Uncommon Distractions


by
Kay



Part Two

"Shit!"  Xander juggled the boards in his hands in a frantic effort to avoid dropping them.  He managed to get them back under control, but by the time he did his heart was racing from reaction.  He carried them over to where they were supposed to be and carefully laid them down.  Arms empty, he sank down into a crouch, head in his hands.  Dropping the boards wouldn't have been a big deal, but what if he'd been carrying tools?

What if he'd been operating a saw when he'd lost focus like that?

He had to focus, had to keep his mind on his work.  He couldn't think about the information rattling around inside his head, telling him about the horrors hidden in Sunnydale's corners.  He couldn't think about how long it had been since he'd had more than an hour to sit down and relax. He couldn't think about how much he missed Willow, or how worried he was about Dawn.

He couldn't think about the fact that last night, Graham and Spike had both kissed him.

With a groan, he shoved himself back to his feet.  He could think about all of this later.  He could turn into Angel and have himself a full-on brood-fest, but for right now he had to focus on his job.  He couldn't afford to lose it, and he didn't want to lose a finger or become a danger to the guys he worked with.  At least his head didn't hurt anymore so he didn't have to work through the headache.

That thought brought him back to the events of last night.  He'd actually drunk Spike's blood...and liked it!  He'd expected to have to force himself to swallow, but it hadn't been anything like he'd expected.  He didn't know how to describe the taste:  dark and rich and powerful. Seductive, even.  And then after he'd finished, Spike had stared at him with blue eyes that had become darker and darker until the blond man had leaned forward and kissed him.

"And we're back...in the car...again," Xander muttered.  No matter how hard he tried, he wasn't able to get away from the memories of last night and they were going to make him crazy.

Taking a deep breath, Xander picked up one of the boards and moved it to the saw horse.  He was going to do his job and worry about this later.  He focused intently on the process of sawing, not allowing his attention to wander for a second.  Sure, it was avoidance and he'd just end up having to deal with everything later, but at least he'd cut down on his chances of giving himself an accidental amputation.

He was so intent on the task he'd set for himself that the hand that landed on his shoulder came as a complete surprise.  He managed to both retain his grip on the saw and not scream like a girl.  He turned off the tool and turned to face the person who'd scared him.  "Hey, boss," he greeted Josh, the foreman.  "What's up?"

"Harris, go on ahead and take the rest of the day off."  The broad-shouldered man gestured toward where Xander's car was.

Stomach twisting in a cold knot, Xander took off his safety goggles.  "Did I do something wrong?" he asked.  He didn't want to lose this job - he loved learning to shape the wood and create buildings and furniture with his own hands.

"No."  The foreman laughed.  "I didn't mean to scare you.  You're not in trouble.  You've been doing outstanding work on this job.  You're turning into a damn fine craftsman, Harris."

"Then why do you want me to go?  I'd rather stay."  He needed the money. Making the rent wasn't hard, but missing a few days' pay would make everything a little tight and he didn't need to add that to his plate.

Josh's face turned serious.  "Listen, I know what you've been doing. Your friends told me."

Who told him what?  That he was out most nights killing demons?  That he still kept a stuffed Snoopy toy in his bedroom?  That he'd kissed two guys last night and liked it?

"I know you've been working your friend's night job while she takes care of her sick sister.  You've been working two jobs and still do a great job at this one.  Take the rest of the week off and rest up.  Come back Monday when we start the half-days during inspection."  He didn't give Xander a chance to object.  "You'll still get paid.  Remember when you noticed that flawed load of rebar?  If we'd used it we'd be having to replace it right now and the repairs would set us back months.  I was going to surprise you at the end of the job, but I'll tell you now:  you've got a bonus coming to you.  Look at the days off as just a part of it, ok?"

Xander stared at him, then nodded.  "If you're sure."

"Get out of here."  Josh clapped him on the shoulder.  "I'll see you Monday."

A little dazed, Xander finished up the board he was working on and packed up his tools.  He could go home and sleep.  Most likely, he'd go home and do his best Angel impersonation.  As he headed for the parking lot, he stopped dead as a thought occurred to him.  What friends had gone and talked to Josh?

He exhaled hard in irritation.  He wasn't thinking straight at all.  He was tired, confused, and he was still feeling the strain of the Cynon's influence.  His headache was gone, but he could still feel the lingering traces of the crushing loneliness that the demon had drawn out of him. Each emotion that the Cynon fed off of was staying with him longer and longer, and it was more difficult to shake them off.  When the demon had demanded humiliation from him, he'd blushed miserably for days after every time he'd passed a place where he'd been embarrassed.  That had faded fairly quickly compared to how long the loneliness was lingering, and how strongly.  He still felt the edges of it, cut-off and alone even when he was talking and laughing with other people.

He headed for his car at a slower place, trying to figure out who would've talked to his boss.  Would Spike have  made a call?  He got his answer when he saw who was standing next to his car.  "Graham!  Hey, Riley.  What are you doing here?"

"Breaking you out," Graham answered with a grin.

"I really appreciate it, but why?"  Xander opened up his trunk and put his tools away.

"You look tired," Graham said.  "I thought you could use some time off."

"Is that what your commanding officer told you to do?  Make sure that Harris kid got some time off?"  He grinned at Graham, loving the way the other man grinned right back in the face of his teasing.

"Yep.  We're under orders."

Riley laughed.  "He's almost telling the truth.  We told our CO that you're the one responsible for the stability here in Sunnydale.  We're under orders to support you and make sure the stability continues.  If that means making sure you get enough sleep, then hey."

Xander froze.  "Have you mentioned Spike to your CO?  Did the surveillance teams?"  What would the military do to an escapee from the Initiative?

Graham frowned but it was gone so quickly Xander barely had time to see it.  "He knows Spike is around, but he believes that chipped, Spike isn't a threat."

Xander nodded, relieved.  He didn't want Spike to be in danger because he'd been helping him.  He didn't want Spike to be in danger period, which was a can of worms he was going to ignore for as long as he could.

"What's on the agenda for tonight?" Riley asked.

Grateful for the distraction, Xander said, "There's a nest of young vampires who are getting big for their britches since they haven't had their asses kicked by the Slayer.  I think it's about time that they learn their place."

"How do you know?" Graham asked.

Xander shrugged.  "The information is just there, in my head.  If I think about it, then I know where some of Sunnydale's nasties are and what they're up to.  Eventually there's no more information, and I have to go get some more."

Graham started to say something, but Riley interrupted him.  "Why don't we go take care of the vampires now?  Hit'em while they're sleeping."

"Not without Spike," Xander said.  He'd promised that to the vampire once he'd started dealing with the Cynon.  He'd continue to meet the Cynon, but he wouldn't act on the information he received without Spike at his side. "I'm not going to do anything until after sundown."

He could tell that Graham and Riley didn't like his answer, but he wasn't going to change it.  He'd given his word and he couldn't break it. Especially not to Spike, no matter how he felt about Graham.  Xander dug his nails into his palm in a gesture of frustration.  He'd accepted the fact that he was bi, worked himself around to acknowledging the fact that he was into guys too and was ok with it.  He could've dealt with being attracted to both of them at the same time; he wasn't that far away from being a teenager, when thinking about linoleum was enough to get him hot.  But the crush he'd been hiding from Spike had grown beyond being a crush weeks ago, and the kiss last night hadn't done anything to stop it. At the same time, getting know Graham had had the same effect on Xander's feelings for him.  How could he be falling in love with two different people at the same time?  What was wrong with him?

"We'll wait for Spike," Graham agreed.  "In the mean time, you should let us get you some dinner or something."

"I could eat," Xander agreed.  "Um, do either of you have a cell phone I can use?"  He accepted Graham's phone and dialed his apartment number. When Spike picked up he said, "Listen, I got off work early.  Graham and Riley are here and they're offering me free food.  I'm going to get dinner with them while we wait for the sun to set."

Is everything all right? Spike asked.  His voice sounded a little strange.

"Everything's good.  I actually got some good news at work - I'll tell you about it when I see you."

Where should I meet you?

"You remember the crypt that looks like it's covered in Oompa Loompas?" He grinned when he heard Spike laugh a little.

I'll be there.  Xander...

"Yeah?"  His heart beating faster for no apparent reason, Xander waited.

I...never mind.  Do you want me to bring you your favorite toys?

"Thank you, that'd be great.  I've got the stakes covered, but I need the other stuff."

I'll bring them.  Watch yourself.  I'll see you as soon as the sun sets.

"I will.  See you soon."  Xander handed the phone back to Graham, wondering just what Spike had been about to say.  "Where for dinner?"

"Is there anywhere near here?" Graham asked.

"Um, Delarico's has decent Mexican food, and it's completely non-demonic."

"Sounds good."  Graham nodded his head toward the SUV parked beside Xander's car.  "You want a lift?"

Xander held out his hand, palm up.  "I'm the one who knows where Delarico's is.  I should drive."

"This is a military-owned vehicle," Riley said, keys held protectively in his hand.

"If it's not yours, why are you worried?"  Xander smiled winningly and kept his hand out.

"Fine," Riley said, handing over the keys.

"Don't worry, Riley," Xander said, opening up the driver's door and unlocking the vehicle.  "If I run over a line of parking meters or something, I'll tell everyone you were driving."  He ignored Riley's glare and started the SUV.  Delarico's was close by so he wasn't driving long at all.  That meant less time for Riley to spend fidgeting nervously in the back seat, which was good.  It also meant less time for him to sit with Graham next to him in the passenger seat, so close and talking to him. Which was also a good thing, since he really didn't want to damage the vehicle by being distracted and running into a parked car.

At the restaurant, they got their food quickly and headed for a booth. Xander watched as Graham and Riley slid in on opposite sides of the table.  That meant he had to sit by one or the other.  It was no contest.  He slid in beside Graham and was immediately rewarded by Graham's pleased smile.

By the time the food was gone, so was all the space between Xander and Graham.  Sitting close together, Xander laughed as Graham told stories about himself and Riley on the various missions they'd performed.  The stories were fun, but the best part was hearing Graham's voice, seeing his eyes crinkle up as he smiled, and feeling the warmth of him pressed so close.

