My Funny Valentine


by
Witling



Part Eight

Life went on, the way it usually did. For a while Harris made himself scarce around the house, either because he wasn't happy seeing Spike or because he thought Spike wasn't happy seeing him. Ten points for him in either case. Spike kept to himself in the basement when he wasn't needed as a punching bag for the girls. After a hundred and thirty-something years, he knew when he had wounds to lick. And after a hundred and thirty-something years, he was finally smart enough not to try to booze or brawl it out. Instead, he stayed in and read the collected works of P.G. Wodehouse.

Pathetic.

The Shanelle/Cinnamon thing took up a lot of airtime around the house, which was good. The news leaked, the juniors freaked, Buffy and Parvati had to hold a series of household meetings about respecting limits but being tolerant but sharing concerns but not being a complete berk.

"Would it kill you to help out with this?" she asked, piling whites and colors into the same load, and banging the door closed with her knee. "They look up to you, did you know that?"

"'Course they do," he said, without looking up from the page. In fact, he was startled to hear it. "I'm the only one around here that doesn't try to ram a load of tripe down their throats every chance I get."

"Respecting diversity is not tripe, Spike. My best friend is gay, remember?"

"No he's not." He licked his thumb and turned a page. "He's just experimenting."

"Hilarious. And you should talk. I've read those old Watchers' diaries, I know what you and Angel used to get up to."

He looked up, too startled this time to hide it. "You read that stuff?"

"Well." She pursed her lips and looked away to smack the cycle at the sticking point. "Not actually read them in the sense of having sat for hours staring at teeny-tiny OCD Watcher font."

"It's all lies anyway." Relieved, he went back to the book. "They're all just trying to get published, get a nice big book in the library."

"That's not the point. The point is, you could help out." She threw a pair of socks at him, damp and bundled. "You just sit down here reading all the time. It's not exactly useful."

"Put the girls to work."

"God, you're as bad as Xander." She heaved the laundry basket off the dryer and started for the stairs. "You're down here moping and he's off God knows where, chasing two-by-fours. Lately I feel like the only ones holding this place together are Parvati and me."

"Chasing what?" He felt his head jerk up, and saw the odd look that got him. "What does he want with two-by-fours?"

"We need another room, Spike." Her tone was weary and annoyed; when he didn't respond at once, she sighed in frustration. "For the girls? So Lisa doesn't have to share with Shanelle and Cinnamon while they explore their newfound I can't even go there?"

"Oh. Right." He nodded sagely, then paused. "Where's he getting the stuff? We don't have any money."

"Some guy, some truck, something I really don't want to know about." She adjusted the angle of the basket on her hip, and started up the stairs. "I just want him to get on with it before Lisa starts sleeping on the roof."


~*~*~*~*~


It was a one-demon-bar, one-demon-bartender kind of town, so catching up to Harris wasn't that hard to do.

"Oh yeah," said Lou, spitting into a mug and polishing it with his shirt tail. "That pirate guy. He wanted wood, I put him onto my cousin Anthony. You want his cell?"

Spike took the address instead, which turned out to be a squat cinderblock building on the outskirts of town, surrounded by chain link fence and rusted-out auto carcasses. There was a big dog asleep half-under the porch. Spike eyed it from the sidewalk.

"You want Tyvek?" Footsteps were coming around the side of the building; before he had a chance to look casual or inconspicuous, Harris and a little red bloke in overalls walked into sight. "I got Tyvek, truckloads of it. Environmentally friendly! How much do you want?"

"Actually, I think I'm okay on that front."

"This is cheap. Dirt-cheap, you wouldn't believe it. How much are you paying?"

"I've still got some from--" Harris noticed Spike, hesitated, then kept walking. "Listen, I'll come back tomorrow with a pickup for the lumber. Six o'clock okay?"

"You need wires?"

"No, I'm--"

"Nails?"

"No thanks, I--"

"Tools? Hammer, screwdriver, nail gun, spirit level, extension cord, circular saw, sawhorse, string?"

Harris paused. "I, uh, have string. Thanks."

"You need lunch?"

"No."

Anthony made a hand-washing gesture and started up the steps of the building. "Fine, go, take the wood tomorrow." He swung open the screen door, went in, and let it close with a bang. Harris stared after him for a second, then started up the walk to the chain link fence. Spike looked nonchalant while Harris let himself out.

"Thought you were going to let me suss that out." He kept his tone as flat and casual as he could.

Harris shrugged. "I don't know, I figured, what's the worst that can happen if I just ask around?"

"You could have walked into something dangerous. This might be Slayerville, but there's still some nasty critters around."

"Uh-huh." Harris was sorting through his keys, not looking at Spike. "Well, unless he actually hard-sells me to death, I don't think Anthony's much of a danger." He paused. "Although if he does axe me, he'll sell you the coffin. Good rates, very competitive."

"Right." Spike took a step back, thumbs in his belt loops, feeling a bit stupid and self-conscious now. "Guess you've got it all under control, then."

"Yeah." Harris cleared his throat. "But...thanks for checking in."

Spike nodded, turned on his heel, and walked away. Somehow, puttering off in the household Sentra didn't feel like it made quite the impact of peeling out in the DeSoto. But Harris drove a Hyundai, so fuck him.


~*~*~*~*~


Harris started building the addition, banging hammers and measuring and sawing things in the back yard right beside Spike's window. He was there during the days when the girls were at school, there in the evenings until it got too dark to see, there at the dinner table when Buffy dropped a stack of pizza boxes in the middle of things and stepped clear. For the most part, Spike tried to ignore him. It was just Harris, after all. They'd ignored each other for years--it ought to be second nature by now.

Trouble was, it wasn't. Somewhere along the line he'd lost the ability to tune Harris out; instead, through some infernal, infuriating misfiring of synapses, he found himself constantly aware of where Harris was, what Harris was doing, whether Harris was in a good mood, whether he was tired. For a hundred and thirty something years, he couldn't have given a flying fuck if Harris was strapped to a rocket headed for the moon. Now, all of a sudden, Harris was the only channel he got.

It was the worst kind of crush, he realized, inhaling a cigarette alone sometime after midnight in the skeleton of the addition. The post-fling crush. The been-dumped crush. The one that made X run after Y when Y had very clearly pulled the plug. And why was he always X in these fucking things? He was an immortal creature of the night, he could break bones like pea sticks and tear out throats without a second thought. He shouldn't be skulking around like a smitten schoolboy, examining joists and foundations like he gave a damn.

He made sure to pitch his cigarette end out into the lawn, so Harris wouldn't find it in the building the next day.

