Of bloody awfulness and fallen towns,
O Calliope, would I sing if you
Would lend your aid. And, wow, I sound a bit
Pretentious, don’t I? Sorry ‘bout that – what
I meant to say was this: I’ve got a plan,
But I will need your help to pull it off.
That’s only if you’re interested, of course;
I’d like to think you would be – after all
It twists on all your favourite themes: there’s war,
A man (less seedy than Aeneas), Heav’n
And Hell (though not so much of Purgatory
Because I found that kind of dull, except
For Lethe at the top and Eden, but
They’re still not really necessary). That’s not
Forgetting romance either; naturally
There’s quite a bit of that. But, anyway,
The main thing I should tell you is, it’s got
A bunch of vampires! Very cool, do you
Not think? It’s been a while, I know, a few
Nay several centuries; if I were you
I’d take retirement too, and feed the ducks
Instead of dealing with us whingey sods,
But even if there were a pond on Mount
Parnassus, now is not your time! You’ve so
Much more to give. And we can have some fun:
The matters of the soul, you love those, and
The matters of the heart, they’re always good,
And have you seen this century? It's got all
The gadgets you could want – like iPods? No?
I’ll leave it with you, Calliope, please
Give it some thought. All right, so bye now. Cheers.
LA. The city under siege and plague.
The city angels have so soundly left
Never before. The city where the sun
Was captured once by night, but still fought back
In hope, white feathered for the day it left
Behind. The city where the sun is gone.
It's yielded now, this city, lost the day –
Sun hid in its nadir, no peep nor peek
Nor gesture that it might find dawn again,
It leaves itself exposed, its naked streets
Chilled cold by endless razor-sheets of rain,
Which screed and screech above. The ground is washed
By tarnished blue, but that cannot clean off
The blood so thick and charred it spikes the air
With piercing breaths of coppered vinegar.
The empty streets are shining, gleaming dark
Like jet, in bright contrast against
The littering array of corpses, rent
And broken, lining gutters, shielding curbs.
There's demons in the rain and humans too,
Beset by water and decay; they're now
Reminders left for those surviving here
That there's no chance of saving anyone.
This world is lost and dangerous: to live
They need to focus every waking thought
Upon themselves and, secondarily,
On those who fight with them; that's all the thought
They can allow, lest they end up like this.
If you went searching through the neighbourhoods,
You'd find that actually, in truth, LA
Is filled with pockets of militia, all
But hiding from each other, working with
A common aim but never letting hope
Destroy the fragile steel that they have found
Within their hearts, which lets them carry on.
But even though you'd find them if you searched,
They keep alone, can never trust the night
Enough to venture out uncertain what
So Spike, as lonely as all those
Who fight in this deserted town – despite
The team he night by night returns to – wends
His way alone all through this hard and dark,
Wet crystal world. He's never used more stealth,
More silence, yet he feels each single step,
Each movement like a beacon in the night,
Announcing where he is to enemies
Who might hide in the alleys. Weeks they’ve spent,
Just trying, night on night, to find the source
Of all the demons – even if they can’t
Destroy the hordes themselves, they need to stop
Them coming, 'cause the torrent’s far too strong.
It’s like a river swallowing them up
And battering against frustration Spike
Can feel burning cinders in his chest.
If there were plans to blow, no doubt he would
Have blown them long ago, but as it is,
With Angel gone it's Spike who's meant to think,
Who's meant to have the answers for this mess,
And yet he's not the faintest bloody clue.
He's not a leader, frankly; bugger him
If he knows how exactly you proceed
When there's not anywhere for you to go,
No lair for you to conquer, wall to mount.
A piss take's what it is – but still, at least,
You’ll always find some demons. So he thinks
As some emerge, like shadows in the night:
A part of it, but liquid, menacing,
All pitching, wheeling, driving close as he
Makes steps towards them. Lunging hard he strikes,
His sword pulled quick and sharpish to his hand.
A gaping tear is cut into the flesh
Of this one’s flank, another’s speared as Spike
Turns quickly on one foot, as graceful as
A skater, forcing his blade fluidly
Down deep into the beast’s wide-gaping throat.
