Small Imperfection by Reremouse

Chapter 6

And Harris is warm against the rest of him, warm and with all too human morning breath and a heavy arm putting pressure on Spike's ribs in a way that aches - but not too much. It's all that aches in the warmth of Harris' bed and Spike takes a few more lassitudinous minutes to piece the rest together. Shirt binding him under his left arm. Softness of the old quilt Harris sleeps under against his cheek, rough prod of unbuckled belt and unbuttoned fly. Soft, warmer lump of Harris behind that. And the gentle lingering perfume of popcorn and butter and salt.



Spike wallows in it self-indulgently and closes his eyes for an after sleep kip.

Wakes to a warm and Harris-less room and the rasp of a handsaw in the pecan tree outside the window but can't be arsed to move. He pulls the covers higher and burrows as only a man who doesn't need to breathe can burrow. He breathes in the scent of the pillows anyway and forgives himself all of his indiscretions because he's a sodding vampire and if a vampire can't wallow in the simple pleasures of life what good is it all really?

Spike doesn't fall asleep again because he's a vampire and vampires don't sleep in - but Harris learned to teleport some time today because he's suddenly there, excavating Spike from the bedclothes with the bloody tube of cream in hand, tipping the mattress so Spike rolls toward him and being inconvenient. "What?"

"Boy did you wake up on the wrong side of bed."

Spike is too disoriented to debate and it's questionable which side of the bed is which so he says, "I'm a vampire. Can wake on any side of the bed I want," and then because it shouldn't go unsaid, "and I wasn't asleep."

"Sure," Harris agrees.

He has the nasty feeling Harris is humoring him and the tolerable feeling he doesn't really care because Harris smells like cut branches and sweat and his hands are warm putting on the cream Spike doesn't need. Warm and nice and so Spike lets it go because he's got quota of hedonism to meet.

"You like this." It walks the line between accusation and amusement.

Spike lifts two fingers.

Quota to meet there too.

Can't be helped.

When the tube's gone and Harris is still there, denting the bed and keeping Spike's leg warm so it aches just a little less, Spike makes conversation, "Your car's an embarrassment, Harris."

And Harris waits because Harris is a waiting type these days. Waits and rubs a big hand up and down Spike's thigh through the blankets, presses in his knuckles where Spike does and the twinge shoots fire up Spike's femur and goes silent and Spike's got to credit him - for a man with one eye, there's not much he misses. Or takes offense at. "Sure, but it gets thirty-five miles to the gallon."

Harris the practical and Spike makes a mental note to do something about that. He starts with a nudge to the kidney. "Shift it." And when Harris shifts to holding Spike's elbow and pulling him to his feet, Spike overlooks his transgression. Takes his cane. Gimps his way to the door and fixes Harris with a Well? Come on. Haven't got all day look.

"Where're we going?"

"To get a proper car. Can't be seen with you in your rolling paragon of middle class virtue."

"Spike it's a nice car - I don't need another car - and you live in a dump so I'm thinking this is all about the glass houses and stones," Harris says without heat. A man observing the weather. A man who knows from living in dumps.

"'S got style." And style's what matters in a town like Savannah. Style like silver-headed canes and coats that billow in the wind and Spike knows a thing or two about style. "And anyway, the car's for me." Harris will be driving it but there's no reason to let him know that now and anyway Spike's got more important things to focus on like getting down the stairs. Like flattening the curl on the side of his head that won't lie down.

Should sodding well shave it all off.

Any day now.

He waits under the palm tree.

Folds himself into Harris' car with less dignity than he'd like and Harris puts on his seatbelt and Spike doesn't because he's already dead. It's a perk.

It's a perk and a privilege watching Harris drive. Watching the way his eye flicks back and forth across the road and the way he tenses up when he sees somebody leave a box by the curb up ahead, unclenches his shoulders by degrees until he's breathing easy again. Harris gives 'defensive driver' new meaning all while affecting the nonchalance of a guy tooling down West Broad with Johnny Cash in the CD player.

Spike considers asking if Harris learned to drive like this in Africa or Los Angeles.

Decides it doesn't matter. Makes Harris more interesting.

He leans forward and squints at the faceplate for Harris' CD changer, eenie meenies it and pushes the button for disc four.

Miles Davis.

He's mid-lift with an inquiring eyebrow when it becomes apparent Harris is watching him out the corner of his eye. Waiting for it. He's forthcoming. "I like the old stuff. When music meant something."

"You're not old enough to remember when music meant something."

"Hey, I'll have you know 'C is for Cookie' is a classic."

Arguing the point takes more familiarity with the furry blue puppet oeuvre than Spike's willing to bring out for examination under the harsh light of streetlamps. He changes the subject. "Seem to remember you driving a decent car once, Harris."

"And since there's no planet on which you'd call the Taurus a decent car, you must be referring to Uncle Rory's Bel Air." Harris executes a neat and defensive turn onto Henry and slows at Drayton. The engine idles in a bland modern way.

They contemplate the street signs together.

"You used to have a car. And I use the term loosely in your case."