He tried to ignore it--forget the whole thing, big mistake, they'd laugh about it someday--but it just got worse. He had Harris on the brain all day long, the way he'd once had Buffy on the brain. It was beyond depressing. He sat on his cot in the basement, Wodehouse splayed unread beside him, while Harris's boots walked around obliviously outside his window.

"This is a new low," he observed, propping his head on his hand and craning his neck to see what Harris was working on. Wiring, it looked like. For just an instant, Spike hoped vehemently that Harris would plug the wrong line into the wrong socket, and fry himself.


~*~*~*~*~


"Okay," Buffy said, dropping a couple of Vogues onto the chair for sanitary reasons before sitting. "What gives?"

Spike looked at her.

"Come on," she said. "It's like living on top of Eeyore. You're all mopey and you have these lines--" She dragged her fingers down the sides of her mouth to her chin. "You look like Donatella Versace."

"Piss off."

"Spike, the last time you looked like this, it was my fault." Her voice was quieter, a little gentler. "Whose fault is it this time?"

He turned his gaze deliberately back into the book he was holding. "That's right, we've been through this, haven't we? So that means this is none of your bloody business anymore."

"It's my business if we're friends. And I kind of thought we were."

Spike pointedly didn't say anything to that. Buffy sighed.

"Look, maybe we don't...hang out much, but I still care about you."

"Thanks."

"What, you want to go to the mall and drink Orange Julius?"

He gave her a look from under his brows. She gave him one back.

"Well, this has been a nice little chat," he said. "Thanks ever so much."

"If you give me initials, I can have the girls prank-call her house." She stopped short. "Wait--it's not one of the girls, is it?"

"What? Fuck, no."

"Seriously, Spike. If you're dating one of my Slayers, I take back everything I said about wanting you to be happy."

"You didn't say that."

"And I won't, if that's what's going on."

"I am not," he said coolly, "doing anything with the girls except getting punched in the head by them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They're all lesbians anyway."

"Good." She gave him an assessing look. "Okay, good. You're forgiven."

"I didn't do anything."

"And if you want to be all mysterious and withhold-y, go ahead. Be my guest. But remember, I want you to be happy."

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"You're a good man," she said, getting up and collecting her magazines. "You've paid a lot of dues, Spike. You deserve better than this."

"Better than what?"

She turned back and looked at him, then waved a hand in a general way. "You're all alone in a yukky basement, going slowly mental over some deeply private anguish, ignoring everyone who needs you. And you're wearing black."

He looked down at his T-shirt, which had faded to a sort-of grey from too many washings. He hadn't noticed before.

"That's right," she said, rolling up the March issue and pointing it at him like a saber. "You're turning into Angel."

"Oh, fuck."

She raised one eyebrow--point--then turned on her heel and walked upstairs at a stately, steady pace, like a queen who was done passing sentence.





Part Nine

He sat alone in his yukky basement, his hands templed in front of his face, watching Harris's legs walk around outside. Power tools snarled. A nail gun went ka-chunk ka-chunk. The light lowered and faded, and after a while Harris's legs went away.

Upstairs, the girls thumped and squealed and broke something. Buffy yelled.

Spike leaned back against the drywall, stared at the ceiling, then reached without looking for the little black book and pen he kept beside the bed. He flipped past all the awful poetry, found a clean page, and uncapped the pen. The page stared at him.

He took one more deep breath, then doubled forward, squinting, and started to make a list.


~*~*~*~*~


Item #1: Clean up.

He didn't have the duster anymore, and he'd got rid of a lot of the old punk-rock stuff--the wrist bands and thumb rings and steel-tip boots. It had been a good run, but after the soul it all seemed like too much work and too much wank and the coat in particular gave him chills. These days his wardrobe was mostly jeans and t-shirts, a couple of button-downs he never bothered to button down, and his own damn hair, which was ditchwater brown. Fine.

"You're more of a winter," Shanelle said, breezing past on her way out the door to school. Spike snapped the magazine closed and pretended deep interest in the gutter-cleaning pamphlet on the mail table beside it. "Megan has some Men's Vogue in her room."

"Some whose what?" he asked, his brain storing the information greedily. Shanelle gave him a knowing smile.

"Just try not to knock us off our feet, okay?"

"Don't you have lesbianism classes or something?"

"Naw, I already aced the oral."

He paused. "Good one."

"Thanks."

Later, he sat on the floor beside Megan's bed, rifling carefully through a stack of magazines, one ear cocked for Buffy's voice on the telephone down the hall. The Council was giving her grief over budget reports. Good, that would take a while. He studied a black-and-white of a dark coat, an upturned collar, messy expensive hair. The moody look was always in. It was just actual moodiness that people didn't want.

Two stories below, in the back yard, the power saw whined into a new register.


~*~*~*~*~


Item #2: Stop sulking. (See Item #1.)

"Spike." Cinnamon stood blocking the door to the basement, staring at him. He nodded and tried to walk past, but she didn't move. She kept staring, ladle in hand, dripping soup on the floor. He looked at it. She did too. "Oh, shit."

"What are you--" Buffy rounded the corner with a stack of bowls in her arms, and stopped short. "Oh."

For a second he was seized with self-doubt--it had been a long time since he'd tried to draw eyes. Once upon a time it'd been second nature, as thoughtless a function as snapping necks and tearing into throats. He'd been a true creature of the night, with a full repertoire of poses and all the regalia to go with. And anyway, it had driven Angel halfway round the bend.

When you were evil and you knew it, getting dressed was easy. When you were morally ambiguous (okay, dammit, good) and troubled about it, you spent a lot of time hesitating over cable-knit sweaters and corduroys. Corduroys, for fuck's sake. Spike was still glad he hadn't gone there. He wasn't bloody Church of England all of a sudden.

What he had got was embarrassingly simple, but apparently it worked, because the shock had faded from Cinnamon's and Buffy's expressions, and they were gazing at him now with a sort of dreamy speculation. Buffy in particular looked nostalgic. He glanced down quickly, making sure. Just a pair of jeans and a thin, soft blue shirt. Both fucking stupidly expensive, but they sat well and maybe that was why they cost so much. He'd had a small emergency fund under the cot, mostly made up of money he'd liberated from vamps before staking them. It was cleaned out, but for the first time in ages he felt...well, bad. In the good way.

"You're dripping," Buffy said, without looking away from Spike. She was staring at his hair now; he'd had it cut. He still wasn't sure whether it looked anything like what he'd told the bloke to do.

"He's--" Cinnamon started to say, confusing creasing her brow. Then she looked down at her ladle again. "Oh. Right." She hurried off to the kitchen.

Buffy's expression focused, and she looked Spike straight in the eye. "This isn't for me, is it?"

