Sinners and Saviors
Summary: Graham meets some new people, learns a little history, and gets closer to Xander. . . literally

**********

Now, I don't have nearly the kind of 'Spidey-sense' that Buffy does, but even I can tell that there's something definitely off about this situation. This girl, about Buffy's size, surrounded by piles of ash, her hand still wrapped tight around a makeshift stake is staring at me like I'm a bug. . . or the main course.

She looks me up and down, not really in a lascivious way, just. . . sizing me up, and. . . Why do I suddenly feel like running home and hiding under my bed? She's just a girl. Okay, a girl who obviously knows about the nightlife on the Hellmouth and was able to dispatch at least five vampires by herself, but still. . . but nothing.

I can feel my body shifting, tensing, getting ready to move if I have to. Fight or flight, whatever might be called for. I think she notices, cause she backs off a little. That. . . predatory look she had disappears and her body relaxes. Guess she doesn't think I?m much of a threat. For some reason I don't think I'm much of a threat to her either.

Her eyes drift past my right shoulder to. . . oh, the crossbow. She crosses her arms. "So, either you're part of an all new, after hours archery team, or, you're friends with Buffy."

Huh. At least I don?t have to try to think up an excuse for the weapon. . . actually, that after hours archery thing sounds kinda good. Should file that away for future reference. "Kinda. I'm a friend of Riley, Buffy's boyfriend." Is it my imagination, or did she just. . . flinch?

"You're a friend of Riley." She grimaces. "Perfect. I bet you're best pals with Willow and Xander too."

"Well, yeah, Xander and I are. . ." How should I put this? "Pretty close."

"Of course you are." She lets out this sharp little laugh, and shakes her head. She straightens up, throws her shoulders back and looks me right in the eye. "I guess I should go ahead and get this over with. I'm Faith."

"Nice to meet you." I nod, for some reason not quite in the mood to put my hand out to her. "I'm Graham."

She blinks a few times. "No. I'm *Faith*."

"Yes, I know. You just said that."

Her eyes narrow. "Don't you know who I am?"

"Uh," Is this a trick question? "You're. . . Faith?" Good. Go for the obvious answer.

"They didn't tell you about me." She said softly.

"Tell me what?" And, why do I really think I'm not going to like what I hear?

"Nevermind. Look, you need to give Buffy a message. Tell her that something attacked me in L.A. and Angel told me to come back here. He should be down sometime tomorrow night. Tell her I'm staying at the mansion. She knows where that is." She starts to walk past me.

"Wait." I reach out to grab her arm, but the look she throws me stops me cold. No, this is not a person to mess with. "I know where Buffy is. In fact, I'm headed there right now. Why don't you come with me?"

"No!" Her fists clench. I could still take her. . . right? "Just. . . just do it. Okay?"

I hold my hands up. No, getting into anything aggressive with this girl would *not* be a good idea. "Fine."

"Good." She turns and I could do the same, continue on home, but some part of me really doesn't want to show her my back.

About twenty feet from me she stops. "One more thing." She looks over her shoulder at me. "Tell Buffy I don't want to be here anymore than she wants me here."

Wow. Something tells me the next few days are going to be just. . . fun! I wonder if it's too late to put in for vacation time?

*****

I haven't known Buffy that long, but I've never seen her this. . . subdued before. You would think that having her *special* time with Riley interrupted, again (which, by the way, I feel absolutely no guilt about whatsoever. Serves them right for that time with me and Xander on the couch), would have had her bouncing off the ceiling. Actually, that's what she did do, until I mentioned Faith's name. All of a sudden, me pounding on the bedroom door became irrelevant.

Buffy sank down onto the bed, and Riley followed suit. He grasped her hand, and looked beyond tense. They've been that way for the past few minutes, Buffy staring at the carpet, Riley staring at her. This cannot be good.

"Is that all she said?" Buffy's looking at me now. "Just that something attacked her in L.A., and Angel sent her here?"

I nod.

"And, she didn't try anything with you?" She askes.

Try anything? I frown. "What do you mean?"

"Like, did she try and. . . hurt you, in any way?"

Hurt Me?! I shake my head.

"Okay." Buffy stands up, her hand still connected to Riley's. "I'm gonna go check on Mom. Scooby meeting. Eight A.M. Giles' place. I'll call him, and Willow, give them a heads up. Graham, can you contact Xander?"

"Sure."

"Good." She bends down and kisses Ri and, averting eyes time. "Everything will be fine." I wish I knew who Buffy was trying to reassure with that statement.

Riley walks her to the door, then locks it behind her.

"Okay, I'm pretty much in the dark here, and I really don't like it." I cross my arms over my chest. Ri may look bedraggled as hell, but he's gonna give me some answers. Who's Faith? What did she do?"

He runs a hand through his hair, making it stick up even more then it did before. "I don't know *everything*, but I know what she's done recently." He lets out a deep sigh. "Faith's another Slayer."

Another Slayer? That doesn't fit in with the legend I'd heard. "But I thought. . ."

"That there's only supposed to be one at a time? There usually is. One Slayer dies and another is called." He snorts. "One hell of a system. A couple years ago Buffy did die, but Xander brought her back, thank God." Yeah, that sounds like my Xander. "Still, she was gone long enough for a new Slayer to be called."

I nod. "Faith." Well, that certainly explains her propensity for killing already dead things.

Ri frowns. "Actually, I think there was one before her, but, she's the latest. She's also very. . . troubled."

"Troubled?" Is happy go lucky really asking that much? "As in, worried, or upset, or. . ."

"As in, needs large doses of Thorazine."

Oh. "Oh. What did she do, Riley?" I ask softly.

"She killed some people, tried to kill a lot more, basically made everyone's life a living hell."

There's more there. "And?"

He shakes his head. "It's nothing."

"Not buying it, Ri." I take a deep breath, put a hand on his shoulder. "Look, if you don't want to tell me as a friend, that's okay. I get that. But, as your teammate, I want to know just what kind of person we're gonna be dealing with."

He stares at me, then ducks his head. "There was this thing, I suppose it was some kind of magic something, that switched them. Faith ended up in Buffy's body and I slept with her."

Oh man. No wonder he's so tense. Riley's middle name is chivalrous. He's the type of guy that doesn't even check out other women. I can't even imagine how bad he must have felt when he found out he had cheated on his girlfriend with his. . . girlfriend. Okay, that should freak me out more then it is, right? I've spent way too much time in Sunnydale.

"I mean, logically, I know that there was no way I could have known what had happened, but the illogical part of me still thinks I should have been able to tell the difference." He grimaced. "I don't even want to think about what Buffy must feel about it. It would be so easy for the whole thing to just blow up in our faces." He rolls his eyes. "Geez, and I thought it was bad when Buffy's ex came to town."

Oh, yeah. Oops. "Um, Ri, heh, there was something else that Faith said that I had forgotten until now, and thanks for helping me remember."

He looks a little frantic. "What is it? Is it bad?"

"Well, depending on your point of view, and for you, yeah, probably." Ri's giving me this 'get the hell on with it' look. "Buffy's ex is coming town."

He blinks. "What."

"Angel. Faith said he's coming in tomorrow night." I shrug. Well, what else can I do? "Sorry."

"Oh." He blinks again. "Funny, I can't decide if I?m gonna need chocolate, or Pepto-Bismol."

Something tells me we might want to stock up on both.

