Saturation - Chapter 1
written by Jane Davitt & WesleysGirl


Rating: FRAO
Spoilers: Through the end of both BtVS and AtS.
Summary: What happens when you think you're perfectly happy with someone - and then there's a knock at the door and it all changes?
Thanks: Many thanks to Ginnylovesspike for beta reading.
Feedback Author: Jane Davitt & WesleysGirl
Author's Website: Jane Davitt.Com & Adds Mystery


"God," Xander gasped, as the next thrust shoved him into the table he was leaning over with enough force that the table actually moved, sliding across the floor an inch or two with a groaned protest of wood. He pushed back to meet the next thrust, and the table moved again, squeaking this time. He had to put his trust in it -- and his abilities -- and assume that it wasn't going to collapse underneath their combined weight; at least, if it didn't, he'd know it was well-built. He wondered, a bit hysterically, if he could advertise that his carpentry was sound enough to withstand a good hard fuck then the hand that wasn't pressing down on the small of his back closed unexpectedly around his cock and Xander cried out, panting. "God! Yeah, like that, fuck..."

There was a breathless chuckle that became a groan, and then the hand moved sharply back and forward, again and again, perfectly timed with the fast, hard slams that drove the table forward again, because no matter how much Xander tried to brace himself against an onslaught like this, he didn't stand a chance.

It didn't help that his legs, unlike the table's, were wobbling.

He was grunting with every thrust now, shoving back to meet the cock that slid back and forth inside him, fucking his own dick into the grip that knew just how tightly to squeeze, and just where...With a series of soft cries, Xander came, his pants around his ankles and his eyes clenched shut, his hands clutching onto the sides of the table until his fingers were almost numb.

He got three more strokes, fast and deep enough to blend into one, and then he felt the hand on his back clench and grab at smooth skin, and heard his name in the middle of an incoherent jumble of words which somehow made perfect sense just then.

A large hand, strong and lacking the scrapes, nicks and calluses of his own, came down on the table beside his head, and he felt the warm, comforting weight of a body against his back, and a kiss on his shoulder, clumsier than usual because there was a lot of panting and catching of breath going on.

Attempting a conversational tone despite his own shaky breathing, Xander offered, "I'm pretty sure I said this last time, but you can feel free to come down and visit me on your lunch break whenever you want."

"Only on the days where I don't require a functioning brain in the afternoon." The weight left him, the hand that had been wrapped around his cock shifting briefly to his hip as they moved apart. "You have a terrible effect on my powers of concentration, you know."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Xander said, turning around and looking at Giles with affection then glancing down at himself. "Although I'm thinking there's going to be a rule about bringing me a change of clothes along with the lunch." He hitched up his pants and moved over to the sink, giving his hands a quick rinse, and then cleaning himself off as best he could with a handful of paper towels. He took a second handful over to Giles and gave them to him along with a kiss, leaning against the somewhat abused table in the back room of his carpentry shop as Giles put himself back together.

"The lunch we haven't eaten yet," Giles reminded him, nodding at the paper bag from the corner shop that was on the way between their house and Xander's workshop. The hand-made sandwiches it contained were made of thick, crusty slices of bread, filled with whatever Mrs. Collins felt like using, take it or leave it. Xander wasn't sure about the egg salad she'd sold him the previous Tuesday, but if it was a roast beef with horseradish day he was going to stop off on his way home and propose to her. He was sure Giles wouldn't mind.

Suddenly remembering, Xander went from sated to worried. "Are you going to have time to eat? I thought you had that meeting this afternoon."

"I do," Giles said, glancing at his watch. "And as it's been rescheduled twice, thanks to various crises, I suppose I hadn't better be late." He took a wrapped sandwich and a can of lemonade out of the bag. "I'll take a taxi and eat on the way."

Xander frowned and pulled Giles in for another kiss. "I'd apologize, but there's that whole thing where you started it. See you tonight?"

"Tonight," Giles agreed, turning the handle that led to the main part of the rented shop and disappearing through the doorway.

