All my stories contain homosocial and homosexual themes.
As a nod to those who feel that the label "slash" isn't enough. I have attached a blanket rating of "SMUT" (aka "erotica") to my stories, which means that these stories were written for an audience of adults who recognize that human expressions of affection range from the polite and platonic to the erotic and explicit.

Pairing: Spike/Xander

Written for the Spander Valentine Ficathon, 2009

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Peculiarities of Taste and Sentiments


by
Miriam Heddy



Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o'nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
-Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II.




Part One


A man's penmanship is an unfailing index of his character, moral and mental, and a criterion by which to judge his peculiarities of taste and sentiments.
-4th Earl of Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope in Letters to His Son by the Earl of Chesterfield on the Fine Art of Becoming a Man of the World

The Clorath gore was still somewhat damp and drying to a crust on the bottom hem of Harris' trousers and Jeremy Clarkson had just summed up all the reasons he preferred the Pagani Zonda to the Lamborghini Murcielago when Harris turned away from the telly to ask him what difference the Soul made, "besides the kind of crushing guilt that comes from a hundred years of ruthless mayhem."

"Food tastes better," he'd replied, still considering whether he'd feel too much crushing guilt if he went and stole someone's Lotus Elise in order to see if he could break land-speed records in something a bit posher than Rupert's Citroen.  

Harris nodded and turned back to the telly, and then blinked and turned back away from the telly to argue, "Wait--that's quitting smoking."  

"Is it?" he'd asked, and lit a fag, blowing smoke in Harris' direction just to watch him make that little moi of distaste he still got even though he'd been inhaling secondary smoke long enough to not be bothered and, in point of fact, was inclined to steal a fag of his own now and again when he thought Spike wasn't looking.

Except, just then, Harris coughed, and Spike had a sudden flashing image of what Harris' weak, mortal lungs must look like.

A better man might've quit the habit, tell himself that was his last smoke. But when he lit up again the next morning, he decided it was compromise enough to smoke out of doors when Harris wasn't present.

The next time Harris asked for a fag, he growled out, "Buy 'em yourself."

And Harris looked a but put off but said, "Fine. Maybe I will."

As far as Spike knew, Xander hadn't bought his own, but Spike had been annoyed to discover that, without the irritation factor, smoking wasn't nearly as satisfying. He'd long ago lost the ability to feel nicotine in such small measure and had been indulging year after year more out stubbornness than pleasure. It was also getting to be bloody expensive actually paying for them instead of stealing them, as the soul--with no sense of scope or sense and a maddening tendency to view all twelve commandments as equally important--started in to whinging at every little vice and uncharitable thought he had (and there were a lot of them to whinge over).

He noticed Harris glancing at Spike's empty hands now and again with a puzzled look that suggested Harris's wheels and cogs were grinding away at the, "What's wrong with this picture?" problem. But it was several months before Harris caught on and asked, "Say, did you quit smoking?"

"Yeah, what of it?" he'd challenged. He was fully prepared to take up the habit again if he could just figure out how to annoy Harris with it while not exposing him to its dangers.

But Harris, articulate as ever, just said, "Huh," and went on with his day with no further comment one way or another, and Spike made do without, though when he sat at his desk and tried to write to the Slayer, his fingers itched for a fag.  





Part Two

While Harris was still in Africa, and after he'd convinced himself out of it a dozen times, he'd finally phoned her. The first call had lasted just under a minute before he'd said something stupid and she'd hung up on him. The second call went just as badly, only that time, he hung up on her. Gradually, they'd worked up to a good five minutes of long, fraught pauses as they searched for something neutral to say that wouldn't end with Spike feeling like an idiot for clinging to some faint hope she'd change her tune.

And then she finally said, "Look, this isn't working," and he'd agreed.

They'd tried instant messages next. But he'd hated the fact that the words he set down looked flat and imperfect, boxed into that small window. The lines, broken up by the necessity of hitting Enter, scanned like modern poetry--worse than his usual efforts by far, which was an achievement of sorts, he supposed. He'd never found anything written after the Second World War to be of much worth unless it was set to music, and he wasn't interested in serenading the Slayer with blank verse.

But the real problem was that there was no method of revision, which left him all too often saying the very first thing to enter his head which, as it turned out, was usually not the thing to say.

After their second attempt IMing back and forth, she suggested to him that his personality was made tolerable only by his many physical charms.

Of course, her language had been a good deal cruder than that and, naturally, she'd typed, "pens" instead of "penis." But he'd got her meaning, and was inclined to agree.

He'd thanked her with equally kind words (spelt correctly) and then they spent an entire month afterward with no contact at all.

They tried email next, as he thought it might help to have time to revise. But, in an attempt to avoid talking about anything of substance, she ended up sounding like a half-witted teenager and, love her or not (and he did still love her), his feelings for the Slayer just didn't extend to sifting through Valley-speak, which she seemed unable to avoid using. He supposed he should've been grateful that she stopped short of inserting those smiley faces Dawn liked so very much. It was one thing to have the Bit treating him as a classmate, but it was another to pass notes back and forth with the Slayer when they didn't seem to have anything to say to one another. He'd finally decided that, had he had occasion to email her in high school, he might've saved himself the trouble of getting a Soul.

As he told Harris much later, the experience had convinced him that the internet was engineered to provide increased access to pornography (which he did appreciate, though not nearly as much as did Harris) at the expense of intimacy. Harris had just laughed and told him, "Next, you'll be telling me that television rots kids' brains!"

He'd told Harris to sod off.

It was Andrew who'd made the suggestion that he send Buffy letters. Rupert said he ought to give up on the idea of communicating with Buffy entirely, though Spike suspected that suggestion was made more out of habit than malice.

Despite it being Andrew's idea, he thought it had merit, so he sent Buffy a short letter by post in which he apologized and asked if she'd try writing him in return.

She'd taken a month to consider it, but he did finally receive a letter from her. Her first attempt at it was awkward and almost painful to read. She alternated between writing as if he were a stranger and sharing odd intimacies best reserved for a girlfriend--or Harris. She'd finally moved from talking about the weather to rehashing weeks'-old stories he'd already heard from Dawn in email (and Dawn provided more color commentary, as well as having a wicked ear for good gossip). But after a few more letters back and forth, Buffy settled into it and the next letter was better, and the next one better still. She was a bit more formal than she was in email, and, with the weight of the world lifted off her pretty shoulders and redistributed onto other girls, Buffy seemed to have got some of her old spark back. She was no longer the girl who'd swept him off his feet, and she might never be again, but she was at least a bit less... wounded.

In that respect she and Harris were a study in contrasts.

She typed her letters on a computer, but his own were written longhand, on proper paper, and he imagined he could guess what she thought of them based on Harris' own comments as he looked on while Spike wrote to her. Buffy, at least, kept her witticisms to herself.

"So... is this another missive to your local Congressman? Wait--you don't have those. Minister?"

"Yes, minister."

Harris laughed. "Made you say it. Man, I do love the BBC. Or is it the Beeb? I guess the C is silent."

"Would that you were as well," Spike thought to himself, or said aloud--it hardly mattered which, as Harris wasn't listening. Harris had come to him quiet and withdrawn, but he'd once again become a near-constant source of chatter. Harris' words wound around him, ensnaring him and driving him to distraction.

Harris even talked in his sleep--quiet mumbles that made about as much sense as he did while awake. Spike was half-tempted to return him to Africa and see if they could reinstate the catatonia Spike had only just cured him of.

"Did you happen to catch the hour-long documentary about sheep last night? It was baaaahd."

Harris laughed at his own joke and Spike turned around in his chair and showed Harris his fangs. He was not at all surprised when Harris didn't so much as flinch.

Spike ignored him and looked down at the page, trying to focus. It was still wrong--wrong words, wrong sentiment--too much bloody sentiment--things the Slayer had never been comfortable hearing from him before, so why think anything had changed? Friendly as they'd got, they were still tiptoeing around each other even after a handful of letters, and he suspected that the whole idea of his sharing intimate confidences with the Slayer at this point was insane. He'd have more luck bending Angel's ear, though each time he tried that he ended up wanting to rip it off and feed it to the bastard. So he was left with this.

"Nice handwriting." Harris dropped a heavy hand on Spike's shoulder and ignored Spike's attempt to shrug him off.

Spike covered the current page with his hand and placed a book on top of the other pages to keep Harris from reading them over his shoulder--assuming the idiot could read copperplate. He'd noticed Dawn had almost no ability to do so and printed in shaky block letters. Harris' own penmanship was just plain ugly, with letters bumping into each other at odd intervals like recalcitrant children on one of those bloody field trips that used to get Dru so excited ("walking buffet" she used to call it, which was a bit much even for him. He never did like killing children--which should've been an early clue that Dru had made him wrong).

"School, yes." Spike frowned, annoyed at himself for getting drawn in to answering. He should just ignore Harris. Sometimes, if he did that, Harris drifted away to the telly.

Harris gave his shoulder a squeeze and Spike set his pen down and lifted Harris's hand off his shoulder. His hand was warm and soft, some of the callouses he'd got working construction having smoothed out.

"So, what, did everybody back then write like that?"

Spike nodded. "We did penmanship drills, hours each and every day in a copybook--"

"A what?"

"A...." Spike had to stop and think about that. He had no idea if they even used them anymore, nor did he care, nor did Harris, probably. Moments like this one were designed to remind him how far he'd fallen, with Harris set on Earth by the Powers as part of his penance for what he'd done before the Soul.

It was a working theory, and unconfirmed, but it accounted for why he'd been drawn to the Hellmouth in the first place and why he'd drifted back to London after things went pear-shaped in LA, and it also explained why he was sharing a flat with a large, idiotic man who would. not. shut. up.

"So this copybook...."

Spike was sure the Powers had overestimated his part in the Scourge if they truly believed he deserved Harris. "It was a small notebook with lines on it for copying. Copy. Book. Copybook."

"What did you copy?"

"The bloody A-B-Cs." He could still vividly recall the sharp scent of the ink in the pot. Memory was a strange thing. "We spent hours at it--took lessons in how to sit and--"

"How to sit? You mean besides on your ass?"

"You'd know plenty about that. Haven't you got menial jobs to hunt?"

Harris winced--a small twitch around his mouth that was quickly covered by a tense, forced smile. Once, Spike would've counted it a victory.

Things had changed. Now he felt a twinge of guilt--a rasp of pain at the pain he caused. He didn't like it, but he also couldn't seem to stop. Quitting smoking was easier. But sometimes, the pain felt like pleasure--whispers of the masochism that had driven him to Buffy time and again.

He picked the pen back up and he could feel Harris paying attention now to how he held the pen and how he sat in the chair, which made it difficult to think.

"So that's how you're supposed to sit? Looks uncomfortable," Harris observed. Harris wrote with his back hunched over, his hand cramped around the pen, and then he complained about his back aching.

"Posture is a part of penmanship," Spike pointed out.

Harris grinned. "Say that twenty times fast. My tongue's twisted terribly."

"It bloody will be if you don't shut up. I'm working here."

"Well you've been working since I got in, and that was--"

"Just after midnight," Spike noted. He'd heard Harris stumble in, slightly drunk and smelling like the local. "You shouldn't drink so much."

Harris shrugged. "Nice to meet you, my little black friend. My name is pot."

"Pot belly, is it?" Spike asked, and Harris froze for a second but then shook it off, apparently deciding to ignore the jab.

"So, are you writing a book or a letter?"

Spike rolled his eyes.

"Okay, shorter than a book, bigger than a breadbox. Is it...a letter to an old flame? Wait--no, you'd be the old flame. Ex-flame? Flambé? My love is a flame that burns in your name. I fell into a ring of fire. Come on baby, light my--No, wait--I get it. This is one of your letters to Buffy," Harris concluded in a sing-song voice, as if he hadn't known that all along. "Now there's a whole lot of potential for torrid cliches. It's just a shame you had to ruin that big, symbolic ges--"

"Shame your eye didn't save the day."

Harris drew in a sharp breath and the flood of words stopped.

Frustration and a lack of sleep had made him irritable, though that was no excuse. "Didn't mean that."

"Yeah, sure. It's already forgotten." But Harris' voice had gone flat and empty. It made him want to get up and shove Harris into the wall--push him until he bloody well pushed back.

