When you look at it logically, the Bronze has to be operating under some kind of spell.
It isn't as if you don't know what you're getting. Bunch of college kids playing at grown ups. Beer that's too cold and full of gas. Some crappy guitar band in oversized knitwear singing about inner pain in wispy voices. Shite, really, yet week after week there you are, going back for more. There has to be some kind of magic behind it.
Spike sighs, tapping out an angry rhythm on his beer bottle. The Scoobies are out of town, the Hellmouth's been disturbingly quiet for the last couple of weeks and he doesn't even have the cash to get seriously pissed. Still, he's all chipped up with nowhere else to go, so here he is, scanning the crowd for someone who might be persuaded to buy him another beer.
And it looks as if his luck's in. The girl next to him picks up her drinks and moves away from the bar, dropping a five dollar bill as she goes. Spike slides off his stool to pocket it before anyone else notices, which is how he gets to see the feet first. Biker boots, well worn. Long legs in narrow leather trousers and a dark green shirt -
He straightens up so he's looking at the guy's face and the whole mental process shuts down for a moment, then starts up again in a totally different gear. Black hair brushed back from narrow, pointy features, mouth curved in a way that could almost be a smile and something about the eyes that isn't quite right. The smell of power, overheated. Not a vampire, not any sort of demon he's seen before, definitely not human.
Well, hello, Hellmouth.
'You're new,' Spike says, climbing back onto his bar stool and swivelling round to look at his beer, nonchalant.
'It is my first visit to this place,' the pointy guy says and Spike swivels back again, sharpish, because his voice is soft, educated and pure Home Counties.
'You're not related to Rupert Giles, by any chance?' Stranger things have happened in Sunnydale.
'Rupert Giles? The name is unfamiliar to me.'
'I am Loki, of Asgard,' the guy says, 'And I am burdened with a furious thirst. What refreshment would you recommend?'
Spike holds up his bottle. 'Not what you'd call real beer, but it's the best they've got.'
Loki smiles at him, then at the kid behind the bar, a dangerously charming smile. No wonder the kid scoots over so quickly. Loki hands over a couple of notes and says, 'Two more of these, please.'
Spike's starting to like the guy.
Loki settles on the bar stool next to Spike's, which is impressive, because there wasn't actually a bar stool there a second ago.
'What is your name, friend?' There's the charming smile again, almost convincing.
'Spike. Thanks for the beer.'
'It is my pleasure.' They clink their bottles together and each takes a swig, but neither looks away from the other.
'You are not of this land, either,' Loki says, after a pause.
'You don't beat about the bush, do you?' says Spike. 'Not from hereabouts, no.'
'Nor like these others.' Loki leans towards him, staring intently, and raises a hand to the side of Spike's head. Not touching it, a few inches away, but Spike can feel it well enough.
'Hey, give it a rest. No mucking about in a guy's head without permission.'
The cold ripples through his brain, the hand drops, but Loki's still staring. 'Hmm.'
'Not a big believer in foreplay, are you?'
'You might be surprised,' Loki says, very smooth, with a look that stops Spike's reply dead and sets off another ripple, hot this time and nowhere near his brain. A second too late, he remembers to close his mouth.
'I'm certain that you are a vampire,' Loki's saying, 'yet there is something different.'
'That would be the appliance of bleeding science,' Spike says bitterly, taking another mouthful of beer. 'How about you tell me what you are.'
Loki doesn't seem entirely happy with the question.
'I could probably look you up in a book,' Spike says, 'And I can feel all of that - ' he waves his hands in a vaguely poncey gesture, meaning magic – 'So there's no point being coy about it.'
It's still not getting him anywhere, so he just keeps pushing. 'Not a vamp, obviously, and not a human. You don't smell like any demons I've ever met and you're way too powerful to be a fiend, a sprite, any of the little guys. I'm going to have to take a stab at it here and go with... a god?'
Loki thinks it over for a long moment before replying. 'In the eyes of the people of this world.'
Right then. A god. Fan-bloody-tastic. Like that always ends well. 'Here to take over the Earth, are you? Eternal dominion gig? I suppose you've picked the right week for it, what with Buffy off on holiday.'
Loki frowns. 'In the words of your vernacular,' he says coldly, 'I have been there, done that and had the T-shirt ripped to shreds before my eyes.'
'Oh yeah? Which particular apocalypse was that? I've been around for a few and don't remember your name up in lights.'
'Hardly an apocalypse... and from your perspective, it has not yet happened. It may never do so, in fact.'
