EARLY TUESDAY MORNING, THE FOLLOWING WEEK

Drenched in sweat, trembling violently, Xander Harris lay beside his girlfriend Anya, praying she had not been disturbed by his abrupt awakening. When she stirred and laid a hand over his, he tossed out a mild mental curse for her sensitivity to his every shift of mood and turned slightly to face her.

"I'm okay. Go back to sleep, An."

"I thought we agreed not to lie to each other. You are not alright. It was that nightmare again, wasn't it?"

Xander hesitated, then sighed and told her what he had told her in the past, despite knowing he was lying to her and despite knowing what he would have to endure when she found out.

"Yeah, but it was no clearer than last time, so let's not do this. Please?"

"That's the fourth time in a week you've had this nightmare, Xander. There's more to this than you're telling me."

Xander's expression hardened the tiniest bit as he swung his legs out of bed, rose to his feet and grabbed his robe.

"It's over, I'm fine now and I have to get ready for work. I'll start the coffee."

"Xander, please don't shut me out like this. I'm scared for you... and I don't like being scared. You know it irritates me."

A second, more explosive and frustrated sigh came from Xander, but he did not turn back to look at the redhead behind him

"If I could tell you anything more about this nigh... dream, I would. I haven't had it for a long time. I don't know why it's suddenly back. I don't know what it means. Drop it, okay?"

Forestalling any further argument, Xander stalked out of the bedroom and down to the kitchen, still shaken by the images that, despite his protestations to Anya, he believed he understood all too well.

THAT EVENING: THE GILES HOME

"Excellent. Three days, then. Yes. I look forward to it. I was planning on Friday night to Monday morning. Around... seven? No, thank you, Xander. I appreciate you making the time. I won't guarantee a... a blast, but I will try. Goodbye."

Stabbing at the cutoff button, Giles began to dial again, feeling his anxiety melt when Spike pushed his thumbs deep into the older man's shoulder and neck muscles, massaging firmly.

"So he's comin'?"

"He said so. One down, one to go." he responded as the other end of the line began to ring.

"Wyndham-Angel Investigations. How may I direct your call?"

"Cordelia? It's Giles. Is Wesley there, by any chance?"

"Hey, Giles. It's good to hear your voice! You sound great. Yeah, Wes is around here somewhere. Shoot. We don't have hold music. Hum some old Barry Manilow tune or something. I'll be back in a jiffy."

A few minutes later, Wesley picked up the phone, mumbling, at first, to Cordelia in the background.

"Cordy, please! Anything but Manilow! 70's music is nothing more than a demon noone's gotten up the fortitude to kill yet. Rupert! It's marvelous to hear from you. No further tragedies, I trust."

"No, just the opposite, actually. I think enough time has passed... I've planned a small party. Nothing extravagant. I simply thought we might all be ready for something... life-affirming."

"Absolutely. When?"

"Three days from tonight. Seven p.m.?"

"Wonderful. Unless we end up mired in something apocalyptic or similarly messy, I'll be there."

"Good. See you then. Plan on the weekend."

"I will. Good-bye, Rupert."

"Good-bye, Wesley."

Grinning ear to ear, Giles gazed at Spike curiously. "This is going to be a weekend for the ages."

"May be, Rupe. May be. Personally, I can't wait to watch their faces when they suss out what we're really up to. That's gonna be a laugh a minute, that is."

"Not for long, hopefully."

"Right. I'd prefer to move right on to screamin', yellin' and beggin for more."

"Me as well, sweet William. Me as well."

FRIDAY NIGHT

"You sure now? If you really want Xander that bad... it means me an' Wesley'll be... This won't be happenin' if you ain't really sure."

"I told you, I'm positive. I'd rather share you than be puerile about it and drive you away. I'm healed completely and eager to get on, or couldn't you tell last night?" he bantered, smiling lightly at the vamp who lazed idly in one of the living room chairs, his languid posture utterly belying the ardor and excitement in his eyes every time he looked up at the older man standing by the stairs. "Shouldn't they be here by now?"

"We told 'em seven. It's only... two minutes after. Relax."

"I'm trying. It's just... I'm afraid they'll... I don't know... precisely."

Rising easily, Spike moved to stand close behind Giles. Reaching out he slipped one of the watcher's sweaty hands into his own and held it gently, running a thumb slowly up and down the side of the palm.

"Let's see. You're thinkin' they'll call us filthy-minded freakazoids an' run screamin' from the house to spread our little secret all over Sunnydale and L.A.?"

Turning his gaze away from the door to focus briefly on the new and improved Spike, Giles frowned deeply.

"Quite."

