Bus Stop Boxer
January was a fucking awful time to be in Cleveland. Twenty degrees, less with the wind off the lake, blowing the dead dry snow off the smokestacks and ramming it straight down his collar. Freezing the rings on his fingers so they ached and left marks, and he had to take them off. Which would have made the poof happy, if he'd known. Maybe that was why he'd said to come.
Except it wasn't, and Spike knew it. The reason he was there, shivering redundantly in the blue shadows like a gundog left too long in the melt, was...well, right over there. On the other side of the street, in the bus shelter.
January in Cleveland, like January anywhere, was supposed to be about starting over, wasn't it? If so, fucking awful start this was going to be. He wanted a cigarette. He could hear the poof though: Don't let him see you until you know how he'll react. A cigarette would give him away. And he'd been watching the kid for half an hour now, and so far all he could say was that there must have been some changes along the way.
Don't let him--
Fuck that. He stepped out of the shadow, into the orange circle of the streetlamp, and just stood there. Nobody else around, not in a neighborhood like this. Some quiet thoughtful corner of his mind was surprised there was a bus shelter at all, even one as flagrantly abused as that one. Anyway. He was in plain sight now. He could smoke.
He kept an eye on the bus shelter, the figure frozen and staring, not shifting restlessly from foot to foot anymore, not fidgeting. Just staring at him, totally motionless. Spike put a numb hand into his pocket, found his cigarettes, fished one out, hung it between numb lips. Then he bent over the lighter, but because he wasn't a complete fucking idiot he kept an eye on the shelter.
Good thing. The kid came out of it fast, straight across the street without looking either way. He never used to be quick, and he never used to be this big. He had to be wearing three layers on top, hoodie under sweater under big corduroy coat, but still. There were shoulders under there now too, and his fists looked a lot bigger than they ever had, like cannonballs.
"That how they say hello in Cleveland?" Spike said, catching the cannonball headed for his face and twisting. The kid's face blurred into surprise and pain, and Spike twisted a little more to put him on his knees. The poof would be rolling his eyes right now. Well, the poof was 2,382 miles away, and not freezing his balls off. "I let you up, you going to be--"
The fist in his thigh, right on the big nerve, surprised him. He was too cold for it to really hurt, but it put him off balance and the kid knew it, was expecting it, and shoved straight up into him with his shoulder and head. If he'd had breath, he'd have lost it. Instead he just staggered back, kept tight hold of the kid's wrist, and let the kid's weight keep him upright. His cigarette was gone. He had a snapshot of what came next, too--instep meets chin, kid's fucking head gets punted across the street. But no. He played nicer than that, these days.
The kid didn't. The kid bawled when his arm went around, got halfway up, and tried to come at him again. Spike got a quick glimpse of his face when he did it. His eyes were black and lost and gone fishing. That put a different spin on things, and ran a chill down his back, the first in a long while. Harris never used to look like that.
"Don't take this the wrong way," he grunted, planting his feet again and leaning on the kid's wrist, forcing him back down. "But I will beat the living crap out of you if you don't calm down right now."
Not the thing to say, apparently. The kid surged back up, tried again with his free hand, and this time Spike socked a toe between his ribs and forced his arm straight back like a lever, so his head was to the sidewalk. Just like on telly. Except on telly it wasn't someone you knew, or used to know at least, sweating and gasping and shuddering into the icepack on the cement.
Spike gave it a second, and when nothing happened, shifted his grip carefully and squatted down beside Harris's head. Kid's eyes were closed, his lips were apart. Teeth clenched. There was a second to look him over, note the purple scar lying flat alongside his nose, see how the nose itself had travelled a few degrees east. Broken, probably more than once. One tooth cracked. Spike glanced back at the wrist he was holding in midair, the balled-up fist with the first two knuckles pointing right and left, the scars on the fingers. Thumbnail just growing back.
"You've turned into quite a scrapper," he said quietly, and a single, strong shiver went all through the kid's body, and he moaned.
"Stay with him," Angel said, and then, because apparently he hadn't heard anything Spike had just told him: "Make sure nothing happens to him. That's your responsibility until we get there."
Spike paused, squinted through the windshield at the heap of crud Harris called home, and took a deep breath. "I don't really think he needs taking care of anymore, mate."
"Believe me, he does."
"Well then, let's say I don't think he'll much like being taken care of."
"I'm not asking."
Flat tone. Same old, same old. Spike pursed his lips and watched speckles of sleet melt down the windshield. At 2, 382 miles he could afford silence.
"Fred's stuff gets delivered tonight. We'll be in town tomorrow. Just keep him out of trouble till then."
Two drops of sleet were having a slow race down the glass. Both glowing orange from the parking lights, like beads of amber.
"Got it," he said, and hung up.
It had taken a few minutes and a lot of arm twisting to get Harris to believe he was really Spike, for real and true, and yeah he knew he was supposed to be dead but he wasn't anymore, sorry about that, long story. The attack dog routine had apparently been triggered by confusion. Harris didn't like ambiguity—okay, then. Who did?
"I'm really Spike," he'd said solemnly, from a careful few steps back, after he'd finally let the bugger up off the pavement. "Same old Spike, still think you're a wanker. Nothing's changed."
The kid had wiped his nose, shaken out his arm, stared at him blankly for a few seconds. "You're dead."
"Like I said, nothing's changed."
Something went across the kid's face, like cloud shadows. Mark of tragedy, lot of things unsaid. Other people were dead too, and they didn't come back. Why Spike?
He'd spread his hands and shaken his head as kindly as he could. "I don't know why. I didn't ask for it. But here I am."
Long silence, while the wind blew ice pellets into the lamp post with little ticking sounds. Traffic undertone, elsewhere in the black streets. The kid looked down at his hand finally, and flexed his fingers.
"Here you are," he said, and rubbed the broken knuckles.
He drove the kid home and sat out on the curb in the rental as long as he could, till it was almost light, and then he buggered off back to the hotel. He wasn't going to ask to stay in the kid's place, no matter what Angel monotoned. He'd seen exactly how much of his story the kid believed, and he knew exactly how far he'd be allowed into his apartment. No way, and he wasn't going to be called in for trespassing, either.
In the car on the way there, Harris had been a dark bulky lump smelling of salt and snowmelt and distrust. He'd run a careful, half-nailed thumb along the leather dash.
"Nice," he'd said.
"Angel's," Spike had said.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the look the kid gave him.
Spike stood with his back to the wall, arms crossed over his chest, just watching. The kid was staying in his apartment, back a few feet from the open door, clever him. Angel was hanging back too, maybe trying to look less threatening. Maybe because he was a little thrown off by the bunched shoulders, the busted nose, the tight new way the kid held himself. Maybe because he liked Harris as much as Harris liked him. Which was zero liking, as far as Spike could tell.
"Spike's alive." Harris paused, glanced past Angel at Spike, and amended: "I mean, he's around."
"It's a long story." Angel glanced down the crapulent hall as if he wanted to walk away down it. Then he looked back. "So—how are you?"
"What do you want?"
Spike smiled. Had to give the kid points for cutting to the chase. Angel liked that, too; he settled his shoulders and looked a little more comfortable.
"Things are going to heat up here very soon, very fast. And word's out about Sunnydale, about how you used to help Buffy. You're going to be really unpopular with a lot of people."
The kid just stood there, taking him in with those big dark eyes that didn't give anything back anymore. In the old days, he would have said something smart here, would have opened himself up five different ways. Now he just stood there. Spike could feel Angel pausing, reassessing.
"My people are here to do what we do," he said. "We also want to keep you safe, if we can."
Another point for the kid. Spike studied his thumbnail while a line of melted snow ran down the back of his neck.
"Because—" Angel hesitated. "Because Buffy wants you safe. She wants to talk to you, if you—"
Harris started to toe the door closed, and Angel put out a quick hand to stop it. "I'm not going to let you get killed, Xander."
"I don't think you can get close enough to abduct me."
"Why won't you talk to Buffy? She's been trying to get in touch for—"
The door started to swing closed the rest of the way, and Spike looked up.
"We need a guide," he said, as if the thought had just occurred to him.
Harris caught the door, stood without moving for a second, then opened it again and looked at him over Angel's shoulder. Spike met his gaze, shrugged, and went back to his thumbnail.
"Need someone who knows this city's bad parts," he said. "You look like you might be useful in that regard."
Angel hadn't moved, hadn't turned to look at him. Harris stood staring at him, the light from inside his apartment planing the side of his face, lifting the scars, making them shine. Somewhere else in the building, a baby was crying fitfully.
"I can pay," Angel said finally. Harris looked at him, and smiled.
"I need you up front with me," Angel said, jerking his cuff down over the wrist holster. "But make sure he stays in back, behind us. With Fred."
Spike glanced heavy-lidded across the room, past Wes loading the crossbow and Gunn fitting stakes into a bandolier. Fred was getting the last passages of the offensive memorized, her lips moving, her hair shoved down her collar. Past her, almost in the doorway, leaning silently against the wall, Harris. Hands in pockets, feet in old work boots. Dark eyes watching everything, flicking quickly from book to stake to bottled sacrament. No one had offered him a weapon.
"Keep an eye on him," Angel said. "Nothing happens to him."
"Leave him here," Spike said for the third time. "We'll come get him after—"
"He's safer with us. Make sure nothing happens to him."
He turned away and went over to talk last minute strategy with Wesley, and Spike shrugged and went back to relacing his boots. You didn't want a lace coming undone when you were halfway through the thirty vamps in the antechamber.
On the way out the door, he palmed a stake from the table and handed it to the kid as he walked by. "You're with Fred."
The kid took the stake without looking at it, without any expression at all, and made it disappear up the sleeve of his hoodie. His gaze went straight to Fred, still muttering, walking backwards away from the opened book with her eyes still on the page. He nodded slightly.
"See how this goes," Spike muttered to himself, and got up front before Angel could make that annoying here-now gesture anymore.
The back alley entrance was a good enough idea, but thirty vamps was still thirty vamps, and sometimes it seemed like more. One of them bit straight through the duster and into his bicep before he had a chance to get a stake in it, and another decked him in the face with a hubcap. He hit the floor, saw Gunn step over him and plunge a stake neatly in, then turn and catch a squalling airborne vamp straight in the chest. That took some sorting out, and by the time they were both back up, he had a strong sense that things weren't going well. Wesley was backed up against a wall, the crossbow down to one or two bolts, and Angel was being circled by three vamps who wouldn't get close enough to be dusted.
"Ah, fuck," Gunn said. "We got a plan B?"
"Plan B is we leave," Spike said, then noticed that there was something going on behind him. He and Gunn turned at the same moment, just as Harris launched full-body into a vamp, went down with him in a sprawl, and got up in a cloud of dust. A couple of the vamp's friends noticed and hustled over. One went straight down with a crossbow bolt through the back—thank you, Wyndam-Pryce—and the other, momentarily distracted, got a good strong right hook to the jaw and a touch of cedar to the heart. The third one on the scene—one of Angel's—ducked the kid's quick little volley and plowed a fist straight into his gut, knocked him back two steps and right down to the floor.
"Just a mo," Spike said to Gunn, and started over there fast.
He wasn't even there yet before the kid was back up again, though, a little off-balance or maybe not as much as he let on, because the vamp went in sloppy and slow, grinning, and got a fist in the fangs. The kid's knuckles made that good sick solid thunk against temples, jaw, and then, before you could say Crikey, you're qui—, there was another cloud of dust settling to the floor.
Spike pulled up short a couple of feet away from him, and the kid looked at him with those same blank ocean-trench eyes he'd had on the street five nights before. Now he had a little smile at the corner of his lips, though. And a stake in his hand.
"Good job," Spike said, keeping his distance, keeping a close eye on the stake. "You think you can lend a hand with—"
"Fred!" Angel yelled, from somewhere behind him. "What's our status on the spell?" A vamp went flying through the air over their heads, hit the far well, and dropped to the floor. The kid ignored it; his eyes were sharp over Spike's shoulder, his jaw was twitching slightly.
"I've got it!" Fred shouted back. Spike turned to glance at her, and realized that's where the kid's eyes were, too. On the girl, frantically laying out little parcels of herbs in a chalked box. "I'm starting right now!"
"Which means we need to clear out," he said, or tried to say, but something had just grabbed him around the neck from behind and he only got as far as "we need." He could smell nasty cold breath against his cheek, could feel hard cold fingers digging into his side and back. Fucking hell. Then the fangs sank into his neck, and he yelled bloody murder for Angel.
Something walloped him in the side, knocked him down, tore the teeth out of his throat. Hurt like hell, and he rolled free with a hand slapped over the cold wet gouge. Poof moved faster than he'd thought, and thank God, because—
But when he was up and looking back, it wasn't Angel. It was Harris, straddling the vamp and punching him bloody, breaking teeth with his fists, grinning viciously. Just for a few seconds, just as long as the vamp was still off guard, shocked horizontal by the assault, before it figured out it was being pasted by a human. Then, the second that realization took, the kid's arm was up and the stake sang down. Poof.
Spike looked up, and there was Angel, still a step or two away, holding up and keeping back. Dust and blood all over him, his eyes already done with Spike, the lightning assessment of how bad it was, down to Harris. That assessment took a second or two longer.
Harris knelt there, the stake still in his hand, glaring up at Angel with a kind of vacant delight. There were flecks of blood on his face.
"I'm doing it now!" Fred called, and Angel looked away from Harris, took a quick head count, made sure they were all still there.
"We're leaving!" he yelled, and then turned back quickly to Harris. "Help him." A nod at Spike, and then he'd turned back to get Wyndam-Pryce out of his corner.
Harris said nothing. Just stood up, got a hand under his arm and started walking fast for the door, and he didn't really need it, he was fine, but fucking hell. Being bitten hurt.
"I see what you mean."
Spike took the cloth off his neck, inspected the red, sighed, refolded, and reapplied. With his other hand he fished a cigarette out of the packet on the desk.
"Don’t smoke that in here." Angel turned around and looked him over. "Don’t smoke until your throat's healed."
Spike gave him an economical split finger salute and lit the cigarette. Angel watched him smoke for a second, then turned back to look through the doorway. The kid was on the far side of the suite, sitting in the orange half-light, wrapping a bandage around his left hand. He'd been doing it for ten minutes already. He wrapped a few turns, tested his fingers, frowned, unwrapped, adjusted, started over. The bandage was red in points over his knuckles, where the skin had split against fangs.
"He's…different," Angel said, as if to himself, and Spike sighed and said nothing.
Different and vastly improved, as far as Spike was concerned. The old Harris was occasionally amusing but mainly a pain in the ass, and useless in a fight. The new model didn't talk much, knew all the alleys, and had to be pulled bodily off anything he'd decided to pummel. Useful, that. Especially with things heating up the way they were.
He didn't want to stay in the hotel with them, no matter what Angel or Wes or Gunn or even Fred said. He looked uncomfortable in the suites, hung close to the walls and hardly talked, got spooked by doors opening behind him. He didn't touch stuff except with his fingertips, and he wouldn't eat room service.
"We need you here," Angel said. "We need to talk strategy, we all need to be here. We can't fill you in on the drive there."
He'd shrug, look away through the window at the three hundred-dollar view. Maybe run a finger down the curtain sash, velvet. "I'm a quick study."
"Your safety—" Wesley said, and that was as far as he got. The kid just turned his back and walked away, went and watched Fred do something researchy.
"The man pays you," Gunn noted, and for a second Harris seemed to consider. Angel was standing at the far end of the suite, bent over a table with Wesley. Sewer blueprints. They probably thought he couldn't hear, but Spike was in a chair beside them, bored brainless, and he could hear perfectly well. He waited to hear what the kid would say.
"Not enough," he said finally, and put on his coat.
Spike drove him back and forth—he wouldn't take a car from Angel, and Angel wouldn't let him take cabs. One night, ferrying, Spike said idly, "Fred's a nice girl."
Harris said nothing. He'd had the rare opportunity to beat the snot out of a human, a bad guy working for the Risen, and he was relaxed. Had a welt over his left eye, but didn't seem bothered by it. Sat quietly with his hands on his knees, watching the streets go by.
"Annoying, but nice," Spike said. "Shame she worries so much."
The kid's head came around slowly, and he rubbed his thumb along the knees of his trousers. "She worries?" he said after a minute.
Spike shrugged and kept driving.
"What does she worry about?" the kid asked three blocks later.
"Fucked if I know," Spike said, digging for his cigarettes. "Well, you know. Risen finding out where we are, getting into the hotel. Public accommodations. You're all right in your digs, but the hotel's still fair game."
The kid sat in silence for the rest of the ride home. Spike had all the routes memorized by then; he could drive any of them in his sleep. Practically did, sometimes.
"Let you out here then," he said, pulling over to the lighted corner by the all-night convenience store. "You see anyone watching, you call before I come get you tomorrow."
The kid gave him a long, solemn look, then nodded once, got out, and started walking fast for home. Spike sat, smoked his cigarette down—fuck Angel's no-smoking rules—watched until he was out of sight, and pulled back into traffic.
The next day the kid took a suite at the hotel.
It didn't mean he was comfortable. He'd turned into muscle, a quiet background guy who ghosted up when Angel wanted someone punched, did the punching with grim, punctilious pleasure, and usually stopped when he was told. Usually. He was hard-edged, twitchy, rawboned. He wore cheap, drab clothes, layered for January in Cleveland. The old grey hoodie that they all got used to seeing him in, all the time. The mack jacket, the khakis, a scarf when it was really cold. Gloves with the fingers hacked off, a few shirts paintspattered and torn. The big corduroy coat with the grimy cuffs. A watchcap that licked his hair into flat dark whorls. Under all that, he was six foot nothing of hard muscle, big shoulders, one knee that didn't work. He was someone you didn't want to piss off, now. And he wasn't comfortable in their company.
The irony wasn't totally lost on Spike. Sunk in one of the deep leather armchairs, a tumbler of scotch tipped against his chest, his eyes hardly open after a night of more Risen highjinks, he watched through a warm glow as the rest of them moved easily around him. Tired, battered, but dressed in sleek clean clothes, carrying plates of bought-and-paid-for salmon terrine and salade Niçoise and what all, sirloin if they felt like it, because the company's tab was limitless. Good for them. Under the scrapes and dust, they were clean and smooth, beautiful people with suits in their suitcases. And he was one of them. He didn't even know how much his suits cost anymore.
He'd watch them moving back and forth, in and out of the light, and Fred might, in passing, smile at him because she did that now, she trusted him now, he was one of them. Gunn might nod. Wyndam-Pryce was preoccupied most of the time, but he asked Spike's opinion when he wanted it, and the poof would always be a prick but that thread was never going to break. He belonged here, with them. God knew how or why, but somehow, he'd found a place. Maybe it was all a big joke, and he'd never come back, and this was heaven. No, if it was heaven he'd be allowed to smoke.
Anyway, there he was, part of this weird new gang, and there Harris was, pressed up against the wall in his thin shabby clothes, his outsider's aura. Watching, not talking. Smirking bitterly when they put shoes out to be shined, laundry to be cleaned. Nobody could talk to him. There was nothing to say.
It was ironic, Spike thought, watching the kid sit there in his own personal repulsor field, prickling whenever anyone went near him, big black eyes following every single move. He knew how it felt to sit there. Knew how it felt to be the one no one really liked, the useful one. And here he sat in his armchair, half-asleep, clutching a drink that sooner or later someone was going to take out of his hand as they walked by, to keep him from spilling it all over himself.
Funny, how things worked out.
"What happened to you, exactly?"
They were driving back from another encounter, the only two in the Mercedes, everyone else in the Rover. There were two neat red gashes down Harris's throat: near miss. He kept testing them with his fingers. Something about that made Spike ask.
He didn't get any answer, which didn't surprise him. He was amped up, hadn't got to kill anything and almost got lit on fire by Gunn. He punched the lighter coil and jammed another cigarette between his lips.
"Because really, you're not the Harris I remember. Not complaining. Just saying."
The kid glanced at him sideways, patted his neck, and finally shrugged. "Okay."
"Okay, you can say that."
They drove a few more blocks, and hit a stop light. Spike sat as long as he could, tapping the wheel and smoking hard.
"You think it's PTSD?" he said finally.
The kid looked him over again, and finally gave a little laugh. "Sure," he said. "From my entire life, yeah."
"Like I said, not complaining. Just curious."
"You died and came back, and you're curious about how I've changed?"
Spike laughed at that, ashed sharply out the window, and said, "Touché."
His mind went off on that for a bit—the flip side, the parts he hardly remembered now, that felt like dreams, someone else's dreams even, and it was all confused with what Buffy said when she came back, and how sad she was when she said it—and suddenly the kid said, "What was it like?"
He was confused for a second, couldn't make it connect. "What was what like?"
The kid said nothing, and he replayed the conversation, and realized. "Oh. Don't remember."
The kid looked away out the window, his fingers stroking his neck, and Spike remembered Anya. Shit. "Was—good," he said after a minute. It was hard to remember, and he couldn't just say anything, couldn't make something up about it. You couldn't, not about that. "It was—well, I don't know what to say about it. But it wasn't bad, and I wasn't scared, and it didn't hurt."
Then he felt like an idiot, like he'd said too much, or just the wrong kind of thing. They didn't talk about being scared or getting hurt, any of them. They talked about strategy and sewer lines. He gripped the steering wheel tighter, changed lanes for no reason, then changed back fast.
"I'm glad," the kid said faintly, and Spike looked over. He was sitting staring out his window, watching the lights go by, and his reflection in the glass was smiling a little. He looked almost like the old Harris, just for a second.
"It doesn't have to be like this," Spike said, without thinking twice.
The kid stopped smiling, and he turned. Lean and tired and poor. Battered.
"How do you know what it's like?" he said.
Things went on, the Risen got stronger, the fighting never quit. A vamp got Wesley's crossbow off him and was half a second from plugging him in the forehead when Angel broke it in two. Gunn got cornered and beaten hard, and they barely got him out. Fred screaming and crying, Harris piling on with gritted teeth, taking punches solidly in the head and not going down. They were all a mess after that one. They regrouped at the hotel, silent and shaken.
"He's going to be all right." Angel didn't ask questions much anymore; he told you things and then watched your face to make sure you agreed. Wesley nodded slowly, and Fred slumped down in the end of the couch, curled into the cushion, and cried.
In the other room, Harris looked critically at Spike's two broken fingers and said, "You going to fix them, or you want me to?"
Spike pulled the plug out of the Macallan with his teeth and held his hand up.
After the fingers were straight and taped, he nodded at Harris's side, which had at some time bloomed red into his grubby paintstreaked shirt. Dry now, not still bleeding, so he'd live.
"You should take care of that," he said, "whatever it is." Expecting the kid to do it in his own room, from his own sizeable cache of bandages and gauze, the way he always did. Not expecting the kid to look down, pull the fabric taut for a second in surprise, then yank his shirt over his head and twist sideways to try to see the hole in the back of his ribs.
He had a fighter's body. Not beautiful, not smooth. Pale and bunched with muscle, a triangle from shoulders to hips, the nipples pink and strangely vulnerable-looking. The muscles of his arms corded, the tendons in the backs of his hands standing out. Scars cobbling his skin—bicep, ribcage, belly. Black hair on his belly, his chest, his forearms. With a kind of numb, drunken surprise, Spike realized he hadn't seen an unclothed human body in almost four years.
"Where—?" Harris asked, vainly twisting, trying to see the jammy red puncture in the big muscle of his back. Spike pointed, realized his fingers were taped and awkward, and tried again with the other hand.
"There, look—" He got halfway up, leaned over, and touched a finger to the skin just beside the wound. Warm skin. Ribs hard under his finger, breath and blood trapped in there. He paused a second, finger to side, while the kid squinted and winced.
"Oh. Okay." He touched it hesitantly, his finger an inch from Spike's. "Wonder what did that." As if his body were some piece of furniture with a ding.
"Anything," Spike said, still not moving. "You want me to—"
"Nah," the kid said absently, still prodding. He shrugged, dropped his hand, and started pulling the sleeves of his shirt right way out again. "Weird. Whatever. I'll deal with it."
Spike sat slowly back down and stared at the table while the kid struggled back into his shirt.
Three months went by like that. Then they got lucky, found the right spell, and punched the Risen back down into its bowl for a while.
"And that's how we do things in LA!" Gunn yelled down into the smoking hole it left behind. Fred laughed, delirious and a little high from the mojo. Wesley's face was beautiful, haloed. They were a good magic team, you had to admit. But it was Gunn who bought her a drink later, in the hotel bar.
Even the kid seemed happy, smiling silently, letting Angel clap him on the back and pull him into the circle for a little while. They all had a drink together, and the drink or maybe the exhaustion or maybe the elation softened the edges of everything, and for a few hours they were all a group, no outsiders. Gunn kept reprising Harris's Light Brigade charge into four vamps, the look on his face, the looks on theirs. Fred praised Wesley's translation. Angel sat quietly and drank his Scotch and when he caught Spike's eye, he smiled in that way that he almost never did. With satisfaction and pride. Spike was drunk and tired, and he smiled back.
Later they dragged themselves up to their suites, parting ways at the elevator. Everyone sleep well, get a good night's rest, it's not over yet. Battle, not the war. But still, they were all light. They'd win in the end. Had to, now.
Harris's door was before Spike's, and Spike raised a hand, made to keep going, but Harris paused and then said, "Hang on a second."
Spike reined in, stood swaying while Harris slid his card and opened the door and disappeared inside. For a second, a ghost of a thought crossed his mind— Then Harris was back, holding something in his hand and looking half bashful, half excited. The booze had brought some color out in his face, and his eyes were bright. He glanced down the hallway, then held out a folded brown paper bag.
"Take it," he said, when Spike did nothing.
Spike focused on the bag, reached out, and took it. It was light. His fingers weren't working very well, and he almost dropped it, got it open, couldn't see anything inside it, looked up at Harris with raised eyebrows and confusion. Harris was waiting impatiently for some kind of reaction.
He looked again, and saw a dark coil at the bottom of the bag. The ghost of a thought came back, drifted through, but surely not— He reached in and hooked the necklace with a finger, pulled it out, and regarded it.
"You like it?"
It was a thin silver chain, no pendant, nice solid clasp. He stared at it for a few long seconds, trying to think of something to say. His brain felt completely frozen.
"It's for Fred."
That took a second or two to sink in, and then it did, and he blinked and looked fast at Harris's face. Eager waiting eyes, flicking from his face to the necklace and back. For Fred. Of course. Oh, Christ.
"Not really my department," he said lamely, letting it fall carefully back into the bag, and folding the top back down. "Nice, sure. Birds like shiny things." He knew that was cheap, unfair to Fred, but now he just wanted to get away, get to his own room and close the door and fucking sleep for a week.
"It reminded me of her," Harris said, taking the bag back slowly, looking a little uncertain now. Spike, already half-turned on his heel, paused. Fuck.
"I think she's a little—" he said, and then trailed off. Harris just stood there, looking at him. How could he not have realized, all this time, that it was Gunn and Fred? Must be fucking blind. "I don't think she's your type," he said, hoping the kid would get the message.
Harris stared at him, and apparently some kind of message got through, because his eyes went black and absent, and the hand with the bag dropped. There was a crinkle of crushed paper.
"Oh," he said. "Okay."
A pause, and Spike felt all the air get sucked out of the hallway while he tried to backpedal. "Don't get me wrong, I just mean—"
"No," Harris said, flat voice, already stepping away. "I get it, thanks. I'll see you tomorrow."
He was already turning back to his door, his shoulders high and his hand shaking. Jesus Christ.
"Xander, wait." Spike stepped forward, put a hand out, and pulled it back when Harris turned and looked at him. Patient dark eyes, shaking hand. "Didn't mean you're not good enough for her, if that's what you're thinking. You are. She'd be lucky to get you." Fingers crossed a little on that one, or maybe not. Hard to say.
Harris was smirking a little, that bad nasty smirk that mocked all of them, mocked the hotel they stayed in, mocked anything he couldn't turn to custard with his fists. "Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow."
They stood there staring at each other, Harris's chin raised and his neck tight, his hands carefully behind his back, probably because if he didn't lock them back there he'd start punching. He was shaking all over now, very slightly. Spike put his hands up, palms out, and stepped back.
"Sorry," he said. "I'm drunk, don't know what I'm saying. It's a fucking beautiful necklace, she'll love it."
Harris dipped his head slightly in an ironic nod, a nod that said fuck you, and after another long tight second, Spike turned his back and walked away down the hall to his room. Behind him, Harris's door closed quietly.
She never wore the necklace. Maybe he never gave it to her, maybe she gave it back, maybe she said thank you and put it away and didn't wear it.
Two days after the hallway conversation, they were all in strategy summit in Angel's suite. Spike was watching a mug go around in the microwave; Harris came in.
"I was a jerk the other day," he said quickly. "I'm sorry."
Spike squinted at him, shrugged, and popped the microwave door. "No worries."
They went back into the living room, for the talk on sewer tunnel directionals.
Things stayed calm for a long while, though the portents were grim. They got bored. Wesley and Fred were busy with translations, Angel promoted Gunn to right hand man for the LA business that needed doing. Harris got bored and antsy, and started picking fights.
Angel told him to sit down and shut up one too many times, and he got up and walked out instead. Went down the hall to his suite, packed up his four shirts and his corduroy jacket, and carried his duffel down to the lobby. It was daytime; Angel couldn't go after him.
"Let him go," he said, when the rest of them looked saucer-eyed at each other. "He needs some time to cool off. Spike, you're on Xander duty again."
Spike let his head fall back against the back of the couch and massaged his eyelids.
"Better you than me," Gunn muttered, and went back to his conference call.
He drove to Harris's apartment that night, parked at the curb, and settled in to wait. The lights were off; he must be out. There was time to smoke eight cigarettes and listen to almost all of Massive Attack before he showed up.
He was limping a little, but moving fast, keeping close to the wall of the building. Hoodie pulled up, breath clouding the air. His hands were jammed deep into his pockets. Outside the hotel, outside central heating and double-glazed panes, life was glacial. February no better than January, and when was that new start going to kick in, exactly?
The limp bothered Spike, and he hesitated, debated a split second, then opened the Mercedes's door and got out. The kid saw him immediately, paused, then settled his shoulders and kept going. Heading for the steps of his apartment.
Spike stepped up onto the pavement and got in his way. He'd been scrapping. His forehead was cut, one eye was stung up. His hands were swollen and red.
"What happened?" It couldn't have been the Risen; that fucker would have sucked him dry and express-mailed his remains to Angel. Must have been—
"Nothing." The kid veered, went around him, and started up the steps.
"Nothing took a chunk out of you," Spike said, following him up. "Nothing's got a good uppercut."
The kid laughed silently, sorting his keys at the door. "Nothing's a bitch," he said almost merrily, and let himself in. Spike caught the door before it closed, and Harris frowned, tugged on it, then shrugged and walked off down the hall. Spike slipped in and followed.
"Streetfighting," he observed, as they went up the stairs to the second floor. "Noble occupation, if you don’t need all your teeth."
"Stones wrote an anthem and everything," Harris said. At the top of the stairs he paused, wavered, and seemed for a moment about to fall back down. Spike put a hand quickly into his back to brace him.
Harris blinked, shook his head, laughed again, and headed down his hall.
"Harris, did anyone ever tell you you're a stubborn fuck?"
"Go home, Spike."
"I'm fine. I'm safer here, remember?"
"Not really. I lied."
They were at Harris's door, and he paused with the keys in his hand, looked back at Spike, then shook his head. "Of course you did. And I believed you, because I'm a fucking idiot."
"No, you believed me because it made sense for you to come. And because you wanted to help Fred."
Harris stiffened at the name and looked back down at his keys. Figured it out, Spike thought. Finally.
"Right," Harris said. "Like I said, I'm a fucking idiot."
"No, you're not. Just got bad luck."
Harris laughed again at that, but it was sharp and mirthless and painful. "Right," he said, nodding down at his keys. "Right."
"Jesus Christ, Harris. Not like you're the only one."
He turned the key in the lock and shouldered the door open. "Go home, Spike."
"Why, so you can curl up in that dump and feel sorry for yourself? Sounds pretty fucking sad to me."
"Spike, go home."
"Then go out tomorrow and let some new wanker beat you up?"
"At least there's some excitement in our version."
Harris paused. "Vampires aren't exciting, Spike."
"If you light 'em they burn pretty."
Harris stared at him a second, and then some of the hardness went out of his face, out of his neck and shoulders. He smiled slightly. "True."
"Get 'em drunk, they tell good stories."
The kid fiddled with his keys, rubbed a finger over the welt on his forehead. "So I've heard."
"And they're good lays, most of 'em."
He had no idea why he said it; he was just rolling with it, trying to keep the kid from going in and closing the door and leaving him on the curb all night. But it was out, in the air between them, and the kid looked up sharply and stopped rubbing his forehead.
They stood there looking at each other, and then Spike took a deep breath, hoped to God the kid didn't have a stake on him, leaned in, and kissed him.
He expected violence, actually. He was a little lighter and quicker about it than he might have been, because he wanted to be able to get back in time if the fists came out. But he didn't have to, because nothing happened. The kid didn't kiss back, didn't punch him. Didn't move at all. Just stood there.
After a few seconds, Spike pulled back. The kid was watching him with no expression at all, just flat. Big dark eyes flat as glass, one of them bloody.
After a second, he said, "Is that my condolence prize?"
Spike paused. "Dunno," he said finally. "Dunno what that was."
They stood there in the hallway while a baby cried somewhere on another floor. Outside, it had started to snow, and it was ticking against the windows.
Finally, Harris turned back to the door, the lock, his keys. He pushed the door open and stepped inside. Spike stayed where he was.
"You can come in," Harris said over his shoulder, already walking away down the hall.
Spike went in.
It was hard and right and immediate, two pale bodies with too much history, too many bad joints and soft scars and too much gross desperate want. He'd had no idea he wanted it, until he was stumbling across the kid's bedroom floor, his mouth greedy on the kid's, loving the taste of him, trying to get his own shirt off and getting trapped in the cuffs like a teenager. Fucking tony shirt, fucking tiny buttons. The kid's stuff came off fast and easy, all of it too big anyway. In no time he was naked, strong white legs and cupped belly and dark hungry dick bobbing in between.
His hands were rough, sharp in spots, blisters and callouses. His mouth tasted like blood and beer. His hair was damp with snow, long and shaggy and disheveled when he lay back onto the pillows. His arms locked around Spike's neck. His toes cold, pulling the hairs on Spike's shins. The sheets were cold. He kissed like death.
"Jesus," Spike gasped, kicking to get his jeans off. The kid bucked up to make contact, and they both got lost in a few seconds of pure sweet friction, hot and cold together.
"Why are you doing this?" the kid asked after a while, his hands tight in Spike's hair, last vertiginous moment. Spike looked up and saw him, just for a second, the way he used to be. Dark eyes deep and easy, soft mouth, young. His cock hot against Spike's cheek.
"Because I want to," he said, because it was all he could think to say, and it was true. Later, he thought he should have said something better. But the kid's fingers eased and let him move, and that was all he wanted at that moment.
The kid's cock tasted like heat, need, everything you grappled with. Everything you didn't have a choice about.
The kid came, wordless and sharp and long. Spike came, his head buried in the crook of the kid's thigh, a hand in his hair, something flashing through his mind. A dream he'd had, or somewhere he'd been—
Without debate, they slept curled in each other's arms, interlocking puzzle pieces. The window over the bed growing old with snow.
A knock in darkness, and a jerk into waking. The room was black, smelled strange. He was warm, naked, lying with someone—
Another knock, and Harris sat bolt upright, muscles trembling. Spike moved aside to let him be, waited for him to run a hand through his hair and figure it out. He'd already smelled who was at the door—Wyndam-Pryce, and Angel. His cell—he'd left it in the car. Fuck.
The kid looked down at him, and he lay still, tried out a small smile. After a second, the kid gave it back. Point for the kid.
Then he slid out of bed, found his trousers, and stepped into them.
"Xander?" That was Wyndam-Pryce, damn him. Angel, murmuring something low—smell went both ways. But Harris was already going for the door. Spike sighed, sat up, and reached for his jeans.
The door opened, and Wesley said, "Are you all right? We couldn't reach Spike—"
The kid said, "I'm fine." Quiet tone, almost gentle.
"Is Spike here? We need him to—"
Angel again, murmuring. Wyndam-Pryce paused.
"Come on in," Harris said, and Spike thought, Point.