The Hermit of Werleyville

by
Whichclothes



Part Three

Spike was still tired. Xander understood—it wasn’t exactly vampire hours. So Xander suggested that Spike move upstairs to the bed, where he’d probably be more comfortable and where he wouldn’t be disturbed as Xander puttered around. Spike nodded and yawned again. Then he stood, letting the blanket drop away completely. He smirked at Xander, scooped his clothing off the floor, and walked up the stairs. Xander watched appreciatively. He’d seen Spike naked before but that was years ago, before Xander had admitted his sexual preferences to himself, let alone anyone else. Now he felt like he could ogle freely, and Spike didn’t seem to mind.

For a few hours, Xander did chores. He watered and weeded the garden before it grew too warm outside, while Rocko dug for gophers. When the gardening was done, he decided to tackle the back door, which led from the kitchen to the well. When he’d moved in, there had been no door at all and the frame had been badly warped. He had jury-rigged something just to keep the elements out—a salvaged door cut to fit—but he really wanted something nicer and more weatherproof. He wanted to do it right. So he took the door off the hinges and pulled off the old frame, then spent a happy period measuring and cutting and hammering a frame that was straight and true.

He had been using the bank across the street to store supplies, so he went there and fetched the brand new door he’d acquired a while back. When he returned to the kitchen he heard water running upstairs and concluded that Spike must be showering. The thought of that distracted him a little, but not so much that he couldn’t hang the new door. He was just testing it when a voice behind him said, “Didn’t realize opening and shutting took so much practice.”

Xander turned around to grin at the vampire, who was leaning in the doorway to the main room. “Only if you want to get really good at it. Wanna give it a shot?”

Spike gestured silently at the windows, which were bathing the room in light.

“Oh,” Xander said. “Sorry. Guess I’m gonna have to rig up some shades or something.”

That seemed to please Spike, because he grinned. He was dressed again, Xander noted with slight disappointment. “Could raise the dead with all the clattering you were doing down here,” said Spike.

“Maybe it was time for the dead to get his ass out of bed anyway.” Xander washed his hands at the sink and then turned to look at Spike again. “I’m gonna have some lunch. You want something? I’m fresh out of plasma.”

“I’ve a coolerful in my car. Would you mind?”

“No problem. Just hang on a sec.”

Xander had a rapt audience of two as he made himself a sandwich with some leftover steak and sliced tomatoes. He carried the sandwich and a couple of beers into the main room and set them on the table. “Guard this, will you?” he said to Spike. “Rocko is a thief.”

Sure enough, when Xander came back with a heavy cooler and the black duffel he’d found beside it, Spike was sitting at the table in front of Xander’s lunch, giving Rocko a stern look. Rocko, on the other hand, was trying his damnedest to convince Spike that his cruel human hadn’t fed him in weeks.

“He does the puppy dog eyes better than you,” Spike said to Xander.

“He has 100% more eye. It’s an unfair advantage.” Xander set Spike’s things on the floor beside the vampire, then sat down and pulled the plate over. He took a big bite and popped open his Coors as he chewed.

Meanwhile, Spike was bent over in his chair, digging around in his cooler. He sat up a moment later with two plastic bags of blood in his hand. “Ice is melting. Can I store the rest in your freezer?”

“No problem. You probably saw already—I have two big freezers.”

“Why?”

Xander shrugged. “So I can stock up. Don’t have to go into town so often.”

“ ’T’s really that bad, is it?”

“It really is. It’s like someone jammed a radio in my head and the volume’s turned up way high and the station keeps changing. God, if you knew went on in people’s heads! You see someone standing there—a pretty girl maybe, or a cop or a priest—and you think, They look nice enough. And then you learn the truth.” He shook his head and took another big bite of his lunch.

“And loads of those radio programs are about you.”

“Oh, yeah. My favorite show: What People Really Think about Me.”

Spike shuddered a little. “Wouldn’t much fancy that myself.” He vamped out and used his fangs to rip open one the blood bags, then poured about half of it down his throat.

“Ew,” said Xander.

