Xander wondered how long it took to go from being hungry hungry to being...food.
He didn't know how long he lay out in the desert, baking, baking like a Namibian human biscuit.
Biscuits with thick country gravy that would make him drool if he had any saliva left in him.
Any moisture left in him.
He felt like a biscuit.
Maybe wild animals didn't like human jerky.
Except they hadn't eaten him before he dried out either, when he was still a moist and nummy treat.
He could hear them, distant and close. Sometimes he felt a wet nose snuffle at him, at his belly, at his throat.
While he could still hear and feel real things that were real and not the sun rising and the sun setting, while he could tell the difference.
Nothing took a bite.
Not even the demons took a bite and hey maybe he'd finally stopped being demon nip.
Xander was pretty sure his eye was closed and the oven of the world kept cycling. Red and black, red and black, like flying low face first over a gigantic checkers board.
Red was hot and that made perfect sense while he could still make sense - while he still wanted to - and black was cold-cold, shivering until he was shivering all the time and before he couldn't shiver anymore.
He lost count of how many reds and how many blacks.
It was a big checkerboard.
He wondered if he was done baking yet.
He wanted to be done. That was the point. That was the reason.
Black and footsteps.
There were often footsteps - pawsteps.
The hyenas were wearing boots now.
It was funny.
Xander tried to giggle but didn't have any left.
Black melted into silver and the moon was pretty - fuzzy.
Xander stared into it until black swallowed the moon too and he closed his eye because what was the point of making the effort to keep his eye open if the moon was going to taunt him by getting itself eaten. When he couldn't.
Rude fucking bastard moon.
"Oi! None of that now, Harris."
Xander had heard Spike before now. Spike in his head. Spike was sounding ragged around the edges these days. Sounded like he was crying - couldn't be crying. Even Xander's imagination didn't have enough moisture left for tears.
But there it was, splashing onto his face - too wet to come from him.
If Xander was going to dream moisture, it sure as hell wouldn't itch and burn like that.
Fucking Spike showing up and fucking crying on him.
Which he would never do in anything Xander's brain could cook up.
Go away, Spike. I'm baking.
It had to be real then.
"Hey Spike." Xander shaped the words but didn't know if they came out - smiled or grimaced, one of those two and squinted up at him in the moonlight. "I'm dying."
Bastards in the Council couldn't pay for an air-conditioned hotel?
Spike smoked another cigarette and looked anywhere but at Harris.
Wasn't that Spike didn't want to look at Harris.
Some part of Spike, some brain-damaged part of Spike he blamed on the Initiative - not for any good reason but because it was convenient blaming this sort of shite on someone - had been wanting to look at Harris for a bloody long time.
The problem was either that Spike didn't want to look at Harris like this or that this...wasn't Harris.
Spike shot a quick glance at the bed, the mummy-brown body in cheap off-white cotton sheets.
For one, Harris was never this silent.
Never should have been sent to Africa on his own, that one. Never should have been allowed to go without contact for months, bloody months on end before someone thought to send Spike looking. Sodding hell, why not? He'd blame the bloody Council for this too.
The phone rang and everything under Spike's skin and over his bones jumped toward it so instead of a casual saunter, when Spike did allow himself to move, he moved like a marionette on a string. "What?"
"Andrew said you called. That you have him."
Spike snorted - folded himself into an easy chair and poured out the last three fingers of whiskey. "Got what's left of him."
"What's left? Bloody hell, Spike! Andrew said he was alive!"
Spike drained his glass and wished he felt more satisfaction in taunting the Watcher. "He is. If you call that living."
"Is he in immediate danger?"
Another glance at the bed - still body, skin and bones and a rabbit-fast heartbeat. Spike considered his options. On one hand, Harris didn't look anything like healthy, hadn't said a word since announcing his imminent death. On the other hand, that imminent death didn't seem so imminent after all. When Spike had moved the body - right, Harris - the back of his clothes had signs of ground rot, still a dark khaki color and there had been wriggling beetles beneath. An entire bloody colony grown up under Harris the rock. Yet when Spike had stripped him off, washed him down in water the color of desert sand, there hadn't been so much as a nibble on his bum.
"What?" Spike snapped before he realized he'd been meant to answer. Right. "Nah. Only danger he's in is being mothered to death by the witches. Looks like he could use a few square meals, mind."
On the other end of the line, Giles sighed - that long, weary thing that set Spike's teeth on edge. *Right, tosser. If you were so worried about him, why'd you wait this long to send someone? Why'd you send me? Pillock.*
"Thank you, Spike."
This time, the sigh had much more irritation in it. "And you will be paid for your services on arrival. There will be a light plane waiting for you after sunset to take you both to the airport in Windhoek."
Spike carried the phone and his whiskey to the bed and regarded Harris with a tilt of his head. "Might be a small problem with that."
"Well, he hasn't exactly been awake."
"Nnn-yes." Spike drained his whiskey quickly and listened to the silence from London.
