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      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
They'll find.
                    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.

                                                              Spike's home
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.

Chapter Text

“The story’s not that long, you know.” She sniffs.
“I guess, I only said that ‘cause that’s what
You’re meant to say when it’s like this: too much
To tell. And complicated. You have got
To know it’s not that I don’t want to tell
You it, it’s just I don’t know how. The words
Won’t come – I’m trying even now, you know,
But all I'm getting is this crap.” She sniffs
Again, and then he cannot help but move
In closer, hoping that she’ll warm his flesh
Enough that he’ll give back that heat in turn.
She gave him strength before, and he to her –
It feels as though the sum of all he has
Has come from things she’s done or said to him.
“Kay, so, I didn’t go to Rome – I heard
From Andrew you and Angel found him there.
But that’s still skipping on, ‘cause till
Two days ago, or three, or maybe four?
Till then I didn’t have a clue that you
Were back. It’s still a little new. I mean,
I never let myself believe... Although
I couldn’t help believing for a while
When you’d first gone. You’ve gotta know the way
That is.” He does, and yet he never thought
She would, for him at least. “You weren’t in Rome?”
He says, not trusting any other words.
      She takes a breath, a sigh, and says, “We weren’t.
Not Dawn and I, I mean – I don’t know why.
We had to think of somewhere we would love
To live, but then that meant we couldn’t go.
It all seems kinda dumb that way, but still
There wasn’t much that made much sense back then,
‘Cause with the Hellmouth everything had changed –
The dust cloud you’d made hadn’t settled yet –
And Willow took a break. I guess she thought
That was the option we’d all bought ourselves,
But then she didn’t say – we needed her
And she just packed. I thought we’d talk, but she
Was standing , bag in hand, all ready in
The doorway, saying, ‘Sorry, gotta go.
That spell was pretty whoa, huh? Ken and I
Were thinking we could get away, and do
The dating scene instead of fighting vamps.’
It might have been a week, I guess, but she
Was smiling, like it all was in the past.
We’d said we’d talk, take time for best friend stuff,
‘Cause I’d been stuck in Slay-mode, her in Witch-.
I mean, I know that she and Kennedy
Had never had much time to be alone,
But neither had the rest of us. The group
Had grown, and I thought maybe now, with all
The Slayers, that I wouldn’t have to lead
While they trooped silently behind. There’s no
Point sharing power if not one of them
Will take it up, I thought, accept the weight
It brings. I thought we’d share, but Willow left,
With Kennedy, who’d said she wanted this.
The Slayers quickly took their cues, and chose
To stay or go, Giles waving as they went,
Their brightly coloured cars and taxis quick
To vanish from the motel forecourt, grey
As we were; it was like the flood was gone
And all the animals were free to leave
As Noah stood and watched them go, his feet
Still wet and rank with sand. I guess I’d meant
To give them choice, but I had thought I’d got
Myself some too. The price that we – that you
Had paid; I thought it was enough for Fate
To cut us all some... Every time a year
Goes by I feel a little more naïve.
      “’Cause Willow, then, was gone, and, even though
She begged for updates, Xander hasn’t had
An email back in all the months he’s tried,
Not even one short note before we held
Memorial that leafy day in cold
November. That was when I sent my last.
She broke his heart completely when she did
That; it was like she hadn't even cared
A little bit, like Anya had been too
Annoying even for the courtesy.
We were in Scotland then – the Watchers had
A castle; Giles owned the deed, ‘cause all
The other Watchers got blown up or stabbed.
I guess it’s good that he avoided that.
And yeah, I know, a project built on death
Is doomed to fail. But what else can you do?
It stood, or stands, I guess, ‘cause it’s not gone,
In mountains where it’s sheltered from plain sight.
It’s shot with all these secret passages
That come out on the hillside – one of them
Will lead you from my room, past slimy walls,
And take you to this rocky bluff, that’s rough
With heather – coarse, but softly purple, like
A sunset’s purple, even when it rains.
It’s quiet. Xander’s got it humming with
A generator, but that only feels
Like life – a heartbeat, kinda, and you can’t
Begrudge it that. The walls are all so thick,
You’d think you were alone, if not for all
The girls you meet in every corridor.
But then the ceilings make their voices sound
Like birdsong, pealing high around the hall –
At breakfast there’s this chorus, happiness
In twenty different languages, no snark
About the lack of Raisin Bran, or milk
That’s one day past its expiration date.
      “I miss it. And I say I miss it ‘cause
It hasn’t been like that in months. I’ve got
The tense all wrong. It’s sort of still the same,
But not – the problem was the girls began
To finish training, had no more to learn.
Till then it had been good that we weren’t close
To civilisation; now we had a group
Of Slayers, fully trained, who didn’t have
A mission, nothing regular for them
To Slay, so couldn’t help the world the way
I’d hoped. There were emergencies that we
Found out about from Giles’ friends, and they
Weren’t bring-a-spoon-it’s-cherry easy, but
As Winter carried on we knew we had
To find someplace to send the girls who passed
The tests. So Faith and Robin, they both went
(And still are travelling, from what I know)
To find the cities where we’re needed most
And set up bases where the girls could live.
We sent a lot away and brought in more
That Giles had found. But somewhere down the line
It started being just like Sunnydale
And I forgot their faces – every week
There’d be some new girls, so the breakfast song
Would change, and sound like cliques. It wasn’t fair
On Dawn, ‘cause she lost all her friends to Spain
Or Canada, and after everything
I wasn’t gonna be much help. I tried,
But even with the whole weird sister/mom
Dichotomy she never trusted me.
I kept too much from her, held on too long
Till we were past the line where she was old
Enough to know, and I was... blind and did
Not see it coming. God, I screwed that up
So bad. She told me once, you know, confessed
That 'Buffy, you’re not Mom, and I won’t see
You ever like her; I can’t turn to you
Like that. You’re Buffy and you’re never here.'
I didn’t know what I was meant to say.
I stared, and then she walked away, back deep
Into the castle, left me shivering –
The draught was horrible; that winter harsh.
      “I prayed, you know, one night that winter, called
Upon Osiris, took a candle from
The magic store back to my room and prayed.
I felt a little dumb, but still, I kneeled
And was all like, 'Osiris, Keeper of
The Gate, and Master of All Fate, I hope
That you will hear my words. I come to you
In supplication for your guidance and
Your wisdom.' And the candle light was bright,
You know, all gold and round – until I shut
My eyes. The voice then sounded in my mind,
And that was full and liquid too. It said,
'I hear you, child.' And I was blown away,
Not literally, but it made me jump
To hear him talking in my head. I’m not
Sure what I wanted, even now; I guess
I didn’t want to spend another night
All by my lonesome, staring at the wall
Remembering the friends I used to have
Before they left to ‘take some time’. Or died.
I wanted some companionship and, hey,
Osiris had to know me, right? I’d been
With him that whole time I was dead. Although,
I’m not sure I expected he’d pick up.
I stuttered out, 'Oh, hi, your holiness.
Your godliness, I mean. I mean, uh, what
Am I supposed to call you? Never met
A god who didn’t want me dead before.'
It felt as though he laughed, the liquid rich
And deep inside me, molten gold that whipped
Down to my toes. Then , 'I would say that our
Acquaintance means that such formality
Is never necessary.' 'Wow,' I said.
'I’m honoured, sir. Confused, though, kinda, ‘cause,
Well, Willow’s magic stole me back to life.’
And I remember now that I was scared,
But then he laughed again and gave me what
Felt like a hug: warmth wrapped around me, chill
Of winter in my fingers gone. He said,
'Dear child, my son informs me you possess
One of the lightest hearts that he has had
The opportunity to weigh.' 'That’s good?'
I asked, not really prepped on all the myths.
I should have read more books, or thought at least
A little longer when I dreamt this up.
I can think after all, and yet I don’t.
'You are a treasure, child,' he carried on,
And I could feel the warmth inside me spin
Together into bands of gold, that seemed
To twine around my heart. 'A jewel that should
Be cherished, loved.' The binds became supports;
My heart felt like it didn’t have to beat;
My breathing slowed, not needed anymore.
He whispered on, 'A stolen favourite, lost
But ready for the day I’ll take you back.'
The bonds grew tighter for a second; then
They loosed again. I realised that I’d stopped.
I gasped. My blood began to rush, my breath
Was heavy as it tried to catch up, fill
The seconds it had stopped in, meet
The pace my heart was setting. 'But,' I breathed
'That day – it’s not today, right?' 'No,' he sighed.
The warmth went cold; the gold went... Crystally.
I shivered once, but still it felt like glass
Was shattering; I missed his nicer words.
'Now tell me, child,' he asked me coldly, 'what
Was it you wished to know?' I wasn’t sure;
The time before the spell was long ago,
And so I simply asked, 'Is everyone...'
I’m sorry, I was weak; I never said
Your name. I meant it – know I meant it – but
I just said ‘everyone’. 'Is everyone
At peace?' And he replied, 'Those gone will reach
Their destination; nothing more might I
Reveal to mortal ears.' I tried to ply
The charms I had and make the warmth come back,
But all I got was laughter, slightly warm,
But nothing like before. 'You may,' he said,
'Receive the knowledge that I need no rites
To take the souls that pass my way and place
Them in the realm where they belong. That much
I will impart.' I felt relieved, though now
I’m not so sure I wasn’t forced to feel
That way. The sense of him was vanished – poof –
A second later when I let my eyes
Fall open. It was late, it had to be,
The candle that I’d lit was almost gone,
And maybe it was magic, but the thing
Was chunky, churchy beeswax kinda style.
It freaked me out a little bit, you know?
Especially the part where yet again
I’d almost died. I guess I’ll never meet
A god who won’t prefer me dead. The odds
Are stacking after all. Oh well.
                                                “So that
Was February. Though I sometimes thought
I should, I didn’t want to pray again.
I thought he’d gone, and left me maybe with
A kind of blessing, like it was okay
To live my life. I tried to make some time
For all the Slayers, even though they left
The moment that you got to know them well.
And in the next few months I thought that things
Were getting better; Xander seemed to find
Himself again and let go of the dark
And heavy bitterness he felt for how
He’d been to Anya. Obviously he had
Some bad days, so did I, but then there were
These times when we would sit together, laugh
About the things you guys had done, about
The thought that we’d come down so hard on you,
And on each other’s choices, ‘cause we’d felt
So guilty when we’d thought about our own.
I’m not sure if we got it right, but still
We tried to put the things we’d done behind
Us, make some peace with your guys’ memories,
And we were better than we’d been in months.
      “You get, then, how it was when it went down?
I’m trying to think what else you need to know –
I guess I should just carry on the tale.
We have these Slayer-witches, three of them,
Who even though they aren’t as good as Will
Still try to keep the castle out of harm.
They do it pretty well, and have this room
On the second floor they decorated like
The way that Tara had her dorm room: stars
And velvet, dark but all the same still full
Of light, and crystals. It is always warm
In there, but never more than you can take,
Just always cosy when you come in from
The snow. But they don't always let you in –
Like when they do a spell, or something that
Requires concentration, no one else
Is welcome. Giles would talk to them about
Defences and the magic stuff – what god
Was most appropriate for girls who killed,
Things to invoke and everything like that.
However long ago it was – the days,
They’ve blurred together. Now I’m here I can’t
Believe that it’s been days, it must be more –
But anyway I went to see them all,
I think to ask their choice of pizza, ‘cause
The anniversary was coming and
We thought we all deserved a treat. I knocked,
But no one answered, so I tried the door.
They kept it locked if they were in a trance,
Which made it worth a try; Gurpreet, I knew,
If Sadie and Eliza not so much,
She’d kill me if I let her miss the food
‘Cause she was meditating. And the door
Was open, so I went inside.
                                                “But that –
I should have never done that. Clearly they
Had meant to lock the door, but hadn’t got
The latch or something, ‘cause the moment that
I entered I could feel the crackle of
The magic as it flowed between them, sat
At points of a triangle, with purple sand
Between them cutting curves. I tried to leave,
I’ve been near magic long enough to know
That that was what I should have done, and yet
I slipped – I hope that I was pushed, that there
Was crappy destiny in all of this,
Something, I don’t mind, anything, so it
Was not just accident that made me fall.
I stumbled forward, hit the sand; a shriek
Grew in my ears, and I could feel my life
As it was ripping through me. Golden strands,
Osiris’ remnants, laced into my bones,
Were loosened, pulled away. The force of it
Pushed darkness on me and the only thing
That I could think was that I hadn’t known.
      “I woke a little later, with Gurpreet’s
Hands at my temples. 'Come on, mate,' she said.
Her face was drawn. 'Eliza’s out, too deep
For me to wake her right this second, and –'
Her hands were shaking. '– Sadie’s... Sadie’s on
The warpath, innit, buzzed by all the juice
You gave her.' 'Warpath?' I replied. 'But why?'
'Osiris,' she said back, a little awed.
'It doesn’t matter, but you never said...
You should have, maybe; we’d have warned you more.'
She shook her head. 'It’s recently, you see,
Our spells have been ‘bout seeking gods for us
As patrons; Sadie’s not had any luck,
So she’s been pushing harder, reaching out
Across the panthea, all perfectly
Set up for ‘ssumption as an avatar.
Takes risks, that girl. And this... Her eyes, my god,
I’ve never seen her eyes like that.' 'They’re black,'
I said. Gurpreet just nodded, so I stood.
'Come on,' I carried on and took her hand;
She tried to pull herself up by the wall,
But couldn’t stand. 'I’m sorry, Buffy, but
My legs are knackered; go and find her, that’s
What’s most important.' Wincing then she fell
Back down, and with a nod I left her there.
The first thing that I noticed was the dark,
The lights were off; they’d shorted maybe, with
The spell. I headed to the hall, but there
It wasn’t any better: everyone
Looked freaked, a crowd was huddled round the hearth –
They called my name as I came closer, moved
Apart so I could see between them. There
Was Xander, Dawn, a couple others round
A body, breathing but not moving, still.
'She said,' a whisper came, 'said Ingrid lived,
Was living far too long, that Sadie said,
And snapped her fingers, knocked her out and walked
Away.' I looked around and tried to count.
Thank God for pizza; nearly everyone
Was there. 'Where’s Giles?' I said at last, and Dawn
Looked up. 'Not here,' she said, her worry deep
As mine. I knew that Sadie would not leave
The castle; there was nowhere else to go.
She’d left Eliza and Gurpreet, so now
The question was where else was left.
                                                “I ran
To Giles’ office, knew there was no point
In wasting time, but still it seemed that I
Had wasted far too much, 'cause she was there.
The door was open, but I had no way
Of getting in; she’d left a barrier
Way stronger than a door. I tried to break
The forcefield, but there wasn’t anything
That I could do. I had to stand outside
And listen as she spoke to Giles, harsh.
'I see the lives that you have taken, Child
Of Eyghon, lives that you have altered far
From what I wanted them to be.' Her voice
Was not what Sadie’s voice is like, but mixed
Instead with bitterness and righteous rage.
Osiris’ voice had sounded different, but
I guess it was his rage that she could feel.
The things she said were terrible. 'You blunt
Atropos’ shears, have long denied the death
That rightfully belongs to you. Your time
Is come.' I couldn’t say a word, stood lost
In doorway, staring hard at Sadie’s back.
She’s quiet usually, keeps to herself;
I’ve never seen her stand that tall. And Giles,
Oh God, poor Giles, he seemed to cower as
He stood before her, even though he held
His head up like he always did. ‘The things
I’ve done,' he said, 'The things that I regret –
They weigh on me, have always weighed on me.
And yet I cannot think that such events
Have caused my death to be determined, since
This world has no inherent justice, since
No single crime has ever fully been
Repaid. Our actions may cause us to face
Outcomes and consequences we did not
Foresee, but death will always be without
Apparent reason, always strike at will
With indiscriminate immediacy
On those who least suspect its coming. I
Refuse to see our fates as set, to see
The future as immutable. And if
You kill me now I will not change my view.'
But Sadie still continued, darkness in
Her voice, 'You speak as though it matters what
You think, as though your fate might be denied
And be avoided by your insolence.
I see the world around us, see the worlds
Above and those below, I see your touch
Affect the champion who unredeemed
Has now been banished far from hope of that
Redemption, and the other left behind
Who faces death without a guide as he
Commits to tasks which aren’t his own to do.
I see these things all through Osiris’ eyes
And you would weep to know this clarity.'
And Giles, he finished by replying, 'I
Have nothing more to say.' He raised his head
And Sadie raised her arm. I cried out, 'No!'
But nothing changed. No line of Sadie’s back
Was broken, Giles refused to look at me
And stared instead into the face of Death.
It struck and it was then he fell, life gone
He slumped and I too late could feel my feet
Both running forward – then I crouched beside
Him, turned him over, but... He was too cold,
It felt like he had long been gone. I looked
To Sadie, but she’d left, and as I cried
The only voice that still remained was one
That came from shadows in the corner, thick,
As mine was, with still-gushing tears. 'It’s like
He said. All death is indiscriminate,
It’s like he said. There’s no way he deserved...
He’s Giles, Professor X...' I never thought
That I’d be sharing grief with Andrew, but
I was, and there was nothing that could make
Me mind. 'There hadn’t been a way that he
Could know what Angel meant to do; he’d had
To guess – we always have to guess – he tried
To probe but every question seemed to make
The story Angel span seem more obscure.
He wouldn’t tell us what was going on
And he would never mention Spike –' And that
Was when I interrupted, ‘cause, in case
You didn’t know, I didn’t know and I
Was quickly getting overwhelmed by all
This information that you’d think that I,
The leader who, you know, was actually
Executive, would be aware of, so
I said, 'You’re saying what?' And it was not
The best way I’ve expressed my disbelief,
I know that, but I’ve never had to kneel
With Giles so heavy as I tried to hold
Him up. He could have been unconscious – that
Was what I tried to tell myself – but he
Was cold, way colder than he should have been,
Like Sadie stole the warmth he had from him
The moment that she took his life. It felt
Surreal, so surreal and hollow and
On top of that now Andrew, who I had
Not known was there, was telling me these things
That there was no way I’d believe. He said,
'We wanted both of us to tell you, but
It wasn’t clear, it really wasn’t clear,
‘Cause Angel had that law firm, and then Spike,
He chose to stay. We knew that it would break
Your heart if he had somehow changed. They came
To Rome and seemed the same; I talked to them
And tried to piss them off – I couldn’t see
A darkness there, but then they went back home
And Angel, still we heard reports, was not
The same as he’d once been. Was it a front?
We thought it was to us, but maybe he
Was making it to them. We’ll never know.'
I felt like all my year had been a lie,
Like they had torn my choice from me and I
Had been made dumb. Of course if you had changed
It would have killed me, but I would have killed
You first if I was forced to. ‘Cause you know
That’s how I am now, don’t you? That’s one thing
That’s different between us; and it hurt
Me more to not know you were back, to not
Be told that Angel now was dead, since Giles
It seemed was dying for him too.
                                                “It was
Too much to deal with, so I didn’t; stood
Instead, told Andrew to get up. We had
A witch to deal with – then I’d try to get
Myself together, figure out the rest.
The current threat with Sadie, that was what
We had to deal with first. I wiped my tears
Away, left Giles lying on the ground,
My jacket as a pillow, stood and walked
Away, my feet both stepping slow until
At last I’d gone and could, if only for
The next few hours keep the violent cold
That filled that room locked up and shut away.”

Chapter Text

“I ran the way I'd come, went back to find
The others, but I only got so far –
Before you reach the stairs the second floor
Has got this corridor, real narrow so
You can't have loads of people running down
It all at once. There Sadie, she was stuck
Along it, standing, trying to push, you know,
Like when that vengeance demon made the house
So none of us could leave? On either side,
A few feet just in front of her, Gurpreet,
Eliza, both of them were standing back
Against the wall, lips moving as they stared
At Sadie, holding her in place. Stalemate.
I’m hovering behind them, trying to think
Of what to do, because you know how me
And magic aren’t exactly this year’s best
New flavour combo down at Dairy Queen.
I think I kinda proved that with the way
I let Osiris get his hooks in me.
As usual I got my violence on
And made a fist to try and knock her out;
Seventy-five percent of me was sure
It couldn’t be that easy, but what else
Was there to do? Or lose? I snuck up close
Behind her, but the moment I’d prepared
Myself and brought my elbow up
Eliza and Gurpreet, their heads smashed back
Against the wall and Sadie spun around,
Her shoulder knocking past my fist. I tried
To throw my punch but Sadie's hand came round
My fingers, cutting in between the bones.
The darkness in her eyes was absolute
And she was smiling with a cruelty that
Should not have worked on Sadie’s face, but all
The same was there. I tried to speak, but all
The words died in my throat like characters
From crappy Regencies my mom would read,
Limp-hand-on-forehead-fainting at the sight
Of something otherworldly. Maybe I
Was being held by thrall or something, but
It didn’t feel like that, or how, at least,
I think it felt when I first died. But that’s
Another story. Wow, do I tell you
The most uplifting things you’ve ever heard
Or what...
             OK, so I was standing there,
Not doing anything that was of use,
When she began to speak, right in my face,
Her voice all deep and hollowed out, like when
She’d been with Giles in his office, but
Now she was saying things to me I found
Out that her breath had been made colder too.
Not vamp-breath cold, which if you're me is not
So bad, but actual rigor-mortis-corpse-
Type cold. Refrigerators-at-the-morgue.
She said, 'So sad for no real reason. Why,
You know as well as I that you don't walk
Within this world; no Slayer does. But yes,
I see, I see: you tell yourself these lies
As though the truth of centuries does not
Apply to you. You walk, you talk – was that
The way you phrased it? Yes, you shop, you sneeze,
So darling, really. Yet this clinging to
Mortality, your curse – obsession one
Might call it – has so little point.' At that
She paused a second, grew more serious.
It wasn't better than her mocking me;
She glared a little harder, said, 'Know this.
I see the touch of heaven mark your step,
I see the touch of hell conceal the tracks.
You think the Slayer is a force that you
Can slaughter as a sacrifice then serve
The parts as equal fare, but you should know
That she was but one woman; as you claim
So often for yourself. And you are whom
She chose to carry on her line. It's yours,
This power, does not matter if you share
The trappings with a nod to make the task
That little easier. Those two I struck
Against the wall, my friends – not I, not one
Of us can share the smallest fragment of
Your burden or the task that lies ahead
Of you. I deal in death, I can't resist,
But you must deal in more, for you must leave
This castle, find that other city in
The ruins it becomes and found it new.'
      So now I'm thinking somehow Andrew did
A spell to take us out of real life
And put us in a video game – with this
The part where someone picks my character
And names me Boobies. Yeah, I almost laughed.
‘OK,’ I said, and took control of my
Emotions. There was so much going on,
But finally I found my anger deep
Beneath the tears and laughter fighting for
Attention. ‘What the hell? Am I supposed
To understand a single word of this?
You tell me I'm pathetic, tell me that
I'm useless as a Slayer, then you tell
Me I'm supposed to leave all this behind
And go to save LA, no, wait, go found
LA, as if it isn't there right now?
I think that people might be pissed if I
Arrive, a crossbow on my back, and tell
Them they're not meant to be there 'cause
I haven't made the city yet. I mean,
I know that it's not Sadie in there, that's
A little obvious (and, by the way,
Get out and give her back), but what do you
Expect, Osiris, if it's you? Am I
Supposed to fall in line when you not more
Than ten minutes ago stood in that room
And murdered Giles in front of me and left
Him on that floor like he was nothing much
Important after all; his death not worth
A second of your time? No matter that
You made out it was so damn crucial that
You kill – You’re even crazier than I
Had thought.' I paused but then I couldn't stop,
Kept on, 'Come on, you know you want to spew
Your psychobabble. Get it out. Come on.'
She didn't though. She didn't say a word.
Her smile still was there, five fingers viced
Around my fist. She brought her other hand
Up higher, touching fingers to my eyes.
I couldn't move an inch. Then 'See,' she said,
'Like I see. See what choice you make.'
                                                       “I saw.
Oh God, I saw you guys all fighting in
An alleyway, the demons rushing down
The street, Illyria and you and Gunn –
Is that his name? – and then... Well you, you saw
It too, saw Angel and that dragon fight?
How he was separate from the crowd and full
Of anger, bitterness for how things had
Turned out? He had that sword held up against
The dragon, cutting, turning, feeling righteous 'till
It sank in with the rain what little point
There was, with Connor not the same and part
Of someone else's family, with Fred
And Wesley and Cordelia all gone.
And you could see it sinking in, the way
It made him strike that dragon harder, lose
Himself in moving, not in strategy.
You saw it too, I know you did, I saw
You try to get there, yelling, pushing past
The demons, but then Gunn was hit and fell
So you could hear the crunching of his spine...
It was no way your fault, believe me, Spike,
By that point he was set on it – he left
His rage behind him, looked the dragon in
The eye and thought he'd meet the yellow with
His own. He couldn't even hear what you
Were shouting; everything seemed silent, still.
The dragon tried to play with him and he
Just let it, stepping dance steps past its wings,
The rain still drumming on his head, the wind
Still blowing both the tails of his coat
The way he liked them. There was, I don't know,
A lurching in his stomach as they fought
A little quicker, jets of flame red hot
And not extinguished even as they hit
The rain, but while his body tensed his mind
Was calm; he felt like now he understood
It all, despite the fact he had no words
To say the way he felt. He moved in time
To music that he couldn't hear and thought
Was probably inaudible, turned once
And raised his sword up high, his other arm
To balance, launched the killing blow and knew
That he was gonna burn. I screamed – I know,
I wasn't really there, but still I screamed.
I couldn't move to run toward him, had
No body to respond. (I didn't make
A sound, I guess, for all my screaming. Did
Not feel that way right then.) You ran to him,
I saw that, you and what's-her-name, with Gunn
Between you, ran and saw and had to keep
On going, through the hole the dragon's tail
Had smashed into the building next to you.
Gunn told you there were sewers as he fell
Into unconsciousness. You couldn't speak.
I watched you go. I knew as well as you
That Angel wasn't meant to die yet, though
He'd felt that way. I knew it; irony's
A bitch. That understanding that he'd felt,
It hadn't meant that he was meant to die.
I watched you go and knew it in my gut.
Now you were gonna have to fight alone,
And obviously you weren't gonna suck,
'Cause you, you're good at all this stuff, but now
You didn't have the back-up that you would
Have had before. Two fighters on their own,
They can't be everywhere at once, and I
Was so afraid, that moment that I watched,
Afraid that you were gonna die again.
I couldn't cope 'cause it was all too much:
It felt like part of me was mourning Giles
And slowly realising that he was gone –
Another part still seeing Angel, flames
All burning brightly on my retinas –
And then a final part was tensing at
The thought that in the future you might die –
I couldn't cope. You know the way that Dawn
Takes labels off her soda bottles, tears
Them into shreds? Yeah, that was how I felt.
And even now it hasn't gone away.
I watched you go and that was when he chose,
Osiris chose, to bring me back; it jarred
So badly, waking up, so I fell down,
But then I realised Sadie falling next
To me. I had to catch her by the arms,
'Cause she was shaking, but she shrank away,
Pushed back to curl alone against the wall,
Her eyes squeezed shut and sobs erupting in
Her throat. Eliza and Gurpreet were up –
See, I could see them in the corner of
My eye – they came in closer, touched her back,
But Sadie jerked away and clutched the floor,
Was sick so violently... Gurpreet just stroked
Her hair, Eliza turned and looked to me,
Hissed 'Scheiße' with a sigh the moment that
She saw my face. 'It's bad?' she asked, but I
Could see that Sadie stilled to listen, so
I didn't want to say. I didn't, could
Not blame her. I replied, 'I have to tell
The others.' Not the Slayers, but the gang,
'Cause that was what I meant – I meant to tell
Them first, but Xander, Dawn... They were all
I had to tell, 'cause Andrew knew, just two
Of us from Sunnydale before I had
To be official. That, it made me shut
My eyes again.
                    “And yet, I told them both.
I played the sister and the sister-mom,
The daughter as I clung to Dawn a while.
And then, eventually, inevitably,
I got a team together for LA,
To find you guys, I hoped, but mainly so
That we could make it safe for more of us
To come. They volunteered; first Sadie came,
She felt she had to, so Eliza and
Gurpreet came too – and there's this other girl,
Krystina, who knows Sadie well because
She's Czech, and Sadie is the only one
Who also took some high school Russian. And
They both play violin, I think. The rest
Are friends from somewhere, 'cept for Rita, she's
A loner. Gets on well with Faith, the times
She visits...
             “Oh, my god, no, crap, I meant –
I never told her, Faith, about it all;
She doesn't know that Giles, Angel – she...”