After quickly eating his own lunch, Xander got back to work. It seemed like he'd had the shop for years, but really it had only been a little over six months. He'd tried a stint working for someone else that had ended when it became clear that it just wasn't a good match. It wasn't that Xander couldn't take orders -- heck, his time with Anya would have been enough to prove that he could, and the almost-year that he'd been with Giles cemented that proof pretty firmly. It was more that there'd been a difference of vision. And under other circumstances that was something Xander was familiar with, too. He'd eventually caved to Giles' quiet persistence and been fitted for a glass eye, and he had to admit that Giles was right; he was a lot less self-conscious with it than he'd been with the patch. It made it easier for him to forget that he was different.

He finished up the special order he'd been working on and moved to a project of his own, one that he was idly thinking about putting in the living room. Not that they didn't have a table there already, but it was just a standard, boring kind of thing, not well-built and without any creativity in its design, and Xander had this desire to fill their home with furniture he'd built himself.

It might take years, but he and Giles had talked enough that Xander didn't have any reason to think they wouldn't have them.

He was so into his work that he lost track of time and almost ended up leaving the shop late. Hurriedly, he cleaned and put away his tools, turning over the 'We're Open' sign that Giles had presented him with the first morning he'd officially been open, and making sure to lock the door. Technically, Xander had already paid Giles back the money he'd loaned him when he'd first rented the shop, but it still felt, weirdly, like the place was part Giles', even though Xander was making more than enough to pay the bills and even some of their household expenses now.

The lights were already on by the time he'd walked back to the house. "Hey, I'm home!" Xander called, as he shut the door behind him.

"And for once, I'm back first," Giles said, appearing in the doorway at the end of the hallway that led into the kitchen. He leaned against the door jamb and lifted an eyebrow, looking, Xander thought, pretty happy about them both being around at a reasonable hour. "I seem to recall when I come in, you usually do something." He straightened up and began to walk slowly towards Xander. "Refresh my memory," he said softly when he reached him, standing close enough that Xander could smell freshly-showered Giles, his hair still slightly damp. "Do I ask you how your day went and then kiss you, or the other way around?"

Xander shrugged out of his coat and put his arms around Giles, wondering what the chances were of Giles agreeing to abandon plans for dinner and just go upstairs to bed. Slim, he decided, considering their lunchtime quickie. "I don't think it matters which one you do first," he said. "My day was great, actually. How was yours?"

"If I get to choose, I'll tell you later," Giles said, slipping his hand behind Xander's neck and kissing him. You could tell a lot from a kiss, Xander had discovered. This was one of those ones that started out as a simple press of Giles' mouth against his, and a blink later they were wrapped around each other, tongues touching, sliding, teasing, as a single kiss became an uncounted number of slow, heated kisses that didn't stop.

Just like the first one they'd had, in fact.

Xander wasn't sure how long it would've taken for him and Giles to admit why they were both on edge and snappy without that first kiss. He'd come back from Africa and moved into Giles' spare room until he found a place of his own. Giles had been stressed out because of the whole taking over the Council deal; Xander was still dealing with watching Sunnydale vanish, taking with it Anya, way too many new Slayers, and Spike. Although Spike had come back. Yeah. And about the only bright bit about that news had come from picturing Angel having to deal with him, with staking not an option.

So the way he and Giles had gone from close friends to irritated, barely speaking and bad-tempered hadn't been too hard to explain away.

It just hadn't occurred to either of them that the closer Xander got to finding somewhere else to live, the worse it got. Because by then the only place Xander wanted to wake up was naked and next to Giles, and he was only trudging around looking at places that made Spike's crypt look homey and still cost more than he could afford because he thought Giles was sick of the sight of him and wanted him gone.

And Giles had been doing repressed English guy not hitting on a younger man he'd known for years, and doing it so well Xander had never guessed –

He shuddered at the thought of how close he'd come to leaving, and Giles broke the kiss and stared at him. "What?" he murmured, moving back in for one last nibble at Xander's lip that might've just started another round of kisses if Giles was persistent. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah," Xander said gently, looking at Giles and raising both hands to cup his face. "Yeah, everything's fine." And this time he was the one who took control of the kiss, speeding it up, tasting the inside of Giles' mouth again and again until they didn't have any choice but to pull back gasping. "Don't suppose I could talk you into postponing dinner half an hour? Um, assuming there's actually a plan for dinner."