"You're a terrible liar, Spike."
"Asleep and dreaming of half-naked bints serving beer," he added and listened to the clink and slosh of Giles pouring himself a drink. Spike cast a longing glance at his empty whiskey bottle.
"He's in a coma, isn't he?"
"Might be," Spike admitted cautiously. "He woke up when I found him."
"Did he say anything to give you an idea of what happened to him?"
"No," Spike lied with heartfelt sincerity. "Look, I'm knackered and a light plane to Windhoek isn't my idea of a great way to spend Saturday night."
"Every night is Saturday night when you're a vampire, mate. Have someone call 'round later, yeah?"
"Yes, well - do be ready by sundown, Spike."
Spike listened to the sounds of expensive whiskey going down and snorted. "Don't strain yourself on the pleasantries, Rupert. Hang up the bloody phone."
"Good night, Spike."
"Right." Spike flipped the phone closed, and looked at everything in the room that wasn't Harris. Covered window. Cracked walls. Two lamps - unmatched - one desk. Two empty bottles of whiskey without labels.
Buggering bloody hell.
One Harris in the bed.
Spike jerked at the knots in his boot laces and kicked off his boots. "Shove over, Harris. Only a great lout like you could lose all that puppy fat and still hog the sodding bed."
And the only pillow.
Spike didn't comment on the pillow.
And when his hand crept across the mattress to rest on what was left of Harris' bicep - hard and lean, warm and tough - Spike was asleep. Couldn't be blamed.
Wasn't a soul alive - or awake - to prove otherwise.
"Bloody hell. Have to do everything for you, do I?" Spike watched his pale fingers cover the paler skin of Harris' socket since the eyelid didn't close completely anymore and rinsed shampoo suds from his hair with handfuls of warm water.
First time he'd covered Harris' socket with his hand, because what else was he supposed to do? Build a sodding dam on his face? First time, he'd expected Harris to flinch. Touching that skin felt more intimate than if Spike had reached down to have a nice wank with Harris' equipment.
Now, Spike longed for a flinch.
A flinch, a jerk away, a punch in the eye.
If Harris had opened his mouth to say "that tickles!" in an Elmo voice, Spike might've danced in the streets.
He was running out of things to talk about and the strange, one-sided conversation was beginning to veer into uncomfortably personal territory. But it was seductive, having a captive and nonjudgmental audience - even one with all the conversational skills of a bright vegetable.
"Used to wash Dru's hair. Not because she wasn't capable, mind - she liked it. Said it made her feel like a proper princess." Spike gave Harris' hair a squeeze and watched the water run out. It looked like Dru's, long and lush and dark. "Reckon you're not at home in there or you'd have something to say 'bout me treating you like a princess."
He picked up a bottle of conditioner and flipped the cap, filling the bath cubicle with the scent of apples. Wasn't about to tackle the nest Harris called hair - all right, the nest Harris would call hair if he was talking - without something slippery.
"God, you're a mess. Can barely tell you've got a face under it all. 'Course, it does add a certain cachet to the carpenter wandering in the wilderness imagery." He held Harris by the back of the neck and dunked him into the water. The other eye closed and Spike figured that meant some kind of approval. "That sort of symbolism's about as subtle as a boot to the bollocks, mind. You destined for greatness you haven't told us about, mate?"
"Sure about that? You'd be the popular bloke at parties if you could turn the water into booze and - "
"Did you say something?" Spike looked down into Harris' face - still face with beads of water on his eyelashes and the obscene tan line of his patch against nut-brown skin.
Not a flutter.
Not a twitch.
"Right, then. Where was I? Gonna trim this scruff into something ironic." He scrubbed a hand through the bristles of Harris' beard, soft-coarse hair tickling his palm and a heavier weight as Harris leaned into the scratching. And if Spike enjoyed any of it himself, that was his own bloody business. "Gonna shear you like a sheep, mate. I could make a sweater out of all this. Spin it into yarn and knit Peaches a new hair shirt."
The insults came easy.
The remembering came hard.
And Spike ruthlessly crushed the pang in his chest under the metaphorical boot heel of what needed doing, combing out the tangles of Harris' beard with his fingers and soda shop-sweet conditioner. "Not that he'll wear it these days, I wager. Oh no. Soul wasn't good enough for him. Had to go and get himself made human."
"Wanker." Spike tugged the bristles of Harris' beard a little too hard and watched the human's head loll like a puppet against his arm. "Not you." He felt compelled to reassure Harris for all the good it did. "As if a heartbeat and a sperm count make him the better man. You could teach him a thing or two about being human. It's all bumps and bruises and hard knocks and doing stupid things, healing up and then doing them again."
Spike poured water over Harris' beard, watching it sink through the dense bristles and trickle away over his collarbones and xylophone ribcage. "Then dying." And that still took some getting used to. "'Cept you didn't die, did you? Always were a stubborn bloke. Still your best quality - fuck knows you haven't got many to choose from."
