The next morning, Xander called in sick. If ever there was a time for a mental health day, this was it. Plus, the guys on site would have ribbed him mercilessly about the bruise on his jaw, which was fading into a marbled medley of green, yellow, and some still-fading swirls of red and purple.
I'm a rainbow of fruit flavors, Xander thought, watching himself in the mirror while he brushed his teeth.
By the time he'd shaved -- very carefully -- and showered, he realized that he'd been stupid to leave Spike's crypt in the middle of the fight, just because Spike got mean.
Spike gets mean when he's hurt. I knew that going in.
Spike also gets mean when he's scared. I knew that, too.
So Spike's being an asshole because he's scared? Well, get over it. I mean, you don't see the Cowardly Lion popping Dorothy or the Scarecrow in the nose. But, then, the Cowardly Lion wasn't a demon ... I think.
From what I read in the journal -- not that I should have been reading his journal, but since I already did and got caught, there's no sense in pretending I didn't -- I guess he doesn't want to be some kind of loser schmuck. Hey, I get that. I've been there. I've had the "no more Mr. Butt-Monkey" moment. I can relate. Of course, Spike's having more of a "no more Mr. Love-Monkey" moment. But, still, basically the same thing. No more monkeys of any kind. We're both emphatically anti-monkey.
Problem is, how am I supposed to convince him that I want him to be my Mr. Love-Monkey?
Or ... uh ... something that doesn't sound quite that stupid.
He just sort of puttered around the house all day -- maybe he should have gone to work after all, if only to distract himself -- and watched way too much tv. By the time it was getting near dark, his brain felt like it was made of Jello. It could've been the blow to the head, but Xander was pretty sure it was just the result of a Surprise By Design marathon on the Discovery Channel. He'd spent half the day squinting at Robert Verdi and thinking, "At least I'm not that gay. I'm just ... I'm a manly kind of gay. A muscular construction worker kind of gay, not a pink-wearing interior designer kind of gay."
He refused to admit -- even to himself -- that he'd actually used the phrase "window treatment" in his own thoughts while contemplating the blinds and wondered if curtains might look nicer.
Next thing you know, I'll be wearing a mauve scarf tied jauntily around my neck.
And, anyway, if you're bi, you don't have to wear scarves. I think that's in the rules somewhere. "No scarf-wearing required. Window treatments optional."
It was almost dark now. Time for patrol. As he was putting on his shoes and looking around for his keys, the phone rang.
* * *
Apparently Spike had decided that he and Xander should patrol separately, "to cover more ground." Of course, Xander only knew this because Willow called him up to tell him.
He looked at the piece of paper next to the phone, where he'd scribbled Spike's cell phone number.
He didn't dial.
If Spike had wanted to talk to him, he would have called, instead of passing a message through Willow. And this sudden decision not to patrol together didn't exactly inspire cheery confidence, either.
It was pretty obvious Spike wanted nothing to do with him, at least for right now. So he should just give it some time, right?
But is that actually going to help, or just make things worse? Can things even get worse? Well, okay, if Spike was actually scheming to kill me, then that would be worse.
Wait. He isn't scheming to kill me, is he?
Under the assumption that a Spike-planned homicide was not imminent, Xander went out and patrolled by himself.
And, as for the rest ... well ... he waited.
* * *
Spike assiduously avoided him. The first time they happened to pass each other on the front steps of the girls' house, Xander started to say something, maybe something about needing to talk, or being sorry, or you're a real jerk for hitting me, or something, but it didn't matter what would have come out of his mouth, because he didn't get a chance. Spike just shouldered past him with a scowl.
They didn't see each other again for more than a week.
Valentine's Day eventually rolled around, and Dawn squealed delightedly over the teddy bear Spike gave her. Xander watched for a chance to get Spike alone, to try to say something, to try to get them talking again at least, but Spike never left Dawn's side, pretending delight in Dawn's happiness and complete obliviousness to Xander's presence in the room.
