All About Spike - Print Version
[Back to Main Site] [Back to Story Page]

The Ballad of Randy and Joan
By Annie Sewell-Jennings

SUMMARY: “She is a blank canvas, and he is not allowed to paint her.” B/S

RATING: NC-17

SPOILERS: Up through “Wrecked”

DISCLAIMER: The characters of Buffy and Spike are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions; I claim no ownership of them. Music will be disclaimed as it is used within the story.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: I suppose that Randy/Joan fics are becoming staples in the fanfiction community, but I wanted to write this nonetheless. It’s a little different from most of those fics, a little darker and more violent, and the ending, well… Judge that one for yourselves, kids. Enjoy it all, and I hope that you’ll come back for more when it’s over. Some elements of the story are ripped off from the brilliant “Memento” (i.e. Joan’s tattoos), but they’re for good reason and in good fun. Really.



“I hate you.”

“And I’m all you’ve got.”

--Buffy and Spike, “Becoming”



Chapter One: Minneapolis, Minnesota

*****

"I'm happy, I'm feeling glad

I've got sunshine in a bag

I'm useless, but not for long

The future is coming on..."

--Gorillaz, "Clint Eastwood"

*****

She is the first thing he sees when he wakes up at night and the last thing he sees when he goes to bed in the morning.

Through the haze of sleep, he opens his eyes and sees her in the mirror. Just that one image, projected and reflected off of dirty glass, her back turned and her face twisted pensively around, fingers peeling off fine layers of medical gauze from her right shoulder. She flinches a little, her dainty nose wrinkling, and then she sighs as the bandage is removed, revealing the new addition to her sun-scorched skin.

“It came out nice,” he calls from the bed, and she turns her head, flashing him a smile. Every time she sees him, her face lights up with the power of tiny candles, because she loves him and nothing else. She knows him and nothing else.

Slender, jagged fingernails caress the top of the new tattoo; she revels in the pain that plagues her every time she brands herself. Heavy rap music throbs from the stereo that works of its own volition. It takes all of its electricity from her, from the energy that can make lights flicker when she walks into a room. She makes broken things work, and nothing works better than him when he is inside of her.

A discerning, critical eye moves over the new mark, carefully checking the artistry on the tattoo that she selected and designed. It is a Vietnamese symbol, something exotic and extraordinary, reading “FAITH” in its graceful, sharp curvature on her shoulder. She does not know why it is necessary to brand herself with obscure phrases and symbols, but she does so nonetheless. She is a blank canvas, constantly begging for art.

“So you really like it?” she murmurs, turning her head to gaze seductively over her shoulder at the vampire sprawled across the sheets. She loves him, loves him more than she loves the feeling of stabbing someone in the heart or looting a liquor store that carries Cristal champagne. He is her heart. He is her alcohol. He is her drug, the addiction more insistent and necessary than her tattoos or her music.

Smirking, teasing, taunting. He is all of the above when it comes to her. Prowling across the sheets, his knuckles carrying his lean body languidly across the cheap, moth-eaten motel sheets, he travels across the bed and then stands naked in the middle of the room while she appreciates his architecture and style. Fashion is unnecessary when it comes to him; he looks better without clothing.

When he kisses the tattoo, she shudders; her skin is too sensitive to deal with the cool pressure of his mouth, underneath the raw tattoo and the sun- scorched skin that is its canvas. She is always sunburned, her skin constantly reddened by the wicked rays of the sunlight, her hair permanently bleached snowy white in sharp contrast with her bright crimson skin. Body moving lushly with the rhythm of the hip-hop music that the enchanted stereo plays, she throws out her bait, reels him in, and scales him with ease.

Outside, there is a landscape of scorched desert sands, the sky as dark and malevolent as rubies set ablaze, like a million garnets thrown onto a bonfire and left to melt. Lava and magma paint the furious vermilion sky, and the thick, impenetrable smell of smoke hangs low and thick around them. It did not always used to be like this. There was once a place called Minnesota, where snowfalls buried the state in layers of white and frost unfurled across glass windowpanes, but she does not remember this time. She remembers nothing but the world around her, blissfully ignorant to what once was and what might have been. Girls who have no past have no concept of what is the future, and this is the only comfort that she holds onto when she sleeps at night in his arms.

Whenever he is aroused, he purrs slightly, and she always finds it amusing that vampires are like big cats that need to be petted into domestication. Now, she turns around and gives him that smile that always makes him fall to pieces. The smile of a girl who remembers no suffering, no pain, no anguish and no war. The smile of a girl who knows nothing but ecstasy and rapture.

“I think I want to go to New York again,” she murmurs into his ear, licking his earlobe, biting down a little bit with her blunt teeth. He loves pressure. “The shopping’s much better.”

Chuckling, he moves his fingers down from the new tattoo to the older ones, exploring the artwork that is scattered across her body with no sense of right or wrong. He finds it ironic that she has turned herself into a living and breathing gallery, remembering the past that she has no concept of, remembering the things that she can never know. The history that she has no grasp of is his burden to bear now, not hers, and the only way that he can manage to wear that responsibility is the knowledge that she loves him.

She loves him.

“I love how you call it shopping,” he growls into the mass of bright white hair, pushing aside errant tendrils so that he can nip playfully at her neck. There are a few scars on her throat, sketched over with ink by the tattoo artist who placed the word “GLORY” across the back of her neck. They are his scars. “Looting, more like it. Stealing.”

Dismissively, she sighs and turns her attention back to the mirror. He casts no reflection in the looking glass, and her body is slightly foggy, a little translucent, like she has no real substance. Perhaps memory is what gives her substance. Maybe history gives a person weight and shape. She doesn’t know for sure why everyone can see through her. “It’s not stealing if it doesn’t belong to anybody,” she says, instantly exonerating herself of any crime. “Besides, where else in the world can you find a good vintage Ja Rule album?” Pointedly, she turns her head and arches her eyebrow. “Other than Los Angeles.”

It pains him when she nags him, but he refuses to go to California. She does not know why, other than that was where he found her, lying beaten and unconscious on the side of the road while the world crumbled around them. He stole her away from the ruins of the Sunshine State, now permanently covered in the snow that Minnesota should rightfully possess. Often, she begs him to take her back there, constantly in search of pieces to her puzzle, but he refuses. “Too many bad memories,” he always says, and she always tells him in her soft, petulant voice that she would love a memory, bad or good.

Shaking his head, he creeps his fingers down the curve of her spine, caressing the very first marking, the tattoo that she does not remember inking herself with, because it all happened Before and this is Now.

“You know how I feel about L.A., pet,” he murmurs in that smooth accent. English, he told her. It is English. She has no concept of what is foreign or not, because there is no one left in the world to speak in foreign tongues or use unusual speech patterns. She just loves his voice. “’Sides, L.A. is passé. Only for punks and losers. All the good shopping’s gone.”

Teasingly, she turns around to the mirror and gives him a naughty look that bounces around the room. “It’s not shopping, it’s stealing,” she reminds, and he chuckles, biting playfully on her newly tattooed shoulder.

“Right, luv.”

Wordplay flawlessly fades into foreplay, the mood shifting from teasing into enticing without any signal or moment. Their life together is a tapestry of fucking and fighting, but it’s all in love, all in good gestures and friendship, and therefore that’s all that matters. He watches her in the mirror, amused at her white tank top and the men’s briefs that slide down her slender hips, a tattoo of a giant, angry sun swimming over her pierced navel. She is currently having an intense love affair with turquoise jewelry, and the semiprecious rosary swings enticingly between her shapely breasts. She is exquisitely blasphemous, wearing Catholic mythology like an accessory and fucking a demon in her spare time.

“Change the song,” he orders into her ear, and she chuckles, impishly arching one alabaster eyebrow before giving a glance to the stereo. The CD skips inside to the next track, one more suited to him, and he loves that she has somehow digested his taste for seventies’ punk. In many ways, he made her the woman that she is today, giving her his art, his fashion, his music, his flavor. She is his creation, and in turn, he is hers.

She devours him with her eyes like he would devour her with his teeth, and she loves the way he tastes in her gaze. Tastes like white chocolate, rich and decadent, his skin acres of white gold and silver. She hates gold anyway. Hard, contoured muscle, slender cradle of his hips, skin scattered in scars that he never explains. Bleached curls of hair fall onto his brow, loose and tousled; she broke him of his hair gel years ago. He smells like cigarettes and marijuana, leather clinging to his skin even when he sheds the ancient jacket, and the sterling silver chain around his neck glitters enticingly against his blank skin.

Running her fingernails over his abdomen, she elicits a moan from him, and she observes his growing erection with an amused twinkle in her jade eyes. “Why don’t you ever get a tattoo?” she asks in that innocent, unknowing voice. The naiveté in her is something that must be preserved carefully, must remain untainted and pure, because… Because… Because that is what she wants, even though she doesn’t know it.

The reason that he does not tattoo himself is because there is no need to do so. He has all of his scars, all of his memories and failures remain intact, and there is no reason for him to etch his ruination across his body with the harsh, invasive ink. The sadomasochism of tattooing does not apply to someone who can punish himself by simply rewinding time and remembering what it was once like for him.

//She slaps him across the face, punches him with the enraged fury of the righteous, and then throws his worthless body into the crumbling wood and architecture of the stairwell. “Poor Spikey,” she taunts. “Can’t be a human. Can’t be a vampire. Where the hell do you fit in?” And he never has an answer other than “I’m in love with you”, and it’s a feeble fucking excuse to both of their ears.//

Today, he has a better excuse, because he has had much more time to ponder things like what is good to say and what is better left unsaid. Licking the back of her neck and tasting glory, he smiles wickedly at her and flashes his fangs. She’s always thrilled with flirting with danger, and she always has been. “Cause they look so much better on you,” he murmurs, and she moans, arching her back and giving him a breathless look that begs to be kissed.

Growling, he lifts her up in his arms and slams her sweet, ripe little bottom on the cheap Formica bathroom counter, pressing her back against the mirror, pinning her in her place and giving her a nasty, territorial look. Chuckling, she flashes her eyes at him, and they both know that the war is starting. Every night it’s war, when they try to one-up each other, try to see who can make the other cum first. This is the battle that she lives for, and the fight that he wishes she always could have loved.

One shapely foot raises, the ankle encircled in an inked word, and he reads it aloud as it travels up the inside of his thigh, climbing toward his hard cock. “Slayer,” he murmurs, and she never understands why there’s a sad note in his voice whenever he reads that foreign term. It’s just something that she dreamed about one night in her constant assault of nightmares, just some phrase she plucked out of her subconscious and wanted written on her body.

Trying to cheer him out of it, trying to ensnare him in the game again, she smacks his cheek lightly with her palm and twists her mouth at him. “I’ll slay you,” she teases, and he knows all too well that she could if she wanted to. “Come closer. The night’s almost over and I want to try and hunt down some pot before the sun comes out.” She gives him a mocking impatient look, her feet breezing past his balls in a manner that makes him tense. “I mean, come on, honey. I don’t have all night, you know.”

Shaking his head, he walks closer to her and tugs on her white hair. “Impatient little bint, aren’t you?” he says, and she nods her head at him. She is impatient, because she knows that there is no such thing as permanence, no such thing as forever, and so she wants everything that she can get Now.

She starts to sing along with the stereo, grinning at him while she smirks. “Give it to me,” she murmurs, her voice too white to go along with the hip- hop that she loves. “Give me that funk, that sweet, that nasty, that Gucci stuff… But don’t punish…”

The fucker cuts her off before she can finish her favorite part of the song by slamming his mouth onto her, and she squeals under the harsh weight of his mouth, always so demanding, always so pressing. Tongues wage wars where fists once fought, and their kisses are always duels, always competitions, teeth gnashing and hands caressing, trying to destroy anything that is left, trying to stake a claim without flags. He wants to own her but is content with following her, and she wants to crawl up inside of him and make his history her own. It’s a good deal to them, but he knows that one day it’ll all end.

