Out Of Character

Lady Cat and Yin Again

"Um, Willow?" Xander was slightly chagrined to realize that his voice had cracked on her name, making him sound like he did that year when the grass finally came in on the infield, if you get the drift. "When I said 'twist my arm,' I didn't really mean to twist my arm. Besides, you should know it doesn't take brute force to make me go for doughnuts. Seriously!" The last word was a yelp, and it really didn't make Xander feel any more masculine. Nope, not at all. Of course, he was going to have to go down to the Guy Guild and turn in his testicles anyway, if anyone on earth saw tiny Willow pushing him down the street with his hand twisted up between his shoulder blades.

"Shut up," Willow growled, twisting his wrist in exactly the right way to make pain shoot through his arm.

"Shutting up," Xander gasped. And quietly wondered just what in the hell was going on.

It was early enough that there were only a few cars on the road, their drivers sleepy and intent only on getting their morning cup of coffee. That appeased his ego some, though affected none of his confusion. Particularly as they approached the Espresso Pump, full of caffeinated goodness and perhaps a gooey, doughy bit of sugar to combat any lingering pain, Willow gave him a jerk, tightening her grip just a little more to prevent him from angling towards the store.

"Uh, Wills? You ever gonna tell me what's going on?" he asked. He stumbled and wavered, his balance destroyed by the attempt to turn and the abrupt yank back. Willow was strong. Way stronger than Xander had realized, and yup, girlification could begin any time now. "Maybe give me a last request before you push me off whatever plank we're headed towards? I was always partial to scantily clad ladies that fed me chocolate, but I'm thinking now that you might enjoy that particular fantasy a little too much so I should probably not mention it ever again." Silence. "Willow, come on."

"No. Now march, mister."

Xander went along. Not that he had a choice, but he was very, very busy creating a detailed justification for Willow's strength and her apparent lack of happy, warm, Willow-feelings for him. It involved hidden treasure and the rubbing of lamps and oil wrestling, and he found himself exploring some tangents that would likely make it possible for Willow to go turn his balls in down at the Guy Guild.

He shook his head to clear the fantasy-fuzziness and figured something out: they were heading for the Magic Box.

"No, Willow," Xander pleaded. "Not there. Anywhere but there! She'll kill me. She'll eviscerate me. She'll eviscerate and then kill me." Because the absolute last thing he wanted to do was face Anya on the morning after he'd dumped her. Oh, yeah - throw in some rectal surgery and...best. day. ever.

Xander mentally cast off the last strands of testosterone that were stubbornly clinging to him. "Please, Willow. Please, please, please, please. I'm begging. Have mercy. Oh, please let me go!"

"No." Willow's voice continued the theme of scary strength as it reached almost chilling properties. Only the last remaining hint of any affection toward him kept it from entering the freezing anger Willow used so effectively. "You are going to talk to her, Xander. She spent the night with Tara and me and I'm your friend, Xander, but there are limits."

Anya'd spent the night with Willow? Suddenly the unusual strength had an explanation. Exasperation and determination were powerful motivators, particularly after a night of the kind of drama he knew Anya had brought with her. There'd be crying, of course, and probably declaimers of never trusting men again -- and Xander's brain immediately blanked out the terrifying images that followed.

Relaxing into her grip so it didn't hurt quite as much, Xander tried again. "I'm sorry. Really. I had no idea she'd go to you two. I can make it up to you. I can, um, watch Miss Kitty for you while you go away next month!"

"You're doing that anyway." The Magic Box loomed before them, a cheerfully commercial portent of doom. Willow pushed him towards it, not even letting go to open the door. He wondered if her eyes had turned black, then noticed Tara hovering discreetly behind it.

Even Tara looked fed up. Oh god. Xander hung his head and wished for Hellmouthy goodness to strike.

For a brief second, Xander thought that this was just a normal case of feminine solidarity - figured it was one of those girl power, gather-round-the-scorned-woman, you-go-girl things. Then the door to the Magic Box swung open and the merry tinkling of the bell was matched by the ringing in his head when Tara slapped him full across the face.

The power behind the blow knocked him back against Willow, and she lost her death grip on his arm for a second. Xander, for all of his goofiness, was not as dumb as he looked. He took the opportunity presented and shoved Willow backward. He heard her make an annoyed "oof-ing" sound, but he didn't look back. He scrambled into the alley and headed for Spike's favorite sewer access. He continued not looking back, and dropped through the manhole cover just as something big and flamey and magic swept over his head, close enough to make his scalp sweat.

He headed down the tunnel at a dead run, moving toward the cemetery. If anyone would have insight into pissing off women, it'd be Spike.

The day grew warmer as he climbed back out the sewers right before the entrance to Spike's cemetery. He'd learned the hard way that approaching Spike's own personal entrance to his crypt without invitation was a recipe for screaming. Spike, when he realized his intruder was human, and Xander because Spike had managed to get a good shot in after his little trap was sprung. Nope, not doing that again.

Would Spike even be in there? Xander hunched his shoulders, hands jammed deep into his pockets. This was bad. Obviously, he'd hurt Anya far more she'd told him the night before. He'd expected that, really; Anya had learned that there were times to pull your punches and not repeat everything in her mind verbatim. But he hadn't expected the kind of anguish that resulted in witchly attacks. He especially hadn't expected Tara to hit him. Had she ever been angry in the entire time he'd known her? Xander wasn't sure and didn't want to know what Anya had told her to provoke that kind of reaction.

He knocked loudly on Spike's door, then pushed it open without waiting for a response. "Spike? Hey, Spike are you in here?"

"Are you so deaf you can't even hear the telly?" Slouched comfortably in his ratty sofa, Spike didn't bother looking behind him, entranced as four heavily made up women discussed the finer points of someone's outfit, pictured behind them. "What's got you so rattled, then? Need help killing something?"

"There's something hellmouthy going on! With the girls!" Xander felt like Lassie, like he was barking "Timmy's in the well!" He didn't have a single freaking clue as to what was going on, and Spike seemed like an island of logic in a sea of crazy, which was just wrong.

"You don't say," Spike drawled, standing and turning to face Xander. Even in the gloom of the crypt, Xander could see Spike's black eye, fat lip, bleeding nose, and a set of four precise, bloody scratches down the side of his neck.

"Buffy?" Xander asked.

"Yeah," Spike snorted. "And Dawn."

"Holy crap," Xander whispered.

Spike shrugged. "They were - vocal. Apparently, I suck - ironic, that."

"We need Giles," Xander said, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket. "He'll know what to do. He's smart. He knows things." Just as the phone started to ring, Xander heard Giles' voice shout "Bugger!" Apparently, the guy who knew things had managed to get himself caught up in Spike's sewer-entrance booby trap. Xander closed the phone and considered calling Wesley instead.

Xander double checked that yes, it was Giles who was calling him. "Hang on," he shouted, "we'll get you out in a second."

"You didn't cast one of those reverse love-spells did you?" Spike asked, making no move to actually go and help Giles free. "Red told me you did one of those a couple years back. Had the ladies ready to kill you since they couldn't share you."

Willow had told him about that? Before the whatever had turned every female they knew into man-hating lunatics? Xander mentally promised retribution and then shook his head, hard. "I didn't! All I did was -- "

Dump a vengeance demon. Former! Former demon! That was significant, wasn't it? Since Spike still hadn't moved, Xander climbed down the ladder and studied the complicated netting Giles swung from. "So who went after you?" he asked as he attacked the ropes. Giles' cheek was red and puffy, though he didn't have the finger-prints Xander was pretty sure he had.

Giles looked less than happy as he swayed lightly in the ropes. "Mrs. Nedermeyer," he said.

"Your neighbor?" Xander asked, remembering the elderly and soft-spoken woman.

"Yes, that harridan," Giles spat. "She accused me of stealing her morning newspaper, and then she snatched mine out of my hand and started beating me with it!"

"At least she didn't sic her toy poodle on you, G-man," Xander joked. He finally pulled the correct rope and watched as Giles fell to the floor in a heap.

"So," Xander said, helping Giles to his feet. "You think this is regular hellmouthy stuff, or do you think it has to do with me breaking up with Anya?"

"You what?" Spike shouted from above.

Xander shrugged and smiled sheepishly. "Oops?"

Giles brushed himself off, hurrumphing as he did. "Really, Xander. While it was obvious you two were headed in that direction, did you have to drive Anya back into vengeance?"

Yeah, because Giles was in no way interested in his ex-girlfriend or vice versa. The glances they exchanged was half the reason Xander had started thinking about ending it, a month or so back.

"I didn't," he told both of them frostily. "At least, she was okay when she left my apartment last night."

Giles removed his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. "Xander -- "

"You break the girl's heart and you really think she's okay?" was Spike's contribution, closer now as a head appeared through the trap door. "Knew you were a ponce when it came to girls, Harris, but that's just plain stupid."

Xander remembered the heartbroken look on Anya's face, but the little hint of relief he'd seen there, too. Artfully sculpted eyebrows hadn't been able to stay lowered and pinched for long, despite the strident tone Anya had used. "Maybe not okay," he temporized. "But no imminent return to vengeance!"

"Actually, you're likely right about that," Spike mused.

"See!" Xander said, pointing at Giles. "Thank you, Spike. Wait!" Xander went back over the conversation, trying to figure out when they went to the bizarro-land where he said "thank you" to Spike.

Spike, for his part, ignored him and addressed Giles. "You know full well vengeance demons can't exact vengeance on their own behalf. This has to be something else."

"Yeah!" Xander said, leaping back into the conversation. "It has nothing to do with me ending a deteriorating relationship in a manly yet sensitive way. Nothing at all."

"Let's not go that far," Spike said, retreating back upstairs. "I just said it wasn't vengeance magic. Not like we've got a shortage of other types round here."

Xander shrugged at Giles and mounted the ladder. Upstairs, he found Spike bent over his makeshift kitchen sink, splashing handfuls of water over his face and neck. He tried not to smile when Spike stood and carefully blotted his already-healing throat with a threadbare towel, completely unmindful of the way his wet hair was curling and dripping onto his tee shirt. Xander noticed Giles also studiously ignoring it.

"So," Xander said, sneaking one last look at Spike's curls. "Giles? What do we do? Not like we can go to the Box for research materials - the Estrogen Kill Force was already there."

"Imghthavsmbks," Spike mumbled, his words further muffled by the towel he was drying his face with.

"What's that?" Giles asked.

Spike slung the towel over his shoulder and looked up at the ceiling. "I said that I might...have...some books."

Xander and Giles looked at one another for a long moment, both their expressions completely blank. Finally, Xander spoke.

"Alternate dimension?"

"God, I hope so," Giles said.

Spike gave them both a withering look. "Evil, remember? I steal things."

Xander kept his face neutral, carefully not mentioning that stealing books about demons and magic were high up there on every vampire's most wanted list. Right after the cars, the high-priced electronics, the cigarettes and of course, every thief's favorite, cash. Then again, it could've been all about degrees. He did spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out at the Magic Box with the rest of them.

Following Spike to the back of the top room, Xander watched with interest as Spike did something with the wall. The curls were a sufficient distraction, if the way Spike protectively angled his body wasn't.

