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Charles Gunn is Alive and Well and Living in Nebraska

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1. Here we are at the risk of our lives

Spike was drunk.

That was the third thing Gunn noticed when he got home from work; the first thing, not surprisingly, was the note from the complex management taped to the door, asking the residents of apartment 219 to not leave their cigarette butts scattered all over the common walkway.

Gunn had to admit that whichever of their neighbors had complained--his bet was the old lady in 216, who kept a disapproving eye on the entire building through her kitchen window-- had a point, because the walkway looked like somebody had emptied a giant ashtray on it. Dammit. He wasn't going to be the one to clean this shit up, either.

He let himself into the apartment, dropping his briefcase and the note on the kitchen counter. He'd deal with it later. Right now he wanted a cold beer and ten minutes of just not thinking about social workers or juvenile court or how, exactly, they could raise the money to move the center into a building big enough that they didn't have to turn kids away every night.

He had the bottle open and was halfway over to the couch when he noticed the second thing that was going to make this evening a pain in the ass: Spike had gone out today. There was a PlayStation hooked up to the TV and a portable stereo sitting on the coffee table, and if the game system hadn't looked a little battered and the stereo wasn't missing a handle, Gunn would have had to put his beer down and go kick some ex-vampire ass for spending the rent money on this crap.

Since it looked like Spike had been to the pawnshop down the street, he could let it go. Maybe it'd keep Spike out of trouble, since it was for sure that Gunn wasn't ever going to be able to do it.

He wasn't even sure when that had started being his job. All he'd wanted to do was get the hell out of L.A. before the Senior Partners decided they'd changed their mind about leaving him alive. The plan had been to leave everything about his old life behind, but Spike had a way of screwing up people's plans.

He'd definitely screwed up Angel's. That prophecy... well. Angel didn't need it now. Dusted vamp, dead human, it wouldn't make a lot of difference to Angel, Gunn figured, and he wasn't sure he'd be any happier with Angel sleeping on his couch than with Spike.

Angel would just be less likely to steal money out of his wallet for cigarettes and secondhand Ramones CDs, and now Gunn had two choices: getting depressed about what had happened to his friends--not to mention about being stuck in the freaking Midwest with Spike for a roommate--or going out to find out what the hell Spike was doing that would piss off their neighbors.

Gunn set his beer down, loosening his tie--he'd had to go to court this morning; even if he wasn't licensed to practice law here, he tried to show up when one of the kids from the center was in trouble--and going into his bedroom to change before he went out to look for Spike. The last time he hadn't been home when Gunn came back from work, he'd nearly got them kicked out of the apartment for giving one of the neighbor kids a beer. Gunn had just barely managed to stop Spike from arguing that a couple of years ago, he'd have been killing the kid, so his parents should be grateful he was just providing illegal alcohol.

That was when Gunn made the third discovery he could have done without that day: Spike was passed out. On his bed, and if he puked on it--again--Gunn was going to make him wish he'd stayed in L.A. with Illyria even if she did keep forgetting (like she forgot anything she wanted to remember) that humans were more breakable than vampires.

"This better not be some stunt to get me to let you sleep on the bed," Gunn muttered. They'd only had the cash for one bed when they got here, and it was Gunn's. He was the one with the job, so Spike could sleep on the couch until they could afford to furnish the second bedroom.

Gunn thought he was being pretty damn generous by not bitching too much when Spike used the bed during the daytime. Spike hadn't tried all that hard to adjust to a human sleep schedule; he still slept most of the day and woke up at night, the better to annoy the shit out of Gunn when he was trying to sleep.

Spike didn't twitch, smirk, or give any other sign that he wasn't genuinely passed out on Gunn's bed, an empty bottle on the floor, so Gunn decided it was probably exactly what it looked like: an ex-vampire forgetting, again, that he had a human tolerance for alcohol now.

"Forgetting" might not be the right word for what Spike was doing, either, Gunn thought as he brought in the trashcan from the bathroom and put it next to the bed. You didn't just forget that you suddenly didn't drink blood any more. Spike was just ignoring it most of the time, just like he still spent most of the day inside, and always looked a little surprised when he didn't burst into flames when he did go out.