Spike shrugs. Feels a pang. Because he's the type of sop who feels a pang for a sodding car. But it was a hell of a sodding car. Wasn't much he couldn't run over or down in it and what else really mattered? The car crawls past the park, the old buildings, the new trendy stores. Rainbow flags because times change. "Used to. And it was a proper kind of car too."

Harris looks like he wants to argue. Doesn't. "Never replaced it?"

"Stole Angel's for a while."

"Because it's always more fun driving stolen wheels."

They're the only kind Spike's ever driven. "Might be a novelty to drive something bought and paid for." Harris is looking at him. "What? Ex-evil here. Turn there."

The rainbow flags fly here too because if there's a group with money, taste and a preference for style over substance, it's this one.

Tail fins gleam in the floodlights.

And Spike's about as close to heaven as his type ever gets.

"I don't know anything about car repair," Harris is saying while he eases them into a parking spot between an old Caddy and a rusted behemoth that might've been a Ford in another life. The sedan looks small and meek between them.

Spike doesn't kick the fender when he has the urge. "Not much I can't keep running."

Harris' eyebrows are up and he clicks the keychain. The car beeps at them, flashes at them, locks. "The surprises just keep coming."

"Yeah - well you turned out to be good for something besides bait didn't you?" Spike feels a flash of affront. Like Harris shouldn't be surprised Spike's good at something besides killing and drinking all the beer. He's changed.

He can have depth.

No law against it.

And Spike wouldn't care if there was.

"I wasn't very good at being bait either." Harris spreads his hands and stares up at the flags on the flagpole. Country. State. Sexuality. They flap in the breeze, one two three. "You know - I never pegged the South for a gay mecca."

"You've never been to Savannah," Spike points out.

And he's right.

Their salesman's name is Stu and he's got a goatee and perfect white teeth.

He gets them behind the wheel of a purple Cadillac. Or Harris behind the wheel anyway, running his hands up and down its sides, vague stare over the top of the steering wheel out into the middle distance. Spike lights a cigarette and waits for him to get to the point.

If there is one.

He's tucking the lighter away when Harris clears his throat, flicks his eye away from the broad plum purple hood stretching out in front of them. "I'm not sure I'm ready to be this gay yet."

"How 'bout that gay?"

Harris follows the pointing cigarette, lines it up with a '49 Packard. Japanese beetle green. Chrome.

Breathes out.

Breathes in a long minute later, sucking air and licks his lips. "Yeah - yeah."

Not a bloke on the planet too manly for that one.

Spike pays cash.

Pays cash and sits in the back seat, leg stretched out in front of him weighing the pros and cons of cutting it off for a while. Rebreaking it. Sucking out the venom that's keeping it from knitting. Something.

Harris is twisted 'round in the front seat. Watching him. "What?"

"Planning to stay back there?" Harris asks, like it makes no difference. Like Spike's knuckles aren't jammed into the flesh above his knee. Spike ashes out the window.

"Yeah. What's it to you?"

"Well - if you're gonna make a regular thing of this, I'm gonna need a chauffeur hat and that I am not gay enough for."

"Thought you said no blokes."

Harris starts the car, backs up out of the lot and they circle Forsyth Park in style. "I say lots of things."

"Mean any of them?" Spike watches Harris in the rear view mirror. Watches his eye flick back and forth across the lanes of traffic. Watches him turn his head to get a look at the park on his left. Twist all the way around to check his blind spot.

Harris aims for the left lane, for the freeway. A half-blind chauffeur to his undead Miss Daisy.

"Some of them."

Chapter 7

And because Spike's not the kind of man who can leave well enough alone he wants to know which things Harris says and means - says with words because Harris has never been good at lying with his body or his actions and if there's a word to describe Harris' actions, it's 'deliberate.'

He lines up the back seat passenger door of the Packard with the foot path to the front door, locks the doors, checks them twice like a man who's never parked a vehicle anywhere with the certainty it'd be where he left it come morning and Spike catches Harris running his fingers over the curve of the hood like a guy who wants to fuck it but might settle for buying it a drink just to stay in its presence a little longer.

Yeah. Spike knows the feeling. "You two want to be alone?"

Harris' fingers drop off the hood, fondle the headlamp. "Nah." He gives the fender a pat and wanders up the walk. "I'd never be man enough for her," he says with a kind of comfortable certainty and stuffs his hands in his pockets, ambles up the path with a detour around Spike and his cane and his bum leg. The second step squeaks under his weight.

Harris doesn't mention the blue sedan and it's just as well because Spike took trade in credit on it when Harris was in the loo.

He follows Harris into the house.

Slower, gimpier. On the bare floorboards he sounds like the sodding 'man with a limp' out of a hundred penny dreadfuls.

Harris is in the kitchen with the last packet of crackers, a jar of peanut butter and a knife.

"You sound like the guy with a limp in an old dime novel," he says and sprays crumbs. Sweeps them up with a hand and dumps them into the empty cracker box.

"Do not," Spike says and sits down on the other side of the table. His stomach's growling but the blood's on the other side of the room and he's not that hungry yet.

"Cracker?" It's laden with peanut butter and Spike will never be that hungry.