"I knew it," Giles said when Spike produced a fairly large stack. "I knew you'd taken my LeMonte Grimorie, Spike. Although..." Pawing through the rest of the titles, Giles hesitated when he reached the last. It looked older than the others, the leather torn and burned in places, the pages yellow and starting to fray. "This is a copy of Alsharis, Spike. One of oldest book of magic and how it works left in existence. How on earth did you get this, Spike? It's certainly not something I had at the store!"

Following Spike over to a small chest, he tried to peer over his shoulder -- and was elbowed in the stomach.

"Never said I only steal from you," Spike said, managing to push Xander back, open the trunk, get something out and close it within fifteen seconds.

"Ow," Xander complained.

"Didn't hurt," Spike sneered.

"Did, too!" Xander rubbed his belly.

"Bullshit," Spike said. "I didn't get zapped; ergo, it didn't hurt. Stop being such a nancy."

Xander stepped back and pointed at Spike, straight-armed. "You said 'ergo'! You have books! And I think I saw a pair of glasses in that trunk! You're smart, Spike! You're one of those closet intellectuals!"

Spike reached past Giles and picked up the Alsharis, handling it reverently. "Closet, my ass," he said. "I'm an actual intellectual, not that you'd recognize one in the wild."

"Hey!" Giles said.

Spike snorted. "Insulting you is getting too easy, Rupert. Time was you'd simply nod and agree with me."

Xander really didn't want to contemplate the thought of Giles and Spike having some kind of solidarity thing going. It was actually scarier than Tara slapping him full across the face and Willow leveling magic bolts at him.

"So what are we looking for?" Snagging one of the nearest books, Xander plopped onto Spike's sofa, already tucking one leg under him to reach his preferred researching position. He ignored the look Spike gave him before sitting down next to him, purposefully wiggling so that he would bump into Xander. "Types of vengeance demons? Spells that make girls go for the face?"

Giles looked at Spike's single armchair disdainfully before sitting down. "I'd say to look for spells that affect women, and also look for references to large geographical areas - it seems widespread."

"You," Spike said, pointing at Giles, "had better look for a ward first - something to keep anything female a hundred yards or so away from here. I don't fancy getting my head ripped off by a preteen spitfire."

"Dawn did that to your neck?" Xander asked. "Holy crap." He leaned forward and peered at the fading scratches, then raised a single finger to trace the lines. He tried not to notice when Spike shuddered and leaned slightly into the touch. Giles slammed his book shut and Xander flinched back into the corner of the sofa, studiously returning to his book.

"Magical supplies are in the white box in the kitchen," Spike said mildly, and they both watched Giles stalk in that direction.

"What's with him?" Xander asked.

"You'd know better than me, wouldn't you?"

"Shouldn't that be 'better than I'?" Xander asked. Eyes narrowed, he flicked his eyes from the book to Spike's lowered head and the blank expression on his features. Spike never looked blank except when he was trying to be sneaky. "And why would I know better?"

"Cause I'm over at the Magic Box every day," Spike deadpanned, "and I get regularly invited to Rupert's for tea. He's probably just arsed I've stolen books and supplies. Though I didn't steal most of those. Well, some of those. Anya felt sorry for me sometimes and slipped me stuff."

Anya gave things to Spike? Xander turned that phrase over in his mind uncomprehendingly. "Um. You sure the spell wasn't cast earlier? Because Anya doesn't give things away. Ever."

"That's where you'd be wrong," Spike said, bending his head to his book. "She doesn't give things away to most people. I can be remarkably charming when I want something."

Xander found himself looking down at the top of Spike's head. He also found himself inexplicably wanting to reach out and twine one of those white-blond curls around his finger. It was damn creepy. Luckily, he was saved from his increasingly bizarre thoughts by the spectacle of Giles stomping back through the main room of the crypt with a feather duster in one hand and a large pottery bowl with what looked like dried weeds poking out the top in the other.

"Candles?" Giles snapped.

"By the door," Spike replied, exchanging a glance with Xander. They both sat silently while Giles lit a candle and mixed things in his bowl. He lit the mixture on fire and used the duster to waft the smoke all over the crypt. He then muttered a couple of Latin phrases, and watched as the fire in the bowl flared and then went out.

"Ward's done," he announced.

Xander took a quick look at Giles' stormy expression and tossed him his cell phone. "Why don't you call Wes in LA?" he asked. "Maybe he's got some idea of what this could be."

Giles caught the phone and nodded, and Xander was happy to see that he looked a lot less grumpy. His attention was diverted back to the sofa when Spike slid an arm around his shoulders and gave him a sort of one-armed hug.

"Grand idea, pet," Spike said. "That'll keep him off our backs for a bit." And then Spike smiled at him, and Xander's brain made a couple of very feeble popping sounds and turned to goo.

"Hello, Wesley," Xander heard Giles say. What followed was a short rundown of what had since occurred -- though some how Giles was no longer beat over the head with a rolled up newspaper but instead managed to flee before said beating -- and then silence. A long, very telling silence punctuated only by Giles occasional 'hmm' and 'oh dear'.

Xander continued staring at his book, though the small, faded type remained incomprehensible. Spike had hugged him. Spike had hugged him. Smiled at him like it was natural for the two of them to smile at each other and Xander found he had to clench his hand to prevent it from landing on the back of Spike's neck to rub the defined tendons there. Or tug the slight curl where the gel hadn't ever taken hold.

He was having a thought. It was a big thought and he wasn't entirely sure he wanted his brain to fully process it.

"Yes, Wesley, we've already begun -- I say. Is that Angel? And why would he be making noises of that nature?"

Yeah. Xander really didn't like his thought. And the images...Xander shook his head hard, trying to erase the Imax film reel inside his brain.

Xander couldn't deal. He really, really couldn't. He was totally not feeling feelings of camaraderie with Spike. He was absolutely not thinking that Spike was attractive. He most certainly was not barely restraining himself from snuggling up with a book and the evil dead for a morning of research. Except that he was.

Xander was jolted out of his personal freak-storm by a gentle nudge from Spike, who pointed at Giles. Giles, who had thrown his legs over the arm of his chair and was looking at the ceiling while happily chatting with Wes. Giles who, if he'd had a phone cord to twirl around his finger and a wad of gum in his mouth, would have looked like nothing so much as a teenage girl talking on the phone with her tenth-grade boyfriend.

Xander felt the giggle building in his chest, and he did the only thing he could think of to stifle it - he buried his face in the crook of Spike's neck, where he could feel Spike shaking with suppressed laughter and where he could smell cigarette smoke and sandalwood soap and tea and hair gel and a some sort of lemony-musk scent that must be Spike himself. Spike dropped his own head onto Xander's shoulder and gripped his bicep. It seemed only natural for Xander to fit his palm to the perfectly-sized spot at the back of Spike's skull, just above the nape of his neck, and the hair there was so thick that it seemed only right to dig his fingers in a little.

"Yes, that sounds -- a moment, Wes." The sound of GIles' feet connecting with the floor brought out another giggle. "Oh, look at you two," Giles said, the tone of his voice trembling with amusement. "You both look adorable, cuddled in like that. Of course, that's not getting any research done to get us out of our current predicament."

"Oh, like you trading gossip with your queen there is helpful," Spike retorted without moving from his current position. That made Xander happy because he was busy memorizing Spike's scent and the dips and bumps of his skull. An occasional clump of gel crackled under his fingers, stiff and sticky, and Xander concentrated on combing it out with his fingers. He loved the downy softness underneath, twirling it over his fingers.

"I'll have you know that Wesley is being quite helpful," Giles protested, his blush audible without Xander needing to turn around and see it. "He believes there is some kind of role-reversal spell occurring. Something about gender roles, perhaps. Or maybe not. Yes, Welsey, I'm still here. Oh, no, everything's fine. Spike and Xander are just being adorable."

"Hey!" Xander said, smoothing the hair he'd just liberated from gel prison. "Can't a couple of friends..." He trailed off as Spike cleared his throat. "...mortal enemies have a cuddle without being called girly?"

"Sure," Giles said, returning from the makeshift kitchen with three soda cans in his hands. "Orange for you, Xander, and Spike, I know you prefer ginger ale," he passed out the cans, careful to hand over napkins at the same time. "Here, Spike doesn't have any coasters."

"I stand corrected," Xander said. "This is a hell of a spell. I wonder if the craft store has been swarmed by men and if the gals are all outside working on our cars."

"'s not bad though, is it?" Spike was gently kneading Xander's bicep, and he had to admit that it felt really good. "I mean, not that I feel girly."

"You feel damn manly to me," Xander assured him. "And I'm the one who's been feeling you."

Spike gave him another sweet smile, then frowned. "Hang on. We've got guys who're acting like poofs -- er, not you, love," Spike added at Xander's glare, "just as manly as you've always been. Specially with you arranging your napkin all pretty-like that way. Just mean, we're doing what could be loosely termed girly things. So why'd the girls come round and hurt us?"

"You are aware that, as a vampire, you like violence?" Giles said.

"I just mean, I don't randomly go around gouging hunks of flesh out of people. Well, I did, but that's more a vampire thing, I think. Most guys don't do that sort of thing, though."

"Huh." Xander worked himself a little closer, pleased when Spike obliged by throwing his leg over Xander's and slid until he was practically in Xander's lap. That was so much better, allowing Xander to wrap his free arm around a trim waist. "I know I don't go around forcing people's arms behind their backs. Or beating people up with newspapers."

"What's that, Wes?" Giles turned back to the phone, and Xander took the opportunity to tighten his arm around Spike and pull, settling Spike so his hips rested between Xander's legs and his head rolled back against Xander's shoulder. Leaning down, Xander nuzzled the top of Spike's shoulder.

"I don't think the girls are this touchy-feely," he said. "Well, Tara and Willow probably are, but you don't see the rest of them snuggling during research sessions." Spike slumped back even further against his chest, and Xander splayed a hand on his abdomen, fingers gently tracing the muscles under the thin tee shirt.

"Feels good, though," Spike said. "You think they want to?"

Giles snapped the phone closed and turned toward them, his face softening into an "awwwww!" expression. "Wes says it's probably Hestian witchcraft. Hestia was the Greek goddess of the hearth. Her followers believe that men and women should understand each other better, so they developed a series of incantations that allow certain characteristics to cross over. What we may be dealing with is typically male aggression crossing to the female population of Sunnydale."

"And what've we blokes gotten? Besides decorative napkin arranging and cooing on the phone?" Spike yelped as Xander nipped the top of his shoulder in warning.

"Wes wasn't sure, but he thinks it's empathy or sharing or some such - he's very smart, you know. He needed to make some calls, so he'll ring me back in a bit." Giles slid down onto the sofa and closed the distance between himself and Xander, stopping with their knees touching.

Xander shifted Spike so that he was seated more across his lap and freed one hand, which he twined with one of Giles'. "You may be right," he said. "Because this is certainly not normal."

"Not remotely," Spike added, and then he leaned in and began kissing Xander's neck.

Not normal, but it felt amazing. Was this how girls were, when they weren't being inhibited? Constantly wanting to touch and share and give, like the best thing ever would be if he could make Spike smile at him again. Well, after Spike stopped doing things to his neck like that.

