The Price of Fame (Starring Spike!)

The Price of Fame (starring SPIKE!)

By Michael Weaver

Rating: PG
Summary: Lorne is afraid of portals, Spike enjoys compliments and Gunn is having a bad day.
Spoilers: AtS S5 post "The Girl in Question"
Characters: Spike, Gunn, Lorne
Disclaimer: No character ownership, no character death, no character disfigurement, no character injury (ok a minor one), and no character legal problems or romantic distress.
Author's Notes: In the same verse as A Day in the Life of PuppetAngel.
Completed: April 1, 2005

***

CRASH! The helpless door flew open under the power of Gunn's booted foot, spraying splinters from where the lock had given way. He looked into the newly opened room in the basement of an abandoned movie studio lot building, watched closely by Spike.

"I could'a done that," Spike said, matter-of-factly.

"Yeah, but I did it."

"I'm just sayin'. Y'know. Wot if it had been a metal door? You ever think o' that?"

"Spike, I could see the wood grain in the door."

"Wull, yeah, but what if it had been a metal door cleverly disguised as a wooden door?"

"I'd've let you bust your leg, and then picked the lock," Gunn said, picking up his axe and entering the room.

Spike let a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. No one in the management group at Wolfram & Hart could talk macho with him like Gunn could; least of all the third member of their party.

"Do-- do you see the portal?" Lorne asked from behind Spike.

"I'm guessin' it's this great big glowing ball of blue energy in the middle of the room," Gunn replied from inside the room.

"You're sure that's the right one? I mean, heh, don't wanna end up back in Pylea by mistake."

Spike grabbed Lorne by the arm and pulled him into the room. "C'mon," he said.

"Watch the material! This is one of my favorite suits," Lorne protested. "I'm coming, I'm coming. I'm not scared, I just-- sorta have this thing about portals."

"It's the right one, Lorne," Gunn assured him. "Wes and his staff confirmed that this portal will take us where we want to go."

"I don't really want to go anywhere," Lorne grumbled. Then, to Spike, he said "You of all people should know to respect the coat."

"All right, have to go," Gunn corrected.

"If Wesley's so sure, let him go," Lorne protested, turning his back on the portal to leave. "Prophesies are his area, anyhow."

Gunn stepped in front of Lorne, blocking his escape. "And negotiations are your area," he reminded the demon. "The non-legal ones, anyway."

"Tha's right," Spike agreed. "I'm the muscle, and Charlie's your legal backup."

"And extra muscle," Gunn corrected. "Did you see me kick that door down?"

"Guess that explains the casual clothes and boots," Spike allowed. "Not very lawyer-like, is it?"

"Wes said to dress casual for this mission."

"He din't tell me that."

Gunn raised one eyebrow and cocked his head at Spike. He pointedly looked the vampire up and down.

"Oh. Yeh. Right," Spike said, looking down at his trademark outfit. Then, returning his attention to Lorne, he said "Anyway, Lorne, you're the one who's s'posed to be so good at making deals with these sorts."

Gunn set his axe on the floor and put both hands on Lorne's shoulders. "And if you can negotiate that Streisand deal, negotiating the purchase of a prophesy book ought to be no problem at all."

" 'Specially when that book's s'posed to say what's about to happen to us." Spike nodded at Gunn to show that he was ready, and Gunn nodded in reply. Then Spike stepped through the portal.

"Good," Lorne said, "now he's on his way and he can take care of it. Let's go for pizza!"

"Lorne, c'mon," Gunn urged. "Wes said it's perfectly safe. We'll be fine."

"If that's true, why are you bringing your axe?"

"Better safe than sorry. Would you rather I leave it behind?"

"Not on your life," Lorne said resignedly. "Or more to the point, mine. But you're sure that this is the right portal? You're sure that we can get back and don't need a spellbook that'll get left behind? I mean, it could happen. Again."

"You heard Wes the same as I did. He says the portal's a permanent corridor between this dimension and the other one. Always open. 24-7."

"Lorne took a deep breath and sighed. "I'm not really trying to get out of it, you know. I'm just stalling 'cause I'm nervous."

"Hey, I don't blame you," Gunn said. But just to make sure, he shoved Lorne into the portal. Then he started to step through as well, but tripped over his axe, and fell to all fours. "Damn," he swore, thankful that the others weren't there to see that. Rolling over to sit up, Gunn clutched his knee and rubbed the pain away. Then he stood up, shaking his head at his stupidity and clumsiness, picked up his axe and stepped into the portal.

