The next night on patrol, Spike acted perfectly normal. As if nothing had changed. No secret glances. No sly flirtatious remarks. No indication whatsoever that anything had happened.
It drove Xander crazy.
It's because Willow and Tara are here, he told himself. Otherwise, we'd be talking about it. Or, okay, probably not talking about it, but, you know, not ignoring it, either. There would be acknowledgment. Things would be acknowledged. But right now all Spike seems to be acknowledging is that the Bregni demons are making themselves scarce. Where are his priorities, I ask you? More important things are going on around here. Like blow jobs. And dodged kisses. And oddly avoidy vampires who won't make eye contact.
When Spike declared the Bregni hunt a loss for the night, Willow piped up that Xander could walk her and Tara home, and Spike simply shrugged and waved a hand in a vague salute before heading off to do who knows what.
Off to hang out at loud talky places where I won't phone him on his cell phone, even if last time he came over afterward. Because I'm not desperate. Nope. Not desperate. Ahh, sweet, sweet denial.
Willow and Tara were unusually quiet on the walk to the house. When they got to the door, Xander started to offer goodnight hugs, but Willow gave him a look. It was the kind of look that deserved a capital L. It was a Look. It said, "You're not going anywhere, buster."
Xander heaved a resigned sigh and followed them into the house. Tara excused herself to go upstairs and do something -- do what wasn't entirely clear, since she sort of mumbled and then practically vanished, though you shouldn't say things like that about witches, since there might in fact be actual vanishing -- and Willow dragged him into the kitchen and sat him down at the table. When she turned the Look on him again, Xander slouched and looked away.
Willow sat across the table from him and looked at him worriedly. "What's up with you tonight?"
Here I am making my innocent face. "What do you mean?"
Willow frowned her cutest little "I'm worried about you" frown. He'd been seeing it since kindergarten, and it never failed to melt his heart. "I'm worried about you." Apparently the innocent face failed in its mission. Maybe I should practice it in the mirror or something. Yes, because I am not already enough of a crazy person ... I now need to set aside time from my busy schedule in order to make faces at myself in the bathroom mirror. A sure sign of sanity.
"Nothing to worry about. I'm right as rain. But, you know, how right is rain, anyway? People tend to want to avoid rain, right? So wouldn't rain be more accurately described as wrong? But nobody says 'wrong as rain'. Huh."
But Willow just watched him, her worried face still worried.
"What? I'm not acting funny or anything. I'm just me. Just the same old Xander, with the knife-throwing and the carpentrying and the sometimes inappropriate humor." He smiled his best innocent smile. It was no more successful than the innocent face had been.
"You were really quiet during patrol. And you kept staring at Spike."
What? She noticed? Did Spike notice? Because that would just make my night complete. He's blowing me off -- unflatteringly soon after I blew him, I might add -- and everybody notices that I'm staring at him like some kind of slack-jawed love-sick moron?
Willow watched him, still looking concerned and hopeful, obviously waiting for him to open up and tell her what was going on, but he couldn't tell her. No way. But then he realized he could tell her part of it, and it might actually be kind of nice to get her opinion.
"I tried to kiss Spike last night," he said all in a rush before he could chicken out.
"What?" Willow was grinning now, bouncing a bit in her chair. "You kissed Spike?"
Xander raised a hand in a sort of traffic stop motion, his mouth twisted in a rueful mockery of a smile. "I didn't say 'kissed', Will. I said 'tried to kiss'. Big difference."
Willow looked confused, which was sort of flattering, actually. So it doesn't occur to her that Spike might actively avoid being kissed by me. Nice to know that somebody considers me kissable. Even if she does happen to be lesbian. Maybe if Spike was lesbian, I'd have better luck. Willow probably has a spell for that, but this train of thought is just getting wronger by the second. Willow was still watching him expectantly.
Xander sighed and went for honesty. "I tried to kiss him last night. He dodged."
Willow frowned deeply. "Maybe it was a misunderstanding. You know, like he thought you were reaching past him to get the tv remote and so he thought he was getting out of your way. That sort of thing."
"No, he definitely dodged. He couldn't've been dodgier."
Willow seemed to still be having trouble absorbing this information. "Why? I mean, what was the situation? Why did you finally decide to kiss him all of a sudden? Something must have changed, right? Like ... whatever it was you didn't want to tell me before."