Xander felt no fear as Spike traced designs over his jugular. Maybe that was a girlie thing, too? After all, normally Xander would be babbling about letting Spike too close and not wanting to drop his guard and...stupid things. Stupid things that would've prevented Spike from scraping his teeth to make him gasp.

Tugging on Giles' hand, Xander got him seated next to him and started playing with his fingers. They were surprisingly callused, though no where near as rough as Xander's own fingers were. The expected writing bump was there, on both middle and ring finger, but the tips were covered with hardened skin that meant hard, physical work.

Xander had a thought, which was surprising, as, if asked, he'd have said that thinking would be totally impossible with Spike kissing and nibbling at his neck. "Are these from playing guitar?" he asked, rubbing his nail lightly over one of the calluses on Giles' fingertips.

"Yeah," Giles said. "They build up over time."

"I think it's cool that you play," Xander confided. "I always wished I had that sort of talent - that I could play an instrument or write stories or draw."

"You do beautiful woodwork," Spike said, raising his head from Xander's neck to look him in the eyes. "Some of those stakes you've carved have been fantastic."

"Really?" Xander asked, amazed.

"Really, pet," Spike assured him. And Spike kept staring at his mouth. And then Spike's tongue came out to dance over his lips. "Can I kiss you?" Spike asked.

Giles let out a quiet hurrumph that faded into a soft sigh. Xander wasn't sure why he was sighing -- he wasn't getting kissed.

Xander was.

Soft, sweet, tasting slightly metallic, slightly citrus, Spike's mouth ghosted over his, back and forth, find the contour of Xander's lips before finally pressing his own against them. Lips already parted in eagerness, Xander moaned when Spike's tongue touched his own, tangling into a gentle duel.

"That's very pretty you know," Giles told them. Xander didn't bother opening his eyes, because that might make the kissing stop, which would be bad. Good kissing. "Very lovely indeed."

"Feels good, too," Xander said, his lips moving against Spike's. He tightened his grip on Giles' hand, because he didn't want him to feel left out. That wouldn't be right, really.

Spike's hand reached up to the back of Xander's neck and pressed slightly, and suddenly, Xander understood something very fundamental about angles and pressure and the way the universe fit together. That is, if the universe consisted of two mouths and two tongues, and Xander's universe did.

After ten seconds or a lifetime, Xander didn't know which, Spike pulled back and trailed his mouth across Xander's cheek and up to his temple, lipping against the skin there while Xander caught his breath.

"I've never kissed another guy," Xander confessed.

"You like it?" Spike asked, and Xander could feel his smile against his forehead.

"I don't know," Xander teased. "I think I need to do it again."

Spike's smile made something go warm and lax in his stomach, hot like brownies that were still gooey in the middle. Xander pulled away from Spike long enough to look at it, really look at it, before lips were on his again and there was more kissing.

Flying, really. Kissing Spike was like flying, skimming over sun-filled meadows with nothing but light and air suffusing him.

"Oh, that's very nice," Giles murmured from beside him. A hand -- warm, so not Spike's -- crept over his shoulder to tangle with the locks of his hair, tilting his head this way and that for more visible angles. That his fingers brushed cool ones was, Xander was sure, unintentional.

Breaking off to breathe, Xander bumped noses with Spike, unable to release him entirely. "We should probably fix this," he murmured. "Girls shouldn't act like Rambo. Okay, no one should act like Rambo, and this isn't your first time kissing a guy, is it?"

Light glinted off Spike's eyes, devilish. "Did I say that? Come kiss me some more. Giles likes watching us."

"That true, G-man?" Xander kept his forehead pressed against Spike's, but turned his face toward Giles, who looked...amazed and kind of...drifty. It made him look softer and younger, and Xander decided that he liked it.

"Yes," Giles said quietly, his fingers scratching gently at Xander's scalp.

"Oh," Xander said. "I kind of thought that you liked Anya."

Giles flushed, and Xander smiled at him. "It's okay if you do. I think she likes you, too." When Giles' mouth opened and closed a couple of times without any words escaping, Xander leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss on the nose. He turned to Spike in time to catch a slight pout.

"Oh, that's...Jesus, Spike - you could take over the world with that pout." He darted forward and caught Spike's lower lip in his teeth, nipping gently, then soothing with quick flicks of his tongue.

Busy with lips and teeth clever against his own he almost missed Giles' words.

"That isn't the spell talking, is it? Your, well, I rather suppose you'd call it your blessing."

Giles was thoroughly adorable when he stammered, eyes downcast despite the way his fingers wove mesmerizing patterns against Xander's skin. His other hand curled into a fist Xander immediately covered with his own, unsurprised when Spike did the same. Neither of them seemed to feel like that towards Giles -- though why Xander knew he'd go crazy if he wasn't constantly touching Spike, he didn't think about too closely -- but touching him, reassuring him, felt just as necessary.

"Yes, Giles. It's totally due to the spell that I broke up with her and, as she left, reminded her that you wake up at six thirty to do your morning jog, so if she wanted to surprise you, she should show up around seven fifteen with coffee and doughnuts." That had earned him a glare and a renewed bout of teary-eyed curses (the swearing variety, not the pustules) but he'd noticed Anya's giddy anticipation underneath all that. "I don't think the spell affects how we feel to women, just how we feel to...um, others."

"So I'm an other now, am I?"

"Well, I can't exactly call you a man. With the not being aliveness."

"Hey! That doesn't make me no less a bloke," Spike protested, the smile lurking in his eyes bringing back the gooey-brownie feeling. "Just makes me different than human."

"Well," Giles said, looking down at their joined hands. "I can't say that I would have been disappointed to see her with coffee after my jog, I mean, if I'd known anything about you breaking up, of course. And if there hadn't been the whole newspaper issue..."

Xander looked at Spike. "He's babbling. He totally likes her."

"Absolutely, pet, so can we get back to snogging?" Spike seemed to be just as intent as Xander on the whole touching, comforting thing.

"Soon," Xander said, resting his hand at the small of Spike's back, in the hollow there that fit so perfectly, as if Spike's body had been custom-fit for him. "Giles, give me the phone."

"But..." Giles spluttered. "Wes could be calling!"

"I have Call Waiting, you Luddite," Xander assured him. "Gimme the phone; I need to call Anya and see if she knows anything about this."

Giles freed his hand and dug the phone out of his pocket, handing it to Xander with a strange look on his face.

"What?" Xander asked, flipping the phone open one-handed and pressing the first speed-dial button.

"Um, would you tell her I said 'hi'?"

Xander smirked, already tucking his head against Spike's neck, phone ringing in his ear. "You're so cute," he said, mentally counting two.

"Better be talking about me, pet." Spike nuzzled against his cheek and the hand resting next to it. "Not sure I like you thinking Rupert's the cute one."

Totally unsure how to respond to that -- stammering that he thought both of them were adorable, though it was Spike he wanted to permanently graft to his side probably would go over badly -- his mentally tallied three cut off with a click and Anya's voice saying, "Magic Box, here to provide all your mystical and occult needs, Anya speaking, can I help you?".

Whatever he'd wanted to say, and Xander hadn't planned it past 'call Anya', disappeared in a rush once he finally heard her. Ignoring the waiting eyes and the insistent questions in his mind, he asked in a soft, almost crooning voice, "How're you doing?"

"I'm well, although I don't believe such a personal question should be asked by a patron of the store. May I help you?"

"Ahn, it's me. Xander. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Xander," Anya said. "Except that I stopped by Rupert's with coffee and doughnuts like you said I should, and he wasn't there. I'm a little angry about that."

"Don't be angry! Please!" Xander couldn't keep the panic out of his voice. "He, um, had a run-in with his neighbor, but he would have liked to have been...oh, hell - he says "hi'." Xander smacked himself on the forehead.

"Tell him 'hi' from me," Anya said. "It's okay - the girls enjoyed the doughnuts."

"Yeah," Xander said. "The girls. Where are they, by the way?"

"Buffy and Dawn are here, and I had to kick Tara and Willow out for making out aggressively in the training room. I'm sure they went home to have sex." Xander didn't realize that he'd sat up until he suddenly had a lapful of vampire doing interesting things with his ear and neck. Tilting his chin appreciatively, he reflected that, previously, this would've rendered him totally incapable of continuing the conversation. He'd always envied Anya's ability to multitask that way and appreciated it now.

Slipping fingers underneath Spike's shirt to find that tempting hollow again, Xander said, "Er, that's great. Buffy and Dawn aren't, um, hurting anything, right? And you haven't come down with a case of testosterone poisoning, right?"

Over Anya's question of 'testosterone poisoning? no, why should I?' Giles asked in a harsh whisper, "What did she say!"

"She says 'hi' back," Xander repeated, then lifted the phone back to his mouth. "Okay, that's -- "

"Xander, is Giles there with you? And are you...kissing? I hear smacking. You two are kissing!" Strange that the wounded tone in her voice hurt more now than it had throughout the entire break-up conversation the night before.

"No! No, I'm so not kissing Giles." Giles pouted. "Not that Giles isn't kissable, and please, please stop giving me that look it's almost as bad as Spike's!"

"So you're kissing Spike?" Anya deduced.

"Um, yes?" Xander said. "I mean, I was, but now I'm talking on the phone to you."

"So, you broke up with me so you could be with Spike?" Anya's voice had dropped to a whisper, for which Xander was profoundly glad.

"No! Up until about an hour ago, I had no idea I wanted to kiss Spike." Giles made a tiny, little noise that sounded like 'awwww', and Xander looked up to catch a beautiful, joyous smile on Spike's face. A smile that he needed to kiss. "Here, talk to Giles," Xander said, handing off the phone and pulling Spike down for another one of those candy-sweet kisses.

Kissing Spike was incredible, but gradually the flustering and stammering from beside them pushed through the haze of goodmoreyesyesyes Xander was in. Opening his eyes, he tilted just enough that he could almost see Giles without lifting his mouth from Spike's.

"Well, that is, um, I was wondering," Giles babbled, twisting his right hand back and forth on his leg, as if without a phone cord to toy with he had to play with the air itself. "You were -- well, yes, they are very adorable together. Oh, no, that's because of the spell that's making us act very much like women. At least, we believe so."

"Spell? What spell?" Anya's voice was tinny, but crystal clear. Giles winced and moved the speaker away from him for a moment, then looked pained and brought it back. He'd wrapped an arm around his middle now, and looked like he wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh or be very upset, British style. "Giles! Stop squirming and looking pained. I'm assuming this is a recent spell, since Xander said he didn't want to kiss Spike before and hour ago, and I know you've wanted to kiss me for longer than that, so your attraction to me has no bearing on this supposed spell."

Laughing quietly into Spike's mouth, he cuddled the vampire closer. "I can't decide if he's cuter when he's befuddled or when he's pretty sure Anya just said she likes him back."

"Oh, definitely the latter," Spike murmured back. "Look at him, all sun-shiney and glowy. That's adorable, it is. Deserves a right good petting. Oi, Anya! You need to come down here, love. You'll want to see this expression."

"Spike? Giles, let me talk to Spike. Giles. I promise I will come by tomorrow morning with coffee and doughnuts, fully expecting an invitation inside your house for more, if you give the phone to Spike right now. He'll be the most coherent of you since he's already in touch with his feminine side."


