Feedback:  Please?  Because watching a grown girl cry is just pathetic. Fandom:  Buffy Pairing:  (Xander/Graham) + (Xander/Spike) = Xander/Graham/Spike Rating:  NC-17 Disclaimer:  Mine?  What? *These*?  No, they're Mutant Enemy's.  They just followed me home and wouldn't leave until I played with them. Summery:  Graham and Riley are called back to Sunnydale when the area destabilizes.  When they return, they discover there are new factors in lives of the Scooby Gang, especially in Xander and Spike's.

K, Melissa, here it is.  After reading so much yummy Xander/Graham fic, I had to give it a try for myself.  Spike, being Spike, refused to stay on the sidelines.  This one promises to be a long one, folks - I hope y'all enjoy.

A special thank you to Karen, who never fails to cheer me on, and to Sandy, who in addition to listening to me babble also acts as my patron saint of titles when my brain has gone numb.  Thank you, ladies <hugs>





Uncommon Distractions


by
Kay



Part One

Graham had expected to feel more nostalgic about being back on the college campus.  He'd spent quite a bit of time there, taking classes and pretending to be an ordinary student.  At the moment however, he really didn't feel any bursts of fondness or longing for the old days.

Of course, the fact that he was hiding behind a tree and watching Willow trudge her way to her class might have something to do with it. Being on a mission tended to take away from the nostalgia-potential of situations.  He was concentrating on not being seen instead of reliving the past.

He frowned as he watched Willow stumble a little.  She was moving as though she were half-asleep.  From what he could remember of his own observations and Riley's stories, she was a fairly bubbly person, ready with a smile and a line of babble a mile long.  Watching her yawn for the third time in as many minutes, he doubted she'd be able to stay awake through her next class, let alone hold a conversation with anyone.  He made sure she entered her classroom, then leaned up a convenient section of wall and called Riley.  "Ri, how are things on your end?"

"Sleepy.  I think Tara pulled an all-nighter or something.  She's yawning all the time and since I'm watching her, I keep yawning too."

Graham stood up straight.  "Willow looks exhausted, too."

A dirty chuckle drifted into his ears.  "Maybe they just had a REALLY good time last night."

Graham groaned.  He didn't want to think about them having sex.  Not that the mental images weren't nice, but they reminded him that he wasn't having sex.  "She looks way too worn out for that."

"You're right.  Thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Probably.  They're exhausted because of something they've done that's helping to keep this place quiet."  He relaxed back against the wall.  "Do you want me to call in a preliminary report?"

"I'll do it.  I've got to do something or I'm going to fall asleep here."

Graham didn't argue.  It was good to see Riley taking an active interest in the missions.  Their briefing had included orders for them to stay away from Buffy and her mentor Giles.  Attempts to keep tabs on the older man had failed miserably:  surveillance cameras died as soon as they were brought on line and bugs transmitted nothing but static, if they transmitted anything at all.  Their superiors believed that he had access to black market technology that protected him.  Graham was more inclined to listen to Riley's explanation:  Giles probably had some sort of magical barrier set up to protect himself.

He knew he was in the wrong line of work when belief in magic came easy.

Because they were unable to maintain any reliable surveillance over Giles, all attempts to monitor him had been canceled for fear that his `superior technology' would alert him to any watcher's presence.  Buffy had been spending the majority of her time in recent weeks with him, so all surveillance over her had been cancelled as well.  He and Riley had been given strict orders to stay away from her for the time being.  That order had worried Graham; bad enough that Riley was worried about his ex, but then he was forbidden to see her.  Fortunately, he seemed to be taking the orders in stride, saying something about having time to get his head on straight.

The sound of a bell brought Graham back to himself.  He ducked around a corner and watched students file out of the packed classroom.  Willow was one of the last ones out, her eyes half-closed and her feet hardly rising from the ground.  According to her schedule, she was done with classes.  For her sake, he hoped she was going straight home.  He shadowed her all the way to the dorm, at which point he broke off the tail and joined the surveillance team set up in a van outside the dorm.

Squeezing into the tight quarters, he nodded to Riley, who'd beaten him there.  "Do we have visual and audio?"

One of the techs nodded.  "Whatever technology that Giles character has, he hasn't been sharing it.  We've got them both on line just fine."  He fiddled with a few knobs and the van was filled with sound.  All the men inside the van listened intently as they watched the color monitors that revealed what took place inside the dorm room.

Willow lay on the bed, her head pillowed on Tara's lap.  "I'm so sleepy," she said quietly.  "I didn't expect to feel this tired."

Tara gently stroked her fingers through her girlfriend's hair.  "Me, too.  It does make sense, though.  Erecting a ward large enough to cover all of Sunnydale was a really good idea, but I'm still not sure we were ready for it."

"It had to be done.  There were too many new demons in town.  We couldn't deal with all of them-"

Tara quieted her with soft touches.  "I know, I know.  Without Buffy, there wasn't anything else that we could have done.  I'm just glad it worked."

Willow sighed as Tara cuddled her closer.  "I should call her."

"You know she and Giles are probably busy."

"I'm worried about them.  I'm worried about Dawn.  She was so sick the last time we saw her."

"Giles will figure it out.  You know he will.  Dawn's going to get better and then we'll have Buffy back."

Graham looked at Riley, who looked baffled.  "Dawn?"

Riley's frown disappeared abruptly.  "Buffy's little sister."

That was right.  How could he have forgotten Dawn?  So Dawn was sick and Buffy and Giles were concentrating on her.  Her friends had coped by putting up some kind of magical shield around Sunnydale to keep the HSTs out.  Graham nodded to himself.  That felt right.  He quietly ran his interpretation past Riley, ignoring the disdainful look the tech gave him for believing in anything except technology.

Riley nodded.  "That's what I'm thinking.  Xander's probably doing research or something like that, maybe running the magic shop with Anya to help out."   He climbed out of the van, waiting for Graham to follow.  "We should report back in."  He told the tech to call them if the girls gave indication of moving and then led the way to their vehicle.

Graham thought them going anywhere a remote possibility.  He was half-tempted to order Willow and Tara a pizza anonymously to make sure they ate before they gave into sleep.  He hesitated for a moment, then gave in to the impulse and pulled out his cell phone.  He ordered the pizza and paid for it with a personal credit card.  He caught Riley smiling at him. "What?"

"Nothing."  Riley looked back through the windshield, concentrating on the road once more.  "Even though we've got this thing figured out, we should probably cover all the bases."

Graham shot him a narrow-eyed looked.  The smile hadn't disappeared.  "How?"

"You know, check up on the rest of the group.  Keep an eye on whoever's left tomorrow.  Let's see...we followed Willow and Tara today, so that leaves-"

Graham balled up a convenient piece of paper and tossed it at him. He knew confessing his crush was a mistake.  Riley hadn't been fazed by Graham coming out to him; instead, he took childish glee in teasing him about the various men he found attractive.  He never should have told him why he was always asking about Xander.  He never would have heard half the stories Riley made a special point to tell him, but...he sighed.  Any amount of teasing was worth hearing Xander stories, especially since Riley was a good enough friend to edit Anya out of them so Xander always seemed available.

A man could dream, couldn't he?

"Tyndal might not agree with you," he said, stifling the hope rising within him.

"He seems like a methodical man," Riley said.  "And Xander's always been in the thick of things before."

Graham glared at him for as long as he could before giving up and laughing.  "Government approved stalking.  I get paid for it this time!"

"It's got to be better for you than when you were doing it on your own.  How much extra time did you have to spend in the gym after scarfing junk just to talk to him?"

Graham flipped Riley off and relaxed in his seat.  It had been worth it.  And he might just be fooling himself, but most times he bought something from Xander, he ended up with extra fries or a drink he hadn't ordered.  It was no undying declaration of love, and it had played havoc with his cholesterol, but it was enough to give him some hope.  Xander didn't just give free onion rings to anyone.  Graham would know - he'd spent enough time watching him, after all.

Their meeting with Tyndal was brief.  He listened to their reports, nodding thoughtfully.  "I concur with your observations, men.  The actions of the two women seem to be the most likely explanation for the quick turn around in the situation here."  He flipped through some papers on his desk and for a moment Graham was sure they were going to be dismissed.  Tyndal looked up.   "Still, I prefer to be thorough.  I want you to shadow the Harris boy tomorrow, just to be sure all our bases are covered."

"Yes, sir."  Wonder of wonders, both of them managed to keep a straight face.  As they left the office, Graham knew he was in for a long night of teasing.  That was fine by him.  If it helped distract Riley from his own problems, then Graham would take the cute remarks and jokes at his expense in stride.

Besides, he was going to see Xander tomorrow.  What else mattered compared to that?


~*~*~*~*~


"You know what I hate most about this job?"

Graham didn't bother to answer.  He knew he wasn't expected to.  He just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.  A few more minutes and they'd be back at base, back where there were showers and clean clothes and aspirin.

Riley wasn't fazed by his lack of response.  "It's not the hours.  I can handle being out all night, I've been doing it for years.  It's not the slime and mucus and ick that we run into, either.  That stuff washes.  It's the lack of bragging rights."

Graham nodded, continuing his methodical pace.  "Next time we're in a bar and everyone starts bragging about the ops they've been a part of-"

"We're going to be stuck with our mouths glued shut by top secret clearances," Riley finished.  "We won't be able to say anything so everyone else is going to feel all big and bad because they beat up on some po- dunk terrorist death squad.  Meanwhile, we have just taken out an entire nest of  Dimoir demons-"

"Way tougher than any pansy-ass bunch of terrorists!"

"And we won't be able to tell anyone and make them shut their damn mouths."  Riley shifted his pack with a muffled curse.  "First stop, medics tent."

Graham grunted his agreement.  The Dimoirs had been a bitch to route out, but they'd finally won.  He wanted a shower more than anything else, but he wouldn't turn down pain relievers.  He was feeling mildly pulped and Riley was in worse shape.  Lately his tall friend had been throwing himself into skirmishes with near-mindless intensity, risking his life and his health without hesitation.  Graham was worried about him.  The silent fury that filled him had only appeared once he left Sunnydale.  Graham suspected it had to do with his break up with Buffy, but Riley refused to discuss it.  All Graham could do was try to keep him alive until he worked things out for himself.

It wasn't an easy task.  They were based in the middle of the South American jungle working to contain a recent outbreak of demon attacks on humans there.  The government considered it good training for further encounters inside US borders.  Their excursions into the jungle were filled with gunfire and blood and death.  Graham was beginning to look forward to returning state side and having some downtime.  He just had to make sure Riley made it back with him.

The medics bandaged them up quickly, used to having them come in with assorted scrapes and bruises.  Graham was halfway into shower mode when they were stopped by a soldier ordering them to report to their commanding officer immediately.  Graham cast a worried glance at Riley.  They couldn't be sent back out into the field.  He was exhausted and Riley was in no shape for any sort of combat.  While they were waiting to be admitted into the office, Graham tried to come up with reasons that would excuse them from going back out.

When they were finally admitted into the office, their CO was flipping through a folder.  He didn't look up as they entered.  "At ease.  I know you've just come in from the field.  You're due for some downtime, but I'm afraid I'm gong to have to ask you to prepare to ship out immediately."

"Where to, sir?" Riley asked.

"Back to Sunnydale."  Graham didn't miss the way that Riley tensed up.  "The situation there has destabilized drastically in the past few days. It is too important a strategic area to allow this to continue.  We need people to go in and assess the problem and if need be take steps to restore order.  You two are the most qualified men we have.  There's a plane leaving in an hour.  Pack up and be on it."

"Sir."  They acknowledged and saluted as one.

"Dismissed."

As they packed, Graham waited for Riley to say something.  There really wasn't a way for him to broach the subject - "So, Ri, looking forward to seeing the ex?"  "Gee, it'll be great to get back to the scene of so much death and destruction and humiliating defeats, won't it?"  But Riley didn't say a word; he just packed his gear with robotic efficiency.  They were on the plane in plenty of time and still Riley stayed silent.  Graham fought the urge to fidget.  He was worried about Riley and worried about the situation in Sunnydale.  What could've happened to Buffy that she let things get out of hand?  What if something had happened to her?