Harris takes a bite and chews. Crumbs fall onto the floor and he looks at them. Licks his lips. Licks his lips again like a man wishing he'd poured a glass of milk and swallows a few times. "We need a dog," he concludes and Spike stops himself before answering it'd chase the cat they haven't got either.

Says instead, "You're cleaning up after it."

"All right," Harris agrees easily enough and licks peanut butter off his thumb.

Spike's in bed later with a full stomach and his face tingling from the cream and Harris' rough fingers when it occurs to him Harris hasn't talked like a man moving on once the repairs are done in days. He listens to Harris in the shower, squish of shampoo and clank of soap in the soap dish that doesn't rattle anymore since Harris fixed it.

There's been caulk.

Spike tucks his hands behind his head and stares at a water-stained patch of ceiling. Makes a mental note to mention it to Harris before hurricane season.

Because there's a decent chance now Harris'll be around for Hurricane season.

Him and his sodding dog.

He falls asleep secure in the knowledge it's time to get a cat. Give the dog something better to do than chew Spike's boots.

Wakes up secure in the knowledge Harris can't cook worth shit. That knowledge is secure. What he's doing in Harris' bed while the bloke himself burns bacon and toast in the kitchen is a little more wooly and he's not ready to add sleep walking to the list of things vampires do not under any circumstances do so he rolls himself up in all the covers on the bed and goes back to sleep like an undead burrito.

A thought it wasn't him who thought.

Someone else thought it for him in his own head.

Someone named Harris.

He'd have to hold a grudge against Harris for doing that kind of thinking in another bloke's mind otherwise and it'd take more energy than it takes to keep lying there listening to Harris running a sodding great sander over the floorboards in the foyer, smelling the sharp dust of wood and old floor wax sailing up through the cracks. Listening to him carry furniture out of the sitting room and repeat the process there, sanding the floor within an inch of its life.

Spike's a man who can lie in one place listening for a bloody long time these days.

It's only when he hears the clink of a beer bottle cap pinging off the counter that the sounds convince him to get out of bed.

Harris is tipped back in his chair, balancing the mostly full beer bottle on his forehead when Spike arrives. Spike helps himself. "Ta."

Harris opens his eye, scratches at stubble that's threatening to become a beard and points to the refrigerator. "More in there."

"I like this one," Spike tells the beard because he's not through examining it.

"Okay," Harris agrees and makes no move to get another beer. This one's warm, flattish. Been sitting on Harris' head for a while undrunk. Spike drinks it.

"Thought beer wasn't safe."

Harris shrugs like he's allowed to be contradictory. Spike supposes he is. "If a man can't drink beer in his own home, where can he drink?"

Spike doesn't point out Harris didn't drink much of it. Says instead, "It's not your house."

"I make do with what I've got," says Harris who gets up and gets himself a Coke. The can hisses and foams over his fingers.

"Here," Spike hears himself saying. "You're making a bloody mess of it, Harris." Harris' fingers taste like wood dust, salt and syrup and he's a vampire - eccentric behavior's allowed and he's never had much impulse control anyway. He makes his peace with it.

Makes his peace with it and swirls his tongue over the web of skin between thumb and hand because Harris isn't pulling it away.


"Yeah?" Lets it go once the syrup's gone and picks up his beer, swishes it around in the bottle. The taste reminds him of things. Things like eating silly teenagers behind the Coney Island ferris wheel in sticky August heat.

Got a soul now.

But he's allowed to reminisce.

And he does, reminisces and waits for Harris to get to the point. He takes the long route, sipping at his Coke and staring into the middle distance with impressive accuracy for a man with no depth perception. When he gets there he says, "That was altogether not as gross as it should have been."

"Yeah, well." Spike waves a hand with something like modesty. "Vampire here. Got oral talents."

And then he has oral talents and a warm mug of blood in his hand courtesy of Harris who retreats to the sitting room to do battle with half a century's worth of scuff and neglect like a man on a mission. So Spike does what comes naturally and lurks.

So the lurking's more effective outdoors under a tree with a pack of fags and an object innocent of his gaze - but like Harris, he makes do with what he's got these days and what he's got is a wingback chair in the foyer and a view of Harris wielding a machine like a vacuum on steroids in air that's warm and thick and lightly perfumed with eau de sweaty Harris. He really should get a telly.

A telly and an alarm clock because the next thing he knows, it's dark all over, the machine Harris had been using squats in a corner of the foyer looking more sinister than a household appliance has any right to be and there's a soft rhythmic squeaking out on the back verandah.

"Don't remember owning rocking chairs," Spike says when he gets there and sits in the other one. Gets an eyeful of Harris shirtless and barefoot, scarred and lean with a farmer's tan and another Coke. And grass clippings stuck to his feet and legs like he's been running around the garden chasing fireflies.

"They were in the attic. I fixed them up." Harris' hair is curly and matted with dried sweat and he runs a hand through it.

A soggy tennis ball drops into Spike's lap and he looks into a black blaze on a white face and mismatched blue and brown eyes filled with hope. "Don't remember you either."