Spike took the phone, and Xander could hear her laughing, even as he wrapped his arms around Spike's waist and snuffled at his neck until he found the spot at the point of his jaw, just under his ear and started nibbling.

"Hey, Ahn - holy hells!" Spike said, his voice trailing off to a moan.

"He's got that spot under your ear, doesn't he?" Anya asked.

"Oh, yeah," Spike said. "You teach him that?"

"No," Anya said. "Not necessary. I told you he was a Viking in the sack. So, the spell - Hestian?"

"Yeah," Spike said. "Seems like."

"Well, that would explain the game Buffy and Dawn are playing right now, where they pretend a little folded up triangle of paper is a football and they make grunting noises when they thump it through each others' upraised fingers." Xander could hear Anya's long fingernails tapping on the phone as she considered.

Xander didn't move until he was certain he'd licked and sucked and nibbled up what would've been a spectacular bruise on anyone who had circulation. Then he switched to the other side, removing the phone from Spike's right hand and placing in his left so he had all the room he needed. Spike's skin tasted faintly of citrus and something smoky, musky, and thoroughly addictive.

"Hm," Anya said. "Perhaps I should come over there. No one has come in the shop all morning and Dawn and Buffy do not provide any entertainment. Watching you and Xander make out would do very nicely, I think. Let me speak to Giles again, please."

Eyes half-lidded, Spike made a sound of moaning agreement, passing the phone over with fumbling fingers. "Yes, Anya?"

"You won't object if I come over to watch Spike and Xander make out, will you? I know men's egos are very fragile and I doubt that part of you has changed, despite being made more feminine. Besides, I think your lap will provide the perfect vantage point."

"I. Oh, that's -- well, of course, if you think that would be proper, I would, um, be very -- but don't you think we should, perhaps, try to stop the spell?"

"Oh, no," Anya said. "Hestian magic isn't very strong - it should wear off by sundown. That leaves hours and hours of viewing pleasure. I'll be there shortly, just let me give Dawn and Buffy the slip. I'll bring snacks!"

Giles pulled the phone away from his ear and gave it a strange look before snapping it shut and tucking it into his shirt pocket. Xander caught the motion out of the corner of his eye and took a break from making Spike make little, breathy moaning noises.

"What did she say?"

"Ah," Giles pulled off his glasses and started cleaning them with the tail of Xander's shirt. "She's coming over. Do I look okay?"

"You look great, Giles," Xander assured him. "Don't be nervous."

"She's bringing snacks," Giles said. "I hope she brings ice cream."

"Ooooh, ice cream," Spike and Xander moaned together.

"Oh, dear lord," Giles said, jumping up. "I've got to take the ward down!"

It was amusing to watch Giles be so flustered as he did things in the back of the crypt to take down the ward. Xander remembered when Olivia had visited and how cool and suave Giles had acted. At the time, he'd though that to be a very grown up, mature attitude he should probably learn to adopt. Now it only exemplified why Olivia had really never made that third visit and Giles had quietly shredded an airline ticket.

Now he looked happy. Really happy, and not just as a man who was assured of getting his end away. "Anya likes romance," he said helpfully, "but not all the time. Sometimes she just likes a nice, hard -- "


Right on cue. Except, it wasn't Giles who admonished him, since Giles was looking interested at any details he might care to impart. It was Spike who was frowning at him, eyebrows lowered in a way that made Xander want to lick them.

"I'm only teasing, sweetheart," Xander said, then grinned broadly as the endearment made Spike's face fall into a stunned, happy expression. Xander hugged him tight and nipped his earlobe gently.

"Seriously, Giles," Xander said over his shoulder. "Just do better than me in the judgmental sighing and eye-rolling department and you'll do great with Anya. She requires a lot of patience, but I have faith in you. After all, you've managed to not kill Buffy like a hundred times."

Spike straightened up on Xander's lap and looked around the crypt. "Bugger. This place is a mess. Can't have Anya comin' over here with the place looking like a..."

"Crypt?" Xander supplied, and was lightly smacked on the shoulder for his effort.

Spike stood up and pulled Xander to his feet. "If she's good enough to bring snacks and didn't eviscerate you for dumping her, the least we can do is tidy a bit."

Ten minutes later, Xander was staring in dismay at the ledge used to hold the TV. "You have no cleaning supplies. You need rags and Pledge, or maybe industrial strength cleaner, not a feather duster."

An arm slipped around his waist, Spike standing up on tiptoes to whisper, "Show you what to do with that feather duster later, love."

Xander moaned, then laughed as Giles threw them a furious look. "I can't have Anya here," he said for the tenth time that minute. "It's horribly dusty, there are spider webs with actual spiders in them, and Xander, you're going to have to remove those."

"Ew! Why can't Spike get rid of them?"

"Living creature, love. Unless you want me to have a mood-altering migraine?"

Instantly contrite, Xander turned in Spike's arms and trailed his lips over Spike's temple and forehead. Hair curlier and curlier from fingers toying with it brushed against his nose. "I'm sorry, of course I don't. It's just -- spiders. Eugh."

"Just think of them as little, tiny Wrathclagh demons," Spike said. "I've seen you kill those by the dozen."

"OK, yeah," Xander said. "I can do that. If you give me some more kisses first."

Spike leaned in close. "Yeah, baby, I can do that."

"Xander! Spike!" Giles snapped, hands on his hips. "You are more interested in snogging than in helping me make a good impression. I can't believe you're being so...so..."

Spike and Xander broke apart guiltily, Xander grabbing a discarded newspaper to use as a spider-smasher and Spike taking the feather duster and vigorously attacking the dust on the TV screen.

"We're sorry, Giles," Xander said. "We just got, you know, distracted. We really are sorry."

"Oh, it's okay. I didn't mean to yell, and good lord could we be any girlier?"

"Likely not," Spike said wryly.

Xander was disposing of the last of the spiders, cursing the webs that still clung to him, when Anya arrived. "Anya! Hi!" Shaking off the last of the filmy web, he enveloped her in a big hug, lifting her and the bags she carried up in his enthusiasm -- and suddenly felt awful. He'd just broken up with her. She must be miserable, and it was all his fault. "I'm so sorry," he said into hair that smelled of mint.

Carefully extricating herself, Anya gave Xander a pat on the shoulder. "Xander, I told you it was all right last night. Well, no, not all right, all right, but I had time to think last night and you're entirely correct. We weren't happy together, anymore. Also, I want Giles and you're apparently gay."

Xander sniffled, pushing a curl away from her face so he could look into her eyes. "Are you sure?" he asked tremulously.

"Spike, please remove Xander. I don't want to crush the chips anymore than they're already crushed. Rupert, you can help me arrange everything."

Xander allowed Spike to wrap an arm around his shoulders and move him off to the side while Giles assisted Anya with bags and boxes and bowls and serving platters - Anya didn't do anything halfway.

"I feel so bad," Xander told Spike. "I was so mean to her. I can't believe she doesn't hate me. I'd hate me."

"Hush, Xan," Spike said, patting his back soothingly. "Look at her - she's doing fine, and she and Rupert make a great couple."

"They are kind of cute together," Xander agreed, glancing over to where Anya was giggling and arranging crackers on a plate with Giles. "Hey," he said. "Do you think I'm gay?"

"I hope so," Spike said, his pouting lips begging for a kiss.

Xander leaned forward, then stopped with a millimeter between them. "Does that mean you're gay too? I mean, I don't want to be responsible for changing your entire sexual orientation."

The noise Spike made in response was two parts amusement and three parts exasperation. Cupping Xander's cheeks holds him still, allowing Spike to steal an almost chaste kiss. "Sweetheart, I'm a vampire. You didn't change my sexual orientation. Being dead changed it."

His first impulse was to protest that he didn't want to be dead just to be gay, no matter how much he liked Spike -- but that was just too girlie, even for him, and beside, Spike was kissing him again, coaxing his mouth open with wet little licks.

Xander fell into the kiss, happily allowing Spike to hold his face still and explore his mouth with more tenderness than he'd ever thought possible. He was taken a little out of the moment by a crunching noise and Anya's "inside voice," which was only about a half a decibel quieter than her "outside voice."

"You were right," Anya said to Giles, holding out the popcorn bowl. "They're really pretty when they do that."

"Quite," Giles agreed. "But not half so pretty as you, my dear."

Xander, Spike and Anya all said, "Awwwww!"

If Xander had known, back in high school, that all it took to make Giles blush was collective 'awww'ing, he'd've done it every chance he had. Now, he giggled, pressed tight to Spike's chest, watching as Anya slipped onto Giles' lap, as she'd promised, linking her non-popcorn arm around his neck.

Giles's blush deepened, but the utterly joyous look on his face made Xander want to say 'aww' again.

"Yes, yes, I'm sure I look the right prat." Giles made a face at Xander. "Not like you two are acting any less like wet blankets. Do sit down, will you? I want Anya to have a good view of the festivities."

Spike's laughter propelled them over to the sofa, Spike somehow again ending up in Xander's lap, legs on either side. "You make a lovely henpecked wife, Rupert."

"Do shut up and kiss Xander," Giles instructed. "Anya's waiting."

"So's Xander," Xander quipped, turning his face up to Spike.

"Well," Spike said, "far be it from me to make you wait." He grabbed the sides of Xander's collar and used them as leverage for more kisses.

"Wow, Spike," Anya said, feeding Giles popcorn. "That does incredible things to your cheekbones. Do you even have body fat?"

Xander didn't care about body fat - he mostly cared about body. Spike's body. So he slipped his hands under Spike's tee shirt and explored smooth, cool skin. He dug his fingertips into the firm muscle blanketing Spike's hipbones and let his thumbs trace over the hollows in front, all the while cataloguing places he was going to lick later.

Spike was sinuous like a snake, moving against him so that Xander started to think of words like undulating. He made sounds, too, deep, breathy noises that came from the back of his throat. Xander moved in deeper, wanting to taste those sounds and see if they were caramel or dark chocolate or something else beside.

He made the noise when Spike finally broke free, dazedly trying to glare up at Spike and reach for his mouth at the same time. "Stopping!" he panted

"Yes, because someone needs to breathe," Spike said.

"Actually, Xander's very good at breathing through his nose. Of course, not when his allergies act up, like now, but you should keep that in mind for the future." Anya ducked down and used her teeth to steal a popcorn kernel from Giles' mouth.

Spike nodded as if noting the information, then leaned down so his mouth was near Xander's ear, the one that was on the side away from Giles and Anya, who looked like they were heading slowly but surely toward their first kiss.

"You okay, pet?" Spike asked, pressing his cheek against Xander's.

"More than," Xander answered, trying to maneuver Spike back into kissing range.

"I just, uh, don't want to push you into doing anything you'll have to kill me for once the spell wears off is all." Spike sounded, wistful and a little… nervous? It made Xander feel kind of squishy, deep down.

"I'm… enjoying this," Xander said, nipping gently at Spike's earlobe. "And I don't think it's just the spell-induced girliness talking." He let his breath ghost over the shell of Spike's ear and smiled when he felt Spike shudder against him. "Can we just, you know, stay like this? And that is the spell-induced girliness talking, because if I was in my right mind, we'd be naked already."

Spike's eyes glazed over completely at the words 'naked already' and he mewled, burying the sound in Xander's throat before anyone but he could identify just what it was. "Right then," Spike said, gradually lifting his head back up.