"An' if they did? In the past three days you've probly told me a thousand plus times that you're not ashamed a'what we did... or me."

"I'm not, that's the God's honest truth, but... I think they will be. I don't want to lose them as friends just because they can't accept me, accept the decision I've made not to... deny the truth any longer."

"Hey. They didn't chuck the witches in the dustbin, did they?"

"No, but there are major differences in our situations. You and I are adults, supposed role-models. We're also male, which is a tremendous distinction for some people. What if..."

Spike chuckled, wrapped his arms around Giles' midsection and spoke low and close to the other's right ear.

"What if they agree? Your wound up so tight right now the first one to shake your hand is gonna send ya straight through the ceiling. Don't know about you, but havin' to clean up all that plaster dust an' all the busted up roof beams would throw me right outta this wonderful mood we've created."

Instantly seeing the image, Giles began to laugh, doubled over slightly within the circle of Spike's embrace, his angst level dropping to almost nothing.

"Dear Lord, you're right. Whatever will be, will be. Besides, " he said, reaching back to touch the cool skin of Spike's cheek, "I have you for the moment. Even if it can't be forever, that will be more than enough to keep me grounded, sober and sane if the rest of them all turn their backs."

"Too bloody right." Spike murmured possessively, tightening his grip a fraction as previously inconceivable ideas gained solidity in his mind, beginning to seem almost credible. {What if I wanted it forever? What if this... peace and happiness and... and him... is what I really want? Damn it, damn it, damn it...}

Each man became so lost in his own mind that when the doorbell rang a moment later, both jumped, then laughed together.

"Time for you to head upstairs, mon petit chou."

"Right. Things to prepare, hidin' to get on with."

The phrasing made Giles frown again.

"That isn't it at all, you know that. I want it to be a surprise..."

"I know, luv. My bad. Shouldn't a'said it that way. See ya in ten or so, yeah?" Spike apologized, planting a light kiss in the center of the older man's forehead before moving for the stairs.

"Yes. Ten."

The doorbell had already rung twice more, leading Giles to think it had to be Xander on the other side. Opening the door confirmed his suspicion.

"Xander. Come in, please. I'm so glad you could come."

"I was thinking of calling and canceling, but... I decided I did need a party. Wait a minute... Where's the 'rock me till my ears gush blood' music? Where are the 'blind me for life' decorations and the 'how cool do I look in slow motion' strobe lights? Not even a disco ball. Giles, man, how have you not been arrested for criminal stodginess?"

Several appropriate, and Spike-like, responses floated through Giles' head, but he reigned in his new-found dubious sense of humorous sarcasm.

"Are you finished?"

"I think so."

"Thank the Lord for that. Do come in and sit. A beer?"

"Yeah. A beer would be okay. What's going on here, Giles? That was a good come-back and you never have any good come-backs."

"You'll see in a few minutes. Sit. I'll be back with..."

The bell rang a second time just then, cutting him off mid-sentence. "Hang on, alright, Xander? Wesley. It's so good to see you. It's been too long." Giles enthused quietly, embracing the other former watcher briefly. "I was about to grab a beer for Xander. Can I get you one as well?"

"Yes. That would be great." Wesley said as he moved into the living room and Giles split off to the kitchen. "Xander. How are you? We haven't talked nearly often enough lately. I've been missing our chats." Wesley tossed out as he found a chair facing Xander.

"Me too. So, how are things up in your territory? Give with all the juicy adventure stories."

"There aren't any, really. After... well, after we returned from the funeral, Angel closed up the agency for a time. Since we re-opened, it's been slow. We did have this one repeat case recently; a young girl with an eye in the back of her head. The little twit allowed herself to be bitten and infected by the same demon for a second time..."

Wesley paused his story to thank Giles for the delivery of the beer, then continued as the other walked away. Halfway up the stairs, Giles watched Spike emerge from the bedroom and move down to meet him. Though he knew they were well out of the hearing range of the other two, he still kept his voice low.

"Is it all set, then?"

"Yeah. That inflatable bed is a bloody marvel. Only took a few seconds and it was up and ready. Sorta like you, luv."

"Yes. Not the time for cuteness. I am far too nervous for cuteness. Shall we go let our guests in on the real reason for this little... "gathering" ?"

Slinging an arm over Giles shoulder, Spike smiled lightly at his lover and dropped a quick kiss on his nose.

"We shall, dearest. We shall."

Giles returned the smile and slid a hand into the back pocket of Spike's faded jeans and they strolled into the living room just that way, both having great difficulty in hiding their urge to laugh at the reactions of the pair already seated there. The urge lasted only until Xander's protective instinct kicked in.

TBC...