Angel greeted Spike outside the Hyperion Hotel. Angel took stock of the younger vampire’s change in appearance. His new look seemed to give Spike confidence, but Angel was sorry to see the last traces of William Pratt erased.
“Back in my day,” Angel said, “men would tie up their long hair with a piece of string or a black ribbon. I’ll get you some ribbons.”
He pulled out the elastic band holding Spike’s ponytail, frowning at the stray and broken hairs that had come out along with the elastic.
“Until then, wear your hair loose,” he said, lifting up the curls to kiss him on the neck, his sharp teeth grating against the sensitive skin.
“You don’t mind that I dyed me hair?” Spike asked.
“I don’t hate it as much as I thought I would, “ Angel said diplomatically. ”Flaxen curls. It makes you look like a picture of Cupid on a Valentine’s Day card.”
Spike frowned. He didn’t want to be Cupid any more than he wanted to be a hobbit.
“Angel and Cupid,” Angel teased, “fighting evil together. Like Batman and Robin. The cursed crusaders. The demonic duo.”
Angel pulled Spike into the shadows. Heedless of whoever might be watching, Angel morphed into vamp face to nip the back of his lover’s neck.
“The doctor said that I’m healing, right, healing just fine, but I’m not... ready yet. I will be soon. I want to...” Spike said, nervousness rendering him practically incoherent.
“There are plenty of other things we can do, a leanbh,” Angel said. “I can wait.”
Spike smiled and leaned back into Angel’s arms.
Spike had given Angel a debriefing of what little he had learned. The Gaurog bodyguard had been very diligent in making sure that he had not seen anything that Wolfram and Hart did not want him to see. The vast glass and stone lobby, the carpeted hallways and (above all) the solarium with its Necro-tempered™ windows had given him an impression of the law firm’s great wealth and resources. Spike had gone on at quite tedious length about sunsets over the Pacific, reminding Angel that he had once been a poet, albeit a very poor one.
Spike told Angel that Dr. Dhaliwal had tried to recruit him, but he didn’t say anything about what the doctor had offered him. He kept that piece of information to himself.
Later Spike and Angel settled in for a quiet domestic evening. They sat side by side on the couch, watching television. It was Angel’s evening to pick, and he had chosen back to back episodes of Antiques Roadshow, first the British version and then the American. Spike laughed at the English toff who got all excited over a tea set. The Americans weren’t any more sensible though; they were willing to pay astronomical sums for anything with a Coca Cola logo on it.
“There could be some collectibles right here in the hotel,” Spike said. “Some of that ‘Americana.’ ”
Angel said. “This place is full of dust and ghosts. Nothing valuable.”
“I bet you haven’t even looked,” Spike said.
“These shows make it look like everyone’s attic is full of priceless paintings and letters from Lincoln,” Angel said, “when they’re actually full of broken chairs and old issues of National Geographic. I’m not going to agitate all the unquiet spirits in this Hotel just to look for hidden treasure that isn’t there.”
“Ha,” Spike said triumphantly. “That’s why you haven’t looked. You’re afraid of ghosts.”
“I am not.”
“Yes, you are. You Celts are all supposed to be mystics, fey, half-fairy...”
“Watch it, Spike.”
“when all the time you’re about as attuned to the supernatural world as a great Irish plow horse!”
“I’m just as attuned as you are!”
“I may not be a sensitive like Dru, but at least I know the difference between a draft and a lingering spirit! You walk right through a ghost instead of stepping around, and you never even nod to a ghost when it enters the room. If you just learned how to mind your manners, you’d get along with them much better. They don’t like being ignored.”
“Spike, you are the very last person I’d take lessons in etiquette from.”
Spike pretended to be insulted, but actually he was rather pleased. Spike was a yob by choice, not by birth or (lack of) education. It was nice to know that he played the role so well that even his own grand-sire occasionally forgot that he had ever been anything else.
Spike woke up from a bad dream and looked at the clock radio. Six a.m. was a miserable hour. The sun was up so Spike couldn’t go outside for a walk, nothing good was ever on the telly, and his co-workers weren’t due at work for hours. He found his clothes in a pile next to the bed and dressed in darkness, careful not to wake Angel. He slipped out the apartment and up the stairs to the lobby, leaving the door to the apartment slightly ajar.
Spike’s wages had gone out as fast as they had come in and he was looking for some cash in hand. Scavenging the Hyperion Hotel for collectibles seemed as good an idea as any. He imagined some long-ago child carelessly leaving behind his copy of Spiderman no. 1 in a dresser drawer. Or maybe a lonely commercial traveller had tacked up a calendar with a picture of Marilyn Monroe holding up a bottle of Coca Cola, and it was still there, just waiting for Spike to find it and make a fortune.
Spike decided to start on the top floor of the hotel and work his way down.
So far, Spike’s scavenging expedition had yielded very little. He’d found an old issue of Popular Mechanics in mint condition and a working bedside lamp of quite extraordinary ugliness. Hardly enough to keep him in pocket money. Spike tried the light switch on the fourth floor of the hotel. Only one light still worked and it was at the farthest end of the hallway. He placed his hand on the first door to check for the telltale chill that meant the room was occupied by ghosts.