Xander responded by telling them stories about growing up on the Hellmouth.  He tried to focus on the ones that effected him, rather than the ones about Buffy.  He didn't want to upset Riley by mentioning her too much.  He was finishing up one of the most embarrassing, explaining why every woman in Sunnydale fell in love with him for a short time and Graham and Riley were laughing so hard he was worried they all might get asked to leave.

"So they were all after you?" Riley asked, calming down a little.

"It was a nightmare.  That's why I don't go anywhere near magic or wishes if I can help it."  Xander took a long drink of his soda.  Mmm, caffeine. He glanced out the window and the sight of the reddening sky sent him scrambling to find his watch.  "Damn, we were here longer than I thought. The sun's going down."

Riley sighed.  "Time for more fun and excitement?"

"Hey, the fun never stops in dear old Sunnyhell."  Xander moved regretfully away from Graham, stretching as he stood up.

"Why more people don't move here, I'll never know."  Graham followed him out of the restaurant.

Xander tossed the keys back to Riley.  "I think you can handle it back to the parking lot.  The cars will be safe there until we're done foiling the plans of evil doers."  He looked over at Graham and grinned.  "Shot gun!" He bolted for the passenger side door.

Graham stared at him.  "Shot gun?  Aren't you required by law not to do that after you graduate high school?"

Xander stuck his tongue out at him.  "You're just jealous because I thought of it first."

"Maybe.  Next time the front seat is mine!"

"Take it this time," Riley said, tossing the keys to Graham.  "Not that I like the idea of either of you driving."

Graham climbed in the SUV.  "This from the man who managed to crash a-"

"That story can wait!" Riley interrupted.

Xander reminded himself to ask Graham about it later.  He directed Graham back to the parking lot.  Once there, he opened his trunk and pulled out his stash of spare stakes.  "You guys need anything?"  He looked over at and watched as the two soldiers took their own weapons out of the back of the SUV.

"Got it covered," Graham said.  "But thanks."

Once they were all packed up, Xander led the way to the Quiet Slumbers cemetery.  The cemetery itself wasn't far away, but the Oompa Loompa crypt was on the far side of it, so it was a bit of a walk.  Xander fell into step with Graham while Riley ranged ahead of them.

"You know, I can't believe that last story you told us.  The one about the love spell."  Graham grinned at him as he walked even closer to him.

"It's all true!  You've lived here; you know that kind of thing happens all the time."

"No, I mean I can't believe that it took a spell to send everyone in this town running after you."

Xander slowed down to a stop.  He stared at Graham, who had stopped to face him.  That was one of the nicest things that had ever been said to him.  He could read the honesty in Graham's eyes, the sincerity and want and affection.  He took a step forward, and then another, until he was standing in Graham's space.  He reached up and slid his hand around to cradle the back of Graham's neck and urge his head down for a kiss.

Graham's lips met his hesitantly at first, then with growing urgency. Xander cooperated with the gentle pressure and parted his lips, sighing and shifting closer as Graham's tongue lapped at his own.  Strong arms closed around his waist and pulled him even nearer.  He could feel all of Graham against him, feel his heartbeat and his heat and his desire.  He moaned and shifted, wanting more as his hands roamed over Graham's back.

Survival instinct made him pull away with a disappointed groan that matched Graham's.  A cemetery was no place for this.  Not only was it vaguely icky, but it was dangerous as well.  He stepped away from Graham and blinked a few times, waiting for his head to clear.  He cleared his throat.  "We've got work to do," he said, reminding himself, too.

Graham nodded.  "Not that I can make myself care about that any more," he said ruefully.

Xander nodded his agreement.  He looked over at Riley, who was studiously ignoring both of them.  "Let's go."  Graham fell in step beside him once more.

As they walked toward the crypt, Xander fought to hide his confusion. Guilt and happiness warred inside him.  He was feeling closer to Graham than ever, sure that the other man's feelings went way beyond casual lust.  It was one of his most cherished fantasies come true and he wanted to give in to the exhilaration that thought brought.  Guilt wouldn't let him, though.  What was he doing?  He was on his way to meet Spike, who had become one of his closest friends.  Who had kissed him the night before and held him and tried to make everything all right.  He still felt the same about Spike, still felt the same desire and near-love that had filled him last night.

Walking beside Graham, walking toward Spike, Xander had no idea what to do.  He had well and truly screwed up and he saw no way out of the situation.  He was caught up in what might have once been a favorite dream - except now it was feeling an awful lot like a nightmare.


~*~*~*~*~


Graham knew he couldn't sneak off to a separate corner of the cemetery.  It would be a foolish risk and far too dangerous.  That meant he couldn't have the privacy he needed to pump his fists in the air in an abbreviated victory dance.  He couldn't do it in front of the others; Riley would never let him hear the end of it and he didn't want to freak Xander out.

But Xander had kissed him!  It had been sweet and hot and left him aching for more, for anything that Xander could give him.  He knew what Xander tasted like now, knew what it felt like to hold him close and feel his warmth.  Graham glanced over at the man walking beside him, catching Xander's gaze for a moment and sharing a small smile with him.  He knew that Xander cared about him.  He could see it in his eyes and could taste it in his kiss.  Xander wasn't just interested in him physically; it went beyond that.  One of his favorite fantasies was coming true:  not only did Xander like him, but he also wanted him and seemed like he loved him.

His good mood faded a little as they approached a crypt that was covered in cherubs that did look quite a bit like Oompa Loompas.  He had been hoping that Spike would have flaked out on them and not shown up, but the vampire was leaning against one of the uglier little cherubs and smoking, waiting none too patiently.  Graham slowed down and stood beside Riley, but Xander kept walking up to Spike.

The vampire looked Xander up and down.  "You all right, pet?"

"I'm good," Xander said.  He quickly explained why he was away from work and why he had the next few days off.

Spike grinned at him.  "Congratulations.  Looks like someone else is finally learning to appreciate you.  Want me to kill something for you? As a sort of celebration, like?"

Xander laughed.  "As a matter of fact...yeah.  There's a nest of fledges we need to clean out."

"Then this will come in handy."  Spike handed Xander a handgun.

"Thanks.  The nest is over to the east."  Xander glanced at Graham.  "You guys ready?"

"Let's go," Graham answered.

Xander led the way through the cemetery.  Graham tried to fall back in step with him, but Spike was suddenly there between them.  The vampire was glued to Xander's side, asking him questions about his bonus at work and about the nest they were seeking.  It all looked very natural...except for the sneer Spike directed toward Graham as he slid between him and Xander.

Graham tried to subtlety regain his place, but Spike refused to be out maneuvered.  Graham didn't want to draw too much attention to himself, not just before a fight when it could be too distracting, so he fell back beside Riley, settling for glaring at the vampire.  He hated staring at Spike.  Not only did it mean he wasn't staring at Xander, but it meant he was forced to think about Spike.  Every time he looked at Spike he realized all over again how handsome the blond man was, how he moved with animal grace that fairly screamed sex.  He remembered watching the video tapes of 'Hostile 17' over and over again any time he was on rotation with observation, especially the tape that caught Spike jerking off for the camera, hands wandering over his pale body as he writhed ecstatically from his own touch.

Graham didn't want to think about any of that; he just wanted to look at Xander and think about the possibilities of the future with him.  Instead, he was looking at Spike and wondering what it would be like to run his hands over the pale skin.  Seeing Spike hover over Xander, watching him fight and hearing him make scathing, amusing jokes were all messing with Graham's head as well.  The vampire wasn't Hostile 17 any more; he was Spike, an attractive man that Graham would have perhaps pursued if he hadn't fallen so hard for Xander.  Looking at Spike just confused and irritated him, which is why he would prefer to look at Xander.

Reaching the vampires' nest almost came as a relief.  It was in a predictably run down crypt in one of the creepier corners of the cemetery.  "Don't the people who run this place ever do any maintenance work?" he asked, surveying the crypt.

"They don't get paid enough," Xander said.  "Besides, why would you want to ruin this delightful atmosphere?"

"What's the situation?" Riley asked, focussing them all on business.

"It's not a large nest," Xander said.  He closed his eyes.  "Maybe fifteen of them.  They're all young and inexperienced, nothing to worry about except for their numbers.  They don't have a set leader, but they're beginning to get bolder since the Slayer hasn't been seen lately."  He opened his eyes.  "That's all I've got."

"That's all we need, pet," Spike said.

Graham resisted the urge to glare at him.  "So we're just going go in?"

"No point in being subtle," Xander said.  "They wouldn't appreciate it, anyway."  He pulled out two stakes, one for each hand.  "Shall we?"

"Hang on, pet."  Spike stopped Xander with a quick touch to his shoulder. "Let me go in first.  Quarters are too close in there."  He walked into the crypt like he owned the place.

Xander moved off to the side.  "When they come out, they're probably going to be very pissed off and moving fast."

"He's done this before?" Riley asked.

"Oh, yeah.  Do you really think he'd miss a chance to insult something before killing it?"

Xander didn't get a chance to elaborate further; Spike ran out of the crypt with a devilish grin stretching his features.  "Here they come," he said, coming to a halt just in front of Xander and turning to face the crypt.

Just as he'd predicted, vampires poured from the mouth of the crypt, fury clear on their inhuman faces.  Spike stepped forward to meet them, staking one and throwing another over the nearest row of headstones before moving into the center of the fray.  The fledges milled about in confusion, not expecting to find three humans waiting for them with the insane vampire who had first insulted them, then begun killing them.

Graham didn't wait for them to recover their equilibrium; instead, he moved forward and staked the vampire closest to him.  He managed to stake another before the rest of the fledges realized that the humans were also a threat and began to defend themselves.  Even as he fought to keep the fledges focusing on him away from his body, Graham kept an eye on Xander, wanting to be sure that the other man was safe.  Xander was holding up well; he'd taken out two vampires and was fending off two others with a reasonable amount of effort.  Riley was also doing as well as a man surrounded by demons could; he hadn't gone down and he didn't look hurt. Graham knew his friend could handle himself.  Graham also caught himself checking on Spike, as if the vampire's welfare was any concern of his. The vampire was ripping through the ranks of the fledges with unrestrained glee, dust showering down around him.