“Why? Look at that meat you’re tearing into so gleefully. It’s nearly as bloody as my lunch.”

“I like my steaks rare.”

Spike gave an evil grin. “And I always liked my humans rare as well.”

Xander decided it was time to change the subject. “Let’s discuss sleeping arrangements.”

Spike lifted an eyebrow.

“I have plenty of rooms here. Most of ’em aren’t in great shape, but I can fix that pretty easily. The structure’s good, so we’re mainly talking a little sheetrock, few gallons of paint, that kind of thing. Would only take me a few days.”

“Fast with your tools, are you?”

“Let’s just say I know how to use my tools just right,” Xander replied with a grin.  “But that still leaves a furniture issue. I only have the one bed. I guess I could go into town and buy another, but—”

“Yours is big enough for two.”

Spike was poker-faced, and Xander wasn’t sure if Spike’s observation had been meant as a joke, as a simple statement of fact … or as an offer. He decided a similarly ambiguous response was in order. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll molest you?”

“Actually,” Spike said, “I was rather hoping you would.”

And while Xander sat there, gaping, Spike laughed and drank his remaining blood.

 

***

 

Despite Spike’s admission—maybe because of Spike’s admission—no molestation occurred for the next several days. Part of that was due to their differing sleep schedules. Spike slipped into bed long after Xander was fast asleep, and Xander slipped out of bed while Spike was still dreaming away. During the day, Xander worked in the garden and kept his town from falling to pieces, and at night Spike hunted deer—a fresh supplement to his blood bank—and tinkered with his car. Poor Rocko looked kind of overwhelmed with all the decisions he had to make about whose shadow to be. But for a couple hours in the evening they all crashed together on the couch and made fun of bad TV, and that was enjoyable. It had been a while since Xander had enjoyed just hanging out with someone.

Spike was different than Xander remembered. Oh, the snark was still there and he still called Xander a lot of names that might or might not have been obscene, but there was no real malice behind it. It was just two friends teasing one another good-naturedly. Xander wasn’t sure if Spike had mellowed because of his experiences or if it was the lack of an audience that allowed him to smooth his rough edges a little. In either case, it turned out that he knew a lot of things about a wide range of subjects and he could be easily coaxed into telling tales of his past. He was like a walking history book, only way, way sexier.

“Are chickens hard to keep?” Xander asked him one evening during a commercial for toothpaste.

“What?”

“Chickens. You know, cluck-cluck. Are they a lot of work? Do you need special poultry-wrangling skills? ’Cause I was thinking fresh eggs would be nice.”

“How would I bloody know?”

“You’re old. People grew their own chickens in olden days.”

Spike looked at him as if Xander were insane. “Not people who lived in Belgravia, berk. We got our eggs at the market. Well, the servants got the eggs at the market.”

“Servants. Huh.” Xander pictured Spike in a vest and tails, ordering people around, toasting the Queen, maybe planning an outing to Ascot or debating which country the British should imperialize next. Xander giggled.

Spike reached over Rocko to poke Xander in the side. “Tosser.”

Xander retaliated by tossing popcorn at Spike, which caused Rocko to scramble into Spike’s lap to retrieve the treats, and that made Xander laugh so hard he almost fell off the couch.

Somehow by the time Xander caught his breath again, Rocko was in Spike’s spot and Spike was on Xander’s lap. Straddling him, in fact, so their crotches were inches apart and Spike’s breath was soft on Xander’s face. Xander went very still, but Spike ran his fingers through Xander’s long hair. “Could cut this for you,” Spike said quietly.

“I wasn’t aware that you were a licensed barber.” Xander’s voice came out sounding slightly choked.

“Been cutting my own for over a century—and that without a mirror to help.”

Without quite intending to, Xander reached up and caressed Spike’s hair, which was in a stage somewhere between bristles and curls. It was softer than he expected. Spike was still detangling Xander with his fingers.

“Spike—” Xander began.

“Perhaps I should leave your hair long. We could braid it, stick a chicken feather in it. With your tan you could pass for a Red Indian.”

Xander decided not to lecture the vampire on his political incorrectness. “Spike—” he began again.