She looked hurt again, and Xander felt a pang of guilt. But he wasn't going to discuss kinky sex antics with Willow. It would be kind of like showing porny pictures to a nun. It was just wrong. Not that Willow was a nun. He was perfectly aware that she and Tara were un-nun-like, though he tried not to imagine the details ... well, except when he did, but those times were few, and not recent. And never to be mentioned.
No, Willow wasn't a nun, but she still had a sort of innocence to her that made kinky sex seem like something that just shouldn't ever ever be discussed. Ever. Just telling her about the time-loop sex had made her blush so hard he'd worried she might burst a blood vessel or something.
So he went for vagueness. It had never worked before, but he was eternally hopeful.
"He ... said some stuff ... about sex" -- which was true, since there was no denying that Spike had been talking, and that sex had been the topic, he was just leaving out the picky little detail that there had been a naked penis involved -- "and it sort of led me to believe that ... I don't know ... that he might be interested." See? Vague, and yet not lying. The whole "suck my cock" thing does seem to indicate that Spike might be interested in more than friendship. Right?
"You talked about sex?" Xander nodded, hoping Willow wasn't going to ask for details. Please let the vagueness work! Please let the vagueness work! "What sort of stuff did he say?" Damn. The vagueness never works.
"Just ... stuff." He knew he was blushing and swore to himself he would work on his tan this year. Living on the Hellmouth, what were the chances he'd live long enough to get skin cancer? The blush camouflage would be worth the risk.
Willow nodded slowly, watching him. "Ooookay. Stuff. He said 'stuff' about sex, and you thought this meant he wanted you to kiss him?"
"It's not like I really thought it through all that clearly. It wasn't like a 'sex equals liplock' decision in my head. It was just ... something finally happened, you know? I've been waiting for months, ever since the time loop, and it finally happened."
Willow sat up a bit straighter and looked like she'd had some kind of realization. "The sex stuff he said ... was it time loop sex stuff? Did you finally tell him?"
Xander looked away.
"Wait. You tried to kiss him, and you haven't even told him the truth yet?" Her voice was filled with disappointment and disapproval. Ouch.
He looked at her again, wanting her to understand. "It isn't that simple. I want to tell him, but I don't want to mess things up. We're friends now, you know?" He desperately wanted her to say it was okay. Even though he knew it wasn't. He knew he was making excuses, and that it sucked.
"You have to tell him, Xander. Friends shouldn't keep secrets from friends." Her face showed that she wasn't just thinking of Spike, here.
"You've gotta admit, though, that this isn't your normal 'I broke the toaster oven' sort of secret. This is an 'I had sex with you and you don't remember it' secret. Kind of on a different level of secretness."
Willow frowned. "You're the one who broke the toaster oven?"
"What?" Uh oh. Innocent face again.
"You did! You broke our toaster oven!" Damn. Innocent face just never works. Definitely need to practice it in the mirror.
"Hey, I fixed it!"
"Yeah, but you acted all surprised, like 'Oh, the toaster oven is broken? How'd that happen?'"
"Can we focus on Spike and his finely honed kiss-dodging ability?"
Willow pouted, "Sorry. I'm just feeling some toaster oven betrayal."
Okay, hello, defensiveness. "Wait, is this some kind of little-known rule? Friends don't let friends break toaster ovens? Because I fixed the toaster oven with my manly powers of fixingness. And I'd hate to have my friend credentials revoked over a rarely-used household appliance."
"We use it all the time. It's good for frozen waffles."
"And again I notice that we have strayed from the crucial subject here. Which is Spike." He looked down at his hands, miserable.
They were both quiet for a minute. He looked back up to meet her eyes, and she didn't look upset anymore. Good old Willow, queen of forgiveness. What would I do without you?
She said gently, "Back when you first told me about the stuff during the time loop, you said you wanted to romance Spike, right? So ... what happened to that plan? Isn't Spike worth a bit of romancing?"
Xander looked down at the table. "I just ... I suck at the romance thing. I mean, I've never really romanced anybody before, and Spike isn't exactly an easy guy to romance. What, am I supposed to bring him flowers and candy? Serenade him under the stars? Because outside of cheesy movies, I haven't really seen a lot of romancing to learn from. And I don't think Spike would appreciate a candlelit dinner and a dozen roses."
Willow smiled slightly. "Maybe he'd surprise you."