One day, he won’t be able to tear her stolen jockey shorts from her body and bend his head to her shaved mons, won’t be able to taste the stainless steel of her clitoral piercing mixing with her feminine juices, won’t have her scream and slam her head wildly against the mirror behind her. She’ll leave him eventually, when the nightmares reveal the entire show to her and she knows what happened. She’ll run away, and he’ll be left alone listening to her hardcore rap music and longing for the dangerous girl that she became under his tutelage.

But that will be Then, and this is Now.

Underneath the fluorescent lights that she controls effortlessly with her unusual biochemistry, they are writhing, rutting, rocking while he tears the flimsy tank top away from her and brings his mouth down to one flawless, exposed breast. His tongue pokes through the sterling silver loop that dangles tantalizingly from her nipple, and phrases like poetry trickle down the underside of her luscious breast. “I touch the fire…” stretches underneath her left breast, and it finishes on the right with, “…and it freezes me.”

When he enters her, she is far from frozen. She is hot, volcanic, like molten lava and boiling water, thick and lavish, rich and decadent. She is decadence embodied. Gasping for breath that she really doesn’t need anyway, her head falls back and her eyes flutter open, staring at the crackling plaster that peels thoughtlessly across the ceiling. Arching her spine, she threads her arms around his neck and holds onto him for dear life as they begin to rock in a raw, primal synchronicity. The heavy, throbbing bass of the stereo is amplified as she begins to rock towards her climax, the volume increasing until he can hear nothing but rap blaring insistently at him, drowning out the sound of her screaming.

Tonight, he wins, and she is thrown off the summit first, her sweat-slicked body gasping and shuddering around him, and he grins triumphantly at her, gloating over his victory before leaping after her, clenching his jaw and moaning as he comes. Together, they remain secured together and the volume of the stereo starts to lower so that he can hear himself think again.

Saucily, she places her palms against his chest and pushes him away from her. “I have to take a shower,” she says flippantly, picking up a Band-Aid from the counter and placing it carefully over her new tattoo. She doesn’t want the ink to run or shampoo to infect the recent marking, though she knows that her body will fight whatever she presses onto it. She is special, gifted, something unusual and better than just fucking human. She’s a goddess of some kind, something electrical and pyrotechnic, like a living Roman candle, but she doesn’t think of that last metaphor because she doesn’t remember what fireworks are.

Before she can walk naked as a jaybird into the bathroom, he holds the door open and challenges her with the same question. The same question every time they fuck. “Tell me why,” he murmurs imploringly, and when she kisses him, it’s with the sweetness that she regards him with. No violence, no fury, no wrath or play. It’s love. It’s love.

“Because I love you, Randy,” she murmurs, and he sighs, wishing that she could say his name once. Wishing that he could tell her the truth. Wishing that he could say her name back.

“I love you too, Joan.”

*****

*Lyrics are taken from Jay-Z’s “Give It 2 Me”, from “The Blueprint”, which I use without permission.

*****

(end part one)

*****



Chapter Two: Savannah, Georgia

*****

"If you are worried about where

I've been or who I saw

The club I went to with my homies

Baby, don't worry, you know that you got me"

--The Roots featuring Erykah Badu, "You Got Me"

*****

In the land of hurricanes and wind, she feels at home, because she is a constant storm and she needs somewhere familiar to rage.

Glass houses are impractical in the destroyed lands of the South, silly in the face of a thousand tropical storms and covered by the dying arms of oak trees. Yet on Tybee Island, there is a luxurious spread of glass that she has fallen in love with. Maybe it’s because it’s delicate. It could break at any given moment, rattles whenever the wind slices through the coast with its invisible daggers, and yet she still loves it. It makes him nervous whenever the house shudders. It makes him wonder how much longer the house will survive.

Sadly, he knows that the house will probably outlive him.

Twilight settles in on the Southern coast, and there is a dark, agonizing storm brewing on the distance. Humidity skyrockets and coats everything with a thin layer of perspiration and moisture condensing. The heat is scorching, and he watches her body shimmer with sweat every time she moves. She is always sweating. Heat does something to her, makes the electricity inside of her sizzle, makes her restless and nervous. Always moving, always stalking, always talking. She will never calm down.

The wind blows through his hair without any obstacle; in the South, it is pointless to try and tame hair with gel or anything else. The wind is a constant presence, blowing endless damp heat onto everyone who wound up in its talons, squeezing the life out of all of its many victims. Sometimes, he remembers what the Old South was, with all of its women wearing magnolias and azaleas, sweat seeping through thin linen dresses that were invariably white, fanning themselves and speaking with drawling, elaborate language that only a Southerner could decode.

She is anything but Southern.

Circling her beloved glass house, he peers in through the walls to see her standing on the bed in the middle of the sprawling bedroom, her tattoos glaring cruelly at him, taunting him with the familiarity of their language. He prefers the tattoos that she has done in foreign tongues, because then they are not so dreadfully painful to read. But she is still beautiful and he still loves her, even though the very sight of her sometimes threatens to bring him to his knees.

Albino hair streams down her slender spine, covering the multitude of words that coat her back, teasing the edge of her red silk panties. He loves her in bright colors, and she always aims to please. The sound of her beloved hip-hop blares through glass, penetrates into the dark night with its throbbing bass lines and sugary sentiment. Why is all of the ink on her body black? Could she not use some color, spice herself up a bit, instead of making herself into something achromatic?

Why can’t he stop loving her so that he can be free?

Through the glass, she follows him with her eyes, grinning at him mischievously, begging him to come back to bed and make her scream again. Her maroon-painted fingernails claw nastily down her slender waist, touching the flare of her hips, smoothing out the red satin panties over her ripe, round butt. It’s too hot for her to breathe and so she simply stops breathing, reverting to the darker instincts, letting the violence and the demons overtake her with their hissing and writhing. They always claim her in the end, and it’s better when he is there to help with the claiming.

“Come to bed,” she murmurs, hoping that he can read her lips through the glass. All that she receives in return is a smirk, that nasty one that tells her that he has his own games to play, and she moans in frustration and disappointment. Without him, the bloodlust will steal away her sanity on gilded chariots, take away her mind and flush her of her memories. Her precious dreams will be overtaken by the darkness, and she looks out at the darkening skies, the lightning crackling over the crashing waves and tumultuous sea.

Hurricanes, always hurricanes. She wonders what the South was like before its unending destruction. Was it gentle and soothing, whispering things in soft, lulling languages and loose tongues? Did magnolia petals shed from the trees and drift away aimlessly down marshes and inlets? What was she like before the destruction? She could not possibly be anything less than she is now. A firebrand, a maelstrom, all sunburned skin and albino hair.

But she does wonder who he was before the world ended.

Constant rain and flooding has loosened the Georgian soil, and the grass is always unnervingly green and fresh. His white toes squish into the wet dirt as he walks barefoot around the house, pacing endlessly around the glass structure, searching for weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Must protect her, must keep her safe. It is his only duty on this planet -- keep her alive. Keep her from dying.

_”You have to keep her safe, Spike. It’s what she wanted. She’s your last gift.”_

What a horrible, wonderful present.

_”I know that it’s hard to understand… God, I can’t understand it, but she wants you to have her. She says that you earned it.”_

What the fuck did he earn? A lifetime of servitude and lies. An eternity of running and deception. What did he possibly do to deserve all of this?

_”Don’t ever tell her. That’s the only condition. You can’t ever tell her. It would… I think it would just break her.”_

It is breaking him.

Cooling light shines through the thin panes of glass encasing her, making her seem like an exotic jewel on display in a museum. The Hope Diamond with a sunburn, bleached out and covered in ink. That bewitching little smile is crawling across her face again, taunting him, tantalizing him, and he takes the only comfort that he can in the knowledge that she loves him. Every night, she breathes it to him as he falls into haunted slumber. “I love you,” she whispers. “I love you.” The words are his only solace, his only gift, and he takes it all with both hands open.

Teasing, taunting little hands cup her small, firm breasts, aloe lotion shimmering along with the sweat on her skin. Should he go to her now? Throw himself to the lion and let her consume him? Or should he bide his time a little more, pace around and remember, and then come inside to her when he can’t take the grief anymore? Fuck, he doesn’t know what to do nowadays. Everything has been turned upside down and thrown out of proportion. Slivers and rivulets of her stunning white hair twist over the top of her breast, playfully skimming across her erect nipple. The curve of her wrist is devastatingly delicate. He cannot resist her.

He wishes that he could.

The look on his face as he enters the house is strange, and she tilts her head at him, losing a little of her vitality. It reminds her of her dreams. Sleep is a bleak and barren wasteland of terrors, always twisted and never honest, deceiving her with the promise of lost memory. Last night, she dreamed of him, standing in a girl’s bedroom in the middle of the night, staring at her trying to cover up her nakedness like she was something he would never possess. How badly he wanted that sheet to slip down her body, revealing everything. It was written across his face.

“Bad dreams again, love?”

Blinking, she shakes off the memories and deals with the present, because it is the only time that she can control and hold. Mischievously, she winks her big green eyes at him and the chandelier over the bed flickers off and on like an elaborate strobe light, throwing the room between darkness and light. “Never,” she says. “Only good dreams count, right?”

It’s what he tells her every time she wakes up in the middle of the night with tears running down her peeling cheeks, the saline slipping into the sun-blistered skin and burning her flesh. Ignore the bad thoughts, the horrible images of death and demons. It’s the good dreams that matter. Only good dreams count. She tries so hard to believe this, but lately, the bad dreams have been outnumbering the good ones.

_Cotton candy sliding down her nose, clinging to her mouth, and she giggles a little while a young brunette girl skips happily through the carnival. “Think they’ll let me ride the big girl rides this year?” she asks, excitement evident in her voice. “I want to ride the big girl rides with you.”_

But every time she takes the little girl’s hand, she kills her.

They do not know quite what she is. She might be a demon of sorts, at least that is his theory, but her heart still beats (albeit faintly) and she still breathes (albeit unnecessarily). When she walks into a room, she can revive old electricity and turn on televisions that blare static or jukeboxes that play old Jethro Tull songs. The sun scorches her delicate skin but does not set her aflame. Electricity thrums through her veins as though she were made of copper rather than flesh and bone, and she has been known to set towns on fire. Infernos breathe underneath her reddened skin.

Arching one snowy eyebrow, she beckons him to her side, begging him with her flickering eyes (Are they yellow? Are they green?) to fuck her like only he can. But he’s preoccupied tonight. Something stirring underneath the shifting Southern soil has unsettled him, has made him worry. Time is changing. She is changing. He is beginning to fear that the end might be near, that the hellfires of the Midwest and the blinding blizzards of California are catching up with them.

“What’s wrong, Randy?”

It isn’t his fucking name, and he hates when she uses it. Only has himself to blame. He could have given himself a better moniker, something a little less silly sounding, something more dignified or dangerous. He could have at least given himself a name that would not break his heart. Irony is a cruel mistress, and he was forced to be its bitch once again when she told him that her name was Joan. Ah, well. Some things never change.

But some things change too much.

Dry, hot lips brush against his jaw, and she nuzzles his cheek with the tip of her nose. “Why are you so upset?” she murmurs, licking a little at the hollow of his jaw with the tip of her spicy tongue. “You’re all grouchy today.”

Defensively, he shrugs. “Am not,” he says, and she giggles a little.

“Are too,” she counters with an impish expression on her face. Turquoise jewelry dangles between her breasts, the aquamarine stones brushing against her bright vermilion skin, and her fingernails dig into his shoulder. She is being naughty today. Something has disturbed her; she only makes him bleed when she cannot bleed enough for herself. “Tell me what the South was like before the hurricanes.”