"No."

Her lips quirked at the corner. "I didn't think so." She gave him one last brazen once-over, heels to head and back again. "It's nice to see you back again."

"I haven't been away, pet."

She handed him the bowls and pointed to the kitchen. "Yeah, you have."

Maybe so, but he wasn't an idiot. He knew she was making him walk in front so she could check out his ass.





Part Ten

Item #3: Be charming as fuck. Not like last time all the other times.

Harris wasn't even there that first night, which was fine because it accorded well with Item #4 on the list. Spike spent the evening grinding the rust off his wiles with the girls. By bedtime, the house was in a full-on tizzy.

"Whatever you're doing," Buffy said, up to her elbows in dish suds, "cut it out. They're going to start breaking windows soon."

"'m not doing anything." He sat on the counter, one knee pulled to his chest, the other leg dangling lazily. She'd glared, but she hadn't told him to get down. All through dinner she'd sat with her chin in her hand, staring into the middle distance while the girls threw rolls.

"You're being all..." She glanced at him over her shoulder, colored, and looked quickly away. "Just stop it, that's all."

"Stop what, love?" He slid off the counter and eased up behind her. "Stop being so damned deliciously manl--urk."

She took her elbow out of his middle and turned, brandishing wet purple dish gloves. The smell of greasy rubber filled his nose.

"Go take a walk around the block," she snapped. "And take the trash out while you're at it."

Smiling, rubbing his gut, he backed away. Upstairs, there was a scream and a crash. Someone yelled for Parvati.

"Come back when the pheromones die down a little," Buffy said, flicking dish water after him. Her cheeks were pink, her heart rate was up. "You big...man."

He whistled as he slung the bags into the bins.


~*~*~*~*~


Item #4: VERY IMPORTANT: DON'T BE DESPERATE.

This was the tricky bit, he realized when Harris appeared again, that Friday. The iffy high-wire balancing act between charming, sexy, and keenly interested, yet not pathetic, desperate, or mashing like a first-year fag on a prefect--that was where he'd gone wrong with Buffy. And Dru, and probably Angelus, if he was ever forced at stakepoint to admit it. Which hadn't yet happened, thank God. That was where the wheels always came off, somewhere in between falling hard and salvaging the scraps of his dignity. Not this time, though. This time he was keeping his scraps intact.

He was at the kitchen table, trying to make sense of Megan's unbelievably crappy handwriting, when the back door opened and Harris walked in. It was late afternoon; the girls were having strategy lessons in the living room. Spike was alone in the kitchen with a big plate of marzipan pigs and a stack of English homework. Harris did a double-take.

"Am I hallucinating, or are those--?" He pointed tentatively at the plate. Spike glanced at it, then went back to the paper in front of him.

"Pigs." He licked a finger and turned the page. So far, so good. Dignified. No reaction. "It's Parvati's birthday, apparently she likes marzipan."

"Oh, shit." Spike looked up; Harris was clapping his pockets, a troubled expression on his face. "I totally forgot. I'm giftless."

"You could build her a pig sty." Spike half-smiled. It had been ages since he'd seen anything of Harris above the knees. Times like this, he was glad he didn't have a heartbeat. "Or you could go over some of these essays."

"And that would help Parvati how?"

"Wouldn't." Spike leaned back in his chair and let the smile grow lazily to full size. "It'd keep me from going barmy, though."

For a moment they looked at each other. Harris was in a dark canvas jacket and khakis, patch in place, carrying the smell of sawdust and cement. He'd been building something all day, apparently--someone's fence or shed or doghouse or whatever, some contract job he'd taken for a little extra money in the household budget. And now here he was, turning up after quitting time to put in a few more hours on the addition. Worrying about being giftless.

Part of Spike's brain, the old leftover part he kept around for nostalgia's sake, muttered, Berk. It was a very small part.

The rest of Spike's brain took a jaunty detour down a back alley to a sticky-floored theater where lurid films of naked Harris played all the time. Except now they weren't just pornographic, they had plot and characterization and narrative arc. There was hand-gripping and mornings after, and a laundry basket half in the shot. This, Spike reminded himself firmly, was not helpful.

Harris was looking at him oddly.

"Tell you what," Spike said, pushing his chair back and getting up. Going to the refrigerator, careful not to pass too close. "You take a look over some of that stuff, and I'll cook."

There was a pause, while Spike crouched behind the sheltering door of the fridge and tried not to think of Harris's hands. Which were cracked and dirty, the nails rough.

"You...cook?" Harris asked, his voice pitched middle-high on the register of disbelief.

"I can," Spike allowed. "Don't do it much, that's all."

"Oh." Harris sounded faint, and when Spike pulled out a few bags of stuff and swung the door closed, he found that Harris also looked a little faint. "I mean, I guess there's no reason why you wouldn't. Cook." Harris's gaze went down Spike's body, then back up to his face, a disobedient yoyo. He swallowed. "I just...never thought about it."

Spike just barely stopped himself from the automatic There's a lot of things you never thought about me response, with accompanying leer. He was wearing a different shirt today, a grey one, with the jeans. Cinnamon had told him privately that his hair was fucking awesome. Behind him, there was silence. He smiled and dumped the potatoes into the sink.

"I'm actually supposed to get some stuff done outside," Harris said after a minute, but he didn't sound eager to go. Spike nodded, nicking the eye from a potato. After another short silence, and a rustle of paper, Harris said, "Wait--is this even in English?"

"The best of Irish luck to you," Spike said, and hid his grin in the sink.


~*~*~*~*~


Parvati didn't drink but everyone else did, including the girls when Buffy's back was turned. They were seventeen, Spike reasoned, pouring Cinnamon another gin and tonic--that was old enough in most of the world. And anyway, he'd never signed on to be anyone's moral guardian.

"Your cooking stinks," Shanelle said, taking the glass from Cinnamon's hand and pouring half of it down the drain. Cinnamon watched mournfully. "And don't get my girlfriend drunk."

"I'm a cheap date," Cinnamon sighed, taking back the offered glass. "It's because I don't drink enough."

"That's drunk logic," Spike pointed out. "Means you're halfway there."

"Dickweed," Shanelle said, tossing back her own drink and taking Cinnamon by the elbow. "Come on, sugar, let's go dance."

Cinnamon gave Spike a little departing wave that made him think briefly of Red, a hundred years ago. Geeky and gawky and sweet as cream. And now she ran the Council, or so he heard. Life...was strange.

"You're not dancing," Buffy observed, coming into the kitchen with a flushed face and an empty glass. "Shouldn't you be out there spreading y chromosomes?" She paused. "And I mean that in a purely aerosol-type, airborne way."