Spike gripped the pen a bit tighter, then forced his fingers to relax, not wanting to damage it--though the Soul suggested he hadn't taken the same care with Harris himself. "I misspoke. It was a noble sacrifice."

It was the truth, but Harris just frowned and stared up at the wall above Spike's head, and Spike noticed again how the eyes didn't quite match up--the plastic one cold and dead and unfocused. And then Harris blinked and lowered his eyes to favor Spike with an even stare that dared Spike to be the one to look away first. Even Harris' good eye was cold and glassy.

It was a familiar feeling, that disappointment. Coming from one of the Scoobies, it shouldn't have bothered him at all, especially as he'd brought it on himself.

And that was the thing, wasn't it? What was it Harris expected of him? Hearts and bloody flowers? Kind words and comfort from a vampire who'd introduced himself with death threats and moved on to concussing him, followed by more death threats? And then he'd graduated to fucking Harris' best friend only to also screw his ex-girlfriend. What the bloody hell could Harris expect of someone who'd do all that?

Listing his sins made him think Harris was working on his own form of penance, living with him due to masochism rather than necessity. Survivor's guilt or something like it, Spike suspected, though that left Spike in a conundrum, because if Harris wanted to be hurt, his conscience demanded to know whether he ought to be giving Harris that. He'd done it well enough with Buffy, though that was before the Spark. If she asked him again to hurt her, after so much time had passed, could he do it?

Well, yes, probably, but that was only because he knew she could take whatever he offered and throw it right back at him.

And Harris couldn't? he considered, and sighed.

The boy would only hate him for thinking that, even if it were true. At one point, he would've been sure Harris could take anything--absorb any blow and come back stronger for it. But he'd seen Harris at close to breaking and was no longer so sure.

Spike had come to suspect that there was a point of equilibrium at which he might no longer end up swinging wildly between guilt and pain, taking Harris with him for the ride and selfishly dropping him every now and again so as to lighten the load. He'd come to wonder if Angel's perpetual state of brooding was his considered compromise between the Soul and demon, though perhaps that was giving Angel too much credit and he was really just the world's oldest un-living wanker.

Spike forced himself to turn his attention back to his pages as Harris finally seemed to give up on him, stalking off to his room with heavy, even steps. Harris shut his bedroom door behind him softly, and Spike heard him kicking off his shoes to their usual place at the side of the bed. The bed creaked under Harris' weight as he stretched out on top of it.

Spike shut his eyes and pictured it in his head--the way Harris liked to cross his legs at the ankles and the way he also crossed his arms under his head, cushioning it as he stared up at the ceiling. The rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.

And after a few moments, Spike heard it--there--the small sub-vocalization and twitch of the covers as Harris' body interpreted his own slackening muscles as him falling through the air.

He hoped Harris landed softly, though Harris' dreams were all too often disturbed. He sometimes cried out in his sleep, sometimes saying Spike's name. But he rarely woke, no matter how bad the dreams got.

He listened to the regular, steady in and out breathing as Harris fell deeper into sleep. He'd only been awake about four hours, but he was hungover, and Spike knew that his sleep cycle was confused as he wavered between daylight job hunting and trying to keep to Spike's schedule, keeping himself up later each night, which in turn meant Spike had to go out into the night just to find his own peace or risk a fight in the flat as they both got in each other's faces for too many hours to avoid one.

Spike was annoyed that, just as he'd got Harris to the point where he was ready to look for work, there was none to be found. There wasn't enough demon activity in London to keep Harris busy, especially as Rupert wouldn't voluntarily send him into danger if one of the slayers could handle it. Rupert had fixed Harris up with papers so he could live and work in London once he'd got back from Africa and had pushed Harris onto him, suggesting that Harris could stay at Spike's flat because Spike wouldn't mind. Rupert's argument that they'd successfully managed to live together twice before had ignored the fact that in none of those instances had Spike enjoyed it, and in one of them he'd very nearly driven a stake through his own heart in a bid to get away from Harris.

If only Harris got a job, Spike thought he might be able to tolerate it. Harris needed steady work--something he could take pride in again that would occupy more of his time and, more importantly, keep him out of Spike's way.

Problem was, Harris' resume was spotty and thin. Harris had typed it out and given it to him, "just to look over, see if I misspelled anything," and Harris could tell even before Spike said anything that it didn't impress.

Harris wasn't yet thirty and he had the kind of work record that raised eyebrows. There was a long list of half-arsed jobs cashiering at Sunnydale's many fast food joints along with pizza delivery jobs for three different companies, two of which had ended in Harris being fired for reasons having to do with Hellmouth troubles. All the companies were small businesses that had gone down with the town.

There was only one position on it that might make a real impression, but the construction firm Harris had worked at for several years had shuttered when Sunnydale went under, and the principals had taken their insurance payout and disappeared into the night. Unfortunately, Harris had been too caught up in fighting the First--not to mention his endless girl troubles--to see to it that he was protected.

Spike had tried to track them for him, but it turned out that the company was owned and operated by demons--a family of Bruxors whose business practices made the Gambino family look reputable and above board.

Rupert had written Harris a letter saying Harris had once worked for him as a research assistant (a claim that was more form than substance, as Harris couldn't convincingly explain what he'd done for Rupert besides use a high school library card catalogue and shelve books). Harris wasn't an easy sell. He and Rupert had discussed the problem and Rupert had suggested the idea that Harris study to become a Watcher, but Rupert had trouble keeping a straight face as he said it and Spike was just glad he'd not suggested it to Harris' face.

Harris was the man who fell to earth--nothing but a high school transcript that had thankfully been backed up on the computer, thanks to Robin Wood's foresight. In California, Harris could've simply pointed to the great sinkhole into which his records had fallen. It had been in the news for weeks. But it was old news in London, and even in California, enough time had passed that something of the old fog of not-wanting-to-know Hellmouth magic seemed to have made the memory of it fuzzy for some people. He hadn't been back there, but he half-suspected that if he did, Sunnydale would be a flat piece of desert rather than a raw wound in the landscape.

Spike knew Harris was restless and on the edge of taking any job at all, and Spike knew enough to see it would kill him to go back to the kind of work he'd done in high school. Harris needed physical work--perhaps a factory job, though he couldn't manage close work on an assembly line. He still had little confidence with his vision, tending to misjudge distances, though the doctors had told Harris that should get better with time. Spike suspected, having long watched Harris fight, that he'd been at some kinaesthetic disadvantage even with two eyes, relying more on brute force and luck than either grace or accuracy. It might also be psychological, though he hadn't dared suggest that to Harris directly.

And all that begged the question of how he'd managed in Africa, though Spike half-suspected that Harris had gone there hoping to die in battle, far away from his friends who might save him, and that he was somewhat stunned to have had his plan fail, only to land in London with no backup plan. Harris still hadn't explained what brought him back--only that "it was time."

And it was past time for Harris to find a place for himself that wasn't hovering over Spike's shoulder, drinking in the pub, working out, or lying flat on his bed.

Spike had considered writing Harris a letter of reference himself, but he'd have to ask Rupert to falsify more records for him as an employer if he wanted it to look good, and he knew it wouldn't solve the problem, and it was more than likely Harris wouldn't accept it coming from him.

The real solution was Harris getting an education beyond what he'd picked up at that bloody high school where the children were passed forward just for showing up and where they were given a diploma if they managed to live until graduation.

And none of this should be his problem. Hadn't he given up being caretaker of all and sundry? What had it gotten him, after all? Dru left him, Buffy didn't want him, and Harris....

Spike sifted through the crumpled and discarded pages he'd written the night before. He smoothed the first page flat and began to read it through again, marveling with each word at what a ponce he really was.

"My Dearest Buffy" was at the top of the page, though he'd reconsidered and then crossed out the "My" and "est" before scratching the greeting off entirely.

"I write to you seeking advice" was crossed out as well once he noticed that he'd lapsed into the formal manner of writing suggested by good stationary. Formality was wasted on Buffy, who'd likely mock him for it. She'd already said he was letting out his "inner Giles"--forgetting, somehow, that Rupert was a very dangerous man under the thin, tweedy skin of civilization he'd buttoned himself into.

Spike vowed to stock up on cheap paper before he wrote the next letter. Or he could borrow Harris' lined notebook paper and copy out his final draft on that. He ought to use another pen as well--something cheap that stuttered and skipped. He could borrow one of Harris's pens. Harris used Bics and liked to gnaw on the caps, leaving personalized dents in the roughened blue plastic.

Trouble was, Spike liked his own pen too much to give it up. It was a vintage Montblanc and, though he preferred Watermans, it had a pleasant weight and good balance, and the ink flowed smoothly onto the page like... well, like ink should.

When Harris had got his first meagre Council paycheck, he'd waved it in Spike's face, saying he didn't know whether to spend it or save it for a rainy day. Spike had pointed out that most days in London were rainy and had suggested Harris start investing in a wardrobe that didn't insult the eyes. Harris had told him to fuck himself and then dashed out into the rain, only to re-open the door, grab his wallet from the plate by the door, and go out again with a happy, goofy smile on his face.

Harris had returned several hours later, having picked up a small umbrella that had sheltered him from much of the rain but had left him damp around the edges. He had a Harrod's shopping bag on under his arm and a crumpled paper bag in his free hand and looked smugly over at Spike as if daring him to ask what he'd got. He'd set the green bag on the sofa and pulled out a few relatively inoffensive articles of clothing in muted shades that were an improvement over his charity shop findings. Spike approved of them, grudgingly, and Harris made out that he didn't care what Spike thought of them, though again, he looked pleased.

And then he'd handed the small paper bag to Spike, saying, "They say it's mightier than the sword, but that doesn't mean you should kill anyone with it."

His ears had been red and he wouldn't meet Spike's eyes, but Spike had accepted the bag, noting it was sweaty where it'd been clenched in Harris' fist.

Inside was the Montblanc, nestled in a wood box. Spike pulled it out and a pawn shop receipt fell out of the bag and onto the desk. Harris quickly grabbed it--though not before Spike had seen that Harris had spent a significant sum on the pen--far more than the clothing had likely cost. It had been a fair price, but still....

Spike shook his head at the memory, looking from the pen to the closed bedroom door and then back again at the series of struck-through phrases and half-finished sentences that followed his greeting on the page. How could he convey any of that to her?


He is a friend

I find myself caring more than is prud

I've fallen

After that were several more lines of neatly printed declarations of affection he'd managed to actually finish before Harris got home.

Once Harris was tucked safely in bed to sleep off the drink, Spike had returned to writing, the words growing ever bolder with each shot of whiskey he'd downed. Harris had the right idea, getting drunk, though it took Spike several bottles of JD, while Harris could get pissed on a six-pack.

By three in the morning, Spike had got drunk enough to write the dreaded word "love" on the page, but he'd immediately struck it through with enough force that he'd torn a hole in the paper, staining his hand and the blotter with ink. He'd got up to wash his hands and, around four in the morning, he'd followed that disaster up with a new page, which he'd covered with more creatively worded invective. By that point, he was drunk off his arse, but Mistress Codworth would have been proud, as his penmanship hadn't suffered for it.

Reading over his work, he stared again at the ink that was still blackening his cuticles and remembered the sharp sting of her ruler falling across his knuckles as he forced his hand to carve out the angles and curls until he could do it without fault. He imagined her smiling down upon him from Heaven, and he paused to offer her a two-fingered wave in gratitude.

Harris's snore was broken by a faint whimper and then the sound of him rolling over and kicking at the covers. By the time Harris woke, they'd be at the foot of the bed or kicked off entirely.

Spike had got up to check on Harris, drawing the covers back over him before returning to his seat to begin an epic, three-page diatribe in which he began by attacking Rupert for his interference (since, even drunk, he knew it was poor form to rail at Buffy for being Buffy). He'd moved from there to charging the Council with not allowing itself to be properly destroyed by the First, then meandered on to blame the Powers for bringing him back after he'd made his peace with death, and then the Dark Continent for failing to conveniently kill Harris when it had a chance. He then came back to the Powers--and by extension, Rupert--for returning Harris to him with more scars, inside and out, but with the same undaunted, bloody-minded courage and forced cheer in the face of nearly insurmountable odds--the very things that both attracted and infuriated Spike beyond the telling of it.