"Oh, I'm sure he would. But I doubt it would be a pleasant surprise." He imagined the sheer extent of potential Spike mockery and cringed inside.
"How can you know unless you try?"
Xander stared at the table, not replying. A couple of minutes passed. Then Willow spoke again.
"Xander, Spike's your friend, right?" He nodded uhappily. "Well, as your friend, he deserves better than this. You have to tell him about the time loop."
That brought Xander's head up. "But, Will, if I tell him right now, while everything is all messed up, with the kiss dodge and everything, then I might lose him even as a friend. I don't know what he's thinking right now, you know? I need to figure that stuff out, first. Make sure he knows that I'm his friend, that I care about him."
Willow was watching him with sad eyes. "You've spent the past few months making sure he knew we all care about him, Xander. You've worked really hard to make things better for him, to get to be friends with him, to make him feel better about himself. And that's really admirable. You've done a lot for him, even if he doesn't know. But that doesn't mean you can't move forward. And it doesn't make it okay to lie to him."
Xander flinched. "I'm not lying to him. I just ... haven't told him everything."
Her voice was gentle but firm when she said, "It's the same thing."
He looked at her, feeling lost. "I don't know how. I mean, Spike and me, we're buds now, but we don't really sit around talking about our feelings, you know? Our friendship is more of the WWF-watching, beer-drinking, smack-talking variety. Not the deep sharing variety."
Willow reached across the table and took his hand, squeezing gently. "I have faith in you, Xander. You can do it."
* * *
On his drive home, Xander's head was swimming with all the things he "should" do to fix things with Spike.
Find out how Spike is feeling.
Make sure he knows we're really friends.
Tell him about the time loop.
Romance him, whatever that means.
Not to mention the whole sex thing, which I didn't tell Willow about but which I still need to figure out on my own.
Too many things that needed doing. Too many things to think about. And all of it seemed impossible. He didn't even know where to start.
As he lay in bed, waiting to fall asleep, Xander imagined a perfect world in which Spike knocked on the door and strode into the room, all black-wearing and attitude-having. His imaginary Spike didn't use hair gel, though, and so his hair was sort of fluffy and messed up. He was carrying a bouquet of red roses.
"I've been wanting to tell you something," said fluffy imaginary Spike.
"Really?" replied Xander, standing in the living room in his bare feet. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and imaginary Spike's imaginary eyes blatantly admired his naked pecs. Xander flexed.
"You're my best mate," imaginary Spike said, walking closer, coming to a stop only inches away from Xander, "but you're more than that."
"I am?" Xander breathed, looking into imaginary Spike's imaginary blue eyes.
"Yeah. I've been wanting to do this for a long time." And then imaginary Spike reached out and pulled him close -- the roses had conveniently disappeared somewhere -- and kissed him deep and slow. When he pulled away, Xander just stared.
"We had sex during the time loop," Xander blurted out.
Imaginary Spike just smiled. "Good to know. Let's have sex again now."
By the time imaginary Spike had gotten his imaginary boots off, Xander was asleep.
The next day at work, Xander made so many mistakes his boss threatened to send him home until he got a grip. Of course, Walt didn't word it that politely. Language on the site tended to be a bit more colorful than among the Scoobies.
But then Spike could potty mouth with the best -- or worst -- of 'em.
And that was what was distracting Xander so badly that he short-cutted a dozen 2-by-4s by three inches each ... just enough so that they'd all need to be replaced. Well, it wasn't exactly Spike's dirty-talking that was distracting, though too much thought on that topic was a little too interesting as well, given recent events.
Basically, it was just Spike.
Or, rather, the fact that he'd be seeing Spike for patrol that night, and he had a jumble of ideas clanging around in his head about how he should act and what he should say and even -- god this was humiliating -- what he should wear.
He was leaning toward the solid green pullover. Willow said it brought out his eyes.
But it wasn't just patrol that had him so nervous. Today was Friday. That meant the movies. Which now seemed decidedly date-like, even though he and Spike had gone to the Sunnydale Majestic's Midnight Creature Feature every Friday night for the past two months. Well, every Friday night except when they were distracted by Sunnydale's real-life creature features.
They'd first started going because a midnight horror movie in Sunnydale seemed like some kind of sick joke. They'd speculated that it would be a vampire feeding ground, and they'd been right. They caught a few fledges there every Friday while they watched the movie, and they always had a great time cracking jokes and heckling and throwing popcorn at the screen during the most ridiculous bits. It was one of the highlights of Xander's week.