What if something had happened to one of her friends?

A chill rippled through him and he pushed the thought away.  Xander was fine.  He had to be.  Graham wasn't going to have spent so much time thinking about him and dreaming over him only to find out something had happened to him while he was gone.  As it so often did in quiet moments, his mind turned to Xander.  He'd never really spoken to the dark-haired man, but his dreams had been full of him ever since he'd first seen him.  He'd slowly grown to recognize him as a part of the Slayer's team.  Whenever Riley spoke about time spent with Buffy, Graham listened most intently when he talked about things Xander had done or said.

He had been fascinated by the smile in Xander's eyes, the way he laughed his way through life in a town filled with creatures spawned from hell. Graham wanted to know what it was like to be able to do that.  He wanted to know what it was like to hear Xander laugh, to maybe even be the one to make him do it.  That fascination had been influenced by a healthy dose of attraction:  he hadn't missed Xander's broad shoulders or long eyelashes. Soon, chance encounters hadn't been enough contact for him and he had begun to deliberately seek the other man out.  He'd risked food poisoning and worse going to the various jobs that Xander had held.  He would order his burger or buy his Icee and linger in the store, watching the way Xander moved with covetous eyes.  Every so often he'd be rewarded by having Xander smile at him as he wished him a nice day.  It wasn't much, but the warmth he felt inside each time it happened was more than enough to keep him coming back for more.

Dividing his time between worrying about Xander and worrying about Riley, Graham gave in to the pain medication coursing through his system and fell asleep.  He awoke as the plane touched down.  Looking at his friend, he couldn't tell if Riley had slept or not.  The dark smudges beneath the blond man's eyes didn't give him much hope.  The silence between them continued as they were led to the office of the major in charge of maintain surveillance over the Sunnydale area.

Major Tyndal shuffled the papers on his desk.  "Take a seat, gentlemen.  I know you're just in from the field."  As they did so, he pushed two folders across the desk toward them.  "The situation in Sunnydale has changed since the time you went airborne.  At first, there was a total breakdown in the Slayer's control; HSTs were running unchecked through the town and chaos levels had noticeably risen.  This continued for several days until the situation reached a critical level, at which point you were called in.  Eighteen hours ago, the situation changed.  The influx of HSTs into Sunnydale has slowed nearly to a stop and those already there have ceased all overtly hostile activities.  There is still more disorder than usual, but it has returned to manageable levels.  Our surveillance on the Slayer reveals that she is still out of the field, so something else must be causing the stability.  For this reason, your mission has changed.  You are no longer to restore order, but instead determine exactly what changed last night and how order is being maintained."

As Tyndal spoke, Graham perused the file in his hands.  He nodded to himself as he found that Buffy was alive.  For reasons not known, she had stopped patrolling the town as Slayer.  He snuck a glance at Riley and was pleased to see him relax for the first time since they'd been told they were returning.  Graham was relieved as well; he hadn't wanted to think that something serious might have happened to Buffy.  Experience told him that it took a Slayer to control the Hellmouth and he didn't want to imagine the sort of chaos that could result if she was taken out of the picture permanently.  Even more importantly, he didn't want to think about how Riley would react to losing Buffy forever.

"Any thoughts, gentlemen?"

Riley inhaled slowly.  "Buffy didn't always work on her own."  Graham knew Riley was reluctant to bring her friends into this, but it was his duty as a soldier.  Besides, it wasn't as though they hadn't already come to the attention of the military.

"That is our current hypothesis as well.  We believe that her friends have brought the situation under control.  We want to know how they are doing so and if their efforts are going to last or if this is merely a temporary measure.  We've moved surveillance teams into position to monitor them.  You two have had the most experience working in this area:  I'm relying on you to join the surveillance and assess the situation.  Is that understood?"

Graham rose to his feet, as did Riley.  "Yes, sir."

"If it is indeed the work of the Slayer's friends, then you are to also determine if they will benefit from our aid.  Remembering the catastrophe that occurred the last time we became involved in Sunnydale, I am reluctant to send any men in unless certain that they will be able to effectively deal with the situation."

"Yes, sir."

"Quarters have been assigned to you.  You have twelve hours downtime to rest and finish reviewing your briefing materials before joining the surveillance teams.  Dismissed."

Graham saluted and followed Riley out the door.  Out in the hall, Riley sighed hugely.  "She's alive."

Graham grasped his shoulder in a strong grip.  "Come on.  You need to sleep."  He was pleased to see Riley nod.  He had a feeling that they had better take what rest they could get.  Missions on the Hellmouth had a tendency to get ugly fast and with no warning.  Forget the distractions presented by Buffy for Riley and Xander for himself; they were going to have their hands full just staying alive.




~*~*~*~*~


Graham sighed blissfully and opened the passenger door to the vehicle. Humming to himself, he climbed inside.

"Are you sure you don't want to drive?" Riley asked.

Graham just grinned and shook his head.

"Right.  Distracted.  I should've known."  Riley got behind the wheel with a rueful smile.

"You should've," Graham agreed.  Riley knew he was in no shape for concentrating on the road.  Oh, he could have done it if it had been necessary, but he really didn't want to.  They'd just finished staking out Xander at his current job.

God bless construction work.

Riley had seemed bored most of the time they had spent watching the construction site of a new set of tract of housing, but Graham had been enthralled.  Xander had walked around in faded jeans and a button down shirt, carrying lumbar and tools.  He had been quiet, but had laughed and joked around with the other workers when they spoke to him.  He seemed popular, always ready to lend a hand if it was needed before anyone could even ask.  Graham hadn't been able to hear anything that was said, but the smiles on the faces of the men around Xander made him wish he could.

As the day had grown warmer, Xander shed his shirt and just wore a white undershirt.  Riley had made a show of waving his hand in front of Graham's face to break his concentration.  Graham smacked the offending hand away; it was blocking his view of Xander.  The dark-haired man's face had been set in lines of concentration as he had focused on sawing boards down to size and plotting out angles and distances for walls and foundations.  The afternoon sun had summoned up a sheen of moisture that covered Xander's skin and his body had gleamed as he worked the day away.

Graham closed his eyes, picturing Xander once more.  The image that rose in his mind wasn't perfect:  Xander had only really spoken when spoken to, and his eyes had been dark with weariness.  It wasn't the same exhaustion as they had seen in the girls, but Graham still didn't like it.  He asked Riley, "Did you notice how tired he looked?"

"What, you did?" Riley asked with exaggerated surprise.  "I would've thought you were too busy staring at his ass."

Graham glared at him.  "I didn't just look at his ass."

"True.  The rest of the time, you were making sheep's eyes at the rest of him."

"Only you would make a comment about sheep's eyes.  I guess that unhealthy obsession you developed with them back on the farm never really - hey!" They were going to have to clean up the car.  There were too many pieces of paper lying about that Riley could ball up and throw at him.

"He should head straight home," Riley said, mind back on the mission. "We'll connect with the surveillance team there and see if we can find out what's got him so worn out."  They couldn't risk following him too closely themselves for fear of being spotted, so another team would handle that until he reached his house.  Graham and Riley crammed themselves inside a different surveillance van just as the sun started to go down.

Graham watched the video screens with interest, wanting to see what Xander's apartment looked like.  It didn't have much in the way of furniture in the living room or two bedrooms and it was cluttered as though Xander hadn't had time to do any real cleaning.  It wasn't dirty; it just wasn't neat.  It looked as though Xander hadn't been spending much time there...Graham resolutely ignored that line of thought.  No thinking about Xander spending all his time with Anya for him.  He'd just think about Xander in a tank top some more instead.

The sound of the van's radio crackling to life startled him out of his reverie.  Harris has been joined by an unknown individual.  They're both enroute to his apartment.

"Copy that," Riley acknowledged.  "It's probably Anya," he said quietly, glancing at Graham.

"Probably," Graham agreed, keeping his tone neutral.  No need to broadcast his crush to the techies, now was there?  He watched the monitor more closely and was rewarded after several minutes by seeing Xander enter the apartment closely followed by...Hostile 17?

Graham heard Riley swear and instantly sympathized.  He'd heard Riley complain about Spike and the way the vampire was sniffing around Buffy more times than he could count.  He remembered Spike from his incarceration within the Initiative compound, when he was just Hostile 17 awaiting chip-insertion.  He'd noticed the vampire because of his amazing eyes and lean body, feeling the insistent pull of lust even as he'd reminded himself that the man was evil.  What the hell was he doing with Xander?

Neither man said anything.  Xander dropped his tools on the floor and headed for the bathroom, the only room without a camera in it, while Spike walked into the kitchen.  While Xander showered and changed his clothes, Spike pulled a bag of liquid out of the refrigerator and poured it into a saucepan, as well as stuck a frozen dinner in the microwave.  By the time Xander returned, hair damp and wearing clean clothes, Spike had the dinner waiting for him on the counter.  Xander took it with a quiet thank you and wolfed it down.  Spike watched him, sipping the heated liquid that he'd poured into a mug.

Blood, Graham realized.  Spike kept blood in Xander's refrigerator.  And made Xander dinner!  What the hell was this?  Riley was no help; he looked even more confused then Graham felt.  They both stared at the screen, trying to understand what was happening.

Spike watched Xander over the rim of his mug.  "Maybe you should stay in tonight.  You look tired."

Xander licked his fork clean and shook his head.  "We've got work to do. No rest for the weary."  He threw out his dinner box and opened one of the drawers in the kitchen and pulled out a pair of stakes and a handgun.  "No rest for the wicked, either," he said, shrugging on a jacket.  "Let's go."

Spike tossed back the rest of his blood.  Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he followed Xander out the door.

"Where the hell are they going?" Graham asked.  "Xander just spent the last ten hours at work!"  He grasped the door handle to the van's side door, waiting for the all clear signal.  As soon as the tech nodded, he and Riley hit the street.  They kept their distance, not wanting either man ahead to notice them.  Neither of them spoke; focused on the mission, Graham pushed his concern to the side to deal with later.

Xander and Spike moved with purpose; they weren't out on the random wandering patrols that Riley had described as being the usual for Buffy's friends.  The two men walked quickly toward their goal:  one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries.  Once inside, they slowed down, speaking in quiet tones to each other.

Graham shook his head.  They were an open invitation to attack.

He should have remembered what thinking thoughts like that in Sunnydale could do.  Five figures appeared from the shadows, circling Xander and Spike.  Graham eyed Riley, waiting for a signal that they should intervene.

Riley shook his head so Graham went back to watching, muscles tense.  If Xander looked like he was in trouble, he was going in.  He was sure Riley would be right beside him.

Xander and Spike separated, turning to keep the beings surrounding them in sight.  The five strangers vamped out as they closed in.  Xander immediately pulled out the stakes he had stashed away, Spike vamped out, and the fight was on.  Xander staked one of the vampires immediately and fended off another with his stake, while Spike dusted two others before they could react.  Spike barely paused before leaping upon a third, knocking it to the ground and snapping its neck before thrusting a stake into its heart.  The blond man was on his feet immediately and moved in on the remaining vampire.    Obviously frightened, the final attacker hesitated, giving Xander the opportunity to stake it cleanly.

Graham watched as Spike spoke intently to Xander.  It didn't make any real sense, but it looked as though Spike was protecting Xander.  Not just making sure that he didn't die, which would have made sense from the situation Riley had explained:  Spike had to keep him alive or else Buffy would kill him.  Spike had gone beyond that, though.  He had hurried the killing of the vampires he'd faced, not taking any time to toy with them or enjoy the carnage.  Not only that, but now he was checking Xander over carefully, damn near fussing over him to make sure that he hadn't been hurt.  It was impossible, but it looked like Spike cared about Xander, that he was actually worried about whether Xander was injured or not.

Graham consciously relaxed his hands, loosening the fists he hadn't realized he'd made.  He didn't like seeing Xander in danger; he liked seeing Spike practically fawn over him even less.  Spike had to have some sort of plan, one that would ultimately end up hurting Xander.  It might relate back to the vampire's obsession with Buffy, the one that made Riley crazy every time he talked about it.  Whatever it was, Graham wasn't just going to stand by and let the blond bastard use Xander.  He'd find a way to work it into mission parameters: he wasn't going to let Xander be hurt.