Just as the sun was beginning to rise that morning and he felt--and resisted--the pull of sleep (and while Harris was still snoring away in his bed), Spike had finished off the last bottle of JD left in the flat and had given up on editing entirely, moving to stream of conscious vitriol the likes of which would've made Mrs. Codworth blush. Yet still, his penmanship had never wavered in the slightest, even when his writing slipped into the vernacular and he lost the thread and started rambling on like Dru at her maddest.

I hate him. I hate him for living, for breathing, for eating and drinking and pissing and shitting and being mortal. Should've turned him, killed him, torn through him when I had the chance. Hate the halo of sweat left on his pillow in summer- the faint sweet, salt, sour bitter of him on everything he touches. How would he taste? How does he taste? Hate him for dusting the furniture with his discarded skin so a bloke can't take a proper breath without taking Xander LaVelle Harris inside, inside and out, everything's turned around and inverted-has me undone. He has me-my hate-Hate him, yes, for being average and human and bloody impossible to hate properly.


It took more two pages of that codswallop before he'd had to stop and put a new cartridge in the pen, and by then the sun was up, though the blackout curtains kept it out of the flat. He'd given up, then, and had taken a walk to stretch his legs, finally ending up just outside Harris' door while Harris slept on, oblivious.

He'd opened the door and watched Harris sleep. He'd kicked the blanket back off again, but as it was almost morning, Spike left it, returning to the desk to finish the letter, telling himself to ignore what he'd seen: the line of hair that tracked down Harris' belly and the flash of pink, limp dick and dark brown curls he'd seen through gaping boxers. Spike had, with effort, looked away without touching--another reason to leave the blanket where it was.

When Harris finally woke that morning, Spike had already set his work aside to put on coffee and heat up some blood for himself. He didn't get hungover, as such, but the blood did help counteract the urge to sleep.

Harris showered and got dressed.

With a mug of blood warming his hand and feeling noticeably more sober, Spike resumed his writing on a new sheet of stationary, putting only "Buffy," at the top and the date. In the kitchen, freshly showered and dressed, Harris puttered on with his morning routine, cereal tapping against the bowl as he read the morning's paper.

Then Harris went out. Spike hadn't asked where he was going, though Spike suspected he was applying to more jobs. He returned four hours later, and had turned the telly on before getting bored with it and coming around to Spike before his early nap.

And through it all, Spike was still writing. He was like the bint with the red shoes.   Dance you shall,. said he,   dance in your red shoes till you are pale and cold, till your skin shrivels up and you are a skeleton! Dance you shall, from door to door, and where proud and wicked children live you shall knock, so that they may hear you and fear you! Dance you shall, dance. !. 

With Harris back to sleep again, Spike decided to set aside his earlier, drunken ramblings and instead recount for Buffy the story of Harris' latest idiocy--how Harris had taken on himself the job of wiping out a whole family of Nameth demons plotting to take over the entire London Underground by way of magicking the maps to align with ley lines. It was a clever plan, and at one time Spike might have sat on the sidelines and let it play out. But he'd gotten involved, and the whole thing seemed as good an example of any of the problem of one Xander Harris.

You might think that, in your absence, Harris would keep out of trouble. You would be wrong. Harris has a keen eye for it.

Spike stopped and reconsidered the last sentence. Would she take offense? Would Harris?

He left it. Harris wouldn't appreciate her rising to his defense.

Council might as well send him out into the streets like a canary into the mines or a shiny lure to catch the nasties. He's like those humans who come home from a camping trip covered head to toe in mosquito bites. And please do not respond with jokes about bloodsuckers, as I've heard them all decades before you were born and they don't amuse.

Spike stopped there as he realized that it was unlikely Buffy would say any such thing. That was more Harris' game--the stupid insult meant to remind him he was so much dead meat--as if he'd somehow forget that, what with Harris reminding him at every interval.

He took another drink of blood from his unfortunately lukewarm mug. He ought to rewarm it in the microwave, but it tended to go a bit off if he did that, getting gummy. He'd tried heating it on the stovetop but it developed a skin like pudding if he didn't watch it carefully, and Harris told him it was the single most disgusting thing he'd ever seen to watch Spike peel off the blood pudding and eat it with his fingers, which meant Spike tended to save it for when he had an audience.

He drank the rest of the mug down and got up for a refill and then came back to finish the story, soothed by the now warm, coppery taste and the heated mug in his chill hands.

He set the mug down and went on to explain that, if not for Harris, the Watchers would likely never have gotten involved in the Nameth's scheme. The Slayers dealt with the obvious trouble--things that went bump in the night that didn't have the brains to go bump somewhere more remote than Central London. Without a Hellmouth to draw them, demonic activity seemed driven by the same things that brought others to the City--the promise of fun, the concentration of money to be had, and the writhing mass of humanity jammed in a small space.

So when a few passengers on the Tube complained they'd ended up in the wrong places, it was easy to pin the problem on the usual. The LU higher ups had soldiered on, as people do, telling the press it was all due to poorly implemented but necessary repairs to the affected tunnels causing diversions of service. There were a number of recurring gas leaks in the tunnels and chemical fume-induced hallucinations from the glue used to secure the tiles to the walls of the tunnels. Several bureaucrats were summarily fired for incompetence for failing to issue the appropriate repair notices and for not adhering to safety requirements, and of course there was no mention of magic or demons or any explanation given for the several train conductors who'd simply disappeared without popping back in anywhere. Harris figured them for dead, and Spike had to agree.

The Watchers, led by Rupert, had praised Harris when he'd come to them, excited to have solved a case they hadn't even noticed. Though all Harris had done was stumble upon the demons in the way that Harris stumbled into everything--through inept bungling which, after the fact, resembled genius to a bunch of wankers who couldn't be trusted to find their own arses without a compass.

While out during the day, Harris had gotten turned around in the Underground, missed a turn somewhere, and, spotting a rusting gate, reckoned he'd found the way back to the stairs. As it turned out, the gate led into an abandoned tunnel--one of many in the system that had been shut down or built and never used, and Harris had followed it even after it should've been clear he was going the wrong way.

I told him in private and using very small words exactly how bloody stupid it was to enter a Nameth lair unarmed and without a functioning brain much less weaponry or the capacity to defend himself.

Spike once again thought that Buffy would likely want to rise to Harris' defense, so he went on to include all of Harris' shoddy rationalizations for why it really hadn't been a stupid idea at all. All of his "but but but"s were couched in language that suggested Spike was a wrong and very mean man to point out that, unlike his friends, Harris was less able to defend himself, being a mere mortal and thus more likely to be hurt than Willow or Buffy, but he'd finally scored a point when he noted that Harris wasn't even wearing protective eye gear, and what was he going to do if a demon someday got in a lucky punch? He also noted that Harris seemed oblivious to the fact that he could have died, with no one the wiser.

Harris hadn't even left a note saying where he was going (though Harris pointed out that he hadn't known exactly where he was headed).

Spike told Buffy that wasn't the point and asked her,

Who besides Harris would have followed fairy lights shining in an unused section of tunnel and then, seeing it was a Nameth lair, would have gone inside alone, pretending to be a lost tourist who thought he'd come upon one of the rumored fancy dress raves he'd heard about online?

It was a rhetorical question.

Lucky for Harris, the Nameth bought his story (the American accent and appalling fashion sense had helped) and they ended up steering Harris back out into the proper tunnel exit without beheading him, but not before Harris had gotten a sense of who, what, and how many there were--enough information for Rupert and company to fill in the background information Spike needed to decide that, rather than countering the magic, the simplest solution to shutting them down was death.

Spike had ended up going back with Harris in tow to do a bit of reconnaissance himself before the Watchers could get it in their head to organize one of their bloody training expeditions. He pointed out to Rupert that he could let his trainees cut their teeth on smaller prey.

Nameth were tall--about seven feet, on average--and built heavily, with slightly square faces and tufts of hair above their ears. And they had rough, grey skin that darkened toward their extremities, ending in black fingers with long, curling claws.

And they were smart and cautious about their plans. They'd begun by tinkering with one line at a time, creating small delays that could be explained by human error. Then they escalated, managing to get control of the Central Line so that riders getting on at Tottenham Court Road were seen popping up seemingly at random on trains running on other lines--sometimes reappearing miles away and twice arriving in the car without their trousers on.

He and Harris had gone back and forth arguing about the naked passengers. He thought it was yet another experiment on the part of the Nameth, but Harris insisted that the naked passengers were perverts who'd disrobed to "join the Mile Low Club," which had provoked a few blank looks from Rupert's recruits, though Rupert himself caught on quick enough, covering his face as Harris went on to intone, "Mind the Gap. Mind the Gap" before breaking into a fit of high-pitched giggles. Spike had finally drawn the Watchers back on point by telling them he'd take care of the Nameth problem personally without involving any Slayers, as Nameth blood had a particularly nasty side effect on a human female's reproductive organs.

It was close enough to the truth, though the Nameth only affected girls when they were bleeding. Rupert knew that and understood immediately. The London Slayers were living and training together in a hostel the new Council had set up, and Spike happened to know that a third of them were on the rag at any given time (and he further knew which third).

He had no interest in having that conversation with anyone, and Rupert looked equally eager to break the news. They both knew that the conversation would inevitably devolve when Kate--a Slayer who took the Girl Power bit to heart--started in again on how the Council was once again oppressing them by not respecting their right to have their ovaries melt. Spike knew that Rupert would point out that neither he nor Spike had made the Nameth, so any complaints she had with their mode of self-defense should be directed their way.

If he could've used the same excuse on Harris he would've left him behind with the girls and taken Kate instead, but Harris had actually cracked open a book for once and insisted on coming with him, since he had no ovaries to melt.

Once back at the Nameth lair, Spike had shoved Harris behind him and killed most of the Nameth himself with so little effort it was almost a disappointment. Though Harris, with his usual mix of luck and courage, had dealt a single blow to one of their heads that, like something out of a Three Stooges film, caused the Nameth to go crashing into one another. The first two went down with cracked skulls, while the third landed on his arse on the electrified rails.

Harris was elated. Sweat was pouring off of him, and, when he bumped shoulders with Spike, Spike was momentarily stunned by the visceral desire that had him clenching his hands into fists to avoid responding. He had a difficult time shaking the demon off so they could leave the lair and join civilization above. The demon said, "take" and insisted the proper celebratory gesture was throwing Harris to the ground and raping him amidst the demon gore.

Spike left that last bit out. Some things were best left unsaid.

He concluded the letter with the usual meaningless pleasantries and signed it, Yours, Spike, though even as he did so he could hear Buffy saying that she didn't want him.

He mailed the letter regardless, and when Harris woke from his nap, it was as if their earlier conversation was forgotten and they were friends again.





Part Three

Two weeks after he'd sent the letter, Harris had begun to mock him every time he surreptitiously checked the mail for a letter back.

Another week passed and Spike almost phoned her to see if she'd got the letter, then thought better of it.

And then a week after that, when he'd almost given up, instead of a letter, the Slayer herself arrived on his doorstep, knocking on the door and then pushing past him with a grim, determined look that suggested that either an apocalypse was imminent or Dawn had got herself in serious trouble.

"Slayer," he said by way of a greeting, waiting for the bad news. She had on a light pink shirt with tiny flowers all over it that pulled tightly across her breasts when she crossed her arms over her chest, drawing his eyes there. And then she cleared her throat, reminding him that, according to her rules, he wasn't supposed to look.

Young Kate had said to him once that women were not put on Earth to be looked at. When he'd asked her for an alternate explanation, she'd just stood there, mouth opening and closing in a state of high dudgeon.

He took his amusements where he could find them.

"So, how's tricks?" he asked Buffy, hoping she'd get to the point quickly and leave. Though he'd wanted a letter from her, he hadn't wanted her, in person, and now that he had her in the flat, he was torn between the urge to confess and the desire to pursue her, if only because he could reconcile his desire for her, whereas what he felt for Harris was... impossible.

Her eyes narrowed as he looked at her body, at the curve of breasts. He knew them so well--the weight of them, the texture of them, the way she'd moan softly as he bit down on one nipple, then the other. Her hands moved to her hips and, rules or no rules, his eyes followed. She had on a pair of brown leather trousers that clung to every curve, and he let his eyes linger there before returning up to her face. She continued to look sternly at him, but her cheeks were slightly flushed and he could hear the increase in her heart rate. The scent of her spoke of arousal rather than pure anger, though for the Slayer, those things tended to go hand in hand. A good fight with a worthy adversary had always made her panties damp.