**********

"I cannot believe we're actually entertaining the idea of helping *Faith*" Wow, I've never heard Willow sound so pissed before. I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and say the second slayer isn't on her holiday shopping list. "Hello, she's bad, remember?"

"I'm not exactly jumping for joy here either, Will." Buffy squeezes Riley's hand. They've been practically joined at the hip ever since we got to Giles'. "But we have to accept that things have changed. Angel thinks she's worth saving and he has just as much reason to hate her as the rest of us do."

I glance at Giles. He's been on the phone to L.A. trying to get a handle on what really happened down there. It would be easier to just go ask Faith, but no one seems quite up for dealing with her right now

Tara's sitting beside Willow and looking uncomfortable as hell. I don't know if it's because of all the Faith talk or the fact that her girlfriend has been bitching for the past ten minutes. Come to think of it, everyone looks uncomfortable. Except me, of course. I'm pretty sure I?m still wearing my standard passive face.

Xan's being awfully quiet, and that's worrying me a little. Even in the worst of times he's always managed to make some joke or comment. Sure, they're not always funny jokes or comments, but it's the thought that counts. I wonder. . . I wonder if he has any history with Faith? No one's mentioned anything, but. . .

Giles hangs up the phone and all eyes immediately focus on him. "Evidently, someone, or something, attacked the correctional facility where Faith was being held. It killed at least twelve other inmates, the officials aren't sure what the exact body count is yet." Oh, lovely. "She's lucky to have escaped with her life. Angel did send her to us. He's convinced that her soul can still be saved, but what he's more worried about right now is her life, and yours, Buffy. If this thing targeted Faith because she's a slayer then you might very well be next on it's list."

"So, he sends her here?" Riley does not look like the proverbial happy camper.

"United front." Buffy says quietly.

"I still don't think we should trust her." Willow crosses her arms in front of her chest. "She could have tricked Angel. We all know how gullible he is about that whole 'Oh, my soul's in danger' thing."

"If she's out to hurt us again then why did she let Graham go?" Buffy asks.

"So he could give us the message, so. . ."

"No." Buffy shakes her head. "That's not her style. If Faith had wanted to send us a message, she would have done it in blood."

Oh, that's nice to hear.

"Okay," Willow says after a moment. "Granted, that does sound more Faith-like, but how exactly are we supposed to know if she's changed?"

"Graham was the last one of us to have contact with her." Giles turns to me. "How did she seem to you?"

Uh. "Okay."

Buffy squints at me. "Does anyone else think it would be perversely interesting to make him and Oz have a conversation together?"

I?m not sure, was that an insult?

Giles rubs his temples. "Quite."

I sigh. "Look, if you're asking me if she seemed overly homicidal, I'm gonna have to say no. She seemed. . . angry, but that could have been from fear or nerves. Is she evil? I don't know. But like Buffy pointed out, if she wanted a kill then I don't think I would be standing here." I ignore the startled looks. Yes, I can say more then one sentence at a time, thank you very much.

"Do you think she's sane?" Giles asks.

I frown. "Isn't that really a relative term?"

Willow scowls. "Graham, I can't believe you of all people, are defending her! I mean, after what she did to Xander."

I?m not exactly defending, and. . . What does she mean, what she did to Xander?

"That's not important." Xan?s voice is firm.

"Not important?!" Evidently, Willow disagrees with him there. "Oh, so it's not important that she put her hands around your throat and squeezed until she left bruises?" She did what?! "It's not important that if Angel hadn?t shown up she would have killed you too? It's not important that she used -"

"Willow, shut up!" I've never heard Xander raise his voice before. God, Xander, what did she do to you? "Just, stop."

Willow blinks at him. She looks, yeah, I'm pretty sure that's disbelief on her face. Buffy is staring at a spot on the wall, and Riley looks about as shocked as I feel.

Xander closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "Look, the way I see it is, the sooner we take care of this thing that's after Faith, the sooner she can leave." He opens his eyes and glances around the room at everyone. . . except me. "Any arguments we have are just cutting into the research, slash, kicking ass time."

"Agreed." Buffy looks towards Willow. "I don't like this any more then you do, Will, but we're still going to help her." She shrugs. "That's what we do."

Giles clears his throat. "Angel gave me a basic description of our opponent, but for details I?m going to need to talk to Faith directly."

"I'll go with you." That was Buffy's 'don't even try to argue with me' tone. For once I'm glad to hear it. No one should go near this girl alone. "Riley?"

Ri thinks for a moment. "I could go to Willy's, see if there's any news on the demon underground?"

Buffy nods.

"Tara and I'll swing by the magic shop, stock up on stuff for standard protection spells." Willow still doesn't look happy but at least she's helping, which is more then I can say for me right about now.

I keep waiting for Xander to announce what he and I are going to do, but he keeps quiet, and no one seems particularly anxious to ask him to do anything. One by one everyone leaves until its just Riley standing at the door with one eyebrow raised, silently asking if I want to go with him.

Cracking some skulls would certainly be fun, but. . .I shake my head, and Riley understands.

I need to be with Xander right now. It?s not about finding out that Xan almost got killed. Hell, almost getting killed is a common occurrence in this town. It's that there's something else. Willow started to say it and that's when Xander went off. I want to know what happened to him, what else Faith did. I don't know why, maybe I?m being selfish, but I still want to know.

Riley leaves and Xander gives me this strange look, then takes my hand and tugs me towards the door. "Come on."

Maybe now would be a good time to find that pesky voice of mine again. "Where are we going?"

"My house."

Oh, okay.

*****

Xander may not have gone to college but he's definitely captured that first dorm room kinda vibe. Saying his decorating tastes are eclectic would be a nicely put understatement. I'm on the pullout, which is currently in sofa mode, and I'm feeling nervous as hell, which is really weird. Even though I?m not gonna meet his parents, and God help them if I did, I've still got this flip flop thing going in the pit of my stomach. I feel like I'm back in high school. "Are you sure this is okay? I mean, me being here?"

"What?" Xan blinks at me, his mind obviously elsewhere. "Oh, yeah." His eyes drift towards the door at the top of the stairs. "I don't really care about them. Not anymore." He looks kind of nervous about something. "So, that offer you made last night, does it still stand?"

Offer? What offer? Oh, *that* offer. "Yeah." Looking hopeful, but not. . . too hopeful.

"Good." He grins. "Consider your couch officially claimed in the name of Xander."

Okay, controlling facial expression, squelching urge to try my interpretation of Xander's happy dance. This is good. This is really good. Xander's just agreed to move in with me. Okay, so, that's not exactly what he agreed to, but this is good. So, why's there a really annoying little voice in the back of my head that keeps asking. . . "Why now?"

His eyes widen. "Why now, what?"

Very nice, pulling out the cutesy, innocent puppy act. Nope, not gonna work. . . this time. "Xander." I love him, but if he's doing this for the wrong reasons then. . . well, I'll still let him move in, I'll just be very miffed for a little while. Yeah, that's it.

He sighs. "I guess it was too much to hope for that your giddiness over my announcement would overshadow any remembrances of Willow's less than little outburst."

Let's get right to the point. "What else was Willow going to say? What aren't you telling me?"

"Yep, too much to hope for." He sits down beside me, a defeated expression on his face. Good, no more games, he's gonna tell me. "Hey, you haven't exactly been Mr. Open with your romantic foibles, either, you know?"

