There's this place he likes to go when he wants to think. No paralegals or computers around. The glass isn't tinted, and nobody kisses his ass. No blood on the menu - just a killer cup of coffee. He hasn't told the others about it, and if they asked where he went every night, he'd lie. It's his place, damn it.
So of course Spike would show up there.
Or maybe the correct term is "pop up there", because he really does pop up. Angel blinks, and whoosh - there's the asshole who should be rotting in some London grave instead of smirking in an L.A. diner.
"Should've known you'd go for that Nescafe sludge. Never did have any taste, did you?"
He's gotten really good at ignoring Spike.
... Who never could take a hint. "I'd offer to punch it up with some prime bourbon, 'cept you'd just scowl and call me a lout. Isn't that right?"
Rather than giving him the satisfaction of a verbal sparring match, Angel starts humming. More specifically, he hums the theme song from I Dream of Jeannie.
He's nearly to the "bah-dum-DUM" at the end before Spike figures it out.
"You always did enjoy rubbing me until I went 'poof', Angelus."
"Which, if memory serves, took a total of five seconds."
"At least I didn't have to worry about premature soul ejaculation."
Shit. Angel doesn't have a good comeback for that one. So he just gives Spike his best eye-roll and stares out the window. Night's fallen now, but that doesn't give him as much solace as he used to. The office has spoiled him, with its sunlight and tempered glass. Tricks him into thinking the daytime is where he belongs.
God, he wants Spike gone. Hates seeing that smirking face everywhere he goes, intruding on the place where he's supposed to be alone. As if he hadn't already suffered enough with his soul; now he has to suffer through what was, perhaps, the worst thing he ever did - at least, circa 1880. He's now stuck with Ghost Spike plastered to him like a bad haircut. Should've known better than to assume that the deal with the devil only applied to Wolfram & Hart. Cosmic joke, but he sure isn't laughing.
"If you're done brooding, the waitress just brought you the check."
Angel reaches for his wallet. "Can I pay you off and make you go away? 'Cause really, money's no object."
For some weird reason, that actually shuts Spike up. Finally, a moment of peace! Never lasts, though.
"You think I want to be here, stuck to you like this? I'm supposed to be off in the bloody astral plane. Oh, but no. Not good enough for heaven - no big surprise there. Hell doesn't want me, either. I'd call this purgatory, except I doubt even God would consider Los fucking Angeles a neutral site."
Beneath the sarcasm, something in Spike's voice hits him deep down. Dark and frustrated and all too familiar. He's heard that voice before, though usually coming from his own mouth.
Not the vampire he remembers. The one who would find something hilarious in every situation - the more twisted, the better. When Angel got drunk, he'd mope, even before the soul. But Spike was a giddy drunk, mocking and laughing at everyone around him. Sometime, if he had enough Bloody Marys in him - Spike got a kick out of the irony - he'd joke around and buy drinks for his food before he dragged it out to the alley.
Spike isn't drinking tonight.
Over the rim of the coffee mug, Angel watches him. Spike's fidgeting. No big shock there. Instead of staring Angel down, though, he's staring out the window. None of the old predatory gleam in his eyes - not that it should be, since he's not a vampire anymore. That had always been such a huge part of Spike, though. Everything was a source of fascination and amusement.
Now Spike looks like a dead shell.
And that strange, pathetic spark of humanity in him is what makes Angel ask, "Everything all right?"
"I'm fine. Fuck you," Spike mutters, but he doesn't look up.
Yeah, that's him. Except it's not.
More silence, and Angel starts to wonder if he can slip out of here without Spike noticing. It's tempting. Hell, a long, romantic dinner with Lilah is more tempting than being here like this. But he's supposed to help the hopeless, helpless, whatever. Spike fits the bill.
So he sits and waits, and after a while, payoff.
"If God wants to torture me, why'd he send me to you?"
"Because he hates me too?" Almost gets a grin. Angel doesn't want to think about why that makes him so glad.
Spike's voice deepens, slips into ill-fitting melancholy. "I'm serious. Why you?"
Good question. Forget the amulet crap. Why wasn't Spike sent back to haunt someone else - Drusilla or, God forbid, especially Buffy?
Because he always saw the things you hid from everyone else. Because Drusilla turned him, but you were his sire. Because in those twenty unsouled years - and throughout the century after - he was a part of you.
So he pulls out one of his random pearls of wisdom, and strangely enough, it fits. "Maybe you're not here because of me. Maybe I'm here because of you."
A low, bitter laugh. "Hardly. Don't flatter yourself."
"Believe whatever the hell you want, William. I'm done trying to make sense of this. Go off and brood - you still have two hundred years of catching up to do."
Spike sighs and scrunches up his face in something between a sneer and frustration. And then something amazing happens.
He looks up. Eyes shining, lips pouting. It's like his whole body is unfolding like a flower. He looks just like that boy Angel had taught everything all those years ago. The one he'd fuck into submission, then hold tightly until the shivers stopped. The one he would kiss, but only after Spike was asleep. He's beautiful.
"It hurts," Spike groans.
"I hate you, you wanker."
Angel can't help but grin. "I hate you, too."
Then the moment passes. Angel folds his change back in his wallet, and leaves a few bills for the waitress. Standing up, he says, "I'm going home."
"Don't go jerking off in the shower tonight, or anything. Stumbling in on that would send me straight to hell."
Angel laughs and heads toward the door. "Afraid of performance anxiety? Think you won't measure up anymore?"
But when he looks back over his shoulder, Spike has faded away.
"See you at home," Angel mutters. Then he steps out into the warm night air where he belongs.
Continued in Theme from an Imaginary Film