Late Night Double Feature

Kimberly A

13 Storm

They didn't talk much on the walk home. It was cold outside, and Xander was wishing they'd brought his car. Walking down the street with no shirt on, he shivered, and without a word Spike tossed him the leather coat. Xander put it on, momentarily jarred by the lack of body heat.

Normally, a guy gives you his jacket, and it's all warm and toasty inside. Well, I mean, not that guys give me their jackets a lot. Well, ever. But, you know, like when somebody gets off the couch and you nab their seat and it's all warm and toasty from their butt heat.

Come to think of it, that's kind of gross.

Every time he glanced at Spike, he saw only profile. Spike never turned to look at him. Spike had a very attractive profile, come to think of it. All sharp angles and soft lips.

Really soft lips.

Does he use Chapstick? Or are soft lips a vamp thing? Not that I'm going to go around doing an undead lip-lock survey or anything, but it's weird. It's weird that a guy more than a hundred years old, a dead guy…it's weird that he has soft lips like a girl.

Spike just strode along at his usual clip, making Xander scurry to keep up, like a little kid trotting alongside a grownup.

And that's just wrong, because I'm taller than he is. He should be the one scurrying, right? But Spike never scurries. He strides. He stalks. He even, upon occasion, struts. But no scurrying. And that's just not fair. Why should I always have to be the scurrier? I'm a big guy. I shouldn't scurry.

Nonetheless, he scurried. And as they got closer and closer to the apartment, Xander began to get more and more nervous. Things had been intense at the club, but he still hadn't gotten a chance to really talk to Spike. And after what happened at the club, it seemed even more important to come clean.

"Hey, Spike, I need to tell you about something that happened during the time loop…"

"Hey, Spike, remember how I said you were the only guy I'd ever been with? Well, that's true, but it's complicated. See, during the time loop…"

"Hey, Spike, I know you're probably wondering why I volunteered for the spontaneous blood donation…"

"Hey, Spike, I know this probably seems like it's coming out of nowhere, but I've actually been in love with you since the time loop, because a lot of stuff happened that I sort of haven't mentioned…"

When they got to the building, Xander found his door and put the key in the lock, trying to breathe slow and calm, ready to launch the conversation as soon as they were inside. It was long past time.

But as he opened the door, Spike hustled him inside and closed the door behind them, turning the lock. And then he had Xander pushed up against the wall, looking him straight in the eye.

So much for the calm profile of a moment before. Now Spike looked half-wild, less controlled than Xander had ever seen him before. He'd seen him pissed off, but never this shocked vulnerability. This openness, as if his protective shell had shattered and the real Spike was suddenly revealed. As if some invisible wall had crumbled and fallen silently away.

Maybe now he would listen.

"Hey, Spike, I want to…um…well, there's this thing I've been wanting to talk to you about…"

And then Spike's mouth was on his and relatively soon afterward words seemed really really unimportant. He tried to think, really he did, but it just wasn't physically possible with Spike kissing him like that.

Spike pulled away just enough to push the leather coat off Xander's shoulders, down his arms, past his hands, until it crumpled in a heap on the floor and Xander's body was once again bared to his gaze.

He leaned in to kiss Xander's lips again, just once, a moist soft press of flesh, and then he pulled away and brought his hands up to rest on Xander's shoulders, leaning away to trace Xander's chest and belly and arms and neck and face with a light touch, his eyes following his hands, staring as if he had never seen anything so wondrous. His fingers traced – once, twice, again and again – over the white bandages, as if the cuts beneath were some sort of magnet, drawing his hand, as if the cuts were some sort of touchstone, giving him courage or reassurance.

He didn't bark out any orders, didn't demand dirty talk, didn't do anything but touch, and kiss, and look at Xander with wide dark eyes.

When he pulled his t-shirt off and moved close again, bringing their bare chests together, the white bandage on Xander's nipple rasped between them, the small sound seeming magnified in the heady silence. The cuts didn't hurt, just stung a little, and that stinging was actually making Xander even more turned on, reminding him of Spike's tongue on his skin in the bright light of the club, that blonde head bent over his body as if in prayer.

Xander groaned.

When Spike reached down to unfasten Xander's jeans, it was a revelation. Spike had never undressed him, never touched him like this, with this gentle urgency, this needful intimacy. Xander stepped out of his jeans and kicked them aside, then fell to his knees and rubbed his face against the front of Spike's jeans. Spike hissed out a surprised breath and closed his eyes, his hands coming to rest in Xander's hair.

It was different from the other times. Better. And when Spike's jeans were opened, fallen to the floor, when Xander had taken him in, with the taste of Spike's skin and pre-come on his tongue, Xander found himself wondering if it was really true…if he was the one with the power. He thought of everything he and Spike had done and realized that he'd always trusted Spike to stop if he said no. He'd always trusted Spike not to really hurt him, and not just because of the chip. He'd trusted Spike. He'd always known that everything would stop if he said no. That, in a weird way, when it mattered, Spike would do what Xander said.

And so…maybe the power really had been his all along.

Was that why Spike had been acting so weird? Was Spike really truly scared? The idea seemed ridiculous…except…during the time loop he'd seemed…maybe…

Somehow they ended up on the couch, lying full-length on it, making out and rubbing against each other like teenagers. Spike pressed his face to Xander's neck, behind his ear, and murmured, "You smell good. Always smell so good…" And then they were kissing again.

But things could only go so far on the couch without some potentially painful gymnastics, and Xander's back twinged enough at work as it was.

I'm no spring chicken anymore. Not even a winter chicken. Or a summer chicken. No kind of chicken at all. Nope. Not chicken. So if I'm not chicken, then why am I still here and not dragging Spike off to bed like I want to?

Xander reluctantly extricated himself and stood up, smiling hesitantly. He reached out to take Spike's hand, but Spike jerked sharply away, frowning.

Guess Spike just isn't a hand-holding kind of guy. I probably shouldn't be surprised.

"Come on," Xander said quietly instead, and turned to walk into the bedroom, hoping Spike would follow and that dragging would not actually be required.

When he got to the bedside table, he turned around to see that Spike had indeed trailed after him and now hovered uncertainly near the foot of the bed. Xander opened the drawer, took out a small bottle of lube, and walked over to put it into Spike's hand.

Spike stared at it as if he'd never seen the substance before, then looked up into Xander's face as if he were searching for something.

"I want to," Xander said quietly. "I want you to…" He didn't know how to finish that sentence. "Fuck me" sounded too crass for this new thing they were doing. "Have sex with me" sounded too clinical and formal. "Make love to me" sounded too candlelight-and-roses.