An aggressive fledge knocked Graham over and then leapt upon him.  Fear choked him as he struggled with his stronger opponent.  Cold hands tore at his clothes, seeking to reach his skin and rend his flesh.  Adrenaline coursing through his veins stronger than ever, Graham snaked his hand between his body and the vampire's, stake still clutched in his fist. With a carefully aimed thrust, he slammed the stake home and closed his eyes as ash fell down upon him.  A moment later he was back on his feet and back in the fight.

Finally, there was no one left to fight.  Graham blinked, a little surprised that it was all over.  Riley was putting away his stakes, Spike was brushing off his jacket, and Xander was wincing as he tried to get a look at the back of his shoulder.

Graham tried to get to Xander's side to find out how badly he was hurt, but Spike was in his way.  He moved roughly past Spike, not wanting to dance around him.  The thought of bumping into Spike repeatedly was torturous; not only would it keep him away from Xander, but he'd be put into direct contact with the whipcord body that he was trying so hard to pretend didn't effect him at all.

Spike hissed as he was shouldered aside.  Hearing that, Graham turned to look at him.  The vampire's face was darkened by a bruise across one of his cheekbones and he was holding his shoulder stiffly, as though it hurt him.  "Are you all right?"

Shrugging with only one shoulder, Spike shook his head.  "It's nothing. Give me a little while and I'll be as good as new."  He looked at Xander. "What about you, pet?"

Xander looked up.  "It hurts, but I can't tell how bad it is."

Graham beat Spike to stand behind Xander, but only just barely.  If the vampire had been uninjured, no doubt it would have been Graham peering around Spike's shoulder instead of the other way around.  Graham reached out and held apart the edges of the tear in Xander's shirt.

"Ouch," Xander murmured, looking at the ragged cut running down the back of his shoulder.  "It's bleeding."

"Not badly," Graham said.  "I've got the stuff I need to patch you up."

"Not just yet," Xander said.  He twisted around so he could look at the men behind him.  His gaze flickered from Spike to Graham and then back again.  "Spike, you're hurt."

"It's not bad," Spike said.  "I'll li...whatever."

"Turnabout is fair play.  Isn't that the saying?"  Xander looked at Graham.  "Would you and Riley excuse us?"  He walked toward the now empty crypt, Spike trailing along in his wake.

Graham exchanged a confused glance with Riley.  "I don't like this."

"Neither do I," Riley admitted.

That was all the encouragement Graham needed.  He headed for the crypt, slowing as he reached the entrance.  With Riley beside him, he peered inside the crypt.

Spike was facing Xander, hand cupping the dark-eyed man's cheek.  "Are you sure, pet?"  Spike's voice sounded odd, too hoarse, too deep.  He stared at Xander's back with surprise clearly written on his face.

"Yeah.  You need this."

"I'll survive without it."

"I want to do this.  I want to help you."  Xander turned his back on Spike.  "Please, Spike?"

Spike stepped forward and laid his hands on Xander's shoulder.  He leaned forward and kissed the back of Xander's neck, then parted the rent in Xander's shirt.  He bent his head and parted his lips, running his tongue up the bleeding cut in long, slow strokes.  As Xander's head dropped so his chin rested against his chest, Spike lapped up the blood on his shoulder.  The licks were careful and gentle, and Spike's hands ghosted up and down Xander's arms in comforting sweeps.  When the wound had finally stopped bleeding, Spike dragged his tongue the length of the cut one more time, then placed a soft kiss on the torn skin.  "Thank you, luv."

"You're finished?"  Xander turned around.  "Is it going to help?"

"I feel better already.  So will you, soon.  Vampire saliva seems to help with healing wounds."

Graham finally felt shock lose its hold on him.  He stepped angrily into the crypt.  "What the hell is going on?"

Xander jumped.  "Graham?"

Graham took another step forward and Spike was in his face, blocking the way to Xander.  "Out of my way."

Spike raised an eyebrow and stayed right where he was.  Graham had to jostle past him, bumping up against him repeatedly in the narrow confines of the crypt.  The distraction of the slim, hard body against his own wasn't enough to stop him; he kept fighting to get past the vampire.  He couldn't help the involuntary bolt of desire that shot through him.  He distantly noticed that Spike didn't look entirely unaffected, either; the vampire's snotty smirk was faltering and his eyes had grown darker.

"Spike!"

At the sound of Xander's voice, Spike stopped his obstruction.  With a sneer, he moved out of the way and allowed Graham to approach Xander.

Graham stared at the dark-haired man.  Xander's eyes were wide and his cheeks were slightly flushed.  What was going on?  Xander was attracted to him; hell, he was pretty sure Xander was falling in love with him.  So what was he doing with Spike?  "Xander?  What's going on?"

"I was bleeding and Spike needed blood."

"Not that.  I saw him kiss you."

Xander dropped his gaze and stared miserably at the floor.  "I don't know what to tell you."

"Is this like what Riley got into?"  He didn't want to upset Riley, but he was terrified that Xander might be sinking into the same depression and madness that had gripped his friend.  "You're paying him to protect you with your blood?"

"No!  It's not like that.  It's not a payment."  Xander paused, obviously searching for words.

Graham didn't give him a chance to try to come up with some sort of explanation.  The betrayal that coursed through him demanded action.  He didn't know how Spike had talked Xander into this, but it was going to end now.  "He's using you, Xander.  All he wants from you is your blood and to get on Buffy's good side."

"That's not true!  Listen-"

"No, you listen.  Why else would he be doing this?  All he wants is to impress Buffy by helping to keep one of her friends alive, and it gives him an excuse to kill things.  You're just a means to an end, and convincing you to start giving him your blood just sweetens the game for him.  Don't be stupid, Xander.  Don't let him do this to you."

"You don't understand.  Spike wouldn't-"

"He's a vampire!"

A new voice broke into the argument.  "What a coincidence.  So am I."  A vampire in game face stood in the entrance to the crypt.  "What the hell are you mortals doing here?  Where's Jared?  Where's Mark?"

Spike stepped forward to answer.  "I think Jared is out behind the crypt. And Mark..."  He brushed some lingering ash off the sleeve of his duster. "Do you think that might be him?"

The new vampire growled and rushed into the crypt, followed by several others.  Graham and Xander immediately ended their fight to defend themselves.  Even as he fought with his inhuman opponent, Graham's thoughts were on the betrayal of his trust and his feelings that he'd just witnessed.

This was nowhere near over.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike turned quickly and slammed a stake into the fledge's chest, killing the inept creature before it could sneak up on him.  He looked around the crypt, but there was no one left to fight.  The young vampires who had shown up to avenge their friends had died quickly; not even the close quarters had helped them when it came to facing experienced fighters, not to mention Spike himself.  None of the humans had been hurt and Spike had actually finished healing during the course of the fight.

He turned to look at Xander, wanting to read his expression.  The dark-haired man refused to meet his gaze; instead, Xander was standing off in a corner, arms wrapped around himself as he avoided everyone else as best he could.  That made Spike's decision for him.  If Xander didn't want to talk about anything with anyone, then he didn't have to.  "What's next on the agenda for tonight, then?"  He could probably distract the soldier boys by feeding them some line about duty before personal concerns.

"I'm empty," Xander said quietly.

Shit.  No distraction and they were going to have to see the Cynon again. Spike scowled and tried to come up with another distraction.  He wasn't fast enough.  Graham walked across the crypt to once again face Xander. Spike was tempted to interfere, to try to block the soldier again.  He didn't want the other man to have a chance to hurt Xander...and he had to admit that he wouldn't mind feeling the other man's body against his own. He knew that interfering would only make things worse, though, so he stayed out of it.  He just made sure to be close enough to be ready if Xander needed him.

"We aren't finished, Xander."  Graham stood in front of the dark-haired man, arms crossed over his chest.  "I want to know what you think is going on."

"What?"  Xander reluctantly looked up to meet Graham's gaze.

"You say that Spike isn't using you.  You say that you weren't paying him by letting him...letting him have your blood.  What is going on, then?"

"I don't know what is going on!" Xander protested.

"I'm not interested in games."

"It isn't a game," Xander said pleadingly.  "Graham, I'm not lying to you."

"Then what is Spike to you?  He didn't just feed from you.  I saw him kiss you."

Xander shook his head.  "I don't know what to tell you.  I'm sorry, but I don't.  Things are really confusing.  I know how you make me feel...but there's Spike, too."

"You like Spike?"  Graham's voice was incredulous.  "And you actually think he could feel something for you?  Xander, that's insane.  Can you hear yourself?  You have to know how crazy that is."

"Graham..."  There was pure misery in Xander's voice, the same as that which filled his eyes, but he made no move to deny his feelings for Spike.

Graham stared at him in disbelief for a moment before his features slipped into an expressionless mask.  "I don't believe this."  He turned and walked toward the entrance of the crypt.  Just before he reached it, he turned and looked back at Xander.  "I wasted a lot of dreams on you." Then he was gone, taking Riley with him.

Spike unclenched his fists, hardly noticing the pain from where his fingernails had sliced through the flesh of his palms.  He wanted to follow Graham, wanted to return upon him the pain he'd just visited upon Xander, but he couldn't.  Not only was the chip stopping him, but he had to stay with Xander.

Xander was staring at the mouth of the crypt, hugging himself as his eyes shone with unshed tears.  Spike approached him cautiously.  "Xander?  Time to head home."

Xander blinked rapidly and the tears disappeared, but he didn't respond. Hovering over him every step of the way, Spike shepherded him back to the apartment,  never moving more than a pace away from his side the entire journey.  Once inside the apartment, he ushered Xander over to the couch and sat down beside him, twisting so he could see his face.  He was more than a little unnerved by the other man's continued silence.  "Xander?"

The only response he got was more rapid blinking to dispel potential tears.  Spike couldn't sit there and watch Xander hurt.  He followed his instinct and leaned forward, trying to pull Xander into a comforting embrace.