Spike inched his groin closer to Xander’s. “Been waiting for you to molest me. I reckon I’ll have to begin the molesting myself.”

“I thought you were joking,” said Xander. “You’re not even gay.”

It felt interesting when Spike shrugged. The strong muscles of his thighs flexed against Xander’s legs.  Spike said, “I like birds well enough, but then so do you. But a bloke now and then … lovely muscles … hard cock …” He moved one of his hands to Xander’s crotch and squeezed lightly, and Xander uttered an involuntary moan. “See? Don’t tell me you’re not interested. I’ve seen you watching me. Even back in that horrible basement, yeah?”

“Uhn,” Xander replied intelligently.

“I never paid you much mind back then. But recently, well, I expect I’ve been watching you as well. You’ve grown up nicely, love. Got the chip off your shoulder, found yourself some confidence … it sits well on you. Very well indeed.”

Between the compliments and the hand that remained in very intimate contact, Xander’s head was swimming. Then Spike bent down a little and, pushing Xander’s hair behind his ear, began laying butterfly-light kisses along Xander’s temple, just past the missing eye. His touch was so heart-achingly tender that Xander almost cried. He’d pictured sex with Spike plenty of times, but he never imagined it might be soft and sweet.

Wait. Sex with Spike.

Xander’s brain kick-started back into motion and he gently pushed Spike away by the shoulders. “Stop,” he said firmly.

Spike blinked quickly, as if he’d been hit in the face. “Still disgusted by me?”

“No! God no.” Xander steadied himself with a deep breath. “I … I want you. Christ, you were just feeling me up. You can tell how much I want you. But … but there’s something I want even more.”

“What?”

“A friend, Spike. A good friend. Someone to talk to, hang out with. I didn’t have much of that even before the fucking curse and now— You show up and it’s like taking a starving man to the all-you-can-eat buffet. I like you. I may even need you. You’re a good guy and my only real friend and sex always fucks things up. I don’t want to fuck us up with … with fucking.” Okay, maybe not the most eloquent of speeches, but he was making it with a gorgeous vampire on his lap, which was a major handicap in the rhetoric department. Besides, every word of it was heartfelt.

The hurt faded from Spike’s expressive face; it was followed by shock and then something else. His eyes glittered and he blinked them rapidly. “Mates, yeah? I’ve never really …” he cleared his throat. “Never really had a mate before. Not even when I was human.”

Shit. Now Xander really was going to cry. He tried to stop it with a lame joke. “I’m kinda inexperienced too, but I don’t think buddies sit in each other’s laps too often.”

Spike exhaled loudly, kissed Xander once more on the forehead, and dismounted. He shoved Rocko into the middle of the couch and collapsed onto the cushion. Then he smiled. “A really good mate would run and fetch us a beer.”

 

***

 

Somehow, the just-friends thing worked pretty well, despite the shared bed. It was a big bed. Rocko slept between them and they pretended he was an impenetrable barrier—a canine Sierra Nevada.

Not that Xander didn’t have to jack off every day or two. He had a system for it. When the sun was nice and bright and high in the sky, he would sneak furtively off to the big building at the end of Main Street farthest from the mermaid fountain. Xander was pretty sure the building had once been a bordello, with a small opium den off to one side. It was Werleyville’s red light district.

Not much remained of the interior, only tantalizing hints of the building’s former life, but Xander could close his eye and pretend he heard jangly piano music and smelled cheap perfume and sweet smoke. He’d even cleared a space for himself in the dusty rubble and scattered a few throw pillows there. The pillows were from Pier 1, but he would lie on them and imagine they came from somewhere exotic, carried across deserts on camelback and over perilous oceans by sailing ships, then hauled to his mountain town by mules. He would imagine a room full of miners and desperados, of whores and jaded city slickers. And then he’d imagine a man entering the place; not too tall and more wiry than muscular, but with a thousand-mile stare in his blue eyes and a sense of quiet power in every prowling step. The man would slowly make his way to Xander, who had found himself in desperate straits through no fault of his own, and who was doing what he must to stay alive in a hard, cruel world.