Riley's hand on his shoulder forced Graham out of his brooding reverie. Graham nodded sharply to indicate that his head was back in the game.  He watched as Spike argued with Xander, their voices too low for him to know over what.  Whatever it was, Xander refused to go along with Spike.  The vampire lit a cigarette, his jerky movements telegraphing his irritation clearly.  He wasn't angry enough to leave Xander, though; the two men continued walking deeper into the cemetery together.  Graham and Riley drifted along behind them, waiting to see what happened next.

The demon that arose slavering from behind a tomb came as a complete surprise to Graham.  He immediately pulled out his side arm, as did Riley beside.  Of course, that was after he took a few steps back and successfully managed not to soil himself.  He clamped down on his panic, smoothly shifting into battle mode.  His emotions faded away and he became the soldier he'd trained so long to be:  calculating and cool and efficient. It was this calm that allowed him to notice a few things, even as the demon rose to its true height and loomed large in the moonlight.

First, Spike and Xander didn't really seem surprised by the demon's appearance.  Neither man wasted anytime with surprised exclamations or panic;  instead, Xander retreated a few paces and pulled out the handgun he'd retrieved at his apartment.  At the same time, Spike launched himself at the demon, not hesitating for a moment as he tore at the creature with clawed hands.

Second, Spike was definitely protecting Xander.  The vampire was pitting himself against a demon, a creature that he could injure and torment as much as he liked without any repercussions from the chip inside his head. Riley had spent hours talking about the reasons why he loathed Spike, so Graham knew quite a bit about him.  He knew that Spike should have been inflicting as much damage on the demon as possible, drawing out its pain as he concentrated on enjoying the torture.  Instead, he was working as quickly as he could to kill the demon, glancing back at Xander whenever he could, checking on the dark-haired man to be sure that he was all right.

Graham and Riley held their positions.  So long as Spike and Xander were in no real danger, they had no reason to break cover and compromise the mission.  That didn't mean that Graham wasn't burning to interfere, to pull Xander away from both the demon and the vampire, but he stayed true to his training and didn't reveal himself.

Spike kicked the demon once more in the head then leapt away from it, giving Xander a clear shot at it.  Holding his weapon with surprising professionalism, Xander fired two shots.  With a wailing sigh, the demon collapsed, its skull shattered by the two bullets.  Spike nodded approvingly toward Xander.  The two men spoke quietly, then walked quickly out of the cemetery, heading back to Xander's apartment.

Graham and Riley continued to follow them at a distance.  After watching the two men enter the apartment building, Graham led the way to the surveillance van.  He sat down and scooted closer to the wall of television screens, needing to see what was coming next.

Xander put away the stakes, then reloaded and stored the gun.  He then disappeared into the bathroom again and once more emerged with damp hair, wearing a pair of blue flannel pants and nothing else.  He yawned hugely. "Night, Spike."

"Night, Whelp."  Spike was sprawled across the couch flipping through a magazine.

Xander walked into his bedroom and flopped down onto the bed, sighing as he wriggled around on the sheets.  After finding a comfortable position, he fell asleep almost immediately.

As soon as Xander disappeared, the vampire tossed the magazine onto the table and rose to his feet.  He began to move about the apartment, quietly putting used dishes in the dishwasher, shifting Xander's tools off to the side so they were no longer a hazard, and just in general neatening the apartment.

"I wonder if he does windows," the tech commented.

Graham exchanged a confused glance with Riley.  What the hell was going on?  Spike was now Xander's houseboy?  He didn't like this at all.  Spike wasn't acting at all like the vampire Graham remembered from his confinement within the Initiative base.  There, he'd been coiled energy personified, muttering scorching curses and always looking for a chance to escape.  Riley had told him tales of Spike gleefully reveling in violence, and yet the blond man was picking up the apartment of a supposed foe.  And since when was Xander comfortable about having Spike in his apartment?  They were wishing each other good night like they were Waltens instead of enemies.  Graham impatiently motioned for the tech to turn up the volume.

Spike finished with his cleaning.  For a moment he stood in the middle of the apartment, shifting his weight as if in indecision.  The moment passed and he walked silently across the room to Xander's bedroom door.  He paused outside, head cocked to the side as though listening.  After a few moments he slowly pushed the door open and went inside.

Graham's muscles tensed as he readied himself to move.  He knew Spike was chipped, knew that he couldn't hurt Xander, but he couldn't relax.  The moment it looked as though Spike was going to do anything to harm Xander, Graham was going to be out of the van and up the stairs to stop him.

Spike stood in the doorway, staring down at Xander.  His gaze roamed over the sleeping man's body, tracing the lines of his back, the way one of his legs hung off the bed.  He stood like that for long minutes, then walked toward Xander.  He reached out and lifted Xander's leg, gently maneuvering it back onto the bed before pulling the blanket up to cover him.  He brushed his fingertips over the exposed skin of Xander's shoulder, then silently left the room.  He walked over to the other bedroom, shed his clothes and fell into bed himself.

After neither man moved for a half-hour, the tech leaned back in his chair. "Show's over.  Harris will sleep for another five hours and then get up for work, and this Spike guy will sleep for most of the day.  Then he'll either leave wearing a protective layer for the sun or wait for Harris to come home."

Graham nodded and he and Riley exited the van.  As they drove back toward base, Riley looked over at him.  "Weird."

"Weird is putting it mildly.  Since when is Spike Xander's guardian angel?"

"I think Tyndal needs to hear about this."

Graham agreed.  As soon as the returned to base, they reported to the major.   Tyndal received them in his office, listening to their observations without comment.  He nodded slowly as they fell silent.  "I think you men are right.  Harris and this Spike's actions are out of character, based on all the intelligence we've gathered on them.  It needs to be looked into."

"I have a theory, sir," Graham volunteered.  After Tyndal nodded his encouragement, he continued.  "I believe that Willow and Tara's spell is keeping any more HSTs from entering the Sunnydale area, but that doesn't explain why the ones already present are more under control.  I think that Harris and Spike are responsible for the restoration of order."

"Or at least play a large part in it," Riley added.

Tyndal considered their words.  "I agree.  Tomorrow, I want you to initiate contact with Harris.  If he's part of the reason the situation here hasn't completely gone to hell, then I want you to help him.  We need the Hellmouth stable for the sake of national security and I'm not willing to rely on the efforts of one civilian and an HST."  He shuffled some of the papers on his desk.  "For the time being, avoid contact with Summers.    Until we understand why she's abandoned her work as the Slayer I don't want her involved."

Graham and Riley snapped salutes at the major and were dismissed.  As they walked toward their quarters, Graham watched Riley carefully.  He'd just been ordered to stay away from his ex.  Graham had no idea what to say, so he settled for sneaking glances at his friend at every opportunity.

Finally, Riley couldn't take it anymore.  "I'm fine, Graham.  I'm not happy, but I'm fine."

Graham nodded slowly.  Riley had never been able to lie to him, not about anything that really mattered.  "Just checking."

"I know."  A sudden grin lit the light-haired man's face.  "Actually, I should be worried about you.  After all, tomorrow you're going to be meeting Xander."

Graham froze, his shirt half-pulled over his head.  He glared at Riley. "You fuck."

Riley's grin was unrepentant.  "We've been ordered to contact him.  To work closely with him."

Graham threw his shirt at Riley.  "Now I'm never going to get to sleep."

Riley pulled the shirt off his head and tossed it back at him.  "Just don't be too loud, all right?  I need my beauty rest."

"No amount of rest is going to help that mug of yours."  Graham fell easily into the pattern of bickering, but his heart wasn't in it.  He was going to see Xander tomorrow.  He was going to talk to him and be near him and not have to stalk him...

He was never going to get to sleep.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander fiddled with the radio in his car, searching for a station to help keep him awake on his drive home.  Spike hadn't shown up at the site, so he didn't have anyone to talk to.  Settling on Linkin Park, he sang along quietly as he drove.  Work was going to slow down for the next few weeks as inspectors moved through the area, doubling checking that everything was up to code, so he was looking forward to the coming half-days.  He was going to get some much needed sleep.

Just not while he was driving.  He turned up the volume.  He had to stay awake; there was more work to do tonight.  He and Spike needed to finish cleaning out the nest of fledges infesting the Quiet Rest Cemetery. They'd gotten some of them the night before, but Xander knew there were more, and he knew where they were hiding.  They needed to get rid of them before they had a chance to multiply.

He parked his car and walked up the stairs, hoping that Spike would be home.   He liked coming home and having someone be there.  He liked coming home and having Spike be there.  He recognized that thought as dangerous, but he couldn't help it.  Spike had become a friend, a good friend that Xander looked forward to seeing.  The animosity between them had disappeared, its only lingering trace remaining in the bickering they engaged in as a matter of habit.  The heat was gone from their words, though; the battle of words was now just a game.  Over time, Xander had come to appreciate Spike's biting humor, his eagerness to join in a fight, his clear, blunt way of looking at situations, the way his black jeans hugged his ass...

Xander shook his head.  That thought went beyond dangerous.  It was an unauthorized thought, one he didn't want to have, and it kept coming back again and again.  He paused outside the door, taking a moment to gather himself before unlocking it and walking inside.  He opened his mouth to speak, but didn't get the chance.

"Save me the Ricky Ricardo bit," Spike called from the couch.  "I hate that damn show."

Xander closed his mouth and grinned.  "But that's why it's so much fun to do."

The blond man raised two fingers in an obscene gesture.  Xander ignored him and dropped his tools by the door.  He grabbed a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt and headed for the bathroom, needing to take a shower and wash away the sweat and dirt from the day at work.  He washed quickly, hoping that if they got out on the streets early, he'd be able to come back and get a little more sleep.

Exiting the bathroom, he looked around the apartment for Spike.  The vampire was in the kitchen, watching two pans he had on the stove.  Xander wandered over.  "Double helpings tonight?"

"One of them's for you."  Spike stirred one of them with a spoon.

Xander watched in horrified fascination as the thick red liquid swirled around in the pan.  "Please tell me you're using two spoons."

The look Spike shot him was gleefully evil, and sexy as hell.

Another unauthorized thought!  Xander backed away from Spike and busied himself by rooting around in the fridge, searching for something to drink.  This situation was bad and it was getting worse.  Xander could get around lust.  Lust, he was used to.  He could still vividly remember being subject to the whims of his hormones when he was a teenager, when the sight of a girl's bare leg or a boy's muscled arm would send heat and embarrassment coursing through him in equal measure.  He was a little more in control now, and had learned to live with the sudden rush of desire that he felt when he looked at Spike.  He used to be able to control it by reminding himself what Spike was; it was hard to check out a guy when you were concentrating on not letting him kill you.  Now that he had become a friend and the next best thing to a roommate, Xander found that it was more and more difficult to ignore the lust he felt toward the vampire.

It was more and more difficult to ignore that lust growing into something deeper and even more frightening.  Familiarity was supposed to breed contempt, but in Xander's case the exact opposite was happening.  He couldn't do this.  It was stupid and futile and dangerous.  There was no way Spike could ever feel the same way.  Xander was only going to get himself hurt and he'd probably end up destroying the friendship they'd begun to build between them.  He had to figure out a way to stop this.

He settled on a bottle of juice and straightened, turning in time to see Spike pour the contents of each pan into separate mugs:  cream of something soup and blood.  "You'd better have used separate spoons," Xander muttered, twisting the cap off his juice.

Spike smirked as he handed him his mug.  "Drink up."

As Xander sipped at his soup he realized how much his life had changed.  A month ago he never would have allowed Spike anywhere near his apartment, and certainly wouldn't have invited him to enter.  Now he looked forward to having the vampire in the house; the other man's presence was warming him even more than the soup.  Xander sipped at the soup, hiding his smile behind the rim of the mug.  Spike wasn't an enemy any longer.  Now he was a friend, practically living with Xander, and every day Xander feared him a little less and fell in love with him a little more.