And he was worthy.

He waved her towards the sofa, wanting to sit. Standing opposite her like this felt too much like the prelude to something physical--likely a fight, given their history and the tension in the air. He wasn't against one, strictly speaking. Sparring with a Slayer was always a joy, and she wasn't just any Slayer. She might have shared the power, but she hadn't given it up, and it was still somehow different in her--brighter and darker and harder and more pure. Fighting her--and fucking her--was the highest of the highs, though that tended to mean falling hard and breaking a few bones, not to mention one unbeating heart.

Though he reckoned he was immune from that now.

She ignored his offer of the sofa and turned and walked over to one of the soft, wing-backed chairs and perched on the edge of it, leaning forward. It was Harris' chair, and he had to ignore the urge to tell her so.

He sat down on the sofa, leaning back and putting his feet up on the coffee table before wondering if he ought to have offered her a drink before sitting. He wished Harris were home. Awkward as that might be, it would be easier with him as a buffer between them, and Harris would remember how to entertain.

He noticed Buffy's eyes were dilated and he frowned, turning on the lamp on the end-table. He usually kept the heavy, wine-colored curtains closed until after dark, and he tended to leave the lamps off when Harris was out, as he didn't need them. Harris said it was odd that a vampire should care about the environment, but Spike had pointed out on more than one occasion that vampires were a part of the ecosystem.

They were just at the top of the food chain.

"It looks... comfortable," Buffy said.

"Harris did most of the decorating," he said, giving credit where credit was due.

Buffy was looking around the flat curiously and he realized she hadn't seen it since Harris moved in. Spike looked around as well to try to see what she saw.

Harris' things were mingled with his own, with the exception of the desk, which Spike had found at a charity shop. But Harris had his hand even in that. A few weeks after Harris moved in with him, Harris began insisting the desk was calling out to be refinished (and it must have been in a pretty quiet voice, as Spike hadn't heard it). Up until Harris noticed the desk, he'd had been inclined to spending his days alone in the flat, staring off into space at shadows only he could see.

Spike knew those shadows well enough to sometimes speak to them himself, though they no longer spoke back. So Spike had said yes to the project, thinking it might be therapeutic--or at least keep Harris out of his way.

It had been a slow process, as Harris first stripped off the layers of paint and then sanded the desk down to the naked wood, all the while wearing very little himself. The room had smelled of oranges and wood shavings and sweat.

By the time Harris started using a sticky cloth to wipe the wood down, it had finally been too much. Spike had shut himself in his room and made himself sticky, wanking in bed while Harris moved on to apply the first coat of stain to the wood in long, even strokes, caressing the desk like it was a living thing.

Harris had returned from Africa looking unwell--malnourished and pale under his tan. But Spike found himself drawn to him regardless, even if he'd been too terrified by it at first to do anything other than rationalize it as the result of abstinence--a sure sign that he needed to get out and find a willing fuck, though he never quite managed to get around to that.

That was the beginning of Spike's noticing Harris' body as something more than an obstacle in his way.

He soon started dreaming about Harris, imagining Harris turning to him and offering him his body. He always woke before he could accept.

Dreaming of Buffy that first time had been a nightmare, though at least it made sense. Buffy was beautiful--everything a man could want. But Harris had always been less the spring in his step than the thorn in his side, and Spike could go out onto the street and find at least a dozen men more attractive.

It might've been just the way Harris spoke to him. In a way, the trauma had done Harris a world of good, as Harris came back less the babbling idiot and more thoughtful--quieter--at least for awhile. And while Harris was quiet, Spike found himself talking more. He'd lived with Harris in the past, but he'd never spoken with him except to fight with him. They still argued, but Harris actually treating him like a human being was a bit of a novel experience.

If Harris caught him reading in the lounge, he'd sometimes ask him what he was reading. And Harris began to hover around his desk while he wrote, irritating him with questions sometimes and making it that much more difficult to ignore his own growing attraction.

The desk had been the beginning of a home improvement kick for Harris. With each new project he took on, he took to being less ghostlike (a state Spike knew something about).

Both the flat and Harris were fixer-uppers.

And as the flat improved, Harris got to be more and more like his old, irritating self.

Early on, Spike had needed to see to it that Harris ate regularly. He'd had plenty of experience in that area, having helped Dru when she was too weak to kill, though Dru tended to ignore the pizzas in favor of the boys who delivered them. But Spike had soon got sick of the pizza boxes and the Chinese food and had taken to filling the cupboards with proper foods--though aside from cereal, it had taken him some time to figure out what Harris liked. Soon, though, Harris was complaining that mushy peas were disgusting and so he'd started shopping for himself and even bringing home blood.

One day, Harris returned home with a secondhand weight bench and barbells. And from then on, every day, he'd lift the weights until Spike could see the difference in his arms and chest. Not that Spike would ever say anything. And of course, as Harris' weight had crept back up again, the attraction had only grown.

About six months after finishing the desk, Harris brought home paint pots and brushes, saying he was sick of the hospital white walls. He started with the lounge, repainting it grey. Spike had checked the label and found out the color was called "Warm Pearl." And though he complained about it, he actually liked the color. For the kitchen, Harris had picked three different shades of brown that Harris said were all called "chocolate." The fourth wall was a cream color that Harris said was vanilla.

Harris painted his own bedroom next. He chose a dark blue called "Indian Sky" that Spike didn't much like, but as he didn't have to spend any time in there, he couldn't argue.

Harris had done the painting in the summer with the windows open for ventilation, which meant Spike had to use a bit of care when the sun was high. It had been warm in the flat and Harris had painted in only his t-shirt and shorts.

There was a good deal of bending and reaching and sweating involved in painting, and when Harris finished the other rooms and offered to paint Spike's bedroom, he'd said yes. Spike had chosen "Stone-Dark-Cool" because of the name and Harris had complained that it looked like he was trying to turn his room into a crypt. He'd pointed out that it was Harris who'd picked out the lounge color.

That night, it was unusually warm, and by the time Harris had finished clearing out the room to paint, his shirt was soaked through with sweat. Spike helpfully suggested to him that he might take it off and Harris had turned around to look at him oddly enough that, for just a few seconds, Spike had wondered if he'd given himself away.

But then Harris had shrugged and pulled off his shirt, and Spike could see the play of muscles as he lifted the shirt up and over his head. And again, Harris had looked at him strangely, so Spike said something cutting about how Harris needed to hit the weights a bit harder as he was getting plump.

And Harris tensed at the criticism and then shrugged and said, "Not that you care," and had gone to his own room to get a new t-shirt to wear.

And feeling guilty, Spike had gone out at sundown and returned with Harris' favorite brand of ice cream. But somehow, that had gone all wrong, as Harris took his getting "Chubby Hubby" as another insult when he'd meant it as an apology.

When the room was all painted, Spike had laid down in the bed and jacked off until the scent of his own spend mixed with the sharp scent of wet paint and Harris.

"You have to talk to him."

"What?" He looked over and realized he'd nearly forgotten about Buffy, lost as he was in thinking of Harris. It was a familiar yet strange feeling--like the moment he'd realized he was thinking of Buffy even when he was with Dru.

"Spike. Woo hoo. Earth to vampire."

"Sorry. What?"

"You have to talk to him."

"Who?"

"Playing dumb is, well, just an opening for me to say you're not that good an actor."

"Sod off. Not playing dumb and I don't have to do anything." He reached for his pack of fags only to realize his duster was hung up by the door and, even if he were wearing it, the pockets were empty. In fact, it'd been so long since he'd smoked that the furniture no longer smelled like it.

"Fine, then. You don't have to tell him but you should. Talk to him, I mean."

"Talk about what?" he challenged, daring her to put words to whatever it was she thought she'd figured out.

She huffed out a sigh. "Spike, look, I get it. I do. I mean, I don't get it, get it, because... Xander?" She shrugged and suddenly looked uncertain.

Her words stung, though he wasn't sure if he should come to his own defense or Xander's.

"Where is Xander?"

"Not his keeper, am I?"

"No, I guess you're not." Buffy opened her mouth and then shut it, lines between her eyebrows crinkling up. "Look, maybe I'm way off base, and I know I'm probably the last person who should be giving out advice, but--"

"Second to last. Angel'd be the last."

Buffy winced. "Point taken. But don't you think--"

"I think you still haven't said why you're here."

Buffy sighed. "I'm here because somebody has to pull your head out of your ass and I'm the only person I know with leverage to do that."

Spike bristled. "Oi, you think it's easy on me? Not something you just come out with, is it?"

She smiled and he realized he'd as much as admitted there was something to say.

"Why not? You told me when it was me. When you--"

"Now that was different," he countered. "And you bloody well know it was different."

"Yes. Yes, it was... different," she agreed, though she said different as if it meant something else entirely--something regrettable and wrong. He wondered if she even noticed she did it. "You and I did--we were...."

"We were," he agreed, finishing her sentence for her before she could find a word that adequately conveyed her feelings about what they were to each other back then. Enemies with benefits about summed up the early years. They were never friends. And whatever they'd become since then--whatever small friendship they'd managed--seemed conditional on their putting the past behind them, burying it, as it were, the way the whole town had been buried.

Though he remembered too well the feel of her body up against his own, her thighs pressing against his hips as she rode him. He would reach up and pull her hair elastic out, freeing her hair to fall around her face and brush against his, soft and sweet-smelling. And then he would put his hands in it and use it to control her, and she would fight, writhing against him, until he had to let go, leaving long, blonde hairs in his fists as she pulled away to get dressed, buttoning and zipping quickly, her eyes averted, as if she were suddenly overcome with modesty only moments after he'd come inside of her.

"Spike--"

"What?" he asked, the memory all too vivid, though it couldn't compete for his attention with the familiar sound of a set of five keys on a keyring, and then the clonk of work-boots in the outer hall.

"Nothing. You just need to tell him," Buffy said again, just as Harris got the door open.

"Get a new line, Slayer," he suggested, turning toward the door and fighting back the sudden urge to smile idiotically in Harris' direction.

"Tell me what?" Harris asked, dropping his bag beside the door and shrugging out of his jacket.

Buffy looked up to the door and seemed startled to see Harris, but then she grinned broadly and stood up, walking toward him. "Xander!"

"Buffy! I thought you'd be here at six."

"I got an earlier flight. And I got upgraded. They had a thing."

"A good thing?"

"A demony thing," Buffy said as Harris pulled her into a hug.

Spike was startled by how small Buffy looked in his arms, and how easily he held her. Harris released her and held her at arm's length, as if he didn't want to let go of her.

"Hey Spike."

"You didn't mention she was coming."

Harris looked at him funny and Spike realized that he sounded petulant but couldn't help that. It wasn't right to spring the Slayer on him without warning and Harris ought to know that.

"Well, Spike, I didn't tell you she was coming because I figured Buffy'd tell you herself when she wrote to you--and speaking of which, Spike was waiting for a letter--going to the door each day like a puppy waiting to bite the mailman and--Spike, you didn't bite the mailman, did you? Because maybe that's why you didn't get that letter."

Buffy laughed. "Sorry. No letter. My bad."

"Oh well," Harris said cheerfully. "You're here now, so you can tell us in person how that thing went with the Trollops--"

"Trollops?" Spike asked, feeling he was missing something. "What Trollops?"

"Big, hairy Trollops," Buffy said, nodding. "I lost a pair of shoes and the head Trollop lost a pair of, well, not shoes, because he wasn't wearing any, and can I just say that the demon community has got to look into pedicures, because..." she shuddered. "Really, seriously disgusting. Pedicures and baths. Maybe a spa package."

And Spike finally understood. "These Trollops have six fingers and pointy heads?"

Buffy nodded and made a face.

"Trollops are sluts," Spike pointed out.

"You mean they actually have sex?" Buffy squeaked, looking faintly nauseated. "I mean, yeah, I guess they had to have sex, or else there wouldn't be new Trollops, but...." She shuddered.

"It's pronounced Troll-ops, Slayer. Troll Ops. Not Trollops. Trollops are--"

"Sluts," Harris finished.

Buffy's head tipped to the side as she considered that, and then her face brightened. "Oh! So they're not actually slutty."

"Well..." Spike said, and caught Harris' eye. "Depends on your point of view. They're all menfolk with a single queen bee in charge of the lot."

Harris grinned. "They're big hairy gigolos. So did you kill the queen?"

"No. Should I have?" Buffy asked. "Giles didn't say anything about killing the queen."

Spike shrugged. "Queen's harmless. Sits around eating, mostly, popping out little Trollops."

"Oh. Then I guess I should probably--"

"Most Trollops're harmless, Slayer. Whatever your lot were doing was an isolated thing."

Buffy seemed to consider that and finally nodded as Harris concluded, "I think what Spike's saying is that their being fashion victims is not a good enough reason to kill off all the Trollops."

"If it were, you'd be dead long ago," Spike pointed out.

Harris leaned over and elbowed Spike in the side and Spike elbowed him back, noticing Buffy still watching them with that assessing gaze. Though it was a credit to Harris that, for the first time since coming in, Buffy looked relaxed.

"So I'm guessing Spike didn't offer you a drink," Harris observed after a moment, adding, "Want something?"

"I--"

"I'm a rude, rude man," Spike admitted, not feeling too bad about that. "Would you like something to drink?" Spike stood up, wanting an excuse to leave them before Buffy said any of what she was clearly thinking.

"Water would be fine, Spike. Thanks. Or coffee, if you have any." Buffy yawned and then waved her hand. "Sorry. Jet lag."

"Right." Spike headed into the kitchen to put on coffee.

"Why don't I help him with that?" Harris said, and followed.

Harris pushed past him into the kitchen and just stood there. Spike shoved him out of the way and opened the refrigerator and stared inside, finally pulling out a bag of blood and filling a mug with it. He was setting the microwave when Harris said, "So, tell me what?"

"What?"

"When I came in, Buffy was saying you had to tell me something. So..."

"So nothing."

"Nothing?" Harris echoed back sounding unconvinced. He started filling a plate with those chocolate digestives he liked. "So she wanted you to tell me nothing. Must've been some conversation you were having."

Spike watched as Harris moved to fill the carafe with water and then started mechanically spooning out coffee into the filter.

"It's nothing to do with you, Harris."

"Okay then. I guess this is one of those Much Ado About Nothing nothings."

And before Spike could reply, Harris had grabbed the plate of biscuits and left the kitchen.

Spike hung back until the coffee finished and gathered everything onto a tray and brought it out to the lounge.

Buffy had resumed her seat perched on Harris' armchair and Harris was sitting on the sofa. Spike sat down on the sofa beside Harris, leaving space between them.

And after a moment of tense silence, Harris looked up from his coffee and grinned at Buffy. It was a forced grin--and Spike could see that soon there would be quips and puns and he'd be forced to tell Harris to shut it, though he suspected Buffy would have a problem with that.

Harris turned on the sofa, facing Buffy and putting his back to Spike. "So when I came in, you wanted Spike to tell me something, and Spike won't tell me, so let me just guess, okay?"

Buffy looked startled. "I--okay, but--"

"You two are getting back together."

"I--what?"

"Cue pigs flying," Spike suggested.

Buffy nodded. "Also, the Hellmouth freezing over, and--and--other highly unlikely things."

Spike saw the change in Harris' posture as he took that in. Surprise and relief. Or perhaps disappointment. Shoulders--even Harris' broad, wide shoulders in a t-shirt, were difficult to read.

"So you and Spike aren't getting back together."

"Very, very no," Buffy said, reaching for a chocolate biscuit. "No to the nth power of No."

Harris frowned. "Oh. Okay. Well good. Because I was going to say, if you were thinking about it, well, I don't think the cookies are done."

"They taste done," Buffy said, chewing one thoughtfully. "Wait. What cookies?"

"The, um... huh? Cookies?"

Buffy's eyes narrowed. "Xander, what do you know about cookies?"

Harris ducked. "I, um... not much. Eggs, flour--they're a lot of trouble. Yeast? I like the ones you cut off the roll and eat raw."

And Buffy smiled--a tight, practiced smile. "Let me rephrase that. What do you know about my cookies that you shouldn't know?"

Harris swallowed, and his throat made a clicking sound. "Huh. Well... I--" Harris looked over at Spike. Spike mouthed, "Sod if I know." And Harris continued, "I guess Angel might've said something about them to Spike and then Spike must have said something to me and--"

"A piece of it fell on your head," Spike concluded.

Buffy's eyes widened and Harris looked confused.

"You trying to say the sky's not falling?" Spike pointed out.

"I think the phrase we're all looking for is that's the way the cookies crumble. And speaking of cookies, these are--mmph." Harris shoved two digestives into his mouth whole.

"Chicken," Spike said, and Harris didn't deny it. Of course he couldn't with his mouth full and spilling out crumbs.

Buffy looked between them and her expression changed from one of annoyance to something far more dangerous as she looked at Spike and mouthed, "You really have it bad."

"Sod off, Slayer," he replied.

And Harris missed it, thankfully.

Harris took a drink of coffee and managed to swallow down his biscuits without choking. "Okay, so if you two crazy kids aren't getting hitched, what's the what? Because I know you didn't come all the way out here to talk about slut-demons with bad hair days."

"No, that was just a bonus." Buffy stared at Spike meaningfully and Spike tensed as she added, "But since we've all been so sharey lately, Spike was just telling me about--"

"My plan," Spike finished for her, giving her a stern look that hopefully suggested she should let him handle it.

"Your plan? What plan is this?" Harris reached for another biscuit, glanced over at Spike, and then pulled his hand back without taking it. Spike knew that, in another few seconds, Harris would have forgotten his resolve and end up taking another cookie, and Spike had half a mind to just shove the plate over and end Harris' waffling. But he knew it was his own doing, making Harris alternately self-conscious and resentful.

"Yeah, Spike. Tell us all about your plan," Buffy said, clearly thinking there wasn't one.

Harris turned toward him, cookies momentarily forgotten.

"Right, then. Had an idea I'd put out a shingle."

"A what?" Buffy asked, looking confused.

"Fight evil now, don't I? Could use the dosh. Figured I'd set up a business, advertise my services." Take that, Slayer. The plan had been a thought that he'd rejected out of hand several times over the last few months, but as he finally said it aloud, he realized that, like all his plans, it was bloody brilliant.

"Advertise. Your services." Buffy frowned. "What--like Angel advertised? And what's this sign going to say. We help the hopeless?"

"Or, this being Spike, 'We spike the helpless.' Or, more to the point: 'Spike the Witless.'"

"Kill the pointless," Spike shot back.

Harris' grin broadened. "Yeah, that'll bring them running."

"Have you talked to Angel about this?" Buffy asked, looking amused now.

"Sod Angel," Spike said, vowing to ignoring Harris' quips for the duration. "Angel never did turn a profit because he kept taking on detecting jobs for free."

"And you won't?" Harris asked.

"Not the Slayer, am I? No reason I shouldn't get compensated for helping people."

"Except, y'know, the Soul--"

"Plenty of people with Souls expect pay for their good deeds, Harris. Doctors, firefighters, police officers. Most have Souls."

"Point for the vampire," Harris agreed. "Although some might say that you have a special debt to work off."

Buffy looked like she was going to object to that, so Spike saved her the trouble. "Did my thing for King and Country, Harris. Think I'm due a steady paycheck."

Buffy nodded, seeming to accept that. "So no more working for Giles and the Council?"

Spike shrugged. "Might do, if the money's right."

"Uh huh. So, um, that's an interesting plan you've got there," Harris said after a moment and another biscuit.

"Need someone to do the bookkeeping," he added. "Someone to run the business side of things."

"While you run the ass-kicking side of things?" Buffy asked.

"Right," he agreed. And, when Harris didn't pick up on it, Spike added, "Need someone on staff with experience with this sort of thing."

He caught Buffy's eye and she perked up. "Xander, you could do it!"

Subtle, she was not.

Harris shook his head. "You did say you wanted to make a profit, right? Have I mentioned that I can only balance my checkbook because I'm so good with negative numbers? Anya didn't even... I just don't think that's a good idea."

But Buffy had already latched onto the idea, and Spike could see the wheels turning in her head. "No! You could totally do this."

Harris shrugged, looking uncomfortable--still thinking about Anya, Spike imagined. "I don't know, Buffy. I mean, what--we're talking about Spike running a business? A legitimate business? With taxes and other legitimate business things?"

"Why not?" Spike asked.

Harris shrugged again, then grinned. "Okay. I guess I could see you making the short leap from public dick to private dick."

"Oi!"

Harris' grin broadened. "If the shoe fits."

"The shoe will fit in your arse."

Harris chuckled. "Look, I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but--"

"No buts. Buts are for sitting on," Buffy said.

"Bloody profound, that is," Spike observed, and, before they were all gone, he took a biscuit from the plate to dip in his blood, ignoring the odd looks he got for it. He could relax, now, having come up with a plan, kept Buffy from telling Harris anything she shouldn't, while also solving the problem of Harris sitting around all day feeling sorry for himself. He really was brilliant.

Of course, he'd just ensured that Harris would spend more rather than less time with him, but he'd have to suffer through, and it would diminish the likelihood of Harris wandering into trouble.

Buffy was still watching them both and Spike knew that she was still thinking about ratting him out. "Wow--so you two being business partners. That's mind boggling, in a good way."

"Some minds are easily boggled."

"Wait--partners?" Harris asked. "Are we talking a fifty-fifty kinda deal?"

"More like sixty-forty."

"Huh. I like fifty-fifty."

"You like kiddie cartoons and beer that tastes like piss."

"Whereas you have taste," Harris said, sounding doubtful.

"Yes," Spike agreed, making a show of dipping another biscuit in blood. "I have taste."

"Peculiar taste," Buffy said, with a gleam in her eye that did not bode well. "Tastes you didn't used to have. Unless you did and you just didn't say anything."

Spike didn't miss the way she looked from the biscuit to Harris before coming back to look at him meaningfully.

"Yeah, well, sometimes tastes change."

Harris coughed and then looked at his watch. "I think this is where I came in, and I think I left my secret decoder ring in my other pants."

"I--" Buffy began, but Harris held up his hand.

"No, that's fine. Hear no evil, see no--" Harris stopped and looked at Spike before continuing, "evil. Obviously, you two have a secret and you're not telling, but that's okay because I'm just going to assume I'm having an awesome birthday party in the works."

"Oh! That's--"

"Coming up, yes, so mark your calendars because I want a chocolate cake with a non-pointy-headed slut inside. And on that note, Buffy, I've got a few errands to run, so you two can continue your surprise party talk without me.  I should be back in under an hour and then we could do the dinner thing. Spike could come, if he wants. Or not. There's a good Chinese place near here."

"What errands?" Spike asked, trying not to sound concerned, though anytime Harris stepped out into the world and came back unharmed Spike saw it as a near miss.

"Well, someone has to go shopping before the stores close, and we're out of--well, just about everything except blood. And, not counting my own personal supply, I think we're a little low on that, too. Buffy, you okay to hang out here for a while?" Harris pulled on his coat. "Good. Okay, any last requests?"

Don't get killed, Spike thought, but didn't say that, instead pointing out, "We're out of sham--"

"On the list."

"And beer," Spike added as Harris was shutting the door. Harris poked his head back inside.

"Beer. Got it."

"Get the--"

"Manly beer--"

"None of that--"

"Stella. Got it. Buffy, you need anything while I'm out?"

"Um... " Buffy yawned again and took another sip of her coffee. "Maybe one of those chocolate flake bars would be good. I'm feeling a little flakey."

"Chocolate for the sleepy lady and beer and hair care products for the dead man. Got it. See ya in a bit."

Harris shut the door behind him and Spike tensed, waiting for it.

"Spike--"

"Think he wanted that cake slut baked into the cake or--"

"Spike, ew. I think he was kidding about the cake. Probably. Though now we do have to give him a surprise party. And you still need to--Hey, maybe you could pop out of the cake?"

"Hold that thought. Indefinitely." Spike got up and went to the kitchen for more blood. If he was going to face down a peppy Slayer, he'd need fortification. He microwaved some more blood and added a few fingers of whiskey to it, then took a pull directly from the bottle.