Xander resisted him with sudden fierce effort, throwing off his arm.  "I'm not interested in being used," he said harshly.

Spike froze.  Damn that soldier bastard!  First he hurt Xander by throwing the boy's confusion back in his face and then he made Xander doubt him. Spike had spent weeks by Xander's side, slowly earning his trust and his friendship.  He had even begun to think Xander could return his feelings and now all that may have been destroyed.  Fighting down his anger, he met Xander's glare directly.  "I'm not using you, Xander."

"Yeah?  So this isn't some kind of ploy to get close to Buffy?  You were spending a lot of time hanging around her before."  There was old pain in Xander's eyes behind the new hurt, like being used wasn't anything new for him.

"No!  Of course not.  This was never about Buffy."  Xander's gaze didn't soften at all.  "Look, I admit I played with Riley's head.  He was one of them, one of the ones that put this damn chip in my head.  I couldn't do anything to them like I wanted to, couldn't do anything to get any real revenge, so I took what I could get.  He was so insecure about Buffy that it didn't take much to push his buttons.  You know me, luv.  I couldn't not do it."

"So you were only lying to Riley about Buffy?"  Xander watched him intently.

"I was messing with his head, getting my own back the only way I could. He must have told Graham about it.  That's why the stupid git is hung up on the idea."  He moved closer to Xander and reached out to stroked his hands up and down the other man's upper arms.  "I've been with you because I want to be with you, Xander.  It's got nothing to do with anyone but you."

Xander held his gaze, searching for something.  "I want to believe you."

"Then do.  I'm telling the truth, Xan.  This is only about you and the way I feel about you.  The rest of Sunnyhell could disappear and nothing would change because you're the only thing that matters."  It was hard to find the words.  He hadn't needed them with Dru; they hadn't really made sense to her.  It was attention that she craved.  It was the same with Harmony, even; all that had mattered was that he was focused on her.  His words usually went right over her empty head.  With Xander staring at him with somber eyes, he had to grope to find a way to convince the other man he was telling the truth.

He pulled Xander closer, not stopping until he held Xander close against his chest.  "I don't care what anyone else thinks or feels or wants, luv. All that matters is you.  If you don't want this, fine.  It ends here because you want it to."  Ignore the fact that it would rip Spike's heart out.  He'd still back off...for as long as he could, anyway.  "If this is what you want, though, I'm here.  You understand?  I'm not going anywhere so long as you want me here."  He held Xander tightly, unwilling to let him go.  He might say he was, but he couldn't change how he felt.  He loved Xander, wanted him, and he wasn't going to let him go without a fight.

Xander was silent for several moments, holding himself utterly still.  A shuddering sigh shook his frame and he turned a little, moving deeper into the circle of Spike's arms.  Xander's arms slowly unwrapped from around his own body and slid around Spike so that he was returning the embrace. "I want to believe you," he repeated in a whisper.

"Then do," Spike said again, scattering kisses across Xander's temple. "Just trust me, luv.  I've got you and I'm not going to let you go."  He might be able to force himself to back off for a bit and give Xander the illusion of freedom, but there was no way that he could ever just let Xander go.  Not after falling in love with him.  He continued to hold Xander, the warm strength of him filling his arms.  He could feel Xander's heart beat, smell the pure scent of him as the dark-haired man relaxed against him.

A ragged sigh ghosted across Spike's skin.  "Graham was wrong," Xander said quietly.  "I wasn't playing games with him."

"I know, luv.  You're not me.  You don't do that to people."  Spike forced himself to keep his voice level to avoid upsetting Xander.  He still felt the urge to hunt Graham down and smash the taller man's face in.  Just because Graham couldn't handle the idea of Xander being interested in anyone besides him was no reason to hurt him.  One reason that Spike was drawn to Xander was the other man's innate honesty.  If Graham hadn't seen that in Xander and realized that playing games could never be a part of Xander's nature, then he didn't deserve a chance with Xander.

Xander still hadn't looked up at him.  "But if I wasn't playing games, you know what that means, right?"

Spike tightened his embrace.  "I know, Xander.  You really felt something for him."

"Feel," Xander corrected.  "It isn't just going to go away."

"I know that, too."  Spike kissed Xander's hair once more.  "Love doesn't work by any rules.  It's never easy, not if it's real.  I understand, pet, and it's all right."

He was rewarded for finding the words by Xander raising his head.  The dark eyes that met his were liquid with unshed tears.  Spike met Xander's solemn stare for a moment, then leaned forward and kissed the corner of Xander's mouth.  When that drew the barest hint of a smile from Xander, Spike moved forward once more and kissed him more firmly, taking in the feeling of soft lips moving against his own.  After a moment he sat back.

Xander blinked a few times and the smile disappeared, buried under rising uncertainty.  "Um, did I do something wrong?"

"No," Spike said quickly.  He hated this; he wasn't prepared to have to guess how his actions could be interpreted.  He wasn't used to caring about how they reacted beyond whether or not he managed to frighten or hurt them.  "Nothing's wrong.  It's just..." he shut his mouth.  He was beginning to babble as uselessly as Angel would.

Xander's smile made a brief reappearance.  "It's ok.  I think I just want to go to bed.  I need some time on my own.  To think, you know?"

Spike nodded.  "You do that, luv.  I'll be here when you want to talk more tomorrow."  He brushed his lips across Xander's once more, then stood up and helped Xander to his feet as well.  "Sleep well."

Shoulders slumped wearily, Xander nodded and headed for his bedroom. Spike watched him go, then entered his own bedroom.  He wasn't going out that night.  He couldn't, not when there was a chance Xander could need him.  More pragmatically, staying in also meant that he wouldn't be tempted to see how much damage he could wreak on Graham before the chip finally melted his brain.

He changed his clothing, removing his jeans and pulling on a pair of pyjama pants he'd appropriated from Xander.  He'd never been one for pjs, but he'd noticed that Xander seemed to like him wearing them.  If it meant he might get a smile from Xander in the morning, then he'd wear them.  He stayed in his room, laying on the bed and staring at the ceiling as he listened to Xander get ready for bed.

Humans were so strange about love.  The way they believed that you could only love one person at a time; he couldn't understand it.  He could remember his own childish beliefs in true love with a single person, but they seemed just that:  childish.  Love was love; why try to limit it to a single other person?  Xander was torturing himself over feelings that he couldn't control, and Graham was willing to throw away a chance with Xander because he couldn't understand that love couldn't be limited.

As all sound gradually ceased in the apartment, Spike stood up and crept silently from his room to Xander's.  He didn't feel right going to sleep until he checked on the other man.  He stood in the doorway and sighed. Xander was huddled in a tight ball in one corner of his bed, his expression unhappy even in sleep.  Not wanting to risk waking him, Spike stayed in the doorway, watching him sleep.  When Xander woke up tomorrow, Spike intended to be there for him.  He was going to make him lose that pained expression and bring the smile back to his eyes.  He was going to show him that it was all right to feel like he did.

He was going to do everything he could to make Xander realize that he was loved.


~*~*~*~*~


As the rising sun finally shone through his window, Xander gave up on all pretenses of sleep.  He'd been restless all night, dark thoughts and a heavy heart bringing him out of fitful dreams again and again.  He'd slept a little at first, but for the past few hours he had been faking it, hoping that the semblance of sleep might at least make him feel rested. Xander gave up and climbed out of bed.  He stood in the middle of his room and stared wearily at his closet.  What was he going to do today?  It was his day off, so he didn't have to worry about work.

Great.  So he could spend the whole day thinking about how badly he'd fucked up his life.

Xander shook himself.  Thinking like that wasn't going to get him anywhere.  It would just drive him back into bed...or maybe under it.  The only thing that was going to keep him going was work.  If he didn't have to go into his day job, then he could work on the one he did at night. He'd made a promise to Spike not to do anything without him, but he couldn't stay in the apartment all day and wait for night to fall.  He'd find a way to make it up to Spike later.

Dressing quickly, Xander left the apartment as quietly as he could, knowing that Spike would be sleeping too deeply to notice anything except maybe a war.  Hands shoved deeply into his pockets, he walked to the cemetery, thoughts whirling around in his mind in endless spirals. Graham's words echoed in his memory:  'I wasted a lot of dreams on you'. Had those dreams been wasted?  Xander hadn't been trying to play with Graham; he'd been attracted to the other man and had fallen in love with him.  Those feelings had been real...but so were his feelings for Spike. He didn't understand how he could be in love with two people at the same time.  What was wrong with him?  The thing that frightened him most was the thought that maybe he wasn't really in love with either Graham or Spike.  Maybe he only thought he was.  Maybe he didn't know what love was and he was confusing something else for it.

More confused than when he left the house, Xander reached the Cynon's crypt.   He hesitated for a moment outside.  He didn't want to go in without knowing that Spike would be outside, waiting for him and looking out for him.  Damning himself as a coward, he forced himself to enter.  The interior was shadowed even in daylight and Xander stared hard through the darkness.  "Hello?"

The Cynon glided out of the far corner, appearing out of the shadows to leer down at Xander.  "I didn't expect you to return so quickly."

"I'm full of surprises," Xander said.  "Let's do this."

"Eager today?  Good."  The Cynon moved closer, circling around him with predatory grace.  "I have something special planned."  It leaned closer, staring at him in obvious anticipation.  "Rejection."  It said the word slowly, drawing it out, savoring it.

Xander shuddered a little but he refused to look away.  "Can you hurry this up?  I've got plans for later."

The Cynon inclined its head and raised its hand, reaching out toward Xander's face but stopping just short of making contact.  "Feel," it whispered.

Xander felt.  The memories of a lifetime of rejection coursed through him, replaying in his mind as if new once more.  Every time his parents ignored him in favor of watching the television or yelling at each other.  Every time the cool kids had walked right past him as if he didn't exist.  Every time his friends left him behind without even considering bringing him along.  Every time he lost a job.  Anya leaving him.  Graham turning his back on him and walking away.

The last ripped through him.  He'd had no time to get used to it, to try to build any kind of scar tissue over it.  He could see the disappointment and hurt and anger in Graham's eye, the hint of disgust in his voice, the angry line of his back as he walked away.  The latest rejection, it cut the deepest, hurt the most.