"You're drunk," he replied.

"I am not." She put her glass carefully down on the table, and looked around. "Where's the ice? I want to eat about fifty ice cubes."

"You're drunk," he repeated, going to the freezer. "You know how I know?"

"No."

"Because I poured your drinks. And you're wobbling."

"I want another pig." She looked at the bare plate, scattered with a few last pink curly tails and hooves, and sighed. "Do you know how long it's been since I had a drink?"

"A long time," he guessed, cracking the ice tray.

"Forever. And do you know," she went on, sinking down into the chair she was leaning on, "how long it's been since I had a date?"

He said nothing to that, but dumped a bunch of ice cubes into a metal bowl, filled the tray, and put it back in the freezer. Buffy pressed her finger to the pig plate, and put the finger in her mouth. He brought her the bowl.

"I hope she's worth it," she said, leaning glumly over and staring at the ice cubes. "I really hope you're going for somebody...nice, this time."

He watched her fish an ice cube out of the bowl and pop it into her mouth. She looked worried and tired, but for the first time in ages, he didn't want to drop to his knees for her. He stood there pondering that while she crunched her ice.


~*~*~*~*~


Everybody drank but Parvati and Harris, Spike realized, when he went out onto the front porch a little after midnight and found the two of them sitting there in the glider, saying nothing. The silence was companionable enough, but he still felt odd breaking into it.

"Just going for a smoke," he said, gesturing with the necessary props, and heading down the front steps before either of them could reply. He didn't want the cigarette but he smoked it anyway, walking around the block and reminding himself of Item #4 in re: desperation. Suave, casual, dignified--but available. Jesus Christ, he hated strategy.

When he made it round the block and came back up the drive, Parvati was leaning against the front porch post, arms crossed, facing Harris in the glider.

"Ah, well," she said. "This is a complicated situation, I understand."

Harris said nothing, and after a moment she turned and saw Spike coming up the drive. She looked at him for a moment, then turned back to Harris. "Thank you for the gift." She went inside without another word. Harris stayed where he was on the glider, a beer propped half-finished against his knee.

"Thought you were giftless." Spike took the steps slowly, fiddling with his cigarettes. Not being desperate. Just friendly.

"I was." Harris smiled, put a foot up on the railing, and pushed the glider into a slow swing. "I improvised."

"Did you."

"I whittled her a tongue depressor."

Spike paused. Harris shrugged.

"I was under deadline."

"Lucky her." Spike peered through the window at the living room, which was still thumping. A few of the girls were whirling around, arm in arm, while Parvati picked up plates. Buffy had gone to bed a while ago. "Still going strong in there, looks like."

"Yeah, it's amazing how teenaged girls perk up when you pour booze into them."

"Someone has to teach 'em how to handle it."

The door swung open, releasing a flood of disco and hot, gin-flavored air. Megan stood on the threshold, skinny legs firmly planted. "Spike is a hottie!" she yelled, then shrieked as if she'd been stuck with a fork. The other girls shrieked back. Megan grappled briefly with the door and slammed it shut again in his face. Behind it, he could hear sounds of muffled, panicked hilarity.

"So how's that coming?" Harris asked. "The handling it, I mean."


~*~*~*~*~


It ended with Parvati unplugging the stereo and banishing all of them to their rooms. For the rest of the night, Spike lay awake with his hands behind his head, thinking about Harris's fingers and lips and voice and ass, while Cinnamon barfed into the toilet two flights up.





Part Eleven

Item #5: Be yourself. Except better.

Angelus had had a saying. Well, he'd had a few. But there was one in particular that came to Spike at times like this, when he was tired and irritated and at his wit's end. It was: Go fetch me something to eat, before I kick your teeth right out the back of your worthless fecking skull.

It had a certain ring to it, after you heard it a few times.

There was no more Angelus around to kick him in the teeth, and weird as it was, Spike had to admit to a certain gap in his life. A big, looming, heavy-fisted bastard-shaped gap, but a gap that had given things some definition. Angelus had taught him practically everything there was to know about being a monster, about not giving a fuck what anybody else thought, or did, or wanted. And wasn't that what Harris was after? A nasty, greedy creature of the night, ready at a moment's notice to bang the living daylights out of him, then bugger off until next time. That's what he'd signed on for, at least at first.

Leaning against the wall of the addition, staring into the dark back yard, Spike thumbed the head off another match and wondered if all this was just wasted energy. Harris wanted a monster, right, fine. Spike still looked like one, sometimes even acted like one, but he wasn't one anymore. Not where it mattered. If he was forced to admit it at stakepoint, he'd never really been all that good at the monstrousness. He'd been Angelus's step-and-fetchit boy, his sulky fag. Crushing baby skulls had just never seemed as much fun as a good beerhall brawl.

Fecking pansy, Angelus muttered, somewhere in Spike's hindbrain.

The two-by-fours beside Spike's head smelled raw and sharp, like Harris.


~*~*~*~*~


Megan went left-right-left, too slow as usual, and he blocked lazily, hardly bothering to move out of the way. "Crap." She locked her jaw and came at him again, right-left-right this time, and he gave her the same block in reverse. "Also crap." Her right foot was off balance; he kicked it. She jumped back and he followed up, getting into her face, making her block faster than she liked. "Total crap. Are you even awake?"

"I'm trying!" She took an angry swing with the stake, and he spun her around and put her down with her wrist behind her back. "Ow!"

"You're shite," he said, not unkindly, and stepped back. She got up, blushing and rubbing her wrist, and walked off the mat. "Hey--you're not done."

"I don't want to anymore." She dropped the stake back into the box and sat down on the bench by the door. "My wrist hurts."

"It'll hurt a whole lot worse than that if you don't learn to block."

"I said I don't want to." She turned away, and he stood there, flummoxed. Cinnamon came over from the water fountain and sat down beside her. There was some kind of solidarity there, he realized. Somehow, mysteriously, he was in the wrong. Well, fuck it.

"I don't care if you want to," he said, starting over the mat toward them. "You're in training, and as long as you're in training--"

"Oh shut up," Cinnamon snapped. "Go fight someone else."

"It's her bloody turn--"

"Fight me," Shanelle said, scooping up a stake and walking onto the mat. He eyed her.

"You'll get your turn. Right now it's--" He broke off and danced back as Shanelle charged him. She was a lot faster, a lot stronger, than Megan, and he had to block for real. "Fucking hell, what are you on about, anyway?"