(Gunn didn't think about how surprised Angel had been in Pylea when he didn't catch on fire, because Gunn didn't think about those days any more. As far as he was concerned, Charles Gunn had come into being when he'd crossed the Nebraska state line, and anything before that was a bad dream he was trying to wake up from.)

Still grumbling about stupid-ass ex-vampires who insisted on hanging around and causing trouble for everyone else, Gunn turned Spike over onto his side and went back out to finish his beer.

By the time Spike--bleary-eyed and greenish-faced--staggered out to the kitchen, Gunn was halfway through the paperwork he'd brought home from the teen center, and his annoyance had lost its edge. He pointed Spike toward the bottle of Advil on the counter without saying anything.

Spike didn't thank him for the pills, or for the bottle of Gatorade he washed them down with. Not that Gunn expected him to. He wouldn't know what to do with a grateful Spike, and he didn't want one.

It was just easier to make sure he took the damn Advil than to listen to him gripe, and life was hard enough without looking for ways to make it harder.

 

2. When a felon's not engaged in his employment

Spike was drunk.

That was as good a reason as any for Gunn to not listen to a word he said. Not that he needed a reason, because he'd been at work since seven that morning, and if he wanted to sit on his couch and watch the game, then he was going to sit on the couch. He might, if he felt like getting up and walking over to the phone, order pizza, but that was as ambitious as his plans were getting.

It was Friday night, and he had the weekend off after being on call all week--the social-work interns pulled the night shift, but if something big happened, they had to call either him or Barb, the center director--and he didn't care if Spike was bored. He wasn't going anywhere.

"Did you notice where we live? There's no town to paint." At least not compared to L.A., and the only bars Gunn had found had been either college-kid hangouts or places he'd had to haul one of the center kids' asses out of, and he couldn't think of any way either of those was better than his couch.

"There's nothing to do but drink," Spike pointed out. "You're not looking in the right places, Charlie."

"I'm not looking at all." He didn't want to go out. He didn't want to go anywhere with Spike, period, and definitely not with a Spike who was already more than a little unsteady on his feet. "Go without me," he said, knowing Spike wouldn't.

"The buses stopped running an hour ago," Spike said, and Gunn wondered exactly when Spike had found that out. Walking, he believed; stealing Gunn's truck keys--hell yes, at least until Gunn had started hiding his spare set in his desk at work. Spike on the bus? He shook his head. There were so many ways that could go wrong, including Spike forgetting that he was easier to beat the crap out of these days and mouthing off to the wrong redneck.

"Take my truck and I'll kill you for good," Gunn said, just in case Spike had any thoughts in that direction, and put his hand in his pocket to make sure his keys were still there.

"So you're just going to sit there and rot?" Spike went over to the stereo, turning on something that blotted out ESPN.

This week's letter from the apartment management had been a reminder that their neighbors had small children who napped in the afternoon, and that while the management appreciated that they weren't playing their music loudly at night, they needed to be considerate of their fellow tenants at all times.

Gunn wasn't the one at home annoying the neighbors--and if they got kicked out of here, they were fucked; this was the only decent place they'd found that he could afford on his paycheck from the center. Gunn was the one paying the rent, and the one who'd called Anne to ask her if she knew anyplace that could use his help, as long as it was a long way from L.A. He'd driven them halfway across the country, keeping an eye in the rearview mirror the whole time just in case the Senior Partners had just been fucking with them by leaving them alone so long.

And at first, he'd gone easy on Spike--bitched and threatened, maybe, but still, he knew it couldn't be easy suddenly being human after a hundred years or so. Give Spike a little time to adjust, he told himself, and then Gunn could--hell, could kick him out if he wanted to. He'd never asked for Spike to come with him, after all.

Well, Spike had had six months to adjust, and Gunn wasn't waiting any longer. "No," he said, getting up and snapping the stereo to "off."

"It's about time," Spike said, grinning. "I was getting sick of you brooding in here all the time. Had enough of that with Angel."

"There's the door," Gunn said, nodding toward the front hallway. "Nothing stopping you from walking right through it."

Spike's grin faded as Gunn went on. "Did you think I was going to put up with you hanging around here forever? I told you I wasn't keeping you in beer and videogames, Spike, and I mean it."

"Right," Spike snorted. "What am I supposed to do, then? March myself down to the employment agency and say, 'Pardon me, ma'am, but do you have any jobs asking for a hundred years of blood-drinking experience?'"

Gunn frowned. He'd thought of that a few times; when he knew the town a little better, he'd planned to get fake ID papers for Spike: Social Security card, birth certificate, driver's license, all to make it that much easier for Spike to get his no-longer-undead act together and get the hell out of Gunn's apartment.

Or start paying half the rent, at least.

But he hadn't managed that yet, and it wasn't like Spike had glowing references from previous jobs to help him out, and he hated it when Spike was right about something.

"No, but Monday morning you're going to march yourself down to the center with me and we'll put you to work," he said, regretting it the minutes the words came out of his mouth. Barb was going to kill him if Spike pulled anything at the center. Hell, he was going to kill Spike himself if he pulled anything--the last thing those kids needed was advice from Spike on how to fuck up their lives. "We got a bunch of stuff from one of the food banks today," he said, thinking quickly. "You can take inventory."

Spike looked suitably disgusted, and Gunn couldn't help but add, "After that, if you're lucky, you can do laundry."

He wouldn't need paperwork to volunteer, and there wasn't much he could do to secondhand sheets, after all. Not to mention that it'd keep him out of the way.

Gunn had almost said, "out of trouble," but he knew better.

 

3. Time was when Love and I were well acquainted

Spike was drunk.

Gunn didn't blame him; if he hadn't been driving, he'd be drunk himself.

Didn't blame him for being drunk, anyway. This was all Spike's fault. Spike had apparently been bumming cigarettes off of James, who was one of the few other paid employees at the center. If you listened to James, he ran the place, and Gunn had to admit he might have a point. James drove the van when they needed to take kids somewhere, fixed the van when it wouldn't work, kept the grass cut and the toilets flushing and the furnace running.

And, apparently, managed to piss off his wife of forty-three years enough that she'd gone to stay with her sister in Boca Raton, which had somehow--Gunn had been stuck in traffic on O Street at the time, on the phone with a church that was promising them school supplies for the kids, and so he hadn't actually watched this all go wrong, just been told about it when he got back--turned into James suggesting that the three of them go out and "raise some hell."

It had been obvious from the way Spike said it that he was quoting James. Besides, neither of them were going to say "raise hell" any time soon. Hell didn't like them very much these days.

He was pretty sure Spike had said yes just to piss him off, a guess that was being backed up by how much Spike was drinking--he'd tapered off a lot once he'd realized that no, he was never going to be able to drink like a vampire again--and how completely disgusted with this place (Gunn had forgotten the name already, but he was sure 'home for geriatric cowboys' was in it somewhere) he looked.

At least James was having a good time; he'd swaggered off a little while ago to talk to one of the women sitting at the end of the bar, a group of what Gunn would have called little old ladies if they hadn't been knocking back Jim Beam like there was no tomorrow. That left Gunn, Spike, and Spike's rapidly-growing collection of empty whiskey glasses, and Gunn could think of at least a thousand places he'd rather be.

Since he wasn't allowed to smoke in the bar, Spike would probably have gone with him if he'd suggested it.

Someone fed the jukebox, and the sounds of country music drifted out over the room. Gunn never had much use for country, and now it was... He'd left that behind, he reminded himself. Left her behind, or what was left of her, which wasn't much: a face Illyria could use if she needed it. This was starting over. Forgetting all about Angel Investigations and Wolfram & Hart and Alonna and Fred and a hell dimension where they ripped out your heart every day, regular as clockwork.

And he wasn't saying any of that to Spike, so he just muttered, "I hate this crap," glaring toward the jukebox like it had started playing "Friends in Low Places" just for him.

Spike snorted. "This is coming from the man who sings 'I'm called Little Buttercup' in the shower?"

"It's catchy," Gunn said defensively. "Gets stuck in your head."

"You don't have to tell me," Spike said. When Gunn looked at him doubtfully, he went on, "I ate a chorus girl once. Made the mistake of letting her talk first, and I hummed 'Three little maids from school' for a week."

"Could you not talk about eating people when we're out in public?" After a pause, Gunn added, "I'd say 'never,' but I know I'm not that lucky."

"I haven't done it in years," Spike pointed out.

"That makes it a better topic of conversation?

The jukebox changed songs now, Garth Brooks giving way to Patsy Cline, and Gunn wished again that he hadn't driven here. A drink would go a long way toward making it harder to think about Fred--or anything, but mostly Fred.

"I liked her," Spike said suddenly.

"What?"

"Fred." Spike sounded impatient, like Gunn should have been able to read his mind. "I liked her."

"I didn't say anything about Fred." Gunn scowled at him. He didn't want to talk about her. He definitely didn't want to talk about her with Spike. He might be sympathetic, and Spike being sympathetic, from what Gunn had heard, was worse than Spike being a jackass.

"Didn't have to, mate." Spike pushed his glass over to Gunn, and Gunn decided fuck it, they'd take a cab home.

He drained it while Spike was over at the bar getting himself another one, and when Spike set a second glass down in front of him, he reached for that one, too.

When he started on the third drink, he was feeling just fuzzy enough that he considered making a toast, but he couldn't get it to sound right, even in his head. He raised his glass, though, figuring that even if Spike had no idea what they were toasting, Gunn would know.

Spike surprised him. Spike had been doing that a lot lately, what with the not fucking around too much at the center--some, yeah, but not enough to get Gunn in trouble--and the thing where the last three notes on the apartment door had been reminders that the exterminator was coming, or the guy was going to change the furnace filters.

This time, though, Spike nodded before raising his own glass. "Here's to her, then," he said, his voice wistful enough that Gunn thought he might not be talking about Fred. He didn't ask, though. Spike was just drunk enough to actually answer him, and Gunn didn't want to go there. Tonight was already screwing up Gunn's determination to stay focused on here and now and not on things he wasn't ever going to be able to change.

When James came back with a sixty-ish woman whose hair was dyed a vivid magenta, Gunn slid his chair over to make room for them. He realized, suddenly, that he was a lot closer to Spike than he'd meant to be, closer than he could remember being even though they lived in the same house.

And then he realized that was okay with him. Here and now, it was okay, and from the look Spike gave him--swift and speculative and just a little amused--it looked like Spike might have decided that a little focus on the here-and-now was just what he needed, too.

 

4. When all night long a chap remains

Spike was drunk.

That was a good reason not to be doing what it looked like they were about to be doing, and Gunn was just (barely) sober enough to know that tomorrow morning, he was going to--

What? Not feel guilty. This was Spike, and it wasn't like he had to worry about taking advantage of him, or... anything. What was the worst that could happen? Spike would get pissed off and leave?

He should be so lucky, he thought, but he was just drunk enough to admit, to himself at least, that the place would be too quiet if Spike actually did find somewhere else to live. He'd be damned if he was going to say that, though. Spike would never let him hear the end of it.

"You asleep, Charlie?"

"Yes," Gunn muttered, pulling the pillow over his head, because no matter how drunk he might or might not be, he wasn't letting Spike think Gunn had been expecting this for the five minutes since Spike had crawled into bed with him. "So shut up."

Spike was pressed close enough against him that Gunn could feel the shrug that got him. "Don’t need to talk for this," he said, and then he was even closer, leg hooked over Gunn's, pulling their bodies tightly together.

Gunn held still for a minute, waiting to feel guilty, waiting to feel annoyed, waiting to feel something besides the electric jolt of having a body against his after so many months.

It didn't happen. Spike, he reminded himself. Ex-vampire and pain in the ass.

Ex-vampire, though, and it was hard to remember how much he wanted to smack Spike in the back of the head sometimes when Spike had started to move against him.

"If you're saying no, best come out and say it," Spike said, his voice only slightly slurred, and Gunn's response was to rock his hips forward just that little bit so that he could feel his cock sliding against Spike's.

"Shut up," he said again, and was glad to see that Spike did.

 

***

He'd expected it to be weird the next morning, had figured there was a good chance it was going to be awkward and uncomfortable, filled with half-finished sentences and not meeting one another's eyes, but he'd forgotten one thing.

This was Spike, and Gunn wasn't sure Spike knew how to do "awkward and uncomfortable."

What he did know how to do, on the other hand, Gunn was pretty sure was still illegal in some states--maybe this one, for all he knew--and when Gunn stumbled in to take a shower, Spike had followed him in to demonstrate.

When Gunn went out to bring in the paper, it was late enough in the afternoon that the sun was hanging low in the sky, and there was another damned note on the door, this one hand-printed by one of their neighbors--he was guessing 220, whose bathroom and bedrooms backed up to theirs--that just said, "KEEP IT DOWN."

That night, Spike crawled into bed next to him again. "That couch is a bloody torture device," he said. "It's a miracle I can even walk."

"Shut up, Spike," he said, before some perverse impulse made him add, "The neighbors can hear you."

"Oh, really?" Gunn thought he could almost see Spike's grin, even in the darkness, before Spike slid further down on the bed and made Gunn forget all about keeping the noise down for the neighbors--which, Gunn had to admit, was what he'd been hoping would happen.

He decided not to worry about this making things awkward between them, or turning into something more complicated than he wanted. Spike was still Spike, after all. If a heartbeat hadn't changed that, this wasn't likely to.

 

5. After much debate internal

Spike wasn't drunk.

And neither was he, which on one hand seemed like a really bad idea. This would have been a hell of a lot easier if he had been.

On the other hand, this...whatever it was they kept doing on a nightly basis... was a little too easy when he was drunk, and Gunn didn't want it to be that easy.

He wasn't sure if he wanted it to be, period, but he knew he didn't want easy. Easy was pretending like nothing that had happened before he got here, and most of what had happened since then, mattered.

He'd been doing easy. He'd had enough of it. And if he was going to keep doing this, it needed to be--

It didn't need to be much. He'd had that, once, and he wasn't sure he wanted it again. But it needed to be something more than just what happened because it was convenient. Uncomplicated. Easy.

So he just took the note--this one from Mrs. Alvarez in 221, saying she'd let the men from the secondhand furniture store in, and he could come by for the spare key any time before nine tonight--off the door and went inside.

The stereo was still too loud. Spike's coat was still thrown over the back of the couch because they must not have invented hangers back in his day. Spike was still an example of what a natural talent for being a pain in the ass, plus a century of practice, could do.

This was definitely not the easy way.

Spike's gaze flickered to the note, and Gunn knew without asking that he'd read it. It was Spike, of course he'd read it, and Gunn didn't even need to ask whether he'd gone to look at the furniture.

"Now you can shut up about sleeping on the couch," Gunn said.

"When was the last time I slept on the couch?"

"Now you can't say you don't have another choice."

Spike didn't answer for a while, but then he shrugged. "Yeah, all right."

After that, things were pretty normal: leftover Chinese food and Spike watching some godawful telenovela even though he didn't know that much Spanish--you didn't have to, Spike insisted, right before he went back to watching--while Gunn did paperwork and wished that the good guys could afford to hire some of Evil's secretarial staff.

Gunn went to bed around eleven, with the on-call cell phone on the nightstand beside him, and when he heard the TV go off and Spike opening and closing the door to his bedroom, Gunn figured he'd made the right decision. Just because something was easy didn't mean it was what they needed to be doing.

Sometime later, he woke up to a weight in the bed next to him and cold feet pressed on the back of his legs. He rolled over, blinking sleepily at Spike. "What--" he mumbled, not sure what the question really was and too tired to hear the answer anyway.

"You can sleep in that bed if you want to. I'll take one that's not stuffed with rocks."

"You came in here to bitch about the mattress?"

"I came in here to sleep," Spike said. "You asked about the mattress."

"So sleep," Gunn said, but he wasn't surprised when Spike had other things in mind.

Here and now, there were worse things they could do.