************************************************************

Spike stepped out of the other side of the portal and directly into -- a trap! Somebody was trying to throw a blanket-- no, not quite a blanket, it was heavier and stiffer than that. Okay, somebody was throwing an extra-heavy blanket with lots of starch over him! Instinctively, he threw a punch into the blanket, hoping to catch who- or what- ever was on the other side. It gave, but came right back toward him. He threw another punch, and another, and added a couple of kicks for good measure. The blanket kept giving way-- he never did connect with anything solid hidden behind it-- but it also kept moving back toward him. Frustrated, he tried bitch-slapping it a couple of times, and let out a "RRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!" as his efforts seemed to have no effect. It was then that he noticed that the blanket wasn't so much a blanket, as it was a sort of-- curtain. Hanging. From the ceiling. Apparently minding its own business. Deciding that the curtain meant him no harm, he relaxed, and that was when he heard a woman's voice from some distance away saying "What's going on with the screen?"

He peeked out from behind the newly-subdued screen and saw a large, open room full of people milling about, some looking in his direction, many carrying what may have been icons or relics, a few carrying video cameras, some crowded around various tables, some just standing in lines that seemed to go on forever. The room had a very high ceiling, sort of like a hotel, or one of those big, modern-construction churches he'd seen on TV. "Bollocks," he muttered. That must be it. He was in some sort of church where they were filming their service, and he'd just beaten the hell out of the screen on which they were probably projecting the sacred image of the Great Prophet Zarquon or whoever they worshipped in this dimension.

"What's wrong with the screen? And what's that blue light flashing?" came the woman's voice again, closer this time, just over halfway across the room. She must be the director. Or the priest. Either way, it probably wouldn't do for her to find him there, desecrating the image or whatnot. He slipped out from behind the screen as stealthily as he could, and quickly mixed in with a group of people who were walking in a direction away from the screen and the woman's voice.

*************************************************************

Lorne stumbled backwards out of the portal, thanks to Gunn's shove, and realized with horror that he couldn't see the portal any more now that he was on the other side. He staggered back another step and bumped into something. The portal flashed into existance, then disappeared again. Keeping his eyes on where the portal should be, he reached behind him and smacked the object with his hand. Once again, the portal flashed and disappeared. The object must have been projecting a glamour spell which hid the entrance to the portal in this dimension. He turned to see that object in question was the back of a projection screen. "Whew," Lorne breathed, both relieved that he could find the portal again and happy to see the screen. "This might just be my kind of dimension. Guess this is why Wes sent me." He noticed that the screen had suffered much more abuse than the bumps he'd just given it. "They must have just watched 'Glitter'," he mused.

"Some guy just came out from behind the screen," Lorne heard a man's voice saying.

"Stop him!" Came another man's voice.

Lorne wasn't sure what faux pas he'd just committed, but he decided that he didn't want to hang around to find out. He stepped out from behind the screen on the side opposite from where the men's voices were coming, where there was some conveniently placed fake foliage with nice, large, green leaves. From there he slipped away unnoticed.

***************************************************************

There was a flash of blue light as the portal transported him to the other dimension, and Gunn blinked his eyes. All he could see of this new place was a dull, off-grey sort of color, with a sort of -- wrinkled kind of look. He immediately recognized it as a movie screen, one with which someone was apparently not very happy. "Must have just watched 'Glitter'," he muttered to himself.

"Did anybody see what happened to the screen?" Gunn heard a woman ask from not too far away.

Gunn saw two men walking away from very near the screen. "He went this way," one of them said. Figuring that it probably wouldn't be good to start out on the wrong foot in this dimension, he fell in behind the two men who were walking away, trying to look as if he had been with them the whole time. Then he remembered that he was carrying his axe, and tried to hide it behind his back as best he could.

He followed the men for a few steps, until he was close enough to some other people and decided that it was safe to break with his cover and hide in the crowd. To his relief, the inhabitants of this place all looked human. At least it seemed as if he hadn't stepped into a hell dimension full of unspeakable monsters. But then, for all he knew, it could be a Radical Right-Wingers dimension. He clutched his axe tighter. Since most of the people seemed to be talking among themselves, he decided that he wouldn't draw any undue attention to himself by speaking up.

"Spike? Lorne?" Gunn tried, glancing around, but his companions were nowhere to be found. "They can't have gotten too far," he muttered, and started walking toward the middle of the room. "Spike? Lorne?" He tried again, a little louder this time.

"Which do you want?" asked the woman who had asked about the screen. "Spike or Lorne?"

"Huh?" Gunn whirled to face her, startled. "You know where Spike and Lorne are?"