Xander choked on his soup.  Bad brain!  That thought was so unauthorized that his brain was now committing crimes as far as he was concerned. There was no way he was falling in love with Spike.  He was had too much going on in his life to be making that colossal of a mistake.  His head began to ache as his thoughts swirled in tightening circles of denial and confusion.

He was grateful when the doorbell rang, eager for a distraction from his thoughts.  He swallowed the rest of his soup and headed for the door.  He had no idea who it could be.  Willow and Tara should still be too worn out to even think about moving beyond the campus.  It wouldn't be Buffy or Giles - they were still communicating solely by telephone, so focused on their task that nothing else could catch their attention.  He peered through the peep hole, not willing to just open his door.  He might be suicidally foolish when it came to his love life, but no way was he going to just open the door and wait for something to take his head off.

Although that would certainly teach his brain a lesson.

He swore as soon as he realized what he was seeing.  "Spike, maybe you'd better head out the back way."

"What is it?"

"Riley.  Riley Finn and he's got someone with him."  Xander turned around and glared at Spike.  "Why are you still here?  I think the guy with him was a part of the Initiative."

The vampire shook his head.  "Why don't you open the door?"

"Spike, what the hell is Riley doing back in town with the Initiative? They could be here for you."  Xander fought down the panic he felt at the thought.  "You need to get out of here."

"I'm not going anywhere, pet."  Spike's posture was one of complete nonchalance, but his fingers moved restlessly, telegraphing his readiness for action.  He noticed Xander's hesitation and smiled.  "It'll be all right."

Xander knew it was crazy, but he believed him.  He nodded and opened up the door.

Riley's smile was definitely nervous.  "Hey, Xander."

"Riley."  He didn't open the door all the way and blocked the view to his apartment with his body.  He couldn't help it; as long as he was able, he was going to try to protect Spike.  "Is there something I can help you with?"

Riley nodded.  "I think there's a way we can help each other.  Can we come in?"

"Sure."  Xander stepped back to allow Riley and the man with him to enter.  He hadn't known the other man well, but he'd come to like him.  He wanted to think that he could trust Riley but he couldn't be sure.  Riley had gone back to the Initiative, leaving Buffy and the rest of them behind.

He watched Riley and the other man enter.  Neither of them seemed especially surprised to see Spike.  The vampire bared his teeth in a parody of smile and Riley nodded toward him.  Xander used the opportunity presented by the two men looking around his apartment to study Riley's companion.  He recognized the other man as a member of the Initiative and a friend of Riley, but he knew him from other places, too.  The blue-eyed man had shown up at quite a few of the jobs Xander had held in the past year, ordering burgers and ice cream and nachos from him.  Xander had noticed him because of his strong handsome features and intense blue eyes.  He'd nursed a secret fantasy that the other man had come to all those places just to see him.  It had been a nice dream to fall into and help pass the time during different mind-numbingly boring jobs, but he knew in reality that the guy was probably just addicted to junk food.  He had to work out quite a bit in order to compensate...Xander felt the old rush of attraction, just as strong as ever, wash over him all over again.

If he didn't gain control of his libido soon, he was going to have to call on Willow to do some sort of temporary neutering spell.

"What are you doing back in town?" Xander asked as Riley and Graham finally settled down into the two chairs.  He sat down on the arm of the couch and was conscious of Spike coming to stand beside and slightly behind him.

To his credit, Riley answered immediately with no hint of deception.  "We were told that the situation here had destabilized and that we were needed to restore order.  By the time we got here, things were almost back to being under control and the mission changed to trying to figure out what had been done and how we could help to maintain order."

Xander nodded.  "Things were getting bad, but Willow and Tara cast a spell that helped a lot.  Spike and I have been doing clean up ever since."

"If you'll let us, we want to help with that."  Riley hesitated.  "What made the situation go bad?"

Spike's hand pressed lightly against the center of Xander's back, a wordless gesture of support.  Xander drew in a shuddering breath.  "I don't know how much you've heard.  A few months ago Joyce got sick. Buffy's mom," he added for the sake of Riley's friend.  "She'd seem to get better for a little while and then things would get bad again.  Just when we thought she was getting better, she died."  His throat closed up and he couldn't speak for a moment.  He could still feel the loss of Joyce ripping through him.  To him, she'd represented home and family and love and stability; she was home, the kind of home he someday hoped to make for himself.  When she died, a lot of that hope died as well.

Spike's hand moved in soothing circles, a point of contact that helped Xander to focus on finishing the story.  He cleared his throat, but his voice still came out rough.  "After Joyce died, Buffy took over caring for Dawn.  Her sister.  It looked like we might be able to find a way to juggle everything so that things would come out right.  Then Dawn got sick."

"What's wrong with her?" Riley asked.

"We don't know.  Buffy and Giles are concentrating on trying to find out."

"That's why she hasn't been patrolling."

"The rest of us have been trying to take up the slack."

"What's he doing here?" Riley asked, nodding toward Spike.

Xander didn't have to look at Spike to know the gesture he was making was obscene.  "Spike's helping.  Without him, Sunnydale might have been a smoking crater by the time you got here instead of its lovely demon-infested self."  He jerked his chin toward Riley's friend.  "What's he doing here?"

"He's here to help, too.  Xander, this is Graham Miller.  I worked with him in the Initiative.  He's a good friend."

Graham.  Xander now had a name to go with his fantasies.  He stood up at the same time as Graham and reached out to shake his hand.  The other man's hand was warm, his grip firm.  Xander wanted to pretend that it lingered, but he knew that was a combination of his own doing and wishful thinking instead of reality.  "So now what?" Xander asked.

"We want to help, if you'll let us," Graham said.

Xander hesitated.  He and Spike could used some help.  Even with reduced hours coming up he wasn't going to be able to keep up the pace of patrolling and work for much longer.  It was risky; he wasn't certain that he could trust them completely.  He looked at Spike and read concern in the other man's blue eyes.  If he and Spike were careful, they could keep the secret of Dawn's nature hidden.  With a little more effort, they could probably hide the arrangement Xander had made as well.  "I'd be glad of help.  Can we all agree to bury the hatchet and work together?"

Graham and Riley nodded.  Spike shifted restlessly.  "Just so long as it's understood that the first time you two make a wrong step, I'll find a way to bury that hatchet in your heads."

Riley flushed and rose to his feet.  Xander held up a hand to forestall his reply.  "We can take the bickering on the road.  We've got a nest of fledges to clear out tonight, so I don't want to waste any more time." Xander waited for everyone's acknowledgement and geared up before leading the way out of the apartment.

As they walked toward the cemetery, Spike stayed closed to him.  "The fledges are going to be in the same place we found them last night," the vampire said.

Xander shot him a grateful look.  Spike was making it seem as though he were the one that knew where to find the demons they hunted night after night.  He was protecting Xander's secret.  Xander gave in to the warmth that filled him and smiled his thanks at the vampire.  He received a smile back in return, and Spike moved even closer to him.  The vampire's presence made it difficult to talk to Riley or Graham; Spike was always right there, between him and the other men, blocking his view of them.  It was a little awkward, but Xander liked having him close.  If nothing else, it was stopping him from looking like an idiot in front Graham by babbling at him.

Once in the cemetery, Xander and Spike led the way to the place where they'd encountered the new-made vampires the night before.  Predictable creatures, those that remained were in the same area.  The temptation of three humans proved to be too much for them and the remaining members of the nest soon converged on the four of them.

Xander concentrated on keeping fangs out of his neck as he fended off the vampires that had chosen to focus on him.  He knew Riley could take care of himself and he figured Graham could do the same.  He trusted that Spike would be watching his back; the vampire had kept him alive over the past weeks, never once abandoning Xander to the demons they'd faced.  He staked an overconfident fledge first thing, and then nailed its indignant buddy. He ducked quickly as a third ran at him snarling, bringing one of his stakes up sharply and spearing it squarely through the chest.  As ash showered down upon him, he looked around quickly.  Riley and Graham were each finishing up their last opponents and Spike was watching him with worried eyes.

"Are you all right?"  The vampire reached out as though to touch him, then aborted the movement and lit a cigarette.

Xander shook his head.  What was he thinking?  Why would Spike want to touch him?  "I'm fine."  He watched Graham kick his fledge in the face and follow through with a smooth thrust with his stake.  His eyes caught every ripple of muscle, every graceful, deadly twist.  He jerked his gaze away as soon as he realized he was staring.  The last thing he needed to do was alienate Graham.

As Graham and Riley checked on each other, Spike leaned in and asked, "Where to next, pet?"  His lips almost brushed Xander's ear as he spoke.

Repressing a delighted shudder, Xander shook his head.  "Nowhere."  He tapped his head.  "I'm empty.  We're going to have to go visit him again."

Spike scowled, his jaw tight with tension.  "Tomorrow," he said firmly.

Xander acquiesced easily.  He wasn't all that eager to pay the visit, but it had to be done.  "You'll come with me?"

Spike blinked.  "Of course."  He sounded surprised that Xander had even asked.

Xander resisted the urge to smack himself upside the head.  He really needed to talk to Willow about that hormone-suppressant spell.  He was really beginning to imagine things.  He watched Riley and Graham walk over to join them.  Now he just needed to get home without looking like a complete idiot in front of Spike or Graham.  Watching Graham's confident walk and small half-smile and feeling Spike's leather-clad shoulder brush against his, he knew he was in trouble.


~*~*~*~*~


Graham watched in concern as Xander yawned again while walking back to his apartment.  The dark-haired man wasn't just tired from the fight; he was utterly exhausted.  Some of it could be expected:  Xander had acquitted himself well during the confrontation with the vampires.  He'd fought with determination, relying on experience instead of fancy maneuvers.  Coming down from an adrenaline high usually sapped one's strength, but Xander looked ready to curl up and sleep in a convenient alley.

He shifted impatiently.  He wanted to make sure Xander was all right, but he was having a difficult time even getting a clear view of the other man.  Spike was constantly beside Xander, blocking Graham's access to him.  It was making the soldier a little crazy.  Finally meeting Xander hadn't helped him get over his crush; instead, it only made things worse.  He'd gotten to see Xander up close, look into his dark eyes and hear him say his name.

He'd touched him.  He'd reached out and taken Xander's hand.  He'd cheated a little during the handshake and held on for a few extra seconds, memorizing the feeling of Xander's callused palm, the strength in his fingers and the heat of his skin.  That little touch had sealed Graham's fate.  His crush was rapidly becoming something stronger with every moment he spent with Xander.

Even if there was a vampire with some kind of peroxide fetish standing between them.  Refusing to look at Spike any more than he had to, Graham put his secret ops training to use and managed to maneuver around the blond man so he could walk next to Xander.  "Are you sure you're all right?"

Xander's smile lit his eyes.  "Yeah.  I'm fine."

"You just seem awfully tired."  Graham hoped he was coming across as concerned rather than nosy.

Spike laughed derisively.  "Can't imagine why he'd be tired.  He just worked a full day at a construction site and then went running about a bloody cemetery."

Graham glared at him.  He didn't care how touchable Spike's cheekbones were, he wasn't going to just sit there and let the vampire snipe away at him and interrupt his Xander time.  Besides, he didn't like how close Spike was staying to Xander.  The blond man was practically hovering over him.  He was distracted from making a snide comment in return by their return to Xander's apartment building.

Xander smiled a little hesitantly.  "You guys want to come up?"

Graham nodded quickly.  "There are still a few things we should discuss." He refused to turn around and look at Riley.  He was technically stepping into Riley's position and usurping his place, but he knew his friend was going to be amused rather than upset.  He didn't want to turn around and see Riley laughing at him.  On the upside, his quick agreement seemed to have irritated Spike, which made up for the vampire laughing at him, just a bit.

Once inside the apartment, he settled down in the chair he'd occupied before.  He watched Spike follow Xander around the apartment like he was his shadow, only stopping once Xander sat down on the couch.  Spike flopped down beside him, sprawling across the rest of the available space.

Riley cleared his throat.  "I'm kind of surprised that Anya isn't here waiting for you."

Xander's gaze dropped to his hands.  "Anya left," he said quietly.  "She sort of freaked out after Joyce died.  It was like she all of a sudden realized that being human meant dying.  She said she couldn't stay in Sunnydale.  Not even..."  His voice trailed away into silence.  "I couldn't leave.  She did."