Sighing, he reclines onto the pillows and closes his eyes, feeling her curl into his side with ease. Like a frozen sun, she is drawn to him, seeking his cool skin whenever her constantly heating body grows too much for her to handle. The smell of aloe lotion drifts to his nose, and he smiles a little. It is what she always smells like. Once upon a time, he remembers her smelling of limes and kiwi, exotic and tropical, like the island of Fiji. Now she smells like deserts and sunburn.

“Tell me,” she says insistently, pinching his arm a little until he swats her hand away and kisses her nose.

“Hot,” he says then, letting himself drift away on the memory of the world before the Fall. “Always hot, even in March. Spent a good five years or so in New Orleans, down in the bayou where everything’s underwater and all the people eat is seafood. Used to cause such a ruckus on Bourbon Street when the bars would close, completely pissed on rum.” The memory is a good one, of his darkest princess screaming and dancing in circles, showing off her lovely ivory breasts in the hopes of receiving plastic Mardi Gras beads and biting the bitches who already had them. The best part was when she allowed him to take them off.

Chuckling, the white-haired siren curled up in his arms trails her fingertips down his chest, the jagged edges of her bitten fingernails scraping across his skin in a sinful fashion. “What else?” she asks, trailing kisses from his neck to his shoulder, teasing the jugular where no blood pumps.

There are a thousand things about the South that he remembers. How good it smelled in June, when the flowers were in full bloom and his wicked little plum of a vampire would dress her hair in azaleas and go hunting in the marshes for thieves. It would be impossible to describe the jazz music that flooded the cobblestone streets in Charleston, reverberating throughout the marketplace with its string quartets and high-spirited piano. So instead, he talks about food.

“They fried anything and everything in the South,” he says, and she laughs her whiskey laugh, a little hoarse and ragged by the stale cigarettes that she often smokes. He can’t smoke anymore; the tobacco is shot all to hell, but she doesn’t know what a fresh cigarette tastes like. She just likes the way she looks when she smokes. “Fried turkey, fried shrimp, fried apples and fried green tomatoes.”

She wrinkles her nose. “Sounds gross,” she remarks, and he shakes his head, running his fingers through her mass of alabaster hair. It’s flawless, without a touch of gray to be found.

“It was wonderful.”

There is a silence then, and he relaxes into the sway of her music. Steel drums, the gentle swell of strings, the sound of hot summer nights and good times that died far, far too long ago. God, he used to love music, and now it only conjures up better days. Maybe he is getting old.

“Randy?”

Turning his head to her, he looks down at that painfully familiar face, the smattering of freckles tossed haphazardly across her unusual nose, the round cheeks that never lost their childhood ripeness. “Yes, ducks?” he asks, and she strokes his bare chest, reaching for the belt of his jeans.

“Will I ever grow old?” she asks, and he frowns at her.

“Don’t know,” he says truthfully. “You’re not a vampire, but you’re not quite human, either. Maybe. Why?”

She shrugs a little carelessly, avoiding the answer, but she has her own reasons for asking him this question. When they were driving down from Minnesota, passing through the barren remains of West Virginia, she saw an old couple sitting on the side of the road drinking hot beer, the woman smoking a cigarette with her gray hair withering on the breeze. It was a lovely sight, how much in love they were, how gentle and sheltered they were from the horrors of the world. Maybe they saw their entire lives through together, and so when the world crumbled, it did not really matter. She likes this thought.

“Just curious, I guess.”

Thunder rumbles in the distance and a storm is approaching for certain. She wonders about the integrity of the house. Will the glass shatter in the middle of the night when the wind pounds bullets of rain against the fragile exterior? Will the steel moorings underneath the house buckle and send the dwelling into the Atlantic? What is it like to die? All of these questions… She wants answers and she never gets them.

Nipping lightly on the elegant curve of her long neck, he snaps a little at her ear and makes her giggle. Laughter from her is like uncorking a bottle of expensive champagne -- pricey and perfect. “How long do you want to stay here?” he asks, and she shrugs her shoulders, unbuttoning his fly and dipping her fingers inside. Warm little hands play with his delicates and it feels divine. She’s a tigress in bed.

“Forever,” she says, and when he rolls his eyes she swats at his face with the palm of her hand. “God, I’m so only kidding. I don’t know, until the storms start to get boring. But I think I want to go to New York again soon.” Manhattan calls to her, beckons with its promise of flooding and people. She thinks that the island calls her in her dreams.

“All right,” he says easily, a little choked when she starts to cradle his balls in her rough, callused hand. She’s so fucking hot to the touch. His little volcano. “We’ll go whenever you want, pet. Whenever you want.” After all, he can’t deny her anything.

Anything but California.

*****

(end part two)

*****



Chapter Three: New York City, New York

*****

“Why does it always rain on me?

Is it because I lied when I was seventeen?

Why does it always rain on me?

Even when the sun is shining

I can’t avoid the lightning”

--Travis, “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?”

*****

“You know, I think that I was born in New York City. I don’t care where you fucking found me; I don’t have any connection to California, you know? I’ve always loved New York. It’s where everything is now. It’s where everything always was. How could I not be from New York? Maybe somewhere in Queens or Brooklyn, maybe the East Side or something. I don’t know, but there’s Manhattan in me and I know it.”

Every time they make the pilgrimage to New York, she always makes the same statement. She has an atlas of the United States, a map filled with highway markings that are irrelevant in the flooded ruins of the Big Apple, but she still marks wherever they are and where they are going in the good spirit of cartography. Maps are important to her because she has no geography of her own, and is therefore in constant search of somewhere that she can call home. Somewhere that she can be a part of.

She rocks the boat as she stands up and dances along to the music on the radio, enticing the batteries into working even though they have been long dead, and he watches her from the back of the boat, his snippet of poetry in motion. She’s decked out in turquoise, her one-armed shirt exposing the myriad of tattoos that run along her inner arm, even though artists beg her not to do it there since it’s so painful for women. She always laughs it off, but he can see her cry when they press the pen to her flesh.

Rain falls liberally from the skies, falling into the river that cuts through downtown Manhattan, and she loves the clouds in New York. Sunlight burns her, makes her feel ill and lightheaded, and she prefers the nighttime or at least the rain. She does not know that there was once a New York that had parades of people sweating as they paced down concrete streets in the humid month of August, or that it used to snow here and Central Park would be glazed over in white.

Bangle bracelets jingle on her slender arms as she tries to entice him into giving her a fuck in the middle of Times Square, and he loves her exhibitionism. It’s something that he treasures, something that he finds refreshing and invigorating, and it’s one of the reasons why he can never, ever be angry with her for everything that she did. It’s not her fault, and he knows this deep inside. She was not Joan then when she made those awful decisions, when she said those spiteful things, when she broke his heart and left him bleeding.

But Joan will not do these things to him. Joan will not hurt him, because she loves him. She loves him so deeply that she cannot stop kissing him sometimes, foregoing the breath that she barely needs and fixating on the man that she is addicted to. When they have sex, they make love and war all at once, and it’s the best thing that he has ever experienced. She is his compass, directing him across the country, taking him to the cities that she desires, and he’ll follow her anywhere.

Anywhere but California.

Sheets of rain pour down onto the new river that cuts through the city, turning Manhattan into a post-apocalyptic version of Venice, and he guides their makeshift gondola through the waters, watching as she places her hands on her head and shakes her fine little ass to the thick, propelling beats that her stereo blares, dipping her purple velvet hat lower over one eye, her sunburned skin cool and slick underneath the rainfall. Whenever he sees her, it is impossible to turn away. She is lovely, truly and completely, and he steers the loud motorboat through the river, never ripping his eyes away from her lithe, beautiful body.

Thoughtfully, she looks around the city and drinks in the atmosphere, looking down curiously at the atlas in her hands. “I wonder if I really was born here,” she murmurs, and behind her, he chuckles.

“You certainly act like you were,” he scoffs. “Got that snippy little New Yorker attitude, all holier-than-thou, like you’ll only shop at Saks and won’t touch anything that’s not Prada.” He shakes his head disdainfully. “Always hated those little high-society birds, flitting around asking about bank accounts and timeshares. Y’know, I think that’s why I left New York in the 80’s. All the punks turned into yuppies overnight.”

Shaking her head, she gives her lover a chiding glance. “I can’t believe you’d abandon this place over some uneducated losers turning from The Ramones to Huey Lewis,” she says wryly, twirling a braided piece of white hair around her index finger, giving him a sugary look. “I think I want to do my hair in cornrows again.”

He snorts. “Cornrows,” he says, shaking his head at her. “In case you didn’t notice, luv, you’re not black.” He chuckles. “Actually, you’re rather red.”

She rolls her eyes. “Ha, ha. Very cute.” With a whip of her slandered hair, she turns around to face the city with its drowning skyscrapers and toppled obelisks. What it must have been once… She wishes that she could light the city up again, that she possessed enough electricity within her strange system to make the neon lights of Time Square flicker and burn with fluorescent incandescence. In the distance, she sees the great spire of the Empire State Building leaning slightly to the right, broken by the massive weight of the tides that push against it.

Cold settles underneath her spine, and she shivers under the rains, moisture soaking into her turquoise top and plastering it to her body. She feels it on the horizon that there is something wicked building, like some extra sense inside of her is stirring and waking up. She cannot be alone tonight. She needs the others.

“Randy,” she calls, and he lifts his head from the back. “Let’s go out tonight. Have a few drinks, smoke a couple of blunts, cause some mayhem and destruction. Sound like fun?”

Of course, as always, he can never resist her.

*****

When the world ended, most of the world’s population died with it. Some were fortunate enough to die in the initial firestorm, the wicked flames that swept across the lands and devoured the modern world. Others were caught in the various incarnations of hell that popped up afterwards, freezing to death in the hideous blizzards that struck the dramatically changed West Coast or swallowed in the floods that claimed New York City. Still, there are those who survived.

They don’t consider themselves lucky.

Funny, the things that survive complete and total destruction. A sociologist would have a field day dissecting the strange culture that dominates post-apocalyptic America. Anarchy, naturally, but there is also the music. Everyone turns to hip-hop and hardcore rap nowadays, searching for the furious obscenities of outraged black men, and the drug culture is positively thriving. Any drug you want, you get. Want a joint to block out the memories of seeing your mother drowning in a pool of acid? It’s yours. Maybe a little Ecstasy will divert your attention from the snowfall blanketing the ruins of Hollywood. Just give a call.

Mouth to mouth, they kiss by the bar, underneath the candlelight, while the hum of a generator whirs endlessly in the background. Slowly, her tongue slides through his mouth, teasing the blunt incisors that could be fangs when he is hungry. His cool palm rests at the nape of her neck, fixing him to her in a slow duet of tongue and teeth, lips sweeping and slipping, and she passes the marijuana smoke to him like it’s a secret.

Chuckling, he pulls back and exhales a thin cloud of dissipated smoke, and she watches it sit heavily around their heads in the thick haze filling the makeshift bar. Music is everywhere, surrounding them and binding them. Ja Rule; it is one of her favorites. Outside, the rain is still there as always, cloaking the forgotten metropolis in an impenetrable veil of water. But fuck the rain for a minute. Inside it is warm, because she is there and she always provides warmth.

With a cool flick of her wrist, she ashes the blunt into a plastic ashtray and brings the weed back to her lips, wrinkling her nose a bit at the bitter taste of resin. “Not bad,” she says, her head a little dizzy from the pot. “I mean, it’s not the best weed I’ve ever had, but it sure beats that shit we found in Tennessee.”

He rolls his eyes at the marijuana connoisseur that he somehow raised. Sometimes, he wonders if this was the right thing to do. He shouldn’t have her. He’s a terrible person, an awful man, and the girl that he has made is sometimes too frightfully wrong for words. But she loves him. She loves him. It should be enough.

It has to be enough.

