Hellmouth. A silly name. She'd been near it hours now and it never spoke. It wasn't a mouth, but a field made fertile with blood and flesh.
What should she grow in it?
She knelt. A single daisy pushed upwards from soil crawling out between the cracks of pavement.
Yes, she decided. Daisies. She would plant daisies and when they bloomed she'd squeeze their heads off one by one, as she'd pop the heads of children when Spike made her well again. It wouldn't matter that her seeds so often died, not in earth so rich and red as this.
She'd forgotten how like wine her Angel was, how many grapes had been crushed to make him. He wouldn't let her taste, now.
But he was new wine in an old wineskin, and that mustn't be done. The bad book said.
Why not? She knew, but the caterpillar wouldn't tell and she'd forgotten now.
He told her to leave. Silly Daddy. He should have known this was just the beginning.
And all the while watched the poor little Slayer. Angel was wine and the Slayer a scythe, and what did they suppose happened when a blade and a wineskin danced?
Some things the pixies wouldn't tell her of -- not proper for nice girls, they said.
The Slayer must have been very naughty, for they rarely spoke of her. They told of the little lost boy with the lovely white bulbs in his head -- such pretty black flowers they'd bloom! -- and how he'd snare the Slayer. But they didn't tell her how the Slayer would vault to the catwalk, wrapping her in nasty arms and pressing dead wood to her heart. It was Spike that saved her, not the pixies.
She wondered sometimes if they were so wise as they thought.
She told Spike of the Slayer's sister, little sky-eyed emerald girl. He didn't understand at first; he thought to steal the girl away, bait to a trap. No taste for green blood, he said. But she told him how the zephyrs of dimensions flowed in those veins, and then he promised to bring the girl for her, a dainty draught for Princess. Make you strong again, he said.
He came back to her at dawn, weary, with dark purpling bruises and no green girl. "Slayer doesn't have a sister," he said.
No good telling him that sometimes the pixies lied.
"Time's all the same to you," Spike said, soft, like rose petals, like eyelids, as though words could comfort when the heavens fell silent.
"'Now' is just a glass you see through. The world mostly doesn't change to someone seeing it all at once. You're not even in the world, not really -- there's not a thing in it that can change you."
He laughed, low. "You're the real immortal. The rest of us -- Angel, me, Darla when she was still about -- we're only pretending at eternity."
She let him feather kisses along her collarbone and hoped the stars sang soon.
Mostly she knew things from the pixies or the stars or the crawling things, but sometimes, like now, she dreamed. It was her party, she saw, the table all arranged and the presents heaped in stacks. Vines wound verdant round the chairs. The Slayer walked in, white, radiant, and when the blade was pressed to Angel's throat how sweetly the Slayer screamed.
Awake, she cried, for there were blossoms draping the vines where there should be none. But dear Spike saw them taken away, and once they were gone the Slayer came, just as she'd dreamed: an extra special present.
When the wineskin tore, she tore, too, ripping open from crown to soles, although there was no blood. It was all on the inside. The pixies told her it was Angel being torn, and she remembered about the wine flowing free but not what it meant, only that it was wonderfully bad. She must wait to find out.
After the pixies had sewn her up again -- but not the wineskin, that took stronger thread than theirs -- she waited, teasing the stars, until Angel came. Then she remembered: new wine bursts old wineskins. Now, finally, she might taste the wine again.
Angel meant to play with the Slayer's mother, pleasant games of bruises and then blood. Wasps buzzed to her: the empty-veined delivery boy's strange camouflage, lamb's wool for the wolf. An arm bent wrong and a forced invitation. Angel taunting, teasing. Sour fear turned to struggle, little trapped rabbit. Lamp broken, oil spilt, spark lit.
Angel and the woman, both ash.
A pretty fire, oh yes. How the Slayer would rage and weep.
Ice skaters, she suggested, shiny and sweet. Can't we eat them? Leave the woman for another night.
Laughing, he agreed, never knowing how he'd burned.
She told Angel how the Slayer had fallen ill. She knew just what room, how many flights of stairs. Yet he'd come back snarling of white knights, and he'd done nothing.
Delicious tendrils of power wound round his voice when he talked of hurting the Slayer, but she began to believe he wouldn't. Perhaps -- still bewitched by the foul, bright Slayer? -- he couldn't.
But he could end the world. A jaybird had said it: the Slayer was in the world. End it and end the Slayer, too.
The stars whispered of a block of stone, and she began to listen.
They'd all wilted, her daisies and her pale, glistening jasmine. Every blossom she'd planted drooped on its stem.
A whiff of char hung about Spike even after he bathed and bathed again, and she tried not to think of how he'd got it scorching himself on the Slayer's fire, helping to send Angel away. Now Angel was gone, and even the stars couldn't say where. The world still wasn't ended, and somewhere the Slayer laughed.
She clung to Spike and pretended pleasure at the scarlet bouquets they gathered, and tried to forget how everything she put in the ground withered and died.