Graham hated the pain he could hear in Xander's voice.  He hated Anya for not being willing to stay with him.  He hadn't liked thinking about his crush being with someone else, but he liked knowing that Xander had been hurt even less.  He noticed that Spike was glaring at Riley.  Because his question upset Xander?

Spike stood up abruptly.  "I think it's time for you two to go."

Graham wanted to object, but Xander's yawn made him reconsider.  Xander did need to sleep.  He rose to his feet.  "Do you want our help tomorrow night?"

Xander smiled gratefully at him.  "It would make things a lot easier. Could you meet us back here around ten?"

"Why not right after sunset?" Riley asked.

"I've got something to take care of."  Xander's voice sounded extremely casual, but the shadows that appeared in his eyes and Spike's sudden restlessness sent off warning bells in Graham's head.  Whatever this something was, it couldn't be good.

Riley stood up.  "Then I guess we'll see you at ten."  He moved toward the door, eliminating any chance Graham had for asking questions.  He had no choice but to wish Xander good night and follow Riley to the door.  He and Riley paused, waiting for Spike to join them.  When the vampire gave no sign of leaving, Riley stopped Xander from closing the door behind them. "Isn't Spike leaving?"

Xander shook his head.  "Spike lives here, most of the time.  He doesn't pay rent, but he's my roommate.  A lot has changed since you left." Behind him, Spike stared directly at Graham, one eyebrow arched.  Xander hesitated.  "Have you seen Buffy yet?"

"No.  I can't."  Riley shrugged helplessly.  "I just can't."

Xander reached out and touched Riley's shoulder briefly, his eyes full of commiseration and understanding.  "I'll see you tomorrow."  His gaze slid over to meet Graham's and then he disappeared behind the closing door.

Graham fumed quietly as they headed back for the vehicle.  He wasn't imagining things:  the look that Spike had shot him had been a challenge. What was Xander thinking, letting a vampire stay with him?  Sure, Spike was chipped, but he was clearly still up to something.  "I don't like this at all," he said, climbing into the driver's seat.

"What, that you don't get to stay with him?"

"Besides that."  Graham drove back toward base.  "Did you notice that Spike was the one leading us to the vampires?"

"While last night it was Xander who was doing the leading?"  Riley nodded.  "I caught that.  I want to know how they know where to go.  If it's through Spike's contacts, then why was Xander leading last night?  I also caught on that whatever Xander's doing tomorrow, he doesn't want us to know about it.  It's a good thing we'll be following him."

"What about Spike?"  Graham knew that it couldn't just be his imagination.  "He's acting weird, isn't he?"

"He's always rude, but you're right.  He's staying too close to Xander." Riley stared blindly through the windshield.  "If he can't get close to Buffy right now, he might be doing this as a way to stay on her good side.  You know, protect her friend and win points with her that way."

Graham didn't reply, but he didn't agree.  He could understand that Riley was focused on Buffy but he believed that it was twisting his friend's perspective.  Whatever Spike was up to, it was centered around Xander. The vampire had been Xander's deadly little guardian devil, always at his side, warding him from every threat.  That sort of dedication went beyond trying to get on someone's good side:  Spike had a vested interest in keeping Xander safe and keeping him close and Graham wanted to know what it was.

Back at base, he and Riley reported immediately to Tyndal's office.  Riley briefly laid out the events of the evening.  He concluded his report by saying, "I believe that both Harris and Spike bear further scrutiny and they definitely deserve our continued cooperation.  They are the only ones taking an active role against the descent of chaos."

After Graham nodded his agreement, Tyndal considered Riley's words.  "I'm going to keep the surveillance on both of them.  I want you two to work with the surveillance teams, but your chief concern is to work with Harris and Spike and make sure the HSTs don't take over this town.  I'll be expecting reports from you every evening."

"Yes, sir."  Graham saluted and followed Riley out of the office toward their quarters.  He watched Riley strip down for bed.  He couldn't do the same:  he had too much restless energy inside him.  He knew that he'd just end up staring at the ceiling and shifting continuously until Riley threatened to kill him.  "I'm hitting the gym."

Riley grunted his acknowledgement.

Graham made his way to the gym and started doing laps around the empty track, setting a fast pace to burn off the nervousness that filled him. As he ran, he pictured Xander smiling a greeting at him, Xander reaching out to take his hand, Xander focused and determined in a fight, Xander working in a white undershirt and gleaming in the sun... There was no denying it; he had it bad.  He knew it was only going to get worse, now that he was under orders to spend time with Xander.  Maybe he'd be able to figure out what Spike was up to.  No matter what Riley thought, Graham knew that the vampire's real focus was Xander.  It didn't matter how much help Spike was being, or how sexy he looked in black:  Graham wasn't going to sit there and let him get away with whatever he was planning for Xander.  Not when Graham was there to stop him.  Not when Graham had some plans for Xander himself.


~*~*~*~*~


"You know, maybe we should look into getting you involved in an anger management program."

Spike glared up at Xander.  "I can manage my anger just fine."  He focused his attention back on the fledge lying helpless beneath him.  He slammed its head down against the ground a few more times.

"We do have somewhere to be."  Xander leaned back against a tall headstone with his arms crossed over his chest.

The reminder just made Spike growl and increase the force of his attack. When the fledge was unconscious and no longer begging for release, Spike staked it and stood up, brushing ash off his duster.

"Feel better?"  Xander's manner was joking, but the concern in his eyes was real.

Spike ignored the question.  "I thought you were in a hurry."

Xander shook his head and started walking.  "You don't sound like you feel better.  Maybe you should try something else.  Maybe you could join an encounter group or something so you can talk about your feelings with someone."

Spike raised his hand in an obscene gesture behind Xander's back.  Talk about his feelings?  The only person he needed to talk to about his feelings was the person who was responsible for them.  The person who made him feel so protective that he turned into a bodyguard, the person for whom he wished he could bleed and hurt, the person who made him want to go on existing even though he was neutered by the chip.

The person who was taunting him with bleeding 'anger management therapy' and trying to distract him out of his bad mood.

He didn't know how it happened, but then, he didn't expect to.  It didn't do any good to sit around and try to understand love, and he knew better than to try to fight it:  all he knew to do was accept it and give in to it and try to enjoy the ride as much as possible.  He knew that he found Xander attractive:  with his dark eyes and mobile mouth and delicious scent of fear and determination, he was hard to resist.  It was getting to know Xander that had doomed him, though.  Before, he could sit back and laugh at the other man's clumsiness in a fight or anxious nattering when with his friends.  Now he'd seen Xander's stubborn refusal to ever give in or give up, heard him laugh for true and not for show, watched him half-kill himself to protect his friends and include Spike in that category.  It hadn't taken long for Spike to realize that he was in trouble, that lust had deepened and transformed into love while he wasn't paying attention.  Now he no longer imagined just tumbling Xander down to the ground and taking him; he wanted to make Xander laugh and gasp and beg him for more, to hold him before and after and know that Xander was his.

Caught up in his thoughts, he was surprised by how quickly they reached the crypt they were seeking.  He reached out and caught Xander's arm. "There are other ways we can do this."

Xander shook his head.  "No way is going to work better than this.  I have to do this."

Spike released him reluctantly.  He hated this, but one of the things that drew him most to Xander was the dark-eyed man's refusal to stop just because something was difficult.  He knew that he couldn't stop Xander from doing it, so he would do his best to not make it any harder than it had to be.  "I'll be waiting, pet."

Xander smiled at him and touched his shoulder comfortingly.  "It won't take long," he said reassuringly before entering the crypt.

Spike growled and kicked over a headstone.  Xander was trying to comfort him.  Him, when Xander was the one the Cynon had fixated on.  Spike hated Cynons on general principles and hated this one even more for hurting Xander.  Unrelated to vampires, Cynons fed off the emotional energy of their victims; the darker and more painful the emotion, the better the damn things liked it.  He and Xander had encountered this one when they had just started to patrol in Buffy's place.  Spike had wanted to kill it for its interest in Xander, but before he could, it had offered Xander a compromise:  if Xander would allow the Cynon to feed from him, the Cynon would use its psychic abilities to keep him informed about demonic activity on the Hellmouth.

Xander, being Xander, said yes.

Spike moved closer to the crypt so he could see through the door.  He hated watching this but he didn't want to leave Xander alone with the Cynon.  He compromised by watching from outside.  The minute the bastard made one move to go beyond its bargain, Spike would take its head off.

The Cynon was circling Xander, skimming over the ground in that smooth gait peculiar to its species.  In appearance, it was closer to human than most demons, with skin of palest blue and small horns in a darker shade ringing the top of its head.  Its over-large eyes were fixed on the dark-haired man and its tongue skated over full lips.  "What shall we do today?" it mused in a low voice.

"Something that won't take too much time?" Xander suggested.

Spike ground his fist into the stone of the crypt, focusing on the pain as a way to stop himself from walking in there and dragging Xander out. Xander knew what was coming and dreaded it, but he still found the will to mouth off a bit.  It made Spike proud as hell, and made watching that much more difficult.

"I think...loneliness.  Yes.  I think that will do nicely for tonight." The Cynon reached out its hand so that it hovered bare inches away from Xander's face.  "Loneliness."  It hummed quietly as it began to summon forth that emotion from Xander.

Fine tremors ran through Xander's frame, growing stronger as each second passed.  Face twisted in lines of pain, he stubbornly kept his eyes open, refusing to look away from the demon.  As his shaking grew worse, tears began to stream down his face and still his eyes remained open and his gaze locked upon that of his tormentor.

Not even the pain was enough distraction for Spike now.  He stopped grinding his fist bloody and watched helplessly.  Cynons worked by getting inside the minds of their victims and summoning up emotions on which to feed.  Right now, Xander was reliving every moment of loneliness he'd ever experienced all at once, the pain of it magnified a thousendfold for the demon's pleasure.  Spike knew loneliness, knew what a killing sensation it was and he hated that Xander had to go through this.  He'd stand in for Xander if he could, but the Cynon had no interest in him.  Only Xander.

A noise distracted him from the interior of the crypt and he turned quickly, ready to take out his rage and frustration on whatever was foolish enough to sneak up behind him.  He froze when he saw who it was: Riley and Graham.  "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing," Riley said.

"Where's Xander?" demanded Graham.

Spike fought to keep himself from slipping into gameface.  Did Graham think Spike didn't know?  Did Graham think Spike couldn't smell the attraction and interest on him whenever he looked at Xander?  Spike knew what was going on:   Graham wanted his Xander.  "Xander's busy," he snarled.

Graham moved as though to look in the crypt and Spike instantly countered him, blocking his view.  What was going on inside was none of their business.  He knew that Xander didn't want people to be looking in on him and watching him while he suffered.  Even more, he knew that Xander didn't want the Initiative to find out about the Cynon.  Not only was he nervous about what they could do to him, but he feared that they would take some action against the demon and destroy his valuable source of information. Spike might not be able to take Xander's place before the Cynon, but he could help make sure that nothing else happened to upset him.  The soldier boys were staying outside the crypt.

And Graham especially was staying away from his Xander.

"He doesn't want your help in this," Spike said, standing firm.  "He doesn't need it.  It's none of your business."

Graham shook his head.  "Whatever you're hiding, it ends now.  Move or be moved.  I'm checking on Xander."

Spike stepped forward, getting into the soldier's face.  "No.  It's not your concern."  When Graham moved to side step him, Spike grabbed his arm.  He knew it was foolish, knew that he couldn't do anything to stop Graham, not with the chip in his head.  He still had to try, had to protect Xander in any way that he could.

Graham countered by grabbing Spike's arm and trying to throw him off. Spike refused to be moved.  Ignoring the first warning twinges from the chip, he shoved Graham backwards.  He shook his head to clear it and set himself stubbornly in front of the blue-eyed man.  "No."  He watched Graham clench his jaw and prepared himself for a fight.  It was going to hurt, but he was going to buy Xander as much time as possible.

"Spike?"