He couldn't put a good face on it, couldn't pretend that it didn't touch him.  Tears ran down his cheeks and he didn't try to stop them; at least they obscured the face of the Cynon, leering down at him.  He let the tears run freely and was grateful for the blindness that they brought.

Finally, the Cynon released its hold on his emotions.  The flood of memories ceased, but the tears continued to come.  He twisted away violently, facing the wall and wrapping his arms about himself tightly. He drew in breath in huge gasps, fighting for control.  It was a hard-won battle but he eventually repressed the tears and slowed his breathing back down to normal.   He scrubbed his hands over his face, wiping away the last of the tears.   He closed his eyes, trying to sort through all the information in his head.  There were vampires in the northernmost cemetery, demons encroaching on the east side neighborhoods, and some new demons in the wood in the north.

Wait.  Xander could visualize the demons in the woods, could see them as they infested an abandoned cabin.  He recognized them.  Relatives of theirs had moved through Sunnydale three years ago.  Buffy had been inclined to leave them be; they didn't bother humans but instead targeted vampires, preferring to feast on dead flesh.  The Scoobies had only gotten involved when the demons began to desecrate graves in search of more food.  They were tough and nasty and they would swarm all over Spike the moment they saw him, dragging him down by sheer weight of numbers and make him their next meal..

Not looking at the Cynon, Xander walked out of the crypt and into the sunshine.  The warmth of the day didn't touch him.  The knowledge of what he had to do filled him, numbing him to everything else except his purpose.  He didn't have a lot of time.  He was going to have to retrieve a few weapons from a secret stash he kept near his parents' house.  During the confusion of the Initiative's departure from Sunnydale, he'd managed to appropriate several weapons for himself.  The just-in-case scenario he'd half-imagined was finally occurring, so it was time to pull them out of storage.

Before he did that, he was going to have to take care of a few personal things.  He walked swiftly back to his apartment, keeping himself focused on the task he had set for himself.  He eased into the apartment, careful to stay quiet.  Morning was still barely beginning so Spike would still be heavily asleep, but he didn't want to take any chances.

He made his way to his bedroom and reached under his bed, pulling out the thick envelope he had hidden away.  He didn't like to think about the envelope's contents, but he'd always known he was going to need them.  He just hadn't expected it to be so soon.  He sat down on the bed and laid the envelope down beside him.  He then opened up the drawer in his nightstand and pulled out three sheets of paper and a pen.  Using the envelope to bear down on, he quickly wrote three new letters.  He folded two of them, addressing them with names and then slid them into the envelope.  The third he folded and addressed, but he left it on his bed.

Xander stood and walked over to his closet, pulling out a pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt.  He needed old clothes, comfortable and tough. He removed his clothes and pulled the ones he'd chosen on, taking comfort in the familiarity of them against his skin.  He picked up the envelope and glanced at the folded letter he'd left on the bed.  He hesitated for a moment, but he really didn't have a better place to leave it.  He'd have to just leave it there and hope for the best.

He knew he should just leave, take the envelope and get out, but he couldn't resist the impulse to look in on Spike.  He crept over to the second bedroom and eased the door open.  He peered in through the crack. Spike lay beneath the sheets, the pale perfect muscles of his back and shoulders revealed as he slept on his stomach, arms wrapped around the pillow that he hugged to his chest.

Xander wanted to push the door open, to enter the room fully and stand beside the bed.  He wanted to stroke his hands over the blond hair, to feel the smooth muscles and inhale Spike's scent.  He wanted to kiss the vampire again.  He wanted...but he couldn't have.  It was finally all clear to him:  Spike had told him the night before that he didn't care about Sunnydale or anyone in the town but Xander.  He was hanging around a place he hated, tied there because Xander was never going to go anywhere or accomplish anything.  He morbidly wondered which would be worse: having Spike stay in Sunnydale and hate every moment of it and know that he was responsible for the vampire's unhappiness, or having Spike leave him behind when he could no longer resist the urge to move on?  Xander didn't think he could face either possibility, so no matter how much he wanted to see those depthless blue eyes again, he couldn't.  Waking Spike up would ruin everything, so he forced himself to close the door and walk away, walk out of the apartment and out onto the street.

He paused on the street corner, holding the envelope under one arm while he fed quarters into the pay phone that stood there.  He dialed the number he had gotten from Graham one night on patrol.  He felt his throat tighten as he listened to the phone ring, terrified that no one would pick up, terrified that some one would pick up.

After four rings, someone did pick up.  "Hello?"  Riley.

Xander cleared his throat.  "It's Xander."

"What do you want?"  Riley's tone immediately became cold.

"I need to meet with you."

"Why?  Are there some head games you and your vampire forgot to play?"

Xander closed his eyes.  "Riley..."  Arguing wouldn't do any good.  "I need you to do something for me.  I know I shouldn't ask, but there's no one else."

"What about Spike?  He seemed to be taking care of all your needs just fine."

"Please.  There's no one else."

Riley sighed.  "What do you want?"

"Just meet me.  Now."

"Where?"

"In front of the Bronze."  It was a pretty neutral location and it was on the way to his weapons cache.

"Fine."  Riley hung up without saying anything more.

Xander exhaled shakily, then hung up the phone and headed for the Bronze. He glanced around the streets as he made his way there, remembering everything that he'd experienced in Sunnydale.  The ice cream shop he'd visited so often with Willow.  A music store he and Buffy had hung out in.  The street corner where he'd almost died when set upon by vampires.  The alley shortcut that he always took after being left behind once again...he forced himself to concentrate on the present.  He had to get to the Bronze in time.  There was no way Riley was going to wait around for him.

He made it just in time; Riley was standing beside his SUV, looking ready to leave.  He didn't move when Xander came into sight.  He just continued to lean back against the vehicle, arms crossed over his chest.  He stared silently at Xander.

Xander walked up to him and held out the envelope.  "I'll keep this short.  If you don't hear from me in a few days, could you please give this to Giles?"

Riley made no move to take the envelope.  "Why can't your pet vampire do it for you?"

If this all went wrong, Spike wasn't going to have any interest in doing Xander any favors.  If by some miracle things went right, he still didn't want to chance Spike finding the envelope; it would send the vampire out looking for him and that was the last thing Xander wanted to happen. Spike had to stay away from the woods until the demons were gone and he was no longer in danger.  "Please, Riley."

"Fine."  Riley snatched the envelope, then opened up the door to his vehicle.

Guess the conversation was over.  As Xander watched Riley drive away, he realized how much he'd been hoping Graham would come.  He'd dreaded seeing the blue-eyed man again, but it would have been nice to see him one last time.  Judging by how much it hurt inside that he wasn't going to get that chance, he'd been more than half in love with Graham.

Xander shook himself and looked at his watch.  That didn't matter now.  He didn't have much time.  He still had to get to his weapons cache and out to the woods, and he had to do it all during daylight hours if he wanted to make sure that Spike didn't have a chance to interfere.  Swallowing hard, he walked quickly northwards.

It was time to end this.


~*~*~*~*~


Graham scrubbed his towel over his head, ruffling his hair as he wiped away the water that clung to the strands after his shower.  He hadn't slept well.   Images of Xander had haunted him, keeping him awake as his mind had replayed the events of the past night again and again:  Xander laughing up at him as they walked through the cemetery; Xander closing his eyes and leaning into Spike's touch as the vampire stroked his skin with his tongue; Xander staring at him in misery and confusion.  He'd tossed and turned for most of the night and was now hoping that a shower would help to wake him up.

He walked into the living room and nodded at Riley, who was sitting on the couch.  "Hey, Ri."  He tossed the towel back over his shoulder and headed for the kitchen, wanting to grab something for breakfast.  He paused when Riley didn't say anything in response and turned around.  "Ri?"

Riley looked up abruptly.  "Graham."

"Yeah, that would be me."  Graham walked back into the living room, wondering what had Riley back down to the very basics of me, Riley, you, Graham.  An envelope lay on the end table, the name 'Giles' written on it.  "What's that?"

Riley rubbed his hand over his forehead.  "While you were in the bathroom I got a phone call.  It was Xander."

Graham froze.  "What did he want?"

"He said he needed a favor and asked me to meet him.  He wouldn't explain what was going on, so I decided to go."

"Without telling me."

"If it was going to be just another game, I didn't want you to get involved."  Riley shrugged apologetically.  "I figured he'd be less able to fuck with my head."

Fine.  Graham wasn't sure that he wanted to see Xander again, anyway.  He didn't know if he wanted to see how much it would hurt to look at Xander and know that everything that they'd shared together had been a lie.  "So what's with the envelope?"

"Xander wants me to hold on to it for a few days."  Riley went back to staring at the envelope, which had been distracting him when Graham walked in.

Now Graham was distracted as well.  What was inside the envelope that was so important that Xander was willing to ask Riley for help?  He sat down beside Riley.  "It's not sealed."

"I noticed that."  Riley picked up the envelope.  "I'm wondering if the contents could be a part of a larger security concern."

"There's only one way to find out."

"Our names aren't on it."

"It's not sealed.  Whose to know we took a peek?"

Good point.  Graham took the envelope and emptied its contents out onto the coffee table.  The envelope was filled with smaller envelopes, also unsealed.  Names labeled the envelopes:  'Buffy', 'Willow', 'Dawn', 'Tara', 'Mr. and Mrs. Harris', 'Anya', and a thicker one marked 'Giles' once more.  Two folded sheets of paper caught his attention.  One was marked with Riley's name, the other with his own.  Graham was reluctant to pick up the one designated for him.  Did he really want to know what Xander had to say?

Riley picked up his sheet of paper.  "This has my name on it.  That makes it my business."  He unfolded it and began to read, with Graham staring unabashedly over his shoulder.

Riley-

I know you have no reason to want to hear anything from me, much less advice, but I have to say this.

You have to talk to Buffy.  You can't leave things the way they are.  When you left, there were a hundred things going on that distracted both of you from the only thing that matters:  the way you feel about each other.  I know you love her - I saw it in everything you did for her, in the way you looked at her and talked about her.