“Haven’t seen you here before,” the man would say. Somehow the English accent wouldn’t clash with the cowboy hat and spurs, and the gun belt would be an extra sexy model.

“I’m new,” Xander would reply, feigning shyness. Customers liked that.

The man would squat beside him and look at him carefully. “They call me Spike. And not ’cause I work on the railroad. You?” His leer was stunningly handsome.

“Xander.”

“Xander.” Spike would savor the name on his tongue, like whiskey. “I like that.” And he’d reach down to stroke Xander’s hair. “You’re dark. Injun?”

“I don’t know. I was an orphan.” Maybe it was petty, but Xander always got a perverse pleasure out of killing off Tony and Jessica in his fantasies.

More stroking. “Poor boy.”

Kissing would follow. Greedy, possessive kissing with some groping thrown in for good measure. Spike would pull away, breathless, and run a finger along Xander’s swollen bottom lip. “That’s quite a mouth you have on you.”

“You don’t know the half of it, mister.”

And then clothing would be torn off with wild abandon—at this point in the fantasy the real Xander would have his jeans and boxers pushed down to his knees—and neither of them would care about the cowpokes and whores and outlaws and miners in the room, because now their universe was just the two of them.

“Ride me,” Spike would say, or sometimes Xander would say it. And there was no need for condoms in the Wild West, so riding would commence. Xander would groan and Spike would howl. And in a dusty wreck of a building in a ghost town in the middle of nowhere, Xander would come.

He kept rags there to clean himself. And then he would zip up his jeans and go back out into the sun, and he’d spend a couple of hours getting dirty and sweaty at various chores, hoping the grime would mask the smell of what he’d done.

Sometimes he wondered if Spike was secretly beating off to fantasies about Xander.

Of course he realized that “just friends” did not masturbate to fantasies about one another. But it was the best compromise he could reach, and maybe it would work. When he and Spike were together in the evenings, they had good, wholesome fun. Well, okay, maybe there was too much alcohol and swearing involved for wholesomeness, but there was no sex involved. Sometimes their fingers would brush as they handed off the remote or a fresh can of beer. But otherwise they didn't even share a kiss.

Rocko sat between them on the couch, seemingly content. But sometimes he’d raise his head and stare at Xander, and Xander would almost swear the dog was thinking, Hey, moron. I’m the one who’s neutered. If you don’t make a move on the vamp soon we might as well take you to Doc Adamson too.

Although the weather was gradually turning a little cooler, the leaves hadn’t yet shed their green and the days were still mighty long. Spike grew restless in the late afternoons and early evenings. So Xander took to finding projects to do in the saloon; there was always something. Spike would skulk around the edges, telling stories and critiquing Xander’s skills, and after a couple weeks, the vampire began to join in the work. Xander soon learned that Spike didn’t know what the hell he was doing. Engines he was familiar with, but that was about it. Xander taught him how to plan a project and prepare the materials, how to use a power drill and a miter saw and a Dremel, how to put it all together so that little pieces of nothing became something. Xander warned him to be careful of the pointy wooden parts.

Xander went online and ordered supplies. He had to drive to town to pick them up, but when he returned home—a bit frazzled by all the voices—they had tile and mortar and grout and even some fancy light fixtures. He and Spike spent a happy week or so finishing the saloon’s sole bathroom.

“ ’T’s nice,” Spike said, looking at the room when they’d finished. “Like something in a magazine.”

“Yep.”

Spike looked at his own hands, turning them back and forth as if he’d never seen them before. “These helped make it,” he said with wonder. “Helped create … beauty. Instead of shite. Instead of mayhem.”

Xander wanted to draw Spike into his arms. Instead he gave him a brotherly pat on the shoulder. “Yeah. They really did.”

Spike gave him a blinding smile. “I’ve some ideas about what we might do with the kitchen now.”

 

***

 

“Xander? Xander, come here!”

Xander was in the bank sorting through lengths of wood when he heard Spike’s agitated call. He dropped his tape measure and rushed out, across Main Street, and into the saloon. Spike was bending over the couch and Xander couldn’t see what the problem was. But as he got farther into the room he saw Rocko lying on his side, immobile on the couch cushions.