"Spike," Xander says, reaching over the arms of two chairs to grab the tennis ball and sling it out into the night. The collie streaks after it like a barking fluffy-tailed comet. "Meet Ziggy."

"Where the hell did he come from?"

The soggy tennis ball drops into Spike's lap again because apparently Ziggy's not a hint taking kind of dog.

Not even when Harris leans over to take the ball again and throw it far away into the dark. "Neighbors moved. I said we'd take him."

"So this getting a dog thing," Spike says casually, tracks Ziggy's returning black and white shape with his eyes, "not theoretical."

"Not really," Harris admits and sits back, crosses his feet at the ankles and drains his Coke.

The tennis ball drops into Spike's lap.

He picks it up with two fingers, hefts it and throws it into the dark. Somewhere, a bullfrog registers its complaint.

Or randiness.

Never know with bullfrogs. Shifty lot.

Harris shades his eye. "Nice throw."

"Looked like he needed the exercise."

Harris' hand comes down slowly and he rattles the last drops of Coke in his can. "If he's not back by tomorrow morning, remind me to call animal shelters in the next county."

They're quiet, listening to the bugs and the bullfrogs and signs of a dog returning from over the horizon with a tennis ball in its mouth. Spike breaks the silence.

"Don't remember owning tennis balls before today either."

"It came with the dog." Harris plucks another can of Coke off a half-demolished six pack, pops the tab and swigs. Grimaces. "You know, even spending a few years in third world countries does not ever make warm Coke appealing."

"Perfectly good refrigerator ten steps away, you lazy sod," Spike says with a gesture at the house. The house that's quieter than Spike's heard a house in a good long while, come to think of it.

"Power's out," Harris says unnecessarily, drinking his warm Coke and rubbing grass off the sole of one foot against the opposite leg of his jeans.

They sit and listen to it, the absence of hum and beep and buzz, listen to the leaves rustling against each other and the crickets - doing whatever the hell it is crickets do.

Harris sets a warm bottle of Sam Adams on Spike's thigh. Leaves hand and bottle there a little too long after Spike takes hold of the beer.

"Nice night for it," Spike opines at last.

"It's not bad," Harris agrees.

He's shed grass clippings on Spike's jeans and Spike leaves them there.

Chapter 8

Spike doesn't doze on the verandah. There's things a hundred years of flammability train out of a man and that's one of them. So he watches Harris through half-lidded eyes behind sunglasses with a heavy fuzzy weight on his feet and fur between his toes.

Harris is wrestling the mower.




Spike sits back to enjoy the show.

Doesn't tell him Doctor Jefferson's nurse called to confirm Harris' appointment tomorrow morning at 10:30; he'll check his voice mail eventually and Harris is responsible these days. Organized.

Threatening the mower with a wrench and a dirty look like a man bent on violence. Man versus machine mano a - whatever the machine has. Gearo.

So his temper's not even today but Spike supposes everyone deserves a day waking up on the wrong side of bed. Not that Spike was there to confirm which side of bed Harris woke up on after the night before. He does remember something about waking up standing in the hallway, face mashed up against a locked door.

But it's foggy.

Embarrassing too so he's willing to put it down to vivid dreams.

The point is, Harris will be in the office at 10:30 the next morning doing whatever it is that treats malaria-having blokes.

The lawn mower sweeps a broad arc through the air and demolishes itself against a tree.

Harris pants.

The lawn mower sheds a piece of its innards into the grass with a subtle wet thump.

Distemper shots, maybe.

He gives the mower's remains a kick and limps back to the house. But Spike's not a man in a position to comment on another man's gimp so he waits for Harris to come back with a glass of iced tea, bare feet, bare chest, disgruntled expression. "We're letting the grass grow," Harris informs him.

Ziggy's drinking Harris' tea but Spike doesn't see any reason to mention it. It's Harris' dog anyway. Says instead, "Always fancied a Zen garden."

They contemplate it together.

Harris lifts the glass, comes up with an empty glass and a guilty looking dog with a mint leaf on his nose. Sets the glass down and takes a calming breath. "I could do Zen." And a few minutes later, "Any new messages on my voicemail?"

"Do I look like a sodding secretary?"

"Spike, you are a world-class snoop."

And Spike can't help feeling a little flattered. Clamps down on what's showing on his face because Harris is grinning at him like he hasn't murdered their only lawnmower in a fit of passion. "What?"

"Just then. You were flattered I called you a world-class snoop."

"Was not."

Harris drops a hand into Ziggy's fur and indulges them both in a long scratch. "Uh-huh."

So Spike waits until they're done and Harris is levering himself out of the chair with the grim determination of a man bent on total garden domination. "Got a doctor's appointment tomorrow morning."

It takes Harris a moment to sort through the lack of proper nouns and pronouns. "What time?" He's not looking at Spike.

"Half past ten."

"Cool," Harris concludes and marches off to war.

Ziggy watches him go like a lovelorn bride until he disappears into the shed. Then Ziggy rolls over and covers Spike's feet with fur. "Fickle," Spike accuses him.

But the dog doesn't mind.

Spike scratches under Ziggy's collar with his toes and doesn't sleep.