Or, he could just joke about it some more. "Getting choked doesn't count as a romantic foible." Unless. . . Oh, no. Oh, Xander.

"I never have been traditional." He flashes me a sad smile. "So, you want to know what Willow was about to say? Fine. Faith used me. There, I can admit it now. I was just another random body to her, then, when stuff really started to go wrong, I tried to talk to her and she tried to kill me." He shrugs. "I thought. . . I thought that we, I don't know, had something. It was stupid. I was stupid. All we did was have sex, it's not like there were violins, or harps, or even Barry White music. But, I guess. . . I guess I wanted there to be. You know, that whole standard first time should be perfect thing. Stupid."

"That's not stupid, Xan." He looks so miserable, so unhappy, and there?s nothing I can do besides share the usual platitudes that he won?t believe anyway. I want to hold him, to wrap my arms around him and convince him that *Faith* was the idiot in that equation. She didn't care about what she could have had with him and that's her loss.

His eyes have this faraway look to them. Maybe I shouldn't hug him. He may not want to be touched right now. I need to do something though, something to try and chase away those shadows from his face. What was that he had said before? Well, it's worth a try. "When I was in second grade I put a frog down the back of Suzie Marsh?s dress and she broke my nose."

"Okay. Wait, huh?" Xan looks at me like I'm crazy, which may not be such a far off assessment.

I shrug. "Romantic foible."

God, Xander's laughter is truly a beautiful thing. I grin. I can't help it.

Still chortling, he wipes tears from the corners of his eyes. "Big commando-guy got beat up by a regular old girl. Oh, that's kinda pathetic."

"Hey!" I try to look appropriately insulted which is kinda hard to do when I'm grinning like an idiot. I made Xander laugh. Yay. "I'll have you know, I was seven and very small for my age."

Xan lets out a few more snickers before he pulls himself back together. "Thanks. I needed that." He shakes his head, a smile still on his lips. "You're too good to me, Graham."

I grasp his chin, moving his face so I can look right into those caramel colored eyes. "No, Xander. Everyone else hasn't been good enough."

He's got this look of wonder on his face. It's the same look he gets every time I say something like that. It's like he really can't believe that he deserves anything good in his life. "You really do love me, don't you?"

Only in that infinite kind of way. "Yeah."

He scoots a little closer to me, and then he. . . he. . . oh, okay, he's climbed into my lap. Oh. My hands come up almost automatically, gripping either side of his abdomen, feeling the muscles moving under his shirt. Right, this is, um. . . breathe, Graham, and try not to make any squeaking noises. Oh God, he's heavier then I'd thought, and warm, like a solid wall of pure heat shif. . . "Emp." Don't Squeak!! . . . shifting against me. He smells so. . . oh. . . good. And, if he wants any coherence left on my part, he really needs to not move like *that* again. Hey, why did he stop moving? I don't *want* to be coherent, dammit!

With a soft sigh and a softer smile, Xander finishes settling himself on top of me. He puts his arms around my neck, letting his fingers move into my hair, ghosting over that, oh yeah, that's a happy spot. He kisses my forehead, then gently trails his lips down my nose. "I know, I'm not the easiest person to get along with sometimes."

I start to protest, but he presses his mouth against mine. A firm, quick kiss, and I get the idea. No talking.

"I don't know why you feel the way you do about me, Graham, and I'm done trying to figure it out, cause, I'm thinking, maybe it doesn't need to be figured out. Maybe, all I should do is accept it. Maybe, the only thing I have to do is love you back."

You don't even have to do that. Just let me be with you. Oh, and isn't that pitiful on a whole new level? But, you know what? I really don't care that my internal dialogue can qualify as lyrics to cheesy pop ballads. Right now, the only thing I care about is. . . leaning closer to me. Um. . .

Xan stops when his face is only about an inch from mine. His eyes are warm, loving, and framed by those incredible lashes. "That's how. . . stuff like this is supposed to be, isn't it? No. . . ulterior motives, or bad feelings, or plans for mass homicide. Just you and me." He closes the small gap between us, his lips press against mine. . . Okay, no more thinking, kissing back now.

Oh.

Oh, my.

Good Lord! Where the hell did he learn to do that?! No, no, not thinking. Thinking bad.

Oh.

Yes.

Yes.

No. He's pulling back. Damn oxygen issues.

"So. . . that's. . ." Xander's breathing hard. "So that's what love. . . feels like."

Love. "Yeah." I reach up to stroke his hair. "That's what love feels like."

He nods. "I like it. I like you. I l -"

"You don't have to say. . ."

He gives me another one of those quick 'no talking' kisses. "I love you, Graham."

No, he didn't have to, but it's so nice that he did.

He smiles sheepishly. "Sorry it's taken me so long to really get the hang of things, this being my first quasi-normal relationship, and all."

I smile back and gently nuzzle against his cheek. "It was worth the wait."

"Definitely." He kisses my forehead again. "Can you do something for me?"

"Anything." And I think I really mean that.

Xan's eyes twinkle that way that's just. . . so *him*. "Help me pack?"

**********

The apartment Riley and I share isn't huge, but it's pretty good for a couple of guys who are currently living off a government stipend. Ah, hush money - your tax dollars at work.

The three of us should fit in here comfortably enough. Now, I just need to break the news to Riley. I honestly don't think he'll put up a fuss. Ri knows how much Xander means to me. Wait, scratch that. Riley knows that Xander means a lot to me. I don't think anyone knows just how much, and I'm pretty sure I'm included in that 'anyone'. I could analyze it, but I seriously don't want to. True love, or two incredibly lucky people, who cares? What's important is that we're happy.

Very happy, if the expression on Xander's face is any indication. It's like this giant weight has been lifted from him ever since. . . ever since that kiss in the basement. Ever since he realized, really realized, that I love him.

I?m watching as he takes everything in. His eyes are wide and there's the softest smile on his lips. I wonder what he's thinking. Wonder if he's thinking about us, about me, about -

"Where should I put my stuff?"

Or, he could be thinking about where he should put his stuff. "You can put it by the couch. We'll find a permanent place for it later." Not that there was much to find a place for. Xan had insisted on only taking the stuff that he had paid for himself.

He sets everything down then looks around the room again. "This is gonna be great. I don't know. . ." He takes a deep breath. "I don't know how I can thank you."

Oh, Xander, you don?t have to thank me, not for this. "You don't need to thank me."

"But, there must be. . ." His mouth twists into a playful grin. "*Some way* I can. . . repay you."

Oh. In that case. . . Yes, please. I reach out for him, but he quickly moves away.

"Eager much?" Xan laughs and there's this sparkle in his eyes that I swear I hadn't seen before. Is he. . . teasing me? This could have interesting possibilities. "There will be definite compensation going on later, but right now I feel. . ." He grimaces. "Like I just moved out of my parents' basement. You mind if I grab a shower?"

Hmm, he wants to get all clean before we get all dirty. Okay, majorly wishful thinking, I know. "Of course not. You know where everything is, right?"

Xander nods and heads down the short hallway. A moment later I hear the bathroom door shut.

Okay, what to do, what to do? I should probably check our weapon supplies, make sure everything we scrounged from what was left of the base still works. Yeah, that's a good idea. I'm not sure what we're going up against, so it definitely won't hurt to be prepared. Sides, it'll give me something to do while Xander's in the shower. . . in my shower. . . naked in my shower. . . naked. . . naked Xander. . . in my shower. . . naked. . .