Cooling trickle of water through Harris' beard.
A half-drowned beetle.
Spike grimaced. "That's bloody disgusting."
The six-legged stowaway met its end between Spike's thumb and forefinger and he tossed it into the bin.
It wasn't fun insulting Harris when he had to rely on imported livestock to snark back.
"So Peaches is human and settled in snug as a bug in a beard with his bint until some big nasty comes along with a handful of bathwater and rinses him down the drain. All he's done is cost the world a champion and promised it a few more sprogs down the line. It's a waste, if you ask me." Spike regarded Harris' features, the little creases he still had under his bottom lip. Spike traced his thumb over them, pressed lightly and watched the resulting pout. "Still a waste if you don't ask me."
Spike propped Harris up in the corner of the bath and reached back for a comb, dragging a heavy hank of hair over Harris' shoulder and setting to work turning straw to silk - or however the story went. "That goes for you too, mate."
A flicker of Harris' one eye, contraction of his pupil and the beetling of a brow.
Beat a beetling of a beard.
Spike made a mental note to shear the sod as soon as it wouldn't electrocute them both. "Oh stop glaring at me. Told you before everything went balls up in Sunnydale it'd be a bloody waste, giving up. Not many people like you and me who can take a beating and crawl back into the fight. It's the crawling back this world needs more of, not the heavy-hitting." Harris' hair gleamed under the bathroom lights and Spike gave it a satisfied stroke, moved on to the next section.
"Figured you for the type who keeps crawling, knows when to crawl off to heal like you did then. Knows when to let a fellow help with the healing."
Carding fingers through Harris' hair, teasing it out from beneath his bandage and pouring lukewarm water into it to wash for the first time in days. Sigh of pleasure and Harris falling asleep under Spike's hands. Spike doing all the talking. About getting knocked down, getting back up. Being needed and how fucking pathetically special that was. About why they bloody well fight a war with no winners. It's all about being needed - and looking after them that needs you. And Harris waking up the next morning refreshed and ready to swashbuckle his way through -
Well, no, he hadn't been refreshed and ready to do much of anything when he woke up - neither of them had - but he'd been back. Back and strong and bloody stubborn as ever, ready to throw the rest of himself into the fray.
Didn't look to be working this time.
Out the corner of his eye, Spike saw Harris' lid close, hiding the dark look again. "Yeah. I never pegged you for one who'd crawl off to die."
And Spike was still doing all the talking.
Well wasn't that a plot twist.
Conversation got dangerous when Spike did all the talking - and all the thinking. "What the fuck were you doing, Harris? Playing chicken? Waiting for your mates to catch your free fall? Chase after you and make it all better? It doesn't sodding work that way. Not for your kind. Not for my kind." The phone rang, making Spike jump - making him growl because it made him jump when Harris didn't bat a single inconsiderate eyelash. He dropped the flannel into the water and stood up. "I've got news for you, mate - I'm the one who went looking for you. And I'm the one who found you. And I fucking well hate wasting my time."
Bloody Harris and his bloody - whatever it was.
Whatever it was.
Whatever was going on in that thick skull of his.
Made him want to pound on the side - see if a handful of sand poured out onto the tiles.
He stalked into the living room and tore the phone from its cradle. "What?"
"Would it kill you to check your answering machine?"
Sodding hell. "'M already dead, bit."
"Uh huh. And that line didn't get old years ago. How is he?"
Spike shrugged and went for the simplest truth. "Naked and wet."
"Okay, so would have appreciated that more two years ago."
"Wouldn't have told you two years ago. He's in the bath, pet."
"But how is he?"
Spike sighed and wished for a smoke - promised himself one after Harris was out of the bath, warm and dry. They'd share a nice smoke and Harris could not-talk to him some more. "Quiet. He hasn't said much since I found him."
"Is he sick?"
"No." But Spike wouldn't vouch for his mental health. "Could use a few good meals, mind."
"You'll make sure he gets them?"
"'Course I will. What do you take me for?"
"The evil undead," she said and bloody hell, who could resist that giggle?
"Yeah. And don't you forget it."
"You'll call when he's talking? You'll make him call?"
"I'll dial the phone myself and strap it to his head."
"Right. Fine. I promise."
"Sodding hell. No."
Another giggle - and she was gone. He'd known it was a mistake not to terrify Dawn Summers at a young age.
He detoured to the kitchen for a slug of whiskey before retreating to the bathroom, acknowledging that he was sorely out of practice at striking terror.
If terror was a nail, Spike was bending an awful lot more than he was driving home these days.
The whiskey said fuck it.
Spike listened to the whiskey.
Fuck it all. Who really cared why Harris had done what he'd done? Wasn't as if Spike had never fallen on hard times. Wasn't as if Harris himself had never caught Spike at it.
Wasn't as if Spike would really care if Harris died, after all. What was one less human in a world full of -
The water was still.
The top surface was smooth.