The woman pointed off to Gunn's left, in the general direction of a large, open hallway. "Spike's that way," she said wearily, as if she'd been directing people to Spike all day. Pointing in the opposite direction, toward some fake potted plants, she said "and Lorne's that way." Then she abruptly turned and walked on towards the screen.

Gunn paused for a moment, at first relieved that the woman had not noticed him coming from that direction, then relieved that she didn't seem to notice his axe, and then confused as to how the woman knew who Spike and Lorne were only seconds after they'd passed through the portal. Perhaps time moved differently in this dimension, and the few seconds between the time that each of them had entered the portal represented hours, days, or (PTB forbid) years. Or perhaps she didn't know who they were, and the words "Spike" and "Lorne" meant "east" and "west" in this dimention. Maybe "Angel" and "Fred" were "north" and "south." He chuckled to himself. "Maybe 'Gunn' means 'extremely large and well h--' hey, there he is!"

Looking in the direction designated "Spike," he caught a glimpse of white hair over a black duster, walking further away. Gunn followed quickly, trying to catch up.

He followed the bleached blonde out of the large main room and into a hallway. Gunn didn't want to attract attention by running, but Spike's vampire quickness was making it rather difficult to catch up. He walked a little faster. Spike seemed to glance nervously in his direction, then quickly looked straight ahead. "I'll be damned," Gunn said to himself, "he's speeding up."

****************************************************************

Spike entered a hallway that led away from the crowd of people. He had made his way out of the big, open room as quickly as he could without drawing undue attention to himself. He ducked into a doorway and waited for a moment, then peeked carefully out into the hallway to make sure that no one was following him. Although there were people milling about, none of them appeared to be taking any notice of him.

Spike reached into the inside pocket of his coat for a pack of cigarettes, and noticed that it had begun to slide down a hole in the coat's lining. "Oh, bugger," he muttered as he dug his hand in deeper. This allowed the pack to escape the pocket completely, and it fell deep into the bottom of the lining. "Bloody hell!" Spike tried to reach his hand down after it, realizing only too late that his hand was now caught in the hole. He tried to reach his other hand around to free the first one. Fortunately for everyone concerned, Spike was thus handcuffed when someone startled him by approaching him from behind and putting a hand on the vampire's shoulder.

"Come on in," the stranger said. "We're about to start."

******************************************************************

Gunn followed Spike down one hall and then another. The vampire glanced quickly back a couple more times and walked even faster after each glance. He didn't miss a chance to make any available turn, leading Gunn on a chase through a labyrinth of hallways. Gunn was losing his patience. "What the hell are you doing?" He snarled at Spike. This seemed only to make the vampire speed up. "If you don't stop I'm gonna chop your freakin' head off!" Spike emitted a squeal and broke into a run, finally ducking into a restroom. Gunn ran up to the restroom door and stopped outside. Was this what all the hustling was about? If he had to go that badly, he could have just said so. "Do vampires even use toilets?" Gunn asked no one in particular. He decided that he didn't really want to go in and find out. "Hurry up and get out of there so we can get this over with!" Gunn shouted at the restroom door.

*****************************************************************

Stone Armstrong Patton was a complete disappointment to his father. Despite his very manly-sounding name, he was anything but. The elder Patton, who was no relation to the famous general but took pride in the name nonetheless, was crestfallen when his son seemed to be much more interested in drawing and reading than in the sports Mr. Patton coached for the local high school. Coach Patton was mortified when Stone convinced his mother to enroll him in modern dance classes as a lad. He was just plain embarrassed when Stone got a part in the drama class' production of "Guys And Dolls." So by the time Stone graduated from high school and became involved in some vampire-worshipping cult, Coach Patton had stopped letting himself even be seen in public with his son. And now, Stone was apparently about to bestow the coup-de-grace of embarrassments upon his father: he was about to be murdered by some man with an axe, in a restoom stall, with his hair bleached white, Goth makeup on his face, black nail polish on his fingertips, and clutching his vampire doll.

"You're not a doll, you're an 'action figure'," Stone said to the doll. "You'd save me if you were real, wouldn't you, Spike?"

*****************************************************************

Gunn shifted his axe from hand to hand as he waited impatiently for Spike. A couple of people walked by, eying him nervously. "Hi," Gunn smiled at them, trying to look nonchalant, standing outside the restroom door holding a rather large axe. "How ya' doin'?" Just then, Spike came rushing down the hall from the opposite direction, hurrying past without a word. Gunn did a double-take. "What the--? How did he get out of the restroom?" Shaking his head, Gunn took off after the vampire.

