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Shades of Swinburne

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Willow and Buffy pushed the door open and chattered their way into the room where Giles was bent over a heap of books. Ignoring him, they dropped onto the couch, still engrossed in conversation.

Spike shifted in his bonds. "Hey! Close the bloody door after you can't you? There's sunbeams around y'know!"

The girls barely looked round; Willow pulled a substantial book from her bag. "Look," she said, "It wasn't just about the painting. I grant you Rosetti wasn't such a good artist, but the poems he wrote were wonderful, and his sister's were even better. And he was friends with Swinburne…"

Spike snorted. "Swinburne? Don't tell me that berk's come back into fashion."

The students might have ignored his demand for door closure, but not this. Their heads swivelled in his direction. "Berk?" asked Willow, "why a berk?"

"And what's a berk?" added Buffy.

Giles looked up. "British language you really do not need to use. Shut up, Spike. Willow, if you have a moment? This Sumerian inscription is looking very fruitful."

Willow gave her friend a wry grin. "We can talk poems later, Buff," she apologised, "but this is serious research. And you know me with the researchiness."

"Oh yes,"answered Buffy, "you're Mistress Research-Meister. You go with the groove. I'll work on this paper alone for a bit."

Willow was not at all deceived by her melodramatic sob. "You like the poetry course, you know you do. You even asked questions today. You can manage this." She hurried to join Giles at the table and within minutes both were utterly absorbed in cuneiform texts.

Buffy sighed softly and returned to her book. The vampire glared at her, un-noticed. The room was all peace for a several minutes.

Almost inevitably it was Spike who broke the mood. "Didn't you hear what I said about the bloody door? That sodding sun's moving round and if you don't want crispy fried vampire on your conscience you need to do something about it."

It was Buffy's turn to snort now. "And why, exactly, would it be on my conscience, Spike? What do you know about consciences anyway?"

His voice rose in pitch a notch, "There's no need to be like that, Slayer. Be a good girl and shut the door for me, eh?".

Buffy smiled. It was not a friendly smile. "So, Spike. What exactly is in it for me if I do close the door for you? After all, fresh air is good for us all."

Spike yelped. A beam of golden light was making its way steadily towards his boot. He rocked his chair frantically but to no effect. "Look, Slayer, give a bloke a chance, eh? I know," as inspiration struck, "I can tell you about those poncy poets you and Red were wittering on about if you like. I met some of them, you know."

"What?" Giles jerked round, "You knew poets?" This really didn't fit his image of the Spike of a century or so earlier. "Which poets? Keats? Byron?"

"Don't be bloody stupid, Rupes. They were dead before I was born. Decades before. Nah – it was that lot your little girlies were talking about when they came in. Met most of them back in the day."

He had the attention of all three of them now. The garrulous vampire with the annoying line in British slang had known Victorian poets? How on earth could that have happened?

"Yeah," he was getting into his stride now, "met them, noticed they were wankers, moved on."

"So you wouldn't exactly be much use to students of their poetry now, would you?" said Giles.

Spike's brain went into overdrive so fast the group could see the cogs whirring. "Well, might have had a bit more 'n that to do with them. Please, Slayer," his voice more urgent now, "shut the bleedin' door and I'll tell you what I know."

Making her moves as slinky, slow and sultry as possible, Buffy drifted to the door and leant on it gently, her hands behind her back as it pressed the thing shut. "Go on, Spike. What do you have to tell me to make it worth all this effort?"

Spike swallowed. Buffy grinned. She still had it. Even after Willow's spell which was never to be spoken of again had ended, she could still bring that hungry look into his eyes.

"What d'you want to know? Tennyson was the big gun – I never met him. Rosetti and his pals – they fancied themselves something rotten – wild lads they were – or thought they were. No bloody idea at all, really."

"Swinburne," said Buffy, "You reacted to that name when I said it. Why?"

"Plonker stole something of mine," Spike muttered. "Gimme that book."

Buffy was intrigued despite herself and held the book so Spike could read it.

I found in dreams a place of wind and flowers,
Full of sweet trees and colour of glad grass,
In midst whereof there was
A lady clothed like summer with sweet hours.

Giles smirked. "And that, my dears, is why much mid-Victorian poetry is justly forgotten. "Grass" rhyming with "was" indeed. And how, exactly, do you clothe a lady with sweet hours?"

It was just as well that both girls indignantly turned to Giles at that moment, eager to argue the merits of the poem with him. An extremely strange expression crossed Spike's face – a mix of pride, nostalgia and pain. He shook his head and his customary sarcastic face was all they saw when they turned back.

"You may mock, but cutting-edge stuff that was, back in the day. All about the nature symbolism, you know. We – I mean those pampered stuck-up gits – liked love poetry to be full of images like that – little birds and flowers and hearts. Got the girls interested."

"What about this bit, then?" asked Willow, reading aloud,

Her beauty, fervent as a fiery moon,
Made my blood burn and swoon
Like a flame rained upon.
Sorrow had filled her shaken eyelids' blue,
And her mouth's sad red heavy rose all through
Seemed sad with glad things gone.

"Well, it's obvious, innit? Dark, fiery beauty, flame and sorrow. Blood burning – all that sort of stuff meant a lot to the ladies back then. Why some poor gits used to write poems just to read aloud to their lady-loves."

"Was this one of those?" Buffy asked, momentarily curious. "Oh, never mind. Let me get this right. You're saying this was a fashion and used to lure the girls?"

"In a way. Didn't always work, mind. But it was worth a try. So they said."

"Oh. My. God." Squealed Willow, "Listen to this next bit:

She held a little cithern by the strings,
Shaped heartwise, strung with subtle-coloured hair
Of some dead lute-player
That in dead years had done delicious things.

That is just such rubbish."

"Why exactly have you been given this stuff to read?" interposed Giles. "It's not exactly first-rate, now, is it?"

"Oh, it's for a paper," replied Willow. We have to choose three poets of this period from England and compare them with three from America, like Longfellow and Emily Dickinson. Was the old world decaying compared to the new, that sort of thing."

Spike sputtered furiously. "Longfellow? Not fit to touch the foot of old Lord Alfred!I see what they're up to – point you at poets with the idea already fixed that they are rubbish to pump up your sodding Colonial self-esteem." He looked almost hurt, if that were possible for a vampire.

"And if we are, is it your problem?" said Buffy sweetly, "To hear you anyone would think you wrote them yourself." The three humans laughed loudly. What a crazy idea.

Spike scowled and shifted, twisting his body away from them as much as the ropes would allow. Willow and Giles returned to their ancient language and Buffy started making pencil notes about the poem.

Only a very observant person would have noticed how full the vampire's eyes were at that point. And there was nobody observant in the room.

*****

A portrait of Swinburne. Remind you of anyone?