"Besides." If Spike wasn't going to cooperate by letting Xander at his mouth, then Xander would have to find his own fun: oooh, collarbone. He let his teeth play over the stretched skin and hard bone underneath, enjoying Spike's shivers. "I don't think the spell is making me like you."

"Oh?" Spike's voice was tight. "How's that?"

"Well, Giles and Anya didn't turn gay." Sneaking a look confirmed what his ears had been telling him: those slight, wet sounds were Giles and Anya sharing their first kiss. He almost wanted to stop and watch, sighing at how romantic it was. "Neither did Willow and Tara. Er, turn back to being straight."

"Hmmmmm," Spike said, gently steering Xander's mouth over to his other collarbone and groaning a little when the new target was enthusiastically attacked. "You've a point there. So, you're telling me you've always fancied me?"

Xander looked up from the utterly fascinating work of licking every single millimeter of collarbone and smiled. "Nah - I was totally in denial. You've got to admit, you're pretty hot, though. I can see why I'd zero in on you as soon as the inhibitions went down." Xander circled his thumbs against Spike's hipbones, reminding himself to definitely lick there later. "I guess the better question is what are you doing with me?"

"Me?" The breathless squeak was accompanied by a definite rock of said hipbones. Xander tightened his grip a little more, pleased when Spike shuddered against him. "Thought touching you'd be a one-way ticket to dustville. Didn't mean I didn't want to."

Xander 'mmm'ed against Spike's skin. "That's fair," he decided. "I probably would've. You know, I suddenly get why girls call us dumb all the time. Because the only kind of staking I want to do now..."

"Oh, yeah," Spike groaned.

"Are we as pretty as you are when we kiss?" Anya was perched daintily on Giles' knees, and he was staring up at her worshipfully. Spike and Xander both turned to look, still wrapped together as closely as possible.

"I dunno," Xander said. "Show us." He rubbed the small of Spike's back and watched as Anya leaned forward and kissed Giles, starting with gentle brushes of her lips before relaxing into his embrace and letting him take over. "The American judge gives you a nine. What says the British judge?" Xander said.

"Nine point five," Spike said, "with the extra half-point for the very difficult triple tongue twirl. Can we get back to our own snogging now?"

Xander grinned up at Spike, sneaking a finger underneath the soft cotton t-shirt to hopefully distract Spike for a few moments. "What, you don't like seeing Giles like that?"

Spike snorted. "Rather see you like that, pet."

"Really? Oh, that's easy." Anya turned her head enough to allow Giles to start exploring her neck, running peach-tipped fingers through his hair encouragingly. "You just have to find the spot right behind his ear and -- "


" -- and nibble on it a little. He turns to putty. It's quite a lot of fun." Having imparted her message, Anya turned her attention back to Giles murmuring, "And we have to discover if you have any of those spots for me, Rupert."

Xander tried to keep his eyes on Giles and Anya, because he really, really wanted to see Giles squirm, but Spike - ever resourceful - had begun exploring and had latched onto that spot. Xander's eyes slipped closed, he moaned involuntarily and his left knee started bouncing. Also, he suddenly got very warm.

"Told ya," Anya said.

"Thanks, love - that's brilliant."

Spike had lifted his head to speak, and Xander was absolutely not having any of that. He arched up, pressing himself against Spike and regaining his full attention. "Less talking, more...everything," he demanded.

"Oh, I don't know." The words slipped out in the half-second before Spike's mouth was on his skin again, sinking down to his veins to rush rush through his body. Xander wanted to explore the sound and feel of them, to figure out why they made him shudder so hard and grow desperate for air, but then Spike was touching his skin. And all ability to think vanished.

"What don't you know?" Anya's voice was wrapped in gossamer strands. Xander tried to bat it away, but that required him moving his hands from Spike's skin -- so no. Why wasn't she busy kissing Giles and therefore not interrupting Spike from kissing him? But no, there was an insistent, "Spike?"

Spike's low, silk-and-lace chuckle made Xander's eyes close. "Think I like havin' the inside track," he murmured, lips on Xander's skin but still loud enough for the occupants of the chair to hear him. "Of course, finding those little hot spots is fun...how about, you'n'me set up a play date later?"

Anya considered that the way she considered everything. "Only if Giles has one with Xander. Exploring is all very well, but the thought of having him just know how to please me is a turn on."

"Works for me," Xander said, "as long as we call it something other than a play date - makes us sound like little kids or puppies." He tried to sound indignant, but it came out more like eager.

Spike didn't answer, just pressed himself against Xander, mouthing his neck softly. Xander just let it happen for a while, listening to the soft sounds and whispers from Giles and Anya and enjoying Spike's weight on his lap. He didn't even notice when Spike stilled.

"Hey," he whispered, having a thought. "You're sleepy, aren't you?"

"'M fine," Spike said, shaking himself and lifting his head. "I'm awake."

Xander took in the mussed hair and sleep-heavy eyes and laughed. "Yeah, right - it's daytime. All good little vamps should be in bed."

"Not good. Not little. Not sleepy." Spike looked like a grumpy four-year-old, and Xander was absolutely enchanted. Er, more than he was enchanted already, what with the spell and all.

He stood up, taking Spike with him. He held on until Spike got his feet under him and turned to face the armchair. "I'm going to take the cranky vampire downstairs for a nap - you two try to stay out of trouble, okay?"

"Oh, we'll be fine," Giles said. Of course, if Giles was any finer he was going to float right off the chair, full of helium and joy, but Xander had a vampire swaying against him to distract him from teasing Giles about that. Plus, Anya wouldn't let him float too far away. She was possessive like that.

Anya sighed and forcibly turned Giles's head so that he was looking at them, instead of her. "You have to say 'aww'," she instructed. "It's a requirement for being a girl, especially when there's sleepiness and being taken care of. Besides, Spike looks like one of those fat, cherubic angels the Italians used to make. Only without the fat."

"An' the evil!"

Giles dutifully 'aww'ed, wrapping his arms around Anya until her body was flush with his, their cheeks pressed together. It looked so achingly perfect that Xander almost 'aww'ed out loud. Instead, he focused on a now-swaying Spike.

"Are you going to be okay going down the ladder?"

Spike's eyes were unusually blue in the dim light, eyebrows and lashes mixing with the beginnings of circles under his eyes to create a charcoal frame. "'M'not a paraplegic, Xander."

"Nope, you're a very sleepy vampire that's leaning against the clumsier human to stay upright."

They managed to bumble their way down the ladder without incident, and Xander was a little taken aback by the opulently dressed and very large wrought-iron bed. He didn't think he'd ever seen so many pillows.

"Wow," he said, walking over to touch the velvet bedspread. "This is nice. It's really different down here."

"Yeah. I ate a decorator once; something must have stuck."

Xander turned to look at Spike and completely forgot what he was going to say. Spike was tugging his shirt off over his head, and Xander was struck speechless by finally seeing all that soft, smooth skin he'd been running his fingers over earlier. "You are so damn gorgeous," he finally whispered.

Spike ducked his head, the shyest smile on his face, like a girl who was told she was beautiful and wasn't quite sure if she believed it -- but wanted to, very much. And wasn't that an interesting comparison?

Xander sidled up to Spike, wrapping his arms around a naked waist, his hands sliding into Spike's back pockets, and bumped his nose into Spike's. "Hey. You really are gorgeous."

"Well, 'course I am." But it lacked the usual bluster and sneer that Spike had perfected so well, his eyes never quite meeting Xander's. "Pretty as a picture, that's me."

"Hm." Xander was pretty sure he'd never had so many kisses without mustgetnakednow beating in through his blood. Hopefully when the spell faded, he wouldn't lose this -- or start sneering at it, the way he almost wanted to even now. Because kissing Spike just to kiss him, to taste and reassure him, was --

He didn't have a word. 'Revelation' came close.

Slowly backtracking to the bed, Xander sank down the moment the back of his knees met yielding solid, drawing Spike down with him mouth first.

After a short, soft kiss, Xander rolled them to their sides, manhandling them under the covers. He pulled the blankets up around Spike's shoulders and watched as his eyes drifted shut.

"I'm only going to say this once, and I'm probably going to blame it on the spell later, but you are gorgeous, Spike. You're one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen."

Spike's eyes opened just enough for Xander to see a sliver of blue - he looked like nothing so much as a drowsy cat, two seconds from deep, boneless sleep.

"Thank you," Spike said, voice gravelly with sleep.

Xander moved close, pulling Spike against his chest.

Spike looked innocent when he slept. As if he really was the twenty-something Drusilla had killed all those years before. One of those chubby cupids Anya had referred to, peaceful and content and so, so young.

Xander sighed happily, stroking Spike's hair and just drifting. He wasn't tired, precisely, though the heavy weight of Spike's head on his chest and the soft murmurs from upstairs fading into a background lullaby definitely encouraged it. Mostly he just wanted to watch Spike. He was pretty sure he'd never allow himself to do something so sappy when he wasn't bespelled and he liked having total access to stare as long as he wanted.

Spike had long eyelashes. Long and thick, and the contrast of dark hair to ivory skin was...well, beautiful was really the only word. He didn't breathe in his sleep, but that didn't weird Xander out nearly as much as he would have thought, because, even though he was technically dead, Spike was one of the most alive people Xander'd ever known, awake or asleep.

Xander decided that Spike's nose was just a little too big for his face, and that his chin was kind of pointy, and that his cheekbones were really sort of alarming in their bladey-ness. Also, his upper lip was a good bit thinner than the lower. It didn't really matter, though, because the pieces all came together in a way that made Xander really understand why Dru had wanted Spike, why anyone would want him. Why he wanted him.

But it wasn't just want in the sense of naked, sweaty want, and that was the part that was throwing Xander. Until the girlification spell, he just hadn't seen himself as someone who could want another man. Sure, he'd long ago admitted to himself that he occasionally had the naked, sweaty want sorts of thoughts about guys, but that was usually confined to the dude that played Ares on Xena and sometimes Captain Archer. But the other kind of wanting - the kind where he wanted to, say, hold someone while they slept and catalogue every inch of their face - he'd pretty much thought that was just about girls.

It seemed like a very interesting personal crisis, one that would require much quiet reflection and soul searching. So he went to sleep instead.

Xander woke slowly. He knew where he was, remembered everything about the day before. There wasn't any confusion or oh my god, I did what?! to deal with -- other than the one he'd pushed aside the night before. Day before? Just 'before'.

He still didn't open his eyes.

A finger brushed against his lips, tracing the dip and long, smooth glide, before swinging around to treat the lower lip to the same treatment. "Shaped funny," Spike murmured, his voice husky from sleep and something else beside. "Too thin up top and I've never seen a mouth wide as yours. 'Cept maybe Jagger's or Tyler's, but they don't count. They're singers, need all that extra room. But you..."

"But me?" he prompted when the silence stretched too long. Spike was touching his closed eyelids now, stroking the thin skin as gently as he would butterfly wings.

"Sorry," Spike said instead, settling back down and shifting so that Xander was tucked up close to him. "Didn't mean to wake you."

"That's okay," Xander said, "I didn't mean to fall asleep. What time is it?"