He followed Spike back through the labyrinth toward the main great room, until Spike turned suddenly to enter a room with a sign on the door saying "Spike." Puzzled, Gunn entered the room, and looked around. And around some more. Aside from himself and maybe fifteen other people, the room was full of Spikes. Short Spikes, tall Spikes, round Spikes, thin Spikes. There must have been some twenty to thirty versions of the vampire in that room. As Gunn wondered if any of the bleach blonde heads belonged to the Spike he was looking for, he noticed some papers on a nearby chair.

"Okay," said someone with a microphone in the front of the room, "will the three finalists please come up here to the front?"

Ignoring the MC, Gunn picked up the papers to have a look. What he read shocked him.

"We're still missing our third finalist," the announcer said. "There he is. Can somebody bring him up front please?"

Flipping through the papers with increasing disbelief, Gunn barely noticed the disturbance going on at the other side of the room until a familiar voice finally registered.

"I'm tellin' you -- don't touch the coat."

"I don't really want to touch it, man." replied a man clutching the free arm of a very familiar-looking Spike as he led the vampire to the front of the room. "It's all smelly and gross. What, do you wear this every day?"

"And our second-runner up is..."

****************************************************************

"So," Gunn said to Spike as they left the room together, "how'd you manage to get second place?"

"Because it wasn't a bloody 'Napoleon Look-Alike' contest." In his free hand, Spike carried the autographed photo that was his second-place prize. He set it down on a small table. "C'mon, Charlie, give us a hand here. My hand's stuck in the coat. Don't want to tear it any more'n I have to."

Gunn chuckled as he set his axe down and started to help Spike to free his hand. "The man was right about the coat, you know."

"Don't dis the coat."

"How'd you get it stuck, anyway?"

"There's a hole in my pocket."

"'Dear Liza, dear Liza,'" Gunn sang quietly, as he pulled Spike's hand out of the coat.

"Finally!" Spike growled menacingly at the duster, as if to frighten it out of any further thoughts of misdoings. "An' besides, it's a bucket."

"What?"

" 'There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole'," Spike sang.

"Please don't sing no more." Gunn gave Spike an Angelic scowl. "Don't know how Lorne puts up with it."

"Speakin' o' Mr. Greenjeans, where d'you s'pose he is?"

"I might have an idea. Apparently that lady meant that there was a 'Spike' room and a 'Lorne' room, so maybe he's there."

"What lady? What room?"

"Doesn't matter. We're supposed to be here getting Lorne's back and we haven't even found him yet. Let's go see if there's truth in labeling."

"Right." Spike started to walk toward the middle of the main room. "Which way?"

"Wait a minute," Gunn said, picking up his axe and the 8x10 glossy photo. "Don't you want your prize?"

"Not really. Let's go."

Gunn stayed where he was. He couldn't stop staring at the autographed photo in his hand. It was just too disturbing. It looked exactly like Spike, and yet, it wasn't really him.

Spike stepped up behind Gunn and looked at the photo. He wrinkled his nose at it. "It doesn't look that much like me. I'm much more -- manly. So who is this ponce, anyway?"

"According to the paper I read, he's the actor who plays you in the t.v. series about us. Said he's from California."

"An American?!?" Spike shook his head. "I am deeply ashamed."

"Doesn't it kind of creep you out, though?"

"What, that I'm rrunning arround this dimension with an Amerrican accent?" Spike drawled. "Absolutely. Furr shurr, dude. I'm just a frriend of Charrles, herre."

"No, I mean-- well, yeah, that's kinda creepy, too," Gunn admitted. "Especially the way you do it. But no, I mean that there's a dimension where our lives are just a television show and people have conventions where they dress up like us."

"Me," Spike corrected. "They dress up like me."

"Well, apparently they dress up like Lorne, too," Gunn stated, " 'cause he's got a room named after him, as well. What I wanna know is, where's the 'Gunn' room? And for that matter, where are the brothers? Am I the only one here?"

"Uh, yeah, now that you mention it..."

Gunn started marching defiantly toward the tables in the thick of the crowd.

"Where're we goin'?" Spike asked, catching up.

"To the merchandise tables. I wanna see if there's any photos of the guy who plays me!"

****************************************************************

Gunn was flipping through notebooks full of autographed photographs and was becoming more and more outraged with each page he turned. "Spike, Spike, Spike, Angel, Angel, Spike," he said as he flipped the pages. "...Angel, Spike, Spike, Fred, Spike, Spike, that's probably Buffy, Spike, Angel, don't know who that woman is, Spike, Buffy, Spike, Angel, Spike, Wes, Spike, some other dude, Spike!"

