“Spike, I want to go back.” Xander was pacing around the motel room, making little games for himself. Name all the colors in the godawful carpet: peach, puce, salmon, teal. Try to get to the window without stepping on an article of clothing, a fast-food wrapper, or a beer can. Ooh, a variation: try to get to the window only by stepping on articles of clothing, fast-food wrappers, and beer cans. Or, hey, walk more than half a dozen feet without running into something and falling down.
Spike ignored him elaborately, licking a thumb and flipping backward through the pages of a glossy tourist rag someone had left in the room. “Christ, is there some kind of zoning thing that requires a theme park every five miles in this state?” He groped around on the nightstand for a cigarette, not looking up from the magazine.
“There are two hundred and thirty-seven peach diamonds in the carpet pattern, Spike. Know how I know? Because I’ve counted them. Eight times. I want to go back. Now. Like, this minute, now.” Xander kicked the metal bed frame once for emphasis.
“Stop that.” Spike sounded bored, or like he was trying to sound bored. He huffed his cigarette halfway down in a single drag and, without a glance at Xander or the cigarette, tipped his ash in the general direction of a Natural Lite can on the floor.
Xander toed the bed frame again, harder, but Spike was still flipping magazine pages, zipping by ads for Orlando, Kissimmee, Volusia, Buena Vista. Each town was glossier and sunnier and offered a wider array of trinkets and diversions than the last. “Fucking Florida, man,” he said wonderingly. “You know that that Mickey Mouse fucker is a Pralthar demon, don’t you?” Spike shuddered. “Disgusting things, Pralthars. You know what they eat?”
“Goddammit, Spike.” Xander kicked furiously at the bed, hard enough to make Spike finally look up.
“Stop it, you little shit,” he said, with what he hoped was a this-time-I-mean-it voice. He looked hard at Xander. The kid wasn’t looking too good. Dark circles. Stubble. And getting more ragged-looking by the day. This little roadtrip was supposed to put some meat back on the kid’s bones, get him a tan. So far, it wasn’t exactly working. Or, more accurately, it wasn’t working at all. “Come here,” he said, feeling his expression soften and hating it. Knowing the kid would hate him even more for it.
“You asshole. Don’t you even think about looking at me like that. Like you’re Mother Theresa all of a sudden. You know what? Fuck this. I’m leaving.” Xander heard his voice starting to wind up into hysteria and pushed it down somewhere. He gave the bed a final kick, turned to go, and tripped on some piece of detritus on the floor. He went down hard, catching himself on hands and knees. He stayed down there for a while, breathing fast. Staring at the floor. Adding ecru to his list of colors in the carpet. Spike let him have a minute, then got up, dropping his cigarette into the nearest beer can.
“Xander, come on. You’re all right.” Spike crouched down beside him, on his good-eye side-- still weird to think of Xander Harris as having a Good-Eye Side, but yeah, that's pretty much where we are, he thought-- and put a hand on his shoulder. The muscle jumped under his touch, and Xander shook him off right away. He always did. “Don’t fucking help me, Spike,” he said tightly. He was sweating, and he smelled charred and furious and desperate.
Spike stood up again, crossed the room and shook another cigarette out of the crumpled pack.
“Fine, whatever, Harris. When you’ve got the whole angry-young-man thing out of your system, why don’t you get your stoic arse over here and let me change your bandage. We haven’t cleaned it since Mississippi.” Spike sat back down on the bed and picked up the magazine again. His hands were shaking.
He had pretended to read the article on Epcot three times before Xander got up off the floor.
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