"I want you to," he repeated helplessly, because there were no right words. He pushed the blankets aside and climbed onto the sheets, sitting down and looking up at Spike again.

Spike stood there with the clear bottle in his hand, watching Xander for a moment, his expression difficult to decipher, and then he climbed onto the bed and they tangled in a knot of arms and legs and lips and all of it rubbing and touching and when Xander found himself on his knees, Spike held him, pressed against his back, wrapping his arms around Xander's body to caress his chest, his dick sliding between Xander's buttocks, sliding along where he wanted it to go, and Xander whispered, "Please, Spike. Please."

Those words seemed to let something loose, and Spike pressed kisses to Xander's spine as he slid his fingers where Xander wanted them, circling, teasing, testing, and finally in.

Slick fingers pressed into Xander's body, trembling, shaking. Xander could feel the tremors, could feel Spike's shivering, shuddering body behind him and above him and inside him, and then it was Spike's cock sliding inside him, and Spike's chest was pressed to Xander's back, his hand reached around to grip Xander's cock as he thrust slowly in.

And then Spike froze. One thrust, and then nothing. He was motionless, his body suddenly tense, as if he were surprised. Shocked. In that moment, Xander wished he could see Spike's face, have some chance at guessing what he was thinking, but the body behind him gave little clue.

And then the moment of stillness was gone, and Spike began to thrust, stroking Xander's cock in a punishing grip, pulling and squeezing and thrusting all at once, like a whirlwind of slippery sensation. But something was different now. Spike wasn't trembling or exploring or whispering that Xander smelled good. No kisses on his spine.


Xander had been wanting this for so long, and now that it was happening it was nothing like what he'd wanted. This wasn't about sharing…it was about dominating. Somewhere along the way, it changed, and now Spike was using him, treating him like an object or some…some slave. Someone he didn't even like. As if Xander didn't matter at all.

Xander put his head down and weathered it as if it were a storm. Spike raged against him, over him, inside him, and it was like howling winds and crashing waves and Xander held on to the sheets beneath him if only to keep himself from being swept away. To keep himself from being lost in all that rage. To keep himself from being crushed or blown apart.

His body didn't know the difference, and he came with a small cry, an orgasm torn out of him by Spike's rough touch. He let his head hang down, loose, exhausted and betrayed, and could see Spike's body between his legs. Could see Spike still thrusting into him, the rhythm now fraying, unraveling, and finally dissolving into frantic chaos as Spike thrust a final few times and came. Soundlessly.

And then immediately withdrew and rolled away.

Xander opened his mouth to ask what the hell that was all about, but Spike was already on the move, getting up off the bed and stalking out of the room.

Xander got up and followed him into the living room. He could feel a trickle of come winding its wet way down his leg and wished he could go clean himself up first, but this thing with Spike seemed more urgent.

He found Spike pulling on his clothes with jerky, clumsy movements, lacing up his boots with harsh yanks that threatened to snap the laces in half, but didn't.

Xander hesitated in the bedroom doorway, confused. "Spike?"

Still sitting on the couch where he had put on his boots, Spike looked up, looked Xander in the face, and it seemed like there was a strange tension in the air, like static electricity, like a storm brewing again, but Xander wasn't sure exactly what was happening. He had only a split-second to notice Spike's face suddenly twisting with rage before Spike was on his feet, in his face, lashing out and striking a blow that sent Xander sprawling to the ground, one ear ringing with the impact.

At the same moment, Spike crashed to his knees, both hands pressing to his temples as he roared with pain and rage.

And then silence.

You hit me. You actually hit me. Here I've been trusting you – god! – loving you, all these months, and you hit me. You don't hit people you care about. That's sort of a rule in Xander Land. You don't hit people you care about. You don't. You just don't. But you did. You did, Spike. Why? I trusted you!


And then, at last, Spike's voice, low and hard, "You lying piece of shit."

Oh god. He knows about the time loop! Willow told him. Wait, no, Willow wouldn't do that. But I haven't been lying about anything else, so what in tarnation is he talking about?

Spike awkwardly climbed to his feet, still rubbing his temples. "If this'd been the first time you had a dick in your ass, it would've hurt a lot more for both of us. Chip barely twinged."

Xander's jaw dropped. "You hit me because…because the sex didn't hurt enough? Because my ass didn't meet your fucking specifications?"

Spike's chin went up. "Don't give a flying fuck about your slut ass."

Xander turned around and walked out of the room. He heard Spike cry out, "Hey! Where are you going?" and he sounded annoyed and confused.

When Xander came back into the living room, Spike was standing near the door, obviously getting ready to leave, but he turned to look when he heard Xander clear his throat. In his hand, Xander held a fairly sizable purple dildo, which wobbled a bit in his grip in a way that would have been comical under different circumstances.

Xander looked at Spike, grim with self-righteous anger and betrayal.

Spike looked at the dildo, his face slack with surprise, his eyes filled with confusion and…maybe that other bit was horror.

And then Xander, drained, lost, broken, said quietly, "Get out, Spike." He turned his back and walked to the kitchen. Come was still dripping down his leg and his cuts were stinging from all the movement. It all felt horrible now. Wrong. His stomach did a lurching unhappy thing. He'd had enough hitting in his life. He felt like he might throw up. Or start crying.

His voice was even quieter the second time, tighter. He didn't turn around. "Just get out."

He took a package of frozen corn out of the freezer. By the time he had it pressed to his jaw and turned to look back into the living room, Spike was gone.

14 Secrets and Lies

On his way to the girls' house the next day, Xander noticed that the blue mailbox on the corner was tipped over, a fist-sized dent in the side. A rather Spike-sized fist.

Happy New Year.

When Willow saw him in the entryway, she gasped and ran over, reaching up but then carefully not touching his bruised jaw. She had on her worried face. "What happened? Did you and Spike run into trouble after you left last night?"

Xander tried to chuckle dryly in response, but it hurt too much. "You could say that."

Willow took his hand and led him to the kitchen, where Tara and Dawn were eating breakfast. They both gasped and suddenly there was a flurry of female voices asking questions, offering help, and just generally making Xander want to hide under the table. When they quieted down, Tara said gently, "You should put some ice on that."

Xander smiled faintly. "Already did. Well, not ice. Corn. Didn't help."

Around a mouth full of cereal, Dawn offered, "You look like you punched a Bregni demon with your face."

Willow took an ice-pack out of the freezer – always ready for emergencies, that's our Will – and wrapped it in a dish towel before leading him out to the living room, where they sat on the couch.