"Shut up and fight," Shanelle said, cutting at him with the stake, zip zip zip, up and sideways, like she was going to open him up with it. She could, too, if he didn't watch out. He blocked her wrist hard but she didn't even flinch. Some part of his mind noticed that she'd got better again, that she was almost as good as Buffy used to be. If there'd still been just one girl in all the world, Shanelle would have been a good candidate. But she was still a girl, and he was still a vampire, and that meant he was going to kick her ass.

"I don't know when you all got your own local," he said, punching her hand down and stepping in, "but this is a non-union shop. You can take your pissing and moaning--"

Something slammed into his chest with a popping sound, and for one crystalline second he thought, Oh fuck, that's me. He felt amazement, then regret. Partly for himself, partly for Shanelle, because she'd just dusted him, and that was a shitty thing for her to have to deal with. She was staring him straight in the face, big brown eyes wide with shock.

Then he didn't fall to dust, and when he looked down he saw the second stake in her left hand, sticking halfway out of his chest. It was a practice stake, dulled at the tip, and she must have pulled the punch. Still, in the time it took him to look down and see it, he'd already bled all over her fist. Blood started to hit the mat in heavy drops.

"Oh my God--" She let go of the stake and stepped back, her mouth hanging open. He took a deep breath. It hurt. The stake protruded from the middle of his sternum like a coat hook.

Someone yelled for Parvati, and Spike grimaced and put a hand on the stake to twist it out. Shanelle stepped forward and stopped him. It had only taken her a couple of seconds to gather her wits.

"Leave it," she said. "Parvati's coming."

"You--" he said, and then stopped, because talking hurt like a bastard. There was a penny tang in the back of his mouth.

"Xander's going to kill me," she muttered, and when he stared at her she gave him a nervous, confiding smile.


~*~*~*~*~


"Hold still," Parvati said. "This will hurt."

"It already--Jesus fuck!"

She slapped a handful of gauze over the wound and pressed hard, dropping the stake into the tray. He sat as still as he could, considering his chest was on fire. "Christ."

"Try not to talk, please." She was imperturbable, a slight moue of concentration furrowing her lips and forehead, but otherwise no sign that she was holding a wad of gauze that was rapidly becoming a sponge full of blood. "Do you feel light-headed?"

He shook his head. He felt cold and heavy, and the hole in his chest was a cavity full of molten lead. It had been a long time since anyone'd hurt him this badly. Funny, it hadn't even been a vamp. It'd been one of the good guys. Girls.

"I'm going to give you a shot," Parvati said, "and then I'm going to hold the pad in place until the bleeding stops."

"I don't need a shot," he said, but his voice was faint and she didn't even look at him. Quickly and easily, using just her free hand, she picked up a syringe from the tray and uncapped it.

"Your arm," she said, nodding at his left bicep. He frowned, but held it out. His veins were blue as water under the skin.

"Quick sting," she said, and popped it in, watching the plunger. "I'm sorry about your shirt." She dropped the needle onto the tray. "Maybe next time you should wear old clothes for training the girls."

"Maybe next time the girls shouldn't fucking stab me in the heart."

"It's what you train them to do."

She had a point. He eyed the tattered, bloody strips of shirt she'd cut off him. Almost two hundred dollars' worth of sexy down the drain, there. Crying shame.

"Why did you let her do it?" Her gaze was on the dressing, her expression studious. "Were you distracted?"

"No." He sat for a moment in silence. The pain in his chest was fading. His limbs felt light. "Just a little...off my game. That's all."

"You have something on your mind."

"Nothing on my mind, pet." He stared at the molding that ran around the ceiling. Old house, real wood. He was warm now. "Just buggered it up. Happens, sometimes." Had Harris done the moldings? He'd hung half the doors, replaced half the windows. "Just lucky I didn't step that...extra...half...inch..."

"Put this on," Parvati said, standing over him, holding a loose white shirt, unbuttoned. When had he lain down? "Go back to sleep."

I'm not tired, he tried to say.

"You're a good man," she said, her voice low and wavery. "And so is he. You should be more careful, though."

Careful of what? he tried to say.

She clicked the light out.


~*~*~*~*~


"Hey ho," Harris said. He was sitting in a folding chair against the far wall, slumped down with a paperback novel bent into a clamshell. "It lives. Or, you know. It thrashes around and mumbles in its sleep."

Spike squinted at him. His mouth felt crammed with cotton wool, and his chest ached. He was in a bed, in a room he didn't recognize. Bare drywall on the walls, bare plywood floor, bare bulb screwed into the ceiling fixture. Towels on curtain rods over the windows, with just the faintest hint of daylight showing through.

"You're the lucky contestant," Harris said, following his gaze and gesturing with the book at the room in general. "You won an all-expenses-paid two-night stay in the brand new addition. Uncluttered by furniture or any other actual amenities."

"I'm--" Spike's voice cracked, and he coughed to hide it. The cough stabbed him in the chest. "Fuck."

"Yeah." Harris flipped the book closed and stroked the pages with a thumb. "Parvati took you off the good stuff last night. She said you'd be cranky when you woke up."

Spike wiped his mouth and frowned. Harris got up, walked over, paused as if he didn't know what to with himself, then abruptly sat down on the edge of the bed. Just as abruptly, Spike realized he was shirtless, that he had a big white gauze pad taped to the middle of his chest, and that his mouth tasted like dry cat shit. He straightened up, brushing automatically at his hair.

"Here." Harris didn't seem to have noticed; he was leaning down and sitting up with a glass of blood in his hand. "Room temperature, sorry."

Spike took it in a slightly wobbly hand and downed it as manfully as he could, which wasn't very. Sipping seemed effete, but his belly felt tight and small, like a kelp bubble. "You just...sitting around?"

"I wanted to make sure the room didn't fall down on you." Harris smiled, but his gaze lingered a little too long. He rubbed one hand down the leg of his trousers. Same khakis he always wore, all the pairs alike, smelling like concrete and sawdust. "You, uh, almost went poof, you know that?"

"Fucking Shanelle." Spike frowned, thinking of the look in her eyes at the moment they'd both realized what they'd done. "She all right?"

"She's okay. Megan's a little mental, but she'll make it."

Spike raised an eyebrow. Harris took the glass from him.

"She has a crush on you," he said. "So do most of the others. So far the only one who seems immune is Shanelle. We're having her tested to see if she's carbon-based."

Spike snorted and looked away, then looked down at the dressing on his chest and plucked at the tape. "What's this supposed to be?"

"Um, I'm thinking that's what keeps your inside in. You might want to leave it alone."

Spike kept plucking, unreasonably irritated by the thing, and after a moment Harris's fingers appeared over his. "Whoah, there." He patted Spike's hand gently. "Let's leave the obsessive unraveling to the medical professionals."

"Not like I need it."