“What happened?” Xander cried as he rushed to Spike. Rocko’s tail thumped, but weakly.

Spike shook his head. “Dunno. He wouldn’t eat his breakfast. Did you feed him already?”

“No. He didn’t get up when I did this morning. I thought he was just being lazy.”

“He followed me downstairs, but slowly. Didn’t even leave the porch to piss. And he wouldn’t eat. I reckoned maybe he’d had a bit too much biscuit last night—or perhaps those pieces of hamburger I saw you sneaking him under the table—and I let it be. But he’s been so quiet. And now he’ll barely move.” Spike was petting Rocko gently as he spoke, and Xander realized that the vampire was genuinely distressed.

Xander pushed in a little closer. He didn’t see anything obviously wrong—no blood or anything—but Rocko’s eyes weren’t right. He looked like he was in pain.

“I’m gonna take him to the vet,” he announced.

“In town?”

“Well, Werleyville’s last vet probably died when you did, so yeah.”

“Sorry I can’t do this for you, Xan.”

Xander nodded his thanks. He carefully scooped Rocko into his arms—the damned dog was heavy—and carried him to the door. Spike watched from the safety of the porch as Xander placed Rocko on the passenger seat of the truck and then pulled away.

The drive seemed very long, and as he approached the town, the voices in his head seemed louder and more strident than ever. Rocko just lay there, curled in a miserable ball, not trying to stick his nose out the window or poke around under the seat for food wrappers as he usually did.

Dr. Adamson had a receptionist, a chubby girl with red hair in a messy ponytail, who ran to get the vet as soon as she saw Xander push the door open. Dr. Adamson emerged from the back just a moment later. “This way,” he ordered, and Xander followed him into the exam room and set Rocko down on the table. The vet immediately began to prod the dog. “What happened?”

Xander explained as Dr. Adamson continued his examination, and he tried to remain calm as he picked up the vet’s thought: This poor mutt's in bad shape. Bombarded by the doctor's impressions and assessments, Xander knew the diagnosis before Dr. Adamson said it out loud: “I think he may have swallowed more rocks. He probably has an intestinal blockage. We’ll have to x-ray to be sure.”

“And … and if he does?”

“Surgery. Right away.” And—he didn’t add but Xander heard—the prognosis is definitely iffy.

Xander stayed in the waiting room, pacing and worrying, while the doctor operated. The receptionist seemed to feel really bad for him and suggested that he go down the street to Mo’s and have a coffee or something, but he thanked her and refused. At least in the clinic he had fewer people to listen to, and he could eavesdrop on Rocko’s progress.

At long last Dr. Adamson emerged. Again, Xander knew the outcome before the vet spoke.  A few pounds of stones had been removed, along with a length of dead intestine. “The prognosis is guarded,” Dr. Adamson said. Poor guy has a fifty-fifty chance at best. “Go home and get some rest. We’ll have a better sense of things tomorrow.”

Since he was in town anyway, Xander stopped at the grocery store and stocked up on his usual. It was strange not to see Rocko waiting impatiently for him. Even the cashier wondered where his dog was.

It was dark by the time he pulled up in front of the saloon. Spike came sprinting out, then looked stricken when he saw that the passenger seat was empty. “How …”

“He ate more rocks. Surgery. We’ll know more tomorrow, but … it’s not looking very good.” Xander said it all emotionlessly and then climbed out of the cab and began to unload bags.

“You bought groceries?” Spike asked with astonishment. “Rocko’s just hanging on and you went shopping?”

Xander brushed past him and made his way into the saloon. “We were running low.”

Spike stood in the main room and watched silently—not helping—as Xander brought the groceries inside and put them away. When Xander was done with that task he simply stood, hands at his sides, completely at a loss of what to do next.

Spike parked himself in front of Xander. His arms were crossed on his chest. “Shopping?”