And so it carries on. The rain begins
To fall in union with the blood, and Spike
Remembers time, remembers back when it
Existed. He remembers when he cared
What time of day it was, how far away
He was from dawn and all the lashings brought
On him by the fury of the sun. He’d now
Bear all of them at once, were it to mean
That sun’s return: the end of this and all
The hidden hope in Gunn’s so weary gaze,
The expectation of their very own
Incarnate God, for whom he’s not enough.
The rain’s incessant falling hacks him off.
It seems to press into his skin, his skin
Which saturated weeks ago. It wants
To keep him wet, so he cannot escape
From this whole situation, this whole world;
It fit before – they never questioned it –
But then he's almost absolutely sure
Pathetic fallacy this length of time
Becomes pathetic. Unrealistic too.
What is this meant to be? It's meant to be
His life, but it’s a music video,
Some whining teenage shit he's never lived.
A fit of pique against the rain begins
To curl within him; petty, but he still
Vaults up defiantly and leaps against
The thrashing torrent to the fire escape
That's clinging limply, damp against the block
It guards. And then he pushes victory:
His boots run thudding up the steps. The rain
Might try to beat him to the ground, but he’ll
Show it just what effect that has. A wind
Picks up, he reaches rooftops, looks around,
Cold rain like nails in his eyes, and laughs.
The water's harsher here – but there’s no scent
Of blood: without that it means nothing much,
It's powerless. The damp’s a squib. Spike basks
A while and stretches up, appreciates
His pleasure and contentment – just until
The victory hollows. Then, remembering
The truth, he stills. The rain’s his enemy
No longer. In the light of what he will
Have conjured with his howling blasphemy
Against the silence of the night, the rain
Itself is just a messenger. And sure
Enough its fast tattoo begins to change,
Accommodating black and silent wings
As they approach. Spike stills still further. This,
As punishment, is hard. He braces, smile
Gone fully from his face. The dragon, small
At least, comes into view; Spike somersaults,
Heels over head. Another coat hem’s gone,
Burned up away in quick, reactive fire;
His sword is out and as the dragon swoops
He swings from foot to shoulder, aiming at
The mouth. The dragon rears and Spike receives
A single drop of blood from its grazed neck,
Which splatters on his face amongst the rain
And feels as though it burns. He knows he has
No energy to move without a cause,
And so he doesn’t. In the air above
The dragon rises back, completes a loop,
And wheels to come at him again. It’s but
A single moment, but – it’s still respite:
Spike crouches, knowing that his hair denies
All opportunity for stealth. As it
Returns it breathes more gushing flame; instead
Of back he leaps up blind this time towards
Its head, but doesn’t land. His boots cannot
Find purchase on the ever-slickening scales,
And everything is instinct now. One arm,
His right, above his head, is not much use -
It offers little balance, and he's sure
Despite it he's about to fall back down.
But slipping off, soles bubbling, his left hand
Stays firm and drives the sword deep into one
Dark eye. And then he falls back down through fire.
The rain allows him to survive, but mocks
His landing. Flames extinguish. Wings
Above him fail, and like a mangled kite
His enemy collapses, falling too,
In death a comrade. Funny how that is.
Still stuck in eye, his sword falls clanging, blade
Three inches from his face. The smell of blood
Is back, and his charred flesh reeks in accord;
His hands caught light, as did his face, and though
Right now he will not look, it feels as though
At least one heel bone’s showing through his shoe – it’s hot
And cold at once, intensely, which does not
Exactly augur well. The pain is loud
Inside his mind, it's drumming on his bones,
But he breathes through it, breathing soundlessly
Until his muscles finally relax.
And he can deal with all the feeling left.
The rain collects in the corners of his eyes.
He lies there, jeans slobbed over both his legs
Like slaps of sealskin. If he's going home
He needs his sword, but that means moving, so
He stays there quite a while. Eventually
A burned and fragile hand begins, quite slow,
To venture out from underneath his coat
To find its way across his chest, across
His charred left sleeve towards the dragon's head,
Towards his sword, the leather grip too slick
Beneath his groping fingertips – but then
At last he finds a hold, his fingers clasped
To meet his fleshy thumb. The pain is back,
And so he uses just a gentle tug,
But that does bugger all: the sword stays still.