"Okay, but spare Megan the sight of your sucking chest wound for a little longer, okay? At least until she discovers emo."

"I'm fine." Spike took his hand away, and started to get up, then realized he was wearing boxers that didn't belong to him. Very probably they belonged to Harris. He stayed put. "When'd you finish the room?"

"Last night. If you can call it finished, which I don't think you can until it has posters of Justin Timberlake and Snoop on all four walls." Harris gave the room a quick look, and shrugged. "Somehow a cot beside the boiler didn't seem like the best place to recover from a near-death experience."

"I'm already dead."

"Very true." Harris nodded, as if he were receiving a koan. Then, with a strange, birdlike tilt of his head: "So, I've been thinking."

"Yeah?" Spike leaned away, searching for his clothes. He wanted to get up, get dressed, get back on his feet. All that fucking time and money and thought, making himself into someone worth lying in bed with after the fact--someone to get back in bed with in the first place--and here he was with a sticking plaster the size of a dinner plate square between his nipples, leaden-limbed and dry-mouthed and wearing Harris's shorts. And not in a good way.

"That...you probably need your rest," Harris said, and it was so clearly not what he'd been going to say that Spike turned back and looked at him. Harris was staring at the glass in his hands, turning it in circles, watching the last drops of blood ring the bottom.

Spike sat in silence, waiting.

After a minute, Harris looked up with an apologetic smile. "I told Parvati," he said. "Sorry."

"Told her--" Spike cut that short. "Oh."

"Yeah, I was just...I'd just been thinking a lot about it. And I was sort of thinking..." He looked down at the glass again. "I was sort of thinking maybe I screwed up."

Spike waited.

"By, um, calling things off." Harris took a deep breath and gave Spike a sideways look. "I think maybe I got a little weirded out, and I probably should have handled that differently."

"Weirded out," Spike repeated.

"Yeah. I guess, it's a fine line between the kinky and the gay, and I got a little weirded by some of what I was...feeling."

Spike leaned back against the wall behind him. "You said you weren't going to fall in love with me."

"I did." Harris nodded, staring into the middle distance. "I did say that."

"You rethinking that, or something?"

"I'm...not sure. I'm just saying maybe, I don't know--" He gave Spike another quick look. "Maybe when you're done being St. Sebastian, you'd want to go for a beer or something."

Spike watched Harris's profile. Harris watched the far wall.

"Okay," Spike said at last.

"Okay...?" Harris smiled slightly. "Okay you'd go for a beer, or okay my visiting hours are over?"

"I'd go for a beer."

"Oh." Harris's shoulders relaxed slightly. "Good."

"I've been thinking too," Spike said, feeling the ache in his chest lessen by one degree, then two.

Harris turned and looked at him over his shoulder, guarded but hopeful. "Yeah?"

"Yeah."

They looked at each other. After a few seconds, Harris smiled.





Part Twelve

Late summer in small-town southern California was a lot of people's idea of heaven. The sun was up twenty hours a day, it seemed like, and the air was hot and dry and placid. Everything smelled of cut grass and eucalyptus. People wandered around in a state of sunburned torpor, nursing watery iced coffees and waving each other through four-way stops. Picnics in the park, reruns on the telly. Tots in sprinklers. Ice cream. Everything moving in hazy golden slow motion. It was enough to drive Spike bugfuck insane.

"Right-o," he said loudly, clapping his hands and rubbing them together. "Who wants to go kill something?"

Nobody looked up. Megan turned a page in her magazine. Above their heads, the ceiling fan beat the smell of nail varnish around in a sluggish circle.

"Fuck you lot," Spike said, and toed Shanelle. "What, you'll stake me half to extinction but you won't shift your fat arse to take on a band of slavering, blood-thirsty sewer vamps?"

"I staked you two months ago. Let it go, already."

"Bit hard while I'm still coughing up splinters."

"And I'm not fat." She rolled over onto her side, careful not to smudge her toenails, and gave him a look. "You need to get laid."

"Xander's back tonight," said Megan, fumbling for the remote. "What channel is Oprah on, again?"

"He is not. And I do not."

"He is." Megan flipped through the TV menu, frowning. Her own toes were separated by little blue foam things that looked to Spike like torture devices. "Why is it news?"

"Because it's like six o'clock." Lisa raised her head from the carpet long enough to hold out a hand for the remote. Megan ignored her. She frowned and let her head fall again. "God, I want air conditioning."

"We'll make Xander give us air conditioning," Cinnamon said, soothingly. "Right after he fixes the upstairs bathtub."

"What's wrong with the--he's not coming back until Friday, and anyway, I don't give a fuck when he's coming back, I'm interested in killing something, which you're supposed to--"

"Sure," Shanelle said, to her book. "You just want to 'kill' something. You're dying for a good 'kill'."

"You watch your mouth."

"Spike, honey," Cinnamon said, in the tone she'd been using with him lately. "It is Friday."

He stood there trying to think of a retort to that, while they ignored him. Finally, Meadow gave a sudden grunt, sat up, and pushed the sleep mask off her face. They all looked at her.

"Oh hi," she said, with a sheepish smile. She rubbed her forehead, glanced at Spike, then frowned and looked at him more closely. "Wow. Good thing Xander's coming back tonight. You seriously need to get laid."


~*~*~*~*~


"Those girls," he said, sitting down on the end of Buffy's bed, "are poison."

"Welcome to my life." She frowned and pointed at the papers under his ass. "Hello, important budget documents?"

"They treat me like a bloody mascot. I'm a master vampire, I've bagged two of their kind, not that I'm proud of it, but still, I'd like to think I get a little cachet for a hundred and thirty years of murder and mayhem. Not that I'm proud of that, either."

She looked at him. She had the headset on, but he could hear the hold music from where he was sitting. Her bedroom was so hot the air wavered in the open window.

"I'm not a fluffy puppy," he said plaintively. "Christ, what does it take?"

"I'm thinking, soulless bloodthirsty evilness."

"I'm bloodthirsty."

"Yeah, that reminds me, we need to order more--hello?" She jerked her head to the side, heeling to the tinny voice in her ear. "Yes, hi, I've been on hold for twenty-five minutes, I just need to know the routing number for my account at the main branch in London." She paused. "Summers, in California." Pause. "Okay, wait--no, don't--"

Vivaldi wheedled through the hot air between them.

"Council banking," he observed. "Should have gone with the Chthuluan credit union."

"Willow said their interest rates were bad."

"The point is, they don't respect me."

She looked at him blankly. "The Chthuluans don't--"

"The girls."

"Oh." She wiped sweat off her lip, and shrugged, turning back to the computer. "They do, kind of. They have crushes on you. Sort of. Less so since Justin's new album came out. But they definitely like you."