      And that's when Buffy stops. Her words once more
Are victims slaughtered while unspoken in
Her throat. She’s lost again, once more bereft
Of knowledge how she might proceed, for this,
She told herself when she began, was meant
To be the end of it, catharsis and
Confession bringing absolution of
Her grief. She knows that she can tell it once,
But more than that? When she sees Faith, just what
Is she supposed to say? She can't control
Herself a second time. And Spike was there
For most of it, he knows, she knows, the way
That Angel fell. She's ripped an unhealed wound,
Wide open, she can see it in his face.
He lies there, quiet, looking at her with
Such sympathy, despite his own pain there
Beneath it all, which makes another crack
Fragment her heart. His hurt refracts in hers,
And hers, she realises, in his. She can't
Now speak another word, so stares instead
At how the shadows wisp along his face
And lets the hands that rest between them twine
Together, not exactly comfortable
As hers rests over his, but welcome still.
The feel of his cool skin and knuckles is
Much better than the roughness of the floor.
He wants to know the ending, how she came
To find him, how she came to lose the group,
And she can understand that, but she knows
The words won't come a second time. She sees
Too far ahead, imagines Faith's dark eyes
Harsh calling on her for another full
And comprehensive recitation so
That she can understand. And if she says
It now she won't be able to tell Faith.
And as it is she really hates it when
She has to speechify; she knows that she's
Not very good. He has to understand.
      She shifts and rolls to look above her at
The shadowed ceiling, taking her left hand
From his and swapping in her right to find
His left (he's shifted too). Then forcibly
She shuts her eyes and wills herself again
To sleep. Sleep doesn't come. Inside her mind
All she can hear is British muttering;
Gurpreet was not impressed with Hollywood.
'This looks like Manchester,’ she gripes, despite
A snort from someone else who tells her then,
‘It really don't.’ She says, ‘I could have gone
To Manchester by train, seen Aunty Dee
And Amerdeep, or got my nails done.
Or maybe got a coat.' Another friend
Cuts in, 'What's that you're wearing now?' 'Well, yeah,
Whatever, Mina; 's too thin, innit? Need
A hoodie.' Buffy thought that maybe all
Brit-Asians were this loud, but ages back
Samina nipped that line of thought before
It bloomed completely, told her, 'We're the ones
Who aren't, like, getting chained to desks and shit.
There's gotta be thousands girls out there you'll need
To give more 'n superpowers to get them out
Here fighting evil. Not like most the world
Is living in an MEDC, na?
Where's all of us from proper India,
Or China? Living pretty shitty lives.'
She wouldn't trade her loudmouths for the world,
But still she wonders where the shy girls are,
The ones that Hellmouths turn invisible;
How many are alone in Africa
Or somewhere else, with strength to keep them safe
But nothing else, no way of knowing they
Have sisters? Even strong there's only so
Much force you can defend against. And what
About the other women, people of
The world, without the Slayer power-boost?
She tries to think that she can only fight
One battle at a time, and that the world's
Existence needs to be prioritised,
But then it feels like she should somehow have
The power to do more.
                                Of course, it's not
As if she's doing well with all the girls
She's got. The memory goes around again
Elise rolls her eyes and says, 'You are
A witch. Why don't you make it warmer for
Yourself?' But then there's scoffing, 'Yeah, good plan,
'Cause Durga and the rest are gonna go
For that.' A sigh and, 'Tja, you see that this
Is why I walk the pagan path. And why
It's good sometimes to be much fatter than
A thirty-six.' 'Elise, you're not fat.'
All banter, chatter, laughter in the night
Too loud and yet she doesn’t tell them so,
Just lets them carry on until in one
Stark second Sadie jerks up straight and speaks
In her most flute-like breathy whisper, sign
That in that moment she’s been struck by her
Prophetic intuition, ‘Something’s there.’
Inside her mind then Buffy hears her own
Reply, that she'll scout on ahead. She sees
It all again, the way she left them as
She headed down the street; she feels the rain
That came so fast and drummed across her back.
She trusted Sadie, so, she thinks, she should
Have led them all together – after all
It's not as though she's ever had much time
For strategy. But something happens when
She has an army, or a troop at least,
That makes her go all General Buffy, makes
Her want to look a little organised.
She comes up to an intersection, hears
The sound of something rushing, breathes a gasp
And turns back to the others, but it's all
Too slow, the rain too loud. She sees it then:
The pack is coming at them, snarling jaws,
Their shapes not fully visible, the din
So loud, feet thundering across the wet
And broken concrete as she tries to call
Her orders, rain now pounding on her head:
Retreat to higher ground, to somewhere safe.
Distraction in the corner of her eye –
A flash of light reflecting on a shock
Of hair? It's nowhere near conclusive, but
It's still enough for maybe five or six
More demons all to blindside her and toss
Her too-frail body hard between them, knock
Her tumbling down some subway stairs and crack
Her ankle hard beneath her as a cry
Escapes her throat to echo in the dark.

      That concrete floor was hard beneath her back,
The smell so cold and damp, forgotten ground
Reclaiming tunnels back from the machines,
Reclaiming her, perhaps, if she did not
Get up. It hurt so much, and she could hear
The rain still splashing hard against the steps.
With every second damp crept further through
Her jacket, causing her to shiver, but
That awful voice began to whisper all
The same. If she stayed lying there, then not
A soul would know, her friends would not believe
That she had given up. She had the chance
To jump through the escape hatch, leave it all
Behind. It doesn't come that often, not
To her, and she's resisted every time,
Except back on the tower, when the fates
Agreed to dress up the apocalypse
To let her have a noble sacrifice.
The ceiling up above her head, of Spike's
Apartment, even though it's lighter, feels
The same to her, much less oppressive than
The sky. She might as well have never moved,
Though now she’s here her ankle doesn’t hurt
So much. Could she have stayed there? Let it all
Resolve without her? Let the others work
It out while she stopped thinking, of the dead
And of her duty? She would like to think
That Spike would let her go and leave without
Much blaming her or telling everyone.
She thinks he’d go for it. Hey, maybe this
Is how it's meant to be: she brings the gang
And lets the world be saved. Despite the bull
Osiris pushed in Sadie's mind to say,
She's not all that important. That might make
Some sense with all the years she's fought for. No
Point getting self-obsessed.
                                       Or maybe she's
A coward, letting grief catch up with her,
Too weak to Slay. For all she knows her group
Is dead, all chased and lost and lying as
A group of bloody corpses on the street.
She saw the bodies at the bus station –
Yeah, welcome to Los Angeles, CA.
But what does she do? Lie here crying in
A not-so-warm but still-so-cosy room
That shelters her from all the death outside.
She’s selfish, selfish, selfish taking this
While Giles rots in Scottish soil. More
Than selfish; something like a joke played on
The world that thought she would be useful here.
Her hands come up to shut away her face
And stay there even as she hears the shift
Of Spike and bedclothes, feels his fingertips
So gingerly against her shoulder. She
Is shaking (and she thinks that he is too);
She can’t control the hiccoughs in her throat;
He tugs her round until she’s on her side,
Her bony fingers locked between her face
And all the muscles of his chest, but still
She’s shaking. She can only wonder how
She looks to Scary Goth Queen up above
Her head. No refunds for a front-row seat
At Buffy’s extra special breakdown. No
Exchange; you’ve gotta see the show. Shame this
With her a sobbing wreck curled on the floor
Is really not the one she meant to give.

      Illyria has heard, of course she has,
But she is not concerned with present time.
It is the imminence of dreams that grips
Her thoughts and kindles soft a furling wisp
Of fear in her gut. For sleep has found
The mind of Charles Gunn, and now seeks out
The two below her lying on the floor.
She does not sleep, but lately dreams have come
Upon her, fits of painful ecstasy,
Crescendi of the doubts that should not be
Existent in her mind, played perfectly
In time to murmurings that she can hear
From her companions, lost in dreams. In this,
The time when sleep is slowly summoned to
The mortals’ minds, her shell’s eyes have begun
To fail her and mould the frail light
Of the apartment’s candles till the room’s
Black-shadowed corners have become the haunts
Of fey and leering apparitions. She
Cannot believe that they are even less
Mundane than she, but yet she does not know
Whence they do come. Tonight they look on her
With promises of sights more vivid than
Before – the Slayer’s dreams, they say, will strike
Her mind with all the blades and daggers Fred
Once wielded as her emotions, strike
Much deeper than she can anticipate.
What is the cause? What is the cause of this?
(She asks, for panic always is the first
To pierce the soundness of her royal mind.)
She lays blame at the portal; this is a
Phenomenon that should not happen in
This world. The myths of shells, none ever spoke
Of agony as terrible as this.
The echoes and impressions left on cells
That alter her perception, those she had
Anticipated, deemed irrelevant
(And still does not think to outweigh the joy
Of sentient existence), but not this.
      The night creeps on and soon not Sleep but Dream
Is heralded by one mere moment’s change.
There is a screaming in her mind, from far
Away; she thinks it is Illyria,
Or the Illyria who she once was,
But no, Illyria would never scream
For something so banal as this, this light
That floods her vision, casts on her the pain
Of turbulent emotion: Who is safe?
Where is her foe? Why shines the light so bright?
The many eyes of Cerberus are lit
With bitter anger, staring up from wounds
Still wet and weeping in the ground, cut through
The light and pouring darkness as the scream
Becomes a roar. And there is too much pain.
The eyes are Angel’s, hollow in his face;
His body just a shell as much as hers,
While snarls and slatherings of Cerberus
Resound and promise she will be consumed –
But maybe she will let him, let him eat,
Let him devour the entire world –
      The dream is broken and Illyria
Is breathing hard, released and free for one
Short moment, solved of feeling. She would be
Ashamed of the emotion that she felt,
But to be so would be supposing she
Has flaws, which she does not. Her thoughts are turned
Instead to the more concrete content of
The dream; what did the Slayer see? The past?
Or yet the coming future; does she have
That faculty? What more will she (and will
Illyria) foresee as Night goes on?
      But, oh, your academic ponderings
Are rendered moot, Illyria, for on
The visions come, possess you with the night.
Abandon hopes for godhead; long it is
Until you will return to how you were.
Sleep wracks you all; the morning’s far away.

Chapter Text

The Slayers run on hearing Buffy's cry,
Retreat without co-ordination, turn
About and almost trip on all the feet
Around them. They can hear the reason why
She yelled in warning, growls below high yelps
And snarls and siren-howling of the wind.
Their training’s shared, their instincts too, and so
They quickly pull their senses to alert
And find an alleyway: their bottleneck.
They turn as one, the thuds and splashes of
Their running veering from the street so they
Can make a stand. A chain-link fence is tall
Behind their backs, and promises at least
A warning if another threat should come.
It only takes a second for the group
To shrug their sodden rucksacks off their backs
And to the slickened tarmac, arm themselves.
The rain is harder now and as they join
Formation words cannot be heard except
Through shouts. “A shield!” Samina yells above
The wind, “Can you lot make a shield for us?”
She's looking at the witches, knows Gurpreet
Can do it with some help, but not if there's
A problem with the forces in LA,
Or if that Sadie girl's not up to it
(It's understandable). They link their hands –
But as the air begins its crackling
Samina sees that Sadie’s had too much.
She cannot hack this so she pulls away,
Backs up against the wall. “Not yet.” She shakes
Her head. There isn’t time to talk so Xiao
Is yelling, “Come on, guys;” they're grouping round
So Sadie can recover at the back.
And, yeah, that's pretty sensible 'cause then
The demons run right by them, spin and turn
To huff and scrape their feet between the walls.
Samina eyes one down, which makes it growl,
A fox-like scowl across its steel-furred face,
Above its eyes. Raquel is at her back –
She’s got a cold, so coughs from chill. It’s then
The fight gets started, heartbeats like a bass.
Samina loves the fighting part of this,
The slaying. Danger she can live without,
But fighting, yeah, she loves it, spinning round
On bouncy Nike trainers, cutting low,
A little bit of streetstyle dancing, so
The demon slips and rolls and splashes flat
Against a puddle; crouching down so you
Can punch your knife through hide and make it game,
Set, match Samina. Check Raquel's OK,
Take out the one that's snapping at her side
Then get back in, swear nice and violently
When unseen claws leap from a dumpster, slash
And cut your Kappa jacket, take revenge
And gut this one a little deeper, though,
No shit, you've got its blood all up your sleeve
And why the fuck did you wear white for this?
The pack is huge, but they are in control,
The London crew and Lise's Germans, plus
That Rita girl is pulling ninja moves,
Which no one taught them back in Inverness.
Gurpreet's got magic fire glowing bright,
A moment flare: she immolates a knot
Of demons, light so bright it almost blinds
Samina: “Watch it!” she shouts out, despite
The fact she knows that no one's listening.
The shortest breather, quick shake of her head,
And then she lifts her knife again and turns
On gravel –
                    – Skids in shock and nearly falls
As there’s a fox-thing leaping at her face,
As out of nowhere there's a crossbow bolt
That strikes the neck of her opponent, fells
The thing stone dead before her, makes its yelp
A whimper. Running footsteps splash and thud
Like rubber-soled, like shop-bought shoes in rain;
They’re coming closer, either threat or friend.
Her heart is pounding but she stills her hand –
A gang emerges from the darkness, dressed
In blacks and greys, but muted colours too:
Samina watches as they join the fight,
A washed-out rainbow that still beats the cloud.
She laughs and someone hears, a black guy in
A purple hoodie, few stray dreadlocks long
Around his shoulders, crossbow on his arm;
He seems surprised to see she’s young. “Hey, girl,”
He asks, “Are you OK?” He looks around.
“The hell are all you doing here?” It’s then
A wounded demon's kicked by Rita right
In front of them and flies to bricks not far
Away. “We're Slayers,” Mina says and sighs.
“We're here to help.” Or so they like to think.
The guy turns to the carnage happening
Behind his back; he nods and then turns to.
An eyebrow raised he snorts and says “OK...”
Samina smiles awkwardly at him
And tries to look more competent: she buffs
Her trainers on her joggers. Lost cause there –
Those bastard demons… But, it’s not all bad,
Despite her ruined gear. The guy and her,
They watch as now the fight is drawing still,
The pack of demons long outnumbered now.
They’re corpses more than bodies, one on two,
On three against the humans, snarling scared.
They don’t make pretty sounds, but she prefers
To hear them whine than hear a friend cry out,
Scream long the way that Laura screamed the time
That five of them went on the ferry boat
To harrow Skara Brae and only four
Came back.
                    Samina looks away, eyes shut,
And waits until the screaming’s gone and there
Is silence. “So, like, who are you lot, then?”
That's Xiao who's asking; Mina looks back up.
The guy she spoke with has rejoined his group,
And in the muffled starlight (helped along
By twinkle-dust Elise's casting round
Their heads) Samina sees his gang is what
She might have guessed – they’re mostly black – and what
She might have hoped – they’re all as fit as him.
At least the men are anyway; they’ve got
Some women too. One looks at Xiao and snarks,
“Survivors, marking time.” Samina thinks
She’s old-ish, maybe twenty? Twenty-five?
More Buffy's age than theirs, for definite.
“Your buddy told Jamal y'all are here
To help; we saw from 'cross the street you got
Some preternatural thing going on. You want
To come with us? We got a base with food
And decent beds; a friend of ours, she runs
A homeless shelter.” Then there's silence, well,
There's howling wind and crashing rain, until
Sabrina (or that skinny German blonde,
As she was known before the other day)
Pipes up with something and they go again,
Elise dropping into German so
Her friends can hear what’s happening, and then
Alana taking that to Spanish so
That Rita nods ungrateful, short and terse,
While Kadriye is asking questions at
Elise, glancing at her watch. (Oh yeah,
Right, Maghrib’s due – and Isha.) All the while,
Then, Sadie stutters to Krystina in
Her shaky Russian; both the pair of them
Use gestures more than words, exchanging das,
Niets and not much more. It takes a while.
“Sabrina's right,” Elise says at last,
“We need recover Buffy now, before
We go. And I should not maintain this light.”

      They try to find her. Lise sits in calm,
As much as possible as others guard
Her meditating form. It’s hard to work
Without supplies, to concentrate enough
Without a candle flickering, or else
A crystal’s flaw that she can focus on,
But still she tries to clear her mind until
Eventually she feels herself at peace
Against the tarmac, Gaia’s world below.
Unlike the ghastly Disney glitter sparks
She finds herself creating (cringing), this
Is what she understands. Connected now
She tries to find where Buffy is – but then…
It’s hard, it’s murky, too much disconnect
Surrounds them in this place. She can’t be sure
What’s going on – she tries, but, really, no.
“I cannot find her,” opening her eyes
Elise tells the others, biting back
Her guilt against their disappointed sighs.
She knows without more power to her call
There is no way for her to force a search
That actually will yield them some results.
“We’d best keep going then,” Raquel says, grim.
They all agree, though it’s Alana who
Is kind enough to hug Sabrina tight,
Remind both her and little Kadriye
That Buffy has survived for years alone,
Without them watching out for her.
                                                       They walk
Down unfamiliar streets. Elise thinks
About the way the earth felt lost, below,
Can’t concentrate on anything but how
That felt, her panic rising with unease.
The earth should not be as disturbed as this –
And nor should she. Elise shuts her eyes,
Just for a moment, thinks of calm and takes
A breath to centre even as they walk.
The breath does not flow smoothly; here the air
Is out of balance also, thin, which brings
The water flooding forwards to the sun,
The earth beneath her churning in its bleak
Disquiet. Yes, but she expected this
Must think a little clearer, take in breaths
A little deeper so she’ll understand.
She breathes more air and knows that there will be
No earthquake, but, still, air should not be thinned
Like this. That means the trouble's coming from
Above; that limits options. There's a hint –
She takes another breath, and then she's sure –
There's something there that tickles at her lungs
And tastes of sweetened minerals, sherbet, white.
It's not of their dimension, but instead
Of somewhere higher up, that fills her with
A sense of shrieking synchronicity;
She'll get a headache if she breathes like this
For long, and English voices far in front
Of her are grating; every step of theirs
Is much too loud, too out of time as they
Track through the rain, too individual.
Elise blinks her eyes back open, starts
And says, “We must be nearly there,” to try
And get back in the conversation, which
Cues in Alana to the fact that she's
Unnerved and brings a frown above her eyes,
Her eyebrows closed across her open face.
It's nice that she is seventeen as well;
The other two, though friends, so often sound
Like children to her. “Es gibt kein Problem,”
She mutters quickly as she shakes her head,
Then tries to switch her mind to English, though
She hates how thick and sloppy every word
Feels round her tongue. A few quick steps skipped past
The other Slayers and she's at the front;
She asks the woman who addressed them all
Before, “Excuse me, but how farther is
It now?” And she replies that it's rye deer.
Ride ear? Right ear? Upon their right? Right here
Of course it's obvious when they have stopped.
The building, though, is unremarkable,
The windows boarded up and door locked tight;
It looks like every other building on
The street. But that has got to be the point.
      A man who has the keys comes forth and stoops,
Contrives clavigerous alchemy, then rocks
Back on his heels, quick quirks his head to say
That they should enter. This is when they're most
At risk, this moment that the base is on
Display and so a hush falls on them, thick.
They file in through the doorway, into dark.
At last the door is shut behind them, then
Another door is opened, bringing light:
It's orange-yellow, dim, but still it's light
And blinding being so. They anteroom,
With corrugated iron walls, gives way
To open space, where groups are talking, where
Right in the centre one man sits and stares
Hard at the map in front of him, ill lit
By his electric lamp. He glances up
Just once, then stands up shocked. His steps are quick
And purposeful across the floor. “Hey, Jade,”
He says, “You wanna tell me who you brought
With you?” The man, Jamal, holds up a hand,
“Hey, yo, I'm gonna check on Leo, 'K?”
And nods at both the other two before
He rushes off; then Jade replies, “It's cool,
Rondell: some 'Slayer' army.” Shrugging with
Her crossbow she continues, “Guess the word
Got out?” Rondell begins to smile as though
He won't believe that's possible; the world
Has left them there to die, he's sure of it.
But still he turns and calls around the stairs
Into the back, “Hey, Anne, we got some room?
We got...” “Eleven,” Xiao supplies. “We got
Eleven girly 'Slayers' here as help.”
There comes a minor crash, perhaps a plate,
And then this Anne appears, eyes bright in her
Pale face. She speaks with shaky hope and drinks
Their armed and bloody forms in with her eyes,
“Did you say Slayers? Are you Slayers? Is,
Um, Buffy with you?” Xiao replies again,
A short lift of her chin as she looks round;
The whole room stares at them. “We don't know where
She is.” Anne takes a breath then takes control.
“We've got two dorms upstairs,” she says. “They're yours.”

      They troop upstairs, but Sadie doesn't leave
The room like all the others after her.
She waits then shuts the door behind her back
To sink curled up against it, wretchedness
Unleashed by their relief in stopping here.
She shuts her eyes as well, attempts to block
The sight of dreary bunks in front of her,
The groundswell-murmuring of voices that
Is pounding on the wood behind her head.
She doesn't want to hear as all the rest
Explain their situation, introduce
Themselves and point her out as she who brought
Them here and probably killed Buffy too.
She doesn't know why death keeps bleeding from
Her fingertips, infecting everyone
Around her. She should be locked up or kept
Away or sterilised somehow so she can't hurt
Another person. Now, of course, it seems
So obvious, the reason why no god
Has wanted her: she's trouble, far too much...
Her tears are back again and clutching bright
Around her sinuses, but even so
They only make her feel pathetic, trite
Because, when she is her, how dare she cry?
She wipes them angrily away and climbs
Back to her feet, heaves self and rucksack up
And to bunk that's farthest from the door,
Quite distant in the corner, curling tight
Around herself beneath the blanket, eyes
Now set wide open to the dim lamp light.
Her magic, hot and blue electric charge,
Is loosing current through her, something dark
Inside her, something running through her veins
Like blood, but quicker, something that she can't
Switch off, not now, not anymore. If she
Could ever switch it off then that's a skill
She's irrevocably forgotten, which
Is terrifying since she's still alone.
She can't imagine even Lise or
Gurpreet would understand this feeling, since
They've found the source of where they get their spells:
Elise's happy with the earth and all
That hippy stuff; Gurpreet, her dad is Sikh,
But, still, her mum is Hindu, so she seems
To understand what’s going on with her.
She thinks how Mr. Giles always (well,
Before she killed him), in his training talks
He always said that you could call upon
Whomever for a spell and usually
There wouldn't be a problem, but it paid
To be consistent (so he also said),
Because it wasn't strange for gods sometimes
To favour those who weren't consorting with
Their bitter enemies. She'd laughed because
She'd been so nervous; she remembers that.
But now she only knows that she's alone,
A killer and a fraidy-cat too scared
To help with fighting evil anymore.
For, after all, she is too scared (or scarred,
Perhaps?) to do a simple spell.
                                                       She lies
Tight curled up in a ball and feels the time
That passes, minutes ticking by. Outside
The voices are still murmuring; they saw
She can remember, how she stood, beheld
That power in that room. She saw the world
As nothing but that matrix, glowing threads
Of life, the future and the past clear cut
And dried and certain. When she made her choice
With Mr. Giles, fixed imperfections with
A darning needle fashioned from his life,
Eradicating every snag had seemed
So crucially important... Why? She asks
Of every scrap of magic in her – why?
She's not opposed to divination, since
It sometimes seems like prophecy is what
She's good at, even though she doesn't have
The sight. The future feels complete sometimes,
Or still elusive, but an image in
The distance, brightly shining slightly out
Of view – but even so she's never seen
Her task as shaping it so neat that life
Will fit a plan that someone else has made.
She wishes Buffy wasn't lost outside;
She said she understood and didn't blame
Her for Osiris' influence, was nice to her,
Was always nice since Xander brought her up
To Inverness from school. And so, you know,
She can’t be dead. She wishes she could tell
Somehow, repay her crime with usefulness.
      But then, she thinks, her tarot cards, of course;
They work a different way, reveal the truth
Without the need for magic from her hands.
She opens up the toggles of her bag
And reaches past her clothes, remembers when
Her mother gave the cards to her: they were
Her most unwanted Christmas present and
A challenge (she was sure) to her desire
To study maths and sciences, a cri
De coeur made by a failed actress. (Oh,
She misses Mum and how her hugs would be
All Chanel No. 5 and pearls. But how
Can she go back and tell her what she's done?
Tell Dad about Osiris? Yet she wants
To go.) She'd never thought that she'd be good
With them, the cards, and yet from that first time
She sat there with her mum, spread out her choice
The way she thought looked sensible, ignored
The book and made up all the meanings, she
Has read them always with uncanny truth.
She takes the box and shakes it till the cards
Come out, then starts to shuffle them between
Her trembling hands, so worried that she can't…
She almost cannot focus – then, at last,
She's happy, cuts the deck and stacks it up.
There hasn't been a need to change the spread
That she worked out that time; she's always dealt
The cards the same. The first three cards, first row,
Are situational; they're simply past,
Then present, future. They will show if she's
Alive. Though Sadie hasn't ever read
For someone dead she knows she'll know the way
It feels (it's odd the way that having cards
Back in her hands can make her feel that warmth
Of glimmering confidence, no matter how
Short-lived). The Nine of Wands, reversed, her past,
Which isn't so important, still is not
What Sadie was expecting. There's a man,
A staff held in his hands, eight other staffs
Behind him; he should be prepared to fight,
Like Buffy must have been in Sunnydale,
But upside down the worry on his face
Is too apparent, all the staffs (that could
Be stakes) aren't helping him but might as well
Be falling round his ears. There's no one there
To hold them, not a friend or comrade with
A helping hand. He must feel so alone,
His hopes of others standing with him dashed.
And so she must have felt.
                                         And then how she
Is now – The Chariot, reversed again,
A blond man sitting tall behind his team
Of sphinxes, the decision to leave home,
So obviously precarious now proved
Disrupted, broken; Sadie feels a catch
Inside her throat, can feel close-grinding gears
And axles of emotions dealing with
The sudden break of movement, feels the crash.
She's... Yeah, she's still alive, but not so well.
The future, though, is better, Six of Wands:
The laurelled victor riding on his horse,
Companions bearing staffs beside him; is
That Buffy though? The scene is giving her
The feeling that it's not, or maybe that
The victor is just victory; the wreath
That crowns the staff is more important than
The one that's worn. That there's a group, the bond,
That's also something, gladdening in the sun.
The smallest smile is lit on Sadie's lips,
For that is not a future to be feared,
Despite the darkness that has come before.
It makes her want to finish off the spread;
She's got her information, but the hope
That she is feeling isn't something she
Can happily let go; she wants the cards
To make her feel like this for all the time
They can. And so she deals another row,
The influences of events, the states
Of mind and heart and temperaments which brought
Them to fruition. First's the past, the Queen
Of Swords; and, oh, she sees her sitting stern,
Decisive, in control of what she feels,
No matter if it's sorrow. Others could
Have taken weapons, but she didn't think
She had to offer; then she didn't want
To show her discontent. Now Sadie's glad
That's over; what's the present? Knight of Swords,
So similar, but now they're in the midst
Of the decision-making, rushing wind
Around their ears, the sword held high, a man
So sudden coming. Yes, of course, you can't
Be driving chariots in weather harsh
As this, they're too unstable, doomed to crash
And make you carry on by foot, take care
And travel slowly to the change that meets
You in the future, falling underneath
The Hanged Man. There’ll be a change, she sees,
In them, the man strung up and upside down
To view the world a little differently –
And they will do it, forge their victory
From whittled gallows and some knotted rope.
They’ll make this different future theirs and she
Will leave the past strung up behind her as
She marches on.
                                         The final row, the four
Last cards, should tell her, Sadie, everything
More generally, but she’s not sure they’ll speak
Of Buffy, rather than of her, since they
Concern the subject as a questioner,
Which should be fine as a description, but –
It doesn’t quite apply to what she’s done.
Still Sadie deals and sees the Ace of Cups,
Reversed, as the description of her state,
This questioner. It breaks her heart a touch,
As well it should, what with the cups the suit
Of flowing joy, emotion, hope – or so
The ace will bring out if it's nurtured, not
Upset and spilled like this cup is. The hand
That holds it on this card is pushing it
Away from all its native water, till
It loses every drop of feeling. Well
It could apply to her, so Sadie thinks,
If not to Buffy – since she doesn't know
Her well enough to judge. The second card
For this row is the outside influence
Upon the general way that things turn out,
And Sadie stills the second that she sees
The King of Wands. She stares at it so hard
The lines fall out of focus, every card
That lies across the yellow blanket is
A blur to her. Of course it would be him,
The card that is a father, noble to
The last but with the dark capacity
For strictness that's unyielding. It's him,
It has to be, it's Mr. Giles, who watched
For Buffy all those years, whose harried face
She sees in scowling disappointment, love
And every now and then betrayal, but
A teacher all the same. But then a flash:
That King of Wands is shown as someone else,
A figure sitting strict in judgement, with
His fists around the wooden handles of
His crook and flail...
                           Yes, Sadie's crying now,
Saltwater coming up to cloud her sight
That little more. She wishes now that she
Could not see visions in the cards this well.
Her shaking hand moves blindly forward, turns
Him over so there's only memory,
Her nemesis, still blazing from the spread,
But still it takes a while to muster up
The nerve to clear her eyes and let her sight
Fall on the Four of Swords – the way she feels
(Which she it's still not clear) within herself.
A tomb, a knight at rest inside a church,
Three swords still hung up ready on the wall,
Another carved into the shadowed stone
Of the sarcophagus. But he's not dead:
The knight is resting after battle, which
Could only be the case in tarot land,
But still she feels it, taking refuge from
The struggle in the peace of church before
He goes back to the front, takes up a sword
That's hanging ready for him. Is this her?
Or is this Buffy? She cannot believe
That what she's done permits such rest or that
She's feeling it in coming to LA.
Is Buffy though? Perhaps she is? The rest,
So Sadie understands, is not a rest
That's lazy; it's a ritual, bizarre
But somehow wholesome, like the knight entombed.
The final outcome also shows that sense
Of things: the Six of Swords, much calmer than
The future card of Wands, despite the suits
Suggesting quite the opposite. The swords
Aren't strife here, but simplicity, a clear
And piercing note of sweetness rising once
The battle's over, chorus of the dawn
That's singing on the journey home, across
The water like the picture shows, when they'll
Reflect on everything that happens here.
      But even as she touches fingertips
Against that card she can't imagine how
It feels, and screwing shut her eyes against
The tears that come she doesn’t want to try,
But curls instead back down into the bed
And tries to make it dark enough to hide.