Exhaling another stream of foul-smelling smoke, she looks around her at the throng of people who flock to this place in search of company. New York City is still the capital of the world, even though its streets are now rivers and its skyscrapers lie toppled in the ruin. People know it by name and convene there in hopes of finding love. It is necessary for her to return to Manhattan every now and then to remind her how lost she would be without him. If he were not with her, then she would be nothing more than one of these wandering skeletons in search of happiness.

She is beginning to wonder what she is without him.

“Care to dance, peach?” he offers, and she turns her head to see him standing in front of her, looking appetizing underneath the roseate warmth of candlelight. It breaks her heart sometimes to doubt him, but she’s only human. Or whatever she is.

Tightly, she smiles at him and then shakes her head. “Appreciate the offer, but I think I’m going to cruise the crowd for a minute,” she says, passing him the blunt. “Maybe dig up a decent pack of smokes. You want one?”

The sigh of longing that he emits is answer enough, and she stands up, kissing him thoroughly. She loves him. She really, really does. But she has to see life for herself and not through the tinted glass of his battered Desoto. She needs to be without him, even for a few moments.

The heat in the crowded room intensifies as she cuts through the crowd of people, her body sparkling with the thousands of tiny turquoise sequins that cling to her dress. She’s a mermaid out of water, colored aquamarine and shimmering like scales clinging to her sunburned skin. Sterling silver jewelry catches the light and throws it mercilessly back at the people around her, and she knows that they are staring at her and her strange hair as she starts to dance.

“Always there when you call… Always on time…”

While he watches her from the bar, nursing a lukewarm beer, he thinks about the question that she asked him back in Savannah. Will she ever get old? Underneath the armor of her sequins, the thought seems impossible. She is the embodiment of youth, the very personification, and it brings a stabbing pain to his heart to remember someone younger than she, possessing the same energy, the same electricity, the same fervor and magic and blood.

_”You’re my best friend, you know,” she confessed to him, grinning that secret smile that made him feel something close to human. “I mean, I know it’s really weird and all to have a vampire for a best friend, but it’s the truth.” She threw her arms around him before he could say anything back and arched her eyebrow. “So, want to go get pizza?”_

There is a tattoo on the small of her back that has been there from the beginning. A name, written in English and in ink, without any of the unusual flairs for language that she always uses when she selects her multitude of tattoos. Often, she will wonder where it came from, what it means, and what it meant to her before she lost her memory. Whenever she asks him what he thinks, he thinks about the promise that he made. Never tell. Keep it a secret. Give her a new life. A better life.

_“Randy, what do you think ‘DAWN’ means?”_

But what good can her life be without that?

In the middle of the dance floor, she revels in her anonymity. Granted, she is almost always nameless, almost always without a port of call, but amidst the others she does not feel so alone, so discarded. No one here has any name, and as she dances with a stranger she feels like they are all just strangers, cast around the world by luck. She doesn’t believe in fate. She doesn’t like the idea of things being that far out of her control.

And then, fate intervenes.

At first glance, she is nothing more than a pile of rubies and gold, her tan leather pants clinging desperately to her curvaceous body. Dark piles of mahogany curls stream around her face in wisps and clips of red-shot brown, and the red velvet tube top reveals all of her delectable brown skin. Life and vivacity seems to pour out from her, and even in the din of the club, she is instantly noticeable. Instantly connected.

Garnets sparkle on her lush mouth as she curves her lips into a smile, and her mouth is moist and wet, like she has been licking icicles. They would melt underneath the intense heat of this girl, and for a moment, she thinks that she *knows* her. She has never known anyone in her life, but this woman… She must know here somehow. They are intertwined.

The smirk spreads into a smile as the women circle each other, one glistening in garnets and the other twinkling in turquoise. “Well, well, well,” the brunette finally says, shaking her head at the other woman. “Imagine that. Meeting up with you, of all people, in all places. Guess God’s got a sense of humor after all.”

Blinking a little, she shakes her head. “I don’t believe in God,” she says, and the scarlet-clad woman’s smile widens.

“Neither do I.”

The music sparks up with the long twangs of an electric guitar, and thick, rapturous bass follows it. “Come my lady, come, come, my lady, you’re my butterfly, sugar, baby…” The firelight of the candles jumps, twitches noticeably, until all of the candles seem to be compiled into a large inferno, searing throughout the club, reaching out with talons of flame.

Together, the women begin to dance, red and blue, dark and light. Red and brown fingers entwine, and velvet and sequins move together in a symphony of sparkles and depth. Threads of thick white hair shimmer in her eyes, but all that she can see is the brunette. She cannot stop looking at her, at the thick rage that sits unsatisfied in the woman’s dark olive eyes. They remind her of the Georgian skies before the hurricanes strike, thick and violent, promising chaos. They remind her of something unattainable, just barely out of her reach. Pulling, pulling for the face, but she can’t place it…

The brunette’s dainty fingers slide up her thigh, disappearing briefly underneath the sequins and sinking into the sea. A sudden, unabashed cry explodes from her lips when the wild woman slides her finger between her thighs, and the brunette chuckles. “Always knew you were hot for me, B.”

Confused but uncontrollably aroused, the white-haired woman shudders and rotates her hips a little, begging the other woman to drop her fingers a little more, to touch a little more thoroughly, to fuck her until she screamed. “Am not,” she protests, and the woman laughs.

“Liar,” she says, her voice sharp and cutting. Amusement sparks in the woman’s dark olive eyes as she looks at her bared shoulders, at the writings and etchings inked into her skin by the blazing skill of a tattoo artist. “Like the new tats, though. Very… Autobiographical. All that time in the slammer and I didn’t come out with any. I figured that the inmates wouldn’t do such a good job, you know?”

She nods her head, eyelashes fluttering with the beginnings of ecstasy as the fingers stroke the swollen inner lips unfurling between her thighs. Blood pumps thick and hard through her veins, and she is helpless against this woman’s touch. Like lightning. The woman touches like lightning. “Oh, God,” she whispers, and then gasps when a delicate fingertip enters her. “Oh…”

Chuckling, the woman leans in closer and licks her earlobe, brushing back her white hair with her fingers. “I love that you tattooed my name into your skin,” she murmurs, and all time stops as the woman’s fingertips slide down her exposed shoulder and trace out the foreign symbol embossing her skin. “Faith looks so pretty in Vietnamese.”

Faith. B. This woman knows her, saw her before she lost everything. She holds the secrets to her dark history in the curls of her hair, the flash of her eyes, the cocky language spitting out of her wicked mouth. Startled, she steps back, blinking her eyes. Play along. Pretend that you know her. Lie like a bitch if you have to. Find out what she knows.

Smiling, she steps back and arches her eyebrow. “Couldn’t ever forget you,” she says, and Faith laughs viciously, bitterly, like every word is acid.

“Yeah, right,” she spits. “You sure forgot about me when I went to fucking jail, B. Sure forgot to send Faith a couple of letters, tell me what the fuck was going on. You know, I could have helped you if you’d just let me in on everything. If you weren’t so fucking above everything, so high and goddamn mighty, if you had just *asked*, then maybe we could’ve saved this place from going all to hell. But no, you had to stand alone, didn’t you? Had to save the day and take all the guts and the glory, right, princess?”

Sneering, Faith steps closer, digging her fingernail painfully into her sensitive, sunburned skin. She can’t help but cry out, not from ecstasy, but from pain and the horrible sense of fear. “Bet you regret it now, huh?” she snickers. “Bet you’re real sorry, now that everyone’s dead and you’re all alone in the world. Tell me, Buff, did it hurt to see her bleed? Did you cry when she was gone?”

All around the room, the candles are beginning to flare up like dynamite. They burn and flicker urgently as the bile rises in her throat, the knots twisting inside of her stomach and the electricity leaping inside of her veins. Can’t be. What the fuck? Oh, God. What is going on? Who is she? What is she?

Furiously, Faith grabs her face and brings it close to hers, forcing the full power of her ruthless hazel eyes. Dead eyes. Eyes that hold no hope, no joy. Nothing but anger and the insane need for revenge. “You always wanted to take everything away from me,” she hisses. “Fucking bitch. Always had to have it all. Now are you happy? Happy that no one has anything because of you? All, all because of you.”

“Stop!” she cries out, pushing Faith away from her, and there’s a strong hand on her back, cold fingers releasing her from the turbulent, nauseating heat searing through her body. Stumbling backwards, she breathes a sigh of relief when she recognizes it as his body, and that is when Faith begins to laugh.

“Oh, God, that’s rich,” she says between fits of roaring laughter. A nasty light sparks in her eye as she circles him, leering at him openly in a manner that makes her want to slap the brown-haired vixen. “Well, well, Spike. Looks like you got your wish. Congratulations.”

Spike. What the fuck? What the fuck is this? Confused beyond belief and pained by everything that she has heard, she turns to him and gives the woman a horrified look as he clenches his jaw and glares coldly at the woman. “Get out of here,” he snarls. “Get out of here while you’ve still got the chance.”

Faith laughs that crazy, stilted laugh that only the unhinged can project properly. The sound of breaking glass. The smell of burning rubber. The taste of dirt. “Fuck you,” she says, and the bar explodes into flame.

All because she knew her name.

*****

(end part three)

*****



Chapter Four: Boston, Massachusetts

*****

“In the cathedrals of New York and Rome

There is a feeling that you should just go home

And spend a lifetime finding out just where that is”

--Jump, Little Children, “Cathedrals”

*****

Who is Joan?

Standing in the middle of the barren, scorched highway, staring blankly and dully at the shells of butchered houses, the blackened bodies crumbling into ash where foundation and sturdiness once reigned, she looks like a wraith in white. Snakes and slivers of alabaster dart ruthlessly around her slender, pretty face, twist and snarl around her shoulders, and the tattoos scream out the history that she cannot unlock as she stands barefoot in the black soil.

When she first realized that she had no memory, he was the one who suggested the tattoos. “No reason not to,” he said. “Already got that big one on your back, right? May as well keep going.” It was a way to make the fragile permanent, the delicate into evidence. She could solidify her tenuous hold on her past by simply etching reminders and snippets into her skin. But she has always regarded them as separate entities, not related to one another. Names that she dreams about. Phrases that she has uttered. Places she might have visited.

What does her skin say when everything is strung together?

Glory. Fireman in the floods. You haven’t even begun. Joyce. Close your eyes. Love’s bitch. Scooby. Willow. 730. Death is my gift. Going through the motions. The Master. Angelus. Shallow cuts. Moment of happiness. A creature worth saving. The Harvest. Jenny. Is this hell. The Initiative. Class Protector. Hellmouth. Xander. Let it burn. Faith.

Dawn.

It is the centerpiece of everything, like all of the other markings orbit around this first tattoo, its plain lettering and bold, unforgiving English. Ever since she first saw herself in the mirror, first read the word cut into her skin, she has wondered what it means. Is it a warning not to set foot into the sunlight? Is it the hope of being awash in summer again? But now she is beginning to think that it is the one thing that connects all of these other fragments and segments together. It is evidence. It is an accusation.

It is the key.

White surgical gauze rests snugly against the newest marking on her left arm, and she cannot bring herself to peel it back yet to have a peek. When she lay in the tattoo chair and had the man etch it into her skin, he could not watch her. His long limbs stretched hopelessly in front of him, and he looked away, closing his eyes like every hum of the pen pained him. Like he was the one getting branded. The entire time, she stared at him and wondered what it all meant. What all of this really is.

She is beginning to disbelieve him, and it’s starting to tear her apart.

He taught her everything that she knows. When she woke up disoriented and terrified in the backseat of his car, he was the one who turned around and asked her if she was all right. He was the one who ran his hands down her back and soothed her when she first walked into the sunlight and was scorched by it. She will forever associate the scent of aloe lotion with the touch of his hands. But did he really teach her everything? Did he leave the most important pieces out?

Did he know her before she lost everything?