"'Dinner'?" Giles repeated, looking, Xander thought smugly, like a man who'd forgotten half the English language. "Oh... dinner." He glanced back at the kitchen. "I just put a shepherd's pie in the oven. It'll be an hour at least." He smiled. "I hope you're not too hungry by then."

"I'm hungry now," Xander said, running his hands over Giles' back. "Just not for food." It sounded kind of dorky, but he meant it, and he kissed Giles harder so there wouldn't be any question. "An hour, huh?"

"I could turn it down," Giles offered. "Or even off altogether. But I think an hour is plenty of time." He closed his eyes as Xander moved his hands lower; grabbing Giles' ass had stopped being dry-mouth terrifying, in a hot kind of way, and just become so natural that the only thought he had when he did it was how good it felt. "More than enough -- Xander, if you want us to make it to the bed, please stop that."

He didn't sound very convincing, but he had a point.

Xander pulled his hands back then slid one across the front of Giles' trousers lightly. "What about this?" he asked, feigning innocence. "Can I do this?"

Giles grabbed his hand, but not before he'd felt just how hard Giles was, and then the other, sweeping them behind Xander's back and pinning them there, with Xander grinning and letting him, because teasing Giles usually paid off one way or another. "I don't think so," Giles said, wrapping one hand around both Xander's wrists which freed up his other. "But I don't see why I can't do this –" He turned Xander so that his back was to the wall and thumbed open the button on Xander's jeans, before easing the zip down with all due care and attention for Xander's erection which was getting in the way. "And this..."

Xander moaned against Giles' mouth as he was kissed again with Giles' fingers curled around his cock, stroking it maddeningly slowly.

"Want me to finish this here?" Giles asked, moving to kiss Xander's neck, his voice husky. "Want my mouth on you? Or did you have other plans?"

"Plans?" Xander repeated, in something more like a squeak than a regular voice, rocking his hips and letting his head fall back against the wall. "God, Giles please." He struggled a little bit, curious to see what Giles would do, but not making a real effort to free his hands.

"God, I'm going to come home early more often," Giles said, bending his head and biting gently at Xander's chest through his T-shirt, licking at the small bump of Xander's nipple as Xander tried to remember to keep breathing. "Still think we should've gone upstairs though." His teeth fastened around fabric and skin, digging in just hard enough to make Xander shudder, his thumb tracing circles on the inside of one of Xander's wrists. "But now I'm hungry, too –"

He slid to his knees without changing the position of his hands and rubbed Xander's cock against his closed lips, letting Xander push forward and part them, feeling lips and teeth yield so that he could slip inside Giles' eager, waiting mouth.

In his head, Xander was chanting something that had the word 'God' in it, which was kind of funny, because he was pretty sure he didn't even believe in God. Still, if he had believed, the way Giles' mouth felt around his cock would have been more proof than he'd need. Hot, and slick, and that thing Giles did with his tongue -- Xander closed his eyes and took a shivering breath that felt like it went into his lungs crooked, or maybe that was the world tilting when Giles sucked harder on the tip of his cock. Xander gasped and swore, pulling against Giles' hand on his wrists again.

Giles slackened his grip and then released him, scraping the edge of his thumbnail across Xander's palm as he dragged his hand away, which set up a chain reaction that left Xander slamming his fist back against the wall as his hips jerked forward, because if Giles kept doing stuff like that, this was going to be over really soon.

"Fuck," he muttered as Giles pulled back and concentrated all his attention on the tip of Xander's cock, licking over the super-sensitized skin there. Xander felt the ache in his balls as a drop of pre-come formed only to be licked away by a quick, flat swipe of Giles' tongue, and he groaned. "I'm not... gonna last another five minutes if you keep doing that," he managed to get out.

Giles sat back on his heels and glanced up at him, his hand still tight around the base of Xander's cock. "Do you want me to stop?" Only Giles could sound so serious and curious at the same time. At this time.

"Yes," Xander said. "I mean, no, I just..." He took a slow, deep breath and let it out. "It would be easier to answer that question if you weren't on your knees in front of me," he pointed out.

Giles considered that for a moment, and then shrugged and stood up, linking his hand with Xander's. "I'll take it as a yes then," he said, starting to walk towards the stairs. "But only because I want to take full advantage of the fact that we're somewhere I can get you naked without risking splinters."