Chapter Text

The morning comes with Buffy sitting up,
The change from warmth to chill against Spike’s arms.
With eyes still shut his thoughts are fogged as he
Attempts to understand the reason why
It feels as though a quilt’s been torn away,
Its comfort lost to cold and bitter air,
But then he hears her muttering and all
Is clear: “You could have called me on my cell –”
There’s silence, then a laugh. “Not even Xiao’s?
I thought she had that extra shiny one.
I guess – wow, yeah, don’t tell me... She’s OK?”
Telepathy would seem to be the best
Telecommunication in LA
And Buffy now is finally checking in
With all her Slayers, halo of her hair,
Bunched up and gold in candlelight, belied
By concentration, pursed-lipped pensiveness.
As Spike sits up she looks at him, a smile
Across her face like a distraction. “Yeah,
I’m safe,” she carries on, her frown a crease
Across her forehead. “It’s Eliza.” She
Addresses him for half a second till
She winces. “Sorry! It’s Elise – yes,
You told me; I’ll remember. No, no need
To swear at me in German...” As he tries
To surreptitiously check out his hair
He hikes his thumb towards the bedroom – can
He sort out Gunn? He doesn’t know why he
Is asking her, but part of him wants her
To tell him she’s OK for him to leave.
She nods – another smile breaks up her frown
With radiance – and so he stands. It’s odd,
Illyria is up already, stood
Quite still and silent by the grimy sink,
Her back turned to the kitchen almost like
She’s lost in contemplation. Spike is sure
That she has thoughts she does not share with them,
But he assumed they blossomed in her mind
Divinely perfect, fully formed. He lets
That go and carries on to Gunn who lies
Turned to the wall, his arm curled round above
The blanket. “Hey,” he says as Spike comes in
The bedroom. “I could hear you guys were up.”
“You’re sleeping lightly,” Spike replies, surprised
As he comes closer. Gunn is glaring at
The dresser and the single candle still
Lit there, the light a hopeful, glowing warmth,
Unsuited to the room. “I had some stuff
To think about,” Gunn says with sullenness,
Before he rolls left, heavily onto his back,
Its buckled brace. “Don’t matter; I don’t want
To lie in bed no more today. Let’s do
This thing.”
                    They change his shirt, then out of bed
They head back to the shiny bathroom tile,
Spa-lit by flame. The thing, of course, is part
Of what the doctor Spike tracked down before
The population fled the city called
A bowel program (Gunn can’t stand the name –
It sounds like he should play an old man’s game
Of dominos to pass the time, instead
Of chilling with his favourite TPBs).
It comes straight after Spike has set him up
With everything in reach. One day he knows
The pull-ups that he’s done for years will prove
Their worth: he’ll get a place with bars, if they
Get through this, get a TV on the wall,
A radio, so he won’t have to sit
In silence while he reads. And, yeah, he’ll get
The brace off, gain some flexibility,
Not have to reach so carefully to ease
The damn suppository into place
Before he waits. He wonders what the three
Outside are doing; Spike’s apartment’s walls
Are thin as paper, so it shouldn’t be
Too hard to hear what’s going on... He hears
Something about another group holed up
Not far away, about a plan to go
And find them – huh. He hadn’t thought that there
Could be another group surviving this,
But then he guesses that the grungy House
Of Candles is at fault for that. It’s not
That hard to feel like they’re the only ones
When they don’t have a phone or anything
That works on electricity except
The fridge. So much for that old pile of shit
McCann from Twenty-One claimed worked OK
The day they bought it from him. Still, they need
That generator for the beer, so he
Should not complain. Although it sucks.

                                                                     So Gunn
Sits thinking rambling thoughts, still listening
To Spike and Buffy talk through strategy.
Meanwhile, across downtown, some streets way,
Elise tells the Slayers that she was
Successful finding Buffy, so they’ll need
Someone outside to meet her when she comes.
While Kadriye looks out the window at
The dark and stormy clouds of morning, Xiao
Takes charge and heads downstairs to tell Rondell
The news; she reckons he’ll be up. He is.
And dressed as well; she isn’t sure that she
Would be if she had not slept in her clothes.
Damn demon blood soaked through her canvas bag.
“We got hold of our friend,” she says, to which
Rondell replies, “Good morning to you too,”
And smiles as though he doesn’t chat too much
These days. Bit patronising, but she’ll let
It go. “Oh, sorry – morning – I’m still on
Alert.” She adds, “Big fight last night.” He nods.
“I hear you had it handled; want to tell
Me more about that?” “What d’you know?” Xiao asks,
Not sure she wants to give away too much.
“Well, my girl Anne tells me that she once knew
A chick with superpowers, sacred right
To save us all from hell dimensions, vamps –
The kind of shit that’s going down with us –
And now we got a gang of you.” He looks
At her, sinks back into the sofa while
She sits. Xiao tries to keep inscrutable.
“Anne’s right,” she says. “The story goes that there’s
One girl in all the world who has the strength
And skill to hunt the vampires, demons – the
Forces of darkness: she’s the Slayer. But
A while ago the one turned into two,
And then last year the rest of us were called,
So now there’s loads of us who fight this stuff.”
Rondell is not sure how to take it. “So,
OK, I got this right? Y’all are kids?”
So patronising, Xiao thinks to herself.
She laughs. “I’m sixteen, but whatever, yeah.
It’s either ‘cause, like, in the olden days
The Watchers knew we wouldn’t make a fuss
This young or else because they wanted us
More capable: grown up but not with, like,
Too many babies balanced on our hips…
Yeah, patriarchy, bad times, blah blah blah.”
“So, what,” Rondell replies, “you’ve been around
Forever?” “Pretty much,” is Xiao’s response.
She carries on, “But how ‘bout you? How long
Have you been in the fight? I can’t think why
You’d suddenly get into it without
A calling.” Then Rondell is laughing. “Oh,
We got a reason,” he replies, unclear
On why this girl can’t see it. “We have got
So many reasons. This is where we live –
LA’s the only home we got, you get?
We came here, built a tight community,
We’re fighting to protect that. We don’t need
Your cult or superpowers or a guy
Up in the sky to make sure that we do
What we all gotta do.” She blushes then.
“Of course, yeah, obvs. I guess I think of this
As happening, well, far from home. It’s weird.”
She glances up, wants to explain the way
It is and make them sound more serious,
Less stupid than she’s scared they sound like now.
“It’s not like we all swan around with our,
Like, shiny fight routines because we think
We have more right than anybody else.
It’s literally a need to take up arms –
It’s like – you’re happy in Year 10, the school
Feels empty ‘cause the year above’s on leave,
Not much is happening, but then what’s new?
And then it’s BOOM, you’re restless, life is dull
And boring till you go out to a gig
And some American called Dawn gives you
A stake. You move to Scotland and get taught
By these retired weirdos, learn to fight
And barely ever get to watch TV,
But somehow it’s OK. It all makes sense.”
Rondell has no reply to that; he lives
This fight for sure, but it is not his life.
As long as he can keep the neighbourhood
His home’s in free from vampires, that’s enough
To make him happy; no great motive there.
But, still, he has to wonder if he cares:
What does it matter, if the demons die?
And so he moves the conversation back
To practicalities. “You said you found
Your friend?” he asks and Xiao nods happily.
“She found this guy that we were looking for,
In some dank basement flat ‘not far away’ –
But then it’s Buffy that we’re talking, so
That could mean anything. Her distances
Are odd. Is it OK if they come here?”
‘The more the merrier,’ Rondell attempts
To say, but what comes out is, “Sure. That’s fine.”

      They come. They are attacked along the way,
But it’s a minor skirmish. Buffy cuts
A demon down as Gunn gets spun to shoot
His crossbow as Illyria defeats
Unworthy enemies. No fight worth note.
The hideout’s got a watch, so when they come
Four eyes check they’re alone, no shadows in
The street behind them waiting for a sign.
Eventually the door is opened wide
To let them through. Once more the light shines bright
In orange welcome to the newcomers;
Once more it’s startling just how much like home
A room that’s nearly full of people feels.
The ratty, long-donated sofas sink
Beneath the weight of weary warriors;
The unworn floor has rugs that tell of lives
That have made contact with their balding thread.
Gunn’s first words are, “Aw, man, we should have thought
Of batteries. I knew the candles were
A vamp thing.” “Or the nineteenth century.”
It’s Buffy chiming in; Gunn looks at her
And laughs through his relief that maybe he
Won’t have to stay behind in Spike’s dank dive
And rot or starve to death. Spike can’t reply –
He’s too insulted for the moment, not
To mention feeling pretty thick since he
Forgot that electricity can come
In acid-metal blocks, convenient
Like everything these days. This bloody world.
Still he can only sulk so long, as then
The greetings come their way. “My brother, Gunn,
That you? I thought you died back on First Night!”
“Rondell? Oh, man, I’m glad to see you.” Gunn
Cannot believe his eyes; they must have failed
With all his other demon-wounded parts.
He wheels himself and claps his brother on
The back, his laugh a moment gone once more
So thick inside his throat, now bringing tears.
The second grand reunion is not
Demonstrative to quite the same extent,
But Buffy’s mind is caught in memory.
“Hey, don’t I know you?” suddenly she asks
The woman standing next to where Rondell
Just stood, whose eyes she met somewhat askance
To start with. “Yeah, you kinda do,” she says.
“I’m Anne. You knew me years ago. I run
This shelter now; although we’ve tried to get
As many kids away from here as we
Were able to.” Then Buffy’s eyes tear up;
It all slots into place. They share a hug,
Impromptu; Spike then shakes Anne’s hand. “I’m Spike,”
He says and she replies succinct and glib,
“I know. You tried to kill me once. But that
Was in another life, I guess for you
As well as me?”
                                  He can’t remember when
It must have been – and that’s a curse as much
As having conscience weighted on his back.
“I’ve only lived one life,” he says, “if you
Can call it living, what I do.” Her smile
Is stiff; it makes his insides clench. “I will
Say that I’m sorry. Please believe me there.”
She warms once more, though lets some welcome space
Fall comfortably between them. “Help us win
Our war,” she says, “and maybe I’ll forget.”
But looking into eyes he knows that once
He must have seen so full of mortal fear
He knows he’s never felt inadequate
To the extent that he feels now. It’s not
Like this is Buffy, armed with stakes and puns,
Impossible to treat as nobody,
To whom apologies have context, weight.
No, this is someone whom he doesn’t know,
Cannot remember, even though he’s sure
He’s probably loomed large for years inside
Her nightmares. What is he supposed to say?
“Best watch the Slayer for your victory.
I’ll be here, but there’s no point paying mind.”
He ducks his head and scratches at his hair,
But Buffy’s frowning, he can tell; betrayed
By him for this one moment as he tries
To heap responsibility on her.
Oh, Christ, why must he be so selfish now?
      The other Slayers group around the stairs,
Struck by odd uncertainty of when
It is appropriate to interrupt
Their leader’s welcome. But, Samina sees,
She’s noticed them; now Buffy’s come across
The room. “Hey, guys, is everyone OK?”
She asks, expression still remote, just like
It always is, although her eyes search hard
For wounds and have that certain warmth they’ve all
Grown to appreciate for what it is.
They know she cares, although she’s not their friend
As such. “We’re fine,” Xiao says. “And how are you?”
That’s Sadie’s quavered voice. Now Buffy smiles.
“I’m fine; fell down some subway stairs and hurt
My ankle pretty bad. It’s OK now –
But that’s a lesson for you all, I guess.”
They groan, but chorus, “Don’t go off alone!”
Including those whose English is not good –
A feat in of itself, Samina thinks,
Not least because they like to sing it out:
The ritual has killed the guilt and fear.

      Despite all the upheaval, still the plan
Remains as Spike and Gunn decided on
The night before. Except instead of Spike’s
Not yet expressed but half-formed plan to get
Up in the sky by vampire pole-vault, now
They think they should use magic, guard the ground
And give the scouts a chance to come back home.
Spike volunteers, though feels as though it’s not
The same way as he volunteered last night.
He felt so desperate then, his skin still charred,
While now this seems much more like strategy.
When Buffy says she’s coming too, he knows
That he should want her safe, but part of him
Just wants her by his side, for confidence.
He doesn’t want to cock it up, forget
A vital clue he should have noted down.
He’s not cut out for this, the pleading stares
That turn the whole room’s energy on him.
It’s not like reading poetry; he’s not
Got any art to offer but himself
And that will always lack. There is no rush.
Illyria will be their third and Spike
Thinks maybe he’s the devil that she knows –
Or maybe just the lowly piece of dreck –
And so preferred as godly company.
      It’s odd returning to the rooftop now,
Back to the ruddy dragon’s corpse, blown fat
With water let in through its broken hide.
The area seems smaller with the crowd
And much less dismal now he’s not alone.
“So how we gonna play this piece?” he asks
And Buffy cedes the floor. Elise speaks,
“So we will do a body…? Körperlich
Projection. Physically you move, but we
Keep here the memory of you, so you
Can come back home or we can summon you,
But if you need your bodies, have you them.”
The spell involves a three-point star, with Spike,
Illyria and Buffy sat cross-legged,
Their shoulders wedged against each other’s as
They clasp their rain-bit hands with one witch each,
Mercedes symbol formed on tarmac roof.
Spike eyes Gurpreet, Illyria’s content,
But Buffy can’t get comfortable, her boots
Are digging hard into her knees. Yet that
Is nothing near as bad, she realises,
As all the worry that is churning deep
In Sadie’s midnight dark, far-seeing eyes,
Wide-open now with fear. Their hands are wet,
But it is clammy sweat on Sadie’s palms,
And though she knows she can’t speak anymore,
Still Buffy wants to say that it’s OK.
She knows it’s probably not, but words, they help
Sometimes. She smiles, but Sadie bites her lip;
The silence reigns too much on high, with Jade’s,
Jamal’s plus all the Slayers’ footsteps slow
As they patrol around the sitting group.
The first steps of the waltz are shuffling soft:
The spell begins in peace on Buffy’s right,
Elise sitting with Illyria
Intones the first few rounds of chanting, says
So measuredly in her deep voice the words:
"Beschütze sie, O Erde, diese drei;
Beschütze sie, die deine Kinder sind."
A warm embrace flows through them, deeper with
Each round of words, quite heavy as it grounds
Them and their power.
                                  Sadie takes a breath,
Then squeezes tightly Buffy’s hands in hers.
There is a moment’s pause, a tipping point
Of fear, then Sadie lets the magic in,
Accepts the hum of power echoing
From Lise’s binding chant to spin the path
Up to the sky, makes twists and plaits and knots
So when they’re gone the three can look behind,
Insist, ‘I may be here, but I was there,’
And so be like a train on tracks and not
Dad’s Range Rover on unmapped country roads.
She nudges Buffy upwards, who then finds
Her vision shifts: she sees LA as light
At play with darkness, mottled colour bright
Around her as she climbs on knotted rungs.
Illyria and Spike climb up with her,
Come closer to the boundary between
Their world and that beyond, the demons’ home.
The portal’s skin resists and pushes back,
It slows them down, brings darkness to their eyes –
The rain here is as harsh as frozen steel –
But then they are pushed on, struck burning bright
The moment that Gurpreet has sent them strength.
They rush like lightning onwards through the clouds,
The air comes curling past them, thick with wet
And buckling as they push against the storm
To flow between the realms. The darkness turns
To brightness, blinding whiteness; Buffy feels
As though her eyes have rolled to see her brain,
For there is nothing she has power to
Distinguish, not a shape or colour but
The light. Yet all her mind has been exposed –
Sensations in her throat, like she is not
In silence, but is speaking, shouting out
Her thoughts – and she can hear, can feel some thoughts
That aren’t her own. She wonders if they’re Spike’s,
But the distinction is too hard to feel.
The change should overload her senses, but
In many ways her senses are deprived.
There is just thought here, light and thought
(So much for bodies at their beck and call).
It’s white on white, inside her and without.
      She cannot get her head around it all;
It’s like her mind is everywhere. But then
At length she tries to move, struck by the thought
That if this inn’t their world ontology’s
About as useful as Das Kapital
On Mars. She thinks that means it’s not worthwhile…
And so she wills herself to turn around.
The way back home is there behind them still,
Surprisingly surprising being there –
Is it the only thing she can perceive
With sight in this dimension? Like a lake
Within a clearing it’s a portal at
The level of her feet, if she had feet –
Of course she does, but she can’t feel them here –
It spreads out like a pool, so wide and round
And full of colours in this world of white.
With blurry, arcing rainbows shimmering,
It looks so wonderful, familiar
In all its fantasy, because it’s home.
But as she looks across the pool she sees
What happens at the edges, where the white
Meets with the colour. Staggered round the bank,
Strategically it seems, are deep black cuts
Into the colour and the light. Or no,
Not cuts, they seem to have a presence of
Their own. She struggles for the word but then
It comes to her, no doubt from one of her
Companions on this scouting trip, that these
Are stitches, twines of darkness at the seams
Of the dimensions, keeping this gap whole.
She wonders if this pool of light is as
Intrusive for the demons who exist
In this dimension as back home they find
The darkness, wet and rain, and more than that
The hive-mind that encroaches like a plague
Of pestilential insects on their thoughts,
Forever desecrating every sense
Of individuality…
                                                Buffy can’t
Be sure she’s felt that last one, but it seems
Like a complaint to make; she’ll let it go.
She wonders also at the power which
Has clearly been here, magic darker than
She thinks perhaps she’s ever come across.
And then she’s drifting, finding she is near
The stitch that’s closest, as she feels herself
Sum up a tally of the number there.
There’s nine and that does not surprise her much,
Although she can’t be sure the reason why;
What does surprise her though is how much like
A void the stitch feels as she edges close.
There’s nothing there but darkness – but, she wants
To know, how do you make a thread to sew
The fabric of dimensions? Is this stuff
That lies between them? Is it something else?
She gazes into it, or feels like she
Is gazing, when there sounds a screech inside
Her thoughts. It cuts through, harshest tinnitus
She’s ever felt, makes actual thought so hard,
But still she tries to think. What is this sound?
It screeches on, high-pitched and keening like
The cut of swift-descending dragon wings,
But hewn in sound not sight; Illyria
Is way more up on all this stuff than her,
It must be her that’s thinking this, that now
They’ve found the demons, or the demons have
Found them. Maybe? She doesn’t know; it’s hard
To think – the searing whine is higher now,
Surrounding her. She tries to step away,
It seems to change the sound inside her thoughts.
Where are they, can she tell? Was that a glimpse
She saw above the pool, the rainbow light
Creating form? Oh God, the sound, she has
To fight and move and duck and try to find
Some ground somewhere that they can make a stand –
But then she feels herself cry out, no sound,
But crying as it feels as though a third
Of her is gone. Who’s there? She thinks and tries
To get an answer, though she doesn’t have
The power to distinguish what’s her voice
And what are words voiced by the other two.
And still the screech is pealing but she grounds
Herself, or tries to find her centre. Where
Is Spike? She asks the question, feeling it
A second later: he’s not there with them.
She’s working forwards, getting closer to
The deafening ringing in her mind, from all
Directions, trying to scream back in her
Defence, or mute noise with her thoughts. If they,
The demons here, have ways of fighting her
She must have ways of hurting them. She screams
And battles forward, concentrating all
Her thoughts on her attack, can understand
That she is being pushed back to the pool,
But ducks and weaves, manipulates her mind –
With her affinity for weapons why
Can she not make her mind a blade as well?
She needs this place to quiet down so she
Can search for Spike. He must be here or home.
      Now Buffy’s by the rainbow light, can feel
Her sharpening mind make steel, but she steps wrong.
The void, the cold, the stitch of magic, she
Steps back and touches it and then is not
In any world of light a second more.
Her thoughts are muted and the world is dark;
She’s fallen through a stitch and cannot see.
Of course. Spike could have fallen somewhere else.

Chapter Text

The vastness of the darkness all around,
The plangent loneliness which fills the black
And, biting at his tongue, the bitterness
Of acrid air: it feels like it should be
Too much for Spike. He’s lost and can’t tell where.
Sensations strike at him in punishment,
Or so it feels, for having form once more.
The light here works the way it should; his eyes
Adjust eventually to let him see
Soft-shadowed people wandering through dark,
Or forms at least, a little indistinct,
Vast crowds of them in cavernous expanse.
(The Hellmouth, he remembers, looked like this.)
Spike starts towards them, gripped by growing fear
That he is too far gone from where he was,
From Buffy and Illyria, the light,
Too far to find his way back home again.
“Hello?” he calls, but no one turns, the ones
Who walk still walk, the ones curled on the ground
Remain unmoved. “Hello?” he asks again.
Behind him is a rush of air; he turns,
Surprised, but so relieved on turning when
He sees it’s Buffy who has followed him.
“Where – Spike!” she asks, confused and then relieved,
Until confusion closes in again, “Where’s this?”
He shrugs, but then there is a clear “Ahem!”
As someone clears their throat. It’s followed by
“You’re new.” The words sound through the dark. They turn
To meet their speaker, nervous with surprise,
Come face to face with no one that they know.
Ahead there is a woman standing tall,
With corporate gold-brown hair, a wicked grin
And navy suit, incongruously sharp
But seasons out of date. “I guess we are,”
With hands in pockets Buffy makes reply,
Uncertain whether they have met a friend
Or foe. “Where’s this? Do you know who’s in charge –
I’ve got a few complaints about the trip;
This wasn’t on our list of scheduled stops…”
The woman laughs, then stops as though she can’t
Believe, “You’re serious? Well then you can’t
Be from the company…” She squints at them,
Assessing with a smirk before she says,
“Oh my.” She looks amused. “I knew they’d changed
Their game and had things shaken up, but still
I never thought that things would get this bad.”
She shakes her head with blatant disbelief.
“It’s Spike and Buffy Summers, in our hell…
Hey, have you come to save us from ourselves?”
“Just tell us who you are and where this is;
It’s not that hard, yeah?” Spike replies, annoyed
Not least because his panic hasn’t gone.
“I’m Lilah Morgan.” She puts out her hand,
But neither Spike nor Buffy put out theirs.
“Once President of Special Projects at
Wolfram and Hart, Los Angeles. I’m shocked
That Angel never mentioned me. Or not.”
She pauses. “Oh, and you’re in hell. It’s meant
To be the place where vampires go when you,
Ms Summers – can I call you Buffy? – take
Your cute li’l stake and turn them into dust
(Osiris sold the deed because he has
No business in the excess parts of self
That vamps construct around them after death),
But now it houses our employees too.
It makes an interesting mix, let’s say.”
She closes with a smile, but Buffy won’t
Accept that; no, she has to find out more.
“So what?” she asks. “You loiter here all day –
And night and day and night again – until
Eternity is done?” And she worked for
Wolfram and Hart? That firm? “That’s all you get?”
She can’t be sure exactly what she means;
She doesn’t know this woman, so it’s not
As though she knows how evil she once was –
And yet presumably she caused some deaths.
It sounds like hell, her living in this void,
But can she judge what Corporate Bitch deserves?
Is this enough? Is this too much?
                                                           It’s strange,
So Buffy thinks, that she once died and found
The afterlife, found heaven of a sort,
And yet she doesn’t think about the hell
Which she sends vampires to. Though Angel spoke
(Tried not to speak) about damnation, she
Could never visualise a place. Not this.
“What happens here?” she asks, now looking back
To where they were, to figures coming in
And out of sight; some close, some far away.
“Apart from all the sleepwalking, I mean.”
But Lilah shrugs, amused by how they twitch,
This pair of visitors. “Not much,” she says,
“But let me tell you I expected worse –
Considering I lived for years in fear
Of death, the real thing’s not that hard to take.
I think it might have helped that I was killed
Outside the office, not as a result
Of disciplinary procedures. Hmm…”
She ponders this, head tilted over scarf.
“What happened, when you died?” then Buffy finds
She has to ask, her mind returning now
To Lilah’s words before. “Like, what you said,
About Osiris and his business – what
Exactly did you mean by that? Because
I’ve died a couple times, but still I can’t
Remember how the process really works.”
She looks around, takes in the shadowed dead.
“I think that I should know, you know? If I’m
The one who’s killing off the vamps – if I’m
The one who came to LA on his… ” Then
She has to stop herself; hot angry tears
Are welling up with memories of Giles,
The god’s harsh, damning words. She glances down,
Sees Spike approach with just the smallest shift
Of AirWair Bouncing Sole across the ground,
A gesture of support that lets her look
Back up to Lilah, who seems not to care
About her weakness, staring in surprise
And not a little shock. “My god,” she breathes,
“They let you drink from Lethe. Wow. I should
Have known. Or someone should have told me that.”
“Oh, please,” now Spike is interjecting, voice
A mix of scorn and awe and irony,
Like he does not believe what Lilah’s said,
But wishes that he could, although he knows
That he would not receive the benefit
Of what it is that would be true. “Don’t try
To palm that bollocks off on us – we may
Be visiting your nice dimension, but
We’re not a pair of bloody tourists, right?”
But Buffy doesn’t get why she is meant
To care. So, “Huh?” she says. “What’s Lethe mean?”
“’S a river,” Spike replies, his eyes on her
As if he can’t believe she doesn’t know,
Yet somehow finds that kind of neat. “In hell,
Or right outside, or somewhere nicer – we
Don’t know. ‘S a myth that Christians borrow from
The Classics when they fancy it. You drink
And you forget your life, can be at peace.”
He turns back to the lawyer. “It’s not real.”
Eyes bright, still Lilah looks defiant. “Who
Exactly is the dead one here? And not
Undead, but actually dead? Still, I
Was speaking metaphorically, if that’s
Allowed? I’m sorry, I forgot that I
Was talking to a child…” Spike rolls his eyes;
She looks to Buffy then, continuing
More patronisingly, “Hey, sweetie, so –
You wanna know what death was like for me
And all the bottom-feeders of your world?
Well, first you gotta know what death entails,
‘Cause really it is much more simple than
The doctrines of the mortal realm make out.
It’s all exchange of energy, our ‘souls’
Or ‘essences’ or ‘life forces’ move on
From one dimension to another place,
So something else can happen. When our hearts
And brains stop working, there’s a shift, a spell,
A sacrifice – you call it what you want –
And that’s us slipping from the world the way
We came, through birth and childhood. If you
Mix magic up with that, then there’s a hole
Created in the fabric of the world,
And there are ways to bring a soul back through,
But otherwise we slip through pinprick gaps,
Dissolve away like salt in water. Sure,
You get your vampires, zombies, causing snags
And schisms – souls get caught – but otherwise
We carry on to somewhere else. Above,
Below, it doesn’t matter; it’s just change.
Osiris, though, and beings like him, look
At us from somewhere higher, maybe still
Below a higher god, but we don’t know.
He takes an interest in the things we do,
Has got a family business moving souls –
Like someone selling water to a town –
And wants to keep control on his supply.
That’s why he takes control of life and death.
You won’t find meritocracy these days –
The souls are traded on a stock exchange.”
      She pauses then to smirk again before
Her captive audience. “When we move on
We stay the same, remember what we’ve lived.
The wheat gets sorted from the chaff, but, yeah,
The wheat remembers swaying in the field.
The only time that doesn’t happen’s when
Osiris’ interests mean that memory
Is smoothed and buffed away like burrs on oak –
Then we forget the bad and bask in good.
I’d say that that’s what happened when you died.”
And then she shrugs, remembering the truth.
“Until, I guess, you got pulled back to earth.”
Thus Lilah finishes; now Buffy’s mind
Is reeling, spinning round with intel as
Propulsion, knowing that she shouldn’t trust
This woman to have every scrap of truth,
But still considering the tale she told,
Her chosen details and particulars.
For Buffy knows Osiris lied when he
Made Sadie justify Giles’ murder, but
She doesn’t want this possibility
To mean that she abandons eagerly
Assumptions which she held before and clings
To this new precipice (which seems so firm
Beneath her fingers, poised to let her climb
To understanding of the truth) unless
It really is that firm, and not about
To crumble into powder, dropping her
And hers into a pit of misery.
It’s not her hope alone, but others’ too,
She has to make the bargain with. If hope
Is really what she means...
                                               However, Spike
Is thinking other thoughts, reflecting. “Huh,”
He says. “You’re telling us Osiris is
Akin to, what, the Senior Partners? Not
A destiny-deciding god?” His thoughts
Return to where they always seem to go.
“Then why did he want Buffy in LA?”
Reacting, Lilah frowns. “He wanted that?”
She looks intrigued, thinks on then says, “Can’t tell.
Perhaps he wants some meat that’s juicier
Than all the offal my wise bosses sent
His way by switching up their LA game…
I’ve heard that there’s a portal, right? And not
Just to a parallel dimension filled
With H2O and carbon, but right through
The walls of physical existence? Well,
That needs negotiation on our parts
To keep it open: lobbies, promises…”
She whistles, calculating in her head.
“Hoo, boy, yeah I can see the reasons why
They want a few more heroes here, and why
They had to give up Angel, let him die
And be sent down to us…”
                                       On that, Spike looks
At Buffy, who looks back at him. It seems
So obvious that Angel would be here,
If this is where the ghosts of vampires go.
They should have realised when she told them that.
In unison they speak: “We’ve gotta go.”

