“Your name is Isthgraid. I am your mother, you shall obey me.”
“You shall continue the name of Illyria, until your time too comes.”
“You shall seek your father. He will instruct you.”
“I shall leave you now. Learn well what your shell would teach you.”
“I love you.”
The summer afternoon met Isthgraid cordially, the warm sunlight winking at him through leaves. His mother was gone now, he knew that well, but he was not alone. Indeed, on the slightest incline of his head the silver birches, or so they introduced themselves, began to chuckle merrily with him, waving hello and telling him the sights of the town he was in.
They called it London, and for much of the afternoon he wandered its streets, the breeze whisking between his ankles and beneath the soles of his feet as he walked along. Of course, his feet were covered in leather and rubber, so the feeling was deadened; he was formed in the image of his father.
His father. His mother had told him to seek him, but he knew not where to look.
A shadow of anxiety grew up within him, the first he’d ever felt. It seemed too dark for these cerulean skies, and he asked the birches how to be rid of it. They laughed again, still bright and sweet, and bid him find his father’s house; they knew the way. Pavement swept beneath him, and the moss in the cracks stared dazedly at his brisk footsteps.
He came to a gate marked ‘97’, in front of a path and next to a driveway that held a skulking black car, reared on its haunches and ready to pounce. A final push from the birches, a final whisper of breeze, and he let off the iron latch, swinging the silent gate wide open and edging down the path to the door, buttercups wide-eyed in the lawn beside him.
The doorbell rang and a man who had his face opened the door. The man frowned, then blocked the doorway with his body, tense and strong and angry. All too much so.
“Who the bloody hell are you?” his father hissed at him.
“My name is Isthgraid,” he replied promptly. “I am your son.”
There was nothing, nothing but a shivering silence, until the faintest gurgle hailed from the hall. His father turned his cheek, but the moment Isthgraid moved to take a look he was back, angrier than before. “My son ain’t blue.”
The shivers ran more deeply, until Isthgraid could feel them far beneath his skin. He was transfixed by the darkness coiling inside him, a darkness he couldn’t name. Another son? It couldn’t be. He was his father’s son.
His father’s hard eyes hurt him.
And then a golden hand lit upon his father’s arm. “Who is it, Spike?” For a moment he relaxed, and for a moment Isthgraid could see past his shoulder and into his world. The woman who had spoken stood in the hallway, all golden skin and golden hair, so different to his mother, and in her arms was a mewling infant: the other son.
The moment passed, and the door struck the oak frame harshly as it closed, but Isthgraid understood. Another son – another mother – his father had no place for him or his.
His insides felt as dark as the pine-green front door, but he didn’t understand why. He turned back to the summer, but the birches had no answers for him, wary and silent in the darkening sun.
At last a sly suggestion came at his side, just above his head from some skulking marigolds in a basket. A whisper and they were silent once more, but they gave name to the jealousy he felt, and with the name he felt it more, felt it whip through him as he stormed from the house and back into the road.
Isthgraid stopped then and stood, swatting the birches aside and staring at the sky. Evening would come, but now the day still hung there, as soft and as loose as silk.
The rubber of his soles ground into gravel, and he stared with hatred at the sky until stained clouds blossomed like blood. He stared until all light shed away, until there was nothing but him and the sky alone.
The birches wept unheard. Time stretched and bent. Isthgraid willed it take him and it did. Thunder cracked and lightning charged through him, suffusing his shell with dark.
Then, at last, he struck the earth again. Cold and verdant, it promised in a thousand snide whispers. The clouds were gone and he was left in the blue caress of the moon, shadowed and treacherous.
He rose, smiled, and set upon his task.
It was not long before Isthgraid caught sight of his father: his fluorescent hair flared against the night sky as he ran. From what he was running, Isthgraid didn’t know, but he gave chase. This was where it had all began, his father and that golden mother. This was where he could end it.
The soles of his boots thudded against the ground, the tattoo beating harder and harder as the grass gave way beneath him.
Suddenly, however, he was on the ground. There was pain in his left shoulder. The echo of a cry resounded in his ears.