You were wrong when you said that she didn't love you.  She didn't want to lose you.  When she realized that you weren't going to come back, that the fight was real and that it could be forever, something in her eyes died a little.  She ran across town and made it to the field in time to watch you leave.  She went really quiet after that.  You took an important part of her with you.

Forget the orders that you're under.  Forget pride and hurt and distractions.  You love each other.  People go their whole lives without ever getting the chance to taste what you could have and keep forever.

Talk to her, man.  You're never going to get a chance like this again.

It wasn't signed, but it sounded just like Xander.  Riley put the letter down carefully, eyes still locked on the words scrawled across the page in obvious haste.  Graham stared at him.  "Where did that come from?"

"I talked to Xander a few times, back when things with Buffy first started to go wrong.  He was the one I could talk to then.  He probably knows more about what happened to Buffy and me than I do."  Riley blinked and forced himself to look away from the words that so distracted him.  He nodded toward the sheet of paper waiting for Graham.  "Aren't you going to read it?"

Graham reached out and picked up the letter.  "What could he have left to say?"  He opened up the letter, angling the page so that Riley could see it as well.

Graham-

I don't know if you're even going to read this, but I need to say this, need to know that I tried to let you know.

Thank you.  I know that you hate the fact that you wasted so much time on me, but I still have to thank you for it.  You are an amazing guy and the fact that you took any kind of interest in me...thank you.  Someday you're going to find the person who can love you like you deserve, and he's is going to be the luckiest man on the planet.

Thank you.  You showed me something I thought I'd never have a chance to ever experience and no matter how it turned out, I can't regret it.

Graham frowned down at the letter.  It didn't sound right.  It wasn't an apology and it wasn't an angry rebuttal continuing the argument from the other day.  "It's a good-bye."  He dropped the letter and grabbed the envelope marked for Giles.

"What are you doing?" Riley asked.

"This letter was a good-bye.  So was yours.  Why is he writing good-bye letters?"  He opened the letter to Giles, the fear inside him growing.

Giles-

I'm sorry to be telling you the news like this, but there really isn't a better way to do it.  If you're reading this, then I'm dead.  I'm telling you because I need you to be the one to hold the others together.  Buffy and Willow are both going to blame themselves and you're the only one who is going to be able to make sure they don't.

This isn't anyone's fault but my own.  I walked into the situation with my eyes open, knowing what could happen.

I know you're going to be upset, but I need you to do a few things for me.  Could you please give these envelopes to the people they're for?  I've also included my will in this letter to you.  I don't have much, but I do know where I'd like it to go.

The second favor is going to be harder to do, I think.  I need you and Buffy to watch out for Spike for me.  He is the reason that I actually made it this far, lasted this long.  He had my back, risked his life for me over and over and kept me alive.  You're going to laugh, but he turned out to be a friend and I don't want anything to happen to him.

The only other thing I have to tell you is thank you.  Not for pulling the answer to stopping the apocalypse out of the book no one else knew existed, although that was always pretty cool.  I want to thank you for showing me what a father, what a man is supposed to be like.  You've been my guide for both and I'm sorry that I waited this long to tell you.  And I guess I won't curl up and die of manly embarrassment if I write this down - I love you.

Thank you, G-man.

Sorry.  I just had to get that in one last time!

Graham dropped the letter.  "He's going to get himself killed."  He stood up and walked back to the bedroom, pulling on boots and gearing up.

Riley followed him.  "And he was going to let me be the bearer of bad news to Giles?  Great."  He grabbed boots and gear as well.  "Where do you think he is?"

"I know who we should ask."  Graham felt the need to move jittering through him, making him anxious to be moving.  He didn't know what Xander had gotten himself into or if it might already be too late.

"Not Spike."  Riley's voice was firm as he moved toward the door.

"No."  Graham led the way to the car, opening up the driver's side door and sliding in.  If Xander was going to get into something that he was pretty sure was going to kill him, then there was no way Spike was involved.  Graham had witnessed how protective the vampire was of Xander; Spike would keep Xander alive at all costs.  Xander must have shut Spike out and left him behind.

Graham drove to the cemetery with controlled haste.  Riley figured out what he was thinking and was at his side the whole way to the crypt where they'd seen Xander those weeks back, emerging from the shadows shaking and pale.  This was where Xander got his information.  This was where they'd find out where he'd gone.  "We're going to go in fast and hard, get what we need and get out."

Riley nodded.  "Let's go."

Graham turned to move toward the crypt, but before he could even take a step forward, he was knocked aside.  As he tried to catch himself, he caught sight of a figure enveloped in a dark cloak and heard a stream of curses as the figure blew past him.  Spike.  Graham followed the snarling vampire into the crypt, Riley following close behind.

Spike threw off the protective covering he'd worn to ward off the sun and lunged across the crypt, grabbing the blue demon within around the throat.  "What the hell did you do to him?  Where is he?"  He punctuated his demands by slamming the demon's head against the wall of the crypt.

Graham hurried forward and grabbed one of Spike's arms.  "Riley!  He'll kill him!"  With Riley's help, he was able to drag the enraged vampire away from the demon.  If Spike killed it, they'd never know what Xander was planning.  They'd have no chance of saving him.

Spike struggled and swore, but Graham and Riley managed to hold him.  The blue demon slumped against the wall of the crypt, staring at Spike with alarm.  "Hey!" Graham called, getting the creature's attention.  "We're not going to be able to hold him forever.  Tell us what we want to know, or we let him go."  He kept his voice level, not allowing the fear and urgency that filled him to show in away.  "Tell us where Xander is."


~*~*~*~*~


Spike strained against the arms that held him immobile, but he held his full strength in check.  He didn't want to get free, not right then.  He'd heard the soldiers threaten the Cynon with his violence and he was willing to play along.  He was willing to do whatever it took to find Xander.

He'd woken up to find Xander already gone.  A note on the kitchen counter had told him that the dark-haired man was out running errands and that he'd be back soon.  Spike had debated what to do while waiting; watch the telly, read a magazine, prank call the Slayer?  He had decided that none of them suited his mood.  He'd wanted to wake up and talk to Xander, make sure the other man wasn't too torn up about what had happened the night before.  He knew Xander was going to take it to heart, knew that the boy was going to feel the rejection and the loss of Graham more than he should.  Behind the laughing eyes, Xander hid a soul that felt too much, too deeply.  He'd wanted to hold Xander and make sure that he was all right, to tell him he was loved and to get those dark eyes to smile for him once more.

If he couldn't be near Xander, then he could at least immerse himself in the other man's presence.  He'd probably never be able to live it down if anyone caught him at it, but he didn't care.  He wanted to be with Xander and this was the next best thing.  He had pushed open the closed door to Xander's bedroom, intending to spend time in the place that smelled and felt the most like the mortal.  It was there that he'd found the letter with his name on it, waiting for him on the bed.

Spike-

No matter how I write this, I know I'm going to end up pissing you off. I'm just going to beg you to read this all the way through before you do anything, all right?

The first thing I have to tell you is thank you.  Thank you for keeping me alive these past few weeks.  I would have been dead a dozen times over without you there by my side.  Thank you for watching out for me in other, smaller ways.  If I hadn't had you to talk to, I probably would have ended up going out of my mind.  You helped me to hold it together.  You were a friend when I needed one most.

The past few days have been something out of a secret dream for me.  Thank you for giving me the chance to live it.  You let me feel things I never thought I'd ever be able to, made me feel better and closer to love than I ever have before...and that's as mushy as I'll get.  I'll spare you any more sloppy feelings.

This is the hard part, the part that's going to piss you off.  If you've found this letter, then I guess I didn't come back and there's a good chance that I'm dead.  I have no right, but I need to ask a final favor of you.  I need you to make sure that if I've been turned, that you make sure that I don't rise again.  None of the others could handle having to stake me.  You're the only one I can trust.  Please, Spike.

Xander

Spike had dropped the letter and run to his room, pulling on his sun-cloak as he'd left the apartment.  He didn't even know if he'd shut the door behind himself and he couldn't bring himself to care.  Xander was out there performing some noble, bullshit sacrifice and Spike wasn't going to let it happen.  He'd gone straight to the one being that would know where Xander had gone.  The Cynon.

The Cynon, who was currently cringing against the wall, stared at him with a healthy amount of fear.

"Where is Xander?"  Spike demanded.  "What did you send him up against?"

The blue-skinned demon straightened a little.  "I didn't send him anywhere.  I merely gave him the information he desired.  What he did with that information can hardly be construed as any fault of mine."

"I'll construe it any way I damn well please."  Spike lunged forward a bit for effect.  "Start talking or start dying."

"He came to me and I told him what he wanted to know.  There are new vampires hiding in the Serenity Acres cemetery, a clan of Blorten demons moving through town on their southern migration path, and a few demons hiding out in the woods near the abandoned south cabin."

"What demons are out in the woods?" asked Graham.

"A small group of Kladdersh."

Spike hissed.  That explained it.  Kladdersh demons were notoriously nasty, even aside from their interest in vampires as snack food.  Xander had gone after them alone to protect him.  Of all the stupid, suicidal, whiteknight gestures...  "If anything's happened to him, I'm going to hunt you down and make your dying last a month."

"Even if you find him in time, you may not save him."  The Cynon looked from Spike to Graham and then back again.  "I tasted his emotions.  He is torn by the feelings inside himself, convinced that the love he feels is wrong, that it can only hurt him and the two of you.  He didn't leave here dreading death.  He was looking forward to it."

"Motherfucker."  Graham released Spike and took a step forward.  "I should kill you now."  No matter what the blue-eyed man might have tried to make Xander believe, he still loved him.  It was there in the fear and the rage that filled his voice and gaze.

"I didn't do that to him," the Cynon said.  "The credit belongs to you, you and the situation and Xander's own delicious fears.  If you don't realize that, you will gain nothing by saving him.  He'll just find another way to escape, another way to die."