      Illyria can feel it when she stands
Alone, bereft of both the other two
In this, the other world of dazzling light.
She feels it like a breath that cleaves the air
Around her mind to leave her once again
Herself. Her worry now is gone, although
It never was her worry; demons here
Are screeching to expel her from their world,
But it is no more troubling than a fly
That wings beside an elephant, a beast
Of greatness so beyond its ken that it
Will never comprehend its lack of worth.
And then temptation comes, for she could stay
And rule this world eventually, although
She cannot see it (maybe she should leave
Her shell). The laws of metaphysics state
That she should share her mind, that all of those
Who live here are one consciousness, but she
Thinks differently to them and cannot share –
Although she still is suffering attack.
It makes a change from these last painful weeks
When she has felt too much of others’ minds,
Their hopes and fears and, every night, their dreams.
She doesn’t need to tell of Spike’s mistake
And Buffy’s fall in after him, she could
Remain and live alone content with this
Cohesion and containment of her mind.
But there is still a debt there, so she thinks,
Ignoring all the demons’ violent shrieks
And turning round with ease to look again
To where the portal wants to take her back,
The technicolour shimmering that lies
Not far beyond her feet. Above it still
The demons try to come at her, their forms
Attained the moment when they cross the edge.
It’s only flying demons she can see,
Perhaps those earth-bound are all falling through?
To pitch attack against those down below?
      And, yes, the debt, there is a debt between
Her godliness and Spike, found in this war.
The shelter he provides relieves the need
To interact with demons every hour,
Repeatedly annihilating them
And the great irritation they will pose.
But there is yet a deeper debt than this:
Both Spike and Gunn retain the memory
Of Wesley, dream of him sometimes, and she
Cannot resist the chance to hear his voice.
She knows this weakness is not one she should
Uphold, left over from the shell – and yet
The more she has indulged it, then the more
It has begun to feel like her, a new
Development of what Illyria
Must be. And living as she does this way
Those memories are precious, spun from gold
And wreathed with orchids, lent to her with this
The price.
                       So, thinking of this debt she moves
Towards the bank of the great portal-lake
And stares into its waters, whence she’s here.
The siren screaming pounds inside her head
And tempts her all the same once more to stay,
But looking to an anti-matter stitch
Just on her right and thinking how she knows
That Spike and his acquaintance both are lost
Inside there, thinking of her debt she takes
Her step to bring her back to her new home.
Immediately she then regains the sense
Of what ground is, and that it doesn’t lie
Beneath her, falls and knows her falling down.
The night returns apace, distinction formed
In blacks and greys and blues, the humans’ clothes
And skin define them, demons do not screech,
But snarl and cry and claw and fight below.
Illyria has landed and once more
Sweet violence reigns (why would she want to leave
This great, dear pleasure?). Creatures leap towards
Her throat – she bats them hard enough away
To crack their skulls upon the tarmac roof,
So slick with wet and blood beneath them all.
She snaps another’s neck no sooner than
It’s come to land not far from her. It’s slow
And lumbering beneath her fingers; they
Do not see many of this type, the tall
And shaggy humanoids. Their deaths are quick,
She’s sure they don’t survive for long down here.
It doesn’t take much time for the attack
To slow, but then she realises that she
Knows no one here. The younger Slayers look
Exhausted, while the other team are grouped
To nurse another with a wound. There is
No smell of human death, and so she calls
The girl who led her to the world above,
“Young Slayer, you who helped to cast the spell,
The vampire Spike and Buffy with him, they
Have fallen prey to portals in the world
Beyond. They have made passage whither they
May not return so easily as I.
You must recall them if it’s your desire
To bring them back to this, their native world.”
Elise hears but it’s Gurpreet who then
Replies, “OK, we’ll sort that out then – guys?”
And they begin to clear a space between
The demon corpses and the blood so they
Can call both Spike and Buffy back to them.

      They search until the faux-sweet, mocking grin
On Lilah’s face has faded in their minds.
Her words of parting, “Best of luck with that;
There’s only all the vampires ever made
Down here!”, soon lose their pointed phrasing, the
Exact way she delivered them, and then
Become a general sentiment that they
Are wasting time with this attempt to find
A needle in a haystack on a world
Made out of haylofts where the atmosphere
Is hay. It weighs on Buffy to the point
She realises she doesn’t have the strength
To carry on like this. She needs to stop.
It’s not a point she comes to lightly, but
She looks around the endless sea of death,
The faces staring back at her through gloom –
The mindless fledges represented here
By mindless shadows of themselves, which have
No personality, the growling hate
Of those a little older and the ones
Who sit and weep, who summoned up enough
Of self in life to recognise this place –
Surrounding her they make her heart grow numb.
She could not bear to find out Angel’s here
And so belief starts setting in that he
Is not, that they would never find him should
They stay a hundred years, that even if
They did it’s Angelus they’d find – the soul
Was a reflection of his mortal self,
It wasn’t self-constructed like these shades.
A part of her is still aware that she
Is in denial, afraid of seeing him
And of her grief, but she cannot prevent
Her mind from curling in defensively.
“We have to stop,” she says to Spike, “we have
To find our way back home. There’s work to do.”
It’s in those words she finds some strength, a strength
That has been lacking since Osiris forced
Designs upon her life. “We know he’s gone.”
But Spike, unfortunately, values hope
Above experience, and so his thoughts
Have found themselves upon a different path.
The nascent thought that Angel could be here,
It doesn’t partner with the misery
Around them, but instead it ricochets
Against Spike’s growing worry that he’ll have
To take the lead. If Angel’s really here…
That means that he could once again be there,
Back in LA, succeeding at the job
That Spike is still uncertain he can do.
Aside from Buffy he’s the one who has
The most experience in fighting wars
Like this: apocalyptic, weird as hell –
But he’s the partner of the leader, not
The one in charge.
                               Yet Buffy can’t be forced
To take command, not now with everything
Osiris made her face, it isn’t fair.
She’s still in pain, he thinks. Because of this,
When Buffy’s words have reached his ears, he hears
Not strength but Buffy giving up. “No, love,”
He says, “He’s not gone yet. He’s here and we
Can find him,” striding as he tells her this.
“We’ll find him and we’ll take him back with us.”
“To what, Spike?” Buffy asks, a little scared;
Spike will not turn around to see her face,
Just doggedly regards the crowds of dead.
“There’s nothing we can put him in, there’s no,
No – body.” Spike, however, will not turn.
“We’ll have to keep on looking then, wont we?
Until we’ve found him round some rocky bend.”
She halts, demands, “Spike, stop.” She knows they can’t
Go on, but now she realises that she
Will have to make a stronger stand. “He’s gone,
OK?” He’s gone: she knows that now, the way
She’s known the same for many people who
Have gone before. “You have to let him go.”
Spike pauses, ducks his chin down to his neck,
So clearly thinking. Though she knows that she
Should stop, she starts, “I mean,” and means to end,
I didn’t even think that you were close
But she’s ashamed to think it so she can’t.
And yet Spike hears. She can’t tell if it’s ‘cause
Of where they’ve been, Dimension of Shared Thoughts,
Or whether he’s just good at hearing her,
But hear he does and slowly turns around.
He’s backing slowly back from her, his face
Taut muscles and eyes wide with disbelief.
He has no words, can only shake his head.
She tries to take back what she didn’t say:
“I – Spike!” she calls, now he is turning, gone
And running, cutting lines among the ghosts,
His coattails rippling with the need to go.
She runs herself, heart brightly pounding. “SPIKE!”
      He shuts his ears, now running anywhere
His feet will fly, refusing to look back.
Perhaps it isn’t right that he expects
For Buffy to turn up and understand
The way things are for him, but still he’d hoped
That somehow she would get it, how he feels.
He’s been in love with her and she once said…
Oh, sod that line of thought, he thinks, and run.
Around him there are vampires in their droves,
And maybe most of them are short, long dead,
But he can’t see a frowning forehead loom.
He’s sure he doesn’t have much time – because
Of course those back on earth will call them back.
He has to find him, check his sanity,
Then work out how to bring him on their ride.
Or maybe…
                       There’s a thought that glimmers quick
Inside Spike’s mind, that he’s not meant to leave.
When he’s found Angel he’ll have found his place:
Perhaps he’s meant to stay here with the rest
Of all these vampires. Honestly, who thinks
A vampire’s meant to save the human world?
And if he managed once before, then all
He did was fail in coming here the way he should.
He knows he’s not the hero here, he’s dead
Already. Usually the mortals go
To hell, make sure they get their tickets stamped
Return, don’t eat the food – but him? He’s dead.
He might as well be with the shades.
One day he’ll end up here, no matter what;
If Angel died from duty, Spike won’t live.
These thoughts, they slow him down, and soon enough
The Slayer’s calls are ringing in his ears
While he is stood absorbing Hell’s milieu.
He doesn’t think that he should turn around;
He doesn’t want to look at her, her thoughts.
“Look, Spike,” she says, a little out of breath,
“I didn’t mean it, what I said – or thought –
I didn’t say it, ‘cause that isn’t what
I think I think. I know we’re not the same –
You’ve known him for way longer, but we can’t…
We have to keep on going with the world.
If we give too much power to the past,
Or even to the people that we lose?
The present’s gonna be without a hope.
And you’re that hope – you give me so much hope.”
A shuddering sigh runs through Spike’s weary bones –
And part of him would love them to be gone.
Yet Buffy’s words are with him, though he still
Won’t turn. “I don’t know what you want from me,”
He says. “I’m not the hero; haven’t been
In all my life, my unlife or my death.
I tried, I did, but, Buffy, you – you know
It’s true.”
                 He waits for confirmation, but
What Buffy says is, “No. I really don’t.
I don’t know what you think a hero is,
If they need prophecies or evil gods
Who order them around, but I think that
A hero’s somebody who fights for good.
No more than that. It’s somebody who fights
Injustice, evil, all that stuff – against
The badness in the world or in themselves.
It’s something you decide to be, not what
The higher powers pick to find in you:
You’ve been a hero for a long, long time,
From when you fought yourself to – recently,
To when you built a home against the dark
And let me stay.” “I don’t know how to win,”
He tells her, thinking back to where they fell,
The stitches W&H sewed through
The universe. That’s more than he can fight.
“Well, nor do I –” Still Buffy’s voice is strong.
“– But we’ll have way more chances with you there.”
With Angel, too, they would improve their odds,
But on that score he knows they are too late.
There is a tugging in his sternum now,
A gentle pull that wants to take him back
To earth and all the people they have left.
Presumably this is the witches, set
To bring them home. He comments, “You should go.”
She’s human in the end, so this is not
Her place. But still she says, so firm, “You think
I’d leave without you?” Then what can he do
But turn? He sees her face, alive and whole,
Incomparable to any vampire’s gaze,
And part of him believes she means her words.
Although there is an Angel in this place,
There is a world where Buffy still belongs –
Does she believe that he belongs there too?
As Buffy walks towards him she puts out
Her hand, which reaching out he takes. It’s then
As her warm fingers settle on his own
That he accepts the hook of magic in his chest
And they both fade from hell to go back home.

Chapter Text

      Hey, Calliope, it’s Quinara here;
Just thought I’d try to get in touch again,
Because you never answered when I called
Before? At least, I never felt it when
The ‘spiring came in… And, like, I don’t
Mean to be rude, but now I’m halfway through
It’s getting slightly late to intervene
If I’ve cocked up. There’s fun stuff on the cards,
Since Spike & Co. now have a clearer view
Of how the portal works – more magic plus
Illyria, some extra special guests,
Including one whom I think people miss –
So anytime you felt like chiming in,
Well, I’d be glad to have your thoughts, and I
Will take on board suggestions that you have.
If what I’ve got is not your cup of tea,
I s’pose we’ll have to go our separate ways…

      “So, tell me, what’s the plan here, bro?” Rondell
Is asking, looking up at Gunn as they
Both fold the laundry set in front of them:
Dark clothes and grey-brown linen bandages,
A heap piled on the table, warm and dry,
But old and overused. “Your vampire friend,
He thinks it’s gonna change things if we know
Exactly who we’re fighting?” “Well.” Gunn shrugs.
“It should.” He’s filled another first aid box
With bandages, so sets that to the side
And pulls another forward to be filled.
“If we know where we’ve been connected to
Then we can figure out the rules, maybe,
You know, fight back, close off the portal, or –”
Rondell looks sceptical, not sure how well
He’d say he knows Charles Gunn these days. “Or what?”
Gunn smiles. “I guess I never told you what I got
Put in my brain when we were at the firm…
A lawyer’s head of knowledge, bro – enough
To get me through negotiations, sure,
With any world Wolfram and Hart might know.
And I’ve been thinking I could use it here,
If they make contact with the other world.”
A moment passes so Rondell can think;
He thinks he sees the thoughts Gunn has in mind,
Strange, foreign knowledge from a rich man’s brain,
Implanted over streetwise, savvy nerve.
“I always wondered when that boss of yours
Would say that you weren’t good enough for him.”
There’s silence for another moment – then
Gunn snorts, pitched dark and unamused. “Truth is,”
He says, “That Angel didn’t know a thing.
I woulda sold my soul to get my brain
Like this, to keep it in my head when I –
Could feel it slipping through my sorry grip…
I should have sold my soul instead of what
I did.” Rondell is unimpressed, looks back
To threadless cotton, says, “You sold your soul
To buy a truck, so don’t try talk to me
About how special your new knowledge is.”
Now Gunn is laughing, though his tone won’t change,
“You weren’t complaining when I brought it home!”
“We needed wheels,” Rondell replies, succinct
As he remembers all the simpler days,
When wheels and weapons were all they would need.
There’s times he can’t believe how much has changed.
      And that’s when Anne comes over, trading words
With others fixing things and playing cards
Before she sits with them, by folded clothes.
“Soup’s cooking now,” she says and brushes hair
Out of her face as she sits back and sighs.
“It’s late, I should have put it on before,
But we can eat when everybody’s back…
Now, I heard laughing; what’s the funny, guys?”
Rondell sidesteps, explains instead, “Gunn thinks
That we can use diplomacy to win
The war; if we can figure who they are,
The demons – he thinks we can talk to them.”
“Hey, hey,” Gunn interrupts. “We might not win –
I mean…” His words thud dully for a beat,
But then he carries on, “It might not make
Us win, but it might do some good, you know?
Make things a little clearer if it’s not that they’re
Like normal demons in our world. I mean,
The portal’s messing with LA and us,
Am I right? So maybe what we’ve got, it goes
Both ways. If there’s a world up there with them,
Why wouldn’t they co-operate with us
To shut the portal and get back our lives?”
“He’s got a point,” Anne says, turned to Rondell,
Who shakes his head. “I shouldn’t be surprised;”
He comments then, “you always were the one
Who loved that touchy-feely talking shit.”
Gunn grins, “I think I need that written down…”
Rondell shakes out a shirt with force, but smiles.
“Of course,” he says, “It’s all irrelevant
Until the raiding gang comes back with news.”
      As if on cue, however, suddenly
The doorbell rings, unbroken even now,
And everyone looks up. “They got a key?”
Rondell asks Anne, who frowns and nods as she
Starts dimming lanterns on the tabletop.
Gunn wheels around the sofa to the stairs,
The weapons stored on shelves out of the way.
Two crossbows on his lap he goes to Anne
And arms her, like himself, to guard Rondell,
Who signals silently to everyone,
Gets them alert and takes in hand a sword.
The doorbell rings again, resounding shrill;
Rondell does not adjust his careful pace.
Until the lights are dimmed enough that they’re
In almost-darkness, like the outside world,
He does not open up their sanctuary.
With rough-built antechamber open, then
They hold their breath, the squeaking of the door
The only sound before –
                                  – “…there’s no one here.”
The murmured voice is coming from outside;
It cuts to silent shock. Rondell speaks first,
They hear, his voice pitched low but deadly firm,
“You got ten seconds ‘fore I slam this door:
Who are you and how d’you find out ‘bout us?”
“Um, OK – hi!” another voice comes, soft
And femininely pitched. “Is Buffy there?
Because, see, I’m a friend of hers, did a
Locator spell to find – it brought me here?”
“Look, guy,” the other (woman’s) voice cuts in,
“We come in peace, OK, so let us in
And we can talk about it off the street.”
Rondell seems to deliberate, but says,
“All right,” before the shuffling footsteps move.
Two doors are shut and then the light returns,
Called up in scattered spots across the room.
Gunn isn’t really sure who he expects,
But as the women enter he can tell
His eyes grow wide. “Oh, hey, it’s you!” he says.
“You gave back Angel’s soul.” And had a crush
On Fred, if he remembers right. “What’s up?”
Remembering him also, Willow says
(Of course that’s who it is), “Oh, hey! I’m good.”
She smiles, but not that wide, the lantern light
Not flattering across the lines that strain
Her face; Gunn wonders what her story is.
“I need to introduce myself, I guess,”
She carries on, “And Kennedy, but, um…”
She pauses, looking round, locks eyes again
And asks Rondell, “D’you mind if I sit down?”
He waves her to a sofa, where she falls
As though she hasn’t slept in weeks, and then
She asks, “Was Buffy here before, at least?
Because I didn’t think my spell went wrong…”
Anne clarifies, “She isn’t here right now,
But she’ll be back; they had a job to do.”

      Across downtown and cold, hard tarmac roofs,
Gurpreet can feel resistance as she tugs
And pulls the vampire back along the thread
The spell kept hooked on him. He’s coming back,
But slowly, gathering speed not ‘cause of her;
It’s probably more to do with Buffy’s help.
But then, she could have guessed that anyway,
Since none of them have spoken to this guy
And he’s not really looked at them. He’s meant
To be a hero, that’s what Buffy said;
Gurpreet, though, heard the story differently –
Like, all the Slayers, they were doing fine,
But then this guy, he blew the town to dust
Just so his memory got all the rep.
If Buffy has a Billy Idol crush,
Fair play to her, but how’s he gonna help?
You can’t exactly blow this city up,
Since they don’t know how many are still here –
And even then the demons would come down.
As Spike appears at last before Gurpreet,
She doesn’t smile at him, just wonders this,
While he, for his part, nods in gratitude.
“Hey, thanks for that, guys,” Buffy tells them too,
Cross-legged in front of Sadie. “How’d you know
We needed rescuing?” Gurpreet looks back
And gestures to the God-King fighting filth,
“It was Illyria,” she says, “she said.”
Spike snorts in front of her. “Mayhap there’s hope
For Bluebell yet.” Gurpreet can’t tell if he
Appreciates the irony – since there
Was hope for him, presumably, before.
“We’re glad you both are back,” Elise says,
While Sadie, tremulous, agrees, and then
They’re up and running, pulling back away
From all the demons on the rooftop. What
Is strange, Gurpreet thinks, looking round, is how
The demons let them go: they’re parting seas
Almost, still hassling their scrapping rear,
But leaving them a clear and open path
Towards the fire escape, their scrabbling claws
And whipping wings all clustering away,
When anyone can see that they’ve control,
Could cut their passage off and make them fight
To force their way back down towards the street.
Do demon armies war with strategy?
But then, who cares about that crap? She’s back
In step with Xiao, boots brightly clattering
In rhythm down the rain-wet metal stairs
Before they’re marching through the streets again.
That Jade, the leader of the shelter’s gang,
Is at the front with all her team, while they
Are following behind right at the back,
With Buffy and the pair of randomers
Between their groups. It doesn’t make much sense,
Gurpreet thinks, having stronger people there,
But maybe they’re still knackered from the trip?
      The quiet quick reclaims the LA night,
The way it does, so soon the only sound
Is sheeting rain, still beating grey and blue
Along the roads and windows, people’s hoods,
And gushing silver down the curbsides, black
In splashes under boots and curls of grime.
But not for long – soon something’s making noise;
Attack is coming, even though they were
Allowed escape before. It’s Kadriye
Who hears a whisker-snap of noise and squeaks,
“Elise!” – quietly, so they don’t give
Themselves away. Elise hears and looks,
Starts tapping others on the shoulder, thinks
She hears a sighing swish not far from them.
There’s something in the air, some streets away.
Gurpreet gets tapped and frowns, a bit confused,
But then Elise cups her ear and points –
She pauses, listens, then agrees the noise
Means something’s on its way. She moves to tap
On Mina’s arm, on Buffy’s, but –
                                                – bright blasts
Behind; abandoned cars explode, consumed
By flame and light, the crossroads lit
With orange, yellow, white, two blocks away.
There’s something flying, shadow black, which snakes
Through all the light and flame, its silhouette
Sharp lines of scaly wings and lizard’s head.
It’s screaming at them, screeching high and shrill;
Gurpreet can hear that Buffy’s shouting too,
That everybody’s shouting panicked shouts,
Instructions – but she can’t make out a word.
All she can hear is how the dragon screams;
All she can see is how the dragon rears.
She knows the flames are coming (she is good
With fire), knows that they’re fenced in by cars –
The light is still so bright behind the beast,
Flames lapping at its wings like wicked tongues –
This isn’t any time for blades or bolts,
There’s instinct in her tells her that, but this
Will not be how it ends, she knows that too.
The dragon takes a breath; Gurpreet can feel
Soft whispers of the curling air disturbed
By how it breathes. Her hands reach out. They meet
Two other stretched out hands and clasp them tight,
Elise, right, and Sadie on her left –
That girl is always where she needs to be,
Though half the time she seems invisible.
Time slows and she commands the dragon, “Freeze!
The spell does not feel as it usually does,
But she is sick of LA’s remixed energy,
So pushes on, weaves binds to hold the fire
Within the dragon’s mouth, its burning chest.
      Yet as she weaves the binds her fingers slip;
Elise said that things were shifted here
And she can feel it, like the flesh does not
Exist beneath her fingers. Placing bonds
Around the dragon’s mouth, there’s nothing there,
Not even in this spell-cast astral plane.
She tries to find more purchase, concentrates,
But then there is a flex of energy.
The spell morphs in her hands, her fingers sink
Into the mind of this black beast and she
Starts seeing visions of the dragon’s thoughts,
A sharp and staggering enlightenment.
There’s names and places, memories and pain;
The world is strange here, lonely and confused
And dark, so very dark, and hellish loud.
They’ve tried to make a stable, quiet space
Beneath the swirling world well so that they
Can architect the portal’s close, yet still,
Although they’ve forced so many back from them,
The one whose hair is white is pushing on,
Has brought the others back and will invade.
That hero is the –
                           – Spike. Gurpreet reclaims
Herself and realises that’s who she sees.
The demons, they’ve all seen him charging round
And waving swords their way, not greeting them
When they were plunged into this awful world
With anything but hate and violence.
He’s killing off their noble generals,
Elite and honoured dragons – or, you know,
Whatever they all are back in their world.
And she can see him, menacing approach
Towards the portal, all that’s bright and sharp,
Just cleaving through their forces, cutting down
One dragon right below the portal’s sight
And leaving it for them to see its corpse,
A chilling threat to everyone who comes.
She knows it probably didn’t go that way
From Spike’s perspective – even if he seems
A little arrogant to her with all
The leather and the sultry silences
While he looks angst-filled, stuck at Buffy’s side –
But through the dragon’s eyes that’s what she sees.
The older leader people, with their war,
They’re doing this whole thing all wrong, she thinks,
And not, like, in the way where she just rants
To Mina or to Xiao, who usually
Has also got ideas on why they’re wrong,
But in the way where she’ll have to speak up.
Because she’s sure they’ll work it out eventually,
But if she doesn’t say then they’ll just ask
The reason why she never said before.
Refusing to believe they’d say ‘yeah, yeah’
And do whatever anyway.
                                         That thought
Set strong and final in her mind, Gurpreet
Retreats back into her own human brain.
She opens both her eyes, shakes loose her hands
From Sadie’s and Elise’s grip, looks up
Towards the dragon, mouth and chest still bound
Against producing fire. It fills the road,
Its wings furled close in rigid, jutting folds,
Which angle back up claws past scaly spine.
It doesn’t look as lonely as it feels,
Its eyes are huge and trained on her yet still,
And burning wrecks of cars are licking flames
Against the grey façades and blown out fronts
Of empty shops – charred shutters, shattered glass.
The smell of burning plastic, petrol, oil
Is curling up her nose like nothing else,
Enough to make you think war’s being waged.
There’s Buffy’s call behind her then, “Gurpreet!
Are you OK? What did you do to it?”
She glances to the dragon, then she turns,
Tells Buffy, “It was meant to be a spell
To stop it spitting fire, innit, but
The forces made it come out wrong, so I
Got lost and started feeling in its head…”
She breathes more nasty smell and has to say,
“And, like, it doesn’t want to kill us all –
I mean, it thinks that we’re attacking it,
Or, like, that – Spike and us are killing them
When they’re the ones who found themselves lost here.
I think we need to change our plan, or… Yeah.”
Conviction fades as she looks round and feels
The way that everybody looks at her.
Yeah, Buffy’s frowning seriously, but
She doesn’t look quite as surprised and shocked
As how Gurpreet imagined she would look.
“You do believe me, though?” she asks, annoyed,
And Buffy nods. “Sure, I believe you – but…”
She sighs, eyes glancing up as if unsure
What she should say. “Nobody ever thinks
That they’re the bad guy,” she continues, “right?
So even demons who get off on it,
The being evil, it makes sense to them.”
Then Buffy’s eyes shift to the right, to Spike;
He reassures her with a nod. Gurpreet
Can feel the urge to backchat, even as
There comes another affirmation, “Yeah,”
From Sadie on her right, but still she lets
The other Slayer carry on, “I guess
I mean I’m not surprised by what you felt –
Because that’s kinda how it always goes –
But our problem isn’t how they feel,
It’s that we need to get the city back
And currently they’re fighting so we can’t.”
Her eyes are really earnest now; despite
The way her hair is plastered flat
Against her head, despite her anorak,
Still Buffy sounds experienced and sure.
“But I don’t think they want to fight,” Gurpreet
Replies, convinced the dragon wasn’t bad
Inside. “Well, if we can make contact, then
Of course we’ll try to talk things out instead.”
So Buffy offers up a compromise.
Gurpreet can’t tell if she’s been listened to;
The clarity of what she meant to say
Has faded since she opened up her eyes,
But even so, she doesn’t get a chance
To argue anymore, as Jade speaks up, voice fraught,
“Hey, we can talk about this when we’re back,
OK? It’s time that we got off the streets.”
And that’s enough to make them carry on,
Drop off into the side streets, out of sight –
Gurpreet looks back once more before they go,
Meets gazes with the dragon one last time,
Takes in its black and silenced form again
Before it spreads its jointed wings and flies.
And then she concentrates on getting home.