It had always been a buddy thing in the past, but with everything that was going on, it now felt like an opportunity for something more. Going to the movies together was a date-y thing to do, right? Sitting in the dark together, holding hands, sharing popcorn, leaning in close to whisper.
Of course, Spike tended to talk out loud during the movies -- often even shouting at the screen -- so he was unlikely to lean in close to whisper anything. And it was pretty hard to imagine Spike holding hands with anybody, let alone another guy.
But the possibilities still had Xander nervous enough to fumble around all day as if he'd never worked a table saw before.
When they closed up the site at 4 -- one of the few nice things about starting work at the construction worker's butt-crack of dawn -- Xander headed home for a couple hours of supposed relaxation before meeting everybody over at the Summers house for patrol.
He changed his clothes eleven times before he settled on the green pullover.
It's times like these when I actually miss Cordy, because if nothing else she always seems to know what clothes to wear. But even she might be stumped by this whole "uncertainly date-like double feature of patrol-and-movie with a potentially gay vampire" situation. Not exactly an occasion for which Hallmark cards exist ... or Cosmo fashion tips. Not to mention the "come clean about the time loop" optional adjunct to the evening. And the potential "kinky gay sex" nightcap.
He thought briefly about phoning Cordy in L.A. to ask her for possible-gay-vampire-date fashion advice, but immediately dismissed the idea. How was he supposed to explain the situation? On the other hand, Willow already knew most of the situation, but Willow -- wonderful though she was, and cute as a button, and wise in many matters -- was not someone from whom to seek fashion tips. Even Xander knew that much. He didn't plan to meet Spike tonight wearing anything fuzzy. Or corduroy. And no hats.
He picked tiny specks of lint off his green pullover and waited for sunset.
* * *
Xander parked his car in front of the Summers house -- Buffy's house, his mind whispered, but he didn't listen, it still felt wrong, though maybe someday it would seem right again -- just as the sky was fading from sunset to darkness. Wiping his palms against his jeans, he walked up the steps and knocked, then opened the door without waiting. It was what they all did. Only the girls lived here, but it was in some ways home to all of them, in the same way the school library had once been home. It was where they gathered.
"Hello?" he called as he stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Nobody was in the living room.
But Willow came down the stairs almost immediately, smiling a smile that made Xander think, Uh oh. Whatever this is, I'm not going to like it.
"We aren't going on patrol tonight," Willow said, nervously fidgeting with the hem of her shirt, tugging and straightening in some sort of unnecessary dance. "Tara's sick."
Xander watched her. Obviously something else was going on. "Sick," he repeated dubiously.
Willow nodded quickly. "Yeah, she's sick. So you and Spike will have to go on your own tonight."
Xander rolled his eyes. So that's what this is all about. "Gosh, that's awfully convenient, Will. Yesterday you bug me to talk to Spike, and today you can't go on patrol?"
Willow's face looked a bit pink and her eyes got a bit shifty.
Should have known better than to try to pull one over on the Xan-Man. I've been seeing through your little white lies since kindergarten, missy.
"I just think it would be good if you got a chance to talk, you know, alone." Willow looked up at him and smiled, looking all hopeful and friend-like.
Before Xander could reply, he heard a knock on the door behind him and Spike stepped inside, commenting dryly, "Everybody's ready? Now that's one for the record books."
Willow glanced at Xander, then said quickly, "Actually, Tara and I aren't going to patrol tonight. She's not feeling well, and I don't want to leave her on her own."
Spike just shrugged, saying, "Don't really need the whole parade, at any rate. Think the Bregnis have skipped town. Nobody's seen hide nor hair of them for days now, and they aren't generally the shy type."
Willow brightened, her guilt alleviated. "Oh! Well, that's good!" She glanced back and forth between Spike and Xander ... and Xander wanted to cringe with embarrassment. Could she be any more obvious?
But Spike just looked at Xander and said, "Ready?"
Xander nodded numbly, and the next thing he knew they were on their way, Willow left behind to play doctor with Tara as much as she liked. As Xander turned to leave, Willow caught his eye and glanced meaningfully at Spike with a slight jerk of her head.