He watches Harris through sunglasses and slitted eyes, watches him carry bundles of stakes on his shoulder across the expanse of yard like he's been doing it for years.

The thought should disturb Spike more than it does.

He waits.

It's a bloody lazy thought. Or Spike's too lazy to be disturbed and Harris doesn't seem the type to turn the stakes on Spike anymore so he lets the past stay in the past while Harris stabs stakes into turned earth and - eventually - begins to plant tomatoes.

"Tomatoes?" Because Harris has to pass back into the house for a drink some time, sweating like he is, and Spike's inclined to be patient.


Spike waves a hand at the neatly planted rows of tomatoes behind their chicken wire line of defense.

"Oh. Well there's no reason for me to get scurvy while I'm living here is there?"

Spike's eyebrows semaphore his disbelief.

Harris shrugs. "Tomatoes - I - I don't know, it's what you plant when you have a great old house and want a charming garden in back. I like tomatoes," he adds.



"You need a shower," Spike says.

The defensiveness goes away. "I stink," Harris concludes.

"Offensive to olfactory nerves everywhere," Spike agrees while Ziggy gets busy licking Harris' knee.

"Ziggy doesn't mind."

"Caught Ziggy eating a day-old rat this morning."

Harris turns green and nudges the dog's tongue away from his skin gingerly. "Okay. I need a shower and he needs doggie toothpaste." He stands up, hovers at the door. "Dead rat?"

"Dead rat," Spike confirms.

"And rat traps."

"Could always get a cat," Spike says before he thinks not to.

Harris just gives him a look, gives the sky a look, gives Ziggy a look. "The vampire wants a cat," Harris says to Ziggy.

Ziggy thumps his tail like he knows what Harris is talking about. Drools a little. And on consideration, Spike decides to give Ziggy the benefit of the doubt. He could know what Harris is talking about. Wouldn't be the first bloke in Spike's acquaintance who's smarter than he looks.

Spike could even say he attracts the type. Repeatedly. But that's as much as he's willing to admit.

So it's when the shower's on and Ziggy's sitting in front of the closed kitchen door staring at the doorknob like the biggest, loudest, furriest hint in the world that Spike eases himself to standing and thumps his way to bed.

But he doesn't lock the house behind him.

He may be pathetic but he's still a vampire so he just locks Ziggy out of his room, haphazardly smears the sodding cream over his face, drops his clothes in a messy pile on the floor and falls face first onto his bed.



But he's asleep so he doesn't notice.

What he does notice some time later is fur trying to work its way up his right nostril in a way that'd be bloody annoying if he needed to breathe.

He lies there.

The fur keeps trying to go up his nose.

No. It's still bloody annoying.

Spike pries open his eyes to a fuzzy brindle world and a tail that stops laying siege to his nose long enough to swipe at his eye.

Cat, a part of Spike's brain helpfully supplies.

I know it's a cat, Spike snarls back at it - but silently - because they say things about vampires who start talking to themselves in old age. He talks to the cat instead. "How'd you get in here?"

"I let her in." The cat doesn't answer but Harris does and that's not the part that strikes Spike as odd. The odd part's that Harris doesn't appear to be in the room and Spike remembers locking the door. "Up here," an open ceiling vent says in Harris' voice.

"You spy on everyone in their sleep?" Spike nudges the cat until it scoots down onto his belly and curls up there. It doesn't seem to mind the lack of body heat or vulnerable bodily openings in its new position and goes back to sleep.

"First of all, it's really funny when you make accusations about spying on people - and second, no. I only spy on you because you're special." Harris' head appears with the words and Spike absolutely doesn't feel mysteriously warm and tingly in any way that can't be blamed on having a sleeping cat purring on his stomach.

He shoves the cat onto the duvet. "Could've told you that, pillock." The cat stretches and marches to the top of the bed and lays claim to the pillow. "What're you doing in the ceiling?"

"Rats," Harris says.

"Thought that's what the cat was for."

"It is. She's on her break." Spoken like a man perfectly comfortable in a ceiling vent. Like a man who didn't carry out hot-blooded execution on an aging lawn mower.

Harris is mellow again and his hair's in his eye. He swats it away and hauls himself onto his elbows so more of him's hanging into Spike's bedroom but Spike's never been modest before and he's not about to start now. Not even if a part of him's reaching for the covers. It's a part of him that doesn't have control of his hands so he ignores it.

"Like what you see?" comes out of his mouth without consultation or permission.

"Actually - yeah - you're really working that ruggedly handsome yet compact and muscular thing."

"That right?"

"I'm only half blind, Spike."

"Yeah - well - got plenty of scars." And he does, laid out like this. More than he cares to think about but they don't seem to bother Harris.

Spike's only imagining the look on Harris' face - the one that says he wants to map them all with his tongue.

Harris just says, "I'm not stone-casting guy when it comes to battle scars."

And apparently means it.

Adjusts his patch and squints into the other end of the vent. "If you don't hear from me by dinner time, the rats got me. Send a rescue party."

"I'll send the cat."

"You're a giver, Spike."

"You bought her." And Spike's a guy with a bum leg. Harris does him the courtesy of not calling him on it.