      On getting back to shelter, Buffy’s plan
Is that they’ll all sit down and talk it out,
With her, Spike and Illyria sat down
And filling in Rondell and Jade and Gunn,
As well as anybody else who cares,
About the world they found beyond the sky.
They’ll make a plan, be sure to ask Gurpreet
To tell them what she learned – though Buffy’s not
Entirely certain they can find a way
To speak to demons who, in their own world,
Attack by making noise, communicate
Presumably in ways they couldn’t sense.
Though maybe someone else has an idea?
Of course, when they return, thought flits away
And is replaced by nothing but the sight
Of Willow standing there with Kennedy,
Who’s sunned herself a deep and golden tan.
She can’t say anything and Willow seems
To chicken out of starting things herself.
Resolving finally the silence, Anne
Cuts through the tension, says, “Who’s up for soup?”
      They sit and eat, but Buffy doesn’t speak,
Not even as the others fill the air
With conversation, soothes herself instead
With hot, thick sustenance that drives away
The chill left by the rain in sodden clothes.
Eventually she marshals up her thoughts
And works out how it is she wants to act.
It’s late, but, yeah, she wants some answers, asks
“So where exactly was it that you were?”
As she puts down her soup spoon, lifts her head
To glare at Willow, curled up snug and small
Across the table. “Hope you both had fun,
You know, when you were taking in the sights
Instead of being where we needed you.”
The words appear to bullseye right on aim:
They stop all other conversation there
As Willow sits up in her seat, eyes wide
As she looks back, “Is that what you assumed?”
Her voice is soft and scared; still Buffy glares.
“I didn’t mean to make it sound like I,
Like we were going on vacation, did –
Is that the way it sounded when we spoke?”
Not letting up, she counters with “That’s what you said.
You told me in that nasty Motel 6
That you and Kennedy were gonna get
Away and take a break and see the sights,
Because you hadn’t any time before.”
Now Kennedy is perched by Willow’s side,
Eyes smouldering like coals as Will insists,
“I never said that! Why d’you think I’d say
Something as horrible as that? I mean,
I get – ” She laughs, a little strength in her,
“I get that that’s exactly what you thought
You’d earned to do with Spike by then, but that –”
“Oh no,” now Buffy interrupts. “You don’t,
Don’t even… You don’t get to say that it’s
Some kind of weird projection thing, that it’s
Because I heard what you were saying wrong.
Because you didn’t tell me where you went,
So maybe you did better covering
Or tried to say it nicer, but no way
Did you not want to get away from us.”
In face of Buffy’s anger Willow wilts,
But shakes her head, refusing to accept
That’s what she did – and Buffy can’t quite stand
To see her do it; anger’s flooding in
And filling her with noise and burning rage.
“If you’d have been there then you could have helped;
D’you know how many girls were injured? Killed?
And Giles –” Her voice breaks, dammit, yet again,
But she continues, “Where were you for that?
You should have been there, should have helped – it’s you
Osiris knows, has dealt with in the past –
It’s you. You should have stopped it happening.”
The other woman’s eyes are filled with tears.
Soft words, “I wish I’d been there with you all,”
They whisper from her mouth as she looks down
Towards the carpet, red hair hanging limp
Around her ears and chin. The others there,
They probably have sympathy for her
Because she does pathetic oh so well,
But Buffy will not let the pity in.
“And yet you weren’t. I think that says it all,
Don’t you?” Her voice has twisted tight and sharp,
Enough to force out an apology –
But then, before the ‘sorry’ fully forms,
It’s Kennedy who speaks and cuts it off.
“No, Willow, don’t you dare apologise
To her.” She looks at Buffy, eyes still hot,
Accuses her, “How dare you talk like that!
With everything she’s been through? Coming back
To find… She did this all for you, you know,
She did it all to stop you feeling bad.”
Now Willow’s looking up; she shakes her head
“No, Kennedy,” she pleads, “it’s really fine,
It doesn’t matter, we don’t need to tell…”
“No, tell me,” Buffy orders, fairly sure
There’s nothing to excuse their running off,
Preferring to have what they’re gonna say
Out in the open rather than obscured.
“I really don’t know how you think you’re so
Damn perfect,” Kennedy begins – but then
Before there’s any moment to retort,
There’s Willow looking back at Buffy, eyes
So tired, clouded green. She says at last,
“It was the spell,” voice blunt, emotionless.
“Turns out the Slayer spirit hasn’t stopped
Getting annoyed when people try to use
Her power without asking in advance.”
She smiles wryly; Buffy’s mouth won’t move.
She doesn’t understand what’s being said.
It’s Spike who fills her place, “So what is it
You’re saying?” he encourages, voice strong
Against the flitting murmurs of the girls,
Who heard the argument and gathered round.
At least for her part Willow doesn’t mind,
It seems, to answer if Spike’s questioning.
“The primal Slayer spirit, that first girl,
She once came into our dreams before –
We used the Slayer power in a spell,
Which pissed her off, so she struck back at us,
Manipulated dreams so she could get
Revenge on us and take back what we took.
Instead of breathing with her spirit, we
Made Buffy take on mine, so in return
She sucked my life out from my chest and throat.
We woke up in the end, ‘cause Buffy spoke
To her, but this time, well, that first night’s dream,
There wasn’t anyone but us to speak.
She hunted me before I even knew
That she was coming, leapt and struck me down.
I woke up when I woke, but when I slept
She came again, frustrated and, well, raged.”
‘So where is it you went?’ now Buffy knows
She needs to ask again, but cannot ask.
As Willow wearily looks round the group
She understands she doesn’t need to, though.
The tale will come out, not long but told
In full, so everyone can understand.

Chapter Text

      Although she always knew she’d have to tell
Her story, Willow wishes she could wait,
That she could bail and put it off until
Tomorrow, maybe, when she’s had some sleep.
But Buffy’s looking angry, disbelief
A threat and challenge in dry, hazel eyes.
It makes her want to cry, break down, shed tears,
The anger sawing at her fragile nerves.
It’s getting to her; everything these days
Can get to her – she’s tired all the time
And conflict’s never been where she excelled.
If only Buffy understood… “OK,”
Then Willow says, eyes glancing round the room.
Her audience is not so very large,
Just Buffy, Spike and Gunn, their closest friends:
Illyria, Rondell and Anne (with soup).
The younger trainee Slayers who perked up
When Buffy shouted? They’re all bored again,
Are chattering among themselves and with
Some people from the shelter gang. “OK,”
Now Willow starts. “So, first, I tried some spells,
Protection and more violent barriers,
But none of them were quite enough to help;
The Slayer spirit fought past all of them,
Got angrier the more I tried to hide.
By this time I’d lost maybe three nights’ sleep?
I didn’t think much of it, but now Ken
Was noticing and asking me, ‘what’s wrong?’.
And I was way embarrassed, so I tried
A little harder, thought instead of me
That I could do a spell to keep the First –
The Slayer trapped beyond this plane, but that,
Well, that went pretty wrong…” “Oh yeah, I’ll say,”
Then Kennedy butts in. “It put her out
For fifteen hours,” she explains, jaw firm.
“She told me she was gonna meditate
And if it looked weird, give her twenty-four
Before I called in help.” It’s been a year,
But Kennedy’s still holding some reproach
For going it alone so soon, when they’d
Been there together on the high school’s floor –
But it’s because of that she didn’t want
To say that something had gone wrong, hello...
But no, they haven’t time to start on this.
“I wasn’t running on all cylinders,”
Willow concedes. “So, yeah, I wasn’t safe;
I found her desert, but I wasn’t sure
That I was ever gonna find my way
Back out – she hunted me in circles, chased
And chased so there was no way I
Could get control or force her to stay out.”
Now Willow sees, as Buffy bites her lip,
That if she’d asked her friend, she would have known
What she knows now, that that was way too harsh
And not the way to calm the spirit down.
Her Kennedy, so argumentative,
She even asked, when Willow told her, ‘Don’t
You think that’s gonna make her angrier
For you to treat her like a demon? She’s
A girl, like me, with power – you reached out,
You used the scythe to draw her essence out,
Just like the way you did with mine. When you
Did that to me, you didn’t try a spell
To shut me up. We talked; you gave me time.’
Remembering Ken’s face, her earnest plea,
Now Willow’s glad that she did right by her.
“I guess I made things worse; I made mistakes –
But even then I didn’t want for you
To worry, so I thought we’d get away
And ask advice from the Devon coven, who,
I hoped, would have a better plan than me.
That’s where we went; I thought that we’d be done
In no time – then I’d find you guys again
And help out with the organisation – ‘cause
By then I hadn’t slept right in a week
And it was showing in my mood, my strength;
My brain was stuck in slug, I couldn’t lift
My suitcase when we landed at Heathrow.
There’s no way I’d have been of any help.
      “But when I spoke Althenea, she –
She said they didn’t have an easy fix.
The spell had made the link between our minds,
Connecting me to all the Slayer line;
The spirit could decide to let me go,
But as the caster all that I could do
Was live with it or go back on the spell.
(Like thaumogenesis, I guess. Again.)
The only option, basically, I had
Was wait it out or else communicate
Inside my dreams, to talk things out with her.
I wasn’t feeling very talkative –
That was the problem, fear took hold of me
Each time I found myself inside the dream.
I had to prove myself and I who was –
But mostly that meant running, never fast
Enough, so then my soul got julienned…
A sister gave me tea to calm my mind,
To make my sleep more restful and controlled;
It didn’t really help, like, over much,
But that was all they had.” She still has some,
Tucked in her bag, could blend some more with ease;
The recipe is written in her hands:
The chamomile and lavender, in parts,
The yarrow and the sage and blessing prayer
To Caer Ibormeith. “But I was in
Denial, completely, so we stayed with them.
‘Cause I was sure we’d find an answer or
A workaround at least, and not the tea,
So I kept out of touch, worked Kennedy
So hard she almost left. It wouldn’t solve –
But, luckily, while I was chasing geese,
Mairéad was reading on the Slayer’s past
And all the myths surrounding her, the line.
She told me she had heard of ancient myths,
Had found some legends written down in books,
Which hadn’t been blown up and burned to ash,
About the Slayer’s origins, the men
Who first combined the demon with her soul?
There’d been three men, she told me, brothers made
Through ties of kinship, who had found a girl
And given her the strength and skill to fight
Etcetera, but didn’t think it through
That far. The girl could fight like anything –
Stalked through the villages and heard the tales,
Went out into the darkness of the plains
To hunt and slay the beast who’d been a scourge.
But she was off the charts on aptitude,
Way more than that community required,
So soon she had no demons left to slay.
At that point she abandoned home and fled,
Escaped from those three men and their commands.
And sorry, Ken, you’ve heard this all before,
But, obviously, they went after her,
‘Cause they were probably afraid she’d use
The power they had given her for more
Than they intended; help the world, not them.
They headed north, beyond the land they knew,
Were following the stories of the girl,
But then the trail went cold; the girl was gone.
I know this way too well, but then it goes –
The men made camp, uncertain what to do,
Debated for three days and nights, until
They all agreed they’d carry on their search.
Instead of travelling together, though,
The three decided they’d split up. The first,
He travelled north, continued on their path
Across the sands, endured as she endured.
He couldn’t find her, lived his life on watch,
But brought in others to the watching cause
And founded thus the Council that we know.
The second headed east, across the sea,
Far-seeing, travelling through night like her.
He couldn’t find her, but he traded news
Of demons, wrote the knowledge down in script,
Created networks we still use today.
The third man would have given up the search,
Sore missed his wife and daughters – but he knew
He’d come too far to go back home. And so
He turned towards the setting sun, alone
Like her, and headed west through land unknown.
He drifted through the villages and camps,
Frustrated in his search, lost far from home,
Until the point he threw himself upon
The hospitality of one old king.
He stayed with him and wed his daughter, like
You’d guess – but it was then the Slayer came,
Emerging from the night, aware that they
Had sought her, living in the shadows now
For years. She found the man and asked him, ‘Why
Did you stop looking?’ to which he replied,
‘There is no home we can return to, so
Why would I search, what could I do with you?’
She told him, on his throne, ‘You’ve found a home,’
Which he conceded to be true. He said,
Apologising for what they had done,
‘I’m changed from who I was, this home is new
And I would have you welcome here, to come
And go.’ He made a promise to her too,
‘Within my kingdom I’ll let you find peace,
No matter if my brothers’ search goes on.
No one may charge you here; this is your home.’
The Slayer left, not yet in need of rest –
But thanking him as she went on her way,
Accepting this man’s land as sacred home
Where she could leave the shadows for the light.
      “So, that’s the tale Mairéad found in the books
And I was desperate enough to think
It had the answers – like myth usually does.
In hindsight, yeah, with slightly better sleep,
I probably was crazy, but I thought
If we went off to Africa, retraced
The Watchers’ steps, then we could find this place.
You always talked about the sacred sands,
So I thought maybe somewhere they were real;
The Slayer would be calmer there and I
Would find out what she needed me to do.
I took a copy of the story, then
We worked out where to go to start. You said
The Shadow Men, back when we did that spell –
The other one, the shadow puppet play –
Said something like ‘ndiyo’, meaning ‘yes’?
We managed to remember that, found out
That was Swahili, which, well, might have been
The spell appropriating modern words,
But started us with a clue anyway:
East Africa, like Tanzania and
Around. I thought that we could start out vague,
But there’s still oral culture, right? So we
Would ask around and find some similar myths,
Track down who knew them best and work out where
They led. Then I would get some sleep again.
      “And so we went – and it took weeks and weeks.
We asked around and headed north on tips
We heard, which told us there were people there
Who knew more than whoever we had found.
We spoke to Council contacts, then their friends,
Their grandparents and cousins out of town.
We went through Kenya to Uganda, west
Along the coast of Lake Victoria,
Hooked up with tour groups bouncing down the roads.
And it was at that point – remember, Ken? –
That answers started getting pretty strange,
‘Cause it was like they’d been through this before,
I mean, the strangers hunting down a myth.
We figured anthropologists, but then,
Bizarrely, someone in the know asked us
If we were anything to do with this
Omweeru vampire who had come this way
Two years ago in search of help. I’m not
Quite sure who that was, but –
                                         “Oh, hey, wait –”
They never worked out who that was, but now?
She’s sitting opposite the vampire who
Went off to Africa to find his soul,
Omweeru vampire with the bone-white hair.
She thinks she should have thought it earlier,
But she was too distracted by the time
They’d lost. She wonders if it needs be said –
But no. Spike’s got his scarred left eyebrow raised
And Buffy looks amused; she clearly knows.
Ah, frilly crap, she should have worked that out –
They could have tracked that cave and demon down;
She’s sure she’ll never get the chance again
To find out how the magic works with souls.
She’s meant to be an expert; she should know.
Annoyed by failing, Willow shakes her head
And then continues, gathering her words,
“Well, anyway, the trail was growing strong –
At last we found this town where people claimed
They lived in that old chiefdom, that third man’s.
Their version of the story didn’t go
The same way as what I had written down,
But still the girl was there, the monster and
The men, the ones who went adventuring
And then the last who settled down. I think
They said the Slayer was his wife,
That she became his wife. But anyhoo –
We found them. First I tried just sleeping there,
But that went how it always went before…
Grace Alice, who was who we’d found through links
And gossip, she was hosting us – she knew
The council through some wild and wacky way.
We told her what was going on, ashamed,
I think, a little that we’d come to her
As enemies inside the Slayer’s home.
But she had so much sympathy, told us
The women of the tribe had rituals,
Real ancient rituals to call upon
The Slayer – and if we could prove our cause
Then they would help. So we stayed there and worked
Where volunteers were needed, typed and mopped
The church – and even then it was a whole
New way of doing magic, while my mind
Had gone too dull to pick up new things quick,
So when they trusted us that still took time.
It gets a little private-secret after that,
But then, I guess, enough’s to say at last
I could communicate along the link
Between me and the Slayer. We did that,
Grace Alice mediating while we spoke,
With Kennedy supporting me as I
Apologised for not consulting her
Before we did the spell, explained it was
To help Potentials not be killed, instead
Of trying to control the Slayer more.
We spoke and reached an understanding, when
The Slayer told me it was pretty moot
In any case, ‘cause worse was happening
And I was needed back at home with you.
So –”
       Willow pauses, still not processing
Completely what they told her when she went.
The dark black blood of grief feels cold like steel;
It flooded from her heart when she went home
And now she feels the power inching back…
She cannot look at Buffy, looks instead
At Fred’s pale, duck-egg skin – oh no, not her:
Illyria. Oh, goddess, save her now…
The god is staring, seeing something change.
Her eyes are curious, so like before,
But now she’s frowning as suspicion curls
Her lips. Uncertain, Willow stutters on,
Her eyes turned back to Buffy, “Then they said
That you’d come here, so, yeah.” With one waved hand
Now Willow finishes; her tongue is stuck,
Just like when she walked in the castle’s doors –
Too late to please the Slayer in her mind,
“We came to help you how we’re able to.”
She feels like she can’t look at anyone,
Just sinks into the sofa, staring down.
Beside her, Kennedy entwines their hands,
Which gives her strength as questions come. The words
Remain as mumbles in her throat, but Ken
Can field requests for details – and she does.
The night is drawing in, and Willow, yes,
Thinks she can feel the coldness of the moon,
No matter that the quality of light
Inside the room remains a steady glow.
Her silence brings the talking to a stop,
Eventually, when everyone goes off
To find some rest. She knows the Slayer’s there,
Just waiting for her dreams to show themselves,
Which makes her nervous, though she needs her sleep.
These last few nights have almost brought her rest,
No images remembered even though
She’s sure the link has not been severed yet,
So maybe worrying’s not sensible,
But as she sinks into the sofa’s hold,
Shuts close her eyes, she cannot stop her thoughts.
And, more than this, she knows Illyria
Is watching her.

                    There’s power in the witch.
The night falls dark and cold, the sleepers wrapped
In sleep, but still the God King sees its hold.
Observing from the stairs, no granted bed
This time, Illyria thinks back upon
The story told. The Slayer had control,
Could bid this witch and beat her into line –
And yet the body walks, and sits, and sleeps,
Its mortal blood still red and warm. What waste.
The dreams come swift tonight, soft glimmering
Across the room, limn sleeping forms in gold
And white – but this, tonight, this is the hour
Illyria steps onto feet to greet
Their insubstantial forms and flashing shapes.
The witch is lying on the frayed blue couch,
Her head at rest upon its padded arm.
And by her side? An image flickering,
Invisible then coming into being.
It’s there and it is watching her,
Illyria observing it in turn,
A crouching girl in sun-bleached cloth, her knees
Sharp angles, perpendicular, her head
Erect. And yes, though she is in her dreams,
The spirit lets the witch sleep on in peace,
Has freed the child from her attention, weak
With mercy.
                    She is unimpressive, small
And fragile on the floor. The god king sneers –
But that of course is when the image turns
Its head. “Illyria,” the Slayer says.
Her eyes are clear with sight; she rises up
And stands with careful steps on graceful feet,
Then looks with humour into cobalt eyes.
“It’s been a thousand ages since your time.”
Surprise is jarring, bold white desert storm;
The God-King stares, but then, as is the way
Of ages long since past, can recognise
The woken spirit who now speaks to her.
Unnerved she may be, but it does not show.
“It has, Sineya,” she replies, “and yet
I am returned to walk upon this world.”
She mocks, “Quite free outside another’s mind.”
A shrug directed at the witch below,
Sineya shakes her head. “Your kind has walked
Millennia, been bred of demon blood
By vampires, feeding on those I protect.”
The words bring brittle silence once again.
Unwilling to believe, the god looks down,
The shock like bile in her throat; she looks
At Spike, caught in repose beneath a sheet,
Immortal lying in old dust. Contempt
Fills her like breath, but yet she is not free
To watch him; sweet and sooty dreams cloud black
Her vision, claw their way inside until
A deep consuming sexuality
Begins to pulse like oil in her shell –
“The vampires are no children of mine,”
She says, withdrawing quickly from that swell,
Quite certain that this dream girl tells her wrong.
“They are the ooze that eats itself, corrupt.”
And yet how like a dream Sineya smirks:
Too bold – her words are merciless. “It’s true
That human lineage is strong in them,
But when your kinsman took a human host,
The very first, sun setting sanguine red
On demon sovereignty, he did not have
The time and preparation you required:
The being he created was a child,
Not quite an avatar, and he in turn
Produced imperfect children, brought your race
To what you see across this world today.”
Illyria does not know how to look
Upon the spirit as she speaks these words:
They settle in her mind with too much weight
And make her think of imperfection she
Too often finds oblique within herself.
For questions come as foreign as the doubt:
Her power drained and uncontainable,
How could she be the God-King she once was?
Was it correct to claim she walks here free?
How different can she really be from this,
This spirit: tamed, beholden to a dream?
“I have no need to hear these myths from you,”
She states with ancient firmness, steps away
From where the vampire sleeps and glares again
At the unwelcome apparition, who
Should not have found an audience with her –
And would not if her world had not been breached,
If human arrogance had stayed in check.
“How modern you’ve become!” Sineya laughs.
“Rejecting myth when myth it was that built
Our world, that kept your name so long alive…”
“Enough!” Illyria demands, a snarl
Across her features. “Do not dare mock me.
You may be in this age a spirit full
Of power, fearfully revered – but you
Are human mind, once watered human blood;
Your people wilted, snapped like blades of grass
Beneath my feet, defiled by pus and gore.
How dare you look upon me, dare you speak
Without the reverence your kind requires?”
Sineya laughs again; Illyria
Can feel the shameful damp approach of tears,
Another gross affliction come on her.
She swears again, uncertain of her name,
“You may not laugh at me – you may not laugh!
With pity then the Slayer promises,
“This world has changed, Illyria; I may.”
      They stand quite silent in the night. “Then why,”
Illyria now finds she asks, her voice
Unsuited, long unused to questioning,
“Why did you turn, why do you speak to me?”
Why did I watch and wait for you to come?
“I’m curious,” the Slayer then replies,
Slow, careful tread encircling the god;
Her voice lit light with no acknowledgement
Of how Illyria has just debased
Herself, continuing, “My daughters fight
Alone too often. Though I cannot say
I always care for their companions, or
The choices those companions make, I care
To oversee the fellowships they form –
And finding you among them? It appeals.”
She casts an eye across the room, at all
The figures caught in quiet sleep, until
Her gaze falls on the Slayer finding rest
Within a vampire’s arms. And then she turns,
Her dark eyes shrewd upon Illyria’s.
“There’s long been innovation in the line,
But Buffy is the first, I think, to bring
An Old One to the cause.” Illyria
Expected to be shamed, but she did not
Expect to find herself belittled so.
“I was not brought by Buffy, Slayer, you
Are there mistaken,” she ripostes with force.
“No, know you well that I was brought to this
By my desire alone, my mind and will
Assaulted by Wolf, Ram and Hart, my life
Made pawn by them in offering
Before the youth Osiris – pharaoh wretch,
Presuming to allow obscenity
As this unnatural portal to exist,
Which stretches, morphs my kingly mind
Like lava, molten then reformed by wind –”
“Do I then understand you mean to fight
Osiris?” interrupts Sineya, shocked.
“No matter that you know he cannot die?”
“I mean to set this world once more apart
And think within my mind made whole again.”
Reclaiming safety in her strength of words,
Illyria refuses to think back
To all the pain and grief found in the world
Before the portal gave her this excuse.
With petulance, however, words dart on,
“And if Osiris stands against my will,
Then I will find a way to banish hence
His influence, through otherwise or death –
For you may hold he is beyond the call
Of lost eternity, but life is naught
But mere stability of form. We too
In human understanding may not die,
Yet would not choose transferral as our end.”
At last appearing to appreciate
The condescension that Illyria
Is offering, Sineya nods. “You’re right.”
Denying that however, follow words:
“And yet he’ll never be removed:
His job is necessary, he has no
Replacement. If you try destroying him
The very fabric of the netherworlds
Will pull him back to his supremacy.”
Illyria can hear the nervousness
Which catches, snags the Slayer’s speech;
It seems too easy to interpret, so
She happily declares, “You cannot know
The truth of what you say.” Sineya flares
Her nostrils, though, in irritation, says,
“I know because I’ve seen it happening –”
The nervousness strikes sparks of angry fear –
“No matter if you think I’m ignorant,
The worlds and ages I have seen provide
More knowledge than resides and rots like leaves
Inside your memory. The Slayer walks
In realms beyond this world each time she dies,
If not before, and I have seen her walk
Those halls of death, have walked there by her side.”
The god refuses to accept this fear,
Bites back, replies, “This does not signify
You understand those worlds in which you walked.”
Spurred on by this belligerent challenge, then
The Slayer crosses floor to stand above
The eldest of her daughters, spreads her hand
Before her, gesturing. “This girl who does
Not lead you, look you on her dreams. You’ll see
Exactly what both she and I observed
When we walked through the stony halls of death.”
Sineya’s eyes are angry now, black glints
Of tempered steel surrounded by her mask
Of harsh and battle-ready white. She’s won,
They know; the god feels trepidation she
Should not, looks anxiously upon the form,
The woman sleeping – feels the claws of pain
And hard-won certainty that what she’s done
Is right, will save the world –
                                         – and then she falls.

