SPOILERS: Set during BtVS S7 – Him. Most of the dialogue was lifted directly from that episode.
SUMMARY: Even being a loser is relative
"...Back then I was quite the guy," Lance Brooks tells us, his voice flat and dull.
Funny; was quite-the-guy this boring when we were still in high school? I give him my practiced ice-cream truck do-you-want-sprinkles-with-that face, as though he has my full attention, but in truth I'm keeping an eye on Spike. You never know when his invisible friends might show up to talk to him.
Soulboy version 2.0. wanders around the room and stops in front of a shelf full of knickknacks, hands shoved into his pockets, shoulders hunched like he's shrunk in the wash. Barely moving. No wait, now he's touching stuff. Crap, Spike's not going to steal anything, is he?
"I gotta tell ya," Lance is saying. "There was a time I was worried about R.J. He was into comic books, Model U.N., geek stuff—no offense, Harris...."
False smile stapled into place, I crane my neck but I can't see what Spike's doing. A slow burning, well-justified anger pools in my gut, fuelled by wet towels and cigarette butts littering my balcony. Not to mention the sounds of insane ramblings on the other side of the bedroom wall. Why my towels? Why my apartment? Why me? What have I done to deserve the gaga house guest?
And the prospect of having to frisk the fanged fruitcake and return the stolen items? Oil on glowing embers.
Lance is still talking: "One time, I found all this poetry under his bed," he says. "Turns out, he wrote it. Then he, uh—what do you call it? Blossomed. That's what it was like."
I nod, never taking my eyes off Spike while he moves away from the knicknack cabinet. I try to yank my thoughts back to matters at hand. "And do you have any idea why he, you know, burst into a flower all of a sudd—?"
"You're wearing your brother's jacket. Here, in this picture," Spike interrupts us, pointing at the mantle.
Okay, so Spike's the one who spots the photographs with the jacket. Doesn't change a thing. Just because he's occasionally useful, doesn't mean I like having him around.
We get the info we came for, without having to beat up or stab anyone. No long-tongued blue-blooded demon grandpa this time, just a tired also-ran. I'm not sure which is creepier.
I stand up. "Wow, that's wonderful," I say. "Boy, it's getting late."
"Hey, you guys don't have to take off if you don't want to. I got sort of a rumpus room set up in the basement. There's air hockey and a mini fridge. We could party."
Basement? Party? Not in this life, pal.
"Lance? Do you have guests down there? There's little boxes of raisins if you want snacks."
Mrs. Brooks' voice is the last straw. Forget about the Hellmouth. This is the real Twilight Zone, scary enough to make your hair stand on end.
"We really gotta go," I blurt out. And, boy, do we. We make an undignified dash for the door and freedom. Sheesh, RJ's brother's stickier than treacle; nobody in his right mind would want to grab a few beers with this total loser. And, as we pass the shelf I stop to take a quick look. Maybe I can work out what Spike took?
Angels. Tacky, chubby porcellain angels with wings and everything. At least a dozen. Only, most of them are looking away, facing the wall. Giving me the cold shoulder. Spike must have turned them. What the-?
For a brief moment our eyes meet. I don't know what I'm seeing. Sadness. Shame. Whatever. By the time he averts his gaze, the hotness in my gut has evaporated. Then RJ's brother is talking to me again. I nod, smile, promise to stop by some other time, which, of course, I never will. Then, finally, the door closes behind us.
I take a deep breath, inhaling the clean cool air outside. Beside me, Spike is lighting himself a cigarette. Three. Two. One. What? No snide remark about Pizza Barns and au du melted cheese, about comic books or my Babylon 5 model?
Spike shifts on his feet and gives me a sideways glance, but stays silent. I wonder what he'd say if I were to ask him about the angels.
"Beer?" I ask.
A look of surprise washes over his face, followed by narrow-eyed wariness.
"To wash down the bitter taste of gloom and doom," I add, meaning the house and its inhabitant, but as the words leave my mouth, I realize I also mean him.
He takes his time to answer. Studies my face. "Not enough beer in all the world for that," he finally mutters, voice deep and hollow. But then a ghost of a smile appears. "But one can always try."