Chapter 9

The cat's a lazy sod, happier lying on Spike's lap and lapping blood from Spike's mug than chasing rats. She doesn't drink much and Spike doesn't much mind sharing in exchange for a warm bit of fluff on his lap.

And Harris and Ziggy are making progress with the rats without her.

Harris makes noises about getting his money back and the cat makes noises that say she's not going anywhere.

Spike'd put his money on the cat if Harris had any money to lose with.

But with every passing round of snooping, Spike's more convinced Harris hasn't got much to call his own. He's counted five overshirts, seven undershirts, three pairs of pants, nineteen assorted socks and twenty pairs of underwear. At least fifteen of them are new since Harris' first paycheck for this job arrived in the mail.

So Harris hasn't got much but the clothes on his back and in his bureau and an assortment of pills and creams with the labels worn off and the book he still hasn't finished reading.

There's a pair of old nail clippers and an old fashioned file in the drawer next to Harris' bed but Spike thinks they might've come with the house. He's learned there's not much Harris can't make new again with an evening at the kitchen table and a can of WD-40.

Harris and lubricant - they're a magical combination.

Harris' timing is magical too and he makes his entrance while Spike's snickering to himself over a mug of blood. "What's so funny?"

"Vampire humor," Spike lies. "You wouldn't get it."

Harris snorts, unimpressed, and helps himself to milk. He pours it into a glass and sets the glass on the floor for Ziggy. "Like that's ever stopped vampires from laughing at my expense before." Harris drinks from the carton and tosses a bag of Oreos onto the table.

"I'll keep laughing. Just won't tell you what I'm laughing about."

The cat pushes her way under Ziggy and dips a paw to the bottom of the glass. She's licking it when Harris says, "I thought dogs were supposed to chase cats."

"Some of 'em." Spike snaps an Oreo into two neat pieces. "But you can't always count on the predator and prey relationship in an artificial setting."

"And that'd mean what exactly?"

"Predator and prey living side by side under the same roof, sharing their food." One half of an Oreo is neatly bisected and eaten. "It confuses the natural order of things."

Together, they watch the cat wind her way around Ziggy's legs. Watch noses touch.

"Not natural," Spike comments and eats the rest of his Oreo. "But I suppose they're happy enough."

Spike's neat analogy is lost on Harris, of course. Which may be for the best as Spike hasn't figured out yet how to explain himself. And Harris buys Ziggy's affection back from the cat with an Oreo anyway and they lope out into the afternoon sun together for a rousing game of soggy tennis ball.

The cat watches from the veranda and eventually Spike joins her, absently noticing Harris' improved vigor, the color in his cheeks.

The finesse with which he hasn't said a word about the doctor or appointment since he came back from it. He's been whistling while he works all day.

Bloody suspicious.

But the bottles in Harris' bathroom are the same.

Aspirin, Riamet, tetracycline, full bottle of oxycodone, cool blue aloe gel and a family size tube of the scar cream.

Dog shampoo.

Dog toothpaste.

Snooping like that's amateur work, with obvious payoffs like Spike helping himself to a few pills Harris obviously won't miss.

Other snooping takes more work, patience, time.

It takes hours for Spike to find Harris' wallet, well and instinctively hidden in an air duct up near the ceiling and Harris should have known better.

Even with a bad leg, that won't stop Spike.

Doesn't, in fact.

And it's not as if there's much in the way of payoff for effort expended on Spike's part because Harris' wallet contains twenty four dollars, pictures of Dawn, Buffy, Giles, Anya and Willow and proof that hope springs eternal because while Harris is in 'no birds, no blokes' mode, he still carries a condom like every other red-blooded American male.

Then there's the snooping that takes real dedicated effort and felonious intent Spike might care about if he wasn't already dead and bloody difficult to arrest.

Snooping like an afternoon tracing telephone numbers back to the source of a cryptic voicemail and telling a half dozen different humans he's Harris - in an American accent - until one of them believes him.

But there, the payoff's a bit better.

Harris is raking hills of pale sand into great lakes and swaths of sand. The overgrown grass is a vague green presence on the other side of their spreading patch of zen and Harris has been giving the cat hairy eyeballs since the first time he caught her casually kicking zen sand over a zen puddle.

The cat's ignored him with feline zen of course.

And Harris has kept raking and Spike admits it's zen watching him. Watching mountains spread and footprints trample.

Watching Harris get sweaty and gritty and sandy and hot.

Watching him wipe his face with a bandanna and tromp across the sand barefoot to a glass of tea sweating almost as profusely as he is.

Watching him take a long drink, throat working, before saying, "Your therapist called, pet. Said she wants to reschedule for next Tuesday. Wants to talk about El Djouf, no bones about it."

And watching the cat hiss a bristle-tailed protest when Xander sprays her liberally with a mouthful of tea.

Harris coughs, chokes, and wipes his mouth with his bandanna. Spits sand. "Aren't there medical confidentiality laws protecting me from that kind of thing?"

"I'd talk to you about El Djouf for free."

"Insurance pays."

