It's the seventh night since he's free of the Kalderash curse, and the seventh night he wakes from dreams of perfect happiness.
He sits up, clearing his throat. He's had a sore throat ever since growling at the werewolf yesterday. It should be healed by now. He coughs a little. Feels like there's something stuck in there; how truly disgusting. It's almost like Buffy has made him feel human down to the pathetic physical weaknesses. By the time he's done with her, she will have paid for this new indignity too.
The paint is peeling from the door—damn, what a dump this abandoned factory is. They should really move to a place that isn't so distractingly atrocious. He closes his eyes rather than look at it.
The dream lingers in his mind: salty, slippery skin sliding; soft gasps and the scent of her hair, and the quiet and blissful warmth afterwards, right before…
He opens his eyes and starts looking for his shirt. Before the curse finally broke and I was master of my own fate again, he tells himself firmly.
A wisp of the vanishing dream catches in his throat, tickling, and a coughing fit bends him until he spits out red—a single rose petal.
Fantastic. Another curse? He needs to find out who’s doing this to him, so he can end them and it.
He heads to find Dru, and against his will he flashes back to Scooby meetings, stupid name for a stupid bunch of kids. His lovesick souled self used to lurk there and watch the hot little piece of ass that is the Slayer. A cough surprises him, and another petal lands.
Dru comes, clapping hands together. “Oh, someone sent you flowers, Daddy! It’s quite romantic, isn’t it.”
He glowers at her. “Who did this to me?”
She gazes into the middle distance, smiling and nodding. “The pixies say it was the rat.”
“For fuck’s sake, Dru. I know you’re insane, but can’t you make sense for once?”
“The rat waited for the daisy, but the daisy didn’t come. Thorny rose stems like little rat nails scratching, scratching… they went to school together, you see.”
“That's a no, then.” Why did he even bother?
Across town, Amy Madison puts away her spell supplies. Her partner for this week's history project is in no shape to study today or ever again, as scrying revealed earlier—fucking Sunnydale. But at least the guy who walked up to Theresa, twirling a flower, and lured her off to her death… is going to choke on flowers. Thorny ones.
The week leading up to Valentine’s Day, shameful roses bloom in his sheets every time he wakes.
The factory fills with the decaying death-scent of cut flowers left too long. Minions pick them up without his say-so, trying to suck up. He throws the roses out with the trash, only to dream new ones the next day.
They're thorny, sharp like real passion, not like the defanged stems of florists' roses that the mindless masses will buy by the bucketful come tomorrow, reaffirming their boring human relationships. The thorns catch in his throat coming out, until he bleeds, gasping for breath to curse whoever did this to him. Good thing he's so strong and immortal; these wounds might drown a human in their own blood.
Well, that's a silver lining.
The stranger struggles less once he's rammed the roses down past her throat. Of course, the lack of oxygen would be getting to her by now. She retches weakly, tears streaming down her face, a question in her eyes.
Yes, little girl. That is what love feels like, that's what it does to you.
His inner monologue is rich and resonant in his ears today. Maybe he should write some of that down; but then, the fine arts were always his true calling.
He waits for the girl to stop struggling and arranges her in an Ecstasy of St. Theresa pose. He did regret missing that chance with Buffy’s schoolmate earlier. Her boyfriend likely won't get the reference, but an artist has to live up to his own standards.
Next to the body, he leaves the curse description that he ripped out of one of Ripper’s dear books earlier. He doesn’t need the scrap of paper anymore—photographic memory—and it’s gonna be funny when the girl’s boyfriend shows up and reads this.
“The Hanahaki Curse causes flowers to grow in the lungs, and in some cases around the home, of one who suffers from unrequited love. The curse is broken when the beloved returns the victim’s feelings or when the victim dies.”
Even after being lodged in his throat and spit out, the flowers look fresh and unblemished, not bruised and broken the way they should be—the way Buffy’s body should be by now according to Spike. But Spike doesn’t get it. He will work from the inside, he will take his time.
It’s a painfully cliche curse, and yet there’s a beauty to it, he muses, pricking his thumb on a thorn and watching a tiny droplet of blood well up. A flower is beyond good and evil, blossoming and stinging for its own sake.
But to a true artist, nature is no more and no less than raw material.
The best garden he ever saw was in Versailles. They said the king had personally approved every detail: the shape of the land; the places where life was to thrive or to perish, lawns and pathways curling into delicate spirals, circles, and half moons; the very light from the sky, reflected in the canal. It was a vision of power and clarity, of mastery over matter.
He can allow these roses to grow where the blueprints of his plan direct and only there. Twist them like a knife, carve them into something to hurt Buffy with.
Time to pick out a black ribbon for her ominous funeral bouquet.
One bizarre obstacle and clue leads to another, and he finds Buffy in the cluttered school basement just as he finds out who cursed him. Buffy turns back to human form right in front of his eyes. There’s his rat; and who cares what Dru meant with the daisy.