When he returned to the lounge, Buffy had moved to stand in front of the bookshelves. She had her back to him and he saw her tense as he stepped into the room, but she didn't say anything. He watched as she pulled out a London A to Z and thumbed through it. She continued to ignore him as she paced over to stand in front of the long, curtained window, brushing at the fabric with her hand and then looking out the window between the panels.

Spike backed further from the window to sit on the far side of the sofa, in case she thought to open it wide.

Finally, she turned around and spoke. "So, um, is this new?"

"Harris bought 'em at Marks and Sparks."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Right. I was totally asking about the curtains. C'mon, Spike. You. Men. New?"

"Don't know that it's any of your business."

Buffy nodded slowly. "You might say it's my business because Xander is my friend."

"He's my..." Spike stopped, seeing how she'd planned this, planned to draw him into conversation on it. "Not new," he said finally, hoping she'd leave it at that.

"Before or after Drusilla?"

"This an interrogation?"

"Yes," Buffy said.

He leaned back against the sofa cushions and crossed his legs. If he was going to be grilled, he might as well get comfy. Least she was honest. "Right then. During."

"During? Oh. I didn't--who? I mean, was it someone you--"

"You want positions? Letters of reference? What?"

"I don't know," she said, still honest, blunt, to the point. It was one of the things that had drawn him to her in the first place.

"Dru, Angelus, Harmony, you. That's it. The entire, post-mortem vitae. Satisfied?"

"That's--wait--Angel?"

"Angelus," Spike corrected.

Buffy paled. "Please tell me you're kidding. You're kidding, right?"

"Ever notice how he digs his heels in when he--"

"Enough." Buffy put a hand up, looking visibly shaken.

"You asked." Spike said, resolving not to feel guilty as he got up and went back into the kitchen to give her time to pull herself together. He watched the clock on the microwave tick off twenty minutes, knowing he was hiding and half-hoping that, when he came back out into the lounge, she would have left.

But he knew she wouldn't as Harris would expect her there when he returned, so he got out two glasses and an unopened bottle of JD and brought them back with him into the lounge.

He poured out a glass for himself and a small bit for her. "Drink this. You'll feel--"

"Oh, do not say I'll feel better."

Spike shrugged and put Buffy's glass on the table. "Ever heard of a bint named Pandora?"

Buffy picked up the glass and drained it, then coughed. "Okay. That was just--" She coughed again and then laughed and raised her glass in the air. "More. Cheers."

Spike poured out more and she downed it and then sank down into the armchair again, putting her feet up on the coffeetable and resting the empty glass on her thigh. Her face was still a bit pale and shocky, but now her cheeks were flushed pink and Spike felt a wave of something like pity, though she hadn't earned it.

"Okay. So I'm--I'm so sorry I asked. Because now I've got this picture in my head and--" Buffy stopped and giggled, covering her mouth before giggling some more, sounding a bit hysterical. "That's just so wrong."

"Depends on your point of view," he noted. "Some say driving sharpened pieces of wood through dead men's hearts is a bit off."

"Point," Buffy sighed and crossed her legs at the ankles, seeming to have made her peace with it, for the moment. "So you've only--with four people in--in all that time?"

"I've killed hundreds," he pointed out, and again, she shuddered.

"Okay, I'm so not questioning your manhood. I'm just... Forget it. I don't know what I'm doing."

"Makes two of us," Spike admitted.

"So you're not going to tell him?"

Spike shook his head. "No point, is there?"

"I don't--maybe not," Buffy admitted, and Spike poured out some more whiskey for himself, barely feeling it as yet, but the night was young--hadn't even fallen yet, though he could feel the sun just beginning to set.

He leaned over to turn on another lamp. "You honestly think I should tell him?"

Buffy shrugged and steadied the glass on her leg, waving her hand at it. Spike wasn't sure if she was asking for a refill or not, but he leaned forward and poured a bit more in the glass. She smiled and he nodded.

"I think... you should do what you think is right."

Spike laughed. "And you trust I know what's right?"

Buffy held the glass in her hand and swirled it above her lap, watching the whiskey inside create a whirlpool. Spike knew that state--not quite drunk but getting there. And he knew that, in that state, Buffy was suggestible--pliable. In that state he could seduce her, and she might not say no--might even say yes if she thought it'd save her friend from the clutches of evil Spike.

Funny thing: he didn't want to.

She was beautiful, and he liked her better than he ever had before, and, in a way, he did still love her. Still loved Dru as well, though he was equally unlikely to go down that route ever again.

Even if he could take Buffy, he wouldn't. Didn't want to. It wasn't right. It wasn't ever going to be right. And the sooner she got that through her skull, the better.

Inwardly, he cursed Harris, then himself, then Buffy for good measure for coming around to their flat and making him know that, for certain.

"You don't want me," she said all of a sudden, and Spike startled, wondering if he'd said it aloud. But he hadn't. Must've been on his face, then.

"You disappointed?" he asked, not disputing it.

"Yeah, maybe," she said softly, leaning forward and setting her drink down on the table. Leaning forward like that gave him a better view, and he stared--why shouldn't he? But still, he didn't make a move to do more than look. And she gave him that--let him have it, flipping her hair back away from her face and smiling just a little as she continued to flirt. "You really don't."

He shook his head, no, though it was more complicated than that.

She sat up straighter, pulling her shoulders back, which just made her breasts jut out a bit more. "Well, good. That's good. Because if you did, that would be bad."

"Right," he agreed. "Ancient history."

"Hey, watch it with the ancient."

"Old news?" he offered, eyebrow raised and ready when she threw the small throw cushion his way.

He caught it easily and tossed it back, hitting her chest. She fell back into the chair as if wounded. He supposed she might've been. Served her right for not taking him when she had the chance.

There was a dull thump at the front door as Harris set down a grocery bag on the other side of it and unlocked it. The door swung open and Harris came in, eyed the bottle on the table, looked at Buffy, tipsy on the chair and smiling at him with an easy, relaxed smile, then looked over at Spike.

"I very much do not want to know."

Spike took a drink and said nothing.

"Okay, then. Let me put this stuff away and we can do dinner. Or--" Harris looked over at Buffy again. "We could stay in."

Buffy levered herself forward on the chair and said, "Nope. Dinner. Chinese. Hungry."

"And we're down to one-word sentences. Beer bad, Buffy. Remember?"

Buffy nodded. "Yes, but whiskey good."

Harris laughed. "Okay. Groceries. Dinner. Spike?"

"What?"

"Are you coming? I mean, I know you don't have to eat, but--" Harris shrugged.

"Think I'll stay in. Let you two catch up." He needed time to think, and he had lots to think about, including a new business he'd committed himself to, a surprise party that was a surprise to him, and the still ever-present problem of Harris in general.

Harris nodded and went into the kitchen to put away the groceries and Spike left him to it, knowing that Harris liked his own order in there, as Harris did most of the cooking and eating. Spike reminded himself to put a few quid into the kitty for the blood Harris had purchased.

Buffy kept to herself, saying nothing, which was good, as there was nothing left to say.

And a few minutes later, and with the food put away, Harris was hauling a slightly wobbly Buffy out of her chair and out the door with grand, sweeping gestures and assurances from Buffy that she just needed some food and she'd be fine.

Spike only wished he were as sure about himself. Thankfully, they'd left behind the JD.





Part Four

A week later, the Slayer finally returned home after insisting that Spike had better take care of things, and she didn't mean that birthday party. And Spike lied and promised he would.

A month later, Spike had the birthday party all planned out and was enmeshed in business plans that had him wondering if it might've been simpler to just take his clothes off and throw himself at Harris.

"Rex Est Luscus Investigators?" Harris read aloud, hovering, as usual, over Spike's shoulder. "Did we hire a Rex?"

"No."

"So you're using a pseudonym for this venture?"

"No."

"Good. Because I think we should trade on name recognition. Might open a few doors. The ones you don't kick in, that is."

Spike nodded and continued with his list. He'd located an office space nearby and negotiated a reasonable rent by strong-arming the owner--a Brachen demon named Ralph who made Willy look like a peach. The git owed him a few favors and it was past time to collect.

"So no Rex works here, and you're not calling yourself Rex. So who's Rex? Am I Rex?"

Spike nodded, looking for the insurance paperwork he'd need to file. Times like this he missed Dalton.

"I like Xander."

"Makes two of us," Spike said, then frowned, realizing he'd said that out loud.

"Est... now I could see trading LaVelle for Est. Xander Est Luscus."

"Hmm." Spike continuing to write, focusing on the small details. Names, addresses (home and business), phone numbers (cellular and land lines for home and business), URL (still didn't have one, yet, though Harris said he was on that). Harris was in charge of readying the office, which, owing to the prior tenants (a family of Glaswegian Formori with a taste for wild parties), required some repair work. Ralph was footing the bill for cleaning and cosmetic repairs, though Harris had in mind some structural renovations and they'd agreed to pay for those themselves. Harris planned on doing some of the work himself and he'd already hired some day laborers to assist, promising the office would be ready in two month's time. Spike expected it to take three, having some experience with contractor estimates and knowing that it was a rare month in which there wasn't a threat to Harris' life or limb.

The list of things to do before they could open up shop was long and Spike was already a bit tired of it. He had, as usual, spoken before thinking it through.

"Xander est luscus."

"Hmm."

"Sounds like Xander is luscious."

"Vamps seem to agree," Spike agreed.

"All of them?"

"Should be more careful," Spike said by way of an answer. "Nearly got eaten last night."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't."

"Yes, you--"

"Spike, I didn't get eaten because I know how to stake a vampire. I also know how to run away from a vampire."

"Didn't run last night," Spike argued, wondering if it were premature to send Harris out to pick out paint for the office. Might keep him busy for a few hours.

Harris huffed out a sigh. "Why should I run when there's another vampire following me?"

"There wasn't an--"

"You, last night, were following me home and, last I checked, you're still sucking down the blood. And you did hire me for my advanced math skills, so I say, Vun Vampire plus Vun Vampire ees Two Vampires. Bwa ha ha. ha."

"Shut it."

"Vat, you not like Ze Vay I Count?"

"Harris, I--"

"And one of those vamps is dust, while the other one's still a pain in the ass. My ass. And may I just say that I need a bodyguard like I need another hole in the head?"

Spike stiffened at the reminder that he'd once been too slow and almost had been again. The vampire last night had been nearly on Harris when Spike had pulled him off and staked him.

Harris' hand settled heavily on his shoulder, signaling he'd not meant it that way. Spike frowned as he imagined what it might feel like if Harris moved his hand to Spike's neck and rubbed there, then down the front of him, fingers slipping down inside of Spike's shirt. It was all Spike could do to avoid sliding back in the chair and offering himself.

He distracted himself by thinking about just how close it had been when that fledge had made a grab at Harris.

"Was too close, Harris. Can't be too careful, especially--"

"Especially nothing. And actually you can be too careful. You can be so careful that you start to piss me off."

"Not going to apologize for--"

"No, I can see you're not, Spike, and if you did, I'd think you didn't care. But I can take care of myself, and somewhere inside of that thick skull you know that, so you also know that you don't need to lurk."

"I wasn't--"

"So if you want to walk me home you can, y'know, walk home with me. Because that's what part--business partners--do."

"Fine. Kill yourself for all that I care."

"No, it's not fine and you're not listening. Turn around."

"I'm listening."

"Uh huh. Then listen closer. Turn around and put the pen down."

Spike set the pen down and spun the chair around to face Harris with a full-on growl, teeth bared. It had absolutely no effect--not even a flinch from Harris, which was bloody irritating. "What do you want from me?"

"Okay. Now that's a good question. Let's try this again. I want you to listen. Read my lips. They're up here."

Harris pointed to his mouth and licked his lips, and Spike looked away. He focused on a spot just above and beyond Harris' shoulder as Harris started talking. "Spike I knew that vampire was following me. I also knew this vampire was following me." Harris poked Spike in the chest with his index finger, further emphasizing his complete lack of fear, and Spike looked him in the eye and wondered at the fact that a man who'd once thought he needed tying up should be so bloody sure of him now. Soul or no Soul, it'd take him an instant to kill Harris. "Spike, I knew both those things because I spent two decades on the Hellmouth. That and your boots sound like gunshots on the pavement. And yeah, I get that if they hear you coming they're still going to die. I get it. You're the Big Bad and you don't need to sneak around. But that other guy--I mean, c'mon, you saw him. He still had dirt behind his ears. And my peripheral vision's shot, but even if I'd somehow managed to miss him I would've clued in when he went crashing into that trash can outside of Foyles. Did you honestly think I couldn't handle him?"