"Right. We'll split my fee. Bloody awful place but pretty in moonlight. Your turn."

Harris looks like a man on the verge of punching Spike in the face - it's not a look he's unfamiliar with - so it comes as a complete surprise when Harris chuckles instead, laughs and props bare sandy feet on the railing and drains his tea. Pours another from the pitcher. "You're not wrong."

His toenails are short and neatly clipped under the fine coating of sand and sweat.

Funny the things a man notices.

Spike takes a sip of julep. "Awfully California, isn't it - a therapist?"

"Mauritania." Xander waves a hand, the hand with the bandanna, and wipes his face with it again. "There was trauma."

"That why you came back stateside, then?"

"I have great coping mechanisms. Iron clad or something," Harris says instead of answering. Or possibly in preamble to answering. Sips his tea, stares zenly at the garden. "But even I draw the line at six months of slavery."

Spike's mind goes the obvious place. He lets it. "Six months as a sultan's kinky sex slave, hmm?"

There's no spray of tea this time but only because Harris inhales it while laughing. There's gasping, sputtering, choking. "Oh my god. Sorry. Sorry - no." He wipes his mouth with the bandanna and spits more sand. Still laughing. It occurs to Spike this may be part of the coping mechanism.

"Just a slave then."

"Pretty much - and believe me when I say they like their slaves really really not sexual." Harris wipes one more time with the bandanna and drops it to the porch where Ziggy picks it up and starts to chew. "Mostly I worked with the camels." There's a beat in the conversation, calm and zen. Pensive while Harris scratches behind Ziggy's ears. "I liked the camels."

But slavery's slavery, Spike figures, and not the sort of thing even a bloke like Xander endures easily.

Explains a bit about Harris' new wandering gypsy life.

New calm.

And if he's questioned later, he won't have an alibi for what he does next, getting up, pulling Harris out of his chair and pressing their lips together hard and fast.

No tongue.

There's a twitch away by Harris, fast and fidgety, and then Harris is surging forward, warm, open-mouthed, wet and gritty with sand, salty with sweat. It's like snogging at the beach without the seagulls.

And they've got a bit of leeway - time before their minds kick up fuss, before Harris pulls away, panting, and Spike keeps hold of his shirt because his cane's fallen down beside the other chair.

Before Harris' eye is wide, staring out over sand and birch trees. Over Spike's shoulder and Spike's got sand in his mouth but he doesn't spit.

Eventually, they both sit down again and pick up their drinks.

"What was that?" Harris asks eventually.

And Spike hasn't got an alibi so he shrugs. Drinks. "Bloody nice."

"Wasn't bad," Harris agrees after a few. "Kind of unexpected."

"Not known for impulse control, am I?"

He waits for it, knows Harris has to smile at that and Harris doesn't disappoint. "You're really not."

"That's that then."

"That it is."

And like that, Harris shoulders his rake and goes back to work, raking sand, threatening the cat, sweating and spitting.

And Spike rubs at the grit of sand on his lips.

Chapter 10

There's a whole sea of zen under Spike's bedroom window past the wisteria making itself known, all silently baking under the Southern sun. He supposes there's something especially zen about contemplating that as a vampire but he's always been too lazy to seek enlightenment.

He prefers the kind of enlightenment that comes to him; it's not as if he isn't prepared to wait.

And it could be he dozes off in the shaded warmth of the northern verandah like an old man sleeping on the porch with a cat in his lap and a dog at his feet so it's a bloody good thing he drew the line at rocking chairs. "Back from therapy, are we?" he asks Harris who seems to have left only minutes ago.

But is now standing before Spike taking in the scene with one eye and an amused tilt to his lips.

Sod rocking chairs.


Harris spreads his hands in the universal gesture of surrender. "You can't blame me. It's not every day a guy comes home to a Norman Rockwell painting."


The hands go into Harris' pockets and he rocks on his heels, grins, and says, "Hey, you're not wrong. Lemonade?"


"Can vampires be alcoholics?" Harris asks, holding the door like a man who's got all the time in the world to hold the door for a gimpy vampire.

Spike's fingers do the answering. Two of them.

"I guess a twelve step program is out of the question," Harris says as the door closes behind them.

"Sod off."

"I'm sodding, I'm sodding," Harris says into the kitchen and Spike doesn't even know where to begin with ennumerating the wrong.

"Bloody Americans."

The bloody American is in fine bloody form like the industrious worker bee his countrymen would be proud of. He's not quite whistling while he works but Spike wouldn't put it past him. So he and the cat are keeping a wary eye out for the first signs of tunefulness because a man can never be too cautious about things like that.

And if keeping a wary eye out means watching a shirtless, sweaty Harris haul rocks from the bed of a rented truck to the zen garden, it's a sacrifice Spike's prepared to make for the greater good.

He's always appreciated a house with a view.

That the view is of Harris and Spike is appreciating it is something he's not planning to lose sleep over. What's done is done. And what isn't done is isn't done - he runs that through his head again - or possibly who as there is an entire 'who' aspect of not being done.

Two whos in fact.

And the who on the porch is surprisingly content to bide his time.