"Oh, Xander," she sighed, gently pressing the ice-pack to his jaw. Xander winced and took it from her, holding it gingerly himself. "What happened?"

He thought about lying. Making up something stupid that would make her laugh and just let it go. But lying to Willow was like drop-kicking a puppy.

Xander looked away and admitted quietly, not wanting to be heard in the kitchen, "Spike punched me."

When he looked back, Willow's eyes were big and round. And then she frowned, obviously confused and distressed. "Spike? Why?"

Xander shifted the ice-pack, trying for a position that didn't hurt as much. No luck. "Uh, well, he thought I lied to him about something."

"The time loop?"

Xander looked away again, taking evasive action. "Not exactly."

Willow looked speculative now. "So you're lying about more than the time loop?"

Xander sat up and stared at her, raising the non-ice-holding hand and pointing a finger for emphasis. "First of all, I am not lying about the time loop. I'm just not…telling. It's not the same thing. And second, when he punched me, he was completely in the wrong and I wasn't lying to him at all."

Willow gave him a disapproving look. "Except about the time loop."

Xander slumped. "How did this all get so messed up?"

Willow sighed and slumped down beside him, her head coming to rest lightly on his shoulder. "I think the messing-up got started when you didn't tell him the truth about the time loop. From there, it just got messier and messier until it went kablooey."

Xander muttered, "Yeah, kablooey all over my face." They sat there together for a long while, just listening to each other's breathing. Then Xander said softly, "I never thought he'd actually hit me."

Willow shifted on the couch to sit up straighter and look at him. She had her serious face on. That never meant good things. "I know you don't like to think about it, Xander, but Spike's a vampire. He might seem like a normal guy, hanging out with us and eating pizza and watching videos. But he isn't human, Xander. He's a demon. And when he loses his temper, he might not have as much self-control as you expect him to have."

Feeling hopeless and depressed, Xander whined, "So I either stay away or let him make me a punching bag? I'm not liking either option. Can I take (c) none of the above?"

Willow shook her head. "I don't know if those are the only two choices. I just think you need to talk to Spike about it."

Xander slumped lower until his butt was almost off the couch and his shoulders were hunched up around his ears. "I know. I need to talk to Spike about all of it."

"Yeah, you do, because you really aren't being fair to him. Somewhere along the way, it seems like you decided that just because Spike isn't all sad and lonely anymore, then he's suddenly some kind of superman who doesn't get hurt by stuff. Spike's always been sort of…vulnerable. Stuff hurts him, maybe even more than it hurts other people."

"But he's been acting all tough guy, especially lately."

Willow put her hand on his arm. "Maybe that just means he's scared."

It wasn't until after he left that he wondered if Willow had figured out something was going on between him and Spike. Probably. Xander wasn't very good at hiding things from her, and so she'd probably at least suspected.

Either way, she gave good advice, as usual.

It was time – past time – to have a serious talk with the Bleached Undead Mike Tyson.

Heck. It was only a punch in the face. At least he didn't bite my ear off.

Spike wasn't in the upstairs area of the crypt, so Xander climbed down the ladder to see if he was down below. No big deal. They'd gotten comfortable enough with each other's living spaces. It didn't seem wrong or anything.

But Spike wasn't downstairs, either.

Where the hell is he? It's the middle of the day!

Xander hesitated, uncertain whether he should wait, leave a note, or just go home and call Spike on his cell phone.

How insane is it that Spike has a cell phone, but I don't?

Then his eyes fell on a very familiar-looking black leather journal sitting on the banged-up bedside table. It was the journal he'd given Spike for Christmas. Spike had been so surly about it, Xander had figured he'd probably toss it out with the trash, so it gave him a little thrill of pleasure to see it lying there.

He didn't mean to read it. Really. He didn't. He just picked it up to see if it had been written in, just to see if the Christmas gift had been appreciated after all, even though Spike had been such a jerk about it.

He honestly really didn't mean to read it. But once he'd opened it and seen Spike's delicate handwriting so tidy on the unlined pages, he couldn't help it. He'd spent so many months wondering what was going on in Spike's head, trying to decipher every gesture, every look. And these past few weeks, especially, with the sex stuff and never knowing what Spike was feeling or thinking. And now, now, here was everything he'd been wondering about.

He couldn't help it.

The first entry was mostly a description of Christmas with the Scoobies, including descriptions of everything they ate and the gifts everyone received. That made sense, since the journal had been a Christmas gift. Apparently Spike had written fairly soon afterward, despite his surliness when he'd first opened the present.

Willow made turkey again, the same roast as when they dragged me into their ridiculous Thanksgiving do. Bloody American holiday. Served them right that I made such wretched stuffing, so dry and crunchy and sour. Don't know how it ended up sour. Must have put something in that didn't belong. Still can't believe they all ate it, nice as you please, and smiled and said it was good. Even Dawn smiled, though I saw the faces she made when she thought I wasn't looking. And bloody Xander, taking second and third servings. Must have a stomach of iron, that one.

This was better, though, as Christmas is a proper holiday. The witches wisely kept me from the kitchen and the whole do was different. More relaxed. I didn't feel quite so much the unwelcome guest dragged in out of the cold like a shivering puppy.

Truth is this reminded me more of holidays at home with Mother, with the good cheer and warm companionship. No fire in the grate, though. No grate in which to build a fire, actually. But this was a bit like family, all the same.

Glancing through the next couple of pages, Xander thought it seemed like the writing was sometimes very formal and old-fashioned-sounding and sometimes more slangy, but he wasn't sure, because he only read snippets here and there. On some pages, there seemed to be poems, but they were crossed through so heavily that the words were unreadable. He paged back and forth a bit, just curious, but stopped when he noticed a page where his own name was mentioned repeatedly.
A bit of domination gets his willy up, and I don't mind bossing him about if it gets my end away. I'm not averse to a bit of a power trip, either, now it comes to it. Telling the Scoobies what to do is all right, but it's not the same. Not the same as telling someone what to do and knowing they have to do it.

Xander's just messing about, anyway. Experimenting. He's looking for a top to play a few games, and at least with me he doesn't have to worry about getting his throat torn out, thanks to the chip. Doubt I'd tear his throat out anyway, these days. He's a bit of all right. Long time since I had a friend. Come to think on it, I don't even remember the last real mate I had. Minions, of course. Lovers, like Dru and a certain idiotic blond bint best left unnamed. But no friends.