Spike frowned, trying to remember what he'd been thinking beyond the flood of rage that had been triggered at seeing the vampire coming after Harris. "You didn't stake him right off. How was I to know--"

"Spike, I let you stake him. And if you'd been thinking with your--if you'd been thinking, you would've known that. Look, I'm not saying I don't want you to cover me. I'm saying I don't want you lurking in the shadows like a--"

"Vampire," Spike finished for him, wishing he could get up, but Harris was in his way, his legs so close that Spike's knees bumped against them. "It's what I do."

"Yeah, well, unless the Vampire Stalker Code explicitly forbids vampires from walking beside their humans, I'd appreciate it if you take my six from somewhere around my three or nine, though three is better since I can't really see you if you--"

"You've made your point."

"Almost."

"Almost?"

"Yeah, well, while I've got your undivided attention..." Harris dropped down into a crouch so that they were at eye level, putting his hands on the arms of Spike's chair so that Spike was penned in. Harris was leaning in so close that Spike couldn't help but notice the tracings of lines around his eyes--faint but suggestive. "In London, amor sanguini est caecus."

"What--"

"I think I just said, 'In London, the vampire is blind.' I know, my accent sucks, but I'm going with the whole dead language, not meant to be spoken excuse. What's yours?"

"I don't follow you." Since when did Harris speak Latin? For that matter, since when did Harris speak English?

Harris smiled. "Oh, you totally follow. Three yards and a couple of years behind, but you so totally follow."

Harris stood up suddenly and stepped away, pushing Spike and his chair back into the desk hard enough to make the desk rattle. Spike spun around and grabbed hold of his pen before it could roll off the desktop.

He shook off his gameface, though a part of him still felt a threat and his gut told him to be wary. It was something in the quick back and forth of his emotions--the way Harris had moved to pacing in front of the windows like a big cat.

But Spike waited and eventually, Harris spoke again.

"Spike, you and Buffy--"

"There is no me and Buffy."

Harris stopped pacing. "Yeah, I know. Drusilla, Angelus, Harmony, Buffy, and Xander, in that order."

Spike growled and gripped the sides of the chair hard enough to hear it splinter under his hands. "I'll bloody well kill her." She'd promised to let him handle it.

"Spike, you can't, because you and I both know it isn't her fault."

"Sod that. This is all her fault. If she hadn't--" Spike stopped and realized he couldn't very well say that if Buffy had just wanted him, he wouldn't have wanted Harris, as he wasn't even sure that was true.

"Spike, Buffy was practically sliding out of the chair I poured her into and all she said was the names. And then she started giggling and saying her lips were sealed."

"She promised to keep her trap shut."

"Yeah, well, it wasn't all that hard to put four and one together and come up with... two." Harris stopped and shrugged. "Buffy's not a drinker--you know that and you got her drunk anyway. So I'm thinking maybe you wanted her to say something--so you didn't have to. And she did, so you don't have to kill her."

"I'm not planning on killing her. Might hurt her a little."

"Well that's good," Harris said, as if he'd just said he was going to buy the Slayer roses and flowers. "Because I kind of like it when everybody's getting along. It's... nice."

Spike frowned at the vulnerabilty of that. Harris was so young--just children, the lot of them. And he was drawn to that, time and again.

"You don't want to do this," he said when Harris just continued to stare at him.

Harris shook his head. "Okay, I'm not sure what this is exactly, which is why we're talking. Whatever it is, I want to go into it with my--per meus oculus patefacio."

"Oculum. Singular. You've been studying."

Harris shrugged. "Giles said I'd be of more use if I could at least get the gist, and Willow gave me this Rosetta stone thing, which isn't actually a stone, as it turns out. I mean, there is a Rosetta stone, but the actual stone's like sixteen hundred pounds and wouldn't fit into the computer, so they magicked it onto a CD-ROM for maximum portability. Willow's got the whole set. And I guess I already knew a little from high school and, um, The Exorcist, because a lot of it's sort of familiar. Quod nomen mihi est? La plume de ma tante."

Spike nodded. "Should be useful. Could help you with it, if you like."

Harris nodded. "I'd like."

Spike stood up, pushing in the desk chair and placing la plume in its stand so as not to lose it. It had rolled off the desk once before and he'd panicked before finding it hidden beneath the sofa.

He walked over to where Harris stood, stopping a few feet away, uncertain about getting any closer given what Harris knew and what still remained, unspoken. He really didn't know what this was anymore than did Harris.

"The real stone's in the British Museum," he pointed out.

Harris nodded. "That's convenient."

"Could go there, take a look if you like," he offered.

"I'd like," Harris responded, and to Spike's ears, it sounded like he was agreeing to a good deal more than a museum trip.

"Bit odd, isn't it?" he observed when Harris did nothing but stand there, watching him. He could feel the heat radiating from Harris' body and he breathed in the scent of him, for once not bothering to disguise his interest.

"Me and you going to a museum with no intention of stealing anything? Yeah, that's very strange."

"Not what I meant," Spike pointed out. "And I didn't say I wouldn't steal anything."

"Yeah?"

"Might lift a few postcards."

"You petty thief, you," Harris said with a smirk that quickly faded as he glanced down at his hands and then shoved them into his trouser pockets before looking back up again and meeting Spike's eyes. "Y'know, I've gotta say, this sort of thing's easier when someone's threatening to kill me. Not that I want you to do that. Again. Because that'd just be overkill. I'm just saying, in my experience, imminent death seems to lubricate the--"

Spike cut off Xander's nervous chatter by putting his hand over Harris' mouth. Harris went very still, and Spike leaned in and, removing his hand, said, "Hush" and then kissed Harris before he could spoil it.

It was a bit awkward at first, as Harris seemed frozen, but just as Spike thought he'd made a mistake, Harris seemed to realize what was what and pulled his hands from his trousers, placing them on Spike's back and drawing him in closer. And then Harris swayed slightly, moving against him with a purpose, and it was a bit like dancing.

And then it became something more, and Harris pulled back to murmur, "Bed, Spike. Now. Please."

"Yours or mine?" Spike asked, but didn't wait for an answer, taking hold of Harris' hand and moving towards his own room, pulling Harris along after him. His bedroom curtains were drawn shut, as usual, and the room was dark, but Spike didn't bother putting on a light. He kept a candle beside the bed and he let go of Harris' hand and lit it, then started stripping off his shirt.

"You don't want me to do that?" Harris stood in the doorway, looking uncertain.

"Can if you like. Or just watch. Your choice." Spike stopped and reconsidered. "Everything. Your choice." And there, he was absolved of responsibility.

"I want..." Harris trailed off.

"What is it you want?" Spike asked, wanting it to be clear. He'd have no recriminations later--no complaints that he'd taken advantage.

"You," Harris said, after a moment--hardly more than a whisper. And then he moved out of the doorway and into the room, taking hold of the belt loops on Spike's jeans and pulling him close against Harris for another kiss. And as they kissed, Harris began unbuttoning Spike's jeans for him with trembling, sweaty hands.

Spike gasped as Harris' hand brushed over his prick, and Harris pulled away.

His expression suggested "Scooby trapped in headlights" and Spike wondered if they were moving too fast, though some might argue they'd waited almost a decade for this--since Angel had first offered the boy to him, though he hadn't wanted Harris at the time. Harris hadn't been ready then, nor had he.

Now, Harris looked ready enough. His prick was a hard outline against his trousers.

Spike let him watch as he stepped out of his jeans and pants. And then he reached for Harris' clothes, but Harris stepped back.

Spike nodded and Spike climbed up onto the bed, arranging himself on the pillows and blankets and getting comfy.

"You alright?" he asked, when Harris just stood there, looking at him.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I--this is just where I usually wake up all sticky and embarrassed. And okay, one out of two here. You don't have a gag handy, do you?"

Spike let that pass without comment. "Dream about me, do you?"

"Yeah. Sometimes. Don't let it go to your head. I dreamed about Giles once. And, uh, there was that whole thing with the Rockettes."

Spike raised an eyebrow, impressed. "All of 'em?"

"Well, some of them had to watch because hey, that's a lot of leg for any man."

Spike laughed. "Should've dreamt a bigger bed."

Harris grinned. "Yeah. I need an imagination upgrade. Or maybe just more, um, experience." Harris' blinked and frowned. "I haven't--I mean, I don't have... much."

Spike nodded. He hadn't expected anything else, though he had wondered if anything had happened in Africa. But given that Harris was still mourning his girl, Spike had thought not.

He watched as Harris passed his hand over the candle on the bedside table, watching the flame flicker. "Do you mind if I--"

Spike shook his head and watched as Harris cupped his hand around the candle and blew it out. The room got dark again, but Spike's own eyes adjusted almost immediately. He wondered if Harris had forgotten he had night vision or if Harris just didn't want to see him. He happened to think he was worth seeing.

"Just... okay, clothes off, right?" Harris seemed to be talking to himself, and so Spike didn't answer that yes, that would be helpful.

Instead, he kept his mouth shut as Harris unbuttoned his button-down shirt, dropping it to the floor, and then he pulled his t-shirt over his head.

He'd seen Harris naked often enough recently that there were no new discoveries to be had. But familiarity, in this case, did not breed contempt. Spike knew and liked the line of his back, the breadth of his shoulders, the combination of strength and softness to his body.

The fashion now seemed to be a hairless chest and belly, and Harris had followed fashion in this (though in nothing else, more's the pity). Spike preferred the hair left natural and wondered if there were a tactful way of saying so. Tact wasn't his strong suit, so he might just come out with it. Though he suspected that in ten year's time, a hairy chest would again be the thing, so perhaps he'd just wait Harris out and eventually get what he wanted. Looking at Harris' forearms and legs, he suspected Harris would only get more hirsute with age, and a part of him felt a strange thrill at that--old, old memories filtering up. William had only been sixteen when the traveling fair had come through, chock full of human curiosities, most of which had offended his delicate sensibilities. But there'd been a strongman on exhibit there, with well-developed pectorals covered in a thick mat of hair. He'd flexed and posed and lifted his barbells and poor sodding William had been aghast at the sudden stirring at his loins at seeing the man, and had only been more confused at the man's knowing wink in his direction as he'd stared up at him for too long. And then Mother had pulled him onward to the next exhibit and all that was left was that memory.

When he'd first met him, Harris had been just a boy--as young as William--as he'd been that day at the fair. But Harris was older now, with a man's body. And oh how Spike wanted him.

Looking at that half-dressed body--at the flex of biceps as Harris clenched and unclenched his hands at his sides--Spike felt the demon inside ache to be set loose, unfettered by the blasted Soul that insisted he should Wait, give Harris time to adjust, let things unfold at their own human pace. The demon's answer was always, Now, and it stamped around inside him, less like a true monster than like a petulant child forced to wait for its treat.

And Xander Harris was a treat--only half-unwrapped. Spike felt ready to give in to gluttony and several other carnal sins. But he'd held back for so long now he could hold back a bit longer.

Though looking at him now, Spike suddenly realized that Harris knew none of that. All he knew was what Buffy had said--five names, and a lucky guess. And what had Spike actually said to him? Nothing good. Much of it had been cutting, digs at Harris meant to keep him back--keep him safely at arm's length. In retrospect, he couldn't help but wonder what had convinced Harris that Buffy wasn't just drunk off her arse.

"You are lovely," Spike said, and his voice was rough--desire almost choking him.

Harris laughed. "'Amor sanguini est valde caecus.'"

Spike shook his head. Christ, Caesar had been dead wrong.

"Take your trousers off," he said when Harris just stood there. It'd take more than mere words to convince Harris, and for that, he needed him naked and up on the bed.

Harris' hand went to his trousers, and Spike's heart would've raced if it could have drawn a beat.

"Maybe this is--"

"Don't stop. Just getting to the good part," Spike said, not wanting Harris to decide this was a mistake, even if it was one.