And Xander began to cry. Big, horrible sobs, the kind that made his nose start to run and blinded his eye with tears. He probably would have fallen to his knees but Spike caught him, held him in strong arms, crooned in his ear. “ ’T’s all right. ’T’s all right, love. It’ll be fine.”

“It won’t!” Xander wailed miserably, as mortified over his breakdown as he was distressed over his dog.

But Spike stroked his back and led him to the couch, and then he magically produced an actual handkerchief and let Xander blow his nose with it, and didn’t even make horrible faces about the disgusting mess.

Eventually Xander caught his breath again. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“ ’S all right. You love the ugly mutt.”

Xander sniffed. “Yeah. But … Christ. I didn’t break down like that when Anya died, or Joyce, or Jesse, or …”

Spike reached up and stroked Xander’s cheek with his thumb. “But it adds up, doesn’t it? The grief.”

Only then did Xander realize that Spike had been crying as well. Not as spectacularly, but tear-tracks still glistened on his skin and his eyes were red-rimmed. Xander flung his arms around him.

And that was all, really. Except that night Spike went to bed when Xander did, and with no dog between them on the mattress they moved close together. They didn’t have sex. Didn’t even kiss. Just held each other, comfortingly close.





Part Four

“You can put the mobile down, Xander. It’ll still work.”

“I know.” But he kept the phone clutched in his hands, staring fixedly at the blank screen. He’d already called Dr. Adamson’s office three times, and each time the receptionist said that Rocko was still really groggy but hanging in there. The vet would call him with any news, she said. Still, Xander was considering calling again.

Spike walked over to the table and placed a hand on Xander’s shoulder. “Go mend something. It’ll take your mind off things.”

“No it won’t.”

“Then at least eat something.”

“Not hungry.”

Spike sighed and knelt beside him, positioning himself so that Xander had to look in his face. “Pet, you’ll make yourself ill.”

“So what. I should get sick. It’s my fault.”

“How is it your fault? Not as if you dumped gravel in the daft dog’s dish, is it?”

“No. But he’s mine and I knew he liked rocks and—”

“Xander. Stop.” Spike cupped Xander’s face with his palms. “You are not responsible for the rest of the world. You do your best and that’s bloody good, better than most would manage, and you can’t be blamed when things go pear-shaped. Things will go pear-shaped. That’s the way of the world, innit?”

Xander didn’t believe a word of it, but Spike was comforting him and that was awfully nice. Xander doubted that Spike had much experience at it, but he was clearly making an effort. So Xander nodded.

Spike stood and slapped his shoulder. “There you go, mate. Why don’t you show me how to work that machine you were messing about with the other day?”

“You want to learn to use a router?”

“Been my unlife’s desire. C’mon.”

So Xander spent the next couple of hours upstairs in the bedroom working on the dresser, teaching a vampire how to shape molding with a Roman ogee edge. And although the cloud of worry didn’t evaporate from over Xander’s head, his distress was decreased. They touched each other as they worked: nothing sexual, but a guiding hand on an arm, a congratulatory pat on the back, a flick of a finger to tuck stray hairs behind Xander’s ear. Every time they made contact Xander felt a little stronger, as if Spike were a battery from which he could be recharged.

When the phone finally rang, Xander picked it up and stared in horror, unable to answer. Spike huffed and grabbed it out of his hand.

“Hello? … No, this is his mate. How’s the mutt? … Yeah … Yeah … Right then. Cheers.” Spike ended the call and handed the phone to Xander. His face was emotionless.

Xander wanted to strangle him. “What? What did he say?”

Spike’s face split into a grin. “He’ll be fine. You can fetch him now if you like.”

Xander whooped and threw his arms around Spike. Then he thundered out of the room and down the stairs. Spike followed at a more sedate pace.

“Don’t get in a wreck on the way,” Spike called as Xander flung the front door open. Xander shot him a grin and sprinted for the truck.

People’s stray thoughts still intruded as Xander drove down the highway and into town. But perhaps due to his overwhelming relief about Rocko, the floating bits of mental detritus didn't grate quite as much as usual. When he got to the clinic, he picked up on the fact that the receptionist thought his obvious concern about his dog was adorable, and that Doc Abramson was genuinely tickled to be able to give good news. He didn’t appear to think that Xander was to blame for the rocks either.