Hell, maybe he isn't pretending. Maybe he really has forgotten I'm even here.
Xander decided to spend Valentine's Day with a Hungry Man frozen dinner at home in front of the tv. The girls had invited him to stay for pizza "with the gang," but he just wasn't up to it, especially with Spike there so pointedly ignoring him.
He'd rather sulk on his own, thank you very much.
It was almost worse than the Valentine's Day when every woman in Sunnydale became homicidally obsessed with him. Almost, but not quite. At least this year nobody was chasing him with an axe.
* * *
Time passed. Spike couldn't avoid him entirely -- the group was too social for that -- but they rarely spoke, and never more than bland small talk.
When Willow asked, Xander admitted that he'd told Spike about the time loop. "And it ruined everything, just like I knew it would. Before, we were at least friends. Now, we're not even that."
* * *
He wasn't using the dildo anymore. Butt plugs, either. He'd pretty much fallen back into the familiar, efficient, no-nonsense shower-jerk of his teenage years. Anytime he thought about the rest of it, he remembered Spike spitting, "I don't give a flying fuck about your slut ass." Any time he even considered masturbating with a sex toy, he couldn't help thinking "slut ass."
It's not like I'm a porn star or something. It's not like it's the Grand Canyon down there. I should know ... I've put stuff in there and I know it's tight. And when Spike was in me, it hurt. I mean, he didn't spend all that much time getting me ready, and so of course it hurt some at the beginning. So it's not like he got his dick in there and was just thrashing around in limitless space. It just didn't hurt as much as if ... well ... as if nothing had ever been up there.
I do not have slut ass.
But the sex toys stayed in the shoebox under the bed, and he found himself feeling vaguely ashamed of his previous masturbatory exploits. Now, in retrospect, it all seemed sordid and embarrassing.
I do not have slut ass.
He tried not to think about it.
He just jerked off fast and mindless every morning, his hand slippery with the shower soap, and if he occasionally remembered the look in Spike's eyes that night at the club, and it if always made him come, well, that was nobody's business.
* * *
It couldn't continue on indefinitely like that. The girls couldn't help meddling, and Dawn in particular pestered Xander -- and probably also Spike -- with so many questions and concerns that Spike eventually agreed that they should patrol together again.
And once we're alone on patrol, he'll have to talk to me, right? Or at least listen. Well, I suppose he wouldn't have to even do that, because he's pretty good at not listening. But at least there'll be a chance.
Xander heard a shriek of excitement and looked up from his thoughts to see Dawn jumping up and down like she'd won the lottery. Xander looked around in confusion. "What'd I miss?"
Dawn grinned at him, her hands clasped in front of her. "Spike says I can patrol with you guys tonight!"
Xander felt his eyebrows fly up so fast they were almost catapulted into outer space. Possibly into orbit. Spike was going to let Dawn come on patrol? Something he had privately admitted he had no intention of ever doing? Why?
It took a minute for it to click.
Right. Then he doesn't have to be alone with me. And there's no possibility of talking. Pretty sneaky. And kind of ... sad.
Dawn didn't seem to care about the reasons, though. She just rushed off to grab her sweater and touch up her lip gloss -- she'd obviously learned her most important lessons about slaying from Big Sis -- and then they'd be ready to leave.
Spike stood near the door, avoiding eye contact, looking pissed off, tossing his knife and catching it, toss and catch, toss and catch, in a way Xander hadn't seen him do in months.
When Xander walked toward him, Spike opened the door and stepped outside, as if to wait in the fresh air. As if he wasn't just trying to get further away from Xander.
Oh wonderful. Let's get this party started, shall we?
* * *
Aside from the tension and Dawn's almost constant excited talking, patrol was pretty standard. A few fledges, a toothless blue demon that cowered and begged so pitifully that they let him go, and a few stupid human Sunnydale residents walking around alone at night.