"I don't give a rat's arse about being liked."

"Yeah, you do." She was typing while she was talking, now, staring intently at the screen as if she could somehow get through it all the way to Hong Kong and strangle a minor banking functionary. "And you're not really mad about any of this anyway, you're just antsy because Xander's coming home tonight."

"What, is there a script you all read off?"

"You're just...antsy." She gave him a significant look. "And by 'antsy,' we can agree that I actually mean something way south of 'antsy,' but I'm not saying that because it's a hundred and twenty degrees in here and if I'm going to have a stroke I'd like to at least drink a cold Diet Coke first."

"Nobody's asking you to say anything about anything."

She stopped typing. "So why are you in here, wrinkling up my paperwork?"

"Because..." He trailed off, stared at his boots, then sighed and looked out the window. "I don't know. I just--I spent a really long time getting good at two things. Biting throats and being drop-dead, on-your-knees, up-against-the-wall sexy. And now look at me." He raised his hands helplessly. "I drink pigs and have one decent shirt to my name."

"I'm the Original Slayer," she said, "and I'm on hold, listening to Hooked on Classics."

"Well, that's your problem."

"Too true."

They sat in silence for a couple of minutes, listening to the music.

"You really like him," she said after a bit, head tipped to one side, studying the screen. "I mean, you really do, right?"

He stared at his boot tips, which needed a polish. "Yeah. I do."

She sighed. "Sometimes I think my life can't get any more surreal. And then it does."

He snorted. "Fucking tell me about it."


~*~*~*~*~


His life had got so surreal, in fact, that he was back in Harris's flat (using his own key, which was pretty bloody surreal) forty minutes before the git was due back from the airport. Modern travel being what it was, he probably wouldn't be back before two in the morning. L.A. was a forty-minute flight, but trust the government to stretch it to a week.

Beer in hand, he sank into the couch and watched listless telly. Not even the scrambled porn seemed all that interested in getting it up; the whole world just wanted to soak in a cool bath. He picked the label off his bottle, pulled a series of loose threads from the couch cover, rifled through the last few days' worth of newspapers for a decent crossword, found a pencil and then just sat chewing the end of it, staring into space. He was bringing Harris's papers in for him, that's how dire things had got.

In fact they were direr even than that, because when he finally heard the engine and the car door, heard the footsteps coming up through the gate and then up the stairs, the jingle of keys being sorted, his head snapped around to face the door without his permission. He dropped the pencil and wiped his palm down the leg of his jeans. The door opened.

"Hi." Harris stood on the threshold, frowning at his keys, his bag skewing him to one side. Spike reached for his beer. Two months in and fetching papers, but he still had his scraps of dignity.

"Hi." Assiduously, he watched the telly while Harris chucked his bag through the door, yanked his keys out of the lock, and went back out for his mail. The porntrack made it hard to hear his footsteps, so Spike turned it down.

"Well, I'll tell you." Harris came back in, keys in one hand, sorting mail. He kicked the door closed behind him and leaned against it. "We're not at the top of the pile, but neither are we at the bottom."

"Yeah?" Spike gave him a quick look. Tired, a little damp and rumpled, but okay. Funny how a week away made him look more...solid.

"No." Harris dropped the pile of mail on the coffee table and shrugged out of his jacket. "That honor is reserved for the house in Compton, which has eleven Slayers, three bedrooms, and one working bathroom." He paused, frowning. "Sort of working."

"Tragic."

"Plus, their fledges have semi-automatic handguns. And before you wig, I'm going on hearsay on that one. I spent the last six days knee-deep in other people's bad plumbing decisions. For which there should be danger pay and a half." He rolled his neck, pulled briefly at his shoulders, and headed for the kitchen. "Is there beer, and is it cold?"

Spike sat picking at the remnants of his label while Harris sorted through the fridge and found the last bottle of godawful American lager, then came back to stand in the doorway with it.

"So," he said, glancing at the television. "What's been going on here while I've been out saving the world through the miraculous powers of Teflon tape?"

"Nothing much," Spike said. "Oh--the air conditioning's out. Girls said to tell you."

Harris swigged his beer and nodded without surprise. "Uh-huh."

They hung out for a bit in silence, watching the garbled bodies twist in and out of view.

"You want to have sex?" Harris asked finally.

"Christ, yeah."

"Good."


~*~*~*~*~


Harris was...surprising. It was like he'd been keeping a whole different self somewhere in reserve, hidden away in some back room Spike had never noticed, and as the weeks rolled by, he kept trotting out new bits and pieces. He liked Indian food, and he hated red licorice. ("Willow told me they make it from rat's blood." "That's insane." "I know. But you try shaking that image next time someone hands you a Twizzler." "Rat blood's nothing like that. It's salty, for starters." "And here is where we end this conversation.") He got into moods where he watched public television without irony or self-scrutiny, sitting enthralled in front of deep-sea footage of the wreck of the whatever, his forehead wrinkled with astonishment. "That is amazing," he murmured when they swam a camera through the Titanic. Then, off Spike's look: "Fuck off, it's passive research." He embarrassed easily, and got defensive on a dime, but it didn't matter, Spike was smitten. The fucking Titanic, for God's sake. He forgot, sometimes, how young they all were.

Harris had a second sense of humor under the first one--it took time to dig down to it. The top level was rapid-fire snark, knee-jerk and sharp, not really funny, not really fun. It was a skin, Spike realized. Beneath it, or behind it, or whatever, was a slightly different version, still fatalistic but more genuinely amuseable. Harris liked pratfalls, sudden reversals, harmless absurdities. He laughed when the girls coshed each other by mistake in training sessions. If anyone actually got hurt, though, he kicked over immediately into grown-up peacemaker mode, stepping in and separating the bickering superheroes. Since when was Harris the diplomat? Spike had no idea, but there it was.

He was generous with affection, unshaken by kink, surprisingly willing to check his masculinity at the foot of the bed, or to play along while Spike checked his. He painted Spike's fingernails, not even for sex, but at the breakfast table, while Spike smoked and read a W pilfered from the girls. Gayest morning ever, but it didn't seem to bother Harris.

In bed he was the textbook pushy bottom. Demanding, single-minded, compliant, sweet, occasionally out of his depth. He laughed when Spike tried cuffing him to the bedframe, and freaked out when Spike thought What the hell, and went for four fingers. Every so often Spike remembered this was all new to him--he might have done some of it before, but never sober, never as a matter of choice--and felt a prickle of amazement. For a while he wondered whether he should be pacing things differently, or...checking in, or something. Asking whether it was okay to do this or that. Mind if I push you down and shove my dick down your throat? That okay with you, not a problem or anything, is it? Maybe he was supposed to be giving Harris more leeway, more time to think things through. But what sounded good in theory didn't amount to much when they were both horny as hell, pawing each other's clothes off, Harris dropping without even being pushed, and making little wheedling sounds of encouragement when his mouth was too full to beg outright for more.