He gave himself a light stroke, not sure if Harris could see him do it or not. He might've volunteered to help with the trousers, but he sensed that Harris didn't want that, and he did enjoy watching. The anticipation was both painful and sweet. You could learn a lot about a person by looking at how they disrobed.

In the dark, Harris' one real pupil was dilated--a stark contrast to the other. The false eye didn't reflect the light properly, though it was a remarkable match in most other ways. The differences were interesting--though Spike didn't comment, as Harris was still a bit self-conscious about that as well as everything else.

And Spike knew he didn't deserve him. He'd been an arse--insensitive and stupid, all the while telling himself he was doing more than anyone else in keeping Harris out of trouble. But he vowed that he'd change that. Already, watching Harris' reluctant striptease, he'd come to realize so much he hadn't known.

Dru had liked to play the coy virgin long after it'd been played out. She'd want him to take her clothes off her and always wore pretty, delicate underthings--lace and silk and satin in white and cream and pale pink. She wasn't a virgin but liked to pretend she was--telling him if he were a real good boy, he could have her virtue, then crying out as he took her as if it hurt. Angelus had stolen her virtue, after he'd taken everything else she had, but parts of her remained innocent--protected by the madness. And even after half a century together, she'd still been full of fun surprises. There was the time she'd done the Dance of the Seven Veils and then got distracted by a pretty light flickering just outside the crypt and had just walked off, leaving him all trussed up in her silks. She'd come back, days later, still expecting him to be there, waiting for her, and she had pouted so at his failure to wait for her that, the next time she'd tied him up, he'd stayed that way--wanting her approval, sad sod that he was. He'd not moved, and might've starved for waiting, but Angelus had come home after a week of drinking, ripe with dried blood and sodden with booze, and he'd laughed as he ripped through the bindings, going on about how thoughtful Dru was to leave him a pressie when it wasn't even his birthday.

Angelus... now he'd disrobed without care or art, but the body underneath was a peach. Clothing, like everything else in his unlife, was just another barrier to be rushed through on his way to the prize, and if the barrier could be destroyed in the process, all the better. Spike had lost shirt after shirt to Angelus, and, at first, had been flattered until he'd caught on that Angelus just liked to leave him in tatters.

Angelus put more thought into his revenge plays than he did into seduction, except on those days when sex was revenge--and then he'd work Spike into whatever fantasy he was spinning. He'd never let Spike do more than be a pawn in his tableaux, but even so, it was often bloody brilliant--good enough that, once the jewel had brought him to LA and he'd got his body back he was half-tempted to get back to it--to try again and see what it'd be like if they both had Souls. But Angel never could let himself go like that--never could look at Spike without seeing the Slayer.

She'd never taken her clothes off for him--not once. She'd made him do it--made him rip her things from her in a frantic, mad scrabble of violent lust. And afterward, she'd not been able to dress again quickly enough for the shame that had come over her for wanting a low thing like Spike.

There was no getting past that. No getting over her, either. But he'd made his peace with wanting and not having her, as had Harris, he imagined.

And that left Harmony--child of the Hellmouth, awkward like a new colt and practically tripping over herself in her eagerness to impress. She'd been entertaining enough at the time--a diversion when he'd needed one. He'd needed someone to hold and pretend it was more than that, and she'd obliged until she figured out that was all he'd wanted of her. Harmony had stripped and gyrated for him like a pole-dancer on her first day out--more enthusiasm than style, but plenty of energy and a big finish. Her mouth had been her best and worst feature--best when it was full. She'd gone down on him like he was a lollie. But she had some strange kinks, even for him. The first time he'd taken her, she'd shouted out, "Spear me with your horn," like he was one of her bloody toy unicorns, and he'd very nearly pulled out right then and there. But then the oddness of her grew on him, and she'd liked it when he got her pretty things.

Each lover had been an experience. And now he had Harris--the lover he least deserved and the one he most wanted to keep. Funny thing was, none of his experience told him how. Harris wouldn't expect him to stay tied down at his beck and call. Harris wouldn't believe him if he pledged eternity as his servant. Harris wouldn't want to hurt him on purpose just for kicks and giggles. Harris didn't need him for his own debasement.

He didn't know what Harris might need--what might keep him happy--keep him Spike's. Experience suggested he could keep on insulting Harris so long as he took care not to push too far, but that was all about what Harris could take--what he'd put up with--not what he needed.

And Spike had lived with him in three different flats, including that grotesquerie of a basement, so he should know--should at least have a sense of it. But Harris was hard to read--harder than even Buffy was--because underneath it all, Buffy was just a girl--and half her complexity had turned out to be the capricious will of a teenager running hot and cold over everything, while the rest was being Slayer--something he couldn't touch or fix for her.

He thought he could do more for Harris--be more for him--if he could just figure him out.

But first, he had to get Harris up and onto the bed, and that--as with all things involving Harris--was proving to be difficult.

"Xander," he said, and watched as he startled at the sound of his name spoken softly but firmly. Spike saw the twitch of his prick inside those damnable trousers and said his name again, just to see. "Xander."

"What?" Harris asked, finding his tongue and using it to lick his lips.

Spike wanted his mouth. His own prick twitched and precome slicked over onto his hand as he stroked himself again, drawing out the anticipation, touching himself because Harris was too far away.

"Know how a pearl's made, Xander?"

The incongruous question seemed to get through, as Harris' pretty mouth twitched into a grin, his uncertainty vanishing for a moment as the sarcasm took over. "Pearls of wisdom or pearls as in cast before swine?"

"Pearls as in answer the bloody question."

Harris frowned.

"Sorry."

"Okay, yes, I know how a pearl's made. Sand plus oyster equals pearl. What do I win?" Harris blinked and then laughed. "Okay, I'm guessing the prize is you."

"We'll get to prizes in a minute."

"Okay."

"And it's not usually sand," Spike corrected. "It's other things--parasites, organisms--things that might hurt the oyster if they weren't contained. The oyster's got a shell to protect it, but not well enough to keep everything out, and so sometimes, things sneak in, get past the barrier, and end up trapped inside. When that happens, the oyster seals up the intruder, slowly, gradually, layer upon layer, in this stuff called nacre that shines, looks pretty."

Spike stopped to see if Harris was getting any of what he was saying to him.

"Can I buy a vowel?" Harris said, after a moment, and though his mouth had again turned up in another grin, his eyes were wide and his heart was beating a bit fast.

"You're the pearl."

"Um... okay. So you're the pig?"

"No, I'm the oyster." Spike frowned. "It's a metaphor."

Harris tilted his head and Spike could hear the gears grinding and smoking. "That's--wait--so I'm a parasite?"

"That becomes a pearl, yeah."

"You think I'm an irritating parasite?"

"You're ignoring the pearl bit," Spike argued, sitting up on the bed. "It's a compliment."

"Yeah? I've heard of damning with faint praise, but that's--How come you can't be the parasite and make me the oyster?"

"Because it's my bloody metaphor!" Spike jumped down off the bed, landing just in front of Harris.

Harris barked out a laugh. "Y'know, I'm starting to get why you got booed off the--"

"You take that back."

Harris blinked at him. "No. You called me a parasite."

"I called you a pearl, you ungrateful--" Spike gave him a shove.

"Asshole," Harris shoved back.

Spike shoved back even harder, only instead of retaliating, Harris stumbled backward, landing on his arse, his head smacking against the doorframe with a dull thud.

The surprised laugh slipped out before Spike could stop it. "Sorry--not funny."

"Fuck, Spike. Ow. No, it's not funny. I think I'm bleeding." Harris looked up at him from the floor with a scowl, his hand touching the back of his head. Spike smelled blood and dropped to the floor to examine him.

"Lean forward. Let us have a look." Spike cupped his hand around the back of Harris' neck.

Harris bent his head down, curling forward without protest. "See any brain matter?"

"Need a brain for that," Spike answered. Harris' head had caught the wooden edge of the door frame hard enough to break the skin of his scalp.

"Ouch. Insult, meet injury. Now this is familiar."

"Sorry. Old habits."

"Tell me about it," Harris agreed. "You're naked," Harris said.

"Might have a concussion."

"No, I'm--oh. That's..." Harris trailed off as Spike straddled Harris' legs and gently ran his hand over Harris' skull, feeling the edge of the cut. It was small--just a scratch, really, though head wounds did tend to bleed. And he smelled wonderful--a strange, confusing mix of sustenance and sex. Spike had his hand on the back of Harris' neck and he used his other to tip Harris' chin up.

"Spike, I--you--"

"We," Spike said, and kissed him on the mouth. This time, the kiss quickly turned into something more, and Harris was soon fumbling to undo his trousers as Spike reached down to help, getting the zip down, which let him reach inside and take hold of Harris' erection.

"More," Harris mumbled into his mouth. And Harris shifted over and stretched out onto the floor beside the bed. Spike eased himself off of Harris long enough for Harris to get his trousers and shorts off, and then he climbed back on top and they were finally skin to skin.

And Spike was almost trembling with need.

There was no art to it--nothing but clumsy groping on both their part--the smell of blood and the argument having finished off what little self-control Spike had left. It was all he could do to take care that he didn't injure Harris further as he pushed and thrust against Harris' body while kissing him hard and deep, fighting against the urge to change. He was afraid he'd lose control and bite Harris.

But Harris met him with equal passion, and then Harris tipped them over onto their side and reached down and grabbed hold of both their erections in his hand.

Spike looked down at the same instant Harris did, and Harris gasped as their foreheads bumped together, though Spike was too far gone to check to see if he'd done any damage as he was suddenly caught in the throes of orgasm.

"You came," Harris whispered, and Spike caught his breath. His mind was racing with sarcasm What gave it away? and utter adoration lovelovelove. "Can do it again if you like," he suggested, tangling his legs with Harris' warmer ones.

Harris nodded and began to squeeze and pull with a steady, hard pressure along both their lengths, the way eased now that his own spend slicked them. It took very little before he was hard again, and Harris kept up the pressure and friction and heat.

And then there was nothing but the sound of their own harsh breathing and the scent of blood and sweat and sex--things that brought out the demon in force, though now that he'd come once, he could let it out, not terribly worried that Harris would panic at the drop of fang or at the growl he was unable to contain.

He pressed his forehead against Harris' smooth one and rested one hand on Harris' soft hip and the other on his shoulder, arching his back and thrusting forward into Harris' grip.

"Oh!" Harris said suddenly, and then moaned out a breath, going very still, before tightening his grip and then giving them another couple of hard, steady strokes. And then Spike felt the warm spill over his own prick, so much warmer than his own spend which followed.

He looked down at their hands and saw they were both coated in it, the pearly, shiny seed slicked over their softening pricks and fingers.

"You are a pearl," he said, letting go and running his wet hand over as much of Harris as he could, rubbing the seed into his soft skin until Harris shined with it. Harris was relaxed, his earlier modesty gone, and Spike took advantage, wanting to touch and taste as much of him as possible. He kissed a line from mouth to neck to the hollow of his throat and down to his sternum, stopping to taste his flat, brown nipples, licking at him until he squirmed and laughed before moving on. Harris tensed just a little as Spike kissed downward over his belly, but Spike ignored that. He had a point to make, and, despite having just come twice, he felt his prick start to stir again as he kissed over navel and dark, curling hair, licking off the semen he'd just rubbed in. It tasted like life and blood, ocean and earth, and he rose up to kiss Harris' mouth, wanting to share that with him.

Harris' lips parted under Spike's as he kissed him again, and when Spike pulled back, Harris smiled back at him, looking a bit bashful and a bit pleased with himself, as well he should be.

"You are a pearl. And I am a bloody great poet. Just need the right audience. And the right instrument."

And for once, against all odds, Harris didn't dare disagree.

Notes: Cordelianne asked for:  How Spike and Xander express their love: Through action. Preferably a non-lifesaving action and more an ordinary, everyday one (preferably not sex).
When Spike and Xander express their love (what era Spander you want): Anytime season 5 and onwards, including post-Chosen.
Where Spike and Xander express their love (optional):
Who else (if anyone) is involved: Non-judgmental, nice, good friend Buffy (but if you don't feel comfortable writing her, don't feel you need to include her!).
What else (if anything) is involved: S/X Banter, Xander babble. Up to three things you don't want: Character bashing, angst/dark, claiming.




The End





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