Sheesh. Bossy. Yes, I know I'm supposed to talk to Spike about all that stuff. Too much stuff, if you ask me, which you pretty much haven't. How am I supposed to cover everything at once? "Oh, Spike, hey, I don't just want to be friends, because I'm kind of maybe in love with you, and I know that might seem sudden, but it's not, because we also happen to have had sex repeatedly during the time loop and that's when I started feeling these feelings, which I never told you about because I was afraid you'd freak." Oh, yeah, I'm sure Spike would sweep me into his arms and declare his undead affection.
Xander looked around and realized that they'd been walking in the cemetery for a few minutes, and that he'd been lost in thought since they left the house.
Great way to start off the evening, Xanmeister. Ignore Spike completely. 'Cause that worked so well before the time loop. Yeah, great way to romance the guy.
So where should I start? Try to get with the romancing? Tell about the time loop? Subtly scope out what's going on in that bleach-blonde noggin'? Explain about the "just friends" thing from the other night?
Xander glanced at Spike, who was walking beside him, alert as always to everything around them. His coat billowed slightly behind him as he walked, and his profile was pale and sharp against the darkness. Xander cleared his throat. Here goes. He dove in without preamble. "You know, the other night, after the ... the stuff ... when I said you were my best friend ... I didn't really mean that the way it sounded..."
Spike looked at him and smirked. "No worries, Harris. I know we're mates. A bit of fun on the side doesn't change anything."
Xander deflated slightly. "It doesn't?"
Spike didn't reply, just kept walking, glancing around for potential danger. Xander had just opened his mouth to say something -- he hadn't yet decided exactly what that something would be, but it certainly would have been something suave and debonair, sort of Cary Grant-ish, something that would have made Spike immediately want to be more than mates-in-the-British-sense -- but before he could voice this irresistible suavosity, Spike reached out a hand and stopped Xander with a touch to his chest. Okay, that could have been a good sign, except for the fact that Spike wasn't looking at him. Spike was instead looking into the shadows between two nearby crypts. And now that they'd stopped walking, Xander could hear a sort of snuffling, crunching noise coming from that general vicinity.
Great. Monster time. Why does evil always have such crappy timing?
After Spike had killed the demon -- "What was that he was crunching over there? Wait. On second thought, the potential nightmares say I'm very okay with the not knowing." -- they continued walking, leaving the carcass hidden in some bushes.
They didn't say anything for a while.
So he said the sex games don't change anything. Well, that's good, right? That means we're still friends and he doesn't think I'm using him or anything like that. And who says everything has to change overnight, just because there was naked touchy-feely-ness? Maybe friends is okay for now. A good place to start, right? I just need to do the romancing thing. About which of course I'm completely non-clue-having. It's not like the library has books on romancing vampires. At least, I don't think they do. But maybe I'm wrong ... it is Sunnydale, after all. But when's the last time I visited a library for the purposes of librarying? Pretty much never. It's just not exactly a Xander-friendly environment, what with all the books and learning and stuff.
Wait. Why am I thinking about libraries? When has this ever been a Xander thought topic? It's just wrong on some basic, primordial level. The words "Xander" and "library" don't even belong in the same sentence. If it hadn't been for Giles and Buffy, I probably would never have stepped foot inside a library in my entire life. It was a source of pride, my successful learning-avoidance. So why do I have libraries on the brain?
Maybe I'm just not wanting to think about the stuff that's actually important. Like how to romance Spike. And how to tell him about the time loop sex without ruining everything. Because there's the whole problem with the non-clue-having.
But ... well ... maybe I can start out slow. Test the Spike waters.
"Hey, Spike, remember when I told you about the time loop?"
Spike looked over at him and raised an eyebrow, but looked forward again as he continued walking. "What brought this up?"
Okay. Not really an answer to the question, but the question was sort of on the rhetorical side anyway, so kind of not an issue. "I just ... there's some stuff that happened during the time loop ... stuff I haven't told you."
"Yeah?" Spike glanced over at him briefly, then looked away again, keeping an eye on the cemetery around them.
"Yeah. Like ... um ... we ... on one of the loops ... we ... we had coffee with Willow." Cop out!
Spike glanced at him again. "So?"
"So ... you don't feel betrayed or anything, right? I mean, that I didn't tell you earlier ... about having coffee with Willow?"
Spike went back to looking around them as they continued walking. "Don't need to know about every bloody detail, Xander."
"But ... but ... this was stuff you and I were doing ... together ... and I remember it, but you don't ... that doesn't feel weird to you?"