"You think I haven't had a few splinters before?" Xander asked, going along willingly. Their little quickie in the back of his shop had been beyond hot, but he was just as happy to have sex in bed. Their bed, a thought that never failed to make him smile. Upstairs, he started to take off his own clothes, but Giles stopped him and undressed him slowly, running hands and mouth over each bit of bare skin as it was exposed until Xander was quivering with arousal again, his own hands fumbling with the front of Giles' trousers in an awkward attempt to get them open.

"Let me do that," Giles murmured, stepping back and managing to get out of all his clothes in about the same length of time he'd just taken to peel Xander's T-shirt over his head. His gaze never left Xander, travelling over his body with a frank appreciation that intensified and deepened as their eyes met. "Better?" he asked, as they lay down and began to kiss again, bodies tight against each other.

"Much better," Xander agreed, rolling onto his back and pulling Giles on top of him. He liked to feel Giles' weight on him, heavy, solid, comforting. Like this, it was easy to believe that everything was right with the world. Well, for as long as it lasted, anyway. Giles' mouth was hard, insistent, reminding Xander to zero his attention in on Giles and keep it there. Giles rocked against him, erection sliding almost painfully along Xander's pelvic bone, and Xander curled his leg around both of Giles', offering without saying a word.

He felt Giles' hand slip down between them; tracing a path across Xander's stomach, pausing to curl briefly around a cock Xander didn't think could get any harder and then dipping down. Xander made a sound he hoped came across as encouraging rather than needy, although he didn't really mind Giles knowing just what effect he had on him, and felt his balls tighten as Giles cupped them, rolling them gently before letting his fingers drift back to stroke over skin exposed by the position Xander was in, making Xander arch up against him and come close to whimpering.

Xander shifted, trying not to let his heel dig too hard into the back of Giles' thigh as those fingers stroked again, just the lightest brush over skin so awake with nerve-endings that this time he did whimper, right on the verge of begging Giles to do something more, to thrust inside him with fingers or even better, cock, when the phone gave a shrill ring that made them both twitch and then groan.

"Don't get it," Xander said, even though he knew Giles had to. Being the head of the Watchers Council wasn't the kind of job that ended when you came home from the office.

Giles looked tempted, but even before he sighed, rolled off Xander, and reached out to grab at the phone by the bed, Xander knew sex before dinner was doomed. This number was unlisted, so it wasn't going to be someone trying to sell them something; the best they could hope for was that it was a friend like Buffy or Willow, calling to chat.

"Yes?"

Giles sounded terse and he started to frown two seconds in. Work. Giving Xander an apologetic look that turned into something a lot more frustrated as he glanced down at them both, still hard, he stood up and began to pull on his shorts and slacks one-handed. "I've got the details in my study. Hang on." He turned, mouthed, "Sorry," and left the room.

With a loud sigh, Xander flopped over onto his back again and stared up at the ceiling, which was a slightly off shade of white that looked almost gray in the dim light from the one lamp over on Giles' dresser. He listened to the sound of Giles' feet on the stairs as he went down to the study. Xander couldn't help but be irritated at the interruption, although on the other hand it wasn't like Giles could just let the machine get it and pretend he didn't hear. Sometimes it really was important. Although there were definitely times when Xander would have given a lot to know that he was, too. His stomach rumbled -- lunch had been hours ago -- so he got up and got dressed and headed down to the kitchen, Giles' soft voice as he talked to whoever drifting over him as he opened the oven. The rich smell of the gravy in the shepherd's pie, bought up the street at the shop that made them for people to reheat at home, made his stomach growl again, but a quick glance at the clock showed that it still had another forty minutes at least. Xander dug around in the back of the cupboard until he found a half-eaten box of cookies. Of course, they were British cookies, so you were supposed to call them biscuits, but Xander was stubborn and refused to go there. They were cookies, damn it. Chocolate plus sugar in a round, cookie-like format was a cookie, not a biscuit.

By the time Giles came back into the kitchen, he'd eaten three.

"You'll ruin your appetite," Giles said mildly. He came over to snag one from the packet. "I take it we're giving up on finishing what we started until later?"