The figure of his father was fading all too quickly, but as Isthgraid regained his feet a hand clasped around his wrist. The fingers were small, feminine; she was, of course, the woman who had made the cry.
“Spikey, please – I’m sorry!”
He rounded on her, ready to pull away and continue pursuit. Her hair was yellow, a shade close enough to the golden mother’s to make him hate her. Her clothing was brashly red and blue, ugly as it clashed with the green around them. Why was she restraining him? His father was vanishing into the night with every passing second.
“You’ve gotta believe me! I didn’t mean to say those things!” And then, suddenly, she thrust her face in his chest and wrapped her arms tightly across his back. “Oh, Spike, I could never kill you. It’s just – you hurt me sometimes, you know? And then I get so mad…”
Hurt? Kill? Spike? Isthgraid wondered at the woman in his hands. His father would be lost by now, but was this the one from whom he had run? He had feared her. If he had feared her then he could fear her again. Did she want the same as he did?
She pulled back then, her pale face – one attractive feature, at least – completely open. Isthgraid began to smile. He should make her trust him, make her feel the hurt and hate that as much as he did. She could become the perfect ally.
However, in response to his smile, she frowned. “Hey…” she said. “Why are you blue?”
And then Isthgraid stalled. She thought him to be his father. What should he do now? Would she ever trust him were she to know what he was?
He called out for help, and the grass whispered in reply. Of course; there was no better way to engineer her hatred than to shape it himself, to convince her that he was his father and act as he would, to build her trust and break it. He did not yet know how, but the course would come and then she would aid him, unknowingly.
“Spike?” He had been silent too long. As he blinked she gasped, her hands flying to her mouth and her yellow hair bouncing ever so slightly. “Oh my god,” she cried. “The soldiers found you, didn’t they? And made you blue?”
He could act as his father. He could answer this. “I…” Perhaps he could not. “I’m sorry?”
As her eyes widened further, he realised he had not answered correctly. “What happened to your voice? And… and why are you standing so still? You’re acting so weird. And you know the soldiers, right? Right?”
He did not understand. His shell was supposed to teach him the modes of communication, why was it failing him now? How was he ever to kill his father if he could not converse? The floods of grass around them had no answers.
“Oh my god, do you even know who I am? What’s my name?”
He stared into her damp eyes, just listening to the dark rush of the wind. He felt it run within him, yet it also brought no answer.
“I… do not know,” he said at last, lowering his head. A gesture of submission: he hoped that it might allow him to still gain her trust.
And then, without warning, her arms again reached around him, strangely soft and warm. Her touch was wholly alien, and as he looked into her shoulder the scent of flowers too rich for this environment drifted past his nose. It was disconcerting, but, he realised, it was pleasant.
The embrace ended, and the night seemed slightly cooler than before.
“I’m Harmony,” she told him. “And I’m your girlfriend. And, uh… we love each other loads.” She nodded vigorously. “You always buy me presents, and next summer you’re gonna take me to Paris.”
As she smiled brightly at him Isthgraid could not help but smile in return. He wondered whether he need break her trust at all.
The grass called him coward.
Hidden away within some gabbing woods, Harmony taught him so many things: the pleasures of the flesh, the joy of dulcet laughter, the art of the ‘manicure’. Yet for every thing she taught him she raised a dozen feelings from the recesses of his own shell, which taught him further.
He learnt that beauty was far greater than ugliness, and that life was far greater than death, and that happiness could come from the simplest of things: Harmony, for example, buying her blood instead of killing for it.
In those few weeks, safe with Harmony and the gruff but gentle voices of the lichen, he came to realise he was happy. He came to realise just how much she undid him, and how much he loved her.
Yet when he ventured out the grass still called him coward.
One day, on the way home from the blood merchant, Isthgraid saw a purple unicorn, fashioned of synthetic fur and stuffed, in the window of a shop. Without thought he purchased it, using the money for which he had traded a golden bracelet three nights ago.
Continuing home he believed he should feel content: his love would love it, and surely that was all he wished for? The foul grass, however, would never let him forget the truth. The gift was a lie. He himself was a lie, an imitation of the man Harmony truly loved. He was nothing.