Spike frowned slightly. "Hour or so ‘til sundown."

"Oh, good."

"Good?" Spike's face was cute all scrunched up.

"Yeah. Sundown means the spell ends, and I'm just not quite ready for that." Xander rested his head against Spike's shoulder, inhaling the scents of body-warmed cotton, skin and a little bit of eau de cave. "I'm not really looking forward to the return to macho. I'm kind of enjoying this."

"This?" Spike's voice was neutral.

"Oh, come on," Xander said. "It's not every morning I get woken up to someone insulting my lips."

When Spike remained quiet, Xander sighed and rolled so that he was fully on top of Spike, head propped on a bony sternum. "This is where the girlie thing is useful," he mused, tucking one arm below his chin for protection while the other found sleep-mused curls to toy with. "Normally I'd have either rolled away or changed the topic. But now? Now I'm all about the conversation we should be having."

Wary eyes looked up at him. "And that'd be?"

"Well, for starters, you're an idiot. I called you gorgeous. I slept with you without the naughty touching we're so going to indulge in later. I kissed you for hours and I'm okay with repeating that for several hours more." More like years, but Xander didn't want to overwhelm him all at once. "So of course it's just the spell, Spike. Of course come sundown I'm going to run out the crypt door going 'ew, lips of Spike, patooey'."

Spike was very still underneath him.

Sighing, Xander dropped a kiss on Spike's collarbone, then used his hold on Spike's hair to tug him forward for a kiss. He did worry about what would happen when the sun went down and the spell faded away, but that mostly because he didn't want to lose the openness he felt. The ability to share, deeply and meaningfully and non-sexually. Losing Spike? Wasn't an option.

Xander kept the kiss light and pulled away slowly. Spike was less stiff under him, but still looked troubled. "What is it?" Xander asked.

Spike chewed on his lower lip adorably, then smiled. "So, there's going to be naughty touching later?"

Xander banged his forehead lightly on Spike's chest. "Oh, crap, the spell must be wearing off," he joked. "Yes. Yes, there will be naughty touching and lots of it."

"Good," Spike said, running a hand over the back of Xander's head. "And I wasn't insulting your lips. I love your lips."

"You compared me to Steven Tyler, Spike. That's insulting."

"Nope." Grinning innocently, Spike cupped Xander's face and brushed his thumb over the lower lip, back and forth. "Love 'em. Love kissing them. Love watching you talk. So mobile. Used to tease me, sitting in the damned Magic Box, biting your lip or smiling at your -- "

"Are you two awake?"

Xander groaned, letting his head thump back onto Spike's chest. Spike's words had wrapped around him, dragging him down to a place where there was nothing but Spike's lips and the silken caress of his voice -- until Anya interrupted him. "We're awake, Anya."

"Good. You should come upstairs and let us watch you kiss some more. Also, I want to see Spike in those sweat pants without your body in the way."

At that, Xander lifted his head and looked down at Spike, and then at himself. Spike was wearing a pair of thin, loose drawstring pants and he was stripped down to his boxer briefs.

"What? With the who? And...naked?" He looked back up to find Spike grinning at him.

"I woke up and changed out of my jeans. Wanted you to be comfortable, too."

"Oh," Xander said, trying desperately to get his brain to catch up. He sat on the edge of the bed and watched as Spike got up. Spike's pants were black, of course, and they weren't made like sweat pants. They didn't tighten at the bottom, they kind of flared a little at the ankles and the black cotton spilled over his feet and made them look even paler than they were. And they were. Pale. Also, extremely sexy, and Xander mentally entered "Spike's feet" onto his kink list. He watched avidly as Spike sat down next to him and pulled on a pair of socks and his black tee shirt.

"You don't have to do that. Um, I mean." He flushed when Spike looked at him over his shoulder, eyebrow arched into a soliloquy. One Xander fully intended to hear, if it was as dirty as Spike's eyebrow indicated it would be. "Maybe we can get you rugs? So you don't have to."

When Spike finally understood him, the low, rumbling chuckle destroyed any hope of Xander reassembling coherent sentences. Leaning forward to balance his hands on either side of Xander's hips, Spike nuzzled at him. "You have a thing for feet," he accused.

"I didn't know I did! So maybe it's just a thing for you and your feet are included?"

Yeah, Spike wasn't buying that one. Fortunately, by 'not buying' Spike actually meant 'kiss Xander until the two of them were lying on the bed again, happily tangled together'.

"I can hear the smacking," Giles called from the upper level. "I'd like to see the smacking as well. And Spike, put some clothes on Xander. Or at least a pair of pants."

"Oh, fine, Watcher," Spike yelled toward the latter, managing to sound annoyed and amused at the same time. He pushed himself back up and located Xander's jeans, socks and shirt, flinging them onto the bed. "Put your clothes on. We can talk about your foot fetish later."

"It's not a fetish!" Xander protested, hopping around as he dressed. "I don't have magazines or anything! I just think your feet are sexy, okay?"

"Okay," Spike purred. "I can deal with that. Might get you some magazines, though."

"Oh, my god," Xander groaned. "You're going to totally expand my horizons, aren't you?"

Spike closed the distance between them and moved his hands to Xander's chest, deftly doing up his shirt. "I'm going to blow your mind," he promised, and Xander was very glad that Spike had the buttons under control, because all of his motor functions were offline due to excessive horniness.

"Play more up here," Anya called, matching Spike's tone of annoyed amusement exactly. "I can hear you growling, Spike. It's very sexy, but I'm sure it'd be sexier if we could see Xander's reaction to it."

Shaking off the effects, Xander claimed a short, hungry kiss from Spike then headed towards the ladder. He didn't need to glance down to know that Spike was staring at his ass as he climbed up; he could feel it. "When did you turn into such a voyeur, huh?" he asked as his head popped through the trapdoor opening. "I don't remember you being this enthusiastic."

Anya and Giles were curled up around each other on the sofa, Giles feeding Anya chips whenever she lifted her head in silent command. Both of them had the proverbial canary-feathers peeking from their mouths, and there was a relaxation around both that made Xander want to join them, just so he could feel it too. Or go and recreate it with Spike.

"You never wanted to watch gay porn with me," Anya said. "And maybe that's my reaction to the spell! I've always enjoyed watching two men touch themselves, of course, but I don't remember ever being this forthright about demanding it."

"Ahn, honey - I don't really see where forthright and demanding are out of character for you," Xander joked, stopping at the top of the ladder so that Spike had to press up against him.

"Maybe not," she replied, relaxing into Giles' embrace. "I am feeling rather satisfied with the extended foreplay instead of multiple orgasms. I wonder what that means."

Xander had a theory, but it would take a stampede of rhinos to drag it out of him. Instead, he headed for the display of cookies on the sarcophagus. "Hey! Tagalongs! I didn't realize it was Girl Scout Cookie time again!"

He'd expected to hear Anya's laughter, but certainly not Giles'. "Did you raid the freezer, my dear? I though I'd kept those a secret."

"From the others, sure." Anya's superior voice made Xander turn, cookie in mouth, slipping his arms comfortably around Spike's shoulders. "But I was there when the little Girl Scout delivered all fifteen boxes."

Spike, in the middle of trying to steal part of the cookie not already in Xander's mouth, coughed and spluttered, abandoning his theft until dead lungs unblocked. "Fifteen boxes? Where the hell did you hide fifteen boxes of Tagalongs?"

Giles daintily fed Anya another piece of some sort of chocolate. "In the freezer, as Anya mentioned. Now where that freezer is I will not tell you. Or the passkey to the lock. Never come between a man and his Girl Scout cookies."

"If you've got Thin Mints I will go down on Xander right here and now," Spike said, turning begging eyes on Giles.

Anya also turned begging eyes on Giles. Xander choked on his cookie.

"They're on top of the television,' Giles said. "But, for Xander's mental health, there's no recompense required."

Xander made vague gestures that he hoped Giles read as "thank you" while he tried to catch his breath.

"Hey! That means no blow job!" Sitting up, Anya crossed her arms and glared down at Giles, very obviously aware that she was sitting mostly on his belly and making it hard for him to take a complete breath. "Spike said he'd blow Xander for Thin Mints. If he's getting Thin Mints, then I want to see the blow job."

"Ahn," Xander started -- and then stopped. Spike had a packet of Thin Mints in his hand, but it was obviously the last thing on his mind. He was just standing there, looking at Xander, and wanting. Spike's gaze burned through him, so hungry Xander ached for him, so lustful and needy that almost, Xander wanted to reconsider the public humiliation of his first truly homoerotic act being done before his father figure and ex-girlfriend.

"They both want it, though. Look at them." Anya's arms were still crossed, her tone aggrieved. "Xander's even getting off a little on the embarrassment!"

"Be that as it may," Giles started, but Xander quit listening. He quit listening because Spike had tossed the box of cookies onto the sarcophagus and was standing there, staring down at his empty hands.

"Not that I don't want to, pet," he said. "I just don't want to rush things."

"God, Spike - that's..." Xander had to clear his throat. "I...I don't know what to say."

Spike looked up, smiling that shy smile. "You could kiss me. And share your Tagalongs."

"Kissing I can so do." Taking Spike into his arms as sweetly and girly as Anya used to love, Xander gripped his back and set about kissing Spike. Thoroughly. Romantically, though he did cringe to think of the word. Lovingly.

They ended with Spike doing a backbend, arms around Xander's neck, and panting as heavily as the mortal who needed it. "Wha...?" he said, eyes still unfocused.

Chuckling, Xander eased them both over to the armchair, smugly pleased when Spike took his lap with enthusiasm, arms back around Xander's neck the instant he was settled. "Slow's good," Xander said, softly enough that a raptly watching Giles and Anya might not hear it. "I think I like slow, if I get to kiss you like that."

"Kiss me any way you like." Spike was panting, and the sound made Xander feel like the manliest man in Manville. "Slow's good."

"Hmpf," Anya snorted. "I'll have to think of something Spike wants more than Thin Mints."

"It appears that that would be Xander," Giles observed, smiling at them.

Spike leaned against Xander, and eventually, he stopped breathing. "I hate to break up the party," he said. "But we need to be ready to go when the sun sets. I want to check up on Dawn, make sure she's okay."

"And make her feel bad for beating you up?" Xander asked.

"Never know," Spike replied. "She might have some Thin Mints in her freezer."

"Ooo, she has ice cream," Xander realized. "Half-Baked. You can guilt her into giving us some!"

"So long as you guilt Red into those cookies she likes to make. Sugar, this time. Put 'em in with the ice cream..." Spike and Xander grinned at each other, perfectly in harmony with their love of junk food.

"Now, I don't think it's a good idea," Giles said slowly, "to hold the girls responsible for something not totally in their control."

Thank god for Anya. "Of course it was under their control, Rupert," she said, eyebrows pinched as she frowned at him. "Hestian spells don't make you do anything you don't want to do, they just make it easier to do the things you do want."

"Oh," Xander said. "That's a relief." And it really was...it may have been residual girliness talking, but he didn't want to think that Spike's attention and care were mojo-ed in anyway. He wanted it to be about him for a change. So, yeah, it was definitely residual girliness talking. But it could talk as loud and as long as it wanted to if it put that expression on Spike's face. The one that combined stunned joy and disbelief and a tiny touch of cockiness, because, after all, it was Spike.