God, Graham, get a hold of yourself!! So, Xander's in my shower. . . naked. Hey, isn't that how people normally take showers? It's no big deal. No big deal, none at all, not in the least, naked Xander. . . uh oh.

Okay. . .
thinkpurethoughtsthinkpurethoughtsthinkpurethoughtsnakedxanderthinkpurethoughts
thinkpurethoughtsthinkpurethoughtsthinkpurethoughtsnakedxanderthinkpurethoughts
thinkpurethoughtsthinkpurethoughtsnakedxan. . . crap.

Oh, come on! I know I've had pure thoughts before, so where are they now? Huh?

That's easy. They're in the shower, with Xander, getting perverted like everything else in my head.

No, no, no, I am *not* going to turn into a hormonal mess about this. So, Xander's taking a shower right behind that door. Riley takes showers right behind that door every day but. . . I don't want *Riley*. I want Xander. I want to hold him, and kiss him, and touch. . . lick. . . suck. . . taste. . . fuc - STOP! !

Um. . . grocery list! I'll make the grocery list. That sounds nice and anti-hormonal. We need milk, and cheese, and cereal, and. . . and. . . Ah, hell. Naked Xander.

I?m weak, and I accept that.

I can just imagine what he looks like, standing under the spray, water pelting his body, rivulets cascading down over sculpted muscles, soap sliding over skin making his body slick, slippery. . . I can imagine what he would feel like, my fingers traveling over him, his chest, his hips, his -

"You okay?"

Oh shit! "Riley!" Geez! Doesn't the guy know how to knock?! Oh yeah, I'm calm, I'm cool, I wasn't in the middle of thinking about a naked, slippery Xander. "What're you doing here?!" Okay, maybe calm and cool were overstatements.

Ri stands right inside the doorway and gives me the strangest look. "I live here, Graham. Signed the lease and everything, remember?"

Oh, yeah. Right. I clear my throat. Changing subject time. "So, you find out anything down at Willy's?"

Ri lets out a dejected sigh. "If the regulars know anything they're not saying. Ran into Spike, though."

"He gonna help?"

"Well, he was. . ." Riley frowns. "Until I told him who the demon was after. He laughed so hard he fell off his bar stool."

Now, that's a team player.

I guess coming up empty for info hit Ri kinda hard, cause he looks really dejected as he heads for the couch. He stops short and cocks his head. "What's with the bags?"

Oh, right. I should probably tell him about that. "Xander's gonna stay with us."

His eyes widen. "What? I mean, oh. I mean. . . oh."

Not the reaction I was hoping for. "That is. . . okay with you, right?" Ah, come on, Ri. We've faced down hordes of rampaging demons, freshman English, the bathroom of a frat house. . . don't freak out on me now.

"No! I mean, yes, it's okay with me. I'm just a bit surprised, that's all. I mean, I didn't think you two were having. . . that you were getting. . . that you guys had become so serious."

Nice save. "We haven't, well, we have, just not in the sense that you're thinking we have, and. . . Why exactly have you been thinking about that anyway?" Uh oh. General rule: If you don't want to know the answer, don't ask the question.

Riley blushes. "I haven't been *thinking* about it. I've just been. . ."

"Thinking about it?"

"Only in an abstract kind of way." He blushes some more and I guess the look on my face tells him he'd better elaborate. "It's just, these past few weeks you've seemed so. . . happy. You know, content-like." He snorts. "Not that you were ever a raging storm of emotions before. . ."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I'm the quietly stoic guy." I rolled my eyes.

Riley grins. "Well, lately, you've been the *happy* quietly stoic guy. So, yeah, I'm okay with Xander staying here, and by here, I mean. . . well. . . here, or there," He jerks his head in the direction of my room. "Or, anywhere. . . as long as you give me fair warning before the anywheres so I can know when to spend the night at Buffy's."

I grin back. . . and not just cause I'm thinking about the 'anywheres' thing. "You know, for an anal retentive Momma's boy, you're pretty okay, Finn."

He sighs. "Well, at least you didn?t say anything involving corn." Knew I forgot something. "Where is Xander, anyway?"

"He's in the shower." You know, all naked and everything. That last part wasn't out loud was it?

"Shower, huh? So, I guess that explains the. . . you know." And, there's the smirk.

"What?"

"The, uh, state I found you in when I got home." He puts on this solemn look. "Just promise me I'll never *actually* find you masturbating in the living room."

"I-I wasn't. . . Look here, Iowa-boy. I -" I stop the rant before it can even start. Riley's eyes are focused on something over my shoulder, or, someone. Oh my God, Xander just heard me sputter! Oh my God, Xander just heard Riley tell me not to masturbate in the living room!! I turn around. Need to diffuse the situa. . . He's wearing a towel. He's just wearing a towel. Uhn. . .

"Didn't mean to interrupt what sounds like a totally. . . scintillating conversation, but," Xan smiles sheepishly and motions toward his bags. "I forgot to take any clean clothes in with me, so. . ." He moves over to the couch and grabs one of the packs. "I'll just. . ." He begins to go back in the direction of the bathroom, but then stops and turns to me, a mischievous smirk on his face. "Graham, I'll only be a few more minutes if you need to get in there, you know, since the living room's off limits and everything."

Great. Just great. I suppose I should be glad that my boyfriend and my roommate have found something to bond over, but for some reason, joy isn't the emotion I'm feeling right now. Insolence, that should do nicely. "You guys suck."

"Not yet," Xander's smirk dissolves into this sexy little smile. "But, there *is* that whole. . . compensation thing that we talked about earlier."

I. . . uh. . . uh. . . uh. . .

Without another word Xander continues on to the bathroom, and I. . . am really not appreciating the snickers coming from Riley's direction. "Shut up." Gee, somehow, the whole breathless-like voice I?m currently in possession of didn't quite give it the oomph I wanted.

Riley grins and lets out a little chuckle. "Something tells me I?m going to be spending a lot of time over at Buffy's."

And, that could be good on so many different levels.

**********

It took nearly all day but Giles finally figured out what demon we were going to be dealing with. I have to admit, I'm still slightly awed by all this. Every time I see Giles in action I'm reminded a little more of how completely wrong we were at the Initiative. Oh, our goals were right. . . well, except for that whole creating an army of hybrid monsters part. . . Anyway, it was the execution that was so flawed. We had no real idea what we were doing, what we were up against. That cost us. It cost us a lot.

No one's ever gonna accuse Rupert Giles of being uninformed though, not when if comes to demony matters. He had to talk with Faith twice, but in the end he was certain he had identified the attacker. We're going up against something called a Poya demon, a female of the species to be exact. Turns out Faith killed it's mate a while back, and the Missus tracked her down for some good old fashioned revenge.

Part of me. . . part of me can't really blame it.

And, I'm commiserating with a blood thirsty demon. Wow, do I *really* not want to think about that right now. Nope, not when I have so many other lovely pressing concerns to deal with.

At least I now know what *real* tension feels like. Forget that crappy life or death stuff.

Buffy, Angel, Riley, Faith, Xander, Giles, and me. . . something tells me this mansion isn't big enough for the seven of us. I knew I should have tried harder to convince Xan that the best place for him and me would be. . . oh, anywhere but here. Willow and Tara bowed out of this little gathering, and I think we should have too. Then again, I guess I can understand his reasons for wanting to come. We've all got to face our demons. . .and for some of us that's in a literal sense.