Chapter Text

      She’s caught by light, by pain that magnifies
Light brightly, feels her body fall away,
Keep falling, rushing wind against her skin,
Until she’s fallen into dark and cold.
For minutes then Illyria can’t move,
Her muscles trembling with shock and pain,
Stone hard around her gushing acid blood;
This does not feel as her flesh feels, but then
She can’t remember who or where she is.
There’s light again, or light enough at least,
To see the hair that’s slipped across her face:
So pale, ash blonde perhaps; obscuring veil,
Which drifts then lets her see this fey new light,
A shining beacon in the distant dark.
Ungainly, she puts weight back on her feet –
Can’t stand so tall as she thinks she deserves –
And notices that she is wearing white.
Who is she to be clothed in cloth as this?
Forgetting all that just for now, she walks,
She stumbles slowly off towards the light,
Which gradually expands; she’s walking down
A corridor, this light a doorway at
The end. Illyria goes through to find
A chamber: vaulted stone, red, gold and blue
Around her, images of gods in state.
A hundred flames attend from golden stands.
“OK, so clearly I did something right…”
The words come from her mouth, reveal her awe,
Are strange and yet are all she has to say;
Illyria does not know what she should
Believe, not anymore, not seeing this.
Her steps tap out a ritual beat of drums
Across the floor. The glowing, flickering gleams
Of metal, stone, enamel, it is all
Enough to give the images a life,
An animation as they sneer at her,
Small suppliant before their holy might
(Constricted, bound in chains of golden stone).
Then round a corner, round the wall, there comes
The figure of a god who blocks her path,
Stands waiting for her with a jackal’s head.
His arms are crossed, his toothy maw set grim.
“Hey, I know you,” Illyria calls out.
“We met before –” Before she went somewhere
She can’t remember now. But she was here
(If she is her – though who else could she be?),
Walked in and then got lost somewhere, has now
Returned, it seems. “I never caught your name.”
“Anubis,” he replies. “I’m here to take
Your heart.” She’s come within six feet of him,
But now she halts, feet firm against the stone.
“Well, that’s not gonna happen…” she replies,
Hands fisting as her arms rise in defence.
“And, really, it’s not nice to greet your guests
That way, just FYI.” “Your body’s time
Is over,” says Anubis, voice like gold,
So bright, but heavy, tongue against his teeth.
“Another life awaits you after this.”
Illyria looks back at him and feels
Alive already, knows she has a life
Where once her heart still beat and she still breathed.
“I don’t know how I came here, but I don’t
Think you should try it, OK, jackal-boy?”
The god approaches her, a wicked knife
Appearing in his hand; Illyria
Is not afraid, but holds her stance. He speaks
Again: “You found your way here willingly.
Do not resist me like a screaming child.”
“I may have come here, but I didn’t come
To you.” With these last words Illyria
Kicks out to knock the jagged knife away.
The god claws at her shoulder, but she turns,
Resists his power and his strength. Punch thrown,
Her fingers come against the ravening teeth
Which fill his mouth, pound hard and shake one loose,
Draw blood and make him spit divinity
Across the ochre stone, where he, she knows,
Would have her body bleed. He snarls at her,
The knife forgotten now in favour of
His claws, curved sharp in perfect sickle shapes,
But she has brute strength of her own, knows gods
And how they fight, will not give up her heart.
The fight wears on and she is winning, holds
The knife found from the ground tight in her fist –
But then another voice comes, singing sigh:
“Anubis, what is taking you so long?
The scale is empty and our time’s not cheap –
You’re slower than before the system switched…”
Anubis growls above the crack of flesh,
Its beating, “Horus! Help me with this girl –
The bitch threw in the towel in her prime.”
The falcon-headed Horus clucks his beak,
“Oh, not again…” before he joins the fight.
“This is the problem with monopoly;
Nobody coming here knows what to do…”
      But they are both distracted by their words;
Illyria breaks free and runs the way
They came, so certain she can get to where
She’s meant to be, to where she sent herself
Without their interference, runs through halls
Where still more haughty gods stare down at her,
Where some weird mixed-up monster snaps its jaws
And chases down her heels. A feather floats,
Made buoyant in her wake, then wheels and spins
In spiralled fall; she rushes past, runs fast
And finds herself where there are no more doors,
Where there’s a lonely throne set in the room
And on it sits a god, with crook and flail
Across his chest, an ostrich-feathered crown
In stately rest upon his noble head.
“You tell me where’s the exit out of here,”
She orders him, voice loud and echoing.
He tells her, mocking smile on his face,
“Corporeal, there is no way to leave.”
They will not let her go, she knows it then,
Until she has rejected claim upon
Her body, felt her life’s blood bleed away,
Abandoned it for use by some force else.
But there’s no time for this; she hurls her knife
To strike him through the neck, to pierce his throat.
His blood comes pouring out, soaks through his beard
And down his clothes to stream along the floor.
It’s dark and red –
                           – but shimmers in the light,
Shows visions as it pools before her feet:
The halls are there within its flood,
The vaulted yellow stone, the gold and blue,
The labyrinth her pounding footsteps traced.
It’s not reflection but a fact – and as
The blood approaches her she knows it’s true.
The room around her fades, there’s only blood,
Still pooling, but less red the more she stares,
Until the moment it laps to her feet.
It touches her, and then the vision’s real;
She’s there again within the first bright room,
Unwounded as Anubis comes to her.
She fights a dozen times, gains victory
In each, but still she finds herself brought back
To here, Osiris’ hallowed entrance hall.
The last time at the throne she calls to him,
Anubis, Horus, bleeding in her wake,
“Who are you, sitting there the judge of me?”
He looks around at all the painted gods,
Their images last remnants of their might,
Then tells her, “I’m the one who took control.”
His sons come running in behind her then;
At last she’s borne down to the golden floor.
Her blood bleeds out and soon her heart is weighed;
Osiris watches, smiling from his throne.

      Collapsed in second death Illyria
Returns to where she is herself, no flesh
Inside her, rotting soft with age, no skin
But hardened shell whose form she can control.
There’s breath that’s moving through her, thick and harsh,
But she controls that too, can make it still,
As still as Buffy lying in repose
Before Illyria’s wide gaze. The god
Steps back a thousand ages from her form.
Sineya pities her; that’s clear to see
In how her features soften. “None of this
Means I am thwarted,” thus Illyria
Declares, while straightening her joints to stand
As tall as she is able. “I am more
Than any Slayer, terrible and feared.
Osiris will not live to still my hand
If I raise any blade to cut his flesh.”
There’s echoing of fear and mortal pain
Inside her now, but she has found her task.
With kingly gait she walks towards the stairs.
“Come with me, show me dreams the other sees
Who fought this god, was taken by his will.”
Sineya’s voice comes softly now behind:
“You want to see what Sadie saw?” She’s scared,
This Slayer spirit, human to the last,
Bound to her daughters, hurt in sympathy.
And there is part of her, Illyria,
Which understands, although she dictates, “Yes,”
Before she leads the way to knowledge gained,
God-King and Slayer joined in common aim.

      When Sadie wakes, she can remember this,
The conversation, two gods in her mind –
The Slayer asked for welcome, was let in,
Then walked with her back through that awful night.
And yet she’s calmer when she wakes, even
OK? The day seems brighter anyway.
“Hey, wake up, Sades,” Gurpreet is telling her,
Far too awake. “We’ve got to go downstairs…”
Now Sadie turns her head, squints bleary eyes
To see Gurpreet is dressed, stood by her bunk,
Excited; who knows why. “They’re making plans
To go up in the sky again, big plans.
That Gunn guy’s gonna do diplomacy;
They wanna hear what the dragon thought
To go with what the others saw up there…
I think the idea is we do a spell
Again, like, with that witch from yesterday?
But otherwise it might be interesting…”
Breath hitches short in Sadie’s throat on ‘spell’,
But soon she’s breathing through it, thinks again
And wonders if it might not be that bad –
The spells that they did yesterday went well
(Apart from when the freezing spell went wrong;
Gurpreet, however, seems quite pleased by that)
And everybody’s said that Willow’s great
At magic, so they’ll all be supervised.
The meeting sounds quite boring, though, not least
Because they heard the dragon stuff last night.
She’s not quite sure how best to break it that
She never much enjoyed McCaffrey’s Pern,
So Sadie goes for noncommittal, says,
“I’ll be down later; go ahead and I’ll
Catch up.” She smiles and feels a flash of nerves
Gurpreet might take it badly – but it’s fine.
She shrugs – “All right!” – then bustles with the rest
As they get bobbles for their hair and laugh
And leave, so Sadie’s left to snooze again.
      She gets up not long later, heads downstairs
Her hair still damp from showering. It’s strange
(Or not) how slaying’s similar to school,
Back when she boarded: lukewarm water, crowds…
Apocalypses – yeah, they’re something new.
And even situations like this one,
Where what they’re saving is the status quo.
It seems as if the way they’re going to fight
Has been decided now: when Sadie hits
The common room the general meeting’s stopped,
With people talking in small, separate groups.
And she can’t see Elise or Gurpreet
Or Willow anywhere – but Buffy’s here,
Just by the stairs, so Sadie turns to ask
If she knows where they are. She realises,
However, when she turns, that Buffy’s deep
In serious dramatic dialogue
With her boyfriend-equivalent. “…I know
You say you're fine,” she’s telling him, “But I –
Last night you nearly left yourself in hell
And now you’re heading up our alien
Campaign because they think you’re boss of us;
You matter to me, so I care if there’s
A part of you that’s panicking, all right?”
She’s trying for a rom-com, but Spike frowns,
Looks to the carpet and replies, “Don’t start
On that – we do this pre-apocalypse
Chitchatting every time and generally
It ends with one of us stone dead. I’m fine.”
He looks up then; “Besides, there’s things to do.”
A nod past Buffy’s shoulder and she’s turned
To look at Sadie – startled, blushing red.
“Oh, hey,” the Slayer says, “Are you OK?”
Spike slips away behind her; Sadie nods,
Embarrassed. “Sorry. Interrupting – I,
I didn’t mean to, erm – do you know where
I’m meant to be?” A glance into the room,
Where Buffy’s eyes don’t search so much as fall
On Spike (who’s sitting down with Gunn), she says,
“I think the others went with Willow to –
The laundry room? Hey, look, they’re coming out.”
They are as well, the three of them, with sheets
Or something bundled in their arms. “Oh, thanks,”
Then Sadie mumbles; Buffy smiles and they
Part ways. As Sadie heads across the room,
However, they all shake their heads and point
The way she’s come. “I thought we’d go upstairs,”
Now Willow says, “And use your dorm for space.
The spell we’re gonna do for everyone,
It’s not beyond your level, but some drills
Should help us work together as a group?”
She looks bizarrely eager, like they might
Say no. “Er, you know more than us, don’t you?
What are we doing anyway? I thought
It’d be the same?” They clomp back up the stairs;
Gurpreet cuts in with, “Nah, this new spell’s sick,
Like, it’s a virtual reality
Space-teleport mashup.”
                                         “And that means what,
Exactly?” Sadie asks, confused as they
Come back into the dorm, sit down on squashed
And just-about-made covers, turquoise-blue.
“It’s very similar,” Elise says,
Explaining, next to Willow on the bed.
“But we will alter their perception, too,
So when they go above they’ll interact
Inside a virtual reality
And understand what’s going on up there.”
Now Sadie’s panicking. “And that – that’s meant
To be our skill level? To do tonight?”
Gurpreet beside her doesn’t look that fazed,
But this is not like anything they’ve done…
“Hey, chill,” the older witch remarks, too cool
When Sadie’s caught her eye. “You’ll all be fine –
The spell is really not that hard. It’s just
About your concentration, which, you know,
Is why we’re here! So how about we start
With you guys telling me about your spells.
How much d’you work together, usually?”
“Like, all the time,” Gurpreet replies. “It’s rare –
Or sort of rare-ish, that we work apart.”
Elise adds, “Yes, I’d agree. It makes
Our casting complicated, with the gods
We call on, but –”
                                  “How come?” then Willow asks,
Confused or looking like it anyway.
“Because we all call different sources up
To make our power...?” Sadie offers her.
“Apart from me, who shops around; I’m sure
You heard about what happened recently…”
She drops her head – but then, before she has
A chance to really think back to it all,
Gurpreet is saying, “Um, with me as well,
I haven’t really done much calling up
In – well, like, it’s messed up, innit, mate?
To hassle gods and goddesses for – boons
Or, like, whatever, even though you’ve not
Had much to do with them before. I mean,
It feels well disrespectful?” Sadie turns
And looks at her, surprised by what she’s said.
She thought the other two were more than pleased
With how their magic was for them – it’s what
Made her so desperate to find a source…
“Is that OK?” She looks at Willow, asks,
“Is it OK for us to work like that?”
The woman frowns, mouth quirked to cheek in thought
Before she says, “I’ve not researched it… I –
I mean – it’s true that – Giles always knew,
Or seemed to know much more about the rules
Of magic theory, but his lessons came,
Uh, through the Watchers’ Council, which I’m sure
You’re glad you never knew… I’ve always found
That trying to make deals with gods whom you
Respect – or worship, maybe, more than that?
They don’t exactly feel as comfortable;
Which gives you less control, which makes the spell
More likely to go wrong. Consistency,
I guess, can be a very useful thing,
And doing all the bookwork on the god
Or forces you intend to use, in case
They’re known for tricksiness – but otherwise?
There’s so much we don’t know about the world,
The universe, that sometimes it feels best
To keep religion almost separate
From magic, if you can. To have what you
Believe in one part of your mind, and know
That that’s unknowable, then have your spells
As clear negotiation you agree
The terms of, cast, then terminate in full.”
Her words are all so welcome Sadie wants
To think they’re true, but even so she can’t
Forget – “But didn’t you just spend a year
Abroad and suffering because the god
You made a contract with felt like she could
Do anything she wanted to?” The blush
On Willow’s freckled face goes deep and dark.
“Um, yeah, that partly was because of me –
We didn’t have much time, so I may have
Not put in all the preparation that
I should… But, yeah, I guess you’re right that it’s
More complicated than I make it sound.
There’s lots of factors. Magic’s dangerous,
I mean, that always needs remembering –
That’s why we wanna feel we’re in control.”
“And in reply to that,” Elise adds,
“Perhaps we save the world before we do
Philosophy?” They all feel sheepish then,
But Willow soon recovers, says, “OK,
Let’s do some practical…” She nods her head
Towards the sheets in bundles on the floor.
“To save the guys some chores I thought we’d start
Our concentration work with basic stuff,
So floating, flattening and folding these.”
It takes a moment to sink in – and then
The three girls look at her, their groans as one.
Who thought that they’d get stuck with ironing?

      It’s later when the details have been worked
As far as they are likely to be through
That Buffy comes upstairs to check on things.
The door squeaks open casually and she
Leans past the jamb, inside but taking care
Not to step in until she’s sure it’s safe.
“Hey, how’s it going, guys?” she asks, voice light
And totally unpressured as she smiles.
Remarkably they all smile back – the sheets,
Which she remembers creased but dry,
Aren’t bunched up anymore. So, two look worse –
One tattered and the other cindered black
Inside the trash beside the door – the rest,
However, they’re all laundered perfectly
In thick, flat, folded rectangles, which
Are being used to build a tall and strange
And gravity-defying piece of art.
It’s something like a tree, its limbs on points,
But still the sheets stay folded in the air.
“Wow! I’m impressed!” she says, spontaneous
In praise – on Willow’s nod the sheets then fall
Out of formation to a perfect pile
In something very Mary Poppins-esque.
“We’ve got it pretty good now,” Willow says,
Her eyes a little creased in tiredness,
More than they always used to be. “We’re set
To rock the spell this evening, aren’t we, gang?”
Both Sadie and Elise awkwardly
Grin back at the enthusiasm, while
Gurpreet replies, “Did you just call us ‘gang’?”
As if she misses people who are cool.
It edges on the wrath of choring teen,
So Buffy thinks that counts as checked, cuts in,
“OK! That’s great, then, just make sure to get
Some rest before tonight; we can’t be sure
How long it’s gonna take. I’ll see you then.”
They nod and Buffy thinks, at least they take
Her seriously – to her face if not
In private. Though, of course, when this spell’s done
They’re bound to have respect for Willow too.
      Content, she leaves, pulls close the squeaky door;
With nimble, rhythmic clattering she heads
Downstairs again, beat only breaking when
She realises she’s run by Spike, who’s there
Just opening the weapons cabinet
(Junk closet, as she hears was its old name)
To look what’s up for grabs inside. She stops,
Remembering what’s next of her To Dos:
Make Spike explain what he said earlier
And don’t crap out like back in Sunnydale.
She hasn’t worked out nuance more than that,
But, still, she sets her left foot down a step
Then walks on casually; her pulse
Does all the running for her, takes her miles…
“Oh, hey,” she calls, as she turns from the stair
To glide her fingers down the crossbow shelf.
“Found something good in there?” She leans in through
The doorway, to the gloom, the fragile light
Not inching very far beyond her feet;
Spike’s penlight won’t reveal his face to her.
“Not likely,” he replies, disdainfully,
His shadowed features shifting with a shrug
From where he’s hunched beneath the slanting roof.
He shines the light down walls and at his feet,
So she can see the closet’s cavernous
But for the most part closeting old junk –
There’s broken bits of table, chairs and bed;
A bird of paradise lawn ornament,
With one eye fallen out; three rusty swords.
“Look, um,” she starts to say, until she hears
Two laughing guys come over to the stairs.
A nervous glance, and then she steps inside
To shut the cupboard door on her and Spike;
She figures that their eyes will soon adjust…
“So, look,” she tries, her voice not very strong.
“I know I tried this earlier and you
Weren’t interested, but – I mean, I don’t
Think we should face that weird white world again
Without at least a conversation, right?”
It’s easier, this talking in the dark –
Not easy, not at all, but not so hard.
And yet – Spike doesn’t seem all that convinced;
He draws in, sets the light up by their heads,
New leather creaking on his arms. “Buffy,”
He starts himself, voice serious and low,
“I’m fine. We’re fine. This – everything is fine.
Both you and I can feel the end of this
Is drawing in, so let’s get on with it.
What happens afterwards – that’s all for then,
Not now. Let’s go be heroes, like before.”
But Buffy can’t accept that. “Like before?”
She asks incredulously, “What, you think
That final day shook out just ‘fine’ for us?
‘Cause I would like to lay some ground rules here –
Maybe some openness and then belief?
But then I guess that things were ‘fine’ for us;
With all the miscommunication, then
The year apart – yeah, that’s what I’d call ‘fine’.”
She breathes out then, lets all her anger go.
“See, I’m amazed by what you’ve done out here,
The life you’ve made and saving everyone –
And I know you don’t care, but it is true –
So I can see why you would stay and fight…
But if we’re separated this time round
Could you not let me think you’re dead – like, please?
And then – I mean, with all these last few days,
I feel like I still love you, but I’m sure
You’ve changed, so I would like to get to know
This you some more; then maybe we could try
The tearful revelation thing again?”
The silence comes and she can only blush,
More red as she begins to see Spike’s face –
His cheeks, in ashy grey, his clenching jaw –
Her eyes adjusting slowly to the gloom
That fills the space around the thin-beamed light.
He tells her, “We both know,” his voice restrained,
As if he’s trying very hard to talk
The way he told himself he’d talk to her,
“There’s no point making plans for afterwards,
No way of knowing where or how we’ll be…”
“But why not?” Buffy interrupts. “You can’t –
Nobody stops from having plans, or thoughts –
They try to keep themselves from hoping, don’t
Articulate specifics, but they can’t
Stop thinking what might happen afterwards.
And keeping that inside, sometimes it’s wrong,
And people, some of them, realise too late…”
Spike’s looking down and staring at the floor;
She doesn’t think he’s listening anymore.
      But then he mutters, brittle words through dark,
“Don’t make me guess what you are trying to say;
I’ve had too many plans thrown in my face.”
There’s nothing else to do, she’s pretty sure,
Except breathe in and make the words.
“OK, you wanna hear it, what I see
Before I go to sleep at night, with you?”
His head jerks up, but her eyes shift away;
The sight of him’s so clear now that she’s scared.
And yet she makes herself continue on,
“My plan is that we’ll fix this, set it right,
And then Rondell will move back into charge –
With his supply maps, observation logs,
He’s in the best position to decide
Which areas could get cleaned up and then
Inhabited the easiest – I mean,
There’s no point bringing in the government
Before we’ve got the demons cleared away.
And he’ll need help with that, so my plan is
We’ll stay a little while, until the fall?
A cell of Slayers, they’ll stay here as well,
And Dawn can visit, if she wants. And then –
Well, then I guess we work it out from there,
Because I think I’m due at least a year’s
Sabbatical from teaching in the school,
If you want us to stay, or else we could
Go back, or take vacation (yes, OK,
Will had it right that I was envious).”
Now she can see, despite the dark, that Spike’s
Not blinking, hard face fixed to stare at hers.
She feels uncertain what she’s saying’s right.
“I know this stuff’s all practical, but I’m
Not sure what else to say, what else is there?
We’re us right now, aren’t we? I mean, without –
The privacy, and things, but we’ll get there –
I mean, I don’t know how it is for you,
But me, my radar doesn’t ping so much
Since we, since way back in the bad old days.
Unfinished business; is that what they say?
And I’m not sure my timing is the best,
But I’m not sure there’s time to time, you know?
You can’t put off these things until you’ve dealt,
Because, that time, it doesn’t ever come,
So I…”
          He listens, thinks then shuffles, sly
Somehow, despite the crap that hogs their space,
Head cutting through the light then blocking it
Away, so she can’t see him well. She feels
His arm brush past her shoulder to the door,
His daring whisper ghost along her cheek:
“Don’t want to do this in the dark, all right?”
She nods; the light comes in on her left side.
Now she can see – his hair, the strands up close,
That slightly ugly shade of yellow-white;
Her fingers clutching shoulder, pink on black.
Then eyelids blink and she is kissing him,
As warm as anything that’s not in rain.
And this, she thinks, is how this fight should start.

Chapter Text

      It’s later, in the evening, when Spike stands
With cigarette, back on the roof again –
The one that’s so familiar, where he
Escaped from rain and war and ruined streets.
Of course, this tarmac’s now just like the road,
With black-stained blood, congealed despite the rain:
The demon bodies haven’t washed away
And he can’t look, can’t stare at their dead eyes
And smell their rotting flesh – needs acrid smoke
While Buffy and the others get the spell
Set up. Distracted by the night, he breathes
And wonders what is wrong with him that he
Can’t yet be happy with things as they are.
He’s not sure what is wrong with him, that she
Can break down crying in his arms, but then
Wake up and take the new day fresh, sleep out
The next night restful at his side, and then
Fill up his heart with careful words, like they’re
Not tumbling to hell. When he glanced back
Before, he saw her smiling with the other girls,
The slayer-witches with their sand and quartz:
She gestured with her doll-like arms, her sleeves
Too long on that daft plastic anorak,
The navy pulled in tight around her face
As she peeked out from underneath the hood.
He watched the rhythmic patter of the rain
And knew that he was glad to have her there.
Mouth curving in a smile, his arms both itched
To snatch her close to him and feel her warmth
(Despite the rain), spin them around, pull free
The toggles tucked in closely by her chin
And nuzzle in the softness of her hair –
But then the feeling faded; all his thoughts
Crept back to everything that could go wrong.
He turned away, back to their hollow town.
He understands their differences, he thinks:
She always drew her energy from goals,
From final fights. When she saw how to win,
She used to go all out, take any chance –
Accept a truce from him, pull up her friends
And everyone to make them watch her lead –
Put everything aside as long as there
Was hope. While on the other hand there’s him,
Who, looking out into the night, is now
Not sure that he can say the same. He used
To love and all-out fight right to the edge,
Thought cheating death was how you knew you lived.
But he was young. He said that once, he thinks,
And knows it now. These constant ends of days,
They fill him full with dread, too much of it,
Since Buffy died, since Angel disappeared
(His grey-brown ash gone lost in rain
Two seconds after it had scattered loose –
No matter that the prophecies had said
That he would see the end of this sincere
Apocalypse, regain humanity,
Whatever else they promised too), since Spike
Himself put on that amulet and thought
That he would die. It felt right at the time,
But he’s not sure he has the strength to go
Again. No matter that he volunteered
When Angel set this up, no matter that
He knows that he exists on borrowed time
And this last year has been one long, damned fluke.
When Spike looks from the rooftop, all he sees
Is city, wide and grey and blue with night,
And looking at it, this feels like the end.
      “You know we’re gonna make it, actually.”
The words come from his right and Spike turns round,
Completely startled to find Gunn is there,
Umbrella in his hands they took from some
Hotel. Spike stoops and joins him underneath,
Not bothered by the rain particularly,
But wanting more to hear what Gunn just said.
“What’s that?” he asks as he takes over hold
Of the umbrella, lifting it up more
So he can stand beside Gunn’s chair and talk.
The man nods to the city down below:
“We’ll be OK,” he says, “LA and us.
We’re gonna get through this and carry on,
The way we have so many times before.”
Gunn looks content with all the empty streets;
He scans their paths below and then explains,
“There’s people down there, must be still,
But we’ll fix things up here, and then Rondell
And Anne can catch it up with them; they’re good
At that.” Spike shakes his head, can’t quite believe.
“Yeah, right,” he says, not sure, “Could work.
And Buffy said the same so maybe it’s
All obvious… But how d’you know? I’ve not
Had much experience with fixing towns –
Spent too long trashing them, I s’pose –
But how does anyone come back from this?”
He gestures out again, ahead of them,
To all the hollow buildings, empty shells
Of brick and concrete, mirrored glass that used
To look alive with coloured lights, but now
Lies cold and empty, pelted slick with rain.
“Two answers,” Gunn replies, “The first of those?
Is money. That’ll fix the most parts we
Can see up here; the corporates have enough,
And they’ll all want the city looking how
It did before, no sweat it’s not their home.
They’ll be OK – they’ll probably get streets
Named after them. And everybody else?
Well, that’s the second answer that I’ve got.”
He smiles, all the secrets on his face.
“Not many people really realise
How little you don’t need to make it here,
But, right, I’ve lived down there on lightless streets
With nothing to my name but my old crew,
And even fighting demons I got by.
Rondell lived out the same, and Anne’s done good;
There’s people who’ll come back for cheaper rents
And they’ll all make it, like we did before.
I mean, it might not be so pretty but
We’ll be OK. We get this done, we’ll be.”
Gunn looks convinced, nods certainly at Spike
Despite the way his arms are crossed against
The cold. Spike wishes he could feel that way –
“This feels too much like it is ending how
It always would,” he tries explaining it.
“My whole world gone tits up, that’s just about
What every year has been for far too long,
And getting shitter every time till it
Has brought me here. And, if I’m honest, now
It makes no sense that things will be all right,
That we’ll get back to how it was before.
Not after everything’s been buggered up.”
“Well, hey,” Gunn interjects, adjusting where
His wheelchair’s settled on the roof, the move
Not that unpointed, “good thing that the world
Don’t only turn round your bad vampire self.”
Spike laughs and shuts his eyes as he rolls round
The tall umbrella in his hands, feels how
The forces twist and push against his thumbs:
It’s like a sword, but much more use in rain.
“Good thing,” he then agrees, his eyes on Gunn
Again. “Good thing.” And yeah, it really is,
Although he doesn’t know what else to say.
But thankfully Gunn’s still amused by him.
“Don’t worry,” he says, “looks like you are not
Alone with thinking that the city’s pain
Is yours.” He nods towards another edge,
A little further down from where they are
To where Illyria is standing like
A Batman villain in the lonely night,
Her stiff-straight silhouette just visible
As she looks out across the city, perched
Old hawk devoid of prey. Spike hopes that he
Did not look as ridiculous as that.
“You go and talk to her blue majesty,”
Gunn says, his hand held up and beckoning
To take the brolly back. “I get too much
Of her sometimes, don’t really need to be
Reminded of her now, before we go.”
Spike nods, agreeing tacitly that this
They have to sort; you can’t have Blue upset
Before she maybe has to fight – or, worse than that,
Before she has to keep a stranglehold
Against her temper as they chat this out.
Gunn nods and leaves, so Spike is free to go.
      “All right, Illyria?” he asks, back out
In rain, the cool, quick pinpricks on his head.
“You’re not about to jump, are you?” Of course,
She doesn’t get the implication there,
Just turns her head and looks at him, eyes wide
As though they see and will see everything,
Blue streaks of hair in clumps around her chin,
The curling tendrils dark like clinging weeds
Encroaching on her flawless, ancient face.
She’s Nike from a shipwreck’s broken bow,
If not his Weltschmertz made personified.
“You dare presume to speak to me?” she says,
Quite jarringly, her anger short and sharp.
The accusation shocks him out of gloom
To somewhere new as she goes on, “This shell
Is mere inconsequential trapping, yet
You all presume address, consider not
That I am greater than your very best
Of thoughts, than all your life that breathes in breath.
What makes you dare with them?” “Well, actually,”
He’s not sure where this conversation’s gone,
But he has one reply, “I ‘talk’ to you
Because you’ve been OK with it for months.
One lowly vamp, here – can’t expect I’ll read
Your mind.” He wants to say a little more,
In case she didn’t get the sarcasm,
But then she interrupts: “Exactly, yes.
A lowly vampire. You are nothing, not
When standing bathed in my great light of grace.”
Now, if it weren’t that she had shaking hands,
Those hands in impotent, tight fists beside
Her hips, Spike wouldn’t let this carry on.
But as it is he’s had experience
With people telling him he’s nothing just
Because they’re feeling insecure, and so
He doesn’t say a word, but waits instead.
Maybe she’ll tell him what exactly’s wrong?
Or not: she spits on acidly at him,
“Yes, you are nothing, not like me. And I
Am not like you, no lowly vampire.”
She steps in one step closer; he retreats,
Unnerved and not sure what she means to say.
“You feed,” she says, the accusation clear,
“Filth – you are always feeding, gulping blood
In need of sustenance and life, although
You do not grow or breed or live or change.
You take more than is necessary, more
Than any magic should require to fix
Your image as it was, to hold your corpse
Beyond decay.” Spike’s not sure what she means.
All right, he understands, perhaps they don’t
Quite follow physics’ laws, not vampires,
Consuming endless lives when theirs are fixed,
When they don’t grow; he’s never felt the lack
For having daily pig pints rather than
A tough guy and his date behind a pub
(Apart from the impressive dearth of taste),
But then can you expect your demons all
To fit exactly with the natural laws?
And what’s it to her if they don’t, at that?
He’s not quite sure – and more than that he can’t
See how Illyria thinks she is not
The same. “Hang on,” he tells her, shuts her up –
It serves her right for all the ‘filths’ she’s said –
“Exactly how is that you are not like me?”
The more he thinks on it the more it’s clear.
“The basic principle of you and me
Is all the same – you took a body as
A host. Fred’s body. You killed her to live.”
She has shut up, but he goes on some more –
He won’t let her escape this, can’t forget,
“The same way I got born or what you say
When Dru delivered me from who I was
Alive, that’s just the same was what you did.
And yeah, so maybe I had memories,
But you have Fred’s as well, don’t you? I’ll bet.”
She does, he sees it as she steps away.
“You think they’re separate from what you’ve become,
But then, I reckon, sometimes you can feel
Them bleeding in. Like when you grieve for Wes.
You ever grieved for anyone before,
Illyria? You ever wished someone
Would notice you, the way you did with him?
I saw you hang on every word he said,
And I don’t think that’s how you were before.”
He came to cheer her up, but he has had
Enough of this, enough of her belief
That she is something greater and enough
Of letting everything and everyone
Make him feel like stale shit. “You’re sounding like
Near every demon on this earth, convinced
That vampires are fifty rungs below,
But you’ve got no excuse, no separate life.
You, you’re a parasite like me, no more.”
It’s wounding her, he sees it as she turns
To duck her head, he hears it as she sneers
Low, violent mutterings. “You must be wrong;
“I cannot be a vampire, not I,
Not doomed to walk eternity in hell,
I cannot be like you –” Then words break off,
Her voice quite ragged now; she shakes her head
But still looks down, becoming lost
In honest desperation, begging him,
“How can I be like you, so weak with love,
So weak in offering your power up
To aid these humans whom you do not know?”
Now Spike can feel dark pity creeping back.
“You feed on blood and fill yourself with them,
Of course they’d take you. I am not the same,
I cannot be infected by this plague,
Not I – humanity… I know it, but –
I am not part of it, not so like this…”
And then, in one short moment, she stops still.
The trembling in her limbs has vanished now
And she looks up to stare at him, aware.
“Why are you watching me?” she asks, voice loud
And carrying, her syllables acute.
“Your place is not to watch me, vermin; leave.”
      Against the force of it he cannot speak;
He turns to go, not sure what he thought he
Could manage with her highness anyway,
Since clearly cheering up Illyria
Is nothing more than some old mug’s game – but
That’s when they’re called across to where
The witches have assembled everything.
Her grudging feet are moving, he can hear
That she is following, and then he can’t
Resist the words that come… “You know what, Blue?”
He pauses, spins and snaps his coat to glare,
“There’s nothing wrong with maybe letting in
Humanity. It’s not like you’re the first
Big demon name to say I’m lowly muck
Who feels too much or cares too much; I’ve heard
That tune before.” Of course she stops
And stares at him, once more incensed by his
Presumption. “See, the thing is, in the end,
I couldn’t give a toss,” he says. “This world?
We might be higher on the food chain, but
The humans rule it, ocean, land and air;
It’s only demon pride that scoffs at that.
You try to be the baddest all you want,
But that is not what gets you power here.
There’s no shame saving them and, fuck it, that
Is what we’re gonna do and bugger me
If you are getting cold feet ‘bout it now.”
With that it crystallises in his mind,
What he is there for, what they’re meant to do;
Not letting Blue reply he sniffs and grins,
Turns back and seeks his favourite Slayer’s face,
Determination and a grim, straight smile
(Perhaps she isn’t quite as cheery as
He thought). “Aww, Spike,” she comments all the same,
“Who knew you loved humanity?” He laughs
And picks her up, brings both his frigid arms
Around her waist and hauls, sneaks in a kiss
As she comes down again. ‘Cause, yeah, he knows:
She didn’t want to go out ill at ease
With him, uncertain what they were – and Spike?
Now that he thinks about it he is sure
He needs a good apotropaic snog
Before the off. In public, where the world
Can see.
            When they’ve pulled back, his Buffy looks
Like she can understand him perfectly.
“You like your PDAs medicinal?”
She asks (and he remembers she does not).
“I like this world,” he doesn’t answer, shrugs
Instead. “It’s nice to be reminded why.”
Unhesitating then, she hugs him close
So he can feel how frangibly she’s made,
Glass bottle, stoppered tightly, filled with grief.
His hold is careful as she whispers, soft,
“Remember that it likes you too, OK?”
He nods, now certain that he means to try.