Giles and Anya were giving each other the same sorts of look, and Xander felt mildly superior for having figured it out first.

He wondered, vaguely, what some random person would say if they entered the crypt right now. Well, first they'd probably be very surprised to see people in the crypt, plus all the furnishings Spike had set up. Maybe they'd wonder about why they were in a crypt in the first place.

The two couples kissing with all of their souls, however, would probably top the list of oddities.

Anya, ever the practical one, broke off her kiss first. "We should start cleaning up," she said, lips against Giles' and sounding breathless. When neither Spike nor Xander answered her, pressing even more frantically into their kiss, she turned and gave them a glare. "While I'm happy to take this as indication that the spell has worn off, that does not mean either of you cannot help. Now move."

They moved. When Anya glared like that? Oceans moved.

Anya directed them in clearing and bagging up all the leftovers, then sent Spike and Xander down the ladder for shoes and jackets.

Xander watched Spike dig out his boots and sit on the bed before reaching into the back of his jeans and pulling out a cellophane-wrapped tube of Thin Mints. He waggled them suggestively at Spike. "Still want these?"

Spike bounced off the bed with one boot on and one boot off and grabbed Xander in a big hug, being careful not to smash the precious cookies. He took the tube and tore the wrapper, shoving two cookies into his mouth over Xander's shoulder.

"You want some?" he asked around a mouthful of crumbs.

"No way, Jose," Xander said. "I have a rule - it's either mint or it's food, not both at the same time."

Spike gave him a look that clearly said Xander was crazy, then shrugged and went back to putting on his boots. "Not sure I can be with someone who doesn't like Thin Mints."

"What, you mean you want the squabbling and the fighting and accusations of theft and/or hoarding? Thanks, both been there and done that. Now, so long as you don't touch my Tagalongs, we'll be fine."

Snickering, Spike bounded to his feet and stole another kiss. "Deal, love."

The shivery feeling Xander got every time Spike called him that didn't abate as they gathered up the repacked bags and headed towards the Magic Box. It felt nice, walking arm in arm with someone only a few inches shorter than he was. Their shoulders often bumped, the lack of warmth more than made up for by the sparks that danced along Xander's skin.

The lights were still on when they reached the Magic Box, though the blinds were down and the sign was turned to 'closed'. Anya tried the door, tsking when she found it unlocked. "I did give you explicit instructions, Buffy," she said as she pushed through, arms already crossing so Giles had to scramble to prevent the door from slamming back at them. "I said lock the door if you were going to stay here."

She was answered by silence. The shop was empty, and the round table in back was littered with soda cans, paper footballs and the wrappers from Xander's entire snack horde - usually kept on the upstairs bookshelf, third row back, behind Zacaran's Encyclopedia of Medicinal Molds and Fungi.

"Dammit," Xander said, pawing through the debris, "they even got the Snowballs!"

Spike shrugged, Anya frowned, Giles smirked at Xander - at least until he spied a familiar box on the floor. "They ate my Jaffa Cakes!"

"Don't worry, Rupert, I'll get you some more." She looked around the messy room. "I'm not cleaning this up. Come on, let's go to Buffy's and check on them."

They took the long way to Buffy's. It wasn't as if she were in any danger, particularly since the spell had worn off, and wandering down the streets of Sunnydale was fascinating. The Espresso pump was full of guys, mostly, all of them bearing marks of having recently been groomed within an inch of their lives. A few wore suits. One was regarding his freshly manicured nails with horror -- Xander assumed he'd either done it to himself, or gone to the place staffed with Koreans a few blocks over, since most of their employees were men. All of them had drinks in the slender, glass coffee mugs and piled high with whipped cream.

Spike and Xander stopped to stare at that, sniggering as a few patrons started to truly understand what had happened and get deeply frightened, Anya dragging Giles over to the sports bar a few doors down. "Oooh! The O.C.! I didn't know you could watch the O.C. any day except Thursday!"

Giles peeked in through the window with her, taking in the dozens of women with mugs of beer in front of them, all eyes on the television as Ryan threw his jacket around his shoulders. The collective sighing was nearly deafening. "I believe they're using a DVD player, my dear," he said, pointing to the thin box that glowed at the bottom of the television. "Though why someone was carrying around the box-set with them I shudder to guess."

They continued down the street, passing a man walking a toy poodle with obvious discomfort and several women who seemed to be removing themselves from a game of pick up basketball.

Xander was feeling a bit lonely, what with not having had his hands on Spike for almost five minutes, so he reached over and twined their fingers together.

"Hey," he said softly, tugging Spike's hand a little.

"Hey, yourself," Spike answered.

"Hi," Xander said. He really didn't have anything important to say, he just wanted to hear Spike's voice.

Spike obliged. "Hi, git. You're in a silly mood."

Xander grinned and nodded, acknowledging the truth of that. Didn't matter - he was happy to be happy. Which made him goofy, which he also didn't care about.

They meandered down Revello Drive and stopped at Buffy's door. Anya lifted her hand to knock, then shrugged and opened the door. They followed the sound of a blaring television and found Buffy and Dawn kicked back on the sofa surrounded by more food wrappers and the empty remnants of a twelve-pack of beer, both dead asleep and snoring while Rambo III grunted and yelled in the background.

"Holy shit!" Giles yelped.

Spike turned to Xander with a serious look on his face. "Hurry!" he said. "Get the camera!"

Xander hesitated -- should he? I mean, this was his best friend and his psuedo-little sister. Then he thought about the candy they'd eaten their way through. "Dawn keeps one in her room!"

Dashing up the stairs, he still wasn't quick enough -- had Dawn's room been this messy before the gender-switch spell? -- to catch the two of them asleep. So he started snapping photos of a glowering Buffy and a groggy, overstuffed Dawn. He also managed to get Giles and Anya holding hands, before Buffy yelped and pointed, forcing the two of them to break apart.

"Hands! Bad hands!"

Giles stopped cringing, backtracked, and took Anya's hand firmly. She beamed, hurt expression erased completely. "Not that it's any of your business, Buffy, but these happen to be very good hands indeed."

Xander was trying to decide if he should jump in and grab Spike's hand when Dawn made a groaning noise and turned very green around the gills. "Oh, god," she moaned, and sprinted for the downstairs bathroom. A second later, the others could hear the unmistakable sounds of hurling. "Buffy! You got the Little Bit drunk?" Spike sounded utterly scandalized, and Xander just had to toss the camera onto the coffee table and walk to stand behind Spike. "Yeah, Buffy," Xander said, wrapping his arms around Spike's waist and enjoying the way Spike's body slumped bonelessly against him. "You're evil!"

"I'm not evil!" Buffy protested shrilly. Immediately clutching her head with a groan, she collapsed back against the sofa. "Okay, I'm evil. I got myself drunk too. I think Dawn may have a higher tolerance than I do."

Spike chuckled at her whining -- and rueful -- voice, then patted Xander's arm. "Gonna go check on the 'bit, love. Be right back."

Buffy roused at that, first looking in concern at the bathroom where Dawn seemed to be continuously sick, then she turned back to Xander. Squinted a little. "Were you guys...leaning against each other? You two didn't get drunk, did you? Cause all the guys I saw were way too concerned about their complexions. And -- " Buffy froze, eyes going very wide. "I hurt him. We both did. And Giles and Anya are holding hands."

Xander was getting ready to make some sort of smart remark to Buffy when the front door flew open and Willow and Tara rushed into the room. They looked remarkably well-rested.

"Oh, my gosh," Willow said, dragging Tara into the center of the group. "Is everyone okay? There was a spell and before you ask, it wasn't me! But, spell! And people acting strangely! Where's Dawn? Is she okay?"

Xander laughed and pulled Willow into a hug, then expanded the hug to include Tara when Willow wouldn't let go of the other girl's hand. "Everyone's fine. Well, Buffy's probably a little hungover and Dawn is throwing up, but everyone else is fine."

Willow shivered lightly in his hold, tugging free. There was a manic quality to her eye that Xander easily recognized -- she was terrified she'd done something irreversibly wrong. "But I -- "

"Relax, Witch-y woman," he said, including Tara with his smile. She flushed, then shyly smiled back, a twinkling hint of wicked good humor making Xander understand exactly what Willow saw in her. "All is forgiven. Although, Spike has requested sugar cookies, if you're feeling the need to bake."

Nodding vigorously, Willow opened her mouth to say something -- and then froze. "Wait. Xander? Why is Spike making requests? And why are you relaying the requests of Spike? And why is Anya holding Giles' hand and making simpering goo-goo eyes?"


Xander shot Anya a quelling look. "Um, there have been some developments," he told Willow. "But, first, where have the two of you been all day?" He tried to make his voice stern, but couldn't help but grin when Willow and Tara both flushed prettily.

"I bet they went home and had lots of sex," Anya said, snuggling defiantly into Giles' arms. "When I sent them home, they both had their bras in their pockets." She looked as though she felt totally vindicated for the "simpering goo-goo eyes" comment.

"Well, we...um...oh, my!" Willow said, face flaming.

Tara patted her on the shoulder and looked up at Xander with that wicked grin. "There was sex. Then ice cream. Then sleeping."

Xander held his hand up for her to slap. "Trifecta! Excellent work!" Tara's grin was both embarrassed and smug and Xander decided he liked her a lot.

"Not fair," Buffy said mournfully from the couch. "You all got sex and hand-holding and what did I get? Paper football. And beer."

"Yes, how exactly did you obtain this beer, Buffy?" Giles asked. "Particularly beer for Dawn?"

"Buffy! You gave Dawnie beer!" Tara's outraged expression quickly melted into laughter, which she muffled beneath the long locks of her hair. "Now I think I'm glad we only got the constant need for sex, sweetie."

Mouth still open to defend herself, Buffy turned a stunned expression on Tara. "She's still under the spell!"

"No, she's not," Xander said. "I think she's just finally relaxing a little. And I, for one, am glad." He exchanged grins with Tara. He then turned to Buffy, who looked confused and miserable. "The spell didn't change us," he explained. "It just made us a little more open to our wants. It also kinda made us act like the opposite sex at the same time."

Buffy smiled just a little. "How'd you like being girly, Xan?"

Xander thought about it for a second, then grinned broadly. "I liked it. Girls get away with a lot of stuff guys can't do. It felt good." He paused and let his eyes sweep over the litter of crushed beer cans and empty chip bags. "How did you like your visit to the manly side?"

A low groan from the bathroom and Spike's murmured voice made Buffy wince, looking over her shoulder guiltily. "The whole not caring thing? That I kinda liked. What I did with it, though..." She turned back to Xander, her smile small and fragile. "I didn't hurt him too badly, did I?"

"Actually, I believe he mentioned that Dawn was the worse of the two of you. And you know he can't ever stay mad at her, Buffy, so please stop fretting." Giles sighed when both Willow and Tara turned big, confused eyes on him. "Buffy and Dawn went after Spike, much the same way you two went after Xander, only with more success."

Twin blushes bloomed, the girls moving closer to each other in remembered shame. Xander shook his head. There would be no shame having. Shame was of the bad, and right now he was coasting on feelings of good. No one was ruining his buzz. "Relax," he said to the Wiccas. "I told you, all is forgiven. Well, I may possibly use this to blackmail you later..."

That earned him a Willow-whap and a Buffy-sniff, but it was worth it. They all lost the pinched look around their eyes, white lines of upset fading back into peachy and pinky and creamy, respectively.

Willow looked closely at Xander. "You're...happy!"

"Don't sound so accusatory," he quipped, then smiled. "Yeah, I am. I'm happy that Anya and Giles seem to have found each other, and I'm happy that, well, I seem to have found Spike."

Willow looked puzzled. "Found as in 'once was lost but now I'm,' or found?"

"The non-song version. I...I like him. A lot." Xander couldn't help his wide grin.

"Like you, too, pet," Spike said from the door to the hallway, where he was supporting a very pale but faintly smiling Dawn.

Buffy looked around the room, from person to person, then collapsed on the sofa in a heap. "I'm seriously annoyed that I find all this cute," she moaned.

Tara giggled, sitting down next to her. Xander appreciated the subtle support that Buffy wasn't alone, lost in the sea of couples -- but then he had a vampire in his arms, plus a Dawn who seemed to have attached herself to Spike and wasn't letting go. "Hey, Dawnie. How're you feeling?"

"Like I'm never touching alcohol until I'm 35," she recited, clearly repeating what Spike had told her.

Borne out by Spike's frown. "If then, 'bit. And only if you're with people you trust."

"Hey, I was with Buffy! Big sister trustworthiness all there!"

Spike snorted. "Yeah, cause the Slayer here holds her liquor like a pro."

Buffy lost the superior smirk Dawn's words had put there, her glare at Spike mimicking a stake. "At least I didn't hurl."

"That's because you passed out first, and I still had all those beers to drink."

Buffy groaned and dropped her head into her hands.

"Come on," Spike said, pulling himself and Dawn out of Xander's embrace. "Let's go out to the kitchen and get some juice for the drunken sots."

Buffy's voice was muffled by her hands. "I don't know what a sot is, but I bet I should stake him for that."

Xander gave Dawn and then Spike a peck on the cheek, then turned to Buffy. "There will be no staking of my vampire."

"That's so cute!" Dawn said, allowing Spike to tow her towards the kitchen. "You're already doing the 'my' thing!"

Spike growled, though it was clear to everyone -- although maybe not Buffy, who hadn't taken her head out of her hands and didn't see the badly suppressed grin -- that he was faking the growl, and said, "Oi! If anybody gets to do the 'my' thing, it's me. Possessive vampire here!"

Xander crossed his arms and lifted an eyebrow, knowing without looking that Willow had adopted the same position -- eerie. They hadn't been able to mimic each other so well in years. "So you want there to be stakeage?" Xander demanded.

Spike's eyelids grew heavy. "Well, one kind of -- all right, all right, Dawn! No more heaving!"

"I'm good," Dawn groaned, still sounding a little green as Spike dragged her into the kitchen.

"So," Xander said, clapping his hands sharply and snorting when Buffy grimaced and cradled her head at the loud sound. "Willow, Tara - you guys good?"

"Yep," Willow said, and Tara nodded.

"G-man? Ahn?" Xander looked to the smooching couple, who broke their clinch for a second to smile at him.

"Buff? Gonna live?"

"I hope not," Buffy groaned.

"Good," Xander said. "I gotta go in the kitchen. I hear there's ice cream and vampire kisses."

"...didn't mean to!"


How did vampires sound long-suffering? It was one of those wonders of the world, or maybe the unworld, because Spike shouldn't sound that resigned and long-suffering and there should be kisses. And possibly glaring at Dawn for doing whatever she did to make Spike sound like that.

"Everything okay in here?" Sidling up behind Spike, Xander tugged him back into his arms, Spike leaning against him easily. His chin fit perfectly on Spike's shoulder.

"Sure!" Dawn chirped, drinking so quickly that a thin trail of California sunshine made liquid spilled down her chin. "Damn! But everything's fine, Xander, honest."

Uh huh. Dawn protesting with her eyes widened impossibly huge and the grin tugging at her lips meant Dawn with a secret. "Spike? Is everything okay?"

"Everything's grand," Spike said, turning easily in his arms. The whisper-soft glide of Spike's lips against his own made Xander forget about things like hungover slayers and ex-girlfriends and horny witches and magic spells...

"Hold it," Xander said, detaching himself from Spike's lips. "What did you two do?"

Spike's hair was mussed, and his lips were soft and a little damp, and his eyes were half-lidded and sexy. Dawn, over his shoulder, was open-mouthed; a combination of stunned and happy...just before her mouth snapped shut and her eyes turned furtive.

"We...I...um..." she stammered. "Look! Spike had nothing to do with it - he didn't know. I promise!"

Uh huh. Xander tightened his arms around Spike, meeting his eyes for a long, slow look. Of course, he got distracted in the black-laced crystal blue, but by the time Dawn giggled, he'd seen what he needed to see.

"Okay," he said, turning to look at Dawn. She immediately flushed and Xander wondered what kind of expression he wore. "Spike not involved. You, however, are involved. Wanna tell me what the involving was?"

Dawn's eyes moved up from the floor to cut quickly toward and then away from the side counter. The side counter where a half-burned candle sat next to a bowl that had a drift of fine ash, a small swatch of charred cloth, and some herby-looking stalks and things in the bottom. Magic. Kitchen magic, and Xander would bet his last Ho-Ho it was the remains of a Hestian spell. The Hestian spell.

Xander looked at Dawn for a long moment, trying to sort out all the feelings in his head. He waited until she slowly met his eyes, then gave her a stern look.

"I know," she said guiltily. "I know I'm not supposed to mess with magic, but I had such a rotten week - Billy Colson likes Janice instead of me and my hair's all icky and I have a zit on my nose and I have PMS and I just didn't want to deal with girl problems anymore."

"So you decided to make Billy Colson act like a girl?" Xander demanded, voice spiraling up to embarrassing girly ranges. Forcing it back into manlier tones, Xander gave her a stern look. "Dawn, we've been over this. Did you learn nothing of the magic equaling bad thesis?"

"I know! And I'm sorry! It wasn't supposed to do that, anyway, it was just supposed to..." She trailed off, head hanging miserably. Almost, Xander gave in. No one did sad please-hug-me better than Dawn and he was a sucker for any of his girls in distress.

"It was supposed to do what, Dawn?" Spike asked for him. Oooh, helpful vampire boyfriend, and good with the tag-teaming.

"I just wanted to be like a boy - you know, not care about feelings and worrying and zits and stuff; just have fun and stuff." Dawn looked even more miserable as she continued. "I didn't think about how it would affect other people. I just wanted to...not be me for a while." Xander couldn't keep up the facade of anger. It wasn't like he hadn't had his own mishaps with magic, and he really could understand Dawn's wish to just be...different sometimes. "Come here," he said quietly, opening his arms to her. Dawn folded herself to his chest and he realized with a start that her head was well past his shoulder - she was getting so tall.

Spike stepped up and wrapped his arms around both of them, exchanging a small smile with Xander and gently kissing Dawn's shoulder.

"Sweetie," Xander said. "We love you just the way you are, even when you have a zit on your nose and PMS."

"Really? You aren't mad?"

"Well, it's not like any real harm was done," Spike said thoughtfully. "'Cept the Slayer's hangover, and that's just fun."

Dawn gave a small moan and buried her head in Xander's shoulder. "Uh. Don't remind me. So not drinking again ever."

Chuckling, Xander held her even more tightly. "Good. And no, really I'm not mad." How could he be mad when Dawn's spell had given him Spike? Especially a Spike that was curled around both of them like he never wanted to let go.

They stood that way for a long time, and Xander would have been perfectly content to not let go. However, reality intervened, as it always does.

"Didn't you say something about ice cream?" Anya yelled from the living room.

Xander hurriedly pointed Dawn at the spell detritus with a small push and turned to make sure he was between her and the door. "Be there in a second!"

Dawn scurried to the bowl and Spike strutted to the freezer, and Xander reached for the spoons before stopping in his tracks - hit by a sudden thought. He turned and went into the living room and pulled Giles to the side.

"G-man, I just gotta know...what kind of noises was Angel making in the background when you were talking to Wes?"

"Ah, noises?" Giles shifted, suddenly fascinatingly interested by Anya sidling up to him and slipping her arm around his waist. That was until he realized that Anya was looking at him with interest and about three seconds from repeating Xander's question, plus a request for more backstory. "Oh, yes, you mean when I was talking to Wesley on the phone," he said hurriedly -- and then broke off. And then blushed.

Buffy slowly clambered to her feet. "Giles? Why did you call Wesley?" she asked uncertainly. She also was discreetly leaning against Xander, who ignored it and slipped a hand under her elbow to help her find her balance. Wasn't he a good friend? One who wasn't going to mention that Buffy still stank like a brewery. At least, not until Buffy was coherent enough not to actually hurt him.

"I wanted to ascertain how far the spell had spread," Giles snapped, flustered and not enjoying it, particularly since the rest of them so obviously were. "And I did discover that the spell covered a rather large area. Most of California."

Inside the kitchen, Xander heard Spike give a low whistle and Dawn giggle nervously.

"So you were talking to Angel?" Buffy pressed. She didn't look dismayed, that little losting 'but he's my heeeeeeeero' look she sometimes got. Just interested and increasingly amused. "Or Wesley."

"He was talking to Wes. Angel was making noises in the background, though." Xander beamed at Giles, immune to the laser glare he was receiving. "And now he's going to tell us what he heard."

"What makes you think -- it's hardly dignified -- "

Xander sighed, shaking his head. "Giles. Giles, Giles, Giles. You're missing the point. We're out to laugh at Angel."

Giles immediately brightened. "Oh! Well, then. He was singing, actually, although softly enough that I didn't wish to smash the phone. It wasn't an actual song, as far as I could tell. I did happen to make out a few words, though." He gave a storyteller's pause, smiling mysteriously at all of them and then sang, in a voice that would never make someone want to smash a phone, "I'm a pretty princess with pretty pretty hair."

Stunned horror settled over the room. Then Buffy snorted. And Willow tittered. From the kitchen, Spike giggled and that was it. Xander felt the laughter whooping up from his chest, and he let it go. It felt great to let everything go and just laugh himself sick at Angel's expense while surrounded by his friends. It was cosmically right.

When his sides ached and his cheeks were hot and stretched from tears of laughter, Xander finally looked away from Buffy -- she whose dumbfounded expression was responsible for laughter round 4 -- and tried to control himself. He needed to breathe. He needed to calm down and lean back against the strong, cool body that had wrapped around him sometime during round 3, when Spike and Dawn came out to join in the laughter.

"I'm a pretty -- "

"Don't!" three people shouted. "No more!"

Dawn pouted, which threatened to restart the laughter, but they'd finally reached the calm that came after a good, solid bout of laughter. The one that said all was right in the world and moving was definitely not an option. Xander snuggled closer against Spike's body, gazing out over the room. Couples were cuddled close to each other, Buffy and Dawn hugging in sisterly affection, and the cosmic rightness of before locked into place. Sure, it'd taken a weird spell to get everyone there -- but they were there. And happy.

And soon there would be Spike kisses. And slightly melted ice cream.

The End

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