Lay Me Low

So, you come back from Africa, burdened with a soul like contraband that Customs won't let you declare, and your great plans are gone to merry bloody hell.

Which was fairly typical, given Spike's experience of life. He knew better, he really, really did. He'd read The Monkey's Paw, he'd seen all the old Twilight Zones. If you make a wish, the wish-granting whozits always find a way to muck it up.

He'd made his way back to Los Angeles, not quite sure why. Maybe he thought the Poof would give him some insight into this mess, maybe he just wanted to beat the crap out of his so-called Sire for giving the universe the idea that vampires with souls were a good idea. Hey, maybe there was some sort of cosmic copyright infringement going on, and they'd take back his soul like the Hollywood studios shut down all those Internet fan sites. Surely it was something like the Slayer, a whole Chosen One thing, only one vampire in every generation to be fucked up like this.

But there'd been no sign of Angel. Spike had gone to the glorious anachronism of a hotel his grand-Sire called home, and the older vampire's scent was everywhere, but old. Angel hadn't been in the area for weeks. Spike refused to call the twist in his gut anything but anticipatory glee that something horrible and permanent had happened. Not anxiety, not fear, not the dread that the only creature in the universe who was anything like him might be out of reach.

Maybe he was off on a colossal brood, gazing at his navel while the weight of the world pressed down on his perfectly coiffed head. The two humans lurking round the hotel, though, looked lost and scared, like something was very wrong. The Princess of Sunnydale had been nowhere about, and Spike would have sworn he remembered Angel Investigations had more people on staff than a couple of scared kids clinging to each other in the middle of a big, empty hotel lobby.

There was a bar near the Hyperion that seemed to understand the need to leave some brooding patrons strictly alone. A bottle of whiskey accompanied his dark thoughts. He was about to drink straight from the bottle when a stray thought surfaced--a gentleman drinks from a glass. He started to snarl mentally at that prissy voice from his past when he noticed he'd already poured the standard amount of whiskey into the glass and was sipping.

Glowering at the back wall of bottles suddenly reminded him of the Great Brooding Poof, so he focused his attention on the television on the wall, showing the evening news. Reports of death and mayhem cheered him, then his warm fuzzies were curdled by a wash of detached sympathy, the sort a kind-souled person would feel for the calamities of strangers half a world away. Snarling to himself passed the time of the commercial break, and entertainment news followed.

He sat up straight, staring at the screen in horror. "No! They killed Timmy! You bastards!" A sudden snort of laughter behind him made him turn. "Oi, what's so funny, ya git?" He briefly regretted his words when he saw the man.

Too thin for a Hell's Angel, too scruffy and leather-clad for a librarian. The eyes and twisted mouth warned of cruel words at the ready. The scar on the throat spoke of the man's capacity to annoy at least one person to the point of attempted homicide. "You are what is so funny," said the man in the remnants of a cultured English voice that reminded Spike painfully of home. "You're mourning the loss of a soap opera character."

"Nah, the actor too, looks like, and anyway, that's Timmy! On Passions! He was trying to be a real boy." Spike stared at the picture on the screen of the actor, a--what was the term these days, midget, dwarf, small person?--and he was horrified to feel real, actual tears prickling his eyes. "He was going to make it all come right after everything bad he did."

The man at the bar laughed again, a horrible, bitter sound. "As if anyone ever can. Such a thing presupposes that there are forces that will allow things to be made right. Which there aren't. The universe delights in finding fools who try to do the right thing and turn it into the worst possible course of action to take."

Spike ignored the man wallowing in his own griefs. A bloke leaves the country for a few weeks, trying to get back on the right path, and what's he get? The exact opposite of what he wanted and his favorite character on his favorite show dead. "It's the producers, they hated puppets. Or ex-puppets. Or little people. Some sort of hate conspiracy. Dammit." This time the gentleman in his mind didn't care about drinking from the bottle. "Bugger."

The man on his right chuckled. "I've found that a good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon 'Fuck' is useful at times like this."

"Yeah. You're right. Fuck. Good word. Fuck. Fuck it all to merry hell."

The man reached over with his glass and tapped it against Spike's bottle. "Indeed."

A woman appeared behind them, a well-groomed lady in buttoned down business clothes and a smirk. "I knew I'd find you here," she said to the scruffy man. "Please tell me that's one of only your first dozen drinks."

"Lucky number thirteen, I'm afraid. Number fourteen will be here in a minute or so."

"Wesley ..."

"Bitch needs taught a lesson," Spike muttered.

"I'm afraid she's a slow learner," the man said.

Spike didn't hear, too busy fighting nausea at the memories his drunken remark released. A bathroom, a tired, injured woman he was supposed to love, desperate cries ... He hit himself hard in the forehead, the shock of the blow derailing that slow train ride of horror and guilt. Don't think about it, don't think about it, such things lead to dirty boxes in alleys trying to live on rats that manage to outrun you.

It was going to be one of those nights. He slid off his bar stool, snagging the bottle of whiskey for company on what was going to be a long walk through streets and alleys, hoping to lose his memories in the maze. He paid no attention to the man at the bar or his woman.

She stared after the haggard bleached blond man stumbling out of the bar. "I know him. That was Will--"

"Yes, I know. If you're having a drink then get one. Otherwise, please just be quiet."

"But don't you want to know why he's in town? Don't you care?"

"No. No, I don't." Wesley finished drink number thirteen as number fourteen arrived, and he didn't spare the energy to worry about why even the undead cared more about the world than he.