Don't these people ever learn? If you want a midnight stroll, drive until you're at least a few miles from the Hellmouth before you start. Sheesh.
They were in the Peaceful Meadows cemetery when things started to go south.
They ran into two of the Bregni demons Spike had been talking about for weeks, and they were just as big, ugly, and pointy-toothed and sharp-clawed as Spike had said they were. And really really strong, too. Spike yelled to Dawn to hide, and got knocked down by a Bregni while his head was turned. Xander started throwing his knives, trying to be as fast as possible without losing accuracy, and he got one of the demons right in the center of the chest -- where Spike had said their hearts were located -- and it fell over like a giant ugly sack of potatoes.
Spike was still struggling with the other and they'd travelled quite a distance away while fighting, but he seemed to be getting the upper-hand. But then suddenly they were rolling on the ground and the demon was straining downward, sharp teeth dripping with something Xander didn't want to think about.
Xander noticed Spike's knife had gotten knocked away during the scuffle, so he picked it up and tossed it several feet to Spike, who caught it without even looking. A shove and a sort of gross-sounding twist, and the demon collapsed on top of him. Xander helped him throw the body aside, and they stood there looking at each other. Dawn popped up from behind a tombstone, dusting herself off.
Everything was quiet. Dawn walked over to peer curiously at the demon Spike had killed. Spike was sharply kicking the thing in the leg, but once he was sure it was dead, he stalked off a ways, wiping his knife off on the denim of his thigh and then flipping it and catching. Flipping and catching. The silver of the knife blade glinted in the moonlight. It was so familiar.
Xander looked away.
Xander walked back to retrieve his throwing knives from the second demon's body and from the ground around him. Some distance away, Dawn was still standing over the demon Spike had killed, fascinated, murmuring, "So gross!"
Tilting his head to mimic Dawn's curious posture, Xander looked down at the demon at his feet and quipped, "Man, this thing has more teeth than the entire Osmond family!"
Dawn turned to look at him and giggled, but as she turned her head Xander saw another Bregni emerge from behind a crypt only a few feet behind her.
"Dawn! Get out of the way!" Xander yelled, and he started running toward her, throwing knives as he went. Unfortunately, he couldn't aim worth shit when he was running, and so he didn't get in any good shots. Dawn just stood there, frozen, until Xander got to her and shoved her onto the ground. He had another knife in his hand as quick as possible and this one hit, but didn't kill the damn thing, which had forgotten all about Dawn and was charging at Xander instead.
Behind him, he heard the scuffling, smacking, crashing noises of another fight. Probably Spike. Apparently there had been more Bregnis around than they'd realized, and he wondered fleetingly how many Spike was fighting. On the ground, Dawn whimpered. Xander felt sharp pain and thought, "Oh, that'll mean bandages tomorrow," and then he lifted, apparently weightless, into the air, with the sound of two voices screaming his name, and then he was flying.
And then there was nothing.
* * *
He felt like he'd been doing a Dad impression, but couldn't remember the actual drinking. He had a doozy of a headache, though, and the world felt swirly and unstable, like when he was a kid and he and Willow would look up at the blue sky and spin around and around and around until they fell down on the grass of her back lawn, laughing. He didn't particularly feel like laughing, though. Ralphing, maybe, but not laughing.
Am I drunk?
His eyes also seemed unusually reluctant to open. He'd had his share of mornings -- usually following particularly eventful late-night patrols -- when he didn't want to open his eyes to face the day, but this was worse. His head didn't feel right.
Also, everything smelled wrong.
And there were weird sounds.
When he was finally able to pry his eyes open, he squinted at the whiteness of the walls, the ceiling, the bed. White everywhere.
But just to the left, sitting in a chair with one hand resting limply on the edge of what Xander now realized must be his hospital bed, head slumped forward, chin resting against his chest, eyes closed as if he'd fallen asleep upright without realizing it, was Spike.