Spike lay asleep on the bed, limbs a pale scrawl of Kanji against dark sheets. The blinds barred almost all light, but thin stripes and pinhole squares patterned the floor and stretched toward a naked foot. Even that small amount of light would burn any dead skin it reached, and it made Riley edgy. Sunlight turned the world into a vast furnace for vampires. Once he'd taken a deep heartfelt relief in that fact. Days were time-outs in the game, and he'd been able to loll on the grass of a college quad and fall asleep with a sense of utter safety. Now he had nightmares, daymares, of Spike smiling in sunlight and going up in flames.
He hunkered down at the end of the bed and touched a fingertip to the curved insole of Spike's foot. It twitched, and he leaned forward and kissed the ball, just above the toes, then the toes. He pretended he was a ghost and tried to see if he could prompt Spike to draw his foot away from the encroaching sunlight. Because what if someday he was gone, and Spike was alone with no one else to watch over him.
He'd said that to Spike once, pillow talk. They'd been talking about the what-ifs, what if something happened to Spike, what if something happened to him. "Maybe I'll stick around," Riley had said, some part of him very serious.
"Maybe you should," Spike agreed. "Keep your promise--always watch my back."
Riley wondered if a ghost could rise from dust, if Spike could promise the same.
"Xeroderma pigmentosum," he'd said to friends and to his family, trying to find a way to explain Spike that they could sympathize with, that didn't make people look at him with false smiles and uncertain eyes. To strangers during their travels he said whatever sounded good, dredging up material from idle, late-night research sessions on the web. Cutaneous porphyria, so sad. Idiopathic photodermatosis, photosensitive epilepsy, polymorphous light eruption. Actinic prurigo. Lupus erythematosus. He exaggerated and made up symptoms, knowing that he and Spike would be gone by the time someone got around to googling.
He stripped his clothes off and climbed onto the bed, up along the length of Spike's body. "You're awake."
"Was thinking." Spike flexed and settled onto his stomach, and turned his head to the other side of the pillow. Riley arranged himself as a loose blanket, aligning their heads.
"Of Mozambique," he guessed, picking up their place in a conversation of the day before. "You want to go back."
"They have to give you vacation sometime." Semi-surly declaration.
"They do." Amiable, happy, Riley smiled where Spike couldn't see it. "They have. Let's go tomorrow." He felt a little ripple of something in the cooler body beneath him, and then a sudden and thorough relaxation of muscles.
That was probably the most important conversation of the day, but it was also a day when conversation was only a fraction of what was important.