On further consideration, he blames Savannah. The slowness seeps into a bloke's bones and he learns to take his time here in spite of himself.

'Course, the way Spike's not sure his knees and hips bend in the necessary ways yet could have a thing or two to do with embracing the local speed of things. Because it'd even put a man like Harris off - snapping a leg in two mid-shag.

Spke can't say he'd enjoy it much himself either.

Harris stomps up the stairs, shedding sand as he goes. It's starting to look like a beach house.

Spike hands him his glass of tea. Mint. Ice. Water that trickles down the sides and over Harris' fingers.

And Harris can be counted on reliably to lick away. "So I've been thinking about earlier," Harris mumbles against a roughened knuckle without preamble, without any apparent indication he plans to finish that weak opening gambit of a conversational fragment.

When he doesn't, just guzzles tea and drips on the wood, Spike answers, "Suppose there's a first time for everything. Even thinking."

"Poof," Harris says because it's what Harris does these days.

No point in denying it.

"The kiss," he eventually elucidates against the rim of his glass.

"It was nice," Spike agrees. He can't say it hasn't crossed his mind a time or two.

"We should do it again some time." Harris pulls off his bandana, scrubs it against his forehead.

"'M free Tuesday."

"I was thinking more like - oh - now."

"I'm free Tuesday too," Spike says against Harris' lips which are cool and tea-flavored and pressing against his. He's distantly surprised Harris is this bold.

Much more locally appreciative of the boldness and the hot hand cupping his jaw, holding him at an angle Harris apparently likes to kiss at.

A lot.

And it's been a while since Spike's been on this side of the equation.

The side that gets held down, kissed, appreciated.


It's a good job he doesn't need to breathe the way Harris is going at it and when he grabs Harris' hair, he seems to like that too, pulling up gasping like a man who's been under water too long.

Spike doesn't let go of his sweaty handful of hair and Harris doesn't mind. "Okay - you're telling me you'd wait until Tuesday for that?"

"No," Spike says in his best scornful voice. It's extra deep. Lots of room for plenty of scorn in it. "I'm booking Tuesday for it. All day."

Harris gets a glazed look in his eye. It's a glazed look that considers things. He rubs his chin with the hand not propping him up over Spike's chair. "You better book in some variety or I'm going to be eating through a straw for a week while my jaw recovers."

"Open to suggestions," Spike says. And is.

He's vaguely surprised Harris took his proposition seriously.

And isn't about to correct him.

So it's not the first kiss and it's not the last. It's somewhere in a lazy middle full of sometimes tea-flavored and sometimes sticky with Coca Cola, sometimes warm and pepperminty ready for bed and others warm and redolent of morning breath kisses. It's an entire lazy buffet of kisses and Spike never pinned Harris down as a man capable of that much creativity.

Or patience.

Then again, a long dry spell can do that to a certain type of man. And Harris is clearly a man who prefers to set his own terms these days.

Not that his terms aren't amenable to suggestions.

A few of which Spike happens to have.

And the knowledge of Tuesday lends the piquancy of anticipation to Spike's Monday sojourn in Savannah with Harris just down Habersham street.

It's an afternoon of sweet tea and sweeter pie.

Of flirting with waitress and waiter alike and buying the old man at the counter his meal - compliments of an imperfect stranger.

It's an afternoon of enjoying being an average man of money and mystery with average hearing who couldn't possibly be listening in on whispered gossip a room away.

A man with above average life experience if the rumor mill's to be believed.

Apparently, he fought in the Falklands.

Came back more than a hero.

Less than a man.

Brave and gentlemanly and unseemly. Not right in the head.

Does unspeakable things they can talk about amongst themselves all day.

Which means he's something of a local celebrity and a welcome distant relative of everyone in Savannah all at once.

Spike sips his tea and stretches his leg under the table.

And down the street he can see Harris popping in at the pharmacy. Popping out with a coke, a bag and a smile, detouring to the car and whistling along his merry way.

Harris' purchases reach the diner long before he does and the rumor mill grinds on. Adding especially unspeakable indiscretions with the new houseboy.

It's a day early but Spike's not going to begrudge it its mis-timed accuracy.

In fact, Spike finds himself with the urge to take notes on a napkin.

He settles for embellishing on the unspeakable with the unthinkable and all in all, it proves to be a pleasant enough way to pass an overcast afternoon.

"Pie?" he offers when Harris sits down opposite him in a whiff of Savannah evening air, herbs and human sweat. A little something that makes Spike think Hoodoo.

Whatever it is, it makes Harris hungry.

"I'll pass," Harris says, "but I could murder one of whatever he's eating."

Spike glances in the direction Harris is drooling. "You never struck me much as a ham and brie type."

"Times change," Harris says and flags down the waitress with the determination of a man set and bound in his plans for a ham and brie croissant sandwich.

And a cherry-chocolate phosphate.

And adds, "I never struck you much as the fucks men type either."

Spike's got to admit Harris has a point there. "You've got a point."

"First time for everything," Harris agrees.

"Comes naturally to you."

There's a look passes between them. Could be surprise. Could be knowing. Probably is expectation and Harris' color is high when he says: