Absolutely impossible to love without a soul. He glanced at Wesley, as if Wes's orderly presence would confirm his belief. Wes, the former Watcher, would understand the folly of believing that any but a select few vampires were capable of the higher emotions. He nudged him. "So, Wes, what do you think's going on?"
Wes shrugged. "He's in love. He's desperate."
Angel swiveled and looked at him. "You don't really believe him, do you? Spike is the biggest bullshitter in the world. In any world."
"Oh, of course...." Wes trailed off. "But I have read the Chronicles, you know, Angel."
"You've read them?" Angel said sarcastically. "I lived them.'
Wes looked at the back of the vampire's head. "Indeed." He looked around for the waitress, while Angel continued to eye Spike suspiciously.
Spike was doing a little checking out on his own. "We gotta get him drunk."
"With what? He's a vampire. And he's a lot bigger than you, kemosabe."
"Hah." Spike said, spotting their waitress. "Say, love, can you do me a favor? I've a really special request..." He leaned forward and whispered in her ear, while Lorne, amused, chuckled over the pretense of clandestine drink requests. Something about the vampire's attempt at discretion touched him. They were in a dive that served vampires, demons, and God knows what else, including politicians, and Spike was whispering in the girl's ear so as to avoid attention. The platinum optimist. He sidled closer and nudged. "What did you order?"
"Angel always used to drink absinthe." Spike muttered. "Really strong stuff, mix of opium and vodka. Not legal here in the States, but it shouldn't be hard to whip up a batch."
"And then, well, see if we get lucky.... Why are you helping me, anyway?"
"I saw you, remember?" Lorne looked over at the booth and assayed a little wave, very much like British royalty: low-key, discreet, and hinting at inbreeding. "Maybe it's just the romantic in me. You crazy kid— er, vampire, you. That took guts, my friend, coming down here, and I appreciate that. Besides, your aura was eloquent. There was a nice bouquet of passion and desperation there. There were touches of loneliness. There was an undertone of, well, call it... karma.
"You know, sometimes when I read someone their feelings about someone else can give me some sort of reading on someone important in their life. I got a very strong feeling about your Buffy. Very strong."
Spike stared at him. "Strong? Strong? In what way? Why didn't you say so?"
"I'm saying so now, William. It really is William, isn't it?"
Spike grumbled something and looked away. "What else did you see?"
"Be careful what you wish for, my friend. That's all." Lorne said, not unkindly. "And that's just for now, though. Things change. If you came to me in a week, I'd get a different reading. You won't stay as you were forever."
"Be careful what you wish for? What the hell does that mean?" Spike's voice was loud enough that both Wes and Angel looked up.
"The way you two are now is tearing you up, my friend. Have you ever considered what it would be like if you got your wish?"
"How could that possibly be bad?"
"How many women have you loved, William?"
Spike drew himself up and looked him in the eye. "Physically? Or...?"
"Oh, don't get all macho on me now. You can try that on Angel, and I'll sell tickets, sweetness."
"Two." Spike muttered.
At that moment, the waitress came up to them and with a flourish, presented a tray with what looked like four cognac glasses brimming with a green liquid. In a little dish on the side were sugar cubes and what Dru had always referred to as a 'sugar tweezers'. "Oh-- I only wanted the one." Spike pointed out.
She fixed him with a hairy eyeball. "There is no way just one guy is drinking this stuff, okay? What, you're going to sit there and watch him get silly?"
Spike was momentarily entertained by precisely this idea, but Lorne sighed in a very Ward Cleaver kind of way and spoiled it. "She does have a point there, sweetie pie." He patted the sulking vampire on the back. "Maybe it'll be fun."
Angel took one look at the glasses and then sighed again. "Why?"
"You used to drink it before," Spike said, sliding into the booth.
"Yeah, I used to drink blood, too—"
"Children, children...." Lorne said. Then he picked up one of the glasses, and gulped its contents back. This was promptly followed by choking noises, crossed eyes, and much hand waving. "Would you just relax and loosen up? Oh, my. Sweetheart..." He called to the waitress. "More, please, that was scrumptious. And I want the recipe."
Spike picked up his glass with his index finger and middle finger, and took a sip. Always had been more of Angel's drink than his, but it wasn't bad. The waitress had been right; he was definitely more the tequila type of guy. Still, it wasn't bad; had quite the floral undertone, but it wasn't enough to choke back the bitter flavor of the anise. Therefore, the sugar. He tweezed up a couple of cubes, and dropped them into his already half-empty glass. Angel looked on with quite a disapproving stare, arms crossed and face stony. Oh, wait. Spike thought. That's his normal expression. Hate to see him in the midst of an orgasm. Probably look like he was having a root canal... He took another gulp, and looked around. The colors in the bar were flowing around him, and the décor had ceased to be irritating. Even the demon across from him had stopped looking like a demonic refugee from an Irish Spring commercial and had become a Demon of a Different Color.
Wes picked up his own glass, intrigued by the exotic bouquet of the drink. "I'd thought that this went out of style."
"It did." Angel said. He was still glaring at Spike distrustfully, which, suddenly, became too much for Spike's happy mood.
"Good God, would you cheer up?!" He reached across the table, and poked Angel in the chest. "I don't want to kill you or torture you -- well, at least not right now -- or anything really painful. Why can't you relax? Drink up." He finished off his glass with a flourish, just in time to see Wes swirl the glowing liquid around in his glass. "You, too, bookworm. Take your mind off things."
Wes smiled just a little uncertainly. Absinthe carried with it great dangers, but great allure. It was said to be the drink of artists, poets -- and madmen -- and inspired as many hallucinations as it did works of art. There was a glamour to it, an aura of tortured bohemians soothing away their torment with the liquor and the visions it inspired. It smelled of short, passionate lives, and works of art snatched from the demons of madness. It was the temptation of oblivion. He took a swallow.
It really didn't taste very good, and he realized he'd missed the sugar. With the tongs, he unsteadily dropped a cube in and watched it dissolve. He almost believed that when he looked up he would find himself in a bar near Montmartre, surrounded by women in long skirts, and men wearing evening dress and ink smudges. French would swirl around him, and in the corner Toulouse Lautrec would sketch Wes' face with inspired hands. Certainly he deserved a painting or two. Even a vampire could find love, and with a human, no less. Wasn't that against the rules? He'd fall in love with anyone at this point, so long as they loved him back.
Angel glared sullenly around and gulped his drink down. His eyes widened as it burned its way down his throat, and Lorne leaned over and belted him on the back a few times. Good God, but that was strong. He'd forgotten how strong it was, how bitter. The last time he'd drunk had been in Paris just before the turn of the century, when women still wore silk stockings -- so fun to tie them up, with -- and frothy lace things that he couldn't even name. He glanced around disapprovingly at the bar jackets and jeans. People had no idea how to dress any more. It was deplorable. He traced a finger around the rim of his glass, wondering if there was more, but hoping otherwise. After all, he had to stay in control. Who knew why Spike really was here? His visits never brought good news, and in fact, very often involved sharp pointed objects.
Like the drink itself, looking at Spike brought up memories, but he wasn't sure he liked these. Buffy; Sunnydale, exile, the first year in LA, Doyle, oh, and the bleakness that had been the previous year. The inexorable fall into darkness, without Buffy at the end of it. The whole painful experience with Darla. Why did Spike seem so damned happy? It just wasn't fair, it wasn't.
"Why are you so happy?" He demanded.
Spike was nodding his head in time to the song on the jukebox and didn't hear it at first. "What?"
"You're so happy. And you're evil. Why is that, Spike? You want to explain?"
"Uh, well," Lorne said thoughtfully. "Not sure if that's entirely accurate."
"What do you know?" Angel said scornfully. "Why are you happy? I'm not."
"Maybe it's that damned hair." Spike snapped. Inside, he groaned.
The waitress deposited another tray of ammunition in front of them and scurried away. Angel took another glass and gulped it down straight. Even Spike was awed; the stuff had to be about sixty proof, and humans who drank it typically didn't finish a liqueur glass full of it. With vampires, three was absolute tops, and Spike didn't think he'd ever seen even Angel go that far. And there he was, two thirds of the way there. "Maybe," Angel said judiciously, "it's because you're evil."