His shell commanded that he tell her the truth, that he allow her to see what he was. To let her continue to believe that she had his father, when in truth she had only him, was cruel. She believed they were the same: both vampires, kindred. He, however, was nothing like her – he was a mere shadow of another’s form
The cool cave welcomed him as ever, but Isthgraid could not hold back his shiver. This was not his home, not really. He placed the blood inside the refrigerator, recently bought, and snuck up to the bed, heart lightening as he saw Harmony half-asleep on her side, yawning gently. Her body threatened to arch and in an instant he was filled with longing. He doubted he could ever let this go.
With his boots removed he lay beside her, eyes guiltily aligned to see down her pearly negligee. He reached the unicorn down, still in his hand, and walked it up her thigh, mildly disappointed that it failed to catch the bottom hem.
The unicorn reached her arm and Harmony awoke, eyes widening in brilliant delight.
She kissed Isthgraid then, forcibly grateful as she hitched a leg over his and pressed herself fully against him. He reached down, doing what the unicorn had failed at before, and gasped as he found her supple skin. He felt as free as water, gliding back and forth over cool pebbles that yielded before him to greater softness.
Then she was crying. It took a moment, but he changed his touch to comfort. He begged her to tell him what was wrong, wondering uneasily whether she had guessed the truth.
“Blondie bear, I can’t… I can’t keep lying to you. I love you too much…”
“Lies?” His shell fell cold, and the tears of his own betrayal rose in his eyes. This, surely, was of his own creation. “No, love,” his voice was choked, “it is not you who is lying.”
She looked away, pulling his being out of his throat. “Don’t look at me like you care,” she whispered and he wondered whether she had heard him. “This is all a dream. You’d never buy me unicorns. You’re gonna get your memories back and it’s gonna be awful. You hate me.” She felt lost to him, though her leg was still cocked around his. “You hate me.”
And then Isthgraid understood.
Before, his anger, his jealousy, had been cold and virulent. Now it immolated him. His father had hurt her. He had known that before, yet it had not seemed so important then. He had hurt her so much that she was still not healed. His father, it would seem, held more power than him even in his absence.
Isthgraid knew he would wear this mantle no longer. No matter that it would tear them apart; he could not pretend to be the one who would hurt his Harmony so any longer. He could not bear it.
“My love,” he said, daring to touch her hair. “I am not who you think me to be.” Her fragile face turned back to his and he found strength in it. “There were no soldiers. My name… is Isthgraid, and I am new to this dimension. The similarity in appearance I bear to – him is nothing but an unhappy accident.”
“Iss…” Lines grew across her forehead, each scoring worry into his chest. “You’re not Spike?”
“No. I am not. But I love you still.”
For a moment she was still. He was still also, but inside a thousand motes of violence clashed and tore the strands that built his shell.
“That’s really weird,” she said at last. She wriggled her leg behind his own. “We’re still gonna have sex though, right?”
His mind caught up after his lower half had already reacted, pushing her into the bed so hard she shivered. “Should you wish it, love.”
Many hours later, as the new night rose, the grass called to him. His father had hurt Harmony, struck her deeply with a thousand barbs beneath her skin. He deserved destruction.
He no longer cared for the golden mother or the other son. His mother had told him to answer to his shell, and his shell cried out for Harmony. His pride would not be satisfied by the sated glaze of her eyes, or the way she blossomed as he kissed her. It demanded more.
He pushed the door open, ignoring the hiss of the moss at its base. The crypt was as dark as the night outside, as dark as his father’s heart. The demon deserved to die in darkness, without foreknowledge of his end, without a chance for honour.
Isthgraid, however, had gone no further than a step inside the door when he was pressed by the neck against the wall.
“Heard you coming a mile off, mate.”
Spike hadn’t a clue how he’d ended up at the Watcher’s door, but now he was there he wasn’t sure that there was anywhere else to go.
He knocked a few times, but after the fifth or sixth time the door opened of its own accord, so he shrugged and ran inside, ducking as the git tried to swing a poker at his head.
“Oh, it’s you.”