He pulls a little harder – but it must
Be wedged in bone. And so with breath quite near
Forgotten, Spike finds his remaining strength
And pulls against the handle. It comes free
In symphony of squelch and clang and skits
Across the tarmac roof, feels like his ribs,
Bones grinding silently inside his chest.
The pain, of course, cannot leave him with that:
He clutches breaths of air that stink of burn.
The stench of his right hand, now sitting flush
Against his face; the swordblade by his cheek.
But then, quite suddenly, his brain wakes up.
There’s something there that doesn't smell of death –
Though they are barely separate in his mind –
Like ozone, no, it’s sea-salt harshly mixed
With magic, itching at his sinuses.
That smell that told him, broken, dropped on bricks,
That everything was over, it was lost;
That told him, all those years ago, that one
Of them was not about to make it back.
He hates whatever you would call them. Doors
Or portals, gateways even, or… or what?
Oh – pan-dimensional sodding tears – those things
That suck a person in and never spit
Him out (or, God yes, bloody her) the same
Again – he hates them all. He hates them all.
There’s gravel at his side. He lets his hand
Fall from his face to do more damage – quick
It does so as his sword cuts paper-thin
Along his forehead – sighing then he drags
A gravelstone between his fingertips
And with his final strain of effort throws
To see it flying through the sky. He waits,
But knows quite well that it will not return.
Their path, it seems, is up and through the clouds,
Which, even as their rain subsides, are not
Exactly opening their arms to him.
He wonders which particular hell lies hid
Behind them, stares in hope some clue might come.
There’s nothing there but dark. The more he looks
The more of it he sees, until, despite
The vampire that he is, he cannot bear
His doom’s entreaty. Both eyes shut he rolls
Onto his front: he can’t shut out the pain,
But still, he thinks, he’ll let his bones set wrong,
He'll sleep beneath the dragons wing a while
Before he goes back home. He cannot move.
There's only one thought going through his mind:
At least it does explain the rain.
Is really not what he would call a home.
It’s never felt like home to him, and now
It serves too many purposes to feel
Like one. His crypt was danker, and the same
Was true of Buffy’s basement, but he still
Found peace there. Here there’s none of that, but why’s
Not obvious – is it bereft of soul,
Of memories? Something’s missing, but he can’t
Be fagged right now to think that maybe he
Just misses Sunnydale. That’s too much like
Hard work. But probably it is. Back then
He only had to watch his heart and check
That it was not about to break in two,
He didn't have to be what everyone
Required him to be; he wasn't an
Amalgam built by other’s thoughts on him,
It’s odd to think that’s what he's come to here,
But in the end it's not as if there's use
In what he always meant to be right now.
Last month they blew their final bulb, so now
Near everything is lit by candlelight.
Spike’s eyes have long forgotten how it was
With halogen before, how colour floods
When it's illuminated, how it is
To sit completely safe from night and not
Suspect some gradual slip down into murk.
In bleak penumbral gloom the three of them
Sit round the table: Gunn's chair's got its wheels,
Illyria’s seems like a throne somehow,
But still they sit. They sit, it feels, for hours.
The silence wells in clouds around them, sprung
From what Spike’s not long said, and as he sees
That no one else will speak, at last he starts
The argument he knows that they expect
From him. "What are we doing, sitting here?
Pretending that we're thinking what to do?
If we go through that portal there could be
The answer to this mess and here there's, what?
There's sod all left but pain and then some death,
Like what’s been following us round. We can’t
Just stem the tide (and bloody badly ‘nall)
If we intend to live this out – as I
Believe I told a jumpy – girl no one
Is coming to our rescue. It’s the fray
Or some wide-open grave we’re going in
And that fray isn't going anywhere.
I'm not about to give up on this world
And sit here while we hope that someone else
Comes up with what to do, some hero-type
Decides to take a running jump, all right?
I've had enough of that, will not have it
Again. And Gunn, I know you would prefer
If we could stick around a bit and see
If you could come eventually, but I'm
No physiotherapist, and we ain’t got
A clue if things are going well or not.
We need to sort this quick as possible
And get you in a medic’s hands. All right?
The more we wait the more that everything
Is gonna go to hell. And I am not
About to let you die of atrophy,
If you can die of that, or what the hell
Else you can get, while we all sit and rot.