Faith looks pretty bad, not physically, but emotionally. It's her eyes. They're so damn haunted and distrustful. She's like some beaten animal. After a while abuse is all they expect from people. Melodramatic? Maybe. But, as soon as we entered the mansion she was on her feet, tense, alert, ready to run. In fact, I think if there wasn't a massive undead hand on her shoulder, holding her in place, she would have bolted.

Speaking of the massive undead. . .

You know, coming into this situation I had absolutely no idea who Faith was, but, Angel. . . I'd heard of him. Whoo boy, had I heard of him. And, since my font of knowledge on all things soulfully vampiric was Riley. . . well, let's just say my opinion is probably more then a little biased.

For all his commanding, leader-like abilities in the field, Ri's insecure as hell about his relationship with Buffy. It doesn't matter that she *chose* to be with him. I doesn't matter that Angel can't be with her anyway. Riley's absolutely convinced that one night they'll be out on patrol, there'll be a crescendo of haunting violins, Angel will appear and tell Buffy that everything is right with the world and they can be together for eternity, she'll let out a squeal of happiness, hop into his arms, and together they'll walk off into the sunset.

Okay, maybe not the *sunset*.

The latest of many conversations Ri and I had on the subject happened just a couple days ago, the morning after the whole second date fiasco - not to be confused with the first date fiasco, or the pre-date, near death fiasco - with Xander.

Riley was already sitting at the counter, eating his requisite bowl of Wheaties, when I got to the kitchen. I'm a Cinnamon Toast Crunch man, myself, so I fixed my own bowl , pulled up a stool, and snagged the comics section from the daily paper. I should have known right then and there that something was wrong when Ri didn't chide me for not bothering to read the front page.

For a few minutes we sat in relative silence, then he apologized again for interrupting my Xander quality time the previous night.

I shrugged it off. "Don't worry about it. You didn't mean to get konked on the head."

"No, but, you and Xander, you were. . . you were. . ." He faltered there, almost comically, actually.

I tried my damnedest to suppress a grin. "The most common term would probably be 'making out'. That doesn?t offend any straight sensibilities, does it? I know how sensitive you people can get."

I don't think I had ever seen Riley turn that particular shade of red before. He stammered a bit. It was kinda cute. . . in a Midwestern, gee golly gosh sort of way.

I rolled my eyes. "Ri, man, you gotta lighten up. There's no reason for you to be getting all embarrassed over it. Trust me, we were miles away from NC17 land. We weren't even breaking the R barrier. It's not a big deal. . . just don't make a habit out of it, 'kay?"

He relaxed a little as his blood once again began to flow to places other then his cheeks and his ears. "I'll try *really* hard not to. Believe me." He gave me one of those earnest looks he's so good at. "I'm glad things are working out between the two of you."

That time I did grin at him. "Me too." I thwaped him on the arm. "Hey, you and I getting all happy and relationship-like with civilians. . . who'da thunk it, huh?"

He sighed. "Well, you got the relationship part right. Not too sure about the happy, though."

"What the hell are you talking about?" I asked, even though I knew exactly what the hell he was talking about. . . again. "You and Buffy are happy." I know this for a fact. Either the two of them have got incredibly good lungs, or we have really thin walls.

"Yeah, sure, for now." He had that frowny/pouty thing going on. "But. . ."

"But?" One day I've got to learn to stop encouraging him. If I played my cards right, a dramatic pause could very easily turn into an end to a conversation.

"But, I keep thinking-" See, that's where he made his first mistake. Bad Graham. "About him."

"Either you're coming out, or this is another Angel conversation." Got a glare for that one.

"I just know that what Buffy and I have can't compete with what she and. . . *him* had."

"Ri, the operative word there is *had*."

"Is it?" He shakes his head. "You don't get it, Graham. You've never seen him, them, together. Buffy and Angel, they're like. . . the all time tragic love story."

"Exactly." He gave me his 'huh?' face. I had actually been formulating this counter argument for about a week, ever since that last time Riley felt compelled to talk about the ex. "Ri, who the hell wants to have a *tragic* romance? Love shouldn't be about pain. Okay, so maybe some masochists, or possibly die hard Shakespeare fans might disagree with me on that one, but. . . relationships should be about happiness, and trust, and. . ." Naked, wet Xanders. . .

Mind, get the hell out of that gutter, I'm in the middle of a flashback here.

Or, well, okay, I guess I'm done with the flashback.

Anyway, I fully admit that I had a preconceived notion about Angel. Angst, death, angst, pain, more angst. . .Personally, I never saw the attraction, until I. . . *saw* the attraction.

He's really got that whole tall, dark, woe is me thing working for him. . . not that I go for guys like that. Uh. . . oh, good. Giles is talking again. Should probably listen to that.

"As I was saying." He clears his throat. "The female of this species is-"

"More deadly then the male?" Buffy says with a grimace.

Giles glares at her. "I was going to say, vicious, and aggressive, but, yes, that would work also." He looks at Angel. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't these demons have a. . history with vampires?"

Angel frowns. "Not really a history, but they've always kept their distance. A lot of demon races tend to be put off by vampire savagery." His gaze drops to the ground

"So, this Whatsit doesn?' like vampires." Buffy flips her hair over her shoulder. "We might be able to use that."

"We can definitely use that." Riley got his authority voice going. "From what I understand, Faith'll be safe as long as she sticks with Angel, right?"

Giles nods. "Very probably. Yes."

"No." Faith' voice is firm.

Angel's frown deepens. "It's an option."

"Oh, what, being shackled to you for the rest of my natural life?" She snorts. "You might get a whole shit load of penance points for it, but. . ." She trails off. She almost looks like she's about to cry. . . or start whaling on someone.

Buffy puts her hands on her hips. "Look, we're trying to help here."

Faith mimics her stance. "Oh, is *that* what this is called?" The moment of weakness is over, let the sarcasm resume.

"I'm sure we can work something out." Giles says, his eyes darting back and forth between the two slayers.

"What if we set a trap?" Angel's face almost lights up at the prospect. "We could use Faith as bait."

The bait rolls her eyes. "I bet you say that to all the girls."

"I'll have to keep a pretty good distance," Angel says, ignoring her. "But someone else can go along. Buffy?"

She shrugs.

He pats his coat pocket. "I've got my cell phone with me-"

"We've got two of them." I'm not sure if Buffy said that to go along with his plan, or to try and show him up.

Angel nods. "The demon attacks Faith, you call it in, I come running. Between the three of us it shouldn?t pose much of a threat. Any problems with that?"

"Yeah." Oh, Faith has a problem with something. Big surprise there. "I don't want Buffy to be the one who goes out with me."

Angel sighs. I wonder if he's thinking about how easy it would be to just give her to the demon. "And, who *exactly* would you like to accompany you?" Huh, the dead guy's getting an attitude.

She raises her arm. "Him."

And she's pointing. . . right at. . . me.

Shit.

"No way." That's the first thing Xander's said since we got here.

Faith gives him a strange look. Not hostile, just. . . questioning.

Buffy crosses her arms. "Leave Graham out of this."

Yeah, leave Graham out of this.

"What?" Faith shrugs. "I'm being practical here. Angel's automatically out of the running. No offense to good ole Rupert, but I'd like someone a little less ready to celebrate his half century mark." She smirks. "I don't think Xander's up for another ride. I'm assuming the great Princess Buffy," She does a mock curtsy. "Wants to stay as far away from me as possible. And, well, I've already spent quality time with Riley, the amazing fuck toy."

I can't belive. . She just had to bring all that up, didn't she? Is it like a compulsion with this girl? Does she actually think 'Let's see how many people I can piss off in under five minutes?' Xander's entire body is rigid. Riley has this awful mix of guilt and outrage on his face, and Buffy. . . well, Buffy looks like she's getting ready to spill some blood.

"You skanky, whoring bitch!" Oh, hell. Buffy takes a step towards Faith, but is intercepted by over six feet of annoyed vampire. She blinks up at Angel. "Oh, of course. You're defending her again, aren?t you?" Again? Know what, don't really need to know.

"Petty jealousies and fighting aren't going to accomplish anything." Angel says calmly.

Uh oh.

Buffy's eyes practically bug out. "Petty!?"


"Ouch!" Faith smirks at Riley. "That one had to hurt. Huh, Hayseed?"

This is ridiculous. Something has to be- There's a firm hand on my elbow. It's Xander. He tugs on my arm then heads for the door. We're just supposed to leave? Okay, Giles has already ducked out, and Ri actually looks like he's about to jump into the fray. Maybe being anyplace else is a good idea.

I follow Xander outside and into a courtyard. It's completely overgrown and there's this jungle like quality to it. It's a really nice night. The air's warm and the crickets are drowning out the voices from inside. Still, I have to say it. "Shouldn't we. . ." I motion back towards the house.

"What, get in the middle of a superpowered chick fight?" He snorts. "Thank you, but I value my appendages."

"But Riley and Angel. . ."

"Are being idiots." Xan sighs. "Really, it would be so much faster if they'd just whip them out and see whose is bigger." It would certainly be more expedient. "This posturing shit reminds me way too much of high school."

He sinks down onto an old stone bench, one of the few things not taken over by various vines. He looks up at me, his eyes wide. "You know you don't have to do this. You don't have to do any of this."

I walk over and crouch down beside him, letting one of my hands rest on his closest knee. "I know that, but. . . what she said makes sense." I am the only one here without some kind of history with her. I don't like the girl, but at least it's unlikely that she and I are gonna get into throwdown in the middle of the street.

"A true first time for everything moment." Xan mutters. "Fine. If you want to go, then go. Just. . . Look, Angel might think that Faith's back on our side, but she's fooled him before. She's fooled us all before." He reaches out and strokes my face. "Watch your back, and don't expect her to do it for you."

I nod and lean into his touch.

"No heroics." His voice leaves no room for arguments. "No macho bullshit. If this thing does show up, get your ass out of there, *then* call the calvary. Got it?"

"No heroics. No macho bullshit." I repeat solemnly. "And, my ass will be just fine, I promise."

I can see his mouth trying to twitch up into a smile. "Just so you understand the severity of the situation I'm not even going to comment on that statement."

"I am awed by your self-restraint." I smile and give his leg a squeeze. "Don't worry, Xan. We're gonna go out, demonic ass is gonna get kicked, and then you and I are gonna go home and. . ." And. . . And. . .

He licks his lips. "And, what, exactly?"

Uh. . .

"That's a good question." Faith's purr takes us both by surprise. She's standing by the door, her eyes fixed on us, a malicious smile curling her lips. "Come on, soldier boy. Let's hear what ya got."

**********

Sometimes. . . life. . . can. . . suck.

Oh, yeah.

Course, I am a grown up. I've known that whole 'life's not fair' thing for quite some time now. . . doesn't mean I like it. But, I deal, 'Cause that's just what you have to do.

Like now.

As much as it pains me to admit, given the circumstances, I was probably the best suited person for this job. And, I'm. . . dealing. Rather well, actually, you know, considering. I mean, I'm walking around in the middle of the night, on the Hellmouth, trying to attract a demon with a supposedly reformed psychopath by my side who's quizzing me nonstop, and in the rudest way possible, about my relationship with Xander.

"So, does he give good head? I bet he gives good head. That mouth of his just has to be useful for something, right?"

I know she's just trying to get to me. Don't know why. Don't care. Not gonna let her. I joined the Marines the day after my eighteenth birthday. I've spent the last four years of my life with men that basically defined the word crude. I can deal with little Miss Issues' mouth, no problem.

"You know, I gotta admit," Faith shakes her head. "Red goin' all sapphic was a bit of a shock. Then again, maybe she just got tired of Dogboy humping her leg." Dogboy? Gonna have to ask Xan about that. "But Xander, well, I always knew he'd end up on his knees."

She wants a reaction. Craves it. And, I refuse to give her the satisfaction of getting a rise out of me. I am non-rising Graham. I am dealing.

"What does he sound like when he's with you? 'Cause, when I took him he only made these sort of soft moans, all breathy like, ya know? But, then again, I wasn't pounding into his ass, was I?"

Little bitch.

No, no, this is me dealing.

"How about it, Graham? You look like a tough guy. You make him scream? Or. . . maybe. . . beg?  Is that it? Does he beg for it, Graham? I mean, he's already on his hands and knees, right? Might as well beg while he's down there."

Know what? Fuck dealing.

"Faith, sometimes shit can happen, and, in the grand cosmic scheme of things you might end up playing for the wrong side. I understand that, maybe more then you know." Whoo boy, she's not liking this. "I also understand second chances. And, you know, if the circumstances were different I'd maybe even like you. But, they're not, and this is neither the time nor the place, so quit with the baiting before your desperate plea for attention distracts us so much we both end up dead."

Her eyes narrow, and I've got that bug about to be dissected feeling happening again. But, I got her to shut up about Xander, so, yay me.

"Do you know how easily I could kill you right now?" She sneers.

I smirk, can't help it. "Oh, you could kill me, but trust me when I say, it definitely wouldn't be easy." Maintain eye contact. Don't give her an inch. I may not have that special drug cocktail pumping through my veins anymore, and, yeah, I probably wouldn't last one round, but I'm not about to just roll over and play dead.

Faith opens her mouth, suddenly her body tenses. She cocks her head to the side, her eyes quickly scanning the darkened street. I follow suit, ears straining. I can feel it now too. There's something out-

"MOVE!" Faith pushes me away from her. I catch sight of something hurtling towards her before I hit the ground.

I look up and. . .Oh, Jesus. It's. . .

I pull out the phone, punch the speed dial."?Corner of Prescott and Maple."

There's a quick "On our way." Then the line goes dead, and. . . and there's nothing I can do. We're only a few blocks from the mansion. They'll be here in seconds. I should run. Xan told me to run. But. . .

Shit! Faith's not doing too good. What can I do?! I can't do anything! I don't even have a weapon. Angel said it wouldn't look victimy enough. Shit!!

I should run. There?s nothing I can do. It's her problem now. But. . .

There's a loud snap, and Faith screams.

I'm running, full on. . . straight for them. Damned overblown sense of chivalry. A full on tackle, that could work Get the thing off of her, then roll out of it's way and hope to God Angel's car is as fast as it looks. Yeah, that should. . . probably get us both killed.

If I live through this I really need to consider that whole thinking before I act thing.

If. . .

No time. I hit it, hard. Knock it away from Faith's body. Can't stop and check on her. Think she's still alive. Avoid the teeth. Avoid the claws. Let the momentum carry me away. . .

NO! Shit! It's got my ankle. Oh, God! I kick with my other foot, and it's. . . smiling at me. . .

It's gonna kill me.

There's a squeal of tires. The demon lets me go, and turns towards the noise. I scurry backwards, crablike. Should get up. Should run. Don't think I can. Angel hops out of the car, his face in full vamp mode, and the creature squeals. Oh good, *big* sword! Angel swings the blade, and. . .

Oh. . .

This is. . .

While I deeply appreciate the vamp saving my life, I wonder if it was at all possible for him to do it in some way that didn't leave me *Completely Covered In Monster Goo*?!?!

The head of the Poya lands about ten feet away. The body slumps, blue gunk still pumping out of the severed jugular, which is funny, cause it sure as hell seems like most of it sprayed onto me.

There's a blur and Angel's beside Faith, checking her injuries Oh, no, guys. I'm just fine.

I gingerly pick myself up from the pavement. Okay, extend. Flex. Nothing seems broken. No obvious muscle tears. Head feels like it just got stomped on, and I'm pretty sure I?m gonna have a really interesting collection of bruises tomorrow.

"Graham?! Graham, are you all right?"

Xander. "Yeah, I?m. . . ow. . . fine." Well, fine for a guy who looks like he just lost on a Nickelodeon game show. I don't even want to think about where this stuff is oozing too, and. . . ick, I just thought of it.

Xan gets close and peers into my eyes. Wow, he looks kinda upset. "You're okay?" He sounds even more upset.

I nod, and, ugh, must not do that again.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Xander, I'm fi-OW!!" He just knocked me upside the head!! That. . . Ow! "What the *hell* was that for?!"

"What part of 'no macho bullshit' did you not understand?" Xander hisses at me. "You're not commando guy anymore, Graham. If you die it's not going to be some. . . great service to your country or something."

"I didn't think. . ."

"No, you didn't. And I know I don't have a lot of room to talk here, 'cause I don't normally think either, but. . . Dammit! You're not me! You're Graham, and you can't do stuff like that. Not now!"

I reach out for him. "Xander. . ."

"No." He steps away from me. "Not right now. I just. . .Give me a few minutes, okay?"

I watch him walk away from me, and I can feel my stomach lurch. I should have realized. I'm not just living for myself, or even my unit anymore. He loves me, and I must have scared the shit out of him. I wonder how much chocolate laced groveling it's gonna take to pull me out of this one.

"He'll be fine after he cools off a little."

I jump at Angel's voice. How did he get so close to me without. . . Man, this guy's good. I nod, keeping my face neutral, impassive. I'm not sure why he's talking directly to me, and there's no point in give away any emotions.

His gaze travels over to where Xan's standing, and his mouth quirks up a little at the corners. I'm not sure what that look is exactly, but I know I don't like it directed at my Xander. "I just wanted to thank you." He looks back at me. "For what you did with Faith."

Oh, that. I shrug. "She needed help."

"But you didn't have to be the one to provide it. Especially considering. . ." His eyes flicker back to Xander.

"He's moved on." I say. "There's no reason for me to dwell on it."

Angel's silent for a moment, then he smirks. And, if I didn't like his previous look directed at Xander, I *really* don't like this look directed at me. It's funny. If a tall, handsome man in leather gave me a look like that a couple months ago, I'd probably be going 'Hell, yeah'. Now. . . Well, I'm tired, I'm sticky, and not in a good way, and I really just want to collect Xander and go home.

Angel's smirk gets just a little bit bigger. "Something tells me you're going to be good for him."

Excuse me? A compliment? Okay, that wasn't at all what I was expecting. Wait, that *was* a compliment, right?

Angel, apparently satisfied in his amazing ability to unnerve and confuse, turns and strides back towards Faith, who cradling her left arm and. . . oh dear lord. She winked at me.

I really want to go home now.

Oh, good. Here come's Riley. I'll just ask him if we're done here and. . . He's glaring at me? What did I. . .

"You and Xander have got the apartment to yourselves tonight. I'm staying at Buffy's." Riley's voice is hard.

Great. Evidently I've managed to piss someone else off. I must have spent too much time with Faith. "What's your problem?" No, not at all surly.

Riley snorts. "Like you don't know."

I sigh. "Riley, I'm not sure what exactly I did to-"

"Angel."

"Huh?" Okay, I most certainly did not *do* Angel.

Riley crosses his arms in front of his chest. "You checked him out. I saw you." He shakes his head. "I can't believe you did that, Graham. You know how I feel about him."

I check my hand to make sure it's slime free, then. . . Punching him would only make the situation worse, wouldn't it? I rub my eyes. "Riley. . ."

"What?" Almost makes me want to go and plant a big wet one on the corpse over there, and . . . putting it like that. . . Ewww. Nevermind.

"Just. . ." I wave him off. "Go have sex with your Slayer."

He seems to brighten at that thought. And this was the guy we trusted to lead us into potentially deadly situations. The mind boggles.

Actually, it's been doing an awful lot of that lately, and something tells me I shouldn't expect that trend to end anytime soon.

Oh yeah, I *really* want to go home now.

**********

A Little Piece of Heaven
Summery: Graham got messy, now he gets soapy. . . with a little help.
Date: October 1, 2000

**********

Xander plops down on the couch and automatically stretches out to occupy as much space as possible. "You know, all things considered, this was a pretty good day."

"Spoken like a man who doesn't have slime in his shorts." I grimace and shift a little. Oh yeah, these clothes are being burned.

"No sympathy here, pal." He folds his arms across his chest. "If you had just-"

"Done what you told me to. Yeah, yeah, I know." I resist the urge to roll my eyes. He's dealt with more of this stuff then I have. I should have trusted his judgment. I shouldn't have made him worry like that.

"I just hope it's not corrosive, or anything." Xander looks pointedly at my crotch.

Uh. . . "I'll just be in the shower for the next hour or so." I say jokingly. . . well, mostly jokingly.

"Need any help with that?" Xan suddenly blushes, like he can't believe he just said that. I'm right there with him, actually. I mean, he couldn't have meant. . .

"With what, exactly?" I'm calm. Well, at least I sound calm. That's got to count for something.

He swallows, hard. He fidgets some, and basically looks as nervous as I feel. "Well, I just. . . I mean, I know how. . . hard it can be to, you know. . . with certain types of slime, and. . ." He chuckles, shaking his head. "And, I have no idea how to make this sound the least bit smooth."

"Rough is okay." Ulp. "I mean, in talking, but it can be okay in. . .other ways if you. . . Uh. . ." Who knew babbling was contagious?

"Glad to know I'm not the only one who has no idea in hell what he's talking about." Xan gets up and walks towards me. "I'm just gonna try and explain, so, bear with me. Okay?"

I nod.

He stops right in front of me, not more then a foot from my body. I want to touch him. "I know I said I wanted to take this slow, and have boundaries, and stuff, but that was before today, well, technically it was yesterday, and I didn't understand what I was feeling, or, maybe I did, but I was just scared because. . ." He takes a breath. "Because I knew I could love you so much, and those kinds of feelings just. . . freak me out, well, because of a lot of things that we really don't need to get into, but, I think I wanted to go slow because I think I didn't know what I wanted, and. . . and I didn't want to get. . . hurt."