Spike glared at the Cynon.  He understood what the demon was saying, but all that had to wait until Xander was safe.  "Pray to whatever it is that you serve that Xander is still alive."  He shook Riley off and stalked out of the crypt.  Behind him, he could hear Riley talking to Graham, persuading the other man to follow.  When the two soldiers made it outside, Spike was waiting for them.

He moved forward until he was right in Graham's face, staring up at the taller man.  "You don't like me.  Fine.  I don't like you.  Right now, all that means shit."

Graham nodded.  "Let's go get Xander."

Spike raised an eyebrow approvingly.  "Then let's get to your vehicle.  I know where the cabin is."

Graham drove with barely controlled desperation at speeds that almost made Spike nervous.  The same need that drove Graham was also pounding through the vampire and the insane pace that Graham had set didn't seem to be nearly fast enough.  The knowledge that Xander could be dying as they sped to reach him made him wish that the cheesy legends about vampires being able to fly were true.  When they finally got within a mile of the cabin, Spike was out of the vehicle before it stopped moving.  Graham and Riley took a moment to finish gearing up with weapons and then they were behind him.

Spike held up his hand and listened to the wind.  "The Kladdersh are in the woods.  I can hear them moving.  They don't like to be up during the day, so something must have drawn them out of the cabin."

"Xander?" Graham asked.

"I can't hear him out here.  The Kladdersh are upset.  I don't know what they're saying, but they sound pissed.  I think Xander pushed them out of the cabin somehow and that they're planning to take it back."  He stared off into the woods.  The Kladdersh were angry and they wouldn't welcome a pair of humans into their territory.  He, on the other hand, would be welcome.  Snacks were always welcome.

"We go hard, we go fast, and we get to the cabin."  Graham's voice was firm.   "Then we get Xander the hell out of there."

Spike grinned savagely as he took in the blood-thirsty determination on the soldier's face.  "Let's go."

Luck was with them:  the Kladdersh were so focused on muttering about whatever had happened at the cabin that they didn't even notice the three men moving through the woods.  Spike made sure they stayed well away from the Kladdersh.  He didn't fancy ending up an appetizer before he got the chance to shake Xander's teeth loose for coming up with a plan like this.

Once they reached the clearing that surrounded the ramshackle cabin, Spike broke into a run, knowing that Riley and Graham would be right behind him.  He lunged through the door, the sound of Xander's rapid heartbeat filling his ears.  "Xander!  Where the hell are you?"

"Spike?"  Xander voice, weary and surprised, drifted down from the upper floor.

Graham was closer to the staircase, so he was the first one up the stairs.  Spike followed him closely, managing to push past Riley.  He and Graham ran to the first room on the right of the hall.

Xander stood in the middle of the room, frowning.  "What the hell are you guys doing here?"  His face was streaked with dust and sweat and he swayed a little as he stared at them.  Discarded weapons surrounded him and an empty duffel bag was tossed into a far corner.

"What the hell are we doing?" Spike parroted back, tearing off his protective sun cloak.  "You're the one on the suicide mission, pet."

"How did...I don't know what you're talking about."  Xander looked out the window.  "Listen, there are Kladdersh out there, Spike.  I can handle this.  You'd better just get out of here.  Riley, Gr-graham, this isn't your fight.   You shouldn't be here."

"You can handle this?"  Graham shook his head.  "Xander, there are demons out in the woods working themselves up to come back here and take their house back.  You're not going to be able to beat that."

"They're coming back?"  Xander didn't look dismayed by that; instead, a little more life appeared in his eyes and he stood up straighter.  "Then you definitely need to get out of here.  I've got this under control. I've got a plan."

Spike shook his head.  Whatever plan Xander had wasn't going to happen. It no doubt ended with the demons being taken care of, but without Xander walking away.  It was obvious:  from the resigned slump to his shoulders to the way Xander refused to meet anyone's gaze, it was clear that Xander had given up.  "It won't wash, luv.  We're not leaving you behind.  You're coming with us."

Xander did look at Spike then.  A bitter smile twisted his lips.  "I'm not going anywhere.  And you have -" he checked his watch "-two minutes to get out of here."

"Why two minutes?" Riley asked.

Spike felt a frisson of real fear.  He'd heard stories about Xander, knew that the other man was willing to do what ever it took to protect his friends.  He could be as ruthless as an alpha protecting his pack.  In the past, he'd relied on pilfered napalm and..."Explosives."

"Those, too," Xander agreed.  "The two minutes is actually how long I think you have before the Kladdersh decide to rush the house and you'll either be killed by them or trapped in here.  Being trapped would be bad because the explosives are set to go off in four minutes."  He looked back at his watch.   "Three minutes now.  I'd suggest running."

"Not without you," Graham said.

"This really isn't any of your business.  Spike, don't forget to take that cloak with you."  He swallowed hard and looked at his watch.  "One minute till they come back."

Spike met Graham's gaze.  He read exactly what he wanted to see in the soldier's eyes.  "Right then," he said quietly.  He bent down to pick up his cloak and pulled it on.  "Are you sure you can handle this, luv?" he asked as he settled it into place.

"You need to get out of here," Xander insisted.  "And I'm going to be fine."   His voice broke.

Spike nodded once, then lunged forward and grabbed Xander, tossing the taller man up over his shoulder and running for the door.  Xander cried out a protest and began to struggle immediately, but Spike just tightened his hold on him and continued to run down the stairs, Riley and Graham's footsteps a heavy echo just behind him.  As he cleared the front door, he saw that the Kladdersh demons were finally staging an effort to retake the house.  He turned quickly.  "Give me some cover fire and then follow me out the back!" he ordered.  This could work.  If the Kladdersh followed them into the house...

Graham and Riley please him by understanding exactly what he was thinking.  A brief burst of gunfire behind him told him that the Kladdersh would be delayed, and then he was out the back door and down the rickety stairs. Xander fought to get free of his hold, but Spike ignored the warning twinges from the chip and just held him tighter, refusing to let him go. He heard the two humans get out of the house and then he was running, trying to outpace whatever explosives Xander had rigged.

They almost made it.

A terrific concussion of sound and force knocked Spike to his knees.  Time seemed to slow down as he attempted to react.  He tried to gentle Xander's fall, but the dark-haired man still slammed into the ground hard.  Spike tried to cover Xander's body with his own, but Xander was writhing like a man possessed, yelling about shrapnel.  Spike understood there would be shrapnel - that's why he wanted to make sure Xander was protected.  Xander pulled one of his arms free and smashed his elbow into Spike's face.  The pain caused Spike to flinch and that was all the opportunity Xander needed.  He squirmed free...

...only to roll on top of Spike and pin the vampire to the ground.  Spike realized dimly that Xander wasn't trying to get away.  It took a few moments more for full understanding to penetrate the pain in his head: Xander was shielding him.  Before Spike could react, debris began to rain down on them:  parts of the cabin and parts of the Kladdersh fell indiscriminately from the sky.  After a few seconds it was over.

Spike pushed Xander off to the side.  "What the hell did you think you were doing?" he demanded, adjusting his hood to better shield his face.

Xander didn't answer.  His eyes were closed and he made no moved to get up.

"Xan?"  Spike touched his throat gently, searching for a heartbeat.  It was there, slow and regular.

"How is he?" Graham demanded, kneeling on the other side of Xander. Kladdersh innards stained one side of his pants and splinters of wood were caught in his hair.

Splinters.  Xander had been trying to protect him from the wood.  "The bloody noble bastard's out cold."  He gently pushed up Xander's shirt, hissing a little as the sight of the bruising.  "He probably got hurt getting into the house."

"Add that to the blast and no wonder he's out.  He might have even gotten knocked over the head by some debris."  Graham reached out and brushed some dust from Xander's hair.  "He needs to be taken care of."

"I'll take him back to his place.  I can watch him there."  Spike readied himself for a fight.  Either Graham was going to want to take the boy to a hospital or he was going to try to take Xander home himself.  He had to realize how big a mistake he'd made in letting Xander go.

"I'm coming with you."

Spike blinked.  "To Xander's?"

"Yeah.  Ri, can you go back to base and cover for me there?"

Riley nodded.  "Are you sure?"

"I need to do this.  I'll be in contact soon."  Graham pulled a few more splinters out of Xander's hair, then scooped the unconscious man into his arms.

"I can take him," Spike protested, but not very hard.  There was something in the way that Graham was looking at him, something in his gaze that looked like acceptance and maybe even anticipation.

"I got him.  Just make sure nothing eats us on the way back to the car."

With Riley taking point and Spike bringing up the rear, they left the smoking remains of the cabin and headed for the SUV.  Even as he cast an admiring glance at the wreckage - the dark-eyed man knew how to place explosives - Spike knew that things were nowhere near over yet.  Xander's attempt at suicide by combat had to be dealt with, as did his relationship with Spike and that with Graham.  They couldn't let things go or walk away any longer.  Beyond that, there was that new look in Graham's eyes to deal with.

Spike had a suspicion that things were about to get very interesting.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander rolled over and hissed as his head protested the movement.  The pain roused him out of sleep and he opened his eyes slowly.  As he opened his eyes, he frowned in puzzlement.  He was in his room.  Why?  He'd set out to wipe out the Kladdersh demons and he'd held no illusions about his chances of survival.

Memory slowly returned to him.  He'd gathered up the supplies he'd wanted, then headed over to a crypt that was housing a half-dozen vampires.  Old enough so that they knew him to be a friend of the Slayer, he'd woken them up and stood in the sunlight taunting them.  He'd called them stupid and unimaginative, laughing at them for being held prisoner by sunlight when it was so easy to cover up and walk about free.  A conveniently placed pile of tarps guaranteed that the vampires would grab them and try out the idea he'd just handed to them.  They had chased him, just as he had been sure they would.  He'd counted on the tarps to slow them down as they avoided the sun as best they could.  Xander had led the angry vampires to the cabin the Kladdersh had moved into.  The Kladdersh had been drawn outside by the noise and the promise of a mid-day snack.

Everything had gone perfectly to plan.  The Kladdersh went outside and ate the vampires, and while they were occupied Xander was able to take over the house, driving the demons away with bursts of gunfire.  When the Kladdersh had retreated to the woods, Xander had placed the explosives and retreated to the upper floor, waiting for the Kladdersh to return. Waiting for the end.

His eyes widened as he remembered how things had actually turned out.  The last thing he could remember was fear pouring through his veins at the thought that Spike would be skewered by a chunk of wooden debris and end up dusted.  He couldn't remember much after that thought.  He was pretty sure the pounding in his head signaled that some piece of wood had caught him upside the head.

He felt some of the fear return.  What had happened to Spike?  What had happened to Graham?  Someone must have made it out all right, since he'd gotten back to his bedroom, but they could have been injured.  God, what if they'd been hurt because of him?

He dragged himself to his feet, groaning as the throbbing in his head intensified a thousendfold.  The world swirled around him in sickening spirals and he had to close his eyes and swallow hard to fight down the nausea.  After a few deep breaths, he walked to the doorway, moving slowly to compensate for his aching head.  Just before he could grasp the door handle, the door to his bedroom swung open.

Graham stared at him.  "You're awake!"  He turned and called over his shoulder, "He's awake," then turned back to face Xander.  "How are you feeling?"

"I..."  Xander's words were washed away by another wave of nausea and he raised one of his hands to his aching head.

"You shouldn't be out of bed," Graham scolded.  "Come on, back in you go."

A warm arm slid around Xander's waist and guided him back to the bed. Xander went along with it; it was get back into bed or collapse on the floor.  The bed was softer.  He watched in confusion as Graham arranged the blankets on top of him.  "What's going on?"

"How much do you remember?"  There was poorly concealed anxiety in Graham's gaze.

"Everything up to the point where my head got hit with a chunk of the house.   I think it was a part of the house."

"It was.  You were out cold, so we brought you back here.  Another hour of you not waking up and I was going to drag you to the hospital."

"You're all right?"  Xander looked the other man over carefully.  He couldn't see any signs of injury.

"I'm fine," Graham promised.

Xander nodded vaguely.  He wasn't sure if he was glad to be awake or not. He'd had it all planned so perfectly; he was going to solve the problem of the Kladdersh and all of his own problems at once.  What was Graham doing here now?  The soldier didn't want to have anything to do with him, so why had he saved Xander's life?  Why was he playing concerned nurse?

Xander's muddled thoughts brought another worry to his attention. "Where's Spike?" he asked, sitting bolt upright.  He immediately regretted it as his head began to pound, but he did his best to ignore the pain. "Was he hurt?"

"I'm fine."  Spike was there at the other side of the bed, putting something on the nightstand before gently easing Xander back down onto the mattress.  "Don't do that to yourself, pet.  The worst any of us got was a bit of dust and splinters in the hair.  You're the only one that got hurt."  His expression darkened.  "You're the only one who went off on his own looking for a fight he couldn't possibly win."

Xander turned his face away, but that just left him facing Graham.  There was nowhere he could escape to:  any way he turned, he was going to be faced with a man he had betrayed.  He couldn't figure out why they were there:  how could they still care after what he'd done to them?  He tried to burrow underneath his pillow and failed miserably to suppress the cry of pain the motion produced.

The pillows were lifted away from his head and hands gripped his shoulders and pulled with steady insistence until he rolled back over onto his back.  He kept his eyes stubbornly closed for a moment, then sighed and opened them.  He deserved whatever they had to say to him.  Maybe after they were done yelling they'd leave and he'd be able to figure out what he was going to do next.

The explosives hadn't worked.  He was going to have to try something else.

Graham reached out and touched his temple carefully.  "How bad's your head?"

Xander blinked.  Maybe his head injury was worse than he'd thought. Graham wasn't mad; he was worried.  "I can handle it."

"Drink this, luv."  Spike held a glass of juice out to him.

Xander took the glass and drank from it mechanically.  Spike's anger was gone; only the barest hints of it remained in the tight set of his shoulders and the crease between his eyebrows.  Xander couldn't figure out what they were waiting for.  Did they want to make sure that he was all right and completely aware before laying into him?  He reached over toward the night stand, intending to put down his glass, but Spike took it and did it for him.

That was it.  Now that the glass was gone, it was going to come.  The final recriminations and then they'd both walk away from him, leaving him alone.  He blinked hard and waited for it to start.

Spike reached out and laid his hand on Xander's chest, right over his heart.   "You had a nasty knock to the head, but you're going to be all right.   The headache will pass and you'll be fine."  On Xander's other side, Graham nodded his agreement.

Xander couldn't take anymore.  He had no idea what was going on and he couldn't just lay there and wonder when they were going to walk away. "What's going on?" he asked.

"I explained that to you," Graham said, a worried frown creasing his brow.  "You said you remembered everything up until you were knocked out."

"What's going on now?"  Xander knew that as soon as he pushed this Graham was going to walk away and he was never going to see him again, that Spike would finally release his hold on his anger and then the vampire would be gone as well.  "Why are you here?  Why are you acting like you care," he looked over at Spike, "and why are you hiding the fact that you're so pissed you're cursing the chip because you can't smash my face in?"

Spike's hand bunched into a fist, rumpling the material of Xander's shirt.  "I'm pissed because you didn't wait for me.  You went off on your own and damn near got yourself killed because-"

"Enough."  Graham's single quiet word silenced Spike.  As the vampire contritely smoothed out the wrinkles in Xander's shirt, Graham held Xander's gaze.  "I'm here because I almost lost you.  Forever, I mean. You almost died and I had to think about what life would be like if there was never any possibility that I'd ever see you again.  Thinking about that made everything clear:  I couldn't let you die, couldn't let you leave my life forever.  That's why I came after you."  Graham reached out and placed one hand over Xander's.  "Riley and I opened your letter to Giles.  That's how we found out and as soon as I realized what was happening I was out the door and looking for the blue demon."

"I found my letter early," Spike said, moving his hand in soothing circles over Xander's chest.  "Soon as I figured out you were up to something, I went after the Cynon.  Ran into Graham and Riley at the crypt and then we all went looking for you.  You know what happened when we found you."

Xander thought he knew what they were trying to say, but he couldn't accept it.  He must be misunderstanding them, letting useless hope twist their words.  "But why are you still here?" he asked plaintively, needing them to make it plain so his stupid heart would let him hear the truth instead of his own foolish dreams.

"We're here for the same reason that you went after the Kladdersh on your own instead of taking Spike," Graham said.  "Love."  He leaned forward and pressed his lips gently to Xander's in a sweet kiss.  He sat back after a moment, barely giving Xander a chance to respond, but continued to hold Xander's hand between both of his own.

"Exactly," Spike agreed.  "Love."  He moved forward and bent his head, covering Xander's lips with his own.

Xander responded to Spike's kiss, wanting more of the gentle caress.  It was amazing - Graham and Spike were both there, they were safe and they still cared about him and they weren't fighting or anything.  It was unbelievable and perfect and all he'd ever wanted.

Xander twisted away from Spike and tore his hand from Graham's grasp. "No," he said, shaking his head.

"Xan, what's wrong?"  Graham reached for him again.

Shrinking away from the touch, Xander looked back and forth between the two men staring down at him.  "Everything," he answered.  "Everything is wrong.  This isn't right.  Neither of you want this.  You're just over-reacting because you thought I was going to die.  This isn't fair to either of you."

"Xan-" Spike tried to speak, but Xander didn't give him a chance.

"No!  You don't want this.  You're just putting up with it because you're scared.  But as soon as you get over that, you're going to realize that you're stuck in a situation that you hate because I'm too weak to make up my mind."  Xander closed his eyes.  "Just stop and get out of here now, both of you."  It would tear him apart when they left, but better it happen now then later.  Losing them now would be nothing compared to what he would feel when they figured out that they couldn't live with him loving both of them.  Right now they were willing to put up with his fucked up heart, but how long could that last?  When they recovered from the fear of nearly losing him, they'd walk away and leave him and he didn't want to feel that, couldn't stand even contemplating it.

"No."  A single word spoken by two voices.

Xander opened his eyes.  "Go," he said.  "I don't want you here."

"Shame about that," Spike said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Because there's nowhere else I want to be."

Graham sat down on the other side of the bed.  "I feel the same way, Xander.   I'm not going anywhere.  We're going to find a way to work this out."

Xander shook his head stubbornly.  "You're both crazy."

"Probably," Spike agreed.  "But we'll worry about that later, too.  Right now, you're going to finish this juice and sleep."  He picked up the glass and held it out to Xander.

Xander didn't want to take it, didn't want to take anything from either of them at that point, but his mouth was dry and the glass was half-full so he snatched it anyway.  He drank it quickly and shoved the glass back at Spike.   If the vampire was going to make him drink it, the vampire could also pick up after him.

Spike took the glass and placed it back on the night stand.  "Get some rest, and when you wake up I'll give you something to deal with the headache."  He reached for Xander and ignored his resistance, pulling him into a tight embrace.  "Almost lost you, luv," the vampire murmured. "Don't think I've ever been so scared."  He turned his face and kissed Xander's neck, his jaw, his cheekbone.  He leaned back and stared into Xander's eyes.  "We're going to make things all right again, Xander.  I promise you that."  A brief kiss to his lips and then Spike released him and stood up.

Before Xander had a chance to react to Spike's actions, Graham was there, one hand brushing over the top of Xander's hair and the other sliding around his waist, pulling him into another hug.  He nuzzled at Xander's ear for a moment before whispering, "I felt something inside me start to curl up and die when I realized that I might not ever see you again.  I know what's important now, Xander.  It was almost too high a price, but I know now.  I'm staying here and we're going to make things right.  I swear we will."  He brushed a kiss against the corner of Xander's mouth and stood as well.  "We'll talk when you wake up."

Xander sank deeper into the mattress as weariness tugged at him.  He wanted to believe them, wanted so badly to trust in their voices and their touches and the way they held his gaze as though he was the only thing in the world that mattered.  As he gave into sleep, Xander decided to believe for a little while.  It couldn't hurt to pretend for a few moments that everything would work out.  The last thing he was aware of as he drifted off was the sight of two men hovering at his bedside as though to stand sentry for him even in his dreams.




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