We know full well, if the old man were here,
He would’ve gone by now – ignored us all
And buggered off atop his valiant steed
Of righteousness. And Buffy… she’s the same.
(Though I suppose you wouldn’t know her quite
As well.) Well, right, the fact remains that if
We don’t go through, and try to stick it out,
We’ll all be stuck here till the edge of doom,
And speaking for myself I think that sounds
Extremely sodding dull. And so, I say
We go.” He finishes, then nods just once.
The other two don’t make a sound, and so
He leaves the table, goes towards the fridge.
The light comes on and briefly fills his sight,
It blinds him with its whiteness and he can’t
But wonder if the world before was all
This bright. From just inside the door he takes
Two beers, not fresh but cold, and tosses one
To Gunn. He catches it. Illyria
Looks on, disgusted, as they both begin
To drink, dark glugs uniting them as Gunn
Begins his opposition, voice subdued.
He asks, "What’s up there? Tell me that. If you
Don’t know what’s up there I don’t get how you
Can go. Let's think about it; this is not
Some portal to the Land of Shrimp. Who made
All this? The Circle of the Black Thorn – and
For all we know this thing could lead you both
Straight to the Senior Partners - you have got
To be prepared for that. Maybe it's 'cause
My legs are fucked, and now the lawyer's got
Control to filter all my thoughts, but he's
More smart than I was, so he’s probably
Not wrong. We’ve got to think this through, and then
We’ve got to see if we can find out more.
I know you tried that Giles guy, but he
Don’t know me – maybe I can call him up
And get him talking. Once he knows that we
Are on his side he can't just blow us off.
We've got to try, 'cause this right here could be
Our only shot and we can’t screw it up.
If you charge in, heads down, you tell me what
You’re gonna do when you get through, what plan
You got? I mean, if I could go with you
You know I – I don’t wanna die like this,
But just because it took so long to get
A break don’t mean that we should waste the chance.
If we all wait a couple days you both
Might come out after. And, as I’m the guy
That’s gonna starve, that would be good.” With that
Gunn finishes his argument and falls
To silence, lets his thoughts sink in as they
All sit without a sound and looking grim.
Illyria has yet not spoken, but
They’re all aware she probably will not deign
To give response. These matters are not her
Concern: she’ll fight no matter what, as soon
As she is able. After all of these
Millennia, days hardly seem that long.
The way their kitchen council usually works
There’s no one who presides. They have their think
And then they finally make the compromise
They could have made when they began. But there
Is something that distracts their token thoughts
Tonight: a sound outside the door. It’s faint
But in the silence of the room it’s like
A roll of thunder. Knocking, quaint as it
Repeats in bursts of threes – they know it’s not
A demon hand. A single glance at both
The other two and Spike gets up; an eye
Pressed to the spy hole and he reels away
In shock. He doesn’t know exactly what
He thought it was, but he is certain he
Is not prepared for this – for out there is
Distorted beauty: that particular face
He never thought he’d see again, hewn wrong
By glass between them. Gunn is questioning
From far away, but Spike can only hear
The clamour of his heart not thumping. Is
This how he wants to meet? He isn’t sure
He wants her in this world, he isn’t sure
He wants her brilliance dulled and sullied black,
To suffer from what they have done. But more
Than that – dear God, yes, so much more than that –
He knows he doesn’t want that hopeless pit
That steals her eyes to take them once again.
Yet still, he cannot see her go, and when
He’s back to spying, sees her grey backpack
His hand works on its own and pulls the door
So quickly that it smacks into his foot.
He swears and she’s turned to. Their gazes then
Are coupled firm together, and for that
Short second Spike thinks he might start to breathe,
So fully she consumes him. While he stares
She stares, until she smiles, razing gloom,
Effulgent more than Cecily ever was.
“It’s true,” she says, before she trips her sprained –
It seems – or broken ankle. Quickly he
Slips underneath her arm and heaves them both
Inside – where they have got an audience.
Spike doesn’t care. His arm pulls Buffy close
And they both stumble over to the couch,
Before he kneels and weighs the merits beer
Has as an ice-pack. But it seems that Gunn
Is thinking clearer – in his hand there comes
A bag of peas. She takes it off of him
And he can’t help but smile at her old pride
(Especially when she cannot see the grin
Because she’s busy looking at her feet).