Xander nodded without speaking, grateful for the mouthful of cookie that made silence look like good manners, not sulking. Because he wasn't.

"I'll go and finish dressing then," Giles said with a sigh. "And it was something I had to deal with, but I do wish they wouldn't -- well, never mind." He bit into the cookie and walked towards the door.

If he hadn't been a guy, Xander reflected, he might have told Giles not to go. Suggested that they talk about it. But he was a guy, and he didn't really want to talk, because talking didn't change things. Giles had to be available to the people at work, and neither of them liked it. It was just a fact. Sighing, Xander put the box of cookies, now almost empty, back in the cupboard before he really did ruin his appetite, and started upstairs for a sweatshirt. The days had been warmer lately, but the nights were still cool. As he put his foot on the bottom step, two things happened at once -- Giles appeared at the top of the stairs and there was a knock at the front door. Xander turned toward the door. "Got it," he said, reaching for the handle. "Although I really, really hope that you're not giving out our home address to anyone at work who might decide they want you to, I don't know, verify the authenticity of a magical paperclip or something." He opened the door before Giles could answer and froze in surprise.

"What the hell are you doing here, Harris?"

If anything, Spike looked almost as taken aback as Xander felt. Not enough to render him speechless, of course. Xander didn't think anything could do that. He blinked, taking in the details. Spike. Hair a little longer, but still bleached until it hurt to think of how much peroxide had soaked into each strand. Jeans, a black shirt, a battered leather jacket -- no duster. God, how he'd hated that coat, reeking of cigarettes and blood. Spike's second skin, his armor. Without it, Spike looked smaller somehow; almost defenseless. Xander's gaze shifted down and his eyes widened in alarm, but it was too late.

Spike, and his suitcase, pushed past Xander, and he was left to gape as Spike beamed up at Giles and said, "Giles. How've you been? Good to see you, mate. Hope you don't mind me turning up like this, but I need a favor."

"What the... but you..." Xander turned, shutting the door automatically, because that was just what you did after someone came in, you shut the door. Even if that someone was Spike. "We didn't invite you in!" He looked at the door, and then at Giles as he came down the stairs. "Doesn't that work in England?"

"It does," Giles said a little grimly. "And even if it's never warm enough to suit you, our sunlight's equally effective at setting vampires alight, yet Spike seems singularly lacking in scorch marks." He raised his eyebrows at Spike. "Well?"

"Come on, Rupert. You can make a guess, can't you?" Spike dropped his suitcase onto the floor and took out a battered pack of cigarettes, using, Xander noted, a regular cheap lighter to light the one he stuck between his lips. Then, holding both hands out at his sides, Spike said, "Not a vampire anymore, am I."

Xander was so surprised that he could hardly move. "What do you mean, you're not a vampire anymore?"

"Need me to use smaller words?" Spike asked, smirking.

"No, I think we grasp the concept," Giles said evenly. "I just require a little more proof and then an explanation." He walked over to Spike and stared down at him. "You can save the part where you ask me for a favor and I say 'no' for an encore."

Despite his confusion and the amount of time that had passed since he'd last seen it, there was little Xander liked more than seeing Giles order Spike around.

"You think it was my idea to come here?" Spike said with a scoff. "Not bloody likely. Angel sent me. Says I'm your problem now."

"Why's that?" Xander asked.

"Yes," Giles said, sounding more English with every word. "I find myself curious as to why I'm Angel's first choice of babysitter as well. Some form of revenge, perhaps? Did I forget to send him a birthday card? Since when was he not well able to deal with you himself?" Giles' eyes widened. "Oh my God -- is Angel human, too?"

Spike raised his head at that, and for a second Xander totally couldn't read what was going on behind his eyes. Then, "Nah," Spike said easily. "Signed it away and I ended up with it."

"Signed what away?" Xander asked, exasperated.

"Shanshu," Spike said, leaning against the wall. "Special destiny for the vampire with a soul? Dies so that he can live?" When Xander and Giles continued to look at him blankly, he sighed. "Don't you people talk to each other? First there was Andrew and the Gandalf thing, and now this. Again, from the top... there's this prophecy about a vampire with a soul turning human. Angel agreed not to take it in exchange for some bloody thing or other he wanted, and apparently that meant I got it."