Spike turned quickly. He’d seen something out of the corner of his eye – a flicker of movement in the shadows. He kept perfectly still for a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim light. He thought he saw something – shadows merging, darkness coalescing – but it was vague and semi-transparent. He couldn’t focus on it. He blinked, and then he saw it.
It was a cat, but a creature of glittering dust motes and shadow rather than a living thing. The cat must have been a scrapper, because he was missing part of an ear and his tail had a bend in it where it must have been broken and had healed by itself. It looked at Spike without fear – one supernatural being regarding another. It clearly thought of itself as Spike’s equal.
Spike took a step forward. The ghost cat stood its ground. Spike squatted on the floor and then slowly held out his hand. The cat took a disdainful sniff and then walked away from the vampire, with each graceful step becoming a less solid, a little less there, until it merged into the darkness.
When Angel walked into the living room, already dressed and showered and ready to start work, he found Spike engrossed in what looked to be some kind of arts and crafts project involving newspapers, scissors and string. Angel poured himself a cup of pig’s blood, put it in the microwave, and sat down next to Spike while he waited for the blood to warm.
“What are you making?” he asked.
“A cat toy,” said Spike. “Watch this.”
He’d made a kind of feathery ball of newspaper attached to a string. As Angel wached, he pulled the string making the ball quiver nervously and then hop; then suddenly the little ball of newspaper was scurrying across the room.
“You’re good at that,” Angel said. “Makes me want to chase it, and I’m not even a cat.”
“You’ve still got the instincts of a predator,” Spike said.
“But why are you making cat toys when we don’t have a cat?”
“We do. There’s a cat on the fourth floor – a ghost cat – and I want to lure him out. If it was a living cat, I could use a bowl full of milk or a dish of cat food, but it’s a ghost so it doesn’t eat.”
“Spike, there’s no such thing as a ghost cat.”
“Tell that to Stanley.”
“You’ve already named your imaginary cat,” Angel said.
The microwave pinged and he got up to get his cup of blood.
“It’s not imaginary.”
“Ghosts are the essence of human beings caught between realms. They can’t ascend to a higher plane because they're lost and confused or they are still tied to the earth by ties of anger or fear. Cats don’t have souls; therefore, they can’t ascend to a higher plane or be trapped between planes; therefore, they cannot be ghosts.”
“You’re always on about souls,” Spike complained. “Anyway, how do you know cats don’t have souls?”
“They just don’t,” Angel said. “I don’t know what you saw – maybe it was a stray cat – a real, living stray cat – or maybe it was just a trick of the light....”
“Want to bet? If I win you have to take one hundred dollars off me debt.”
“And if you lose?”
“I’ll dye me hair back to its natural colour.”
Angel followed Spike up the stairs to the fourth floor. Spike told him to wait in the stairwell.
“You’ll scare him away, clomping around like Frankenstein’s monster, “ Spike said, which was unfair, since Angel had climbed the stairs as silently as any other vampire.
Spike sat cross-legged on the floor and waited. After a few minutes, he could feel Stanley’s presence, though he did not look in the cat’s direction. Instead, he carelessly tossed the ball of newspaper down the hall and then drew it back in towards him. The ball of newspaper seemed almost alive, the way that it moved. It would pause, like a nervous mouse waiting to see whether the coast was clear. Then, it would dart forward a few more feet, pause again, then another mad scurry down the hall.
Out of the corner of his eye, Spike could see the cat. Its eyes followed the ball of newspaper.
Spike threw the ball again. This time it landed quite close to the cat, just out of reach. The cat was in a crouch now, its hindquarters quivering. Spike made the little ball dance. The cat pounced. Stanley was quick but Spike was quicker. The newspaper mouse raced down the hall. Stanley chased after it.
Angel, tired of waiting, stood in the doorway behind Spike.
“You win,” he said.
Spike looked up. He was smiling, as happy as in that moment as Angel had ever seen him.
For a second, Angel felt a pang of totally unreasonable jealousy. He wanted to be the one who had put the joyous, uninhibited smile on his grand-childe’s face, not some ragged, long-dead moggy. Then Angel turned and silently went down the stairs.
Forty-five minutes later, Spike came into the office carrying Stanley. His office mates gathered around. Stanley looked at them with a cat’s natural hauteur, as if they were courtiers and he was their king.
“There no such thing as a ghost cat,” Wesley said. “It’s impossible.”
His voice trailed off. It was hard to deny Stanley’s existence when he could plainly see him and even hear him purring.
“I know, right?” Angel said. “That’s what I told Spike. I guess we were wrong.”
Wesley didn’t seem to hear him. He reached out to touch the cat, which hissed at him, its fur on end. Obviously, no one except Spike was allowed to pet him.
“But if it isn’t a ghost cat, what is it?” Wesley asked himself.
The cat looked at Wesley and blinked, giving nothing away.