Spike span around, furious as Giles nonchalantly shut the door. “You know that’s actually quite offensive.”
Spike sneered. “Nice jimjams.” That at least got a reaction, though Giles rolling his eyes wasn’t exactly up there with quaking in fear and terror. He supposed he’d have to settle.
“Why is it you’re here?” Giles asked as he walked towards the kitchen.
Spike followed, distracted by the pair of bills that were lying on Giles’ sideboard. He snagged them as Giles put the kettle on, before the memory of his crypt came back with a shock.
“I’ve got a doppelganger!” he said. “A blue one! It’s trying to kill me!”
“Well, I must say, that is interesting, isn’t it?” Giles continued rooting around in his cupboards, and Spike noticed that he was only going to make one cup of tea, the bastard.
“Interesting?” Spike couldn’t work out why Giles was being so bad-tempered. It was only two in the morning. “Is that all you’ve got to say? ‘Pip pip, jolly interesting, I wonder if it’ll manage it’?”
The Watcher, tea in hand, leaned back against his oven. “I simply fail to see how this is my problem.”
“Because it’s evil! It’s probably trying to end the world or some such. You people care about that sort of thing.”
“Frankly, Spike, I don’t think trying to kill you is something you can call a failsafe sign of evil-doing.”
Spike paced, frustrated. “Look, I don’t know the first thing about doppelgangers – apart from the fact they’re going, doubly; but I could tell that from looking at the bastard.” He waved a hand in Giles’ general direction. “You, on the other hand, thrive on knowing this sort of bollocks.”
Giles slurped. “Ah. So you want me to help you?”
“Yes. Christ, do they not put your batteries in till seven or something?”
Giles ignored him. “And why should I do that, exactly?”
“Because…” Spike floundered for a moment. “Because I helped you, didn’t I?”
“And the reason for that was…?”
The comforting weight of his hard-earned cash began to burn in his pocket. Spike sighed; he’d meant to spend that.
“You’re a right bastard, you know that?” he said, digging it out and dumping it in Giles’ outstretched hand. Giles took another sip of tea.
“I want the six you stole when you came in as well.”
Spike rolled his eyes and added the two lonely bills to the pile.
A few moments later Giles had locked the money away and was heading towards the stairs. Spike couldn’t believe his eyes.
“What d’you think you’re doing? There’s research to be done here, you know.”
Giles went out of sight. “I find I work better if I get dressed first.”
Irritated, Spike slumped into the sofa and picked up a particularly dull-looking magazine.
Spike remembered very quickly why he didn’t do research. And then, as Harris and his bird arrived, things got even worse.
“Are you sure it was blue,” Xander asked for the seventh time.
Spike ran a hand through his hair. “Yes, it was blue. No, it was not the moonlight, nor did it look like it had had an accident with a paint pot. Its skin was blue.”
“You fought it off though, right?” Anya, that was her name – ex-demon, he remembered now – said. “Can’t you just kill it next time?”
“No, Anya,” Giles interrupted, nose still in a book. “It could well be an aspect of Spike’s own consciousness – killing it could have unforeseen consequences.”
This conversation went round at least a dozen more times before Giles got the bright idea to call Willow and see if the internet had anything else to offer.
“Sorry, Giles,” Willow said, shutting her laptop. “I don’t think there’s anything else to know.”
Giles took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He’d done it so many times Spike was beginning to think he didn’t actually have a prescription and just wore them for effect.
“Spike,” he said. “Go over what it did again.”
Spike sighed and shifted upright on the sofa. Xander tried to hand round some more of his god-awful bars of grit, but everyone declined. “I hear someone was outside my crypt, right, so I get up and wait to see what they do. They don’t have a heartbeat so I assume it’s a vampire, and not the Watcher come back to try and recruit me into the special service. Anyway, the bloke opens the door and I have it up against the wall, hand on its throat, quick as you please. Then I realise the git is me, only with bluish skin and definitely blue lips. I ask him who he is and he says his name is something Arabic sounding beginning with ‘Is’ or ‘Iz’ or ‘Ish’ or something. We have a fight, I run off. It follows me, I lose it. I turn up here. End of story.”
“What d’you mean by Arabic sounding?” Willow asked. “Was it a name you recognised or just a sort of sound?”
For a moment Spike felt a spark of hope, but then he felt it die away. “Nah, it was some demon language, if anything. Had one of those things like in Greek, where you have to pronounce far too many consonants at once – a sigma and a phi, or something.”
“Was it?” Giles asked wearily, wandering again in the direction of the kitchen.
“A sigma and a phi?”
“No…” One quick run through the alphabet. “Theta! ‘Isth’! It was ‘Isth’… something.” He let his head fall back on the cushion. Giles groaned.
“Can’t Willow just hop in his memory and pull it out of there?” Anya had her chin in her palm, elbow resting on a side table. She’d already dragged Xander off to have sex once that morning, and Spike really hoped she wouldn’t do it again. The smell brought back bad memories of the basement.
The sound of the boiling kettle at least promised something for him now. “With a human that would be remarkably advanced. With a vampire… nigh impossible.” The Watcher couldn’t see Red strain under the implication she couldn’t do something. He wondered whether he should mention it at some point.
“I still vote killing it,” Xander said, raising his hands. “After all, Spike brain-dead – bonus, right?”
Spike didn’t have much choice but to resist throttling him.
“Oh, hey, are we researching something?”
And just when he thought his day couldn’t get any more tedious, the Slayer was there.
“’Cause I think we might need to take the party someplace else,” she continued, shutting the front door behind her.
“Buffy?” Giles came out of the kitchen with his perennial cup of tea, absentmindedly passing Spike his over the back of the sofa. He’d burnt his tongue on the last cup, but it was still all right.
“The Initiative are trying to kill me.” She shrugged. “What’s Spike doing here?”
Spike opened his mouth, but Giles interrupted. “Seeking asylum. What did you say?”
Buffy began her little speech and Spike felt his mind wander. He couldn’t really care less about the ins and outs of it all – it was hardly surprising the Initiative would turn against the Slayer. Those types never went in for anything that didn’t fit their perfect vision of the human mould. He had slightly more pressing problems.
“OK, everybody grab a weapon. And some books, I guess.”
“They’ve been pretty useless so far,” Anya said, standing up with Xander.
“Well leave them, then, we’ve gotta…”
There was a frantic knocking at the door. Everybody stopped. Apart from Giles, that was, who rolled his eyes and made his way over to the door. “I doubt the Initiative would knock.”
Peering over his shoulder, Spike could just make out some grey tarpaulin, smoking outside the door.
“You gotta help me!”
He knew that voice…
“Harmony!” Buffy said, backing up Giles by the door. “Don’t tell me the Initiative got you too, ‘cause we’re fresh out of charity.”
Buffy sounded exasperated. He knew the feeling. “The soldier-guys. You must’ve seen them.”
“Yeah! Them! They’ve got Edie, you’ve gotta help me get him back! No one else would help me! And I haven’t eaten anyone in weeks! Ask Mr. Jackson at the butcher shop!”
“Oh come in, Harmony,” Giles grumbled, walking away from the door. He continued to no one in particular, “Anyone would think I were running a home.”
Harmony ran past Buffy and into the house, stalling slightly when she realised how many people were there. Her eyes met his for a moment and she seemed to tear up, which seemed a bit odd since she was the one who’d kicked him out.
“Who’s Edie?” Buffy asked behind her, arms crossed over an axe.
Harmony turned quickly. “My boyfriend. You have to get him back!” Spike supposed that meant he wasn’t going to get any more shags from Harm for a while. Shame.
“What is he? Vampire? Polgara demon? ‘Cause it’s all in the title –”
The door burst in again, creaking as though it were on its last legs. Giles looked even more murderous than Spike felt.
This capped it all: it was the hall monitor.
“It’s polite to knock before entering a person’s home,” Giles said witheringly from the desk. “Especially a person’s whom you don’t know particularly well.”
“I’m… sorry,” Riley said, sounding distracted as he ran over to the Slayer. It made Spike almost forgive Giles for nicking his line. “I thought you were dead.”
“I’m OK,” she replied, putting a hand on his arm. Pathetic was what it was, like he needed proof she hadn't wilted like a daisy. The Slayer needed more than some organisation trying to bring her down.
“Hey!” Xander said from the chair he and Anya were sitting in. “How’d you know something was going on?”
Riley looked at them, frowning as though he was still trying to figure the words of two syllables. Or at least that was what it seemed like to Spike.
“I… There were monitors, and then Professor Walsh…” He trailed off, and Spike realised he was looking at him. This was not good.
“That’s Hostile 17.”
“No.” Oh bollocks, why couldn’t he do accents? “I’m just,” his eyes fell right, “a friend of Xanderrs… Bugger it. I’m your guy.”
“This is Spike. He’s, uh – ” Spike bypassed Riley’s glare to raise his eyebrow at Buffy. She frowned, shrewishly, so he grinned back. He loved confusing her.
“But that doesn’t make any sense. Beta Team picked him up again just last night.”
“Huh?” Buffy asked.
“I told you!” Harmony piped up from the staircase. “The took Edie!”
A confused silence reigned until Giles chuckled darkly. “Your ‘Hostile 17’ – he wouldn’t be blue, would he?”
Riley looked nonplussed. “We assumed it was an effect of prolonged, uh…”
It clicked into place. Spike shook his head. “I can’t believe you blokes thought vampires turned blue!”
“I can’t believe you captured the wrong vampire!” Buffy pulled back to Giles and Willow at his desk.
“He’s not a vampire!” Harmony said, sounding almost on the verge of tears. “He’s good! He talks to trees!”
“Buffy,” Willow warned. “If he can commune with nature… That’s real white-witch-y stuff.”
Buffy paled, eyes still fixed on the farm-boy. “What else have you done?”
Riley had no answer.
Silence should have risen, but Anya was still nattering away to Xander. “I mean, d’you know how long I’ve fought against this? Girl gets burned, girl curses boyfriend, girl goes out and finds new boyfriend who’s exactly the same as the old one, as if it’ll be different this time. It’s insane!”
“Ahn…” Xander said as he realised everyone was looking at them.
“Well, it is!” Demon-girl crossed her arms.
“Right,” Buffy said after a moment, in her best sergeant-major voice. “Everybody grab a weapon, for real this time. Riley, pick your side. We’re going in.” Her eyes flicked to Spike’s. “You’d better find the way this time.”
“Spike, could you hurry it up?”
“Look, love, it’s not my fault your boy-toy scarpered.” Nor was it his fault that he could barely see where he was going for tarpaulin, or that he had to share said tarpaulin with another vampire who was still snivelling and physically shrinking from him every time he had to turn a corner and got vaguely close. He didn’t even want to rescue the blue git anyway.
One area of grass looked like another. He was getting nowhere.
“Spike, come on, we’re in the middle of campus and people are staring.”
“Get Red to open the bloody thing then.” It was getting hot, and his nerves were starting to fray.
“Will, can you?”
“I… I can try.” A pause and then: “Alohomora!”
Spike scrambled as a hatch sprang open, a couple of feet ahead of him.
“Alohomora?” That was Xander.
“It’s a command word as good as any,” Willow replied defensively.
“Come, children.” Giles.
Spike shuffled Harmony over to the hole. “We’re going in,” he told her. “It’s about four feet deep… that’s taller than a table.” She sniffed. He jumped.
They couldn't really leave anything in there, could they?
Isthgraid sat at the back of his cell and feared the bag of blood in front of him. He could feel the closing incisions he had suffered whilst asleep, and had no wish to suffer more. He would touch nothing, he would be still until he was able to form a plan.
He longed for Harmony to rescue him, yet he equally hoped that she stayed far away. To think what these would do to her… It made his anger with his father seem so trivial.
He had thought that maybe he could converse with his fellow prisoners, but he was surrounded on both sides by animals: ravenous creatures that deserved no treatment such as this, but silent still. There was no green here, and his loneliness made him more afraid.