Xander was glad to see that Giles looked as baffled as he was feeling.

"Is this connected with you dying when you closed the Hellmouth?" Giles asked slowly. "Because from what Andrew told us -- and yes, there was a Tolkienesque theme as I recall -- you were still a vampire once you'd ceased to be a ghost. And now -"

He reached out and placed his fingers against Spike's neck, moving them carefully until he found what he was looking for.

A pulse.

Xander swallowed hard, dealing with an unexpectedly strong reaction to seeing Giles and Spike that close, with Giles' fingers stroking skin that, now that he was looking carefully, was slightly tanned. It wasn't jealousy, of course. No. He just felt left out and that was stupid.

"Now you're human," Giles finished, letting his hand drop to his side. He glanced at Xander, erasing that uncomfortable feeling of exclusion, because his voice warmed when he was talking to Xander. "Did I ever mention how much I detest prophecies?"

"Maybe once or twice," Xander said, grinning because it had been thirty or forty times that at least. He turned his attention back to Spike. "So why are you here?"

"Angel couldn't stand the sight of me," Spike said. "Which suited me just fine, because wherever he is is pretty much the last place on earth I want to be." He took another long drag on his cigarette. "He figured an ex-vampire with a soul turned human might be of some interest to Watchers, I s'pose."

"And what was it you were thinking you'd get out of the deal?" Xander asked, because that had to be there in Spike's head somewhere.

Spike gave him an impatient look. "Still the same trusting soul, aren't you? I don't want anything." He pursed his lips. "Place to stay, maybe. Just until I get my head around all this."

Xander felt the stirrings of pity. It was hard to imagine how it must feel, going from being immortal and close to invulnerable to being human. He supposed it could be seen as a reward, but it wasn't going to be all fun and games adjusting.

"And if you're giving this useless git houseroom, you're not going to turn down the chance to do the Good Samaritan bit with me, now are you? And I did save the world and your arses with it." Spike flicked some ash in Xander's direction. "Stayed behind and burned so you could all bugger off safely."

Xander went back to hating Spike without any difficulty at all. "I'm not useless," he said. "Wait. Why am I having this argument with you?" He looked to Giles for support.

He got a tired shrug. "Force of habit?" Giles sighed. "And the day was being reasonably well-behaved up until now." He gave Spike's suitcase a jaundiced look. "Oh, I suppose you can stay here tonight, at least, but can we move this discussion out of the hallway?" Giles led the way into the living room with Xander following, feeling a little indignant that Giles hadn't pointed out to Spike that on a useless scale, he ranked somewhere below the appendix.

Giles pointed at a chair. "Spike. Sit. Don't touch anything."

That seemed pretty unlikely, but surprisingly, Spike did sit down.

"So what happened?" Xander asked. "You just woke up one morning and realized you had a pulse?"

Spike looked around, leaned forward and put his cigarette out in a tea cup that Giles had left there the night before. Giles made a sound of disgust. "Happened that night. Things went all apocalypsy; we tried to kill all the members of the Black Thorn. You heard about that, yeah?" He was looking at Giles.

Giles nodded. "We did."

"Wesley, Charley, we lost them both. Me and Blue and Angel, though... took down a dragon and... thousands, maybe, between the three of us. Felt like it, at any rate." Spike's voice and eyes made it clear that he was far away. "Guess I saved Angel. He says it, so it must be true, right? Not as if he'd make something like that up. Anyway... he says I got dusted, and then next thing he knew I was lying there whole and breathing. Guess the prophecy wasn't so much undone as changed." He stood up, shifting his weight. "Just spent twelve hours on a plane. Think I've been doing enough sitting."

Now that was something Xander could relate to. His journey back from Africa had spread over two nightmarish days of missed connections and canceled flights, with him clinging stubbornly to his single suitcase for thousands of miles and then managing to leave it behind in the taxi that took him from Heathrow to this house. Jet lag was hell.

Giles must've seen the signs of exhaustion on Spike's face, too, because a lot of the hostility had drained from his voice when he spoke. "We heard about Wesley and Gunn. No details; just that they'd been killed. I'm very sorry." The sadness dragging at his voice made the simple words convey all the grief Xander had seen first-hand when they'd got the news. Seen and shared. They hadn't known Gunn, but Wes was one of them when it came down to it, and a heroic death didn't have the glamour it used to.