Sweeping leather swirls around his legs as he approaches, and he looks like the warrior that she knows he is and can be. They have often caused destruction together, though she knows his wound and knows that he cannot drink. How many times has she stolen blood for him? How many times has she treated his wounds? These questions are unending, and she hates him. She never questioned him before New York City. Never questioned him before Faith.

But Faith called him a different name than the one that he introduced himself with. Faith, with her red velvet smile and her poisonous eyes. She hates the woman like she has never hated anyone before in her life, and this hatred is based on the simple, stupid fact that the woman made her question everything. All of the pieces of the puzzle are etched into her skin, and she suffered for it because she thought that it was the only way.

What would he do if she were to ask him the truth? Lie to her? Tell her that he knows nothing? She is beginning to have more vivid dreams, more intense nightmares, and the past is unfurling before her eyes whenever she falls helplessly into slumber. The smile of a redheaded girl with witch’s eyes, the way an elegant, tired man cleans his glasses whenever he is uncertain. Pieces of the mystery, shards of history. She is afraid to piece them all together.

But she knows now that she has to in order to stay alive.

Cool fingers brush her hair away from the nape of her neck and she does not turn around to look at him. The striking planes of his face are all lies to her now. Deceit pools in those stunning, deadly sapphire eyes. “I found a church up here that we can stay in tonight,” he murmurs, and she nods her head softly, lowering her eyes when she turns around.

It kills him that she cannot face him anymore.

Faith. Fucking Faith, of all people, standing in the middle of New York City and spreading her poisonous anger to everyone like a venereal disease. Now his lover can barely bring herself to kiss him, stares hopelessly into mirrors and endlessly reads the tattoos scattered across her body. The vow that he made is starting to wear on him, and he knows that the time for honesty is nigh. Honesty. What the fuck can he possibly tell her? How can he ever bring all of this back when he’s done his best to make himself forget?

_”She doesn’t remember anything. Leave it that way.”_

No one ever gave him any instructions on what to do if she started remembering. He didn’t prepare for meeting anyone that they might have known in their past. Everyone is dead, incinerated in the conflagration of the world, but somehow Faith survived. Not fair. Not bloody fair at all.

Silence whispers throughout the stunning architecture of the abandoned cathedral, wind murmuring past shattered windows that carry the images of the divine. Stained glass Christ stares down at them like they are trespassers as they enter the church of the damned, and all around them is the scent of death. There were people here when the world fell, bent down on their knees and clinging to rosaries when the flames scorched through the land and left them all for dead. Black ashes that once were bone and marrow lay scattered haphazardly on the scorched red carpeting, and the interior of the cathedral is charred and blackened from the flames.

Amidst all of the ruination, she stands out like a bright ghost, her hair a white flame twisting and writhing down her reddened back, the white dress slipping slightly off of her sunburned shoulders. How ironic that she is wearing a rosary made of turquoise, like she knew somehow that this is where they would end up. Her haunted eyes take in all of the scenery of the cathedral as she walks slowly down the aisle, swallowing the bitter medicine of the end of the world. Normally, she would ask him questions, make him laugh, take his mind off of all the carnage that he used to delight in. Now, she is numbed to it.

She’s all grown up now.

Disdainfully, he brushes ashes off of a pew and sits down in it, hearing the charred cedar creak and moan underneath his weight. “Lovely place,” he says sarcastically, and she says nothing to him, approaching the altar of the cathedral. He cannot follow her that far because it is consecrated against him, and the power of all of the religion and mythology inside of the cathedral makes him weak, burning into his skin with the force of a thousand crucifixes. “Needs a spot of redecorating, though.”

Blazing albino hair swings as she turns around to face him, her eyes dark and sad as she looks at him. “Did I believe in God?” she asks, and the question lets him know that everything he barely held together is now falling apart at the seams. She has never asked him about her past before. She always took his word that he did not know her. Now, because of one stupid girl in crimson velvet, she doesn’t believe him.

It’s a terribly familiar feeling.

“I don’t know,” he says, and she sighs. Lies. He knows.

“Don’t lie to me,” she says tiredly, and she tilts her head at him with a sad smile on her face. “Did I tell you that I dreamed last night? I’ve been doing a lot of dreaming lately. Makes me a little afraid to go to sleep, actually. The dreams are pretty bad. But you were there last night. Standing in an alleyway, smoking a cigarette, clapping your hands sarcastically. You told me that we’d meet again on Saturday. You told me that you’d kill me.”

Pained, he closes his eyes. He remembers that. Remembers how arrogant he used to be, how much he delighted in the idea of her death. Plotted for it, ached for her blood, yearned for the sensation of snapping her bones between his hands. And now, she remembers, too.

“Yeah,” he mutters. “I was a real asshole back then.”

Her voice is broken when she speaks to him. “You knew me,” she says, her voice fragile and accusatory all at once. “Why did you lie to me? You told me that you didn’t know who I was, but you’re in all of my dreams now. I see you every night when I go to sleep. Taunting me, chaining me to walls, throwing your fists at me. You hated me.”

Slowly, he shakes his head, giving her a sorry smile. “Wrong,” he says. “I loved you. Loved you more than you’d ever let me.”

Desperately, she throws her head back and closes her eyes, running her hands nervously through her mass of white hair. “I can’t take it. Can’t take any of this. I loved you so much, so much that it hurts, and…” Her eyes squeeze shut, her face a portrait of the most exquisite pain. Years ago, he would have killed to see her in such torment. Now, it just kills him. “I don’t know anything anymore. Right back to square fucking one, Randy.” A spurt of hysterical laughter chills him to the bone. “Or is that your real name? Or is it this?”

One furious, fantastic gesture rips the white gauze from her left shoulder, revealing the harsh, jagged lettering of her newest tattoo. It accuses him with its killing structure, with its hateful penmanship: “SPIKE”.

Wincing, he turns his face away from her, choosing instead to look at a ruined stained glass representation of the Virgin Mary. “Yes,” he hisses. “It’s Spike. Happy now?”

“No!” she cries, her awful, beautiful hair settling around her shoulders in a shower of snow. “God, no. I’m not happy. I was, once. You made me so fucking happy, with all of your lies and your promises. Tattoo yourself, Joan. The bad dreams don’t count, Joan. Only the present matters, Joan. Remember all that bullshit you fed me?” Her voice lowers into a hoarse whisper. “Is that even my name? Do you know my name, Spike?”

He knows it. It haunts him in all of his dreams, but she never bothers to ask about what he dreams about at night. Nightmares painted in holocaustic colors of red and gold. Candlelit effigies for the dead life he used to live. Images of a beautiful girl with beautiful golden hair, swooping in for the kill because she hated him more than she hated anything else on the planet. He knows her name all too well.

“Buffy. Your name is Buffy Anne Summers.”

She screams, howls out her anguish and relief, damned and freed in the knowledge of her forgotten name. “Bastard!” she spits, throwing a scorched silver candelabra at him, narrowly missing his head. It doesn’t matter. He’s used to her throwing things at him. He once had years of practice. “You knew this entire time! The entire fucking time!” She wilts a little, her heart breaking openly on her face. Fuck the idea that people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Hers is written all over her body, inked permanently into her skin. “What else do you know? Do you know everything?”

Resignation settles in, and he thinks that this is what she must have felt once on that crappy platform made of debris, preparing herself for suicide. He hopes that she felt more liberated and less doomed. “I know a lot,” he says finally, looking down at his hands, unable to look at her face or all of her fucking tattoos. “Knew you for four years before all of this happened. Knew you forever.”

Limply, her arms lie at her sides, and she looks more exhausted than angry as she walks down the aisle of the church, that gorgeous hair drifting slightly around her shoulders and face, pouring down her back. She sits beside him on the creaking, groaning pew and looks pleadingly into his eyes. “Who was I?” she asked. “Do you know what I am? What’s wrong with me?”

She always asks so many questions, but the answers usually don’t hurt so much. Licking his dry lips, he picks up a fine section of her plain linen dress, missing all of the bright and dazzling colors that she used to wear. “You were a girl,” he says simply. “Beautiful girl who lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood in a fucking awful town in California.” Startled, she looks up and he grimaces. “Yeah, California. Now you know why I won’t go back.

“But you were more than a girl. You were a Slayer. Killed my kind, hunted down the demons, saved the world more than anyone should ever have to. You had a miserable time of it and you had a wonderful time of it. Suffered more than your fair share until it hurt your face to smile, so you just stopped grinning after a while. Had friends, had lovers, had terrible taste in music and a white girl’s rhythm when you danced.” He smiles sorrowfully. “And I fell in love with you.”

A memory sparks in her mind then, burning and searing through the thin film of lies that she protects herself with. Him, in a dark alleyway yet again, holding a pool cue and taunting her with the knowledge that he could kill her. Talking about dancing.

_”That’s all we’ve ever done.”_

“Did I love you back?” she asks softly, and he shakes his head in grief, that mournful smile still fading on his harsh face.

“No,” he confesses. “You hated me. Said we were mortal enemies.” He chuckles. “You were right, of course. We were mortal enemies. Just so happened that I had to blur the line by falling head over ass in love with you, and you never forgave me for it.” He swallows, tells her the worst part. “You hated me until the end.”

In the last ten years that she has spent in this condition, living in a collapsed world, she has learned that lies are as commonplace as the sight of a dead body or a puddle of unexplained blood. Deceit is part of the scenery, and in order to survive, she has to peel back the layers and steal the truth. Yet she never thought that the lies would cover him. She never thought that love was a lie.

She shakes her head at him. “I don’t know what to do,” she whispers. “I just need to know everything. I can’t take this anymore. I have to know who I am. I’m nothing now.”

He can’t keep the tremor out of his fingers when he brushes her cheek with his hand. “You’re wrong,” he says softly. “You’re Joan, remember? Can’t that be enough?”

They both know that it will never be enough. She is a product of her own fantasies, covered in memories that she can only barely hang onto, and she is afraid of all that she is and all that she will become. The man that she thought she loved has turned out to be nothing more than a pathetic liar, and the woman that she thought she was is just a dream. A nightmare from which she has only just woken up.

A muscle near his jaw twitches, and he closes his eyes. “You want all the answers, pet?” he murmurs. “Fine. Get some sleep. Long road ahead of us.” He buries his face in his hands and tries to hide from what he tells her next. “Tomorrow, we head for California.”

California.

Shaken and disturbed, she stands up and wraps her arms over her chest. The stained glass windows stare at her in accusation and sympathy, this lost little lamb all alone in the world with nothing but a thin guise of lies to protect her. Bowing her head, she turns to walk away from him, needing to be alone, until a question runs through her mind and she cannot escape it.

“What does the tattoo mean, Spike?”

Funny, how he wishes that he were Randy again. He hated that name for so long. Now, he craves it. “Dawn,” he murmurs. It’s been ten years since he spoke her name. “She was your sister. Don’t make me say the rest of it. Give me until California.” He can’t tell her the rest of it tonight. Can’t tell her why she is who she is now.

She just closes her eyes and wonders if she’ll still be sane by California.

*****

(end part four)

*****



Chapter Five: Reno, Nevada

*****

“Coming all the way to Reno

You’ve written your own directions

Challenged the laws of change

You know who you are

You’re gonna be a star”

--REM, “All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be A Star)”

*****

“What if you woke up one morning and couldn’t remember who you were? Didn’t remember anything about yourself, anything about the world you were living in, anything about the people you loved or the history you made? Would you flip out? Go a little psycho? Would you try to find out? Or… Would you maybe be a little relieved? I know that sounds terrible, but that’s sort of what I did. I think the reason I let myself go ten years without knowing anything about myself is because I didn’t really want to know. I think that I knew it was bad.

“But fuck, man, I didn’t know that it was this bad…”

She has been sitting at the bar for forty-five minutes. He knows; he has been keeping time on his watch. She won’t talk to him, won’t glance in his direction, and it is beginning to hurt his feelings. Fuck, what can he do about it? He has given her a million reasons in the past two weeks never to speak to him again. Liar. Bastard. Control freak. Would-be artist. She calls him these names in poisonous tongues, slaps his face, fucks him hard and then throws holy water in his face.