So I'm not going to lose this one to some demon preying on desperation in a sex club. If a bit of boot-knocking keeps the kid out of harm's way, who am I to say no?

Maybe he wrote that weeks ago, Xander thought, trying to stave off his sudden unease. I don't see dates written anywhere, so that could've been back when things first started happening between us. Maybe that's why the whole thing started, but he probably feels different now. I'm not just a charity case. I'm not.

He skimmed some more, and then:

At the cinema, Xander bought me some sodding candy. Candy. Like I'm some bint in an angora sweater and a poodle skirt. Not looking to play Joanie to anybody's Chachi, ta very much.

Don't know what the kid's up to, but I'm not buying it. Probably thinks I'm an easy mark. Saw me mooning after Buffy, going all soft, making a bloody fool of myself, getting treated like dirt and coming back begging for more. Figures he's got my number.

Spike. Love's bitch.

Well, I'm bloody well not going to be Xander Harris's bitch, I'll tell you that much.

I still don't understand what was up with the candy thing, why it was such a big deal. And he thinks I want him to be my bitch? What are we, in prison? And, not that I'm a big expert on prison lingo or anything, but wouldn't I be the "bitch" in this scenario?

And…Spike watched "Joanie Loves Chachi"? Heh.

He was skimming and reading quickly, often only catching half- sentences or portions of words until something made him stop. On the following page, several lines down:

I catch Xander looking at me sometimes. Strangest expression. Like he knows what's going on in my head, like he knows more than he's telling. Bloody disconcerting, that.
And then, at the top of the next page:
It was a wrench, finally admitting that Dru never loved me. I was hers, she made me, but that isn't love. Whatever it is, it isn't enough. It never was enough, kept me always begging like a lap- dog, grateful for any indication of affection, happy to dance attendance upon a lady who barely noticed my efforts.

The horrid St. Valentine's holiday approaches, and I cannot help but be reminded of the heart-shaped locket I presented to Drusilla, and which she discarded in favor of Angelus's far more grisly gift. How very symbolic it all seems now.

I'm done giving my heart, only to have it tossed aside like so much rubbish. Not doing that again.

From now on, I'm keeping it light. Sex fills a bit of a need – domination's not bad, either – but none of the soft stuff. I'm done with the soft stuff. Bloody William and his bloody poetry. His bloody soft heart. Never brought me anything but grief.

So…this is why Spike kept saying it was only sex? I was right? He was scared? Well…okay…good to know…good to understand…but what do I do about it? 'Cause I don't think just saying, "Hey, Spike, buddy, don't be scared" is going to go over very well.

Lower down on the same page, a peek into a more prosaic side of Spike's life:

  1. Willy's
    • pick up week's blood
    • news about the Bregnis?
  2. garbage dump
    • new rug for downstairs (this one doesn't suit)
    • another chair?
  3. mall
    • need more t- shirts
    • Valentine's Day prezzie for the Bit (she's still torn up over that Logan tosser)
Logan tosser? As in "one who tosses Logans"? Xander found himself imagining Wolverine being thrown through the air by some mysterious person who had hurt Dawnie. Okay, so it's probably just some kid at her school. Why does everyone in Sunnydale have such weird names? I don't remember anybody at Sunnydale High named Jim or Joe or Jane. No…we're all Willows and Cordelias and Harmonies and Ozzes and Logans. Huh. Weird.

And Valentine's Day isn't for another couple weeks, anyway. Who'd've thought Spike was such a think-ahead kind of guy? Does he buy his Christmas presents in May?

At the bottom of that page, Xander noticed Buffy's name and stopped:

When Buffy died, something broke in me. Worse than when Dru left. Nothing's ever going to break me like that again.

I'm not doing that again. And even if I were, it wouldn't be with an idiot like Xander Harris. Nothing but a boy, a bloody CHILD. I don't need some sodding infant dragging me down.

An idiot? A child? Dragging him down? Eyes stinging, he skipped to the last page that contained writing. The last line said:
Only started this thing to protect the kid. I'm done whoring myself out.
Suddenly Xander felt physically ill. It's happening again. He knew it wasn't entirely rational, but in his mind's eye he couldn't help seeing time-loop Spike huddled on the couch, hissing, "I'm not your whore." It's happening again. He felt like he might actually throw up, and he probably would have if he hadn't felt so guilty about it.

That's right. Lie to him about the time loop, guilt him into having sex with me, break into his crypt, read his diary, and then throw up on his floor, just as the vomitous icing on the bitter cake of betrayal.

He started to page back, hoping against hope that maybe he was misinterpreting what Spike had written. But a sound from the tunnel entrance in the corner of the room had him scrambling to put the journal back where he'd found it, and then sitting as far from it as possible, legs crossed innocently.

Spike emerged carrying a brown paper grocery bag. He stopped short at the sight of Xander sitting on the bed, but then he recovered himself and strolled into the room calmly, as if nothing were odd about the situation.

He put the grocery bag down on what looked like a pile of junk. "Quite a bruise you've got there."

Surprised that Spike would mention it – but then it's kinda hard to ignore – Xander just nodded. "Yeah, I…I want to talk to you about that, but first…could you sit down or something?" Spike raised an eyebrow, then cleared a space on top of a large trunk and sat. Xander closed his eyes for a moment, gathering his courage, and then opened them again. "There's something I've been wanting to tell you about."

And then it was as if a dam had burst, because the whole thing came rushing out of him. The time loop. The kiss on the back steps.

The sex.

Spike listened silently until Xander wasn't sure what to say anymore. He hadn't gone into any detail, but he'd touched on most of the highlights.

"So, during one of these time loops, my dick accidentally ended up in your ass?"

Xander fiddled with the hem of his t-shirt, but then looked up again. "It wasn't accidentally. It just…happened." He hesitated, uncertain of whether he needed to say anything more. But, hey, this was supposed to be coming clean, right? "And it wasn't just one of the loops."

Both Spike's eyebrows went up. "Oh really? How many times are we talking about?"

Xander glared. "I didn't keep count."

Spike tilted his head. "More than you could count, then?"

Xander looked away, over toward the entrance to the tunnels. "Not more than I could count. Just…it happened on every loop."

Spike was silent a long minute, and when Xander looked at him he was surprised by the expression of disbelief on his face.

"Every loop." Xander nodded. "Every one of 'em." Xander nodded again. "We shagged on every single bloody one of your bloody time loops, and you never thought to mention it?"

Xander winced. "I tried," he said lamely. "You said you didn't care. You said that was a different Spike, not you."