Rocko looked a little unsteady on his pins and he had a Frankenstein-like scar on his abdomen. Plus he was wearing one of those ridiculous plastic collars, the kind that looked like satellite dishes. But he grinned at Xander and wagged his tail madly, and that was good enough for Xander.

The bill was astronomical, especially when the receptionist added the costs of the special canned food that Rocko was going to have to eat for a while. Xander didn’t care. There was a printed page of instructions that he'd study later, but for now, he thanked the vet and led his dog to the parking lot. He lifted Rocko carefully onto the seat.

Spike was waiting for him in the shade of the saloon porch. But this time he was smiling widely, and Xander had to hold Rocko’s collar to keep the dog from running ahead and leaping up the stairs. When they got to Spike, the vampire lifted the dog into his arms and nuzzled at his neck, calling him a berk and wally and pillock and a lot of other names that made Rocko’s tail wag.

 

***

 

Rocko healed quickly, which was good because he kept bonking into things with that stupid collar. Spike removed the stitches himself. Rocko still had to be watched carefully because his near-death experience hadn’t dulled his taste for granite and limestone. Spike spent three weeks teaching the dog to play dead in response to a flash of vampire fangs. Spike seemed to think the new trick was uproariously funny; Xander was amused too but pretended to be appalled.

The dog slept between them in bed.

The hours of sunlight grew shorter. The trees turned glorious reds and oranges and yellows and the nights were nippy enough that Xander threw another blanket on the bed, but the days remained pleasantly warm. Xander ended up with way too many tomatoes and a truckload of zucchini. He didn’t know why he’d planted the zucchini anyway; he hated the stuff. Needless to say, Spike wouldn’t eat squash either. Xander left it near the edge of town in hopes that the deer would take it.

Spike seemed to grow restless, disappearing earlier in the evening and staying out longer, which worried Xander. Maybe his roommate had grown tired of Werleyville’s limited charms. Maybe Spike was thinking of moving on. The very concept was enough to make Xander nauseous and he wasn’t brave enough to ask Spike what was going on.

And then one evening, just as the sun set, Spike stood up from the couch and stretched. “Going into town,” he announced.

“But we don’t need any groceries.” One of the advantages of the earlier arrival of night was that Spike could get into town before the stores closed and do Xander’s errands for him.

“Not going for food,” Spike responded. He pulled on his duster and Rocko ran to the door and looked at him hopefully. But Spike shook his head. “Stay here,” he commanded and shut the door in Rocko’s face.

Xander and his dog looked mournfully at one another. Xander wanted to go upstairs and see if Spike’s duffel was still stuffed in the closet, but he was too chicken. He pretended to watch So You Think You Can Dance instead.

Spike returned several hours later. Rocko heard the car first and barked madly; Xander remained on the couch and tried to look nonchalant. It seemed to take an inordinately long time for Spike to enter the saloon. When he did, he was grinning like the Cheshire cat.

“Where’s the groceries?” Xander asked.

“Told you. Wasn’t going for food.”

“Then what were you going for?”

Spike grinned. “Come here and see.”

Rocko had already settled himself back on the couch. He gave them a look that expressed his opinion of people who went marching around when they should be sleeping, then he closed his eyes and sighed. Xander followed Spike out the door and down Main Street.

“Where are we going?” Xander demanded.

Spike didn’t answer, which was irritating. But really, it wasn’t as if there were that many possible destinations in Werleyville, so Xander kept his mouth shut and trotted along at Spike’s side.

They stopped in front of the bordello. Spike opened the door and ushered Xander in; Xander hesitantly stepped inside.

The place had been cleaned up. It wasn’t in pristine condition, but the rubble had been cleared away and the floor swept clean. A few throw rugs were scattered here and there, as were a half dozen or so kerosene lanterns. The lanterns flickered a little, illuminating a bottle and glasses that had been placed atop a slightly wobbly table and a phonograph—an honest to God phonograph—in one corner. And an enormous pile of throw pillows.