As the hours went on he could feel time passing, could feel himself aging. Alone in the silence he could feel the disconnect he had with this timeline, and the necessity there was for him to return to whence he'd come. He could not escape his cell for something bound him, but he knew that when next the cell was open he would have to leave. He hoped that it would be Harmony who opened the door, so that he could see her one more time.
Below the growls was the sound of footsteps, a single pair that clipped with authority down the corridor. Isthgraid dreaded them.
The man stopped before his cell, his clothes as clean and white as the building and wholly unnatural. Isthgraid did not stand.
The man’s eyes were fixed on his silver clipboard. He did not address Isthgraid, even as he spoke, he spoke to the paper alone. “Hostile 17. What an interesting specimen you are…” His eyes barely escaped the upper edge of the board. “Not drinking your blood, I see. Well, we’ll have to remedy that…”
“Dr. Hanes,” Another voice came, and further footsteps clipped. The man who appeared was a clean simulacrum of the first. “There’s been a situation. Engelman wants us in the Area.”
“Engelman always wants us in the Area,” the first man, the one the other called Hanes, said with bitterness. “Didn’t he get the memo that we’re here to research, not play Frankenstein?”
“Hey, don’t look at me. I keep telling him one of his and Walsh’s creations is gonna bite him in the ass.”
The pair clipped away. Isthgraid did not understand their conversation, yet felt that it must in some way have brought relief.
The relief it did bring was cold and long. Even the distant footsteps faded, and the growls around him rang hollowly through the great complex. Isthgraid closed his eyes and took the silence into him, trying to find rest.
He awoke to a heavy weight compressing his crossed legs, an arm around his neck, a tongue entering his mouth and bright, starlet eyes filling his vision. His joy would not be contained, and it suffused itself in his smile and down his arms that surrounded her and through his fingers that treasured her hair.
Warm darkness closed his eyes again, filling him for the eternal moment until they relaxed apart.
“Come on, we gotta go,” his Harmony said, taking his hand and guiding them to their feet. “Something crazy’s going on, but Buffy and her gang think we can get out without them knowing.”
Because he wished to, he let his hand fall from hers and took her waist in both, spinning her through the air once around him. Her hair rushed like an aura and he felt himself infused. She laughed, and on its stream he ran with her, down the white-clean corridor and around a corner, eddying to a halt as they found the others Harmony had spoken of.
“Well, you said he was blue,” the yellow-haired woman said. Her face was familiar.
“It is really quite astonishing,” a man with glasses also commented. Isthgraid did not know how to respond, so held Harmony’s hand more tightly.
“Yeah, right, can we get out of here now?” His father had come for him; it seemed so unbelievable. He marvelled, even as the yellow-haired woman led them away from the cold cleanliness and back into the world.
The grass seemed to welcome him even as it whispered slander against his love, sullen in the falling night. He listened instead to the sighing calls of the distant pines as he was led to a house and down into its basement.
When the movement stopped they all fixed their eyes on him, their gazes like shafts of broken sunlight all falling upon him. He stood with Harmony, willing to meet their questions while she stood with him.
“So, who – what the hell are you?” the yellow-haired woman asked, too bright and violent against the cool and lichenous damp of the wall.
“Hey!” replied his Harmony, stepping forward. “He’s a person!” Her hair shook, wind blew through barley, and he felt how deeply he had missed her.
He smiled, then met the violent woman’s stare. “My name is Isthgraid,” he said.
“Told you it sounded Arabic.” His father’s voice grumbled from where he stood.
“Yes,” another spoke, removing filigree from his face to polish it. “I would be interested to know your origins, Isthgraid.”
Pride stood him taller. “I am born of Illyria, God-King of the Primordium, and bear the name of her most respected enemy, whom she destroyed at the battle of Sarrhad’nar.”
“Uh, Sara-who?” This one’s upper shell was more bright and violent than the yellow woman’s hair. It repelled him.
“Who gives a toss?” His father approached. “Why the hell d’you look like me?”
“You are my father.”
“You’re bloody joking!”
The violently-coloured man was shaking, laughing as the woman next to him patted his shoulder.
“No bleeding way am I your father.” His father shook his head, moving back and forth across the floor, turning like a whirlwind. “Think I’d remember that bit.”