And Harris was under it, eyes closed, skin pale.
"Oh - fucking hell!" Spike plunged into the water, jerked Xander up by his bony shoulders - shook him and looked for - what - what? "You stupid sod, that wasn't a bloody invitation to finish the - "
Xander sighed against Spike's chest.
" - bleeding job!"
Spike pushed Xander away from his chest and looked at him.
Xander looked back, eye liquid and wide and striking a note in Spike's chest that sang. "Your shirt is wet," the bastard said.
"You're not dead." Spike held Xander back, where he dangled like a sodden cat. "Or breathing," he finished.
"Oh," Xander said, and took a breath, then another, color slowly returning to his lips and cheeks. "Thanks."
"You're not dead?" Spike said again, because something owed him a few answers.
Xander looked down at them both dripping on the floor. "Not yet," he concluded.
And Spike ruthlessly squashed the urge to turn up the heat, find another towel, another blanket, dry the wanker's hair for him.
*Comb it, brush it, braid it and tie it with a bow then, shall I? We'll have a bloody tea party after.*
He glared at Harris and turned up the heat.
But only because he was chilly himself and the Council was paying for it.
"Oh, give it here." He snatched the damp towel from Harris' hands and gave his hair a brisk rub. "You're dripping on the bed, you careless sod. I have to sleep there too, you know."
"Too bloody right you are. The sorriest scrawny wet Scooby I've had the misfortune to lay eyes on." He tossed the towel over his shoulder and looked down into a glazed eye. "Gonna tell me why now the proverbial cat's coughed up your tongue?"
"Wanker." Spike kicked the towel into a corner and snatched up the phone, shuffling through an array of takeaway and delivery menus. "D'you like curry?"
"Right." Spike dialed. "H'lo, Ranjan. Double the usual. Two curries, extra naan. Got a guest." After a promise of curry in twenty five minutes and a hello from Ranjan's missus, Spike hung up the phone and stared at Harris. "Well?"
Harris gave him a blank look for his trouble.
"Gonna say something?"
"Why? It's your place."
"Too sodding right it is." Spike threw himself into a chair. There was something wrong with that last exchange but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. "I could throw you out on your arse."
Spike watched in amazement because this time, this time the apathetic reply came with action. Action in the form of trembling hands and shaking knees. A scrawny body levering itself off the mattress and standing dazed and nude in the center of the room. "What?" Spike lowered his voice an octave and tried again. "What?"
"I need clothes."
"Stupid git. I didn't say I was throwing you out on your arse."
"I'm not - " Harris stopped but Spike watched with narrow-eyed expectation. And not only because the boy was finally stringing together more than two words at a time and Spike would listen to him read the bloody television guide by now to hear another voice. Harris licked his lips, drew breath like he was surprised by the moisture in his own body and passed a hand over the concavity of his belly, gripping the opposite hipbone. "I'm not staying here so you can threaten me."
Spike rolled his eyes, up and out of the chair and tipping Harris back to the mattress with two fingertips. Harris bounced like a doll and Spike would know. Seen a lot of dolls bouncing on the bed in his years. Enough to give a bloke a complex when that flop-armed sprawl joined up to the 'sex' compartment of his psyche. Fortunately, Harris was about as sexy as an octogenarian: thanks but not that desperate yet. "No. You're staying here because you'll get yourself killed out there."
Harris stared back, puffing and wheezing breaths, tight-stretched skin hollowing in and out like a bellows, stuttering and -
"It's not funny, mate."
"You." Harris wheezed between silent giggles. "You are funny. Also? Really...stupid."
"Reconsidering tossing you out on your arse, Harris."
Harris continued - as if Spike hadn't spoken at all. And that was - all right, that was fine. That was...Harris. In that light, it was sodding welcome.
Spike picked up the easy chair, shook off its layer of crumbs and cigarette ash and carried it to the bed, dropping it on the side nearest Harris and sprawling in it. He'd wait out the madness. He'd sit through insane ramblings, ranting and bloody raving but he'd do it in comfort.
He lit a cigarette.
"Can I have one of those?"
Harris had flopped onto his side like a collapsed marionette and Spike considered the outflung hand before putting a cigarette into it, then deliberately tucked his lighter into his pocket and leaned back.
"For your own good, mate. Convince me you're not gonna die and then maybe I'll give you a light. Throw you a party with champagne and bints who can blow smoke rings with their nether bits."
"Gross, Spike. Also unmixy."
"Think I deserve something, Harris. Got a stranger in my home, don't I? Bloke wearing the face of someone I - " Spike took a furious drag on his cigarette. Right. Not going there. "Thought was better than this."
"You thought I was better than this?"
"Said so, didn't I?"
Harris rolled over and gave Spike a knotted spine for company. His voice floated over his shoulder. "Boy were you reading the wrong script."
Spike blew smoke at the accusing shoulder. Told it silently to fuck itself - he had a talk to have with its owner. "Seem to remember a bloke who was ready to give up when he lost an eye in battle. Couldn't aim a crossbow. Slayer didn't want him around for the big battle anymore." Spike put his feet on the bed, felt the heat burning off Harris in his toes. If Harris rolled onto his back, he'd lie on them.
"And then a vampire petted his hair, kissed him, blew his dick and his fucking mind and in the afterglow, told him life was worth living, worth fighting for to keep the loved ones safe. Then he blew himself up in the Hellmouth. Happily fucking ever after."
Spike stared at the back of his head, stared daggers. Stomped on the niggle of guilt that came with the hollow-eyed boy and his abandonment issues.
Which hollow-eyed boy, well Spike wasn't thinking of that. "Seemed to like it at the time."
"It wasn't bad."
"Of course it wasn't. Tosser. Over a hundred years of experience, here."
"Thank you for your munificent gift, oh talented one. I would have sent a thank you card but you were dead. So should I have addressed that to you care of Hades, Charon or maybe Odin?"
"Wolfram and Hart."
The front door buzzer went off and Spike guiltily recalled an order for curry. Maybe Harris would like the naan. He could have both servings. Did he still have that bag of salt and vinegar crisps in the pantry?
Spike waited at the door for Ranjan's son, Remi - unless he was his nephew or grandson. Never could keep the whole family straight. All of them smelled like spices and sunshine and cooking grease - though where the sunshine came from in London was a fucking mystery to him. Maybe they imported it with the burlap bags of chana dhal and blocks of sticky tamarind.
Handed over the money (evil tips ten percent unless he can't be arsed to add it up and tells the boy to keep the change) and took his food. Closed the door with a hip and carried two beers from the kitchen and the paper sack to the bed.
He thrust beer at Harris. "Here."
Harris stared at the bottle like he'd never seen a beer before. Better actor than Spike thought then.
Spike shrugged and left Harris to figure out beer on his own and popped open a Styrofoam container, digging in.
His mouth was full of the spice and yellowy seeping warmth of curry by the time Harris sorted out his beer and deigned to speak again. "What's the point in saving the world if it's just gonna end again?"
"Dunno." Spike watched him pick tiredly at his naan and suck beer from the bottle like it held the meaning of life. "So we can enjoy living in it in the mean time, I suppose." He took another bite and chewed thoughtfully, picked an anonymous sprig of dried herb from between his teeth. Unless it was an over-dried raisin. He flicked it away.
"What if you don't?"
"Enjoy it anymore."
"That what all this is about?"
Harris shrugged and ate another bite of naan. "I thought a lot in Africa."
"You thought," Spike said and told himself he was encouraging Harris to talk so he could have a break from it. Stuff his face with the curry while it was still good and hot. Let the pillock pull his own conversational weight. It wasn't because he wanted to know what Harris had to say.
"Marvel at the novelty," Harris said and took a drink, abandoning the naan to its paper wrapping. "Got any more of this?"
Spike shrugged. "Go on. What'd you think of?"
"Death. Love. Apocalypse." Harris stared at Spike. If he was waiting for a reply, Spike wasn't going to give him one. He stuffed his mouth with curry. "Come on, as a member of the undead goth club you should be proud of me."
Harris picked at the label on his beer. "Met a demon in Namibia," he said at last.
Spike choked on a potato. "Hope you killed the sodding bastard."
Harris found the label of his beer very interesting and read the ingredients. Traced the blown glass numbers like Braille.
"You didn't kill him?"
"With what, Spike? My rapier wit?"
"Dunno. Big rock between the eyes might've done."
"And you know this how?"
"Been around," Spike mumbled. "Seen things." Got a soul and lived to tell the tale. Should've killed the two-faced bastard when he had the chance. Spike stabbed an innocent carrot until it was mush. "What'd he promise you?"
"That my loved ones would be protected." Harris ran out of label to pick off the bottle and switched to tearing strips of label into smaller strips.
Spike's gut clenched around the curry and he gripped the fork until it shattered in his palm. "That's not a small wish. What'd you promise him?"
Steady sssht sssht of ripping paper.
"You're not dead, Harris," Spike said and regretted it as soon as Harris pinned him to his chair with a withering look.
"Kinda noticed, Spike." Xander downshifted his glare to the pile of metallic confetti on the comforter.
"He's not a welsher. Tricky bastard, well yeah. But he keeps his word."
"My word. I figured it out."
"He keeps...my word. When I made the wish, I said I just want to see my friends happy. Safe. Just for once."
"Oh you stupid sod."
"So I guess...I'm gonna see them. Buffy, Willow, Giles, Dawn. Once. And they're gonna be happy."
"To see you home, you git!"
Harris nodded as if he hadn't heard Spike speak. Or wasn't listening. "And then I'm gonna be dead."
So Harris had lapsed back into silence.
No more self-pitying outbursts.
And when Spike'd told him what a bloody idiot he'd been to make a wish like that to a demon in the desert, all Harris'd said was: 'Yeah. Kinda figured that out on my own,' which took all the fun out of it if you asked him.
So there was an endless parade of hot wings and pizza. Lo mein and wonton soup. Fish and chips but Spike drew the line at ketchup. If Harris was in Rome, he'd do as the bloody Romans and that was that.
There was no more curry.
But Spike was tired of curry anyway. Sodding Remi always complaining about the tip.
The pizza boy - Jacob or Jamie or Johnny or whoever - could barely add or walk a straight line, much less calculate fifteen percent.
Every now and again, the knock on the door was Rupert, looking in on the patient and Spike denied any superstitious motivation if he told Rupert, every time, Harris was asleep. Sick. In the bath. On the loo. Hiding under the mattress from things that went bump in the daylight.
If Spike didn't want Harris' friends to see him, it was because he didn't care to have his home invaded by former Scoobies he couldn't toss out on their ears.
Harris could go visiting when he was well enough to do it on his own overlarge feet.
Spike tossed the leftover lo mein and wonton soup into the refrigerator and threw himself onto the couch next to Harris. Plucked the packet of cigarettes from the table and patted himself down for the lighter.
Lighter clicking on in front of his face.
Once Spike was smoking away, Harris tossed the lighter onto the table and they lapsed into companionable silence. Oh all right. Harris lapsed into his usual silence, if you could call it a lapse when he hadn't said a word out loud during it, and Spike had lapsed into watching Harris through curls and plumes of smoke.
It was a hobby.
He'd learned Harris had a preference for Marlboro reds but would smoke anything put in front of him. Even the Silk Cut Ultras though Harris had given him a dirty look and smoked through that pack and Spike's Marlboros in a vengeful pall. Plague of smoking locusts. Tobacco burning locomotive engine.
They'd gone smokeless the rest of that afternoon until the sun went down.
And Spike resolved not to let Harris watch commercials anymore. They were dangerous for impressionable minds - and all right, Harris was about as impressionable as a rock but chip away long enough at a rock and you got -
Well, you got a pile of rock flakes is what you got but you also made an impression.
Spike continued to chip. "Took a call from Red while you were asleep."
"She and the Niblet were going to hurry home to their long lost brother in arms."
Harris' breath sped up and his cigarette took an undignified tumble into his lap.
"Don't burn the couch!" Hands collided grabbing for it and foul looks were exchanged.
Harris lit another.
Spike sank, out of sorts, into the cushions and ran a hand over one. Not a protective hand. Not possessive or acquisitive. It was a battered leather couch. Black and deep.
He liked his couch.
Harris' hands were shaking.
Course, chip hard enough at a rock, and it cracked. Then all you had was a pile of useless fragments. "Told them not to bother, pet. They'll come home on schedule and not a day before."
Spike watched the slow unkinking of Harris' spine, the steadier trip of cigarette to lips and the growing column of ash at the end of Harris' fag. He coughed, ashed and picked up his beer. "Why are you doing this, Spike?"
"Don't know what you're talking about." Not strictly true but Spike had learned years ago the value of letting the other bloke define the specifics. Never volunteer information in the face of vague pronouns.
"Keeping my friends away."
"Why would I do that?"
"Because it's putting off my death."
Harris wasn't looking at him but that was all right. Spike was doing enough thoughtful staring for two. "Why would I do that?"
Harris saw his thoughtful stare and raised him an eyebrow. "You know, that remains one of the mysteries of life."
"You that keen on dying, then?" Spike raised him a straight question.
Fold. And Harris went back to watching the telly.
"I'll pencil it in Thursday."
Poker was no fun with two when one folded every hand.
Spike stared at the telly where the BBC continued to 'celebrate the weird science of Doctor Who'.
"Didn't you watch this earlier?"
Five words got him a shrug. Stingy git.
"Right. Forgot who I was talking to, didn't I? Bloke who wore a hole through his geek TV box sets."
And twenty words got him a quick smile.
Best twenty words he'd spent in days. Wouldn't mind seeing that smile again.
"Maybe I don't want to see your mates. Ever think of that? Loud and suspicious. Always calling to check I've fed and watered you and haven't stuck any hot pokers in tender places. Bloody hell - I took care of Drusilla for a hundred years. Talk to Red, and you'd think I killed the bloody goldfish in a weekend."
More words, more smile.
"What's so funny?"
Spike stared at him. "One of us has got to fill the silence before we both go raving bonkers."
"Thanks," Harris said, laying a warm hand on Spike's knee that surprised Spike out of anything to say for the remainder of the program.
Because Harris left his hand there. Big, silent and warm with scars over the knobbly knuckles that made Spike wonder whether they'd been there in Sunnydale or if he'd picked them up in Africa.
So they sat there together, warmth from Harris' hand seeping through Spike's jeans and into his muscles, into his bones until he wasn't sure if Harris was aware his hand was still there.
Spike found himself uncomfortably reluctant to say anything that might remind Harris and cost himself the warmth.
Dr. Who wasn't all bad.
But he drew the line at situation comedies after and clicked off the telly.
Harris' hand left as predicted, rising above his head in a stomach-hollowing stretch. Then dropped and scratched at his stomach. He finished off his cigarette and stubbed it out in the ash tray.
Then, he sat - eye fixed straight ahead.
Experimentally, Spike turned the television back on. It looked like Harris was watching it.
He turned the telly off.
Now it looked like Harris was staring into space, lost somewhere behind the eye.
Spike turned the television back on and wandered to the bath, turning taps and filling the room with steam.
Then, he turned and nearly threw himself backward into the tub because the pillock was standing right behind him, naked because Spike hadn't been arsed to buy pajamas and just - looking at him with his one eye and obscene tan lines, lax right arm and the left around Spike's waist holding him up. Oh. Spike squirmed out of the supporting arm. "Never sneak up on a vampire, mate." No reaction to that. Harris didn't step away.
Instead, he lifted a hand and ran his fingertips over the bumps and ridges of Spike's forehead, traced the demon's features.
"What's it like?"
"Being a vampire?" Spike shrugged but didn't dislodge the light human touch. The tub would overflow soon. He kept an eye on it - put him on even footing with Harris. "What's it like being a human?"
Harris shook his head, dropped his hand and turned off the water. "This is gonna overflow."
They stared at the water together until the ripples smoothed.
Spike shook himself, shed his jeans and climbed in - half a minute later, Harris climbed in too.
When Spike pulled him around and propped Harris' spine against his chest, Harris didn't fight it. Good enough. And while Spike's soapy hands explored in the name of cleanliness and public health, Harris got around to elaboration. "What's it like living forever?"
Spike considered it. Considered the frothy water and the lump of lemon and cloves soap clutched in his hand and leaving slick trails over Harris' abdomen to the steady thumpthump of his heartbeat. "Dunno," he said. "Haven't done it yet."
"You know what I mean." Harris traced the inner curve of Spike's thigh.
"Bloody right I do," Spike said through gritted teeth. Vampires did not have ticklish inner thighs. "Better than you do."
A tidal wave of indignant suds sloshed over the rim and Harris fixed Spike with an impressive one-eyed glare. "Because you were there when I made my deal with the demon."
Spike's chest was cold so he slouched down in the water and if it trapped Harris between his knees, so be it. His voice echoed with water in his ears. He wiggled his toes around the hot tap and gave it a twist. "We all live until we die, mate. Trick is figuring out what to do 'till then."
"What will you do?"
"First?" Spike grabbed the soap, working up a scented lather between his hands that reminded him of hot Christmas drinks. He looked Harris over, from dripping, curling hair to bony knees sticking up out of the water and blew a handful of bubbles into the air. "Reckon I'll finish my bath."
Harris hadn't volunteered more after that - well, more than a hand to scrub Spike's back and that had been nice. He'd have to get the shower head fixed, one of these days but he couldn't be arsed. Nothing wrong with a long hot soak in the tub and Harris wasn't bad company.
Didn't take up much room.
Dropped his towels on the floor but Spike figured that was only fair.
Spike dropped his towel on top of Harris' and padded into the larger room, looking down at him seeping water into the spare pillow, covers pulled up to his chin and tucked close. "What about you?"
Look of sleepy confusion.
"What're you going to do until you die?" Spike asked, unprepared for that question to wind the clockwork spring in his chest.
Harris frowned and rolled onto his back. "Wait, I guess."
"Here or a box in the subway. Tube? Do you have homeless guys living in boxes in tube stations?"
Spike ignored it. "Not gonna leave?" The clockwork in Spike's chest began to tick. Rusty with disuse.
"Sure?" Spike sat on the bed. This close, he could see water beaded on the eyelashes of Harris' missing eye, pooling in the hollow.
"Where would I go Spike? Not like I have time to see the wide world. I've seen enough of it, thanks." Harris thumbed the moisture away and tucked his hand under his pillow like a boy.
"So you're staying."
"Do vampires lose hearing after the first hundred years?" They stared at each other. "Yes."
"Git. Budge over. You're hogging the bloody mattress." Spike tugged Xander back, the way he had in the bath, chest to spine, buttocks to groin, legs and legs and legs. "Fine. Go to sleep."
Spike blamed his immediate problem on weeks of takeaway which conditioned him to open the door when there was a knock.
He made a mental note. The mental note said If you don't remember ordering takeaway, it's not the bloody delivery boy. He tacked on an addendum and it might be Rupert.
"What do you want? Phone's not good enough for you anymore?"
"Where is Xander, Spike?"
"Occupational therapy. Weaving baskets. Sod off."
"Not," Rupert said, one foot in the door and eyes that told a tale of dusty Spikes if that foot was abused by the door's closure, "this time."
Spike quickly weighed his options which involved a choice between letting Rupert in or giving up his cushy accommodations and the opportunity to live in comfort courtesy of the Council of Watchers. As enablers went, Rupert wasn't all bad. Good bloke for turning a blind eye on a spot of Council-funded recreational vice.
Spike shrugged and let him in.. "Stay here."
"Where is he?" Rupert said, looking around like he thought Spike had chopped him up and shoved him into the closet.
Tch. As if the stench of rotting flesh wouldn't give that away.
"In the bath. Give a bloke some privacy, would you?" Spike said and marched into the bathroom, leaving Rupert behind.
"Modesty has no meaning to you, does it?" Xander asked, flannel midway and appealingly across his chest. Spike took it from him and did the job properly. "I mean - not normal behavior walking in on a bathing man and taking over."
Spike had a fine selection of replies to that, beginning with the ridiculous human assumptions about normal and ending with shut up, Harris.
Instead he said, "Rupert's here," and watched every muscle in Xander's body lock tight and cramp. He dunked the cloth into the water and squeezed it over a broad and bony shoulder. "What're you doing in here anyway? Trying to drown again?"
"Because that was so successful last time."
"Mind telling me why?"
Xander shrugged, engaged in a brief tug-of-war over the flannel before giving up the halfhearted effort and letting Spike do as he wanted. Spike liked this side of Harris. Very agreeable. "Already did. Demon in the desert. Blah blah. Stupid wish. Blah blah. See my friends safe and happy. Blah blah. My life in payment to keep them that way. The end."
The flannel made a satisfying smack against Xander's cheek. "Git."
"I can't die until I've seen my friends."
"Well one of your friends has come calling, mate. And he's taking up my space until he sees you."
"So bath time's over, luv. Duty calls." Spike wrung the cloth over Xander's head, washing away the last of the suds, then pulled the plug. "Blah bloody blah. Robe's hanging on the door," he added as an afterthought and left Harris to struggle his way out of the tub. "And hurry up. Don't plan on offering him drinksies."
Spike left the bathroom door ajar behind him and swept into the other room. Good or evil - they were all penny-pinchers with the rent. "The lady of the house will be out once her hair is dry. You know how it is." Spike dropped onto the couch, mouthed the last cigarette out of a crumpled pack and lit up.
"No, Spike. I do not know how it is. But I'm extremely anxious to hear what Xander has to say." Rupert picked up an empty beer bottle - Xander's - and sniffed it. "Why hasn't he been by?"
"Hasn't been well," Spike mumbled around the cigarette and hooked a thumb into his belt. "Been feeding him chicken soup like his dear departed mum used to."
"Mrs. Harris is alive and living in Pasadena."
That threw Spike a moment. "Huh."
Rupert set down the beer bottle. "It does smell like the Harris family recipe."
"I'll give his folks that - they had the good stuff." Spike lifted his bottle in toast to the Harris family liquor cabinet.
"Which I'm certain you helped yourself to at regular intervals."
"You're jealous, mate. The way the boy tells it, his mum never offered you ought but punch."
"W-well it was good punch."
"And you never sneaked upstairs when Mom was passed out and helped yourself the way he did." Xander emerged from the bathroom, bundled up to the neck in Spike's robe. With his ribs hidden, he looked gaunt shuffling from bare foot to bare foot, arms wrapped tightly around his chest and a damp lock of hair obscuring his empty socket. He looked skinny and too young - but not skeletal. Spike felt an absurd sense of relief. "Hi, Giles."
Rupert looked like he wanted to stand, made an abortive gesture to do so and Spike left him to it. English social awkwardness got boring to him decades ago. "Oh hug him already, Rupert. Have your touching little reunion scene." Spike polished off his cigarette and fished his boots out from beneath the table.
"Where're you going?"
Spike had to give Harris credit for the restraint in his voice. Still sounded like a bloody little boy being left at school for the first time - but an older boy. One makin' a brave face of it. Trying to make his mum proud and -
It was clearly time for Spike to make his exit. "Giving you two manly blokes your privacy. Rupert's got my mobile number. Give me a ring when visiting hours are over, yeah?"
Spike risked a look at Xander and wished he hadn't. It was the kind of look that grabbed onto a bloke's coat tails and wobbled its lip.
He tossed Xander his smokes and lighter. "I'll pick up more, yeah?"
Xander looked down at them - was already tapping one out with shaky hands and getting it lit. Good boy. "Don't order him curry, Rupes. He doesn't like it."
And then, Spike made the kind of coat-swirling exit he'd spent decades honing for superhero drama. *Let's see bloody Captain America make an exit with that much sex appeal.*
Spike stood on his own landing and realized the problem with grand exits. A man needed a follow up plan or he stood on his own landing, patting himself down for smokes he didn't have and feeling awkward.
Sod that for a game of soldiers.
Spike had never needed a bloody plan and he didn't intend to start now.
He stepped out into the rain and reminded himself he was a vampire. Grrrr and tough and didn't need a bloody brolly either.