The shaky voice behind him drew his attention away from the confrontation.  He turned and watched Xander exit the crypt, face pale and drawn in lines of pain.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander hurt.  The inside of his head throbbed, protesting the Cynon's invasion of his mind.  His eyes burned from the tears he had shed and his arms and legs were weak with reaction.  He felt battered inside and out. When he stumbled outside, he just wanted to get away from the Cynon and reach the comfort of Spike's company.  He called for the vampire as soon as he left the crypt.

Spike was at his side in an instant.  "Are you all right?  How are you feeling?"  He gently touched Xander's arm and guided him over to a low gravestone so he could sit.

Xander raised his hands to his temples.  "It hurts," he admitted quietly. "But it always hurts."  His headache was intensified by the new information pressing in on his awareness:  the locations of various demons, the plans they'd made, how long he had to find and kill them before they could hurt any innocents.  He looked up at Spike, wanting to tell him what he'd learned and what they should do next.  Before he could say anything, he caught sight of Riley and Graham staring at him.  "What the hell are they doing here?"

Spike pressed a few aspirin into his hand.  "They just showed up.  They wanted to interrupt, but didn't get the chance."

"Are you all right?"  Spike could've been hurt trying to stop them.

Spike laughed.  "You're asking me that when you're the...take your aspirin."

Xander obediently dry-swallowed the pills, grimacing at the foul taste. "I don't know why I bother with these.  They don't help."  He knew he was going to have to deal with Graham and Riley's presence but he wasn't up to it.  He needed a little while longer to recover first.

"No?"  Spike's fingers were cool against his forehead.

"Not any more.  I'm almost at the point where I'm willing to try...your alternative."  At the last moment he remembered they had company and he censored himself.  Spike seemed to dislike the pain and exhaustion that shook him every time he went to the Cynon.  After a few encounters, Spike went so far as to offer Xander his blood.  Not to turn him, though; apparently a vampire's blood held certain healing qualities.  Xander had refused the offer when it was first made but he was almost willing to try it now.

Spike's hand moved down to grip his shoulder hard.  "Anything you want, pet.   Anything."

Xander thought the blue eyes staring down at him darkened and that Spike's voice sounded eager and almost...husky.  He stared up at Spike for a moment before he realized how ridiculous his thoughts were.  Spike was just offering to help him as a friend.  Imagining that there was anything else behind the offer was foolish and dangerous and Xander already had enough of both going on in his life at the moment.  He contented himself with smiling up at Spike.  "Thank you."

Spike squeezed his shoulder again, then shifted to stand beside him rather than in front.  He still kept his hand on Xander's shoulder, though.

Xander had an unobstructed view of Graham and Riley.  "What are you doing here?"

"That's what I want to ask you," Riley said.  "What the hell happened to you?  What's inside of there?"

Xander stared at him steadily.  How had they found him and Spike?  They weren't supposed to meet them for another hour.  "You were following me. You, or a surveillance team you've got targeting me."  It was the only thing that made sense.  It also explained why the soldiers hadn't been all that surprised to see Spike.  "How long have I been under surveillance?"

Riley hesitated, then sighed and gave in.  "Under a week, I promise you. There's surveillance in your apartment and you've been followed to work. Beyond that, no one's been able to stick with you when you've gone out on patrol."

Spike snarled.  "You've been following us?"

Xander laid his hand on Spike's stomach in a light restraining touch. "Standard procedure.  What else would they do if the situation in dear old Sunnyhell went to shit?"  He turned his attention to Riley and Graham.  "I want it called off."

"On one condition," Graham said.  "What was going on in there?  What hurt you?"

"I've got one more condition, then," Xander countered.  "I'll tell you, but I need your word that you won't interfere."

"Fine!" Graham said.  "What happened?"

Xander chose his words carefully.  He really didn't want to explain the whole thing to them.  "I've got an arrangement with a demon.  He gives me information about the other demons in town in exchange for the privilege of scaring the hell out of me.  It's not a big deal."

"You look like you've been through hell," Graham objected.  "We've got trained surveillance teams at our disposal.  You don't have to do this."

"Did your surveillance teams know that a pair of Fritandor demons are planning on making their home beneath the Second Street nursery school? Easy access to snacks for the young ones that are on the way."  Xander shook his head.  "Your surveillance isn't going to cut it.  I need him. We need him if we're going to have a chance."

"I don't like it."

"Neither do I.  Neither does Spike.  That doesn't change the fact that it's our best bet for keeping people alive.  Are you going to stay out of this?"

"Yes," Graham agreed.

"And pull the surveillance from us," Spike insisted.  "All of it."

"So long as you don't resist us patrolling with you, that shouldn't be a problem," Riley said.  "We need to keep open communication."

"Fine."  Xander didn't like the creepy feeling of knowing that he'd been monitored for the past few days without his knowledge.  He understood why it had been done, but he was glad to know that it was over.  "Now that we've got that settled, I guess we should get moving."

"Are you sure you're all right?" Spike asked.

"I'm as good as I'm going to get tonight.  I think we should tackle the Fritandors tonight.  I don't want them to establish themselves and then have to dig them out later."  He rose carefully to his feet, aware of Spike hovering over him, ready to offer him aid if he needed it.  He smiled briefly at the blond man and stretched painfully.  "Let's go."

As they walked, Spike stayed close to him, watching him carefully.  Xander knew the first time that he showed an overt amount of pain or weariness the vampire would insist on taking him home.  Xander figured it was a leftover from Spike's time spent with Drusilla:  the blond man had definite tendencies to be a mother hen.  It messed with Xander's head, making him think that Spike cared more than he really did, making him think that he was special to Spike instead of realizing that it was just the way Spike was.

Thanks to the information in his head, finding the Fritandors was easy. Getting a chance to fight them wasn't.  He was willing to take his chances and try to take them down, but he never even got close.  Spike charged into the fray immediately and took out the male of the pair before the demons even knew they were in trouble.  Xander moved to take on the female but Graham got there first.  Between the blue-eyed solder and Spike, Xander and Riley never had an opportunity to try to land a blow.  The other two men dispatched the enraged demon in a matter of minutes.  Xander and Riley exchanged irritated glances, although Xander thought he saw amusement in Riley's gaze as well.

When Spike and Graham fell back to join them, Xander asked, "There's a few fledges who are aspiring to try to rise above the level of minions not far from here.  We could go take care of them."  His last words were distorted by a yawn.

Spike shook his head.  "No more tonight.  You need to rest."

Before Xander could object, Graham agreed with Spike.  "If you've got to work tomorrow, you're going to need to sleep."

Finding no support when he looked at Riley, Xander gave in.  "Fine.  You two can use the extra time tonight removing all the bugs from my apartment."  He frowned.  "Are you watching anyone else?"

Riley answered quickly.  "Not any more.  All teams will be called off tonight."

Xander nodded.  "Good."

Walking back to his apartment was an interesting experience.  Spike and Graham both walked close to him.  Xander knew what was going on, of course.  Spike might not say anything, but he had to be nervous being so close to members of the Initiative.  He was staying close to Xander because they were less likely to make a move on him in front of a witness.  No doubt Graham was worried about a vampire being so close to a human, so he was staying close to Xander to make sure that Spike didn't try anything.

Not that Xander had to accept reality.  As they walked, he allowed himself to build a little fantasy:  Spike and Graham were both attracted to him - better yet, they were in love with him.  They were walking close to him because they couldn't bear to be too far from him.  It was silly and impossible, but it helped to pass the time as they walked home.  Smiling quietly to himself, he allowed himself to pretend for a little while that he had someone to love and, best of all, that he was loved in return.


~*~*~*~*~


Graham caught Riley's eye and nodded quickly.  Riley winked to signal that he understood and Graham tensed his muscles, ready to put their plan into action.

The past few days had been killing him.  Spending a few hours every night in Xander's company had sealed his fate:  he was now in love with the other man.  The way Xander smiled at him, the way he never complained even though he was obviously tired or hurting, the way he listened to everyone speak and was guided by them in making decisions, the way his pants clung in all the right places when he hunkered down to watch their prey...it all combined to cause him to fall helplessly for Xander.  He was incredibly grateful to have been ordered to work with Xander because there was no other way that he would have been able to get to know the other man.  He was finally able to see beyond the always-cheerful surface and see the dedicated, determined man hidden beneath.  He was in love with Xander.

Now if only Spike would get the hell out of the way so Graham could do something about it.  The damn vampire was always there, always standing between Graham and Xander so that Graham couldn't say anything to the dark-haired man without Spike being a part of the conversation.

If he hadn't been so hung up on Xander, Graham might have decided to make a play for Spike and turn the vampire's presence to his own advantage. Spike was handsome, no denying it; and the way he moved and talked pretty much screamed sex.  Graham hadn't been immune to the attraction when Spike had been captured months ago and he wasn't immune now.  This time around, though, his heart was involved and that changed everything.  He could still feel the pull of Spike, but it was Xander that captivated him.

That was the reason he had convinced Riley to help him.  Not only could he count on Riley's help because he was a good friend, but also because it was sure to irritate Spike.  Riley still hadn't forgiven Spike for giving him hell about his relationship with Buffy.  Graham was inclined to think it was a head game Spike had played with Buffy and Riley both; if he really wanted her, wouldn't he be hanging around her now?  He wasn't going to argue with his friend, though, not when Riley was about to run interference for him.

Acting on Graham's signal, Riley picked an argument with Spike.  "Are you sure you know how to handle these demons?  I ran into something like them with the Initiative and we did something different."

"Pissed yourselves and ran screaming for mommy?" Spike suggested snidely.

The argument was off and running.  Riley held Spike's attention by first challenging his knowledge and then just by bickering with him.

Not wasting the chance given to him, Graham quickly moved to take Spike's place at Xander's side.  He smiled at the dark-haired man.  "Hey."

Xander smiled at him.  "Hey."

Graham felt like an idiot.  Here was his one chance and he had no idea what to say without coming off as an idiot or overly creepy.  'Hey, I'm in love with you'?  'I know we've just met but would you like to stay with me tonight, stay with me every night'?  He'd just send Xander fleeing in justified terror.  He glanced over at Riley and Spike.  "They sound like an old married couple."

Xander rewarded him with a grin.  "God, you're right.  Just don't tell them that."

Graham felt better.  At least he'd made him laugh.  "So are these Glidernts the usual demon?  Slavering for human blood and all that?"

"All that and ugly.  Ugly by even Hellmouth standards."  Xander shuddered.

"I noticed that," Graham said.  "I never got to see anything attractive when I was stationed here."  Now or never.  "Not until the past few days, that is."  He held Xander's gaze.

Xander stared at him for a moment as the meaning of Graham's comment sank in.  Color rose up in his cheeks, but he didn't look away.  "I've, uh, noticed that the quality of the nightlife has gone up myself."  His voice was a little shaky, but a hesitant smile played at the corners of his mouth.

Xander was flirting back!  Graham managed to resist the urge to do a victory dance.  He smiled and scooted closer Xander.  "Would you like to try exploring some of the new nightlife?"  He winced.  He always ended up sounding cheesy when he tried to be coy.

The color deepened on Xander's face, but he held Graham's gaze.  "I haven't gotten a chance to do much exploring lately," he said.  His expression became a little naughty.  "And most of my interaction with the local nightlife involves pointy objects."

Graham laughed.  "Ain't nothing wrong with pointy objects."  He sobered a little as he said earnestly, "We could start exploring with something small.   A movie theater maybe?  Or a restaurant."

Xander grinned at him.  "I think that could be a lot of fun."

"What could be a lot of fun?"  Spike's voice was loud in Graham's ear.

Graham swore and took a few steps back, thoroughly startled by the abrupt interruption.  Spike took advantage of his startlement and eeled his way back to stand beside Xander.  Graham glared mutinously at Spike and refused to answer.

"Hurrying up and taking care of these demons so I can sleep.  If we finish quickly I'll be able to sleep for six hours!  That sounds like fun to me."  As he spoke, Xander glanced over at Graham and the blush stayed on his cheeks.

Graham grinned at him.  Xander was willing to keep their date a secret and he was looking forward to it.  He caught Riley's gaze and shot him a surreptitious thumbs up.  Riley grinned, sharing in his triumph.

As they neared the place that Xander had identified as the demons' location, Graham calmed down and focused on the fight that was coming up. All of them readied themselves, pulling out weapons they'd brought with them.  The building the Glidernts were hiding in was little more than a one room shack and Graham didn't like the idea of being hemmed in so closely with the demons.  "Maybe we could lure them out?"

"With what?" Riley asked.  "Tell them that we're the take-out they ordered?"

"No way," Spike muttered.  "Glidernts have taste."

Graham and Riley both turned on the vampire, but Xander was there in between them.  "Let's focus on getting the bad guys before we turn on each other, all right?"  He looked at Spike.  "Do you speak their language?"

"Not much," Spike admitted.

"Enough to say something about their mothers?"

"I could imply that they have mothers.  That should be enough to bring them out here."  Spike looked toward the shack and yelled in a language that was mostly gargling.

The response was immediate.  Two demons came crawling out of the shack, shrieking at them in the same gargling language.  They scuttled forward on four legs, waving another pair in the air as they charged the men facing them.

Graham hoped his face wasn't twisted up as much as he thought it was. Ick-face wasn't especially an attractive look for him, but those things were nasty.  He blasted away with his zap gun without hesitation, not wanting the damn things to get too close.  After a few rounds, he noticed something.  "Shooting them only pisses them off!"

Spike sneered at him.  "Guess I'll have to take care of things the old-fashioned way, then."  He pulled a long knife out of his boot and gargled out a few more insults.

Graham pulled out his own knife and moved to help Spike.  He knew Riley could take care of himself; his friend was slicing away at the second demon with a definite look of disgust on his face.  Ignoring Spike's snarls, he helped the vampire stab the Glidernt, learning its weak spot by trial and error.

Just as it fell lifeless to the ground, Graham heard Riley's shout for help.   He turned and watched as the second Glidernt caught Riley with its front   legs and heaved him into the air.  Xander abandoned his own efforts at slicing and dicing and tried to help Riley, only to be knocked down hard to the ground when Riley fell against him.

Graham wasn't quite sure how he crossed the distance to reach the second demon; one moment he was standing over the dead body of its pal and the next he was stabbing it vengefully, one thrust for Riley and the next few for Xander because no one hurt Xander while he was around.  He was vaguely aware of Spike at his side, spewing curses and tearing the creature apart with his own blade.  The Glidernt soon collapsed in a lifeless heap. Graham took a few steps back, panting a little from the exertion.

"Damn."  Riley stared at the ruined pile of flesh.  "Damn."

Maybe he went a little overboard with the killing.  Then he looked at Xander, who was rubbing the back of his head with an expression of pain and changed his mind.  He wanted to kill the demon all over again.  He moved toward Xander, but Spike beat him to his side.  Graham managed to ask his question first, though.  "Are you all right?  Are you hurt anywhere?"

"Riley's no light-weight," Xander admitted, letting Spike help him to his feet.  "But I think I'm OK.  I bumped my head a little."  He stared in horrified fascination at the dead Glidernt.  "Wow.  Did it yell something back about your mothers?"

Graham kept quiet and ignored Riley's too-mild expression.  He was going to hear about this later, he knew it.  All his protective instincts were over-active where Xander was concerned and Riley wasn't going to pass up the chance to tease him over it.

Spike seemed to want to ignore the question as well.  "Let's get you home, eh?"

"You'll be able to sleep," Graham added.  The way Xander looked at him with a hidden smile told him that Xander hadn't forgotten their earlier flirtation.  The flicker of warmth inside him grew.  He fell into step behind Xander, keeping Riley quiet through judicious use of death glares. The teasing was going to have to wait until they were alone.  He didn't want to take any chances.

Xander invited him and Riley up to the apartment to wind down and have something to drink.  Graham accepted immediately, but Riley came along willingly.  Graham knew Riley was getting to like Xander more; by spending time with him without Buffy being a factor, Riley was becoming Xander's friend, instead of just being his friend's boyfriend.  Plus, it pissed Spike off every time they came up.

When they were all sitting down and supplied with something to drink, Xander looked over at Riley.  "Um, have you seen Buffy at all yet?"

The smile faded from Riley's face.  "No."

"You should, man.  You two need to talk.  There was too much going on when you left, too many distractions that you couldn't get past then but I think now you might have a chance."

Riley stared down into his glass.  "I want to think that, Xander.  I do. I just can't talk to her.  I'm not ready yet and I'm...I'm under orders."

Xander nodded in immediate understanding.  "That sucks.  Just think about it, ok?"

Riley nodded.

When Spike stood abruptly, Graham braced himself for a scathing comment that would compel him to help Riley kick the vampire's ass.  Spike surprised him, though.  Instead of attacking Riley's relationship with Buffy, he looked at Xander.  "I've got to make a blood run.  I'll be back in a few."  He walked out without any further explanation.

Graham couldn't believe it.  Not only had Spike ignored a chance to make Riley crazy, he was also leaving Xander alone with them!  He watched as Spike left, then shared a confused look with Riley.  What the hell was going on?

Never one to waste an opportunity, Graham got up and moved to sit beside Xander on the couch.  He noticed that Xander looked a little confused as he stared at the door.  "Are you all right?"

Xander looked at him.  "I'm fine," he said quickly.  He blinked again and seemed to realize that Graham was sitting beside him for the first time. A small smile touched his lips.  "I'm fine," he said in a more normal tone.

"And how's your head?"

"Hurts," Xander admitted.  "And having all two hundred pounds of Riley land on top of me didn't help matters."

"Hey!" Riley objected.  "That remark is going to cost you a beer."  He got up and headed for the kitchen.

Graham vowed to put up with Riley's teasing later without complaint.  His friend was trying to give him some privacy.  He shifted so he was facing Xander.   "Have you given any more thought to joining me on an expedition?"  Hey,   it might be cheesy but it seemed to work with Xander.

Xander nodded.  "I think that I'd like that a lot.  Of course, to cut down on Hellmouthy interference, it might be a good idea to try doing something in the daytime first."

Graham's mind immediately flashed to Xander working on the construction site, arms flexing as he positioned each piece of wood before cutting it down to the right size.  "Daylight can be good," he agreed quickly. "Anything in particular you'd like to do?"

"Hey, this is your expedition," Xander said, laughing.  "Just so long as it's not a fun-filled tour of Sunnydale's purveyors of junk food, anything will be good."

"What?"

Xander blushed a little.  "I used to see you at my jobs a lot," he explained.  "I figure you must be a fan of the fried variety of cuisine."

It was Graham's turn to flush.  Now or never; holding back wasn't going to gain him anything.  "It wasn't the junk food," he admitted.  "It was the cute guy behind the counter serving the junk food."

Xander stared at him, shaking his head a little.

"It's true," Graham said.  "I'm really not that big a fan of the hot dog. I'm just a fan of you."  He held his breath, hoping that Xander wouldn't decide he was a stalker and make a run for it.

Lips parted, Xander laughed quietly.  "I used to pretend that," he said quietly.  "You know, that you'd come to see me."  The blush was back on his cheeks.

Graham couldn't resist, not with Xander blushing and looking at him with honesty and nervousness and the flickering beginnings of heat.  He leaned forward, moving slowly so Xander would have every chance to stop him. Meeting with no resistance, he gently pressed his lips to Xander's.  The barest brush of mouth on mouth and he leaned back, checking Xander's reaction.

Brown eyes slowly drifted open and Xander licked his lips before moving to repeat the kiss.  Soft lips on his own and Graham was lost, leaning against Xander and reveling in the warmth of his skin and the scent of him, so close and finally there to be touched.  He sat back after a few more moments, not wanting to push Xander.

Xander smiled up at him.  "Wow."

Wow?  He rated a wow?  Not that he disagreed.  The kiss had seriously short-circuited his vocabulary, but he thought wow pretty much summed it up.   "Wow is good.  I can take wow.  Does wow mean that you'll be going out with me?"

"I've got a few weeks of half-days coming up soon.  I think I could fit you into my busy social calendar."  Xander sat back a little as Riley came back into the room.

Graham decided to let up as well.  There was no telling when Spike was going to return, either, and he wasn't looking forward to a fight.  He knew there would be; the vampire was too protective of Xander to ever let anything like this go.  Maybe once Graham got a little closer to Xander he'd be able to figure out what kind of hold Spike was trying to gain over Xander and then he could protect Xander from him.

He reached out and touched Xander's arm.  "Do you want anything more to drink?"

"Another Coke would be good.  It might help with my head."  Xander moved to get up.

Graham beat him to it.  "Let me."  He had to get out of the room for a moment before Xander or Riley caught sight of the lunatic grin he could feel stretching across his features.  He couldn't help it.  He'd kissed Xander.  Xander had kissed him!  It was grin like an idiot or do a touchdown shuffle, and the grin was easier to hide.  As he pulled another can out of the fridge for Xander, he steadfastly ignored the bags of blood.  He could pretend that he'd never seen them just fine, thank you. He turned around to head back for the living room just as the door to the apartment opened and Spike walked in carrying a cooler.

Spike set the cooler down on the counter.  "You still here?"  He spoke generally, but his eyes were on Graham.  "Past your bedtimes, isn't it?"

Graham wanted to argue with him, but he knew Xander was tired and hurting.  He didn't want to start a fight that would ruin the happy little buzz he was feeling, either.  He glared at Spike.  "I guess we'll be seeing you tomorrow, then."

"Guess you will."

Ignoring Spike's matching glare, he walked past the vampire into the living room.  He handed the Coke to the dark-haired man.  "See you tomorrow," he said, his smile under control but still huge.

Xander grinned back up at him with hidden warmth in his gaze. "Definitely.  And thank you."  He took the soda, fingers lingering as they brushed over Graham's.  "Good night."

Yes, it certainly had been.  "Good night."  He didn't bother to look at Spike as he and Riley left.  He did keep an eye on Riley, though, timing how long his friend would be able to keep his peace.  Riley managed to hold it in down the stairs, out onto the street, and even into the vehicle.  Graham made sure to take the driver's seat; he didn't want Riley be distracted while driving.

Riley made it until they were about a mile down the road before erupting into laughter.  Graham waited for him to get it all out, not wanting to interrupt and make it last any longer than it had too.  Finally, Riley got a hold of himself, although laughter still rumbled up out of him every so often.  "I thought dating Buffy was bad.  I never had to use tactical maneuvers just to talk to her!"

Graham grinned.  "But they worked!  Thanks, man.  I owe you."

"You owe me big time, if what I heard from the kitchen is any indication."

"What did you hear?" Graham demanded.

"Nothing."  Riley winked at him.  "That's what makes me think it went well."

Graham stared resolutely out the windshield for a few moments before he couldn't hold it in anymore.  "I kissed him," he said.  "I kissed him and he said he'd go out with me."  He had to say it out loud and make it real.

Riley laughed.  When Graham glared, he held his hands up defensively. "Hey, I'm glad it's working out for you.  Congratulations on finally being able to do more than just stalk your crush."

Reminding himself that without Riley's help he never would have been able to talk to Xander at all, Graham decided to forgive Riley for laughing. "It's not a crush anymore," he admitted.

Riley sobered immediately.  "It's serious?"

"Yeah.  I didn't know him before."  Now he did, and it was all over.  He knew Riley would understand - the same thing had happened to Riley when he'd finally gotten to know Buffy.  He went from liking her to loving her powerfully.  Graham had fallen into the same trap; now that he knew Xander, he wasn't going to be able to walk away from him.  "But now I do, and I'm going to get to know him better."

Riley just sat there and smiled at him.  "You do have it bad."

"It's only going to get worse," Graham warned.  He was going to take Xander out and give him the chance to fall as hard as he himself had.  He was going to earn Xander's trust and his love.

He was also going to figure out what Spike wanted with Xander.  He knew that look Spike had given him was a challenge.  He wasn't going to let Xander be hurt in one of the vampire's schemes.  He winced a little as his thoughts wandered as he considered the vampire.  He couldn't think about Spike without picturing him in his mind, and he couldn't do that without feeling the lingering traces of lust.  He'd noticed Spike when he was imprisoned within the Initiative and had stared at his image on video monitors and through the shatter-resistant plastic shield that sealed his cell.  Even exhausted and desperate, Spike had moved with an innately sexual grace that had drawn Graham in despite knowing what Spike was. Graham couldn't quite trust himself when it came to Spike, not with lust clouding his judgement about the other man.  The best he could do was focus on his love for Xander and trust in that to help him keep to the right course.