Spike was standing now, pacing, turning to stare at Xander now and then, always with that expression of shock and anger. Now he stopped, though, considering what Xander was saying. Then his eyes opened wide and he strode over to Xander, pointing a finger right at his chest. "You were talking about having a coffee with the witches. And unless that's a new euphemism, this is a whole different ball of wax, mate."

Xander looked at him, and their faces were close now, as Spike had bent down to point at him. Abruptly, Spike stood up again and walked further away.

Xander looked at the floor. The rug really was ugly. "I know. I should have told you right away." He sighed and stood up. If Spike could pace, then so could he. The room was plenty big. "I didn't know what to say. You didn't even like me back then."

Spike shrugged, looking at the wall, then said begrudgingly, "Liked you all right."

Xander stared at him. "You said I treated you like a whore!"

Spike looked a bit taken aback, but then said quietly, "Well, you stopped, didn't you?"

Xander didn't know what to say in reply to that. He couldn't very well refer to what he'd read in Spike's journal, not without getting the rest of his face battered to match his jaw. So he didn't say anything.

Spike was still watching him, though. His voice was still relatively quiet when he asked, "Why'd you never tell me? Ashamed?"

Xander nodded automatically. "Yeah, I guess." But then he saw Spike's expression and hastily amended, "Not ashamed of what happened, really. Ashamed that I'd treated you so bad." He ran a hand through his hair and kept his arm bent, keeping his hand resting on the back of his neck. Comforting. Like Spike's hand on his neck in the club.

He cleared his throat. "I just wanted us to be able to start fresh, you know?"

They were quiet for a while. Emotionally exhausted, Xander ran his hands over his face, hissing out a curse when he touched his jaw.

Oh, yeah. We need to talk about that, too.

"Spike, about last night…"

Spike started pacing again, rubbing his arms in a fidgety kind of way. "I'm not apologizing."

Xander's jaw would have dropped if it didn't hurt too much. His eyebrows went up, instead. "You don't think you owe me an apology?"

Spike's face was set and bullish when he challenged, "Why should I?"

"Because…I trusted you! And you punched me in the face, Spike!"

Spike shrugged, still pacing. "Didn't hurt you much. Be good as new in a couple days."

Xander shook his head in disbelief. "So you're saying that I can't trust you. You'll just haul off and hit me anytime you like, for no reason at all?"

Spike stopped and stared at him, stubborn. "Demon, Harris. Violence. The two have a slight tendency to go together."

Xander frowned. "Well, duh. But you have control over it. I mean, I've seen you have control over it. I mean, did you hit Drusilla when she pissed you off? Did you smack her around like you did me?"

Spike's voice was cold. "I loved Drusilla."

Okay, ouch. I mean, I knew – I mean, I think I knew – that he doesn't love me. I mean, of course. But still. Ow.

"I would never have harmed a hair on her head. She was my dark princess."

But she didn't love you and I do! You go all misty-eyed for some vamp who didn't know your name half the time, and me you punch in the head. Don't you even want anybody to care about you? But Xander couldn't make himself say those words, couldn't make himself actually voice the dreaded "L" word, not in the way that mattered, because Spike was putting him down, saying Xander was nothing to him, and that just…he already felt pathetic enough.

Xander nodded and swallowed, feeling like a golfball was stuck in his throat. When he could speak again, his voice was uneven. "So, if you love someone, you can control the violence? But otherwise you don't see the point?"

Spike tilted his chin up. Oh familiar gesture! "'Cept for setting off the chip, nope."

Xander nodded slowly, but couldn't bring himself to say anything for a while. He sat back down on the edge of the bed, wondering if he should just leave. He'd told the truth about the time loop, he'd confronted Spike about the punch in the face, he'd been told he didn't matter, what more was there to talk about?

Spike took a step forward and his foot slid on something that lay on the floor. A bookmark. They both saw it. Where'd that come from? Oh fuck! Spike and Xander simultaneously looked at the journal on the bedside table, and Xander cringed when he saw that he hadn't put it back as carefully as he'd hoped. It was at an angle, one corner hanging off the edge of the table's surface, and apparently the bookmark had fallen out at some point and he hadn't noticed.

He didn't want to look, could barely stand to look, but he made himself raise his eyes to Spike's face, only to see his gaze pointedly travel from Xander's face to the journal and then back again. Those blue eyes were like ice.

"Doing a bit of light reading, were we?"

Xander didn't know what to say. His mouth wasn't working. His brain wasn't working. All he could think was fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!

Spike's smile was vicious. "My, aren't we the tidy little hypocrite! Whinging on and on about trust and whatnot, when all the while you've been keeping your little secrets, telling your little lies, and snooping in my personal effects."

"I didn't mean to…"

But Spike shook his head and wagged a finger at Xander. "No. I don't think you get to talk anymore. I think we've finally seen the truth of Xander Harris. Your white hat's looking a little dusty there, mate."

Xander stood, miserable, ready to leave. But Spike wasn't through with him. "Don't think I'll be needin' your services anymore, either. So don't bother coming 'round."

Xander turned to look at him. "Services?"

Spike nodded, all business, his lips curved into an impersonal smile. "The fucking. No longer interested."

This wasn't going right at all, but Xander had no idea how to salvage things now that it had all gotten this bad. "But it wasn't just…Spike…it was more than that. I mean, we're at least friends."

Spike shrugged, all nonchalance. "Right, that's us. Best mates." But the way he said the words dripped with irony. And then, "The rest was just fucking, and it's done now."

Xander shook his head, getting angry. "I saw you. I saw your eyes, that night at the club, that night at my apartment. It was more than just fucking."

"No, it wasn't. Anything you thought you saw was your own pathetic fantasy."

"But…no…I know you…"

Spike smiled a very cruel little smile. "If you knew me, you'd know that, beyond the obvious, I don't have much use for a dumb kid with a nice dick and an addiction to his rowing machine. Biceps don't make you a man, little boy."

Xander threw up his hands. "Why are you saying all this?"

Careless shrug. "Because it's true."

Xander was having trouble making sense of everything Spike was saying, especially with how it related to what he'd read in the journal. But it was looking like Spike really hadn't been interested in Xander, personally, at all. Not sexually. Not romantically. His stomach was churning again. "Then…why did you even have sex with me in the first place?"

Spike shrugged. "You were gagging for it. Couldn't have one of the precious Scoobies roaming town, looking for someone to bugger him blind. I took a bullet for the team."

