Spike knew the place, though it had changed in just a few short years. What had been shabbily clinging to respectability had been mended, slapped with a new coat of paint, and become young again. The dance hall was a proper theatre, now, and the gin counter had become a popular absinthe stand. Drusilla stopped dead in her tracks, peering at people huddled in dark booths over elaborate silver spoons and wide-lipped glasses.
“Perhaps we’ll see a fairy,” Drusilla teased, dragging Spike behind her.
Her gown was brown georgette with tiny clovers of white embroidered haphazardly, like someone had thrown handfuls of petals at her. She’d fallen in love with it and insisted on stalking its original owner for days to kill the woman without ruining the dress. It fit her perfectly. Dru always knew a good fit when she saw one.
Spike set his hand against her waist, just above the swelling flounces of her bustle. Bustles were getting smaller, he noticed, and skirts weren’t getting any fuller. He looked forward to some day soon being able to appraise a woman’s arse while she was still clothed.
He waved to the proprietor, a coin grasped between the tips of his fingers. “Perhaps, pet. Though I’m suspecting it’s over-rated. If it really made you as high as all that, they’d charge more.”
Drusilla’s mad face beamed. “All the quality… wanting to hear the stars sing as I do. Oh, Spike!” She started to sway, dancing to her own silent tune.
Spike guided her to an empty chair, and only after he had her seated realized that none of the crowd had noticed her rambling, or cared. He smiled to himself. This was social change he could get used to!
The waiter arrived, with two glasses, and all the paraphernalia the new fad required – slotted spoons, sugar cubes in a little glass dish, a narrow ewer of water. He set these down before them with brusque professionalism. “Will you be having the top-shelf, the house special, or the inexpensive choice?” The waiter’s eyes traveled down Spike’s clothing, no doubt suspecting the latter choice.
“Your best,” Spike said, with just a hint of contempt.
But Drusilla stopped his hand as he reached to put coin in the waiter’s hand. “No, Spike! We must get the one with the purple lilacs on the label.”
The waiter squinted. “The Jolicia? Are you serious?”
Dru nodded enthusiastically.
“Whatever the lady wants,” Spike said.
The waiter hovered a few seconds, giving him a chance to change his mind, but seeing him adamant, turned to leave with a muttered comment about varied tastes.
Drusilla was practically bouncing. Spike squeezed her arm. “Why that one, petal?”
“The fairies are in it,” she replied, as though this was the most obvious thing in the world.
The waiter returned with the bottle, which boasted a badly printed label of only white, black and purple – not a good sign. The purple of the flowers was slightly off-set from the black of their outlines.
Still, the liquid poured off into their two glasses was a rich, emerald green, as expected, and turned dramatically opaline when the first drops of cold water struck it.
Spike attempted to pour the ewer of water directly in, but Drusilla chided him, taking over. “It must be done slowly,” she said, serious and calm as she let droplets drip from her lace-gloved fingers.
“It’s unnecessarily complicated. Why not just make the shite sweeter?” But Spike smiled as he said it. He could see the appeal in unnecessary complication, the delight of new ceremonies. Drusilla presided over their glasses like a priestess dispensing wisdom. “Are you going to have absinthe parties with your dollies now?”
Drusilla’s quick glance danced with promise of future mischief before she went back to oh so slowly dribbling water like blood from her fingertips.
Spike kept his tongue, then, and admired the swirling color and Drusilla’s reaction to it, her mouth a perfect “oh” of delight, the swirls reflected in her dark, wide pupils.
All too soon, the little cubes of sugar were dissolved, crumbling at last to fall between the slots of their spoons. “Poor dying toffee,” Drusilla cooed. “We shall drink to his death, him and his cousin.”
Spike smiled and picked up his glass. “Here’s to…” he checked the label. “Liverpool’s finest.” He shook his head.
“Drink with me, Spike,” Drusilla’s plump lips hovered at the edge of the glass, mouth slightly open, as though asking for something far less public.
Spike knocked back half his glass.
And gasped, slapping the table, for twenty seconds. Tears touched the corners of his eyes. “That’s vile!”
Drusilla sipped hers delicately, with a knowing smile.
“No. It tastes like…” he rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, hoping to get some of the flavor off. “Gah. Why am I trying to think what it tastes like? Tastes like melted tin, dirt, and bitter weeds.”
“Take another sip, Spike, slowly.”
He watched her lips moving, and the world seemed to slow down a degree. He reached for his glass, and it took longer than expected to feel the cool stem against his fingers. He took a slower sip, and yes, that was better – though maybe his taste buds had all been burned out with the first go. He thought he tasted a bit of anise, and the sugar, sweetening the rest.
Though, really, wasn’t that like washing a lead pipe down with a lemon wedge?
The inside of his scalp was tingling – the side facing his brain, and he thought he could feel the individual roots of his hairs, all tugging in some wind that didn’t touch his face.
Drusilla’s silken hand cupped his cheek, turning him toward her, and he saw the stars in her eyes.
“Do you see, Spike?” Her voice sounded as though from a great distance away, down a corridor, but her face was close, very close, and his lips were pressing to hers before he could answer.
Yes, he saw. He saw it all.
Somehow they were dancing, then, and the bar was gone, replaced with swirling lights and the mad music of calliopes. He held on to her slender waist as his only lifeline and together they spun and spun and spun under the stars and laughing sky.
He woke up the next afternoon in a chicken coop, covered all over in feathers and the blood of some poor bastard whose general appearance and social class were hard to determine, since he was spread pretty evenly around the barn.
Also, Spike’s head felt like an over-ripe melon about to burst.
But Drusilla crawled over to him, her new brown dress quite ruined, and set her hands on his chest and peered into his eyes like an eager kitten. “You did see it, Spike, didn’t you? You saw the fairies?”
And despite the headache, the taste of dirty feathers in his mouth, and the itch of a hundred tiny sunlight pinholes peeking at them through the shabby roof, Spike smiled. “I did see them, petal. I saw them with you.” He brushed feathers out of her hair and she kissed him rapturously.
“Normally, absinthe is just bloody high octane alcohol with herbs,” Spike twirled his half-empty whiskey glass and looked forlornly at the amber liquid inside, reflecting the bright red and blue of a Budweiser sign on the wall behind him. “But it turns out the cheap absinthe brands used heavy metals to get the color right. Caused all kinds of poisonings. Hallucinations.” He tossed the last of the whiskey back, swallowed, and set the glass down. “Given how piss-poor this shit affects me, that glass must’ve been solid death for any human stupid enough to drink it.”
He glanced at Dawn, “That answer your question, bit?”
“Yeah,” she pushed the menu away. “Fine, Mr. Chaperone. It’s not like it would’ve been that cool, anyway.”