      Eventually they’re sitting where they should
And everyone’s aligned precisely so
To let the spell work how they mean it to:
It’s mostly like before, but there’s more quartz
And Gunn has joined them, sitting opposite
A kneeling Willow at the head of their
New cross. Spike gears himself for kick off, nods
Acknowledgement so that Gurpreet nods back;
It’s all about to start – when Sadie says,
“Wait, no, hang on; Elise, you have got
To be with Buffy, over here.” She’s up,
Is Sadie, then immediately stood
And everyone looks baffled, probably
Illyria the most of all as she’s
Been partnered with Elise since last time
(And up to now’s been sulking like a pro).
“I thought you did the spell this way before?”
Says Willow, frowning with befuddlement,
But Sadie shakes her head, now walking round
The outer ring of witches, by Gurpreet.
“It was,” comes her unyielding reply,
“But it’s not meant to be the same this time.”
Elise shrugs, stands up and swaps her place
So Sadie sits with Blue; and even though
He doesn’t want to guess or think about
The reasons why their partners need to change
(He wouldn’t have a clue in any case),
Spike watches as the girl sits carefully
To ground Illyria and wonders if
That’s really the arrangement Sadie knows
They have to have.
                          Without a hitch, the spell
Goes off and feels the way it felt before,
At least as they climb slowly up towards
The portal’s height. It’s not just bodies now,
However, Spike remembers, but they’re meant
To see things like they would at home on earth –
That’s how it was explained to him, but then
He’s not sure what that really means. At first
It feels the same, the churning spiralling,
The pressure on his skin as they approach
Where their dimensions intersect, the light
That’s like a burning, flashing on his eyes…
But then they’re through, and he can see at last
The way the world works in their terms.
                                                     Or not
Exactly their terms, but just his alone.
He realises this the moment when
They land and he has found himself inside
A memory. He thinks that Willow’s spell’s
Projecting it, he thinks she said something
Would work like that – that they would see this world
As through a lens their mind could comprehend,
With all the buildings built and people placed
To fit in with a structure they recall
And understand, can navigate with ease.
It didn’t sound so bad, but now he’s here
It’s strange. It’s really – he is not at ease.
It’s – Christ, it’s really what he thinks it is:
It’s his old college chapel, pews and dais,
Where they are standing, with the portal set
Behind, in place of where the altarpiece
Should sit, all brightly shifting rainbows with
The darker stitches round the edge… But they
Are being seen to by some mason boys,
The people here transformed to look like they
Have scaffolding and chisels, chipping rock
As if to break each big black portal stitch
From where they’re crawling up the organ loft
And out across the floor. Spike looks around,
Then realises that everyone who’s come
Has been refigured so they fit this place –
Gunn looks like someone who came up with him,
Familiar although Spike can’t recall his name,
While Buffy and Illyria are both
Made into Ladies Who Take Lectures, though
That leaves them both still somewhat out of place
Unchaperoned on his old chapel dais.
(And, bloody hell, he’s never thought before,
But now he knows that he must think of Blue
As being female, for his brain to make
Her image into this. He isn’t sure
He likes that realisation very much.)
The only calming sight he has is that,
When he looks down, he sees he’s dressed the same
As he was when they left. No gown for him.
Thank God. Relief’s enough to let him speak.
“I don’t know what you lot are seeing, but
I think we need to head outside,” he says,
Dismissing the illusions and his thoughts,
Or trying to at least consider them
An issue less important than the one
They came up to this world to fix. If this
Is a refiguration of the world
The leader here, he thinks, is probably played
By his old head of college, wotsisface:
They’ll need to find the old git’s Master’s Lodge
If they want answers and someone in charge.
“You mean we aren’t all in the lunch room back
At Hemery?” That must be Buffy, he
Assumes, although her voice is English, clipped
And very prim. “With you the guy two years
Above my class who kinda looked like Zack
From Saved by the Bell?” There would have been a smirk
With that, he thinks, if any woman smirked
In high society, but as it is
All Buffy looks is stern. Still, all the same,
There’s something in that, isn’t there? Was Zack
The one that twitty tween-birds fancied? He
Remembers once he saw repeats with Dawn…
“And we are focusing”,” Gunn intervenes,
His image walking on – peculiar
For being English, able-bodied, white.
Spike doesn’t like this spell that Willow’s done,
It only takes a moment to decide,
Because he cannot feel the trust that he
Should have for these three people here with him.
But still, they have to carry on and fix
This situation, he supposes, so
He falls in step with Gunn and follows as
He leaves the portal down the steps and aisle,
Across the black and white square tiles with all
The masons, journeymen, apprentices,
Ignoring them as they walk slowly out.
      They leave the chapel, coming to the court,
And Spike remembers where to go from here –
Through past the hall and then eventually
Look left – but naturally they can’t just get
That done. Outside the doorway, underneath
The cloister, yellow-coloured stone, they’re met
By someone Spike does not remember, who
Stops short and asks them, “Hang on, who are you?”
He doesn’t fit in with the memory, Spike
Starts realising: from one perspective he’s
Another undergraduate with gown –
All right – but then just in the corner of
Spike’s eye the gown goes darker, looks like wings;
As if the spell can’t quite adapt to him,
His face grows pointed and his hair goes slick.
Unnerved and feeling that first fighting itch,
Spike wants to ask him who he is to ask.
“We’re from the other world,” Gunn intervenes.
“We come with alms of peace and hope to be
Received.” The stranger looks at them again,
His gaze now fixing squarely on Spike’s eyes.
“It’s you, the white-haired one. You’ve come, it’s you;
The reason why I’m now deaf, dumb and blind.”
“Who are you?” Spike replies, unsure what he
Should say. “And what exactly do you mean?
You’re talking to us now, aren’t you, with words?”
The not-quite-man then snorts, a little like
A beast, a little like he’s desperate
To air his grudge. He says, “What you call speech,
Perhaps I have that now, but I am still
Cut off from everyone to whom I’d wish
To speak. Their minds are closed to me, and you
Made sure of that.” The spell is still enough
To make him sound quite unassuming, one
Disgruntled Englishman, no matter that
By turns he sounds more like a violent threat.
But still he’s speaking, and Spike realises
That everyone around them, the masons and
The students scurrying down paths, they must
Be talking too – though none of them can hear –
Communicating with their minds, the way
He felt them screaming when he came before,
Made silent now to fit in with the world.
The man cut off continues, blasting Spike,
“You stood there, shut my mouth and both my ears.
I thought I might survive should I return,
But even here I find myself reduced
To nobody, incapable of life.”
But even catching on, Spike’s doesn’t know
Who this could be, if he knows him at all –
It’s Buffy who works out, “No, wait, you’re you!
Gurpreet’s friend Mr. Dragon, from the street.”
“I do not understand exactly what
A ‘dragon’ is, nor what you’d have me be,”
Comes his reply, affronted but calmed down.
“Do you remember,” Buffy asks, “when you
Were flying, maybe, down the street and saw
A group of people making their way home –
A big group, maybe twenty, more than us? –
And you thought we had been attacking you,
So you blew up some cars and stuff, and thought
Maybe you’d burn us up as well? But then
You had a girl inside your head who thought,
Maybe, that we were scared of you and thought
That you were trying to attack our world
And that the portal didn’t lead to here,
But somewhere worse where everyone is bad?”
The stranger looks confused, his stick-like arms
Now straight as he draws in his elbows, gown
And sleeves towards his side, less threatening.
“That presence came from you?” he asks, disarmed.
“The same as then destroyed me? Can it be?
I thought that was another force, who wished
To act in peace, unlike your violent aims.”
He’s spitting that at Spike, who’s had enough.
“Oi, look,” he interrupts, “we come in peace,
All right? I’m getting pretty bloody sick
Of all this implication that I meant
To harm this world right from the get-go. I
Am no one’s Genghis Khan, and there have been
Some nasty, violent sorties made on both
Our sides.” He doesn’t say they started it;
He’s good. “That girl whose mind you met, she means
As well as any of us do, that’s that.
And, yeah, all right, we’re sorry that when we
Prevented you from killing us that had
Knock on effects for how you live back here,
But that’s what happens when you’re fighting to
Survive.” The stranger looks quite angry now,
But Gunn leaps in before they start a fight.
“We don’t want any trouble anymore,”
He claims, concise, now clearly sorting through
His memory for how they should proceed.
“We want to pay respects to the, uh, queen.”
The queen? Spike wonders, though he’s said his piece
(At least, he has when Gunn sends him a glare),
Is that the person whom they need to see?
This world will do his head in, he’s quite sure,
But still he follows as their dragon friend
Demurs and leads them briskly from the court
The way Spike thought they’d walk before, along
The path to Ivy Court and then the Lodge.
      But as they come towards the hall, they stop
To wait as yet another figure comes
To them – and it’s the college Master, old,
(If not as old as batface Heinrich Nest,
Whose title always was a lot more daft)
And frowning like he did in seventy-six.
He’s clearly dressed for chapel, gown folds stiff
And billowing as he approaches, though
Spike’s sure he’s someone different here, not him.
“Dear queen,” the stranger-undergraduate
Has bowed his head and speaks as though this queen
Might be the only one who’ll talk to him.
The queen nods graciously, then says to them,
“We saw that you had come and came so we
Might speak to you; shall we return
To where the subject of our talk awaits?”
She gestures to the chapel, where they were,
The queen of here in aged master’s form,
And no one has a problem going back.
Not even Blue, who’s still throwing a strop.

Chapter Text

      Gunn hasn’t been quite sure what he should say
Now they’ve arrived in this bewitched world;
He hasn’t known exactly how to say
Which memory the spell has pulled from him
To represent this place. He doesn’t know
How he’d describe the twist inside his gut
Wrenched tight and sharp to see the others cast
And walking there beside him, in the halls
And offices of their Wolfram and Hart,
Their branch the way it was before all this.
He’s still himself, his hoody and his sweats,
His chair, they’ve all come back with him, but here,
In this their lobby he’s got everyone
With him – with Buffy as Cordelia,
Perhaps not perfectly belonging, but
Familiar as she cracks jokes and smiles
And keeps an eye on Angel, who is Spike,
Whose gait and energy are not so far
From Angel’s at the end as you would think.
And there with them, with him as well, of course,
Is Fred, returned and solemn, though a smile
Glints from her sweet brown eyes. Somehow his mind’s
Remembered just how beautiful she was,
Despite the fact he’s long since found it hard
To dream of how she used to look before
Illyria distorted everything.
      It’s strange, it’s really strange to be with them
So casual in the lobby, at their side
The portal glistening with liquid light,
A wide and gaping circle on the floor
As nameless techs in coats are standing by,
All carefully applying sacred dust
(Or chemicals?) in scientific signs
Around its edge, some sanctioned magic spell
To break the stitches, shut the portal closed.
The suit who’s not a suit, the dragon-man,
Was leading them beyond the entrance desk
Towards the elevators, Gunn assumes
To find the White Room and the Conduit,
The stairs that he remembers disappeared
Apparently without him noticing
(Illusion is not fixed in permanence),
But then, of course, the panther exited
The elevator they’d just called, and now
It’s prowling by their sides, turns them around
To face the portal once again. Its voice
Is just as Gunn remembers it, the sly
And slow, persuasive crawl inside his brain,
The way it was before the Conduit
Became himself and called him insolent –
Gunn wonders why it’s still the panther now.
It must be some reflection of the way
The leader or – the queen (so as his mind
Supplies the word) relates to people here?
It’s true the panther has significance,
To him at least. He can remember how
It felt to be the only one who heard,
To understand he needed to be more,
That there were ways to make that come to pass.
That finally The Man acknowledged him.
He fit at W&H, the way
He never fit before, through brainwashing
Or not. With Angel and Cordelia and Fred
(And Lorne and Wes and Spike and Harmony)...
He wonders if the people here all fit?
      These thoughts escape his mind once they have crossed
The marble lobby floor and gathered round
To stand in front of their great portal, all
Nine stitches as the other three explained.
The panther talks again, its silent words
Insinuating thoughts throughout Gunn’s mind,
“We dread prevarication, so allow
That we might make our thoughts resound quite clear:
Our understanding is from what we have
Experienced on your world at your hands.
You are a violent people, who respond
To cries of fear with mortal wounds, with blades;
We wish to separate ourselves from you
And have you cede this portal you have cut
Into our realms, be free of it and you.
We will negotiate to understand
The secrets of the spells which bond it here.”
Confusion captures Gunn, enough so that
He doesn't fully realise what's been said.
“I'm sorry,” he eventually regroups,
“It seems as though we've all misunderstood.
We didn’t make this portal to your world.
An enemy of ours, whose reach extends
Beyond our own dimension, they did this.”
“You're lying,” dragon-man responds, voice sharp,
“We saw you, we all saw you cast the spell.”
He's standing by the panther's side, by turns
Both nondescript (if dressed in Hugo Boss)
And snarling, jet-black leathered joints and eyes
Which fix on Gunn's with barely softened hate.
The panther adds, “This cannot be denied:
We have observed the portal and we have
Envisioned its construction; we have seen
It was created on your world alone,
No matter all the other worlds it binds
So tightly to its edge. We saw the seed
Of it be planted, grow to bloom, arise
And pierce the greatest of our walls
To well your hell dimension on our home.”
Spike's only holding back in deference
To him and his wide-reaching expertise –
Gunn knows that much as by his side Spike scowls –
And that makes Gunn at last realise what he
Is meant to do. He wasn’t really sure
How helpful all his fact-dropping could be,
Since there’s no legalese to get through here;
But hopefully, he thought, he’d get them through
With knowledge of traditions. And it’s true
His brain can make things work for them; he needs
To think, however, can’t just call up facts,
Because he doesn’t know this world – but he
Can easily work out approximates
From all of the reports he has received.
They're dealing with a hive mind, singular
But plural, single thought but multiple
Response: a queen and workers, warriors.
The influence of Earth has fractured them,
Brought pain to those who've left, confused the rest,
And generally, Gunn's certain, they don't know
The differences between this world and theirs.
“Dear Queen,” Gunn now begins, the Fred-bought weight
Of his old legal mantle settling
Like ermine on his shoulders, weighing down.
“I don't know what resources you guys have
To look at what we're doing out on Earth,
But naturally I understand in light
Of what they've told you it's impossible
To lie. But all the same I think you've seen
Without complete facility to see
The actual reality of what
All these things mean to us as who we are.
Dear Queen, we cannot live like you and share
Our thoughts completely with the rest of us.
I do not know if there are on your world
Some beings who are forced to live like this,
But that's the way it is on Earth. We think
And then we must express our thoughts through words,
Between ourselves as much as we are here,
In order to collectively set out
A plan of action, then to act on it.
The seed of all of this, the thing you saw?
That wasn't something we agreed to do.
The guy we worked with who resigned himself –”
And here Gunn can't resist a look at Spike,
Who's frowning, animated, not so much
Like Angel anymore, who really was
A half-erased enigma by the end.
“– that guy kept all his thoughts locked up inside
Until it was too late and we were set
At halfway through his plan with no way out.
He acted and he suffered on his own.”
Gunn’s not sure how to take that Angel is
In hell; the idea screws him up, won’t make
Coherent sense. But what can they do now?
They’re always on their own, right at the end,
They always are. So Gunn explains:
“We either had to kill his enemies
And unleash all the energy they used –
By 'they' I mean those other enemies,
The energy they used to sit in state –
To tear a whole between these worlds of ours;
‘Cause else our friend, who never said, he would
Have been signed up to work with them, to do
Much worse on our world than he ever did
          “We wanna shut this portal down.
As much if not a little more than you
That's what we came to talk about. If you've
Got questions on what sort of magic's here
We probably can’t answer them, although
We can explain the way things work back home.”
Gunn keeps a steady eye on how the queen
Reacts, the way the panther's mouth stays straight
And closed, its tail sweeping steadily
In time with all the cadences of what
He's said. She's thinking, that's what Gunn believes,
Her mind is processing and working through
This population's thoughts, her world of state.
The dragon guy, perhaps it's no surprise,
He interrupts, decision simply made,
“You're lying! Always lying; always lies!
His arms grow wide around him, flare like wings
Some darkness gathering like anger through
The spellcast image of the world, the sound
Of great black sails far away, the smell
Of smouldering, of pitch beneath the old
And fading memory of office plants
And soap. “You cannot live like this, exist
And yet perform essential public tasks.”
It’s not a threat; he’ll only shout at them,
So Gunn thinks as he doesn't take the bait –
The only problem is Spike's got annoyed.
“You know, I've had about enough of you,”
He throws back attitude, hands up to fight.
“All right, you're used to getting thoughts wired through,
But you, you're just not fucking listening!
We've told you all our end, so why don't you
Pipe down and let your leader talk the talk?”
The dark is growing wider, screeching more
Acute, the burning cutting through the air –
Gunn cannot see the dragon-guy straight on,
Not anymore; he only catches him
In his peripheral vision. Yeah, the spell can't hold
Against too much aggression, so it seems.
“Hey, man,” Gunn starts to Spike, but he's cut off
As Buffy says, “Come on...” but she's cut off
As dragon-guy's distorting voice cuts in
With deep and pitch-bent words, “How dare you speak
To me with insolence as deep as yours!
I should have killed you on your world, destroyed
As you have mindlessly destroyed!
I should –”
               The swirling, darkened words are then
However, interrupted by the queen.
The panther’s raised her hackles, eyes like lamps -
“Enough!” she utters, loud and carrying.
“We understand, we understand at last...
Thank you,” she turns her head, addresses Gunn.
“We see at your direction that this spell
Has not been cast by unified designs,
But three – we do believe that three whole minds
Have overlaid three interwoven spells.
We see their work and yes, we can –”
                                                    But then
There is a scream, a wide and keening sound
As all the techs around the portal break
And shatter into smoke. The light around
Is brightening, spreading wide to cloak them all
In white, the way the other three described
Before. Gunn feels his mind is breaking down,
The spell is breaking down away from its
Sophisticated heights, he’s being plunged
Into the sea of thought the others felt.
“Don't move!” he tries to shout at them, before
They go. “It's no attack; we have to leave!”
And at the same time then Illyria
Proclaims, quite calm and clear, “Of course he would
Arrive; he wishes to protect this spell...”
Gunn's sight is overcome, so he's not sure,
He thinks that he can see there's something there?