Simplicity is now her style. No more fanciful colors, no more turquoise sequins and red feather boas. Kiss the plastic Mardi Gras beads good-bye. Make your peace with the cornrows and the tight little shorts that showed off her fantastic red legs. She’s thrown them all out in exchange for white shifts that leave most of her tattooed skin exposed. The ink hurts him every time he looks at her. She uses her tattoos as weapons, throwing words and phrases at him, abandoning him in the middle of the day while he sleeps to go mark herself up again.

What wonderful new words she has now. What devastating memories she can now select from. The latest one glares at him with a condescending attitude that he cannot believe she remembers:

“You’re beneath me.”

What does he call her now? Is she Buffy or Joan? He thinks that she is a lifeless ghost of these two remarkable women, someone who is distraught with the fact that she has lost herself as always, something dead and rotting. Memory. Memory is the most terrible punisher in the world. For the first time, he thinks that he understands it all.

Fuck, he never will.

The bartender is drooling all over her and she knows it. She looks lovely in white, with all of her red skin exposed and her blinding hair down around her shoulders. All night long, his eyes have been wandering over her body and reading the words engraved into her skin. Does he understand them? Does he know what she is from the words in her body and the sentences strung together like black pearls? Can he decode the mystery like Spike refuses to do?

Spike. Randy. She doesn’t know who he is anymore, and they are beginning to fall apart underneath the great pressure of the world’s collapse. They are approaching California now, the vast wasteland that is the key to her past, and with every mile that they make she thinks she is coming together or falling apart. They argue constantly, and she cannot bear the sight of him. Every glance is just another reminder of a lie that he has told her. Even his own name…

“So, what’s your name, sugar plum?” the bartender teases, and she doesn’t know how to answer him. She always thought that she was Joan, the white- haired fury of a girl who loved a vampire and could make the fire burn brighter. But is she Buffy now, the Slayer, the warrior, the sister? All of her words and memories are painted on her back. She cannot deny who and what she is.

“I don’t know,” she says honestly. “I can’t ever get that question right, no matter how many times someone asks me.” She shakes it off and taps her glass. “Want to go ahead and refill my drink? You remember what I had?”

He nods his head. “Sure,” he said. “You had a Manhattan.” Out of the corner of her eye, she sees him shake his head and snort out a bitter laugh. She hopes that he remembers what a mistake New York City was for him. If it wasn’t for the Big Apple, he would still have his life made out of lies and she might still have a shred of compassion for him. Fuck him. Fuck everything he has ever told her. He didn’t tell her shit. “That’s gonna be five bucks, though.”

A tight smile stretches her lips. “Wrong,” she says. “You’re not charging me anything for it, buddy.” She leans in and beckons him near with her eyes, daring him to make contact, begging him to give her the intimacy that she craves. “Did she pay for her drinks when she was here the other night? Or did you just let the tab slide because you were scared of her?”

Startled, the bartender pulls back, clutching his bottle of Midori close to his chest. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he stutters, and she laughs, resting her elbow on the bar and playfully twirling with a strand of white hair.

“I think you do,” she taunts. “Pretty little redheaded woman? Funky black eyes? Probably mumbling something about magic and women?” Her eyes flash at him and she feels it; it’s a strange, burning sensation blazing behind her corneas, searing through her senses. Something is different. Something is new, changing inside of her, and she feels it ripping through her bloodstream, screaming through her system, begging for release. Unleash hell. Unleash everything.

Frightened, the bartender steps back even more, backing into the tower of dusty liquor bottles that he has collected since the end of the world. One topples over and spills cheap tequila onto the floor, the glass smashing with a satisfying noise that almost makes her purr. “She… She was only here for a little while. Said something about going to L.A. for a day, something about waiting for someone. I don’t remember everything.”

Casually, she arches her eyebrow at the pool of tequila at his feet, and then gives him a flirtatious smile, reaching inside of her plain white dress and procuring a worn book of matches. “Think a little bonfire might jog your memory?” she asks, and it’s a sick, twisted pleasure when he begins to sweat blood. “Do you want to know something really interesting? I bet you never would have guessed this one.” She leans in conspiratorially. “I used to be a Slayer.”

The vampire bartender moans, shakes his head. From a distance, he watches with a look of total and utter dispassion, because he knows that she’ll kill him without a second thought. For the past ten years, he has tried to deter her from following the path that once killed her. But blood is calling now, the electric blood that she possesses, the fucked-up need that once tormented her and now seduces her. Ten years is nothing compared to instinct.

“Sunnydale,” the bartender gasps. “She said something about Sunnydale.”

Gratefully, she smiles at him, and he closes his eyes before she throws the match on the ground anyway.

Hell breaks loose in that moment as the other demons and vampires scream as the bartender bursts into alcohol-soaked flames. He opens his eyes and sees her eyes glowing feral, furious yellow-gold, like ambers burning, and the fire engulfs the tower of old liquor bottles that stands furiously behind the bar. A furious explosion sounds, and there is bright flame everywhere, dancing on the bartop, mingling with her wild, pained laughter.

A snarl sounds, and he watches painfully as a demon tries to tackle her to the ground, only to be deterred by the elegant sweep of her leg as she throws him to the burning floor instead. The sound of agonizing screams fills the bar, and in the distance, a broken-down jukebox suddenly lights up, playing the music that she loves. Furious hip-hop blares throughout the blazing bar, accompanying her brutal ballet as she flawlessly disposes of two vampires, impaling them on an upturned barstool.

“Bitch!” one older vampire snarls. He has come prepared for a fight and wields a sharp, handcrafted axe that glints vivid carmine in the heat of the inferno. For a moment, her eyes return to that mournful shade of green that he fell in love with over a decade ago, and he can’t let her do this alone. He never can stand idly by while she is chopped to pieces, even when he fails to save her. Slamming down his lukewarm beer, he takes the jagged remains of the bottle and throws the glass into the vampire’s face. The demon howls and the screams don’t register with him. Fuck him. He made her a promise. Made her a vow.

_”You have to protect her.”_

Before he can finish the job, a poor substitute for a stake appears and slips into the vampire’s chest with a disgusting, bone-curdling sound of wood entering flesh. The vampire stares in shock at the vampire who has betrayed him by aligning with the Slayer, and his accusing eyes dissolve along with the rest of him into nothing more than dust.

Flames jump and leap around them, but their enemies are gone. They stare at each other with damning eyes, and she suddenly slams her fist into his face, making him spit bitter blood and stagger backwards. “Like a good fight, Spike?” she taunts, stepping closer, her hair wild and smeared with demon’s blood. She looks primal. She looks dangerous. It breaks his fucking heart that he’s not her Randy anymore.

But she's not his Joan anymore, either. She has been doing this the whole trek to California, the whole damned way. Looking for fights, looking for ways to make him hate her. She kills without thought now, her anger and rage at her condition spilling forth in a shower of blood that is never her own. Look at me, she seems to scream. Look at what you made me. And she is right. He made her this way, this vicious killer, this bad and naughty girl in sunburned skin.

He wants to throw up.

There is a swirl of white fabric and then her stiletto heel connects solidly with his face. He thinks he hears his jaw break, but the pain is minimal compared to what he feels when he looks at her shattered eyes. “Does it hurt?” she snarls. “Bet you’re regretting a whole lot of shit now, aren’t you? Bet you’re regretting all of it.”

Ah, this is so familiar. Memories of her run through his head like arsenic- laced sugarplums. Slip of a girl with long blonde hair spitting insults at him and throwing money at him in the middle of an alley. Cold, frozen woman closing the door in his face, expelling him from her household. Furious, anguished angel slamming him into walls and scarring his heart before fucking him into the night. He remembers all of it while she snarls at him and throws another fist into his stomach.

Wincing, he falls backward and tries to fight it off. The urge to return to the eternal dance they had always committed to, the fury and the spitting. But she is still on fire, the bar blazing behind her with the awful stench of burning wood and liquor. It smells like a spontaneously combusting wino. “You think you know so much,” he mutters, and she smiles hatefully, throwing him against a wall and grabbing him by the lapels of his leather duster.

“You know more than you’d ever let me know,” she accuses, and then with a burning vengeance, she kisses him hard, bruising his mouth with the hot weight of her lips. Sharp teeth bite at his lower lip, her fingernails dig into his neck and draw blood, and her body is crushed against his like she can bury herself in his body.

Glass shatters behind them as she throws him onto a rickety table, causing the wood to splinter and break, and then she straddles him, unbuckling his trousers and settling the intense heat of her over him. “Is this how it used to be, Spike?” she taunts. “How you used to fuck me before you tricked me into falling in love with you?” When he says nothing, it only serves to fan the fire, and she slams his head into the floor. “Answer me, goddammit!”

“Yeah,” he says hoarsely, and a wild laugh falls from his mouth as she grinds her hips onto his, all of her electric heat threatening to send him into flames. “Just like this, ducks. We made buildings collapse.”

She screams and it doesn’t bother him; she screams a lot nowadays. Like the pain is too much for her body to contain. Like the anguish is spilling out of her in volcanic fits and spurts.

“Fuck!” she howls, slamming him against the wall, and she melts for a moment against his body, the coolness of him briefly soothing the furious heat pumping through her veins, surrounding her with flames, seeping through her skin. She’s so tired of fighting, but she can’t stop this rage from leaking from her. Everything is so hot and she needs him inside of her now, needs him to take the awful heat away and make her whole again.

Flames snarl and crackle around them, the roar of the fire intensifying as she pins him to the wall and bites at his neck, taunting him with his vampirism, wondering if this is how their story should go. “Did I fuck you like this?” she whispers cruelly, tearing his shirt away from his body with her strong, painfully hot hands. “Don’t lie, Spike. You’ve done enough of that to last me a lifetime.”

Three, actually, but fuck it, who’s counting?

The worst is that he still can’t resist her. Love is permanent and stubborn and refuses to flee him when he should push her away. Even in the past, he knew that this would only destroy her, but he never imagined that her ashes would still be so beautiful. When she brings her mouth to his chest and starts trailing kisses down his body, arousal is sudden and damning, and he moans as he arches his back, begging her to stop and begging her to continue. Roughly, she unzips his fly and then gives him a furious, heartbroken look.

“Why can’t I stop loving you?” she demands, her eyes painfully bright. “I should hate you, but I can’t…”

With a swirl of white fabric, she hikes her dress above her hips and throws off the skimpy pair of plain white silk panties, throwing them into the flames and letting the silk incinerate. A shudder runs through his system and she notices it, his long lashes resting on his cheeks, like he can’t bear to look at her. “Open your eyes,” she demands, wrapping her arms around him, pulling his hard cock out of the fly of his jeans. “I want you to see what you’ve done while you’re doing it.”

They collide in a storm of flawless white skin and blazing red, and he remembers this part all too well. Spinning around, he slams her against the wall and she threads her legs around his waist, screaming when he enters her, head slamming against the dirty brick wall. Gasping, sweat breaks out on her brow while he thrusts inside of her, and she digs her jagged fingernails into the nape of his neck, the half-moon wounds oozing dark blood as they fuck.

Once, they made love in abandoned hotel rooms, on storm-swept beaches while dunes rustled behind them, in flooded skyscrapers. She would moan in ecstasy while he caressed her nether regions with his mouth and he would stroke her furious snowy hair with his fingers while her head bobbed over his erect cock. They were poetic when they were together, something unbelievably beautiful, and now they are just playing war like they used to do.