“This is what happens when you drink like a fish,” the yellow-haired woman said. “Bad bedtime decisions.”
Isthgraid barely heard her. Betrayal hurt him once again, and as its waves filled him he knew he recognised the woman, yellow and brash though she was. She was the golden mother, immature and un-burnished. His hatred was brutal, driving through him.
“For God’s sake, he’s nothing like me!” His father thrust out an arm, the angles sharp. “All right, he’s got my face, but I am not that weird!”
Then Harmony took his hand, and hatred was washed away by love. She spoke, “Shut the hell up, Spike! At least he doesn’t listen to that Crash crap you always played on the stereo! And he’s way nicer than you are.”
“It’s The Clash, you moron.”
Isthgraid raised their joined hands and kissed hers. She gave him clarity. His father did not know him because he was not yet his father. There was nothing yet that he could teach him. There seemed but one course to follow.
“Harmony, my love,” he said. She looked at him, her eyes wide and as flawless as glass. “I do not belong to this time.” She shook her head, but he had to carry on. “I belong to the future. I have always belonged there.”
“No! What? That's not true!”
“I must leave this time.” As he said it he knew he was correct. The youth here was pungent, the rawness of the golden mother painful. His course lay elsewhere, in his own time, when age and his mother had come. His Harmony herself was young. He could feel it in her touch that she would grow into so much, find her path without him. With her in his arms however he felt that all was perhaps not lost. “I would know you again,” he continued, “if you would remember me. I wish to learn more of this world and there is much that you have taught me.”
“Oh, Edie!” Water was spilling from her eyes, washing over his shell. It felt like gentle Autumn rain. “I'll remember you! I'll probably sleep with some other guys, especially if it takes, like, months, but I'll remember!”
With his head lowered to her temple he breathed her scent in for what he hoped was not the final time. Then he whispered, “Farewell, my love,” and felt himself return to his present.
Time took him to where he had left, and as it stretched around him he heard, “You know, that's actually kinda ...” The last word was however lost to him as he returned to London daylight.
He stood where he had before, the birches weeping at his anger and the road empty before him. The echo of what he had felt lingered in the air, and with the suddenness he could not resist he felt despair. Had this been the correct choice? His shell felt settled, but with that feeling came the knowledge of what he wanted: Harmony, who was not there.
He felt bereft, lost; the sun was still darkening. Now that he had travelled them twice he realised how many years had passed. Could he still go back? There was nothing for him here.
“Oi!” a call came.
Isthgraid turned. It was his father, striding down the path to meet him, to claim him as his own, the golden mother left behind him in the doorway. They appeared softer, glowing. “Father?”
“Isthgraid, innit?” his father asked, an eyebrow raised. He took stock of Isthgraid's form, so settled now in his own state. Isthgraid thought perhaps that he had made the right decision. “Blue did a good job, didn't she? Wonder where she copied my coat from...” He looked back to the house and took a breath. “Dunno why I didn't recognise you before, but look, Harm's still waiting for you. She's in LA – California, where we were before, or thereabouts. Wouldn't stop going on about you the moment Lil turned up.”
“She remembers me?” It filled him with hope, and some poppies in the garden's flowerbeds began to gabble excitedly. They knew where it was he had to go.
“Been a bit depressing about it to be honest. 'Only bloke who's ever loved her', etcetera, etcetera, year in year out...”
Isthgraid readied himself for the journey, but a glance at his father's face reminded him of his mother's words. “My mother said that you would teach me.”
“Oh, really,” his father replied, moving his hands to his hips. He laughed, so happy now. Isthgraid had not seen that before: what was it he had learned to know? “Well, lesson the first in the Spike Guide to Life: make the girl that loves you happy.”
Isthgraid waited and wondered what this meant. His father looked at him with so much anticipation.
“Go on then,” he continued. “What are you still doing here?”
Understanding came at last and Isthgraid nodded, a smile growing on his face. He looked once more to the cloudless sky and let the poppies tell him where he was headed. Perhaps he too would be happy in his life.
His exit was marked once more with words: “If I ever look that besotted, love, stake me.” Isthgraid heard them all and laughed.