Spike was startled. "Evil? Me? Huh. Haven't really devoted a lot of effort to it, mate." Kind of hard to, as well, when all you could think of was a girl with a thousand-mile look in her eyes, whose kisses made him shiver. Couldn't exactly pull off a caper when all you wanted to do was crawl in her bed and lodge yourself forever between those legs, in her warmth, and just dissolve.
"Love does that to people," Lorne pointed out helpfully.
"You don't believe that, do you?" Angel said scornfully. "He's a vampire."
"What are you, Peaches?" Spike asked, but there was more wonder than anger in Spike's voice. "Oh!" He exclaimed. "I get it now. I'm a vampire -- and you're not. You're special. You're the vampire with a soul, and there are rules only for you. You're the only vampire who can love, is it? Think so? You sound just like a Watcher, trying to get some sleep at night. Trying to think we're all just wolves who need putting down." He pushed aside all thought of his hobby of demon-killing for the sheer joy of it, plunged on ahead. His head was light and fizzy, and he practically bounced in his seat at the thought of unloading some very old baggage. "Make you feel different, does it? Is it worth a hundred years of celibacy?"
"You just proved my point, Spike." Angel said quietly. "Is it just sex to you?" Even as he said it, he knew it was unfair. Spike had been far more loyal to Dru than he himself had. Nevertheless, Spike was evil. He didn't deserve credit for whatever good things he might have done accidentally.
Saving the world, for example.
Not my fault. Wasn't me. Angelus did that. Tried to do that. Not me.
Spike was staring at him. "Is it just sex, Angel? For me or for you? Is that why you left Buffy? Because you couldn't have sex with her? Was that perfect happiness to you? You came? God, if you jerk off, we're all in danger then. How will you try and destroy the world then? Kind of running out of options, aren't you, mate?" He jumped to his feet, swaying as the absinthe hit him all at once. "You and that soul, still hasn't changed much of the Liam within, has it?"
"Yeah, you're Chip boy. Whatever you've done, or not done, is just because of the chip."
Spike knew he should have been deeply angered at this, but he just couldn't figure out why. The chip didn't make him love Buffy or Dawn or miss Joyce's cocoa. And the soul hadn't changed Angel into less of a bastard. It had just made him feel sorry for himself.
"Does it bother you, mate?" He asked quietly.
"What? Having a soul?"
No— having that hair, Spike thought, but he manfully bit his tongue. "All the things you did."
"Yes." Angel said firmly, and with a great burst of relief, Spike convinced himself that his grandsire was lying. He hadn't been much exposed to the soul-having angel -- too inconvenient to have those barf bags always jammed in one's pockets -- but he knew right then and there that Buffy felt more guilt for driving badly than Angel did for all his kills. And as for Dru and Darla, well, he wouldn't toss them a glance.
"And you, Spike?"
"Me? Hm." Spike thought about it. "Good question. Hadn't really thought about it." Actually he had. There were some kills he relished, occasionally hauling out the memory when he was bored, or just drifting off to sleep. There were the party guests after he'd gotten turned, for example; there were certain individuals in Prague, for another, but the rest? Why pretend? He looked at his sire thoughtfully. "Can't say I do."
"See?" Angel demanded triumphantly. "Proves my point."
"That I'm evil? This isn't exactly late-breaking news."
"Why did you come here, Spike? I'm curious."
"Actual money, and I know you have pots of it."
"Why do you need money for?"
"Same reason you do. Make my way in the world."
"Why come to me? Why not just--"
"Can't." Spike shrugged. Buffy would definitely not be pleased if he robbed Sunnydale Federated. For one thing, it would be hard to overlook. "You have money, and besides, it's not all that much."
Spike shrugged, trying to keep his excitement from showing. "Couple of grand."
Angel thought about it for a minute, then smiled. It was not a pleasant or angelic smile. He looked quite close to Angeles there.
"I'll give it to you on two conditions."
"You never come back to Los Angeles, ever."
Big deal. Like the guy had psychic friends network, keeping him informed. Spike shrugged.
"Well, so?" Angel demanded.
"Yeah, okay, I guess. He looked up nervously. "What's the second condition?"
Angel smiled that smile again. "Your coat."
Continued in Chapter 20