Okay, I'm pretty sure I got about half of that. . . maybe. I think I caught all the important stuff though, like the end. I do touch him now, putting my hands on his shoulders, rubbing the muscles by his neck. "I would *never* hurt you, Xan."

He smiles. "I know. Now. But, like I said before, I'm new at, you know, the whole love thing. And, now that I know you?re not going to hurt me, I. . . I also know what I want."

My heart feels like it's gonna thump right out of my chest. "What's that?"

"Right now?" His hands grasp the bottom of my shirt and I almost unconsciously lift my arms, allowing him to pull it over my head. "Right now. . . I really want you naked."

Oh. Okay.

He leans in for a kiss, his fingers ghosting over the flesh of my chest, tickling my abdomen, dropping down to my jeans. They undo the button, I can feel. . . they're at the zipper.

Xan moves his head, breaks the kiss, pulls back. He stares at me. Eyes so big, warm, dark. He licks his lips. Want that tongue to- "Graham." His voice is so soft. "Are you sure?"

Is he kidding?!

"Want you." Huh, never growled before. I grab his head, pull his mouth back to mine. Hard.

He unzips my jeans. Slow. Torture. His hand"s right there, I rock forward. He presses against me. Rubs through the cotton. Been too damn long.

Hands move. No, please keep touching. . . They push my pants down over my hips, boxers going too. Air on my skin. Fingers on my skin. Caressing. Feels so-

"Yuck!!"

Yuck. He said Yuck? Well, that's kind of. . . disheartening.

"Sorry." Xan blushes and holds up his hand so I can see the blue goo. "Slime."

Okay, that is. . . Yuck. "Shower?"

He nods. "Shower."

*****

I turn on the water, letting it get warm before we get in. Xander's still fully dressed, and my shirt's on the living room floor, but in my haste to get to the tub I just hitched up my pants, so we haven't crossed the completely naked line yet. There's still a chance for this to stop. I turn and face Xan, and. . . okay, there's no chance for this to stop. I've only seen that look on his face a couple of times but it's still enough to make me shiver, and send more blood to interesting places.

This is really gonna happen.

I toe off my shoes and socks. I push my jeans and boxers down and step out of them. Oh yeah, gotta remember to double bag this stuff before I put it out for the trash. But, later. . . much, much later.

I stand still as Xander looks me over. I?ve never been self conscious of my body, but damned if I'm not blushing.

Xan smiles. He moves closer, and suddenly he seems nervous again. That. . . predatory vibe is still there, but it's tempered by this sweet hesitancy that. . . that makes me totally remember that he's never done this with a guy before.

I put my arms around his neck, pull him in for a kiss. Soft, slow, no rush. Such a good kisser. Firm. . . and. . . just good. Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Time for the words I?ve wanted to say for almost. . . wow, almost a year. "Xander, take off your clothes now."

He grins, and complies. I watch as he strips. . . for me. He's taking off his clothes, for me. I can't even begin to remember the number of times I fantasized about his body, and now it's being revealed, just for me. Gorgeous pale skin stretched over muscles, which, mmm, muscles. I've been held by him before, felt the strength in that upper body, but I've never seen it. And, I believe 'yum' is an operative word.

He blushes a little, ducks his head, and unzips his khakis. Okay, Mr. Restraint has officially left the building.

I grab him, and push him against the door. He looks a little surprised. . .maybe worried. I give him a quick kiss, then yank down his pants. I'm eye level with. . . oh. . . have to taste. I lick up his shaft. He whimpers. His back presses against the door, but his hips jut forward. So eager. So good. Chuckle just a little. Give the tip a light kiss, then I'm back up at his mouth, tongue sweeping in.

His arms, those arms, wrap around me, pulling me tight, flush, against. . . unh. . . touching. Flesh so warm. Such soft skin over such hard. . . everything. I grin, move my face to his neck, suck at the hollow above his collarbone.

"So beautiful." I whisper against his throat. I can feel his pulse racing beneath my lips, his skin getting even hotter.

"Graham." His voice is low, strained.

"Hmm?" I nip at his jawline.

"S-shower."

Oh yeah. Corrosive monster goop.

We break apart, panting hard. I take his hand and lead him to the tub. I step in. He follows. And, we're back together again. The spray pelts us both. He's sliding against me, feels so. . . The friction. . . so good.

Warm, heavey breath against my ear. "Graham." The softest moan comes out as I squeeze his ass.

Find his mouth. Need to kiss him now.

Moving. . . faster. Arms tighten around me.

Need this. . .

Need him. . .

Love him.

*****

There is nothing like waking up next to someone you love.

Oh, a simple warm body can be great, but. . . even that can't really compare. Not with being next to Xander. Laying here in my bed, watching him sleep, feeling only slightly stalkerish. I've never done this before. Never wanted to. Never really been with someone who counted.

So, I guess it's not just his beauty, although with the sheet bunched around his hips and his long torso bathed in a stream of moonlight. . .

Oh, God. I am *so* far gone. I should be deeply concerned for my psyche. . . so, why am I grinning like an idiot?

I reach out and touch him. That's getting to be a general compulsion with me, not that either of us minds. I let my finger run down the center of his chest, and over his abdomen, gently stroking the thin line of hair that trails down from his navel. I check his face. Still sound asleep, breathing deep and normal. Let's see what I can do to change that.

I lean over, my lips tracing the same path my finger had just taken. I kiss down his stomach. His skin's so warm, and. . . there's a little reaction. Just the slightest quiver of the muscles under my mouth.

He murmurs something, can't quite make it out. Shifts a little, then. . . nothing. Back to sleep.

I let my tongue swirl around his navel, dipping in once. . . twice. . . three times, and finish by lightly nipping at his lower belly. Earned myself a shudder that time, but he's still out of it.

A sleeping Xander might be nice, but an active Xander is so much more. . . well, active. And, I want to play. Okay, time for hard. . . ball. Oooh, that's an idea.

I grab the edge of the sheet with my teeth. I start to pull the material away from him, slowly exposing more and more. . . mmm, skin. Suddenly, a hand strokes my head.

"Having fun?" A slightly sleepy voice asks.

I look up and into. . . the most. . . amazing eyes. Chocolate brown, in this light, and just so warm, and happy. I let the sheet fall out of my mouth. "Oh yeah. You?"

He chuckles. "I'm good." He reaches down, grasps my arm and tugs a bit. "Come here."

Okay. I move up, half draping myself over him. I brush a stray lock of hair off his forehead, and. . . This is why. I mean. . . It's just kinda hit me. . . everything that has happened to me has been worth it, because it got us to now.

Joining the Initiative, fighting the battles. Me deciding to stay in Sunnydale, but being too chicken to hardly talk to Xan. That first clumsy kiss in the cemetery, him saving my life, the first real kiss in the hospital. The demons, the monsters, the dating. Head injuries. Self centered Slayers, annoying British vampires, sharing a laundry hamper with Riley.

It's all led up to this moment; me and Xander, together. Not in my mind, or my dreams, but in my bed. *My* bed. My Xander.

"Graham?" He looks a little concerned. Guess I slipped into 'intense face', and this is definitely not the time or place for that look. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah." I smile softly before closing the distance between us. Another new compulsion I've noticed is the intense desire to routinely kiss Xander senseless. I think I'm just gonna go with that. My lips press against his and. . . yeah. . .

Everything's great.

**********


Part 4
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