Xander turned to stare at Spike, eyebrows raised high. “What …”

“Hang on.” Spike strode across the room and spent a few moments putting a record on the phonograph. Music began to play—something suitably old-fashioned with violins and things. It didn’t seem at all Spikish, but it was kind of … romantic.

“Spike?” Xander said.

Smug and nervous were warring across Spike’s face. “Stay here,” he ordered. “Can sit if you fancy it. I’ll be right back.” And he ducked into the side room that had once been the opium den. Xander heard vague rustlings in there and some muted swearing, but had no idea what was going on. He walked over and inspected the little table. It was handmade, a couple of the cut edges still a little raw. Spike must have fashioned it himself.

Bemused, Xander sat atop the pile of cushions. He recalled all the fantasies he’d entertained in this very spot and his cheeks flamed with a furious blush. As if it had been trained to do so, his cock stirred and grew half hard.

And then Spike made his entrance and Xander’s cock was suddenly hard as rock.

Spike was wearing a Stetson. It was tilted forward, half-obscuring his face but exposing the stark relief of his cheekbones. His pale arms and torso were bare. He wore a pair of chaps on his legs, the leather a dark brown that was almost black. And he wore nothing else.

“Guh,” said Xander.

Spike’s cock was as erect as his. The vampire prowled toward him, hips swinging dangerously, lips curled in a half smile.

Xander was completely paralyzed.

When Spike reached the pile of pillows, he stopped and looked down at Xander. “Howdy, pardner,” he said.

“Spike. I …uh …” Xander tried to remember how to speak English. “Just friends, remember?” His voice sounded desperately squeaky.

Spike kept his left hip cocked and his voice deep and gravelly. “Friends are lovely. But you want more than that, don’t you?”

“I … I …”

“Haven’t you been thinking of me when you’ve been tossing off in here?”

Xander couldn’t bring himself to lie about it, so he nodded wordlessly. He blushed again while he was at it.

“Were you imagining me anything like this?”

Another nod.

“Isn’t the real thing better?” A note of pleading entered his voice. “Xan, I want you just as badly. I dream of you every night. Of what it would be like to have the heat of you inside me, to taste you, to make you forget about fantasies and curses and old sorrows and just feel me.”

“Oh God,” Xander moaned. His cock had no doubts at all what it wanted. But his mind … “Jesus, Spike. I want … But if I lost you as a friend—as my only friend—I couldn’t, I couldn’t …”

Spike crouched down, which put him and his bare skin very close, but he didn’t touch Xander. “You won’t. ‘M not talking about a quick shag, pet. Don’t want that myself. Be my lover, Xander. Be my love. Please.”

Xander imagined himself traveling back in time and finding his sixteen-year-old self. He imagined telling himself that someday he would be reclining on pillows in a ghost town, one-eyed and psychic, and Spike would be in front of him in half a cowboy outfit, proposing to him. And then he imagined informing his teenaged self that he intended to say yes.

“You bought chaps,” he said. “And pillows. You found mood music. And you made a table.” He was feeling more than a little dazed.

“It’s wonky.”

“It’s perfect.”

Spike smiled hugely.

And maybe it was the beauty of that smile or the flawlessness of his form in the flickering light. Maybe it was because they moved into one another’s arms and Spike was kissing along Xander’s jawline. But probably it was because Xander remembered Spike holding a hanky for him when Xander lost it over Rocko, and he pictured Spike carefully building his crooked little table. He pulled away slightly so he could look Spike in the eyes. “You have to promise me … if you need something from me, if there’s something I’m not doing right … you have to tell me, okay? Let me fix it instead of screwing things up.”

Spike nodded solemnly. “ ’T’s precisely what I want too, pet. You read my mind.”

Xander began to laugh—a good, honest laugh. The kind that cleared his lungs and cleared his mind. And Spike joined in until they had collapsed on the pillows together, tears of mirth running from their eyes. Xander was suddenly, wildly, giddily optimistic, more glass-half-fullish than the founders of Werleyville had ever been, and he knew this thing with Spike was absolutely going to work.



The End