But then the whole world has to rush back in
And Gunn remarks, “So why is it that I
Am guessing this is Buffy?” Spike looks up
For half a second, says, “Because those gits
That fiddled with your brain weren’t working with
A vacuum. Course it’s her.” She looks up then
And caught in hidden headlights says, “Uh, hi!
I meant to bring some help, but’s kinda now
Just me. I guess that having someone else
For cannon fodder’s always good?” Her blush
Makes Spike think back to when she was herself
An army. Things have changed. But she will not
Reveal quite how: he asks what happened, but
She quickly shakes her head, sun setting black
Across her face. He winces back from that
And introduces her. “So, this is Gunn.
He’s one of very few who’d ever hope
To pull off that daft name, and due to our
Recent association with a much
Maligned and hopefully depleted firm
Of lawyers, he can tell you how much mead
A bloke can knock back at the feast of Zargh
Before he gets his kneecap flayed.” Gunn waves.
“That’s… useful,” Buffy says, so Spike goes on,
“And she’s a God-King.” Buffy turns; looks back,
An eyebrow raised. “Well, yeah, I know, she don’t
Exactly look like one – but you should feel
Her left hook; brought back memories that did.”
He takes a step, but then he nearly knocks
A candle over. “Bollocks.” Righting it
He glances at the clock, red LEDs
That mark their day, which aren’t a substitute
For sun, so much as a resort. “It’s late,”
He realises, which then makes him conclude,
“And we can talk in what is loosely termed
The morning.” Looking round he’s met with nods,
Until he meets Illyria. She stares
And states, “This human makes your blood rush. Why?”
He says, with Buffy blushing for him, “Blue,
I haven’t any circulation. Blood
Won’t even trickle.” So much for attempts
To seem detached, or independent in
The least. “You’re talking bloody nonsense.” Gunn
Of course then has to chime in with a “Man,
Could I come up with proof that vampires’ blood
Can move…” He laughs. Spike tries ignoring him
And heads off to the bathroom with a call,
“Say, what’s that, Charlie? Time for bed, you said?”
Gunn grumbles, following behind with his
New chair as Spike gets toothpaste off the shelf,
Sorts out the rest of everything and waits.
They get through their routine like every night,
Not solemn, but a little more subdued,
The sequence followed one step and the next
Without much talking as there’s nothing much
To say, the bathroom filled with squeaks on tile,
Enough to dampen Gunn’s instinct to jibe.
At last they come back to the others, where
They find Illyria proclaiming: “Yes,
My mercy will allow the wounded Charles
The bed. Were he to die our force would take
A bitter blow: it is the prudent choice.
Of the positions that remain, of course
Do I receive the most befitting to
My status: I receive the couch. Below,
My pet takes rest upon the floor, and you
Will sleep there also.” Buffy nods along;
The girl deserves some credit just for that.
Spike shakes his head and helps Gunn under sheets,
And then, as others settle, does the rounds.
He checks the locks, then weapons and the food –
It seems they’re doing well, despite the fact
They’ve gained an extra mouth. It helps that he’s
Not in it for nutrition. After that
He slips on sweats and settles on the floor,
Politely far away from Buffy, where
He feels the night in full. The tea lights all
As if on cue begin to gutter: black
Encroaches till the pillars are what’s left.
They’re amber soft. They’ll need them for the day.
Although the day is lost, sun far from sky,
The night is also forced into its place,
To never rest. It rages, set in place
Unmoving, never softly sweeping from
The midnight to the dawn, and thus there is
A restlessness which turns around the hours
And makes it difficult to sleep. But Spike,
He’s grown quite used to that. His problem here
Tonight is much less metaphysical:
It’s Buffy, shaking as she tries to rest,
The quaking of the trembling clothes she has
To cover her. He watches, caught by it,
Until he can’t watch any longer – then
He shuffles to a foot away and puts
A tentative hand on the cocoon. It rolls
Towards him, slow unfurls a tear-streaked face.
She hiccoughs, shuts her eyes and says, “’s a long,
Long story.” He replies, “Well, it’s a long,
Long night.” She sighs, and then, at length, begins.