She stands naked behind some boxes, the shape of her neck exquisite, light playing upon her clavicle the way a knife could. Her hair is disheveled, pink lips parted. Her eyes are wide. Makes a monster wanna give her something to be startled about.
He picks up some piece of junk from one of the tables without looking and throws it to clatter near her. She half tries to cover up, heart racing. “Rat”, she mouths.
Should he kill her now? Her skin looks so smooth. She really is awfully cute with whatever it is she thinks she’s doing with her hair, and those faces she makes. It would be a waste to break her body rashly, when instead he can delight in making her feel as he pleases—and break her spirit so all she knows, all she loves, will be him.
A coughing fit starts, and he retreats, but not too far. Let her hear. Let her know almost for certain who caught her show of Butt Naked Buffy. She’s gone quiet, listening.
As he leaves, he sticks the new rose into the chains that dangle from the basement ceiling, where she will see it on her way out—a promise.
He keeps circling back towards her as though lost in a maze. When she’s asleep and won’t see his shame, he watches her for hours, caressing her hair while rose bushes grow over the window and trap him; he has to tear them out when he finally leaves.
His campaign of intimidation is going well. He can still make her feel strongly whenever he wants, as long as it’s fear, grief, maybe hate. It doesn’t matter what emotion wrecks her as long as he’s the source of the crashing wave.
It doesn’t matter what he feels, as long as he feels. Who needs happiness? Only narrow human minds who don’t understand the variety of passion.
Red roses fall on the Watcher’s bed as he stages the fantasy of a perfect first night. She would be ready, waiting. There would be candles… the music would be right... the roses keep falling, all over the stairs, but it’s all part of the art. The finest thing he’s seen since Giselle, if he does say so himself; it will take her breath away. Her Watcher's, too, of course, but that's only a means to an end.
The book said the roots would burrow all the way through his lungs, and for all he knows, they'll reach his heart next. There’s a simple counterspell too, tediously easy since sacrificing this passion would fuel it. Well, it can wait. He doesn't need to breathe; he does need to feel.
I Only Have...
The garden looks shabby, to be honest. The bare ground is littered with dead leaves and interrupted by sparse tufts of shaggy, unhealthy-looking grass. The night-blooming jasmine was the only thriving plant when he first came to scope out the place, but it's fast being covered by climbing roses. As if to escape the unwelcoming ground, the rose bushes flatten themselves to the walls, no doubt on their way to take over the whole building.
He plays with a nice sharp pair of hedge shears. As with most toys, the knowledge of their danger and power is more fun than anything he could do with them.
Dru distracts him, anyway, before he can decide whether a tangle of thorny roses can ever be shaped into tidy topiary. This is more of an English garden, unfortunately—made for unchecked nature and Romantic poets such as the resident loser over there in the wheelchair.
Dru is thrilled with the garden, and that's so flattering he doesn't notice at first that she's under the annoying impression she's sharing the garden with Spike. She squats with her back turned, talking to Spike and sifting through the earth under a dead tree. She doesn’t even react to the comment on her idea to sleep naked. She tells Spike, not him, about her vision.
This insolence is too much. He creeps up and ensnares her, right in front of Spike’s eyes. The boy seems to have forgotten his lesson: he can’t have the woman he loves. No vampire can, not for long. And a proper vampire doesn’t care.
“This whole Slayer thing has run its course,” he lies.
The shears lie on the dead ground, forgotten.
I Only Have Eyes for You
He scrubs himself in the garden of the mansion, the scent of roses clinging to him like the perfume of an illicit lover.
This cleansing ritual should have worked within minutes, combined with the incantation from the book. He should be free of the feelings and the flowers by now… and yet. His skin is raw and torn, and red starts dripping, but rose petals rustle in his veins instead of blood. And he can't stop replaying her damn voice in his mind. The curse has eaten its way too deep into him.
This whole game has gone too far. Any further, and he’ll be blushing like a schoolboy, asking ole Buff if they could, y’know, get back together.
The ghosts made him soft, weak. Pathetic. He was supposed to be better than Spike! Better than wishy-washy human emotions. The Judge said he was pure.
Frankly, he can’t blame the girl for shooting him after the display he put on today. He deserved it for spouting drivel like, what was it, “I just want you to be able to have some kind of normal life”? Ugh.
They had him sobbing, for Pete’s sake. His voice, quite out of his control, dripped disgusting… comfort? fondness? His very mind, his spirit, was violated, filled with mushy feelings that he then flaunted in front of Buffy. They made him, truly, the Slayer’s lapdog there for a moment. And, for the love of all that's unholy, that kiss. It was so earnest and chock-full of fuzzy warmness.
The shame of it is, a twisted part of him liked it all, still likes to remember it.
So, it's too late to undo the curse.
But he can go out on his own terms, show everyone that, just for a moment, this nightmare doesn't own him. He'll burn the roses down with the world and salt the earth.
He's not afraid to pay the price to make it all stop.