Spike stood quietly (if not completely still) behind Gunn, smiling smugly as he listened to Gunn's testament to how popular he was. "More photos of me than Angel," he observed with great satisfaction.

"A-ha!" Gunn exclaimed, yanking a photo out of the notebook.

"Excuse me sir," the vendor started. "You can't just--"

Ignoring the man, Gunn whirled to face Spike, waving the photo in front of his face. "Finally! All those photos in all those notebooks and finally there's one of me!" Gunn looked at the photo more closely, and his nose wrinkled. "Is this the guy who's supposed to play me? It doesn't even look like me!"

"I'm sorry, sir," the vendor tried again, "but you can't take the photos out of the plastic--"

Spike grabbed the picture and looked at it. "Waitaminute. This isn't you, Charlie-boy. This is Robin Wood. He was the principal at Sunnydale High School."

"WHAT?!?"

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to--"

" 'E was a bit of a wanker, actually."

"That's not even me?!?"

"Accused me of killin' 'is mother. Which I did. Actually. But, y'know. Evil then. 'E had issues."

"Sir, the sign says very plainly that if you remove the photo from the plastic then you have to buy--"

Gunn spun around to face the overweight and athletically challenged vendor. Gunn raised his axe menacingly and grabbed the vendor by the collar of his "I heart Spike" T-shirt. "BUY?!? Buy WHAT? I've looked through TWELVE NOTEBOOKS OF PICTURES and there's not ONE OF 'GUNN'! I'VE SEEN FORTY-SEVEN SPIKE ACTION FIGURES of which there are AT LEAST NINE VARIATIONS. THERE ARE SPIKE T-SHIRTS, SPIKE BUMPER STICKERS, SPIKE NOVELS AND COMIC BOOKS, AND EVEN SPIKE TOILET PAPER --which gets into a whole weird area where I don't even wanna go! --There are even CDs OF SPIKE SINGING! THERE IS NO GUNN MERCHANDISE AND FOR THAT MATTER HOW COME THERE ARE NO BLACK PEOPLE AT THIS WHOLE CONVENTION?!? And you expect me to BUY THE ONE PHOTO OF A BROTHER YOU'VE GOT? I'M NOT BUYING ANYTHING FROM YOU!"

"C'mon, Charlie-boy, let 'im go," Spike smiled. "I like this guy."

Gunn released the vendor and began to calm down. "Of course you like him, he's got your name on his T-shirt and apparently he 'hearts' you."

"Ay, 'e's a fan. Gotta take care of my fans. You feel better now, Charlie?"

"Yeah," Gunn admitted. "Got it outa my system."

"That's good," Spike said in a soothing, rather condescending voice. Then he turned to the vendor. "Hey, how much for those sunglasses there, mate?"

**************************************************************

Gunn and Spike sat in the very back of the "Lorne Room." Lorne was, not surprisingly, at the front of the room, seated at a piano and belting out various nightclub tunes. The audience, none of which were actually dressed up like Lorne, listened with rapt attention.

Gunn sat staring at the photo of Robin Wood he'd bought as a peace offering to the vendor. Spike sat sprawled across the two chairs next to Gunn, wearing his sunglasses and looking a bit like Jack Nicholson trying to go out in public incognito.

"What the hell kind of name is 'Robin Wood' anyway?" Gunn asked. "What, did he steal from the wich to give to the poor?"

"Willow never mentioned having any trouble with him," Spike reported matter-of-factly as he looked around the room with a bored, disaffected air.

Gunn rolled his eyes. Then he sighed and shook his head. "X-Men. We're like the X-Men."

"What?"

"You know, the comic book superheroes."

"I know who the X-Men are. So what, you mean we're like mutants here in this universe?"

"No," Gunn sighed and shook his head again. "We're action figures-- well, some of us are action figures."

"Mm, I get it," Spike nodded. "In this universe we're collectibles that people buy up and talk about and paint on the sides of their vans. Like Andrew. A universe full of... Andrews." For the first time, Spike began to feel a bit queasy about being the object of veneration.

"Andrew-- he was that weird-ass watcher who knew you from Sunnydale."

Spike nodded, looking increasingly alarmed.

"Back in our world," Gunn continued, "there's one Andrew who hero-worships you. Here, there's a thousand of them."

"Hundreds of thousands," Spike corrected, his face brightening again. "Apparently I have the fan base to support nine different action figures. Only saw four for Angel."