"Wasn't really me, now was it? Was some other Spike."
I never thought of it that way. So ... I guess I don't really need to tell him, then. Because it sort of wasn't really him. And he's pretty much said that I don't need to tell him. So there's no reason to mess things up now, when he doesn't even care if I tell him or not. Yeah. Cool. That's settled, then. So why do I feel like Willow isn't going to understand guy logic on this one? But I'm an independent man of independent thought, making an independent decision based on independence. And okay maybe a tiny bit of fear. But mostly independence. I don't have to do something, just because Willow thinks I should. Okay, so she's usually right about stuff like this ... but I can do what I want. Spike doesn't care, so this is fine.
Why does that all sound suspiciously like a pathetic attempt to convince myself?
No. Spike said he doesn't care. I should take him at his word, right? I mean, he wasn't talking specifically about sex during the time loop. But what applies to time-loop coffee drinking should also apply to time-loop sex having. Right? Right. So it's all good. It doesn't count as a secret anymore. And as a non-secret it becomes non-disclosure-requiring. No disclosure necessary. Nope. We have complete official alleviation of secret sex guilt.
So why do I still feel guilty?
"Xander?" A hand waved in front of Xander's face.
Xander jerked back, surprised, and looked at Spike. "What?"
Spike let his hand drop, but continued to watch him suspiciously. "You're acting off."
Xander shook his head. "Nope. Not off. I'm definitely on. I'm the On Guy. I'm the guy to call when onnage is required. I'm so on, you might even say I'm..."
Spike interrupted impatiently, "Well, then, let's get on with it, eh?"
Xander smiled at that. "Right. Get 'on' with it. Heh."
Spike winced, but started walking again. Xander caught up with him and they continued patrol with only minimal conversation. It wasn't a weird silence, though. It was pretty normal, just patrolling and keeping their eyes and ears aware to the night around them. It was just a pretty normal patrol.
A pretty normal Friday night patrol ... ending up at the Sunnydale Majestic for their standing weekly movie date.
Not a date, though. Not really.
* * *
They took their usual seats near the back of the theater, right on the center aisle ... prime real estate for vamp spotting and slaying. But once they were seated, Xander found himself fixated on how close Spike's knee was to touching his, how Spike's hand rested on his black-denimed thigh and was thus also close to Xander's blue-denimed thigh. There was chipped black polish on Spike's fingernails, and his hand was pale and slender.
This isn't a date. Spike isn't going to hold my hand and blow in my ear, even if we are sitting in the back of the theater like a couple of teenagers looking for somewhere to make out. We're just friends. Friends who've messed around a bit. And maybe more, if I can manage not to fuck it up. So ... romancing somebody. You just ... do nice things for them, right?
Xander sat silently, staring at the blank screen, supposedly waiting for the movie to start, but actually trying to work up the nerve to make some kind of move. He remained frozen in place during the "previews" -- which were actually just old trailers for random cheesy horror movies -- but as the main feature started up, he licked his lips nervously and shifted his weight.
"I'll be right back," he whispered, and then leapt out of his seat, striding up the center aisle and out to the lobby.
When he came back, he held a box of Snow Caps in one hand, a box of Red Hots in the other. As he fell into his seat again, he dropped the red box into Spike's lap.
In the flickering light from the screen, Spike peered at him through narrowed eyes.
Xander hoped his blush was hidden by the darkness of the theater, but he just said defensively, "What? I thought you liked Red Hots."
"Yeah. But you bought 'em for me." Spike was, as usual, using his normal voice instead of whispering. The guy two rows ahead of them turned around and shushed loudly.
Xander whispered, "So? You never complain when I buy you beers at The Bronze."
"Blokes buy each other beers, Xander. Blokes don't generally buy each other candy."
The guy in front of them shushed even louder this time. Xander slouched, feeling wrongly accused, as usual. It wasn't his fault Spike had bad movie manners!
"Jeez, Spike. It's not a bottle of Chanel No. 5, okay? It's just a box of Red Hots. No big. If you don't want it, give it here. I'll eat them."
Spike hesitated a moment, then said cautiously, "You don't like Red Hots."
Spike knows what kind of candy I like! That's definitely a good sign. I mean, okay, so he's giving me shit about the whole candy thing, but his knowing what I like must mean something. But aloud he only said, "Well, then, Mister Difficult, I guess you'll just have to eat them yourself, won't you?"
