by Te
November 2000

Disclaimers: If they belonged to me, I never would've thought of

Spoilers: General S5 stuff.

Summary: Xander does some thinking.

Ratings Note: PG-13

Author's Note: I was just wondering where Xander's head was these

Acknowledgments: To my Spike, for working this all out with me, and
then nudging me to write it. To my dear absent Debba, wherever she
may be.

Feedback: Yes, please. teland793@sbcglobal.net


Self-awareness is a bitch.

Sure, Xander's cool-guy pretty much all he wants now, but with great
coolness comes great responsibility.

At least for his own mind.

See, in the good old days of about a month ago, all of this... thing with
Riley would've just rolled off the top of his mind. He would be doing the
same things, probably acting the same way... maybe even being *more*
unsubtle about his little hints to Buffy. But he wouldn't have had to
think about it.

Riley is... a decent guy. A big lump of everything Midwestern, sure,
close-minded in spots, OK. Hypertestosteroned before he got his meds
and all that... but a decent guy just the same. He sees someone hurting,
he does his best to fix it. Eats him up when he can't do it, and it's all
over his face.

The eating.

Not just in big, darkening eyes, but in the set of his mouth. The hunch
of his shoulders. Flat boring blond hair getting a little wild with frantic

Which is all cool, and definitely something Xander understands. Right
down to the *bone* understands, and, as far as he's concerned, that's
just fine.

People get hurt bad, and there ought to be someone who can really
*feel* it. Understanding... everyone gets that standard with the soul.
Empathy is special, and now that they're all kind of running away from it,
it's good to see there's someone there to pick up all their slack.

Like there's only so much empathy possible before you start brooding
and cutting and maybe getting killed trying to stop all the badness.

Buffy... it's good and right that she's ditching her empathy a piece at
a time. Way more sensible than Faith's method. Willow has her own
thing. Maybe she's feeling this stuff on a higher plane. Giles is. Giles.

Locked-away Giles who can still make him buzz a little, on the inside,
when he runs a finger over some of his perfect new shelving and right now,
it's all up to Riley.

Maybe some primitive ritual -- yes, another -- being enacted right before
their eyes. Sin Eater's increasingly pathetic cousin Hurt Feeler.

And it isn't that he wants to join Riley where he is. Not by any stretch
of the imagination, because, see, being cool guy gives him all these
options. Sweet, tempting things. Learning how to put it all aside to cope
*anytime* he wants. Anytime.

Still new. Amazing. He has to do it.

But he can't just *leave* Riley there, being all Hurt Guy Man.

Especially since Riley's entire support system thinks he's a big red-assed
girly man and the girly in question... Well, see, it makes all sorts of
sense. Buffy loves Riley, sure, anyone can see that.

She loves him like she loves the rest of them, all lumped together in that
Not-the-Slayer pile she calls her friends. And maybe that's exactly what
she needs to do to save the world every day, but the bottom line is that
it sucks to be Riley.

At least Xander always had Willow, one way or another.

And so Riley now has a Xander.

Xander wonders if he should've maybe let Riley know about the INCOMING
Xander bomb of friendship and careful intimacy, because Riley gives him an
awful lot of puzzled looks... even while smilingly accepting the invitations
to his place to watch of the football and drink of the beer.

He's definitely wondering where Xander is going with all of this, and it
makes Xander hurt because... it's mistrust. A sort of open, honest,
innocent mistrust that is just that first awful step down the slippery

Too much pain in the heart, sorry, can't believe you want to be friends.

The old Xander of that dim dead month ago would probably be spending a
lot of energy thinking that Riley was puzzled because he was wondering
how Xander could ever think Riley would *choose* to spend time with him.

He's over that. Sort of. Mostly.

Maybe Riley just thinks Xander's lonely... which is a smile.

The commercials aren't interesting enough.

The silences are too long sometimes.

There's this whole bleak landscape right inside Riley's head, spilling out
into the cool guy's apartment every time the networks call a TV timeout.
Xander doesn't know how to fill it, not always, and they sit there.

Like now. Right together, identical sprawls, only Riley's looks fake. Too
much tension rippling through him. Is he thinking about Buffy? The blood
on the stake?

The pair of drained teenaged junkies a block from the Bronze? The stoned
vampires that had taken one second too long to kill? (Because, after a
while, you know the scent of human blood perfectly, even if you don't have
enhanced senses, or never had them.)

The thing to do, right this moment, is to reach out and put a hand on
Riley's big, farmboy shoulder and squeeze. Or maybe just make a random
comment about the Niners' chances. Or maybe just sit here and drink the
beer before it gets flat.

Cool guy has not had enough experience with big bruised farmboys to be
of any help. Heh. And doesn't that sound exactly the way he feels?

Feels. He can say. "Hey, Ri, wanna talk about those feelings?" and out
himself forever. He's only had a month to get used to that whole
other-side-to-his-sexuality thing. He doesn't want to be faggy, even if
he is gay. Queer. Bi. Something.

He couldn't hide a thing from himself, of course, and so that big demon
ride had been like... looking at the mirror-still-life-movie of every dirty
little secret, and his own big bruised farmboy jockboy shaped stack of
regrets, and fear.

He can easily sit here and stare bleakly at himself, just like Riley, until
one or both of them just goes ahead and slices open the wrists over the
abused carpeting.

He has, in fact, been doing just that. Swinging in the breeze with Riley,
or rather swinging in the same way that Riley is, and all alone.

Xander has never been able to cope with being alone. Not really. There's
always had to be at least the promise of contact, sometime in the future.
With someone, somewhere, who, yes, loved him.

I love you, man! And maybe that's the ticket, right there. Get drunk
enough that they can both be sloppy, safe in the gentle arms of hops
and yeast. Mmmm, mmm good.

Fuck this.



"I... I'm here. OK?"

And Riley is rigid for a heartbeat, more. Staring straight ahead, clutching
his beer. And then he blinks. Sags. "Yeah. OK."

And Xander can maybe leave it there for now. Promise made.