"You…you took a bullet? That's what this was?" Xander stared at Spike for a minute, holding back tears, and then turned and ran, climbing up the ladder as fast as he could, his feet slipping on the rungs in his haste. Once upstairs, he just continued running, out of the crypt, through the cemetery, down the street, until he got to his own apartment and collapsed on the couch with his eyes still stinging. Not crying. Not crying. But almost there.

He turned on the TV and watched some stupid infomercial about stain removal, and his eyes felt glued open, but he didn't really see anything.

When he went to bed, he put extra blankets on the bed and wrapped his arms tight around his pillow.

He couldn't seem to get warm.

15 No More Monkeys

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 traveled 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.

16 Waking Up

The whiteness of the room was almost blinding. Xander looked at Spike, the only non-white thing in the room. Even the paleness of his skin and hair seemed dark and warm in comparison to the hospital walls.


The last thing he remembered was the cemetery at night, demons, sharp pain, someone screaming his name…

"Did I loop?"

Spike jerked, his head coming up, eyes blinking in confusion. When he saw Xander looking at him, he leaned forward slightly, leaned closer. It was nice. "What's that, pet?"

Xander frowned. His brain wasn't working right. He felt really confused. "I remember the demons, and fighting. And then…I'm here. Did I loop?"

"No, luv. The time loop's done. No looping anymore."

Xander relaxed slightly. "Oh. Okay."

Spike's face was close, leaning above him. It was familiar, somehow. It made Xander feel warm inside. His head wasn't working right and everything was weird, but he was glad Spike was there. "I'm glad you're here," he said quietly. Spike swallowed heavily, his throat working visibly in the bright hospital light. He nodded, but didn't reply. Xander tried to smile, and murmured, "I love you."

Spike's head jerked as if he'd been slapped, but then he regained his composure and said in a choked voice, "You're not thinking right, Xander. You'll be better soon, though."

He wanted to ask Spike why the world was so squishy and bright and swirly, but his eyelids were really heavy and he didn't think the words ever made their way out of his mouth before he fell asleep again.

The next time he woke up, Spike was standing on the other side of the room talking with a doctor who looked strangely familiar. The doctor was wearing a white coat. White white white. But his hair was dark and his skin was very brown. Dark against all that white.

"You're awake!"

At the sound from Xander's left, he turned to look, and Willow was there, reaching out to take his hand with a broad smile. Against the hospital white, her red hair seemed very very red, like Ronald McDonald.

Xander frowned. His head was hurting and he couldn't remember, couldn't seem to remember what was going on, couldn't seem to think straight. He looked at Willow, but his head was heavy on the pillow. "Did I loop again?"

Willow's smile dimmed a watt or two. "No, Xander. You didn't loop. You're in the hospital."

Xander nodded slightly, then rolled his head to look back at Spike and the doctor. "I know that guy," he murmured, and then his eyes were closing and he just wanted to take another quick nap.

Xander woke to find the familiar doctor looking down at him. Xander couldn't figure out where he'd seen the guy before. Maybe he dreamt it? Maybe this was a dream? His brain wasn't working right, and he couldn't remember why.

"Did I loop?" he asked weakly.

"He keeps asking that," Spike said from near the doorway. Why was he standing so far away?

"Perfectly normal," the doctor assured him. "He's perseverating – repeating the same thing over and over again – which is to be expected with a concussion of this severity. Nothing to worry about." The doctor was shining a light into Xander's eyes, holding his eyelids open. "Now, Xander, can you tell me what day this is?"

Xander tried to remember. "Um…Wednesday?"

The familiar doctor smiled, his teeth very white against his brown skin. "That's good. Yes, today's Wednesday. Can you tell me the date?"

Xander peered up into the guy's smiling face, confused. "I know you from somewhere."

The doctor glanced over toward the doorway, where Spike was standing, then looked back at Xander. "That's all right, Xander. Yes, we've met before. I'm Spike's friend, Jeremy." The doctor didn't give him a chance to respond before quickly continuing, "I'm glad you remember. That's a good sign. Now can you tell me the date today?"

Xander answered all the questions as best he could, and finally the doctor – Jeremy, his name is Jeremy – said seriously, "I'd like to keep you here for observation for the rest of the day, but I'm willing to send you home if a responsible adult stays with you for the next forty-eight hours to observe you for complications."

Xander frowned, trying to make sense of this, but his head was still very muddled and he was starting to notice that his arms hurt, and his chest, too. And he had little tubes going into his nose, and other ones attached to his hand, and suddenly he just really really wanted to be out of there.

The doctor asked firmly, "Xander, do you understand me?"

Xander nodded very very slightly. "I think so. Kind of."

Doctor Jeremy said, "Spike has said he's willing to stay with you. He'll need to wake you up every three hours to check on you, to make sure no problems occur. Do you understand this, Xander?"

Xander glanced over at Spike. "Spike said he'll stay with me?"

Doctor Jeremy said, "Yes, and I don't want you returning to work or other normal activities for at least a week. You need to rest. The next two days, you must have Spike with you to keep an eye on you, but after that you just need to rest. Do you understand?"

Xander nodded. His head was feeling very slightly better. It still hurt, but nodding didn't make his eyes water anymore. "Spike. Rest. Got it." In truth, his head was still pretty fuzzy, but it sounded like Spike had offered to take care of him. That couldn't be right, could it?

Well, if this was all a dream, then it wouldn't matter. So he smiled and nodded.

Doctor Jeremy patted Xander's non-tubed hand and said, "Well, then, let's get this paperwork taken care of. It's almost dawn and you'll be wanting to get him home before the sun's up."

Xander wondered if the doctor was talking about him or Spike.

The ride in a wheelchair out to the car was mildly entertaining. At least he was wearing his own clothes again, though Willow had brought a new shirt for him. Apparently the one he'd been wearing on patrol was ruined.

Wheeling through the hospital was like watching a really weird IMAX movie full of people dressed in white. Some of them wore plastic shower caps. Other ones wore blue-green pants and tops like he saw sometimes on "E.R." when he channel surfed into a re-run. There were other people in wheelchairs, too. And some on gurneys. And some who weren't. It was all very surreal.

And then he was in the car, and the world was racing past the window and making him feel sort of sick, and by the time they got him home and into his own comfy bed, covered in his own comfy blankets, head on his own comfy pillow, he was ready to sleep some more.

He woke, eyes still closed, to the feeling of a hand on his hair. Stroking. Soft. Slow. Sort of threading through to brush lightly against his scalp. It felt really nice. Like somebody was taking care of him. Watching over him. Keeping him safe. Loving him.

The hand stroked along and through his hair gently, over and over, until it lulled him back to sleep again without him ever having opened his eyes.