"We were about to eat," Giles continued.

Xander bit his lip. No, we were about to have sex, he thought and I still want to, and damn, that's not going to happen half as much as it used to with Spike around.

"Would you like to join us?"

The part of the conversation that had happened only in his own head had been so real that Xander actually twitched at that, but Spike just nodded and Xander realized they were talking about dinner.

He had to clean off one of the two kitchen chairs they never used except for piling up papers and stuff so that there'd be somewhere for Spike to sit. Once he had, Spike dropped down into the chair with a tired and maybe grateful grin that disarmed Xander, leaving him confused. An appreciative, thoughtful Spike wasn't something he was used to.

On the other hand, maybe Spike was trying to trick him into lowering his defenses. Yeah, that had to be it. Giles dished up the shepherd's pie and Xander got three beers out of the cupboard. He'd adjusted to the whole warm beer thing pretty quickly. Beer, as far as he was concerned, was beer.

He was three bites into his meal when he realized that Giles wasn't eating, but was watching Spike. Xander had seen Spike eat before, but never often, and the odd time he'd seen him drink blood he'd done his best to repress the memory because, quite honestly, it was gross.

Spike using a knife and fork, both at the same time, just like Giles did and Xander didn't, eating with a careful but somehow automatic tidiness, was new.

"Does it -- do you miss your, ah, previous diet?" Giles asked curiously. "Any cravings?"

Spike shook his head, swallowing and looking at both of them as if he was just then aware of the fact that he was being watched. "M'not a bloody sideshow," he muttered irritatedly.

"It's just... weird," Xander said. "It'd be like if I suddenly jumped up and started, I don't know, ballet dancing or something."

"I'm eating," Spike said. "Not dancing."

"I'm sorry," Giles said. "It's just that from an academic point of view, this is rather fascinating." Spike glared at him, and Giles cleared his throat and picked up his beer. "But not perhaps to you. Fair enough."

Xander concentrated on eating his own food and tried not to look at Spike at all, which was strangely harder than he would have thought it would be. He kept looking over at Giles, too, watching Giles watch Spike and try not to. And Spike kept looking up at both of them, surly now that he felt on display. Xander couldn't really blame him for that; he'd felt the same way right after he'd lost his eye, like he was really interesting all of a sudden; a freak show. There'd been times he'd wanted to just shout at people to stop staring at him.

"So," he tried. "Angel just kicked you out, huh?"

"Yeah," Spike said, leaning back in his chair and drinking more beer. "Don't get me wrong, I was more'n happy to go. Not like the two of us have ever got along."

"Especially now," Giles said shrewdly, going right to the heart of it. For a man who could take five minutes asking Xander how he liked his tea, he was still capable of a brevity that was as disconcerting as it was insightful. "When, for possibly the first time in your relationship, you've achieved something he has not. Can not." Giles' mouth twisted. "I never thought I'd feel pity for him, given our dealings with each other, but I do now." He gave Spike a sharp glance. "And I've no doubt that the urge to gloat, just a little, was irresistible, am I right?"

"You should have seen his face," Spike said, with a little smile. He pushed his chair back, his thighs falling to the sides in a way that Xander found disturbing in a way he couldn't quite put his finger on. "He'd never admit it, of course, but he was furious. And he'd be talking through his clenched teeth, trying to pretend like it didn't bother him."

Xander couldn't deny that he sort of got a kick out of the thought of Angel being all mad that Spike had got the prophecy that had been meant for him. "Did he get that thing where his lip twitches?"

"Yeah," Spike agreed, finishing his beer and yawning. Xander didn't think he'd ever seen Spike yawn. "Totally worth the first time I got puking drunk just to see the look on his face."

That fascinated look crossed Giles' face again, as if he was about to ask Spike all kinds of stuff Xander really didn't want to discuss when he was eating, but Spike yawned again and gave Giles a hopeful glance.

"Any chance of a shower? I'd say bath, but I'd likely fall asleep in it, and I wouldn't want to drown." He smiled with his tongue curled behind his top teeth, a gesture as familiar as it was unsettling. "Me stretched out in your tub; bring back memories, does it, Giles?"