After a while Spike decided he didn't need to ask whether it was good, whether Harris was sure about it. It was good for both of them, no questions asked, no sloppy conversations over lager on the porch. Every time Harris changed on him again, opened up another layer, the realization slid into his chest and anchored with a good, solid ache. Little fish hooks all through him. Stupid fucking pain-in-the-ass Harris, with his big mouth and his baggy trousers and his one eye. Sometimes when they were watching television he'd take Spike's hand in his and stroke it gently, then just hold it. Not saying anything, not even looking, and Spike's chest would throb and he'd watch the screen and have no idea what the hell was on it.

They were good together. They were actually sort of perfect together. It was completely bizarre.


~*~*~*~*~


"You're...different," Harris said one morning, studying Spike's fingers with a frown. Spike lifted his head off the pillow in surprise.

"I'm different?"

Harris smiled at him. He didn't always wear the patch in bed anymore, and Spike was so used to it he didn't even notice. Much. "Yeah. You're...nicer."

"I am not. Wanker."

"You are." Harris abandoned the fingers and pulled the sheet down so he could study the pale pink scar in the center of Spike's chest. Still there, star-shaped and tender. It was taking forever to fade, and sometimes he wondered if it might be permanent. "You're nicer to me, anyway."

"Well, you're a decent piece of tail. I like to protect my interests."

Harris smiled, tracing the scar with his fingertip. "You're quieter. And you're...calmer than you used to be."

Spike pursed his lips and said nothing.

"It's weird," said Harris. "I keep coming back to...when I was down in the tunnels, and they were doing all that...stuff to me--"

"That reminds me, I have to kill them some more."

"Thanks. Anyway, I just assumed I was going to die, you know? Which was bad. I think I'd still have to say, in retrospect, that that whole experience was pretty much not good."

"Yeah." Spike lay still through the brief silence that followed.

"I don't know." Harris let his head fall back into the pillow, his fingers still on Spike's chest. "It sucked, it still sucks, but...here I am. Because of it. And this is good, I'm thinking."

"Yeah. It is."

"I don't know what I'm trying to say," Harris said at last. "Life is weird, I guess."

"It is that."

Harris fell asleep a little while later, and Spike lay stroking his thumb over Harris's eyebrow, over his cheekbone, the pale skin that lay beneath the patch.


~*~*~*~*~


"Where's Xander?" Buffy yelled, and for the briefest moment Spike's whole being tightened and froze and he dropped the fledge he was holding and spun around, to find Harris still backed up against the wall beside him, stake in one hand, torch in the other, right where he was supposed to be.

"Here!" they both yelled back, and exchanged a frustrated glance.

"Count off!" Buffy yelled, already on to the next thing, and the girls hollered their numbers in the right order and for the next five minutes Spike went back to popping off fledge heads like daisies. Fish in a barrel, but satisfying anyway. Some things never got old.

Later, trekking homeward through the slimy tunnels, Buffy brushed between them.

"Xander, I need you to get us better blueprints. Some that actually show the tunnels we're in. Spike, work with Megan in training tomorrow. She stakes like a Junior Miss."

Then she was gone, already up at the head of the line where she belonged, while they fell back to guard the rear. They walked for a couple of minutes in silence, Harris swinging a stake loosely from one hand.

"I've been thinking," Spike said, with no idea what he was doing. "Might be time to make a change."

Harris's heart lurched. He gave it a minute, then swallowed and said, "Oh, yeah?" Even in the sewer, Spike could smell the adrenaline.

"Just out of the house," he said quickly. "Just...let someone else take the basement suite for a bit."

"Oh." Harris chewed that over, his heart slowing down. Spike fished a cigarette out of his pocket, then remembered where they were, and shoved it back in. "You're not going to, uh, move into a crypt again, are you?"

Spike shrugged. "Dunno. Guess I'll see what's out there."

They walked for a minute or so, then Harris started hesitantly, "Listen, don't take this the wrong way, but if you're thinking of us, um, living together, I'm thinking that's not such a great idea. I'm really messy, and I snore--"

"I know," Spike said, sharply. "Don't worry, I wasn't."

"Oh." Now Harris sounded disappointed. "Okay."

They kept walking. They'd fallen far enough behind the Slayers that the conversation was private. Harris fiddled with the stake, testing the point against his finger.

"It's just," he said, "I mean, I think living with Anya was kind of the tipping point for me in that whole situation, it's something to do with having bra and panty sets in all the drawers and five million Spiegel catalogs in the mailbox every week, not that you get Spiegel catalogs--"

"Not that I have bra and panty sets," Spike muttered. "Except the ones I make you wear, that is."

"What--you don't--I've never--" Harris stopped short, and Spike kept walking. "Spike." Spike ignored him. "Spike."

Spike turned, held his arms out from his sides, and raised his eyebrows. "What?"

Harris gave him a serious look. "Do you want to move in together?"

"Fuck, no."

"Spike."

"Harris."

"Let me think about it, that's all."

"Nothing to think about." Spike turned and started walking. "Just tired of kipping next to the boiler."

Harris's footsteps came up behind him, and he could have turned to intercept but they both knew it so there wasn't much point. He let Harris grab his arm and haul him to a stop there in the dank tunnel.

"You are such a giant goober," Harris said. He had ash down his cheek, Spike noticed. "You're fooling exactly nobody, you know that?"

"I'm not--"

"Yeah, you are." Harris leaned forward, kissed Spike gently on the cheek, then on the lips. They kissed on the mouth now, one of those little things that meant they were doing okay. Relax, Spike told himself. Stop pushing so hard. Winding his hand around the back of Spike's neck, Harris whispered, "You've probably never paid an electric bill in your life."

"I'm an outlaw, Harris. I split cables."

"You have to get your own toothbrush."

"Outlaw, pet. We don't clean our teeth."

"Outlaws enjoy root canals, huh?"

"Look, it doesn't fucking matter, there's an empty warehouse down on Vanier--"

"If you break my Tivo, I'll stake you in your sleep."

"Never said I wanted to stay in your place anyway. Bloody tip."

"I get full veto power over the stereo. And if you play the Pistols more than twice a week, you have to blow me."

"That...sounds fair."

Harris smiled, tipped his head and opened his mouth and Spike leaned forward into him, into the kiss, thinking More than fair, really. Because it was.




The End




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