The next time he woke up, he opened his eyes to find he was in the dark. Well, not pitch-black, but a lot better than the hospital's glare. Looking around, he recognized his own room, dimly lit. The blinds must be closed.

Spike had apparently pulled one of the kitchen chairs into the bedroom and so he was sitting on Xander's left. When Xander looked at him, their eyes met. Spike looked tired. He didn't say anything.

"Did I loop?" Xander asked quietly, confused.

Spike smiled, just a little, and shook his head. "No, Xan. No time loop. You just need to rest."

Xander tried to nod, but it felt like his head weighed a thousand pounds, so he just murmured, "Okay," and closed his eyes again. Eyes still closed, he asked softly, "But you'll stay?"

A hand stroked his hair again – he vaguely remembered that happening earlier – and Spike's voice, much closer now, said gently, "I'll stay. I'll be right here."

Xander smiled, or thought he did – he smiled inside his head, anyway, because he was glad Spike was there – but he was already part- way asleep, so he wasn't sure if his lips actually moved.

When he needed to go to the bathroom, Spike helped him walk. It would have been embarrassing, except that he was so sleepy and weak and sort of drunk that he was just grateful for the help.

Thankfully, Spike didn't stick around to watch.

Then back to the bed, and he was exhausted by the trip, and so fell back asleep before Spike had even gotten him under the covers.

Spike woke him up to ask him, "How's the head?"

Xander peered at him blearily, then raised a hand to rub at his eyes.

He tried to say, "Why do I have bandages on my arms?" but even he could tell it was a bit mumbly.

Spike's jaw got that tight, jumpy thing going on, and then he spat, "Bregni."

"Cut me up, huh?"

Spike just nodded, still looking like he wanted to tear something's head off.

"Don't really remember that very well."

Spike relaxed slightly and almost smiled. "Well, at least this time you didn't ask if you'd looped."

Xander woke to a hand on his shoulder. Not shaking him, just touching firmly. Sort of holding. Spike was standing next to the bed.

"Need to wake up again for a bit, pet." Spike sat back down in the kitchen chair and smiled a sort of soft smile that looked just…weird on Spike's face. Except that he'd looked that way at Buffy a thousand times. Xander had seen it, and hated it. Spike's voice was gentle when he asked, "Remembering anything yet?"

He was feeling a bit more awake this time, less drunk-feeling, and his head was feeling clearer. He could even sort of remember about the fight in the cemetery. It was all a little hazy, but it was better now, and he thought he remembered…

"Dawn." His voice sounded kind of creaky.

Spike tilted his head. "What's that, luv?"

"Is Dawn…how is she?"

"She's fine. Not so keen on patrolling again right away, but that's a good thing. Needs more training."

Xander frowned, searching his memory. "I was joking around. I distracted her."

Spike leaned forward, face serious. "Bollocks. It was me that brought her along before she was ready, just because I…" He broke off, lips tightening.

Xander looked away. He considered just going back to sleep mid- conversation, using the whole head injury as an excuse, but the truth was that he was feeling a lot better, and so instead he said quietly, "I know you were avoiding me, Spike. It's okay. I'm just sorry Dawn almost got hurt." Silence. Yeah, Dawn almost got hurt because Spike couldn't stand to be alone with me. I remember that part. Without turning back to look, Xander cleared his throat and said tiredly, "Maybe you were right. It might be best if we patrolled separately from now on. It would probably be better for everyone."

Spike grabbed Xander's face – his fingers resting where the bruises had been on his jaw – and turned him so that they could see each other's eyes again in the darkened room. "There's no bloody way I'm sending you out alone, not after this."

Xander smiled sadly. "Always trying to protect us, huh?"

Spike didn't reply, but his eyes were still blazing, his face still tense and strange.

After a long moment, Xander closed his eyes. "Spike, I'm tired, and I don't want to fight with you anymore. Please?"

Spike's hand on his face withdrew, but as it went it felt oddly, unexpectly…almost like a caress.

As Xander started to drift toward sleep, it all just seemed so sad. So broken. He said softly, "I'm sorry I messed everything up."

He could have sworn he felt a hand softly stroke his hair again, just once, as he fell asleep.

A hand on his shoulder woke him up from a bizarre dream. "It's in the sandcastle," he mumbled emphatically as he rolled to get away from the hand.

When he opened his eyes, Spike was standing there with a grin on his face. "It's in the sandcastle, is it? Well, that's a fine place to put it, I suppose."

Xander rubbed his eyes and blinked hard. Yep. Spike was still there. "I was a fish. And Fish!Willow was looking for her green fuzzy sweater, but it was in the sandcastle at the bottom of the tank."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Fish sweaters? Even your dreams are boring." He handed Xander a mug, but it was too hot to hold. Xander made an ouch face and set it down on the bedside table, jerking his hand away. He sniffed the liquid.

"I don't like tea."

"It's good for you."

"And it's too hot, anyway."

"Tea's not meant to be drunk anything other than piping hot. Now drink it down." He picked up the mug and held it out to Xander again, but Xander shrunk away, trying to melt into the mattress.

"I told you I don't like tea! Sheesh! Who are you, Nurse Ratched?"

Spike put the mug back on the bedside table and sat down in the kitchen chair beside the bed, scooting it a bit closer. "You're supposed to have liquids," he admonished, his brows knitting in obvious concern.

Concern? About me?

"Well, uh, liquids? I like soda. Mountain Dew is good. Or root beer. And juice is okay."

Spike just nodded, leaning over to rest his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped together. "I'm supposed to get you talking every few hours, make sure you aren't gone brain dead."

Xander blinked. Shouldn't Spike have made some kind of joke about him being brain dead already, or how would they know the difference, or something like that? Man, Spike must be off his game!

"So we're supposed to talk now?"

Spike nodded slowly.

"Not too good at that, are we?"

Spike gave him a long look. Then, "Not lately, no."

Xander nodded, then turned his head to stare at the ceiling. Stucco. Tiny stalagmites of death, waiting to fall on him while he slept. He tried to think of something to say.

"Are the Bregnis dead?"

"Not yet. The witches are working on some rain mojo. Bregni demons aren't good with water."

"How many of them were there?"

Spike's voice was hard. "More than we thought."

"So why aren't you out there looking for them and kicking their asses?"

"Somebody's gotta keep you from staggering out into the night."

"Well, Dawn could do that." This doesn't make any sense. Why are you here when you've been working so hard to avoid me? What's with the mixed messages, mister? "Why doesn't Dawn stay with me instead?"