      There has been nothing for Illyria
To say until their meeting’s broken up.
Until Osiris, he has come at last.
For she can see him: she will not allow
A simple spell's decay to take her sight.
She sees as she has seen since they've arrived,
Her ancient halls, carved rock as it was carved
Millennia ago, great spells and prayers
In spiralled sentences of careful glyphs
On every wall and pillar, in her name.
Her three companions are invisible –
She's sure because they have no equals here –
And as her army works against the spell
Cast by Wolfram and Hart (one warrior
Cast black and ill at ease), Illyria
Is in discussion with herself. Her form
As it once was, too great to comprehend,
Gunn's mortal voice more quiet than a breath,
A sigh, a whisper or her blinking eye;
Her ancient voice resounds to fill the halls.
Illyria can only stand and know
In her pathetic, fragile human shell
The distance she has fallen to become
This sympathising shadow, who she is.
She welcomes it, she's sure she welcomes it,
The breakdown of the mortals' squabbling
And the arrival of Osiris here –
For he has come, she knows this as she turns.
He blasts a swathe through minions where he stands
To break down their disruption of his spell.
“Of course,” Illyria is thinking, says
Out loud. He's here to break the tedium
(The crassness she has found affection for)
And force her into action, though as yet
He does not know that this is what he means
To do.
         The others fall away to thought;
Illyria, she leaves them to it, walks
And meets Osiris by the portal, where
He waits for her. A smile fills his face.
“You've really done so well,” he says. “You have;
It almost seems a shame to stop you now.”
She's still approaching, does not answer yet.
“But all the same,” Osiris carries on,
“You really should have known I'd stop you here.”
He's taken on a form, Illyria
Can see that it was once a mortal man
With all the trappings of the pharaoh he
May once have been, but isn't anymore.
“There are so many things,” she says to him,
Approaching still, the memory behind
Of who she was before, “that I have learnt.
The instability of time, or else
The changeability of fate, those both
I know and fear that you have never learned.
My place, now I have fallen, that I know
With clarity I fear you’ll never have.
Not now your time is over, like my reign.”
Osiris laughs, and looks like he'll reply,
But here Illyria is set on course
And cannot see a reason to delay.
She came here to destroy Osiris, so
She strides her last few steps and strikes him hard,
One fist against his face to fell him down.
The first expression on that face is shock,
But then he gathers up his strength, hits back.
      He isn’t used to fighting, not this god,
Not anymore. And more, he has not fought
Illyria, the way that she fought him
Gone thirteen times in Buffy’s memories.
She feels it as his flail strikes her face:
His hand's uncertain, aim not perfect, sure,
Despite his youth and ostrich-feathered crown.
He’s come here, she can see, quite unprepared
To be met by resistance, quite unlike
The way she has been fighting since she rose,
In preparation for this fight alone.
“Osiris, oh,” she says, “you were a fool
To come here.” And no matter she fights on,
The words express themselves with weighted breath.
He's ducking underneath her swings, still quick.
“A fool, was I?” His voice is warm, dark gold
And bright with clarity as much as hers;
Bright, rolling echoes ebb across the stone:
“It really did not feel that way, when I
Observed that you had found this audience,
That you intended to the destroy this work
Of mine –” He holds a hand imperious
Against her breastbone, throwing her away
As he spits spitefully, “My greatest work,
Contracted carefully and utilised…
So many hundred years I spent in talks
Agreeing this, so many deals I cut
To make the lawyers and that vampire
Dissolve catalysis to bring this forth.
The greatest coup of souls since heroes’ wars:
I did not do all this for you to stop
My work, no sooner than I have begun.”
Collapsed a moment on the floor's cold stone,
Illyria can hear the others shout,
Their voices burbling behind her still
As she looks down and sees herself, her shell.
To see one's plans as destiny, she knows
That is divine, that was her truth before.
But he, Osiris, he will learn – like her.
It will humiliate him, as she's been
Humiliated – that's what she decides.
For after all she has no sympathy
For his designs, no sympathy for him.
If he’s the one who caused their present pain,
Who bought the prophecies and circumstance
(Perhaps bought her release back to this world),
Then he not only caused her suffering,
But unforgivably brought pain to those
Of whom protection has become almost
Her sovereign duty. That has set her course.
      And that, the simple course which has been set,
That makes her rise to run at him again.
It's so clear now he has not fought: he acts
Surprised, with standard figurations, speed
Beyond the mortal eye, but passion less
Than any she has fought since she was called
To naught but abdication. So he kicks
In bold high circles, punches sharp, fore-back –
But he is not afraid, though moderate fear
Would aid him, is not panicked, though that too
Would lend him haste. For her they’re screaming out,
“Illyria! Illyria!” All three
Companions, they are shouting out her name
To echo through the halls their fear and their
Dismay. They’ve realised what it is, her aim.
She fights for them, admits it as she does,
Strikes out and then is thrown and grappled back.
She knows Osiris does not fear his death,
And that will be what brings it to him here:
She uses what she has, the carapace
Which shields her limbs, or else its image-thought,
To beat him to the floor, to gather him
In absolute distraction as they come.
For yes, they do –
                       – it's Buffy who comes first,
The slayer who has clarity of mind
Enough to pull herself back into form.
Unlike before, Illyria can see
As Buffy lands and runs on ancient stone,
Her mortal frailty not so out of place.
She comes behind Osiris, where he's caught
In fighting with Illyria, who sees.
“Hey, god,” she says, to make him turn to her
Before she punches smartly, hits his face.
Illyria awaits her moment, stood
Now at his back as Buffy finishes,
Before he has a chance to rally to,
“Oops; made you look!” She dives without a pause,
Grabs at his legs and yells, “Illyria!”
Just as the God-King knows she must react.
She pounces, throws an arm around his front
And pulls his dark hair in her other fist.
This moment, as she holds him, is when Spike
At last finds form as well to stand and look,
His eyes surprised to see her stand this way.
No matter that he told her what she was:
A vampire, who takes their prey by the neck.
      The final curl of trepidation yields
At last – she feels it in her chest and throat.
It's time to take the role she knows is hers.
“You cannot move.” She tells Osiris how
His lithe, immortal body will not help,
His shoulders clamped beneath one arm of hers,
Whose strength increases with her certainty;
His pulling at her weak like infant hands.
His crown has long since clattered to the floor,
The feathers ragged where she tore at them,
Much like his godly hair that’s pulled in her
Closed fist. She tells him how his fugitive,
The slayer, holds his legs to keep him there.
“You think it matters, this humiliating fall?”
He asks her, voice quite strained, but mocking still,
“There is no end to me, my life goes on.
No matter what you bring upon this shell
That holds my spirit in your arms, I’ll live.
I will return and slaughter you, all you;
I’ll dirty my unsullied hands and you
Will then be subject to my wishes, as
These two great worlds must all kneel down ‘fore me.”
Her hands on this immortal creature, who
Is now defeated, who now cannot move,
Illyria does not know if he hears
The words that have escaped his mouth: the shell
That holds him, it has made him just as strong
As he is weak, as he is weakened now.
The shell he has is life, and that she’ll pull
Apart between her hands. “You do forget
I know your shell as mine, and know it’s more
Than flesh,” she states, then wrenches on his hair
Until he breathes with pain. “Mortality
Lives on in me, this girl, her memories.”
(Although she long has wished it were not so.)
“And yes, it is the very same for you.”
Osiris shakes with violent hate, but still
Seems to retain conviction that he will
Return from death, as is his right to turn.
“And I remember,” so Illyria
Tells him, “Still I remember there was more
To that bought prophecy of Angel’s death.”
He freezes, outright flinching in her hands.
“Apocalypse perhaps he catalysed,
Releasing that dark swell of energy
When he dissolved the Black Thorn ring, but there
Was more, an extra clause in what you signed.
His doom is to receive a human’s fate,
So I remember, be rewarded at his end.
And looking at you now…” Illyria
Inspects his neck, feels all of the disgust
Osiris oozes – but then lifts her head,
Accepting weakness as she gazes on
Her memories and halls for one last time,
The prayers on columns and her loyal serfs
All watching this, their eyes black spots of fear.
And Spike, she sees, is standing now with Gunn,
So out of place in her great, ancient hall.
She thinks perhaps Spike understands, or else
Imagines possibilities such as
The action she has long committed to.
He’s sorry, finally he’s sorry for
The insolence he’s shown her – or as he
Would think of it – his failure to foresee
What she intended with her words of hate.
There's pity in his frown as now at last
He sees how she is broken, full of words
That used to mean much more to her before.
“I do not think,” she ultimately says,
As she looks down, back on her fallen match,
“That Angel’s fate can be achieved with your
Dominion on his broken afterlife.”
Nor does she think that any of their aims
Can be achieved, no earthly peace be found.
With spitting words, Osiris answers her,
“And what exactly do you mean by that?”
His shell has grown more fragile in her hands,
So fragile she can feel the muscles twitch,
The first frisson of fear, too late, across
The stolen, ancient nerves. At first she waits,
Allows the fear to grow, but then she says,
Explains, “I did not know why I returned;
My Qwa'ha Xahn was killed, a feckless fool,
And my advisor after this was slain.
On our first journey to this world, I thought
That I might rule it, wield my might of old
Without the shackles binding me where I
Once lived. But I chose to return, again.”
She sighs, and wonders as she knows she should,
As all the lower species wonder – what
In all the fates that form existence was the point
Of that? Her rule on Earth was over, so
What point was there for her to suffer one
More day?
             (She killed the girl who filled the shell
In which she now resides; she fears it’s her.
Right at the end there's still this simple doubt:
It’s Winifred who’s killing her.)
                                          There’s none,
No point Illyria can see, except
Protecting those whose pain she now has felt,
Protecting the humanity that plagues
Her fallen kingdom – and if not when they
Are living, then by managing their souls.
“When I returned,” she tells on now, “I came
To understand what my old foes had spawned,
What I in turn had let myself become.
A parasite, no power of my own,
A self I leech in part from hollowed flesh,
Sustained by blood-debt, nothing more than this.”
She sighs again, can feel the foreign tears
Her flesh insists on making swell in drops.
“But you –” She pulls the twitching shell again,
Restrains Osiris harder in her hands.
“I saw that you were too entrapped by blood,
Its cycle from your body to the floor:
Complete it found you on your throne once more,
Your world thus forged in blood, your power, place,
Command.” He’s shaking in her arms, afraid;
Afraid as he should then have been before.
“Your shell still bleeds, and this will see your end.”
There’s shouting then, but she ignores it all:
She lowers down her mouth, her human teeth,
Unable to be changed, a vampire though
She is. She bites, digs in her teeth the way
She knows that vampires bite, can feel the skin –
Divine and flawless, but not armour, no –
The skin resists at first, quite pliable,
But then the pressure breaks and she is through.
There’s blood inside her mouth, across her tongue,
More blood as she bites on, chews out the skin
And then attacks the red she has revealed.
The god is screaming, thrashing in her arms,
But still her bite is small, quite human-sized,
So all the blood flows out into her mouth.
She swallows, pausing not for breath but to
Release the air she’s pulling past her lips.
Her eyes are closed, her face against his neck,
Hot blood now flowing faster, fast enough
She has to call on what her shell still knows
About the human gag reflex
The quickest way to chug a pitcherful,
To beat the boys on Friday kegger nights
And be the nerdy girl who’s popular)
      The blood is settling in her stomach now,
Has filled it full; but so, as vampire,
She feels it solve away inside her flesh,
The cells prepared to take what’s there to have.
It’s flowing through her frozen veins; she feels
The knowledge swell and grow, displacing her,
Reducing her awareness of the world she’s in –
No, using it, expanding wide her mind –
It feels as when she was aware of time:
She feels the paths of souls throughout the worlds,
The weight of worth distinguishing each stream,
The wider worlds she knows she manages.
There’s peace? There’s peace, she thinks she feels it come –
Who are those watching her, whom now she leaves?
She can remember, but it’s distant, small,
As yet more blood leaks down her throat,
Transforming her, great vampire god, her life.
      The shell is slipping, can’t contain this god;
Illyria is shedding her, she’s gone –
No, not yet gone, not yet, but going soon.
She whispers to Illyria, she says,
Hey, you, don’t you forget me when you go;
Don’t you forget the rest of us, don’t you
Let Angel rot away down in that hell!

Illyria is leaving now, can feel
Old feelings rising, flickering; they snap
Like guttering flames. But still she’s heard, and then
She promises, right at the last,
                                              I won’t.

Chapter Text

      The future, when it really happens, feels
A certain way. A single second comes
That knots together all the past before,
So every nudge of inclination, cause
Set out for consequence, they settle, stop.
For those who can perceive this moment’s time,
It feels like everything at last makes sense
(If only for that fleeting moment) and
There’s time enough to not think anything
Or worry over thinking, what to think.
At least, that’s how it seems to come sometimes,
With Sadie, when she feels it come to her:
Exactly for that moment Sadie knows
That what she thought might happen really has.
It’s not as if she sees the future come
In images or sound or scent or feel,
But for that instant it is like she knew
And she remembers why she’s done the things
She’s done, as if it’s obvious at last.
This time, she feels it with Illyria.
It builds quite slowly, as the spell stress pulls
And teases thread-thin knots inside her head,
As, when he comes, Osiris tries to break
Their concentration, burning itch across
Their skin. Illyria’s conviction is
Like ice, like brain-freeze, welcome after all;
She’s chasing down all worryings with ire
And that’s the moment when the future comes.
The God-King is dissolving, piece by piece
Resolving into somewhere wholly new,
But it’s familiar, when it comes on her,
And Sadie knows that she’s been here before;
She can remember what this place was like.
Around her, everywhere are streaming paths,
And she’s not really sensing them with sight,
Yet still she knows they’re there. They make her think
(Approximately if not actually)
Of all the formulae that she can’t read
Right at the back of her old Further Maths
Textbook, which left the syllabus last year:
She knows they’re doing things with what they’ve got,
They’re taking numbers, changing them around,
But she can’t really follow where they lead.
And she has seen the world like this before.
Back when Osiris took her, she saw this;
When she killed Mr. Giles, she saw this.
It’s here she never wanted to return.
      Yet all the same there is a reason why
She brought herself back here, it’s obvious -
At least it feels obvious now that
The future’s happened and she’s fully there -
Because Illyria is lost. She felt
The god solve into kingship here, but it’s
Too much, the world is faltering and tense
As facing it the god is overcome.
It’s worrying – and dangerous as well,
Because Osiris’ job is necessary,
No matter that he used it for the power.
But thankfully, although Illyria is lost,
Confused, it’s obvious to Sadie now
The reason why she came. Illyria,
She thinks, then hopes the god can hear
As she calls up the latent memory
Of how to use this world, to shape and guide
Each path between the old realms and the next.
She wouldn’t know what words to use in speech,
But thankfully she’s pretty sure that that
Is not a problem here; she calls up images
Then feels the very air around her breathe
With understanding, flying thoughts away.
The paths lead people through their lives and on,
Can be reshaped, constructed, woven tight -
So Sadie can’t explain, but even so
Illyria apparently can learn.
As realisation filters through the world,
Perception shifts in Sadie’s mind, to see
That realisation coming into sense.
The spiralling equations morph and clarify,
Their insubstantial forms now paved, marked roads
Which Sadie sees are growing now, at last,
The function of this world returned.
She feels contentment, gratitude, and then
She finds herself swept up towards what she
Was trying not to think about, and yet
Remembers from her time spent here before.
It’s what a part of her was desperate
To see again, now offered to her straight
In gratitude: she’s drawn towards the path
Which she herself constructed, which she used
To wrench and warp her own design
And act far more divine than was her right.
It’s there, it’s still there as a memory,
Quite definite amongst the other paths,
If rudimentary compared to them.
It’s like a country lane, she thinks, this path
She made for Mr. Giles to walk, not clear,
But worn through grass to show the rocks and mud.
More than enough to shuffle someone on.
The future’s gone now, and this isn’t what
She meant to do, but still she finds herself
Distracted by the path and seizing up
Each ounce of quivering shame inside her chest
To let her feet step on this track she’s hewn.
She cannot see him down the road, he’s gone –
Dear God, she hopes to somewhere that he likes,
Towards somewhere, at least, most definitely –
But still there are his footprints in the dirt,
The marks of his long trek away from her.
Her mind regards them, all along the way
Until the winding path shields them from view;
She sends the only words she has in her
To follow him. I’m sorry, Mr. Giles...
Exceptionally sorry – like, a lot.

What else is there to say? She doesn’t know
And she is fairly sure she has no words,
No eloquence sufficient in her throat.
Perhaps, she wonders, she should tell him how
He’s missed, but that feels far too obvious
And trite - and maybe she should let him go,
Allow him to continue walking on,
If he is walking, with his dignity,
Instead of asking him to ease her guilt.
Deciding then at last, she thinks, I hope
It isn’t difficult to find your way.

And then she leaves it, ducks away from him
Towards the general millieu of paths.
I think I need to go home now, she thinks
With the intention that Illyria
Will hear.
            It’s only then she realises
Completely that Illyria will not
Return with her, which doesn’t settle well.
And will you be OK? she wonders, not
Because the god is any special friend,
But they have shared a spell now, shared their minds,
And Sadie cannot feel it’s right to leave
Someone behind like this. It’s like you’re – gone.
A path appears, as something like response,
Which Sadie’s drawn to, cannot but inspect.
It’s simple paving stones, set straight until
The grey is broken in abruptly by
A thousand violent streaks of indigo,
Which crack the pavement, break it into dust
That feeds a beam of bright, electric blue.
The new path stretches on, for miles until
At length it fades, quite necessarily,
Allowing dust to creep in at its edge
And ultimately form the stones again.
The symbolism isn’t subtle, not
By any means, and Sadie will accept
That this is how Illyria sees it.
She’s left the path that wasn’t hers, allowed
Continuation from the path before;
And that’s the way that she wants it to be.
I s’pose it’s not like we won’t meet again,
Escapes a thought, too morbid to be said.
With heavy, fractured feelings, Sadie then
Allows herself to be sent back, her mind
To be released from her, Illyria,
So comprehension fades and she is back,
She’s dashing back to sitting on the roof,
Where she is crying lonely, mortal tears.

      Great peals of thunder roll as they come back
To find themselves beyond the portal’s reach.
When Buffy feels herself come to, she lifts
Her head and watches it, the rain that’s falling from
The black and clouded sky, the lightning crack,
Again, another, chased by rumbling,
As magic crumbles and compresses in
To leave the atmosphere complete again.
It was so easy with Osiris gone,
So easy for the queen up there to make
The portal and the stitches all unfurl
Like wilting burger paper, creased and flat
Before she pushed them home and let them fall.
It wasn’t hard to find themselves again
Exactly where they’d been, though not the same:
There’s strain in Buffy’s arms, bone-deep and weak,
Black bruises on her chest from where she held
Osiris firm against her. Still she can
Remember perfectly and vividly
The way it felt to have him kick at her,
His violent dying just above her head,
The way Illyria held him, so much
Like every hold she’s ever rushed to stop
When vampires have hunted down their prey. But she
Was helping, she remembers that too well.
With all the things she’s killed she’s never clung
And felt the blood be drained from someone’s neck,
Her role inversed completely, clinging till
Two bodies both collapsed above her head,
Embrace broke loose, apparent life all gone.
It’s happened now and now she can recall
The way they toppled, slumped against her side.
Red blood was seeping, welled from one god’s neck,
The other with it stained across blue lips,
And she began to shake, could feel what she
Had pushed her muscles to, to fell these gods.
She turned to face the others silently,
Walked to them, still in their disguised forms,
And listened as the queen continued on
To tell them what to do while they processed.
And then they did the what while they processed,
Came back here where she’s still processing things,
Content to look up to this savage sky,
Where rain is falling, harsh attack from black.
      There’s screeching as the thunder rolls again.
The demons, fleeting shadows, fill the sky
It seems like, hurrying back home at last.
She watches, wondering if all of them
Have personalities the same as him
They met up there, that guy who hated Spike;
She wonders if they’ll settle in back home,
And if the other demons here all know
That they don’t really have to fight, or if
They’ll all be trapped here, trapped inside their heads
Up to the point they cannot think beyond
Their fear. She wonders where Illyria –
For in the end her mind treks back again –
Where she has sent herself, and if she’ll be
OK, for any value of OK;
She wonders if they’ll meet again when she
Is finally allowed to die and stop.
She’s doesn’t think it will be soon, and yet
That’s maybe worth a thought or two, she thinks?
Now Spike is talking by her side, and so
She wonders what he’s said. “ that all right?
She was an Old One, murderer and that,
But, fuck me, we’ve had too much death; I can’t
Not feel it now that she’s gone too.” And Will’s
Replying, “No, it’s human to be sad.”
And Gunn is saying, “I’m not sure what we
Should think. If we’re meant to be grateful that
She’s saved us here, or if we’re meant to be
Afraid of how much power she must have
Now she’s some real god-god somewhere else.”
The girls, they’re talking too, and Buffy wants,
She realises just then, to just get home
And sleep. And so she climbs up to her feet.
They follow her.
                      However, when they get
Back to the shelter, Buffy finds that she
Can’t sleep. In fact, she stops outside and finds
She can’t go in. Her heavy head lifts up
Towards the sky once more and she can only stare
As now the rain is clearing, but the clouds
Are all still black, still night, still far too wrong.
“You want to wait?” Spike asks her, so she nods
And they are sitting, waiting on the step
To see how morning’s gonna come this time.
The sound of water still surrounds them, rain
In drains like rivers, gulleying through town,
But that’s enough, the silence is enough,
When everybody else has gone inside
And shut themselves away, like they have done
So many nights before. ‘Cause she is sure,
When morning breaks today, then Spike will say
That he can feel it, sunshine warming up
The air, and they will wait for it until
The sun appears too certainly to stay.
‘Cause after that she finally can swear,
It’s done. It’s over now - and Giles? That god
Who killed you so I’d fight? He’s dead and gone.

She’ll say it. Now she is content to wait.

      It turns out in the morning, when it comes,
Anne’s shelter faces West. And this is good,
Because despite his best intentions Spike
Awakens from a dream about dead fish
To see that technically the morning’s come.
It isn’t light quite yet; the clouds are all
Still thick, but now dove grey, and there is sun,
Somewhere behind them all there’s sun, which he’s
Aware of, even though he’s in the shade.
He’s sitting, slumped on Buffy’s shoulder, which
Is weird; someone’s taken off his coat
And tucked a blanket round his chest, one more
On top of that around the pair of them
(Although it looks like Buffy finally
Succumbed as well, at some point in the night).
They should have gone inside, he reckons, had
A celebration or a maudlin drink,
If only ‘cause his legs are gonna rot
If they stay damp like this too long - like all
Those blighters in the War Dru wouldn’t eat.
But then he can’t conceive not bedding down
With Buffy, when she’s there to be with, when
The new apocalypse is on; what’s one
More night outside? To see the rising sun
When it comes back?
                              “So, er, yeah - hi? Hello?”
Quite suddenly it’s there again, the noise
That woke him up, which turns out to be her,
Gurpreet, who’s standing with a Thermos flask
And four chipped mugs. “We made some coffee, yeah?”
She gestures with the flask. “They don’t have tea
Or anything, and this stuff’s made with one
Of those machines like off the TV, but
I think it tastes OK. We’re out of milk, though, ‘right?”
Spike frowns at her, sleep fading from his eyes.
“Well, since you’re selling it so well, I s’pose
There isn’t any other option; yeah,
Go on then.” As Gurpreet pours out the drinks
She asks, “Is Buffy...?” making clear it’s her
The girl was hoping to talk with, not him.
But Spike replies abruptly, “She’s asleep,”
And doesn’t plan to wake her up for less
Than something urgent, more urgent than this
Brown coffee sludge, which hits a certain spot
(And to be fair, it does hit very hard)
But otherwise is nigh undrinkable.
He sips to be polite, for what it’s worth.
Gurpreet’s compulsion is the same, he’s sure,
As she stays with him, leaning by the door,
And makes a face like she is thinking what
To say. He’s not sure what to say to her,
Of course, because although they shared the spell
And tend to fight things for a living - and
Both grew up proper Londoners - he’s not
Quite sure how much they have in common, not
When she’s so young. Or maybe older than...
(How old was Buffy when they met?) But she’s
So new to this. (She’s not as young as Dawn,
Back when she started tailing him around...)
He wonders whether maybe he should try –
But thankfully distraction comes too quick,
As looking down the silent street Gurpreet
Starts frowning, muttering to him, “Hang on,
Who’s that?” Spike shifts and turns to look as well.
There’s someone walking through the morning, tall
It seems to him, although the figure’s far
Away, just strolling down the empty road.
And it’s his well-cut suit Spike makes out first:
The man is tall and wide and dressed in grey,
Broad-shouldered, strongly built, and it looks like
He has some cash against his name, because
That suit is tailored (which is obvious
To anyone who’s used to tailoring,
Or grew up long before there was much else).
He really doesn’t look like anyone
Who’s spent the last few weeks in town with them,
Although he does look mildly familiar...
“Oi, Buffy, wake up, love,” he says, now sure
That this is urgent, shoving her a touch
Where she’s still sleeping, snoozing, both eyes shut,
Her hair in rats’ tails now her coat’s gone too.
“What’s happening?” Gurpreet asks, standing straight,
Which Spike is grateful for – it’s always nice
To have another Slayer set to fight.
As Buffy murmurs something, coming up,
He tells them both, “I think we finally
Have got a visitor from our old friends
Wolfram and Hart.” And then just as Gurpreet
Asks, “Who?” and Buffy groans unhappily
Awake, Spike manages to recognise
The face of that git Hamilton, who’s come.
Spike climbs up to his feet, his squelching boots,
And finds his balance on his aching legs,
Then takes a step towards the road, calls out,
“You’ve got some bloody nerve in coming here!”
It’s far too early in the day to think
If subtlety would work, so he just shouts,
“And didn’t Angel kill you, anyway?”
He’s not that far away now, just a block,
But they can see as Hamilton accepts
The shouting with a nod, and then replies,
His voice quite strong enough to carry down
The street as he approaches them,
“Well, that’s the thing with immortality;
We end up rather difficult to kill.
Now, really,” he continues, his approach
Complete to leave them with a stand-off, him
Set fully in the road, while they’re stood back
In front of Anne’s blue-turquoise shelter door,
“I’m hoping we can get through this without
The usual theatrics, insults, snark,
Etcetera. It’s charming amateur
Enthusiasm, really wholesome stuff,
But if we can conduct this meeting with
A more professional demeanour, that
Would let us get through everything without
Embarrassing ourselves. We’d all like that,
I think.” Then Buffy weighs in, quite awake,
Her wit a little sharper off the mark
Than his, “I’m don’t much care from saving face,
So how about we do things differently
And you get out your boring, evil speech
As quickly as you can – without those words
You lawyers like to throw in just to make
Things difficult.” She stares him down, arms crossed
As she explains, “We’ll listen and then you
Can go.” Now Hamilton stares back at her.
“Well, I can see why all the vampires fall
For you. But let’s be serious, because
If we’re all honest I think we can see
That getting LA back to how it was
Will be a benefit to everyone,
So really well done; you’re the heroes here.
The thing is, Angel and Illyria
Were problems for us, with their prophecies,
But then Osiris also wasn’t who
The Senior Partners most enjoyed
Negotiating with; they didn’t like the pomp,
Though don’t tell them I told you that, OK?
The fact that now all three of them have gone
Works out the best for us and we have you
To thank –”
                “Come on, now,” Spike cuts in, not sure
That he can take much more of this. “You think
I never heard how it was you lot made
Old Angel and the others sign your deal
And sell themselves off down the river? Please.”
Unblinking, Hamilton looks back at him,
Apparently not fazed enough to pause.
“It’s more a question if you’ve realised
That you’re the vampire with a soul now, Spike,
And there are still some prophecies in play.”
He says it easily, his shoulders shrugged.
“We’re certainly not asking you to run
The LA branch; that job has got to go
To someone even vaguely qualified –
But what we’re offering is just to talk,
Consult with you and with your team on what
Is out there and what we can do to help.
We got off on the wrong foot back when we
First dealt with Angel; Holland Manners had
A vision he was going to pursue
No matter what it looked like for the firm.
Right now we’re starting up a new regime
That’s more relaxed, so thought we might liaise
With you – and all your team, of course –”
(He adds that last line with a smile
At both Gurpreet and Buffy, who are not
Exactly looking much impressed by it.)
“– To get the best results for both of us."
“The thing is, mate,” Spike finally replies,
Relaxing as he shoves his mug-free hand
Down in his pocket, shrugs. “I haven’t got
A team. I’ve got fuck all; I haven’t got
A son or anything for you to use
That can’t defend itself or get things done.
You want to call us amateurs, then fine;
We certainly aren’t getting paid for this.
But I ain’t got much plan for going pro.
I’m really not that interested in it
And when that cowboy Lindsey tried it on,
Tried smartening me up, I had the most
Mind-numbingly depressing run of jobs –
So, if you want to have a fight and that,
Then sure, let’s go for it, but let’s not talk
As if I’m gonna be some whipping boy
For prophecy or anything like that.”
He hasn’t quite quelled Hamilton, Spike sees:
The git is readying a another load of toss.
And so Spike cuts him off before he starts.
“I wouldn’t mind the sunny future bit,
That’s fair enough, but as it is, the way
I figure, I can get that on my own.
I can’t be doing with the rest of it,
The aggro and the mooning guilt trips when
The whole world rests on what I’ve had to do.”
It’s almost like relief to get this out,
Spike thinks, emphatic so he’ll be believed,
“What it comes down to is, I’ve had enough
Of you and anything you want to spin,
So what you need to tell them at the firm
Is that you’ve come this conclusion, right?
I’m not the story, I’m just standing here.”
A creak sounds out behind them at this point;
Spike turns, they all turn, see the window boards
Are being taken down by Jade inside
The shelter, so she can see out, them in.
A group is peering through the glass, confused
Although they look prepared to hustle out
And fight if any back up is required.
The day is lightening as well; Spike thinks
This neatly makes his point that it’s not him
Whom Hamilton should keep an eye out for,
Not when they’ve got whole rooms of people who
Might take a shot at settling the score,
‘Cause he’ll be useless when the sun’s come out.
“Well, this is very disappointing news,”
Is actually how Hamilton replies,
His hands clasped casually in front of him.
“Could I at least ask after Mr. Gunn?
He showed us so much promise in the past...”
“I think Spike made it obvious that you
Should leave now and get on your bicycle.
Whatever the expression is. Right, Spike?”
Now Buffy says, her eyes flicked left to his;
She knows it’s ‘on your bike’, he’s fairly sure,
She understands more British than she says,
But it amuses her to act thick while she lays
A perfect smackdown on the enemy.
“Could not have said it better,” Spike replies.
He winks, then glares at Hamilton. “Piss off.
I’m not about to hassle Gunn so you
Can ramble on about this stuff with him.”
The old liaison finally gives up,
Holds up his hands as he inclines his chin.
“If that’s the way you want it, then I’ll go,
But please don’t hesitate to get in touch
If there is anything Wolfram and Hart
Can do for you. I’m sure our paths will cross
Again, but I can leave you to your day.”
      They let him go, but as he walks away
Gurpreet remarks, “So, let me get this straight.
There’s all the bad guys who think they mean well,
But then you’ve got these common or garden twats?
I’m sorry, but, like, no one mentioned this
When I signed up…” And Buffy giggles, palm
Too late across her mouth. “Yeah, it’s too bad,”
She says, not serious. “We never get
The credit just for putting up with jerks –
And every time you get someone who won’t
Shut up. I think it’s Slayer destiny…”
Spike has a feeling she’s including him
With that, but it’s OK; as he looks up
He sees the clouds are really thinning now,
Long stretches sheafing from the denser mass
Like snowdrifts tumbling apart in thaw.
As Buffy and Gurpreet tell him that they
Are going back inside, their talk evolved
To something else, about how Sadie is,
Spike nods and smiles and lets them go back in.
It feels like he should stay outside for this,
So someone’s here as things go how they do,
As daylight starts to streak along the road,
As every slick-black gravelstone begins
To glisten silver grey, and as the drains,
Still overflowing, offer puddles which
Are more than dark and deep and greyish-brown,
Their surfaces reflecting images
Of white and blue, the dawning city sky.
He watches as a piece of debris, dry
Or not quite wet enough to turn to sludge
Is blown to scuttle down the street by wind,
Which keeps on gusting as the weather yields,
To trail after Hamilton, who’s gone
At length.
              Spike drinks his coffee, sip by sip,
But then gets bored of just how bad it tastes
And feeling how the bright, hot tingling
Of sunshine ghosts along his senses, nerves.
So in the end he pitches what is left
Inside his mug across the street and goes
Indoors, to do his carer bit for Gunn.
He sniffs, then shrugs. “That’s that.”
                                               That’s everything.