The Human Condition - Fit the Second (Fit the First here.)
In the men's room, I splash tepid water on my face, and reach for a paper towel, to find there aren't any. Just an empty dispenser, with "Jared Rulez" scratched into the faded paint on the front, and a missing crank on the side. Probably wouldn't want to touch it anyway - covered in god knows what sort of germs.
I reach a finger out and trace it along the cool, dusty metal, forcing myself to laugh. I *won't* turn into a health freak, just because I have some health to freak about, now. I used to go after those idiots on purpose, not because healthy blood necessarily tastes any better, but so I could watch their faces when they realized that all their jogging, all their toning, all their rice and potato and grapefruit diets, weren't going to help them live a single minute longer -- and they wouldn't even leave a good looking corpse.
I didn't like these rest stop places even back when I couldn't catch anything from them, though. No matter how convenient it might have been to duck into one on a road trip, wait for a sleepy traveler to stop for a slash and an overpriced paper cup of watery coffee, there's always been a wrongness about them. Every surface has a light coating of something old and oily, and there's always dead flies in the windows -- even in the brand new places, like it's part of the decorating scheme. Everybody I've ever killed in a rest stop loo has tasted rancid, left me wanting to wash 'em down with half a bottle or so of JD. Dru said it was the flavour of loneliness and despair. She loved it; popped vacationing kids and their worn-out, hard-eyed mums like humans gobble the stale candy in the vending machines.
The thought brings the image, so solid and bright that I could touch her, if I only believed hard enough. Not as she was the last time I saw her, but before. When she was happy. Naked and smiling, with that long, smooth hair just brushing the tops of her breasts, and those wicked, wicked eyes. I want to reach out, tweak that lock of hair off her shoulder, slide my fingers over the blue hollows of her clavicles. In a rest stop men's room, of all places to see her, where she wouldn't have ever set foot, too proper a lady for that. She'd be shocked. I'm shocked, when I see the grime covered surface of the sink, through the fading image of Drusilla; like I've tarnished her somehow, by thinking of her here. My fingers feel greasy, and I run the water again, washing them until they almost squeak when I rub them together. I shut the faucet off with my sleeve covering my hand, not wanting to touch anything here, after all.
When I look up, there's a man standing behind me.
I feel the strange, impossible jump of my heart, the odd adrenaline taste in my mouth that mixes badly with the warm soda I drank on the way here. He grins at me, in the mirror, and I want to smack him. For slipping past the supersonic hearing I don't have anymore, and putting this stunned, clownish look on my face. For witnessing my surprise, after a year, that I can see my own face to recognize and be disgusted by the expression.
That face disturbs me, so I look at him, for want of a logical alternative. He's dark-haired. Bigger than me, not that most men aren't. Fit, but middle-aged, and I wonder what that means even as I think it. What's middle-aged? Older than I look, younger than I feel. Somewhere on the shady side of forty, I decide, not that I care. I just want to leave him alone with his cheap windbreaker and his oddly satisfied look, and get back to my car and my irritating letter and my knowledge that I'm closer to Sunnydale than I want to be. That the time's gone too fast.
When I turn around to nod politely and walk out, though, I'm caught by his eyes, pale gray and sharp. He's pleased with something, maybe himself, yeah, but he's also appraising me. Looking at me like... It takes a moment to place it, and when I do, I almost laugh out loud again. He's looking at me like I used to look at a potential meal. When everything was easy and I had plenty to choose from, and could size them up, as to which one would taste sweetest, struggle hardest, run fastest. His fingers move in the pocket of his jacket, and I wonder what he's holding in them. A knife?
Panic, and the need to laugh is gone. I've known shit-scared fear, as a vampire. I'm not...I wasn't, immune to that feeling, no matter what the hype might say. But panic didn't come with the territory; I didn't have the hormones for it then. Now I do, and it floods my body, coursing up my chest and neck, burning in my throat and the back of my jaws. I swallow it, and try to grin him down, monster to monster, while I think, Spike, you moron, you're as bad as those health nuts. A hundred thirty years of preying on these people, and you're going to be taken down by a smiling serial killer in a men's room. And he's not even going to get off on your blood, not the way you would've on his.