Spike's jaw tightened. He didn't say anything.

Xander joked lamely, "I just thought you didn't do charity work."

Spike made a sound that was almost a snarl. Then, "Look, I know you don't bloody want me here, but I owe you for the Kashithnet. After this, we call it even."

Xander frowned in confusion. "Wait…that wasn't what I meant…"

But Spike was already gone, storming out of the room, his back stiff with pride.

Jesus Christ, Spike! Always jumping to conclusions! Like when I said you were my best friend and you acted like I was trying to let you down gently or something and got all offended.

Sometimes I think if the Scoobies had an insecurity contest, you and I would beat everybody else by a mile.

Xander lay on his back, staring at the stalagmite ceiling, and thought maybe he should go after Spike and explain, but he was still feeling so sleepy that he drifted off in mid-thought.

The next time, Spike woke him with a brusque, "Oi. Harris. Drink this."

Xander slowly blinked open his eyes to see a glass of orange juice in front of his face. He tried to shift up against the pillow, to sit up enough to drink, and Spike quickly put down the glass and helped him, placing a supportive hand on his arm and pushing the pillow into a comfortable position.

"I can do that myself, you know," Xander grumbled sleepily.

Spike pulled away sharply. "Right. Of course. Drink your juice. Supposed to keep hydrated. And I'm fixing you some soup."

"You made soup?" Xander was a bit frightened at the thought, given his past experiences with Spike's culinary exploits.

Spike's face tightened, as if he knew what Xander was thinking. "Tinned soup."

They somehow managed to avoid an actual argument, and Spike even let Xander leave the bedroom to go sit on the couch for a while, though he wrapped an arm around Xander's back and practically lifted him off the ground while they walked.

The walk to the couch had made his head ache and spin again, but Xander ate a little bit of soup and watched a few minutes of Mighty Mouse before he started fading. He didn't remember falling asleep in front of the TV.

When he next woke up, he was back in bed with the blankets tucked around him securely, and Spike was snoring quietly from the kitchen chair nearby.

Xander drifted back to sleep, weirdly comforted by the sound of Spike's breathing in the darkness.

Xander woke on his own, hearing noises out in the kitchen. At first, still sleepy, he was spooked, but then he remembered Spike and relaxed.

Xander eyed the bandages on his arms. He could feel another one on his chest, under his pajama top. The demon must have scratched him up pretty good with its claws.

Spike came into the room, carrying a steaming mug – it smelled like the much-debated tea – which he set on the bedside table. The tension was almost unbearable. Xander felt pretty much all the way awake now, unsure what was going on between them. He didn't want another fight, even if Spike had brought tea into the room. But then Spike took a sip of the tea, and Xander relaxed another notch.

Xander gestured vaguely to the white gauze on his arms. He quipped, "So I must've been bleeding a lot. You get a chance for a quick snack before they bandaged me up?"

Spike's head jerked up, his eyes shockingly dark and wet. "I carried you all the fucking way to the hospital, Harris. Didn't have time for…and anyway…I wouldn't…it was different when you…" Spike looked away, shaking his head with jerky movements. When he looked at Xander again, his face was composed, though his eyes were still wounded. "Your head doing all right?"

Xander nodded, sighing, "It's not like this is the first time I've had a concussion, Spike."

"Yeah, I never understood why Rupert and Buffy let you all come on patrol. Bloody dangerous is what it was."

"First of all, I helped. And second of all, I was an old pro at the concussion thing way before Buffy came to town." They didn't say anything for a few minutes while Spike unnecessarily smoothed the blankets, tucking them around Xander in a bizarrely motherly way.

Xander continued, "That's part of why I wanted my own place. Wanted to get out of the basement. Dad still likes to take a swing now and then when he's had a few too many." Another long silence. "I try to just stay away from that sort of stuff."

Spike's hands jerked back, into his lap, where they tightened around each other to form a knot. "Said I was sorry," he mumbled, looking at the floor as if something fascinating were happening down there.

"No," Xander replied quietly, firmly. "No, you didn't."

Spike looked up, mouth twisted with some deep emotion, and choked out, "I'm sorry."

It wasn't enough. Not for punching him. That wasn't okay. Just saying "I'm sorry" wasn't enough. But Xander wasn't sure how to make it right. If it was even possible.

Xander closed his eyes, leaning back against his pillow, exhausted, and said softly, "Yeah. Me too."

Spike shook him awake and gave him a glass of orange juice. The lights in the room were on low. Spike sat in the kitchen chair and watched him sit up and take a drink. Spike took a sip of the tea he had brought for himself again. Xander'd never realized what a tea-drinker Spike was. Maybe it was stress.

"Found your box of toys under the bed."

Xander didn't spit orange juice all over himself, but it was a near thing. He swallowed and then asked archly, "You were snooping through my stuff?"

Spike shot him a look, one eyebrow raised. Right. The diary. Well, he'd be living that one down until…pretty much forever.

Xander rolled his eyes and sighed. "Okay, maybe I had that coming."

"Been using the plastic cocks long?" Spike sounded so calm, like they were discussing…uh…something that had nothing to do with anyone's butt.

Xander blushed. He wanted to say it was none of Spike's business…but in a strange way it sort of was. So he opted for honesty…a refreshing change of pace. "Uh…since the time loop."

Spike let that one sink in.

"The time loop," Spike repeated slowly.

Xander nodded.

"When we…"

Xander couldn't believe Spike had brought it up again. He was momentarily paralyzed by the surprise, but then he nodded, not knowing what to say. Not wanting to mess things up again. He had that jumpy twisty feeling in his stomach again. Nervous.

After a long time, Spike shifted in his chair and set down his mug of tea. Then he shifted in the chair again.

"It's not like I was looking for pain," Spike started hesitantly, still looking at the floor. "But, you know, chip. I figured I'd go on anyway, even if it hurt." He looked up, looked at Xander, and his face was so very sad. "When it didn't hurt as much as I expected…well…I jumped to conclusions."

Xander wasn't sure what to say. And then suddenly his mouth was moving and words were coming out. "Well, you know what they say about conclusions. They make a 'con'…of…um…'clu'…and…'sions.' Wait, that doesn't make as much sense as I remember. Maybe it was 'assumptions'? They make an 'ass' of 'ump' and 'tions'? That doesn't sound right, either. Let me start again."

Spike shook his head, smiling a little smile that didn't look happy at all. "It's all right. You need to rest." He got up out of the chair and walked silently out of the room.

He forgot his tea.

And he was wrong. It wasn't "all right" at all.

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