Writhing against the wall, her back raw from being scraped against the old bricks, she bites at his earlobe and makes him moan, heat burning inside of her belly, churning inside of her stomach, emanating from her skin and scalding his cold flesh. “Spike!” she screams, and a thousand images of him flash through her mind, compiled from several different histories. Spike, Randy, Spike, Randy, Spike…

When she comes, she doesn’t know who has just fucked her. She doesn’t understand, but the entire bar shoots up in flames, and then as she comes down from the dreadful climax, the flames begin to wither and fade. Smoke billows through the air as he buries his face in her neck and orgasms, holding onto her like she might disappear with the dying fires.

A dead expression fills her eyes, and she slowly pushes him away from her, forcing him to put her down on her feet again. They say nothing, merely looking at each other, missing what they used to have and what was destroyed by the revelations of the past. History is a destructive force; he knows this now. He thinks that he understands it for the first time.

_”I think it might break her.”_

It has broken the both of them.

Coldly, dispassionately, she smoothes her white dress with her hands and refuses to look at him as she ties her mass of white hair at the nape of her neck. “The bartender said she was going to Sunnydale,” she says listlessly. “That’s the name tattooed over my heart. What does it mean?”

Ironically, he cocks his head at her and zips up his jeans. His legs are shaking. “Home is where the heart is, pet,” he murmurs, and she nods her head, throwing him a bottle of whiskey like it’s some sort of great gift. Drunkenness is probably a good place to be right now.

“Then we’re going home.”

Before she can leave him, he calls out to her in a tired, beaten voice. “Tell me why,” he says, just as he always says, and she stills herself, hand on the doorknob, ready to run.

“Because you’re convenient, Spike.”

As she walks out the door, he can only laugh bitterly, wistfully, heartbrokenly. How funny life is. How amusing history can be. It repeats itself constantly, twisting and twining into a circle, and now he has returned to square one again.

She only fucks him to bleed.

*****

(end part five)

*****



Chapter Six: Sunnydale, California

*****

“Oh, but California

California

Won’t you take me as I am?

Strung out on another man

California, I’m coming home”

--Joni Mitchell, “California”

*****

Once upon a time, the land of California was all sunshine and champagne, yogurt and youth, Hollywood and happiness. Palm trees lined wealthy boulevards showcasing elaborate houses and enormous swimming pools, while Malibu mansions glimmered cleanly on the waterfronts. The biggest concern that Californians had was whether or not wasabi martinis were still in style.

Now, there aren’t very many Californians left.

With a wicked howl, wind spins through the forgotten city and throws snow at the hollow husks of houses, the abandoned streets, the skeletons of abandoned automobiles. Everything has been paved over with white, the rivers coated with thick, vicious layers of ice. Dead, barren trees lay broken in the streets, the weight of ice and cold bringing them to their knees. Some of the houses are broken. Some of them are merely gone.

She tries to tell herself that none of this is real; this is all just another hallucination or a bad dream. If she pinches herself, maybe she will wake up and all of this will be over. She’ll be warm, tucked into her lover’s arms again, sweetly sleeping underneath the thick heat of June sunlight pouring in through the open window, slicked in sweat and happy. Happier than she has ever been before.

But Willow will never wake up.

Gracelessly, she stumbles as she walks down the middle of Main Street, her eyes seeing everything around her but not really registering it, not hitting home like it should. She thinks that she should feel some sort of regret when she looks around. She knows that she is home, that she is where she once grew up, but it doesn’t… She doesn’t know. Nothing really feels right.

It might be the fact that she’s gone.

Threads of silver and gold suddenly stream past her vision and there’s the warmth again, the heat of the sun compacted and poured inside of her body, keeping her away from the blustery winds pebbling snow in her face. She rises above the ground, hovering over the streets, floating aimlessly down the abandoned road which used to cut through her childhood. There’s the ice cream store where she used to order banana splits with hot fudge on hot July days. It only serves cobwebs now.

Swirls of black cloud her vision momentarily, and she sees herself dancing above the snow, distanced from it, carefully guarded against the frost and chill. The white coat draped loosely around her shoulders slips down a little bit, revealing the nape of her pretty neck. Pretty enough for a vampire to bite? She never knew. Someone once told her that she was appetizing, someone with glaring hair and eyes, but she doesn’t really remember who that was.

Swiss cheese. Her brain is like Swiss cheese. Memories drift in and out of the holes, giving her blessed reprieve as she floats dreamily through her hometown, and she vaguely remembers a girl with long blonde hair who loved cheese. “She likes cheese,” she told a man once. Good advice for her many hunters. She could be baited like a rat.

It wasn’t her decision to return to this place. Willow much rather would have preferred to stay in Mexico where the beaches burned so beautifully, but she heard whispers in her dreams. They told her to go home, that there were visitors coming, important times approaching. She saw a white warrior in her dreams, skin blistered and peeling like a snake, her eyes yellow and reptilian, her face smudged with soot. California was waiting for her. It was waiting for all of them.

But oh, this is where the bad thing happened. This is where the horrible thing occurred, the event that took her away from California in the first place. She should not come back here; she should stay away and fly across the burning beaches at night, throwing glitter on the survivors. Too many ghosts and phantoms haunt the deserted streets of Sunnydale. All of their faces will kill her.

_”I’m under your spell, how else could it be, anyone would notice me…”_

Spells and magic, enchantments and wizards, burning sticks of incense and murmured verses in Latin. This is the beginning of her life, and these smells and sights are her only means of survival. Without her magic, she would be forced to accept all of this. Now, she can write it off as a drugged dream, a bad trip. She fucked up a key ingredient or mispronounced a foreign word. None of this is real. It’s all just temporary, and when the spell wears off, Willow will be okay and the world will be just as it was. Her girlfriend will approach her with loving arms and her best friend will play skater punk music. It will all be okay.

Of course, she knows that she’s not supposed to do this. She remembers shaking in the day covered in sweat, trembling from sheer need, scratching at her skin with her jagged fingernails because the pain was easier to manage. But who will care now? Everyone is dead and gone, and she is the only one left to give a shit. She can live her entire day through in the throes of ecstasy because she’s been excised from responsibility or guilt. No need to feel bad now. Everything will be okay.

But then, from the other part of town, she sees them arrive and knows that nothing is okay.

Willow sees his face first because it looks the same as it always has. Strong, magnetic bone structure, dazzling cheekbones and tumultuous, shifting eyes. He is still swathed in his leather coat, a permanent accessory. In his hand, he holds a large rifle, and is clothed entirely in black. Danger, he says. Someone has been destroyed and is now looking to destroy in return. Revenge, his posture projects. He wants blood for what has been done.

Behind him, Willow sees her.

It is hard to distinguish her first, wrapped up in a thick white fur coat, a hood masking her face, but it is impossible to mistake her. She has always carried a certain feel to her, the aroma of heroism. It is a strong, powerful thing that not even hell could destroy. When she pulls back her hood and shakes out her magnificent, scarring white hair and sunburned face, Willow wants to falls to her knees and beg forgiveness.

“I didn’t mean it,” she whispers, her words slurred and senseless. “It wasn’t my fault. I was… I was only doing… I wanted to help. I just wanted to help.”

Furiously, Spike grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her, slamming her feet to the ground. “Yeah, you’re a great bloody help, Willow,” he spits, and her weak knees buckle; she spills to the snowy sidewalk in a pool of red hair. “Whatever would any of us do without you and all of your assistance?”

Willow’s hazel eyes widen when Buffy Summers stands over her, the white warrior. Her eyes are too much to take, the pieces of jagged green glass swimming around her pupils. “Buffy?” she whispers breathlessly. She laughs a little wildly, a little drunkenly. “You’re all red and white. Oh wow, is that my Buffy?”

The woman’s voice is cold as she stands gloriously above her, the freezing winds snapping and biting at her albino hair. “No,” she says. “I’m Joan now.” In a flawless, sweeping motion, this stranger with the Slayer’s face sheds the fur coat and reveals her barely clothed body.

Willow’s scream reverberates throughout the ghost town of Sunnydale as she takes in the sight of her former best friend’s body, covered in tattoos, slandered with the hideous graffiti of the terrible past. All of these words, these accusing words, forcing reality onto her and shattering the warmth that she has surrounded herself in.

The worst one is the first one, of course.

Roughly, Buffy pulls the coat over her red skin and yanks Willow to her feet. She stands in close to the other woman and grabs her shoulders, digging her fingernails into the witch’s skin. “Tell me what they mean,” she demands. “Tell me why. Tell me how.” Her voice wavers, and for a moment, Willow sees the old Buffy underneath this new woman’s ashes. “Please.”

Spike’s gloved hand curves protectively over the Slayer’s shoulder, gently pulling her off of the redhead. “Come on, luv,” he murmurs into Buffy’s ear. “Let’s go inside where it’s not so cold. Somewhere we can talk.”

Never taking her eyes off of Willow, Buffy reluctantly loosens her grip and nods her head. “Okay,” she agrees, and then she walks to the large glass window of the ice cream store and shatters it with her boot. Dusty glass is thrown carelessly to the wind, and Willow sucks in her breath when a fragment of it slices across Spike’s forehead. “This looks good.”

Inside, blood oozes slowly down the vampire’s forehead, curving down the unusual scar in his eyebrow, and he ignores it, choosing to look at Willow instead. In the past, he has imagined her as he first saw her, the clumsy, shy violet that she was in high school, stammering through her speech and fidgeting with her hands. She is broken now. Her hair has grown long again, flawlessly red and shocking with its bloody mass, and her face is still as young as it was when she was twenty. Funny, how none of them seem to age. She is more uncertain than she ever was, tugging at her fingers and covering her pretty face with her hands whenever she looks at the woman he has brought with her for answers.

When she looks at Willow, she does not remember her. Maybe this is the redheaded girl that she occasionally dreams about, the girl who was once tied to a stake while flames licked at her feet. The sorceress, the wizard, the witch. Can this girl take musky-smelling herbs and create spells and charms from them? Can she look at her and tell her the stories that she desperately needs to know?

Clearing her throat, Willow sits down in a plastic chair that offers her no comfort, shifting her weight awkwardly from side to side. She gives a doubtful smile; it is all that she has to offer. “It’s so weird to come here,” she says a little breathlessly, her eyes glazing over a little. He frowns when he sees a black film cover her hazel eyes. “All the snow, all of the ice. I don’t remember it this way, but there’s a girl wandering down the street without a coat on, talking about the dirty feeling. She can’t escape from the box, but she thinks that she might if only the creepy crawly things would leave her alone for a minute and let her think, let her remember…”

“Shut up,” he says sharply, and she blinks, the black film lifting and showing him the cowering little girl that she is.

“How did you know to come back here?” the white-haired woman asks, and Willow frowns, shaking her head, scared.

“I had the dreams,” she explains. “Dreams about a warrior. You were a warrior once, but… I don’t know what you are now. Not quite.” She shivers, drowning in her oversized coat. “But Spike and I had an agreement. If you ever needed me, I would know it instinctually, and we would come back here.”

The warrior in question is unforgiving. Willow feels it radiating off of her in waves of hatred and anger, of fury and confusion. The tattoos covering her body intrigue her, and she wants to know what she has written. What has she remembered? What has she obsessed over? “Did you do this?” she asks, and Willow turns her eyes away, swallowing hard and anxiously toying with the cuff of her coat.

“Yes,” she whispers. “I did it.”

She closes her eyes and bows her head, face covered and shaded in white, and Willow tries hastily to explain. “But it’s not what you think, Buffy. I didn’t want to do it, but you left me no other choice. Everything was horrible then, everything was bad, and…”

“What was horrible?” she asks, her voice simple and frail. Her face crumples briefly for a second as she turns her eyes to Spike, and Willow realizes that he has carried a terrible burden for the past ten years. She has fallen in love with him, and he is the only one who can remember everything with perfect clarity. “Was I horrible? No one will tell me anything.”

Startled, Willow whips her head around to look at the vampire who brought her here. “You didn’t tell her?” she asks, and he looks away, a little ashamed.