"That's what I'm talkin' about! Doesn't it creep you out at all?" Gunn cried. "In our world you're an okay guy, the ladies like you well enough and you kick some ass. But here you're like, a sex god and the Justice League rolled into one!"

"And I'm a rock star," Spike smirked.

"I can't believe you bought those CDs. Multiple copies of those CDs."

"Figured I'd give 'em to Angel. And set his CD player to 'repeat'." An expression crossed Spike's face that was so mischievous that Gunn shuddered to think what Spike was picturing in his head.

"I just hope that the actor who plays you sings a hell of a lot better than you do," Gunn muttered.

"What're you talkin' about? I sing okay," Spike frowned.

"You're kinda nasal."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"Huh. But I could write my own lyrics, yeah?"

Gunn ignored that last comment. "Spike, did you see that puppet that lady had in her bag? It had bleached hair-- it was a Spike puppet! You didn't get turned into a puppet, Angel did."

"Actually, I think that probably was an 'Angel' puppet," Spike admitted. "Remember? You know, from when I bleached his hair?"

Gunn stared at Spike.

"What?" Spike asked innocently. "It was an accident! They dyed it back."

"Whatever. It's just that this is apparently the 'All About Spike' universe. I'm surprised there weren't any Spike vibrators for sale."

"There were," Spike confirmed. "Two tables over. Underneath the tablecloth. You have to ask for it specifically 'cause they don't want that sort of thing out in plain sight."

Gunn glared at the vampire.

"Nah, I'm just kiddin', mate." Spike smiled. "I made that last bit up."

Gunn shook his head again. "I can't talk to you. You don't get it. Or, actually, you do get it but you're enjoying it. C'mon, let's get Lorne before his 'peeps' swell his head, too."

***************************************************************

"Such a nice group of people, really. I don't know why I was so worried about coming here," Lorne smiled and waved back at some of his audience as Spike and Gunn hurried him out of the room. "It's like the Anti-Pylea, you know?"

"Yeah, yeah, this dimension is da bomb." Gunn didn't slow down. He could feel the eyes of everyone in the room staring at them. He led Lorne and Spike past the potted plants and back into the main area.

"Do people still say that?" Spike asked.

Lorne looked at Spike's sunglasses. "What's with the incognito, Pina Colada?"

"What, haven't you heard?" Gunn grumbled. "Take a look around. He's 'Jesus Spike Superstar' around here."

"Really?" Lorne looked dubious. "That seems -- unlikely, doesn't it? I mean, Spike doesn't even sing very well."

"Oy, I didn't hear anybody complaining when we did the big song and dance in Sunnydale," Spike retorted.

Gunn stopped and rolled his eyes, exasperated, and raised his axe. "Look, can we just find our contact so we can get what we came here for before I go all 'Shining' on your asses?"

Someone grabbed the arm in which Gunn held his axe, startling him. "Where have you been? You were supposed to be here forty-five minutes ago and now I've had to reschedule two lunches with peeps who don't like to be rescheduled if you know what I mean and now I'm prob'ly gonna have to offer them a bigger cut of the merchandising profits to keep them from walking out on the entire project. But I suppose I can just drop the word 'Oscar' a few times and--"

Gunn glared at the height-challenged man in the Armani suit who was holding a briefcase in his free hand. "It's not healthy to sneak up like that on a guy with a large axe."

The man's eyes narrowed and he raised a disdainful eyebrow. "Uh, yeah. About that. Not exactly low-profile, is it? Why don't you put your toy away before you attract any more attention?" The man released Gunn's arm, reached into the pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a business card, which he pressed into Lorne's hand as he shook it rapidly. He accomplished all this in less than the space of a breath, which he took before saying "You must be Lorne it's good to meet you can we go someplace and talk?"

"Now I see why it was important to bring Greenjeans along," Spike muttered.

Lorne looked at the business card when the man released his handshake. "Ah, yes, Mr. Kwaitkowski. It's nice to meet you. This is my associate, Mr. Gunn, who handles our legal affairs."

"Ah yes lawyer huh you musta' had the upgrade eh Dubya'n'ayche do that with a lot of their lawyers the opera singing gets annoying tho'." Kwaitkowski vigorously shook Gunn's hand.

" 'Kwaitkowski' huh?" Spike repeated. "Big name for a lit'le fella."

"Heh, uh," Lorne broke in nervously, "and this is my other associate Spike."

Kwaitkowski clutched Spike's hand. "Spike babe you're absolutely right it's a long name takes too long to pronounce the whole thing just call me 'Quite' for short."