"It does," Giles replied, his eyes narrowing. "All of them the kind that make me want to emphasize how temporary this arrangement is. But by all means have a shower. I'll sort you out some bedding; there's a sofa bed in my study down here that you can use."

Xander showed Spike where the downstairs bathroom was -- there was a shower in there, although he and Giles never used it. He wasn't even a hundred percent sure it worked. Not like he was going to tell Spike that, though. "I don't know if there are any towels in here," he said, opening the closet. "Oh, yeah, here." He put two on the edge of the sink and left quickly.

Giles came downstairs with some sheets and the pillows that had been on the bed in the second bedroom upstairs, the bed Xander had used when he'd first come back to London. It was still 'his' room technically, even though he hadn't slept there in more than six months and all his clothes were in the master bedroom.

"I can't believe Spike's not a vampire anymore," Xander said, as they started to wrestle the sofa into a bed.

"I can believe he's human far more readily than I can believe I told him he could stay," Giles said ruefully. "I'm sorry, Xander; this is your home, too, and I should've consulted with you first. If it's any consolation, I can't see him staying here long."

He picked up the bedding and began to spread it out over the opened-out sofa.

Xander appreciated the apology. "What were we going to do, throw him out on the street?" He grinned a little bit. "I mean, I won't deny the idea is tempting." Leaning over, he grabbed the near end of the sheet Giles was spreading out and helped to settle it on the mattress, which he had to admit looked pretty thin. That made him realize something. "You didn't want him upstairs?"

Giles looked startled. "That's your room."

"So that's my room, and our room is our room?" Xander wanted clarification.

"When you put it that way, I suppose it does sound odd, but I can assure you I think of the room we sleep in as our bedroom, not mine, if that's what you mean." Giles shrugged, dropping two pillows at one end of the bed. "I just still think of the spare room as yours as well, and therefore not somewhere I'd automatically put a guest." He grinned. "Besides, do you really want Spike next door to us?"

"There is no way I can say 'no' emphatically enough," Xander said, just as Spike, still in the shower if the running water had anything to say about it, started to sing. Loudly.

Giles winced. "He used to do that when he was staying with me. And I'm going to make it quite clear tomorrow that he's not to smoke in the house while he's here. Lay down some ground rules. He can be very disruptive, as you know, and I'm sure that hasn't changed."

Giles sounded scarily like a parent right then. Or maybe the scary part was that Xander agreed with him. Wasn't he still young enough to be rebelling? Apparently not.

"I'm less worried about secondhand smoke than I am that he might burn the house down," Xander agreed, as Spike's voice got even louder. "We're not seriously going to let him stay here, are we? I mean, can't the Council put him up somewhere? Aren't you going to want to, I don't know, do blood tests and stuff? Make sure he's really human?"

"He's definitely not a vampire," Giles said thoughtfully. "His skin's warm and he's got a heartbeat... I'll see what I can find out about this prophecy he mentioned. If necessary, we'll call Angel for confirmation, although I'd rather not get involved with him. Our recent dealings haven't been exactly amicable."

The shower stopped running and Spike fell silent, too. Giles stepped away from the couch and gave Xander a brief hug. "He'll be gone soon, I'm sure, but until then -- well, he has got a point. We owe him something for what he did in Sunnydale." He looked a little self-conscious. "And I confess to being curious about how he's coping with this. He's remarkably resilient, but he's gone through some bewildering changes in the last two years."

"I guess," Xander said, but he gave Giles a smile to let him know that it was the situation he wasn't thrilled with, not Giles. Why couldn't Spike have just stayed in L.A.? It didn't even make sense that he'd hung around for years in California, sun central, as a vampire, but now that he was human and could actually enjoy the sun, he'd come back to England where it rained more often than not.

Stupid vampire. Only not, and that was going to take some time to get used to.

There was the sound of the bathroom door opening, and Spike appeared in the doorway to the study wearing nothing but a towel. His hair was slicked back, making his face look even thinner than usual, his cheekbones standing out in sharp relief. He ran a hand down along his damp chest, creating a bead of water that took a slow, meandering slide southward over his abdomen. "Take a picture, Harris," Spike said, but he sounded more tired than snarky. "Lasts longer."


Read: Chapter 2