He breaks eye contact first, quirks his lip up as he glances at the door. "Don't you hate these places? Make you feel like you're the only person left after the holocaust, when you stop at one late at night."
"Yeah," I agree, looking down at the floor, absurdly grateful to be free of his stare. And I do agree, is the ironic thing. I'm not glad for his company, but it did jolt me out of my own form of that lonely insanity, banish the memory ghosts from the room. Nothing like utter, blinding terror to perk up a melancholy mood.
I move towards the door. Not meeting his gaze again, but not showing my throat, as it were. Not scuttling. Never run from anything immortal, some writer said who knew more than he was pretending to; it attracts their attention. He was talking about harpies, and he was right, they're nasty, sharp-sighted bitches -- but it's just as true for vampires. Didn't know it worked for plain old creepy mortals too, but I guess I'm glad for the advice. I manage to push the door open smoothly and walk out into the lobby. Carefully, nonchalantly, across the open floor. Out the doors, forget that I'd wanted some of that watery coffee when I came in, just anything to be out in the cool dark air and leaning against the DeSoto, finally free to breathe as hard as I've wanted to for the last three minutes.
I want a fag so badly I can taste it, feel it between my lips. Wakes you up, calms you down, cures what ails you. Hot and smooth, faint hint of camphor in the menthol, used to be able to smell it and chuckle at the humans who sucked in that delicious poison, knowing what it did to their lungs, but not mine. Just one won't hurt, right? Not gonna get cancer from just one -- that's as much hype as ye olde fearless vampires. But I don't have any, and the cigarette machine, if there's even one left in health-nut California, is back inside the building. Maybe I'll pass. I might be going to die, but it doesn't have to be tonight.
I breathe the air. Just do that. Take it in, feel the cool, the clean, let it out. Taste the difference it makes when it's actually *doing* something while it's inside your lungs. Out here in the open, car door ajar so I can slip in and slam it before anybody could get near me, I'm less afraid. Able to wonder what he did have in his pocket, what he might have done if I'd tried to run, or if I'd brought my eyes back up to meet his.
I hear the building door open, and watch him stroll down the sidewalk. Towards me, and I should be panicking again, but I'm not. There's just a faint sense of unease, discomfort. Like he's someone I've met at a party and can't remember his name, and I just *know* I'll embarrass myself if I open my mouth. I grip the doorframe in my hand and it's comforting, the metal of this car that I've had since I was another species entirely, and ate his kind for breakfast. Comforting enough that I have the stones to catch his eye as he walks past, to the station wagon parked two slots away from me.
He smiles, tentative and confused. Looks me up and down, then asks me the question, plain as day, with those same sharp eyes. Answers it before I can, and shakes his head, giving a little wave before climbing into his car.
I'm speechless, as he fires it up and pulls off. I'm left alone in the carpark, with only the lights of the rest stop building near me, and the weigh-station further off, for company. Them, and my own laughter, when I can finally breathe again. *Now* I can laugh. I'm an idiot. He's younger than I feel? Bloody hell, I'm an infant. I don't know what I'm doing with this body, with this face that if I saw it on another man instead of in the mirror, I'd either want to slug, or devour. I can't read people anymore. That ability's gone, with the fangs and the super hearing and the decent vision. I don't know this world, and there was the best example of it yet: I wasn't being stalked; I was being cruised.
Puts a whole new spin on what I'd have done if we'd looked at each other again, inside, though I think it'd have been the same. Not in a rest stop loo; I'd feel mildly greasy for the rest of my life. And there's that letter, too, on the car seat.
I manage to get back on the road without going back, for either coffee or cigarettes. God knows I'm awake enough now, not to need either.
"Some writer" being Peter S. Beagle, in The Last Unicorn.
Fit the Third.