Stuart Bowser was restocking shelves in Bartertown, his retail business, having an animated chat with one of his regulars.
“Chemtrails? Don’t get me started on chemtrails!” the male customer agreed emphatically.
“Yes, please don’t,” smirked his female companion, who’d been standing nearby.
He shot her a sharp look, which didn’t have the intended effect.
“Unless there’s a ‘Most Eccentric Customer’ discount,” she added with a grin.
“Oh, I’m eccentric!” he laughed. “Who’s the one who named our child after an homicidal ship AI?”
“Homicidal?!” she gasped. “How about, practically saved the entire human race!”
“AIs are worse than drones,” Stuart offered unhelpfully. “But wait’ll they get their AIs to control them BigDogs – we’re all plummed, then!”
“Well,” the female customer sighed, exasperated, “those clunky things can be neutralized with tripwire and trenches.”
“Yeah, but –” Stuart protested.
“And this AI was perfectly worthy of trust,” she interrupted.
“Tell that to Frank Poole,” the male customer scoffed.
The woman’s freaky giant eyeballs bulged as she stood there, one eyelid twitching. The man seemed to take this a cue to launch into an actual Insane episode.
“What’s that, your vertibird impression?” she asked, unimpressed.
“Verti– What? No! I’m having a legitimate outburst from a documented affliction!”
“Pfft!” she scoffed. “I don’t think they list ‘Meathead’ in the DSM V.”
“Anyway, at least your vertibird impression is convincing,” she said. “Maybe you should take your boy Stuart here back to the wastes and join the Brotherhood of Steel. And then you can go out and hunt synths with your meathead pals, and –”
“And burp into our power armor!” he finished. “Thanks, I’ve been meaning to do that!”
“Oh, you have not!” she said. “And what the heck are you smiling for!”
“Wait..” she realized finally, “you want me to get mad, don’t you?”
“I don’t know what would give you that idea,” he said with attempted innocence.
Things got real quiet and, before anyone knew to look away, he —
“Oh for plumsake, get a room!” groaned Freesia.
The lady shopper split, and Stuart’s son Ace arrived at the scene just in time to negotiate a bloodless exit for the dude.
“Hey, Mr. Monaghan. Thanks again for helping my dad earlier. I didn’t think we’d be able to recover that bathtub.”
“Sure thing, kid.” He said it a bit like Indiana Jones. Which was, of course, lost on Freesia.
Freesia continued to scowl at Ace as the last customer departed the shop. Ace knew by now not to take it personally. And not to let her know he thought it was kinda cute.
“Hello, doll,” he cheesed at her. “Let’s split this groovy joint, hm?”
. . .
Our intrepid teenagers were both too tired to do anything fancy after a long day of work and school, so they just hung nearby and relaxed, watching the clouds roll by. Freesia wasn’t really much of a talker, but Ace didn’t mind – he found they didn’t really need to speak at times like this; just being together was enough.
“So are you coming to the party tomorrow night?” Freesia asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Ace answered.
A particularly fluffy cloudblob rolled by. Neither of them were really paying attention, though.
“Can I ask you something?” Freesia spoke again.
Freesia was nervous, but she knew that she could talk to him about anything without worrying what he might think of her. So she spit it out.
“Buffy and Angel, or Buffy and Spike?” she asked.
“Oh,” Ace crossed his arms behind his head. “That’s easy.”
“Well?” she waited.
“Spike. No contest.”
Freesia rolled onto her belly, propping herself up on her elbows so she could see him better.
“Really? You don’t think Angel’s, like, better for her?”
“No. Besides that whole curse thing, Angel’s kind of patronizing. Too concerned with being Good to really be there for her. Spike goes to the low places and looks her in the eye; he understands her like no one else can.”
“Hm,” Freesia grunted in agreement, rolling back into cloudgazing position.
“I mean,” Ace continued, “I think Spike keeps her honest, you know? Like, it’s probably pretty easy for the slayer not to kill Angel, the ‘Good’ vampire; but Spike is like, a real vampire – he’s, openly, all kinds of messed-up. She’s gotta really look at that stuff. And at herself. Acknowledge that the separation between man and monster is not so distinct. When she decides not to kill that vampire, it’s huge.”
“Well, someone’s really thought about this a lot,” Freesia teased fondly.
“Hey,” he said confidently, “it’s what I do.”
“Besides,” he added,”Spike has way cooler hair.”
“Totally!” Freesia laughed.
They laid quiet again for a bit, losing themselves in thought. There was so much more Ace could say on the subject, but he didn’t want to push it with Freesia – it was unusual that they’d discussed anything at this length and he didn’t want to spoil the next one by taking too much now. Plus, there was a particularly pointy rock trying to burrow its way into his back. But there was one last thing he was dying to know.
“So I’m a Spike, right?” he asked, “I mean, if you had to pick one for me.”
“Huh? Oh.. no.”
“I’m not Angel!” he protested.
“Nope,” she said. “You’re Buffy.”