His thoughts back on Xander, Graham settled himself down for the ride back to base.  He'd have to endure Riley's teasing and a quick debriefing, but then he'd have the rest of the night to remember what it felt like to hold Xander and finally know his kiss.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike stared resolutely down at the stove top, concentrating on the blood he was warming.  He was hungry and he needed to eat.  As long he stayed focussed on those two facts he wouldn't lose control.  He just needed to get something to eat.  He didn't need to think about what he'd smelled when he'd walked into the apartment.  He'd needed blood, yes, but he'd also wanted to check and make sure that the bugs had been removed from the apartment.  He had checked with the demons he'd intimidated into watching the apartment and received confirmation that no strange men or cars had been seen hanging about.  He hadn't wanted to leave Xander alone, but he hadn't thought anything could happen in the short time he was gone.

No.  He wasn't thinking about that.  Not until he'd had something to eat. He heated the blood just long enough for it to be lukewarm and then bolted it.  As the blood filled him with borrowed life, he washed his dishes and put them away, giving himself time to calm down and move past the hunger that had been distracting him.  It was more difficult to keep the urges toward blood and violence under control when he hadn't eaten.

The kitchen clean, he couldn't put it off any longer.  He walked into the living room, eyes fixed on Xander.  The dark-haired man sat on the couch, drinking the soda that Graham had given him before leaving.  The scents surrounding him had faded, but Spike could still catch their echoes: arousal and nervousness, excitement and pleasure.  Something had happened while he was gone, something between Xander and Graham.  It wasn't just Graham, either; for the first time since Anya had left, Spike could smell Xander's desire.  Graham had made some kind of move on Xander, one that Xander had liked.

Graham had touched Spike's Xander.  Spike made a mental note to have the soldier killed as soon as possible.

He wasn't looking forward to this conversation.  He knew Xander wasn't going to want to talk about it, but he wasn't just going to let him go without a fight.  He loved Xander and he needed to let him know that.

He sat down on the couch beside Xander, wondering what the hell he was going to say.  With Dru he hadn't really needed words, and Harmony would fall for any quick line of bullshit he threw at her.  Playing with the Slayer had taken planning, but he hadn't meant anything by it.  It was a game, one he didn't want to lose, but a game all the same.  This was no game. Love was many things, but it definitely wasn't a game.  He looked into Xander's eyes, hoping the words would come.

What he saw distracted him completely.  Xander's face was marked with lines of pain, his eyes half-shut as he slowly turned his head to look at Spike.  "Are you still hurting?" Spike asked, worry for Xander sweeping away everything else.

Xander nodded carefully.  "It never really went away, but knocking my head on the ground didn't help any."

Spike added Riley to his kill list.  "Do you want me to fetch you some more aspirin?"

"I'm already over the limit for today," Xander admitted.  "I don't want to push my luck by taking any more."

Knowing that he'd probably be refused, Spike still had to make the offer. "Any time you want to try something better than aspirin, you let me know."

Xander was quiet for several moments.  He drew in a long breath.  "I think I'm going to have to take you up on that," he said quietly.

Spike licked his lips.  "Are you sure?"

"Yeah.  Nothing else is going to help and if I don't get rid of this pain I'm not going to be able to concentrate on anything else.  I've still got a list of bad guys in my head and I can't just sit this out."

Well, actually he could and Spike would prefer it if he did.  He didn't like seeing Xander risk his life, but he knew better than to try to keep him out of things.  "All right."  He moved closer to Xander, sitting half-turned so he could face him.  He waited until Xander turned to face him, then tried out a reassuring smile.  "Where do you want to do this?"

Xander blinked, looking a little bemused.  "Right here on the couch."

Spike grinned.  "I didn't mean that.  Of course on the couch.  Where do you want me to cut myself so you can drink?"

Licking his lips, Xander shook his head.  "I don't know.  Wherever is easiest for you, I guess.  Somewhere that it won't hurt you."

Resisting the urge to turn to mush, Spike shrugged out of his duster and rolled up one of his sleeves.  "I think the wrist will work best," he murmured, pulling out one of his knives.  He'd prefer giving Xander his blood in several different ways, but this way was the least likely to frighten him off.  Knowing the other man's gaze was pinned on him, he carefully cut a short line across his wrist, slicing deep to guarantee blood flow.  He raised his wrist, extending his hand toward Xander.

Xander's hand shook a little as he reached out to support Spike's wrist. He glanced up to meet Spike's gaze.  At Spike's encouraging nod, he bent his head and pressed his mouth to the bleeding wound.

Spike pressed his lips tightly together to stifle the pleased moan that threaten to break free.  Soft lips feathered gently over his skin, parting to draw in the crimson rivulets.  A pause as Xander grew accustomed to what he was doing, and then his lips were pressed tighter against Spike's skin as he sucked at the wound.  Spike shifted minutely, desire rising in him at the sensation.  He knew that Xander wouldn't be able to take enough blood to hurt himself; he'd crafted the wound carefully, knowing that it would close before Xander drank too much.  He felt his skin begin to knit and got ready to withdraw his wrist.  Xander evidently realized that the cut was healing because he stopped sucking at it.  A warm tongue swept across Spike's skin in soothing, cleansing strokes, then Xander sat back, letting go of Spike's arm.

Spike controlled his reactions carefully, making sure to nonchalantly roll his sleeve back down.  He didn't want to make a big deal out of this and freak Xander out.  He didn't want this to be the last time Xander let him offer this.

It only took one look at Xander to send all that control out the window.  Xander's eyes were wide and wondering and his cheeks were flushed.  He stared at Spike with parted lips, a small smear of blood at the corner of his mouth.

Before Spike realized that he wanted to, he was already doing it:  he leaned forward and licked away the smear, erasing it with a few delicate laps of his tongue.  He leaned back a little and searched Xander's face. The other man still looked wondering, but there was no scent of fear on him.  Not wanting to push Xander too hard but unable to resist, he moved even closer to Xander, sliding his arm around Xander's waist to pull the dark-eyed man to him.  Construction-nurtured hardness filled Spike's arms, wonderfully solid to touch.  He pressed his lips to Xander's in a gentle kiss, once, twice, and then again in a longer caress.  He swept his tongue out across Xander's lower lip, begging for entrance.  He could taste Xander and blood and he wanted more.  With a muffled sound of need Xander acquiesced, parting his lips and inviting Spike inside.  Spike pulled Xander even closer, eagerly tasting his mouth for the first time.  The essence of Xander was stronger, as was the lingering taste of blood.  His senses were filled with warmth and life and Xander and blood...and something else.  Spike probed more intently, not wanting the kiss to end. That element of something else intruded on his awareness, reminding him not of a taste, but instead of a scent...

With a growl, he pulled away from the kiss.  "Graham."  He was tasting Graham.

Xander flinched away, pulling out of his embrace to huddle in on himself on the other end of the couch.  He wrapped his arms around himself and stared at the floor, his breath shaky, shuddering.

Spike shoved down the possessive anger that was threatening to take over. He didn't want to scare Xander.  It wasn't Xander's fault that Graham had kissed him.  It was Spike's fault for not killing the soldier as soon as he realized where he interests lay.  He could deal with Graham later. Right then he had to fix the mistake he'd made.

He scooted closer to Xander and reached out to him once more.  The dark-haired man resisted, but Spike murmured reassurances and with insistent pressure drew Xander back into his embrace.  He raised a hand to brush an unruly lock of hair off Xander's brow.  "How's your head?" he asked quietly.

"Better," Xander said, eyes widening as he realized it.  "The pain's gone."  He started to grin, then the pleasure of the relief was gone as he remembered what had just happened.  "Spike, I'm sorry.  I-"

Spike stroked his fingers through Xander's hair, quieting him with the slow repetition.  "You don't have anything to apologize for, luv.  You didn't do anything wrong."  After all, Xander hadn't known he belonged to Spike.  Graham on the other hand...but that was something to think about later.  Right now he had to get Xander calmed down.  He could see the first hints of fear in his brown eyes and knew he was the one who had put it there.  It wasn't Xander's fault two men were throwing themselves at him.

It was Graham's fault.

Pushing his jealousy aside once more, Spike smiled at Xander.  "It's not your fault I couldn't help myself any longer and had to kiss you, now is it?"

"I didn't do anything," Xander agreed slowly.  "And I don't understand the sudden urge to kiss me."

"Not sudden, really.  I've wanted to for a while and I didn't want to wait anymore."  He hoped he wasn't going to sound like too much of an idiot. "I don't want to push you into anything.  I just wanted you to know I'm here.  All right?"

Xander nodded.  "I think so."  The fear was gone from his eyes, but he still looked bemused.

Spike moved in slowly, making his intentions blatantly obvious and giving Xander plenty of time to protest.  When Xander relaxed a little bit more into his arms, Spike took it as permission and once again claimed Xander's mouth in a kiss.  Xander's hesitant cooperation this time sent a shiver of delight through him as a warm tongue curled around his own.  He explored the dark-haired man's mouth leisurely, making sure that not only was Xander breathless by the time he finished, but also that every trace of Graham had been eradicated.  Barely satisfied, he pressed a kiss to the corner of Xander's mouth and another just in front of his ear.  Still holding Xander's warmth close, he quietly asked, "Isn't it about time you headed to bed?"

Xander's heart rate sped up immediately and he tensed in Spike's arms. "Um," he said in a nervous tone.  "Um, I..."

"Alone," Spike said with a smile.  "Go to bed and sleep, luv.  I'll talk to you tomorrow."  He didn't want to do it, but he released Xander and sat back.

Xander stood up slowly.  "So, um, goodnight?"

"Night, Xander."  Spike watched as Xander disappeared into his bedroom. He wasn't going to make any declarations of love.  He'd confused Xander enough for one night without dropping something like that on him.  He stayed on the couch and closed his eyes, reliving the experience:  the way it had felt to feel Xander's body against his own, the sweetness of his taste and his participation.

When there had been no sound of movement from Xander's room for almost an hour, Spike rose up from the couch and walked over, silently opening the door and slipping inside.  He stood beside the bed and stared down at the sleeping man, watching the way his chest rose and fell slowly, envying the pillow that he cradled in one arm.  He was acting like a pathetic sap, but he accepted it.  He'd long ago recognized that he was Love's Bitch and he never claimed Love was a gentle master.  He had fallen hard for Xander and if turning soft in some ways was the price he had to pay for being in love, then so be it.

He backed out of the room slowly, reluctant to leave but unwilling to disturb Xander.  He considered going back out on the streets for the rest of the night, but decided to stay in and watch television instead.  He half-way convinced himself that he was doing it because he wanted to and not out of an insane urge to protect Xander.

As he flipped from one infomercial to the next, he grew less and less able to ignore something that was disturbing him.  His first reaction to finding out that Graham had kissed Xander was rage.  He was fine with that; he was accustomed to jealous anger.  His second reaction, though, was curiosity mixed with greed.  He hadn't wanted there to be anything of Graham's presence left on Xander, but he'd wanted to experience that presence for himself and as he'd tried to remove it he'd found himself wanting more.

That wasn't right.  He hated Graham for trying to take his Xander.  He was willing to admit that he found the soldier attractive.  He'd caught sight of Graham while imprisoned by the Initiative and remembered him because of his strong, handsome features and muscular physique.  Hell, Graham had played the starring role in Spike's 'masturbate for the camera' bid to relieve boredom while waiting for a chance to escape.

Just because he thought the Xander-stealing bastard was attractive was no reason for him to be greedy for another taste.  There was no reason for him to want to know what pure Graham tasted like, either.  Disturbed by the speculations he couldn't stop his brain from mulling over, Spike tried to go on watching television.  He stared steadily at the screen, but he was distracted by the memory of measuring blue eyes and a muscled body in uniform.




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