Spike was quiet a moment, eyeing Xander suspiciously, but eventually he turned to watch the screen again. His voice was actually reasonably quiet when he said, "Fine. Just watch the film, and keep an eye on that fledge in front of us."
"What? Fledge? That guy's a vampire? The shushing guy? You can tell from back here?"
Spike gave him a funny look. "Yeah, the fangs and yellow eyes were a bit of a clue."
Oh. Guess I was kind of distracted. "He's sitting there watching a movie in game-face? What kind of idiot does that?"
"One that isn't gonna survive long."
"So ... should we go and..."
"Nah." Spike shrugged and settled comfortably, stretching his legs out to the side and propping his feet on the row in front of them a few seats to the right, crossing one boot over the other. He opened the box of Red Hots and popped a few in his mouth, keeping his eyes on the werewolf transformation happening on the theater's large screen. "Might as well let him watch the flick first."
* * *
Despite his certainty that Spike wouldn't actually hold his hand, Xander found himself keeping his hand accessible, resting either on his knee or on the arm rest, where Spike could easily brush against him if he so chose.
He didn't chose, of course. There was no chosing. Xander was not, after all, the chosen one.
There was some accidental brushing, though, and every glancing touch sent a jolt through Xander. He was hyper-aware of Spike's every movement in the dark.
But Spike seemed completely oblivious, calmly watching the film without a glance in Xander's direction.
Spike's a smart guy. He must notice that something's up. Um ... not that kind of "up," not at the moment, anyway. I mean, he must notice that I'm interested. Maybe he just isn't into the public displays of affection thing. Maybe he's just being discreet. Sunnydale doesn't exactly have its own gay pride parade.
A little part of his mind whispered, Spike? Discreet? In what universe? But he chose to ignore it. Because discretion was the only explanation he'd come up with that made any sense. Except the obvious.
Which was that Spike had no interest in him whatsoever.
Except the obvious.
* * *
When they left the theater after dusting two fledges -- including Shush Guy -- Spike put his hands in the pockets of his duster and they walked toward Xander's car. It was unclear how the evening was going to end. Xander kind of hoped that Spike wanted to spend more time with him, but there hadn't been any actual discussion on the subject.
But when conversation started, it wasn't quite what he'd been expecting or hoping for. Out of nowhere, Spike said, "Don't need you buying me bloody Red Hots, Xander."
Xander blinked. "Uh ... why? I just thought you might..."
But Spike interrupted him, turning to face him with a scowl. "Look. Don't need sweet talk to get my knickers off. I'm not your bloody prom date and I'm not lookin' to cuddle in front of the fire, listenin' to Barry Manilow. Let's skip the pretense."
"It's not pretense..."
"You White Hats probably think it's all gotta be sweet and romantic, yeah? Well, sod that. You aren't half bad at sucking cock. Seem to like it, too. So we both get off, yeah? Don't need the romantic trappings."
"But don't you ... don't you ever sort of ... want the 'romantic trappings'?"
Spike sighed and turned to face him squarely. "Xander, if you want a girlfriend, find yourself a bloody girl. If you want to fuck, then let's go."
Xander stared at him. "Just like that?"
Spike stared back. "Just like that."
Xander hesitated. It sounded so cold, so impersonal.
But it isn't impersonal, not really, because Spike is still my friend ... we still know each other pretty darn well. So it isn't impersonal, exactly ... it just isn't romantic. It's not a love thing. Yet. But can I really do that? Have sex with Spike, even if it's only sex? Do I even want to do that? Because that would just be asking to get hurt, right? How big a fool would I have to be to do that? Okay, yeah, I'm a plenty big enough fool. But can I really turn this down? I want it. And maybe it might turn into something more. Eventually. Maybe. Can I really walk away from that?
Xander didn't realize how long he'd been lost in thought until Spike's voice interrupted to say dryly, "Let me know when you figure it out, eh, Harris?" And then he walked away, leaving Xander standing at the driver's side door of his car, still confused.
The metal of the door handle was cold against his hand. He stood there and held it a moment, still watching the place where Spike had vanished into the dark. But even he wasn't stupid enough to stand around in Sunnydale in the middle of the night. He opened the door and got into the car, then drove home in a sort of fog and fell into bed still fully dressed, minus only the shoes.
It took him a long time to fall asleep.