Spike blinks. 'Hang on a minute. This is an attempt to take over the world that's going to happen in the future, might not happen at all, but you've already managed to fuck it up?'
'It was not my finest hour.'
'You can say that again. What went wrong? Did some bunch of sodding do-gooders get in your way and screw up your plans?'
'In essence, that was it exactly.'
'Well yeah, I know all about that. I've come to the conclusion that it's not even worth trying for the big finish any more. Achievable goals, that's the way to play it. Anyway, at least you don't have a bloody chip in your head that stops you - ' Spike comes to a halt, catching Loki's bleak look as he stares down at his hands. In Spike's experience, gods generally have a more gung-ho approach to world domination, even on the second attempt. 'Don't tell me they've muzzled you, as well?'
Loki's head snaps up then, and for a moment he looks genuinely shocked. Covers it quickly, though, right back to the neutral half-smile.
'What've they done, then? You've obviously not lost all your powers. I've shown you mine,' Spike taps the side of his head, 'so you might as well show me yours.'
'The device in your skull, what exactly does it do?'
'Stops me harming humans. No biting, no slashing, no bloody anything. Doesn't apply to demons though, and I'm pretty sure there's nothing in the fine print about gods, either.'
'You would not get near me,' Loki says, without malice, 'unless I allowed it.'
And Spike can feel it then as well as smelling it, the energy simmering just below the surface. Loki's just as powerful as anything he's seen, and he's knocked about with a few of the really big guns. What's holding this guy back?
'Come on. Share and share alike. It's only fair.'
'And fairness is important to you?'
'Hey! I may be the evil undead, the Big Bad, but I'm still British.'
That gets a smile, at least. 'It is complicated,' Loki says, after a while. 'The power is still there; let us say that I am having to learn new ways to harness it.'
He's obviously not about to give away any more than that.
'Lots of other ways to establish your claim, though, in the meantime,' Spike says. Water to wine, loaves and fishes, making the dead walk, that kind of small stuff usually does the trick.'
Loki shoots him a look of pure hate, and Spike starts to get into the swing of it. 'Of course, you'd have to get yourself a really good agent, some demonic henchmen. Could've helped you there, if I wasn't temporarily incapacitated. Your biggest problem's how to convince everyone you're the actual son of the almighty and not just another TV phoney...'
He glances at Loki, who's gone very still. He might have the British accent, but it looks as if he's suddenly lost the matching sense of humour. Dangerous. Not that thatwould ever stop Spike.
'I'm sure you can find room for me in the organisation somewhere, though you need to know I don't do the minion thing. And I'm definitely not prepared to kneel,' he says.
Loki's focus narrows, like a laser, if a laser involved ice. Something Spike's said has really touched a nerve. He takes his time looking Loki up and down, lingering about half way. 'Not unless there's a really good incentive,' he adds, just to wind the bugger up.
Loki spits out, 'I grow tired of your insolence.'
'So piss off, then. I was here first.'
Loki doesn't move, and Spike gives it a moment before he turns to meet another piercing stare, the sort that goes straight through your eyes to scrape around at the back of your skull. If Spike were human, he'd be edging for the door, maybe running for it, right about now.
Loki holds it just long enough and then says, softly, 'And after I bought you a drink, too.' His face melts into a sweet, sad smile, which is the most terrifying thing he's shown Spike yet.
'Well, if you put it like that.' Spike slams his bottle down onto the bar and Loki signals for a couple more, grinning now, before they both give in to genuine laughter.
'I like you,' Loki says, then drains half the bottle in one go. 'The ale, rather less so, although it quenches the thirst well enough. Your judgement was right about that, at least.'
'Well thanks,' Spike says. Then, just for the sake of conversation, 'What type of god are you, anyway? General all-purpose deity? God of fire, that sort of thing?'
'Puppies and rainbows,' Loki says shortly. 'You can look it up if you must, but I tire of it, as I tire of these mewling brats.' He tilts his head towards the stage. 'What else does this town have to offer, by way of entertainment?'
Something tells Spike that gambling for kittens probably isn't Loki's thing. Shame that the Hellmouth's been so quiet lately. Still, even on a slow night there's usually some action to be found in Sunnydale, if you know where to look.
'How about beating the crap out of a few demons?' he offers. 'Best cure I know for the lost-my-powers blues.'
And Loki's on his feet, shrugging on a leather coat that's appeared out of nowhere. He smiles, with a lot of teeth.
'Then let us go,' he says.