Before Spike could seize on that comment, Lorne spoke up again. "It says here you're with a movie studio?"

"Right you are Lorne, we're a subsidiary of Dubya'n'ayche in this dimension my division handles merchandising tie-ins t-shirts comic books video games action figures that sort of thing."

"Not much bigger'n an action figure yourself," Spike observed.

"HEH!" Lorne glared at the vampire. "Uh, what he means is--"

"Not a prob not a prob. Hey what say we continue our discussion at the bar where there's not so many faces around okay let's go." Quite turned and strode off in the direction of the hotel bar.

"Now we're talkin'." Spike followed the man, happy that they appeared to be nearing the drinking part of their mission.

***************************************************************

Gunn took a seat at the uncleared but vacant cocktail table which the others had claimed. Spike was busily moving the empty glasses to nearby tables. It didn't seem to bother him that those tables were currently in use.

"All clear," Spike announced, returning to the table. " 'oo's got the first round?"

"I think we can take care of that," Lorne smiled graciously. "I must say, Mr. uh, Quite, that the people here are very welcoming. This is one of the most enthusiastic crowds I've ever met. Tell me, do they make 'Seabreezes' in this dimension?"

"Yeah I think so maybe." Quite gestured at the bar with his chin. "Looks like there might be a bit of a wait tho' and I'm not sure--"

"Think I can handle this part," Spike decided with a raised eyebrow, and strode over to the bar.

"So, 'Quite'," Gunn began, "do you have the merchandise?"

"Yeah it's right here." Quite glanced surrepticiously around the room, then set his briefcase on the table and opened it. The little man pulled out a thick paperback book, then closed and put away his briefcase and placed the book on the table. Both Lorne and Gunn looked at it dubiously.

"That's it?" Gunn asked suspiciously.

"That's it," Kwaitkowski confirmed. "The 'Casefiles'."

"Not very impressive packaging for such an important prophecy book," Gunn said suspiciously as Lorne began to scan pages. "And kinda obvious, with a big picture of Angel on the cover."

"Oh, why look, there I am!" Lorne said with surprise. "My goodness, this is very comprehensive isn't it? Didn't know seers had such flattering good taste for camera angles." Lorne beamed at Kwaitkowski and leaned over confidentially. "Usually we just seem to see woodcuts, and then half the time you're not sure if you're looking at a N'w'rathsa demon or a Boretz or..."

"Let me see that," Gunn took the book and began flipping through it himself.

"Just keep it down will you babe so do you have the payment?" Quite asked Lorne in a low voice.

"Absolutely. Just let my colleague give his legal opinion on the ver--"

"Hey, Lorne, there's my axe! I'll be damned," Gunn interrupted him.

"Well, imagine that," Lorne glanced over at the photo and nodded.

"Yeah I told you about that already didn't I? You need to put that away babe I don't know why you brought it anyway it's not particularly low profile is it?" Quite looked at the axe with some discomfort.

"Not so much the trusting sort," Gunn glanced up at him as he flipped to the end of the book. "Besides, can't say anyone around here has seemed too bothered by it, or Lorne, or anything else, really."

"Yes well." Quite glanced past him at a slender Spike look-alike near the bar who was gazing at Gunn and his axe with a look of mild panic. "I'm not so sure about that bubbie."

Gunn was frowning at a passage in the book. "Well that can't be right."

"Look Gunn babe it's not a good idea to stick around here too long." Quite surveyed the entire room again, from the panicked look-alike who was stealthily backing out the door, to the bar where Spike was slowly attracting a small crowd of intrigued-looking women.

"What's up with this ending?" Gunn asked. "I'm bleeding to death, and it says 'series finale'! What about next season?"

Quite smiled condescendingly. "There is no next season babe you've been cancelled. Show's dead."

Lorne chuckled nervously. "Heh. That doesn't sound too good. Do uh, shows in this dimension ever come back from the dead?"

"Lorne doll if there's enough money in it anything can come back from the dead."

Gunn looked sadly at a picture of Fred. "Not everything."

"Look fellas this is what your Mr. Wyndham-Price asked for if he's not satisfied with the contents that's not my problem. You and your vampire have already attracted lots of attention so let's just do the deal and split."

"Hey, Quite, babe, everything's fine," Lorne shmoozed.

"Why you in such a rush?" Gunn asked suspiciously. "And why are you so concerned about being seen? And for that matter, why would Wolfram & Hart in any dimension want us to have a prophesy that might help us figure out what's going on?"

