Xander doesn’t get sick very often, but when he does, it’s bad. High fevers, coughs that leave him weak and gasping, tissues glued to his nose, and to make it all worse? He’s usually very contagious, too. So when he starts to feel that aching, sneezing, dizzy, he really wants to rest feeling, he knows that he isn’t going to go to school for a least a few days, or even come in contact with another person.
Normally, that’s great. His parents usually flee at the sight of him when he's this sick, leaving money for videos in their wake, and missing school is something Xander pretty much lives for. But this week they’re doing dinosaurs, and Xander loves dinosaurs. There’s going to be a special presentation on Friday with a palaeontologist who’s supposed to have freshly dug-up bones with him that he’ll let the kids touch. Sunnydale doesn’t have museums big enough for dinosaur bones and they aren’t old enough for trips to L.A. yet. Willow’s gone with her parents, and has told him about it, but it’s not the same as seeing and feeling for yourself.
When his fever spikes to a hundred and two on Wednesday, Xander spends most of the night crying.
He’s sullen and sickly and listless all Thursday, watching the movies Jesse picks up for him with his parents’ money. Friday he spends in angry silence, too frustrated—and sick—to actually watch tv or even read the homework assignments Willow dropped off the night before, with completed worksheets attached. He can just imagine how exciting the lessons today are. The cool smoothness of the bones, and the excitement in the professor’s voice as he talks about places only Indiana Jones has ever been to. The way the other kids are going to talk about this for weeks and Xanders’s gonna be the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on. There’ll probably even be a test.
When three o’clock rolls around, Xander’s so miserable he doesn’t even notice he’s crying again. Sick-tears, these, from a body that’s so stressed it needs some way of releasing the tension and this is all it can handle right now. He sniffles and coughs himself to sleep, certain he’s never going to get better and he’s going to miss all the coolest stuff ever because he has the worst timing and everybody hates him and he hurts and he's miserable, and he should just die already.
Knocking at his door wakes him on Saturday. “G’way,” he says through his blocked nose and scratchy-sore throat. He can’t imagine who it could be, since his parents won’t let anyone come into his room until he stops coughing completely. “'M ’ick.”
The door opens anyway, sending a wave of cooler air onto his sweaty, flushed skin. It feels kinda nice, actually, but he’s grumpy and doesn't like this disruption of his day. The bed depresses near his hip and something really heavy thumps onto the floor. He can hear breathing and knows who it is. “'I’lo.”
“You look really sick,” Willow says softly. She’s always soft, Willow, and gentle and nice even when Xander’s being mean to her. Thinking of that makes Xander squirm around in the bed until he's on his back and can see her, watching him with big green eyes and a worried expression. “Are you?”
“Yeah,” he creaks. “Wha’ ooink eer?”
She looks confused for a second, then smiles the most brilliant smile ever. “If I get sick,” she warns, “then you’re gonna have to make this up to me, you know.”
He makes sniffly-faces at her and wonders if his parents have already drunk the chicken soup he knows she's brought. She always gives him chicken soup when he's sick.
Mysterious and bouncy, she hauls the big case she brought right onto Xander’s lap. He oophs—it’s heavy!—but her enthusiasm's as catchy as his colds and he doesn't remember to be mad or grumpy at her. The suitcase is one of those jumbo kinds that holds a small tank inside it. Willow fiddles with the locks and then slowly opens it.
“Now, this is only cause Dr. Wald knows my Daddy,” she says excitedly. “And we have to be really careful and I’ve got wipes for everything afterwards, so we don’t make them contagious, and I remember everything he said, but he gave me all his notes, too, so I can answer any of your questions—”
She’s saying something else, now, but Xander can just stare. Because nestled in black foam inside the suitcase is a dinosaur bone. It’s the size of his forearm, and he doesn’t know what part of which dinosaur it’s from even though Willow’s telling him so right now, and he doesn’t care. Because he’s lifting up the bone—and it’s cool and smooth except where it’s just a little rough on the end and it looks like tarnished ivory—and holding it in his own highly-contagious hands.
When Willow pauses for breath, Xander says as clearly as he can, “Uv oo.”
Her eyes go wide and wet and she blushes as red as her hair. “I love you too, Xander.”