Xander in. Xander kissed him, harder, and deeper, and felt Graham's hands running up his back and holding him close. The first thing he'd ever noticed, the first thing he'd fallen in love with. Graham's hands. He loved.
"I love you," Xander whispered as he kissed Graham again.
Thirty minutes would just be time enough.