"Gunn I love ya' babe but for someone with lots of Gilbert & Sullivan musical knowledge you sure have trouble pickin' up the tune. Dubya'n'ayche doesn't want you to have this book I'm sneakin' it to you babe strictly on the QT." Quite leaned forward and his voice approached a whisper. "Remember my studio's a subsidiary of Dubya'n'ayche well it wasn't exactly a friendly takeover dig we had movie studios in several dimensions including yours but they shut us down. That portal you came through is on our old lot it was a corridor connecting all our studios. The building we're in now used to be our offices before they turned it into a hotel and convention center."

"So you want to keep a low profile," Lorne stated the obvious.

"Genius, sharp as a tack Lorne, couldn't have said it better myself oh wait I did -- so anyway between this guy who looks an awful lot like Gunn and you with the dead-on Lorne makeup and that very convincing Spike over there you're turning lotsa heads you get what I'm saying? Now let's do this and get outa here."

"Well, Gunn?" Lorne looked over at his companion.

"Guess so," Gunn was still frowning. "I agree, pay the man and let's get out of here."

****************************************************************

Gunn and Lorne sat on the couch at Spike's apartment. Spike returned from the refrigerator with three beers and plopped himself unceremoniously between them. "So let's have it," the vampire said as he distributed the bottles. "Why's everybody so glum? What, do we all die in the end?"

"Yes, we die in the end," Gunn added as he took a swig.

"Well, you die, Gunn," Lorne pointed out. Then, seeing the tragic look on Gunn's face, he added "Uh, but maybe not. I mean, you might survive the multiple wounds and prolific loss of blood, right?"

"Yeah, but wot 'bout me?" Spike chirped. "I'm in there, right? I Shanshu or whatever, right?"

"It doesn't say," Lorne replied. "It doesn't actually say what happens to you or Angel or Illyria."

"Okay, Old Red Eyes, so wot 'appens to you?"

"Me?" Lorne replied. "I skip town in the end. Actually I'm surprised that I hang around that long."

"See, that's why I don't buy it," Gunn protested. "It talks about everybody having secrets from each other, Lorne running out on us - he wouldn't do that! It even claims that Angel has a teenaged son!"

"Now that's a novelty item," Spike raised an eyebrow and tipped his beer bottle at Gunn. "Yeah, right. So when's he become a daddy?"

"Not become," Lorne corrected. "Is. As in right now."

Spike laughed his machine-gun laugh. "So, what, 'e's got a son an' we just don't know about it 'cause of some glamour?"

"Pretty much," Lorne replied mirthlessly.

The smile left Spike's face. "Oh. I see." He began nodding to himself. "Of course, Angel gets a son."

"Apparently we've met him," Lorne reminded him. "That kid with the superhuman powers whose parents brought him to Wolfram & Hart."

"Spend a couple weeks in a holding dimension and you miss everything," Gunn muttered.

The three of them fell silent for a few moments until the vampire spoke up again. "So when we gonna take this book to Percy?"

"After we're good and drunk," Gunn replied, draining his beer. "Gimme another one."

"Speakin' o' which," Spike said as he got up to fetch another round of beers. "What happens to ol' Percy?"

"Dies," Lorne and Gunn replied simultaneously.

"So it's just me an' the poof and Blues Clues next season?" Spike asked. "And, oh God, Harmony!"

"'Fraid not, sweetie," Lorne shook his head. "We've been cancelled."

"Cancelled? What right bastards did that?" Spike was incredulous. "As popular as I am? What, do we have to get thousands of people to clap their hands and chant 'I do believe in vampires, I do believe in vampires'? What about the action figures?"

"Guess it's all over," Lorne sighed.

"Well, I still don't buy it," Gunn repeated. "And I plan to drink until I've forgotten the whole thing."

"Hear, hear," Lorne raised his bottle.

Spike shook his head. "So you figure this is a 'Ghost Of Christmas Future' sorta thing where we can change the outcome if only we keep the Spirit Of Angel in our hearts throughout the year?"

"And then Tiny Gunn will live," Lorne smiled.

"Ain't tiny," Gunn growled. "May be dead, but ain't tiny."

"Yeah, I can vouch for that," Spike confirmed. "Not as big as me, mind you, but-"

Lorne was startled. "Uh, how--"

"Yeah, just what was up with you haunting me in the restrooms when you were still a ghost," Gunn demanded.

"Just messin' with your head, Charlie-boy," Spike smiled slyly, pausing on his way to another swallow of beer. "Anyway, buck up, lads. At least there was one good thing about that dimension we visited."

"What was that?" Gunn and Lorne asked simultaneously.

"Nobody in their dimension liked Eve either."

The End

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