“Couldn’t,” he mutters. “She had questions. I told her I knew her, told her what she was, a Slayer, and that she hated me.” He brings his eyes to Willow and for the first time, she watches Spike beg. “I couldn’t tell her everything else. All I could do was bring her here.”

It is love that has broken him, love that has eaten away at everything he used to be. A killer, a murderer, a creature of obscenely beautiful carnage. Once, he wreaked havoc on the public and drank freely from the blood of the world. Now, he’s just a man who loves someone who doesn’t even really exist. It pains him to be near her, to hear her say a name that is not his own and tell him that she loves him back. Unrequited love was painful enough. This is torture.

But she is tormented in her own right, fractured into a million pieces like a mirror reflecting nothing but jagged fragments. The world that she has known is a bitter, dangerous place, and she loves a man who has presented her with nothing but lies. She hates him and loves him now, and the combination is starting to tear away at her very being.

_”Everything just gets stripped away…”_

Swallowing hard, Willow stands up and walks to the ghost of her best friend, her white hair hanging wraith-like down her back. “When we first met, I was a nobody,” she confesses, and Spike listens heartbroken in the background. “You were new, from Los Angeles, and I thought that you would just call me names like everyone else did. But you didn’t. I loved you because you accepted me, brought me out of my shell.”

Confused, she stares blankly at the girl who says that she once saved. She doesn’t know who this woman is. She’ll never know. “I just want to know what happened to me,” she whispers, and Willow looks darkly over at Spike.

“We’ll tell you,” Willow promises. “But you don’t know what you’re asking of two people who love you.”

Her face tenses briefly. “If you love me, you’ll tell me the truth,” she says plainly, and Willow smiles bitterly.

“Not this truth.”

As Willow begins speaking, Buffy begins to remember.

And she begins to understand.

*****

(end part six)

*****



Chapter Seven: The Past

*****

“And I can’t waste a single second

Living in hell like it’s some kind of heaven

And if one truth leads you to five

I still can’t believe in your reasons why”

--Beth Orton, “Feel to Believe”

*****

2002

*****

Shh, Willow’s crying.

Upstairs, where it’s quiet, where no one will find her or bother her, she sits among the teddy bears and lace pillows, the scattered CDs strewn thoughtlessly across the dressing table, the dirty laundry on the floor. Treasures and trash from a teenaged girl. The day is silent outside, the sunlight freely flowing in through the broken window, glass shimmering like diamonds on the carpeting. It is here that Willow sits on the unmade bed, her face in her hands, weeping.

She shouldn’t be wasting her time like this. There are only precious moments left in the day before the storm will begin, the firestorm that was foretold, slamming across the world with its flames and rage. The snows will start soon, and yet when she looks outside the window at the sultry, sleepy August day, she cannot imagine what California will look like under six feet of ice. She should do better things before the world collapses. Paint a picture. Write a poem. Say a prayer. Hug her parents.

But everyone is dead, and Willow cannot bear the pain right now.

Blood is smeared carelessly and artlessly across her clothing, seeping into the knit threads of her sweater and forever staining it rust. She doesn’t know whose blood specifically it is. Could it be Xander’s blood, grabbing onto her arm desperately as his guts spilled from his stomach? Maybe it was Anya’s blood; she had been hugging Willow in grief when the dagger slid easily between her shoulders. It could not be Tara’s, for she had not bled when she was swept away by the sorcerer’s conjured fire, drowning in the flames, surrounded by smoke and screaming as skin peeled off of her bones.

But Dawn had bled so much…

Moaning, Willow tears the bloodied sweater off of her body, not caring that she stood only in a plain white bra in the middle of the girl’s room. She couldn’t wear all of their death, all of the guilt for surviving. She envies them their death, because she is terrified of what will happen now. At least they did not have to mourn.

Below, she hears a scream and knows instinctually that it is Buffy. She has been hysterical for an hour now, while a limping and wounded vampire tries to hold her in his arms and silence her pain. She is covered in blood, drenched in it, and Willow somehow knows that it all belongs to her sister. Terrible jabs of memory stab behind her eyes, and she sees the awful, carmine image of Buffy standing on top of the hotel, wind whipping her hair around her face, holding her sister’s pale, limp body in her arms.

What sense does any of this make? Why did they have to love Dawn? She was only created to die, if not at the hands of a goddess, then at the hands of a demonic wizard intent on creating hell on earth. The blood had flowed freely this time from a thousand tiny, shallow cuts slicing across her freckled skin, and there was nothing that any of them could do to stop it. Spike had tried, tried so hard to make it all end, but he loved her too much and it weakened him. The hell storm that the wizard had conjured had torn them apart, and she had just watched everyone she ever loved fall. Xander, Anya, Tara, Dawn…

What sense does it make to love at all?

Willow thinks that Buffy might have been driven insane. After her sister died, she has done nothing but wail, crying out garbled sentences that make no sense to either her or Spike. He has tried so hard today that Willow finally respects him in spite of everything that she knows. All that she needs to know now is that he loves Dawn and Buffy, and would lay down his life for them. It’s enough to trust him with his broken savior while she sobs uncontrollably for Dawn.

Sticky with sweat and blood, Willow wanders over to the shattered window and looks down at the quiet, unknowing town below. Dawn had dreamed about this, spoke about ice storms in Los Angeles and tsunamis in Manhattan. She said that there would be a sorcerer intent on destroying the world, and said that she thought that she was what he needed in order to do it. It was terrible that she was right all along.

Sunlight streams down openly and warmly from the sky, bouncing off of lush green leaves clinging to branches and shining across the neighbor’s lovely apple tree. She hears the sound of a lawn sprinkler spraying water onto grass and the distant, beautiful noise of children laughing. It’s the most wonderful sound, the uninhibited joy, the innocence, the clean conscience and eternal youth of being six years old and laughing. Willow aches to be that young again.

The door opens behind her and she whips around, startled. Buffy stands in the doorway with hollow, broken eyes, coated in thick layers of her sister’s drying blood. The pain snatches Willow up in its claws and makes her start crying again, at the way that Buffy looks. It is like a chunk of her has been taken away. “Willow,” she says in a shaking little voice.

In an instant, Willow disregards all of the blood that has soaked into her best friend’s skin and embraces her tightly, the two women holding onto each other for dear life. “Oh, God, Willow,” Buffy wails. “It’s all my fault. I killed her, I finally killed her. I can’t believe this happened. I can’t…”

Flinching in pain, Willow clings tightly to Buffy. “It’s not your fault,” she whispers. “We all should have done something, anything. We’ve beaten so many of them that we should have been able to save her. Buffy, I promise that it’s not your fault.”

“But it is,” Buffy’s voice says softly, dully. “Something happened to me, Willow. When I came back… I think that I came back wrong. The sunlight hurts when I get too close to it. I dream about killing things in my sleep. And the fire…” She swallows hard and looks at her best friend. “I caused the fire, Will. I’m so sorry.”

A ghost of a scream passes through Willow’s memory as she remembers her former lover, her beautiful Tara, raising up her hand as her blonde hair was set aflame. Willow doesn’t understand, and she pulls back long enough to see Buffy’s face. It’s dull, her eyes averted from the light pouring in through the broken frame, and her mouth is trembling, a little weak. “What are you saying, Buffy?” she asks, and the girl shakes her head, looking out the window at the sunlight that she claims pains her so.

“When the sorcerer touched me, he said that he had tainted me from the beginning,” she murmurs. “I’m not human. And then I wanted the entire world on fire, and I reached out with my hands and touched my sister, who was clinging to me because I was supposed to protect her. But all I did was kill her, Will. I caused those cuts. I made her bleed. And I drank her blood and it made me feel powerful and strong, until I realized…”

It is terrible, everything that has happened to her, everything that she has become, and Buffy knows it. She sinks to her knees and covers her face with her hands until the pure sunlight starts to turn her skin red. To Willow’s horror, the Slayer’s skin begins to blister and peel before her eyes, and she quickly runs to the window and shuts the blinds, the linen draperies billowing underneath the slow breath of the summer breeze.

“I can’t go on like this, Willow,” Buffy says, her eyes wide and terrified. “What good am I to the world now? A Slayer that wants to kill? A hero who lost the entire world? Oh, God, I killed my own sister and I remember it so vividly. I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t.”

Willow is terrified of what Buffy will say in that hoarse, hushed voice, ragged and roughened from crying and screaming. “I asked Spike to kill me,” she confesses, “but he won’t do it. He loves me too much to do it, just like I always knew.” Her voice darkens and strengthens, and she grabs Willow’s sweater. “You do it.”

Mortified, Willow shakes her head in a panic, pushing Buffy’s grabbing hands away from her. “No,” she whispers. “I can’t do that, Buffy. I won’t.”

Spite and rage rush across the woman’s face and she sneers hopelessly at Willow. “You had the courage to bring me back, didn’t you?” she snaps. “Had the fucking balls to make me suffer again. Do it for me, Willow. Just do it for my sake.”

“No.”

There is a scream, and then Buffy’s shoulders start to shake. Even though she has her face concealed in her pink hands, Willow knows that the woman is crying again. It’s all too much, all of these tears spilling on a dead girl’s carpeting and dirty blue jeans, the sprinklers spraying water onto moist blades of grass, the mirth of unaware children playing happily in the streets. All of this will be gone soon, and they will be forced to suffer continuously until they blessedly die. Maybe she should murder Buffy. Maybe it is merciful to do such a thing. But Willow can’t ever kill. It’s just not in her to do it.

Slowly, the cries cease, and Buffy’s eyes crawl upwards to look at Willow’s face. “There is something you can do,” she murmurs. “You can make me forget.”

Shocked, Willow steps back. “What?” she stammers, and Buffy grabs Willow’s hands, clutching them inside of her own hot palms. Very hot, like they’ve been electrified somehow. What is this thing now?

“You can make me forget what I’ve done,” Buffy says. “I know you know the magic, Will. Take all of this away. I won’t be dead, but I can’t live with all of this anymore.” Her voice rises and the lights flicker again, the ceiling fan spinning madly above them. “Everything I’ve seen, all of the people I’ve lost, my mother on the sofa, my sister sliced to pieces, all of my friends slaughtered… And I still remember what it’s like to be without pain. Without worry.” Her voice wails. “I can’t go back, but I can’t stay here.”

A low, keening wail sounds from Willow’s chest and she clutches her hair in her hands, wanting to tear it out from the roots with the maddening force of her situation and anguish. “I can’t, Buffy, I can’t do that,” she cries. “It’s wrong. I don’t do that anymore, and I can’t ever do that again… You have to try, have to cope…”

But what’s the point? Everything is futile, everything is hopeless. They have mere hours before the thunder will start and the town begins to freeze. No more sprinklers, no more children, no more summer grass. The vision of Xander’s face as the demon’s talon sliced down his stomach, eviscerating him before her eyes, sweeps through her mind. She doesn’t ever want to remember that, either.

“Oh, God,” Willow moans, swaying on her feet while Buffy pleadingly clutches at her sweater, begging her with her constant flood of words.

“Please, please, please,” she chants, her voice broken and shameless. All of the woman’s great dignity has been shattered, stripped away like the transparent shell of an onion until there is nothing left. “I can’t go on anymore, Willow, and I don’t know what I am anymore. I need someone to kill me, someone to erase me. I can’t, I can’t fight anymore. I don’t want to. I give up. I surrender. Just please, take this away. Willow, Willow, please, you brought me back. Send me away again. I never wanted this. Please…”

It’s that last masked accusation, that terrible reminder that makes Willow stop. She is responsible for her best friend’s suffering. She remembers that she was the one who slid the dagger into the young fawn’s flesh and stole its blood. How long has Buffy resented her for forcing breath into her lungs and a pulse into her heart? How long has Buffy suffered?

And what does it matter now anyway? What matters anymore? They have nothing. All of their loved ones are melting flesh and sizzling bones. The little girl who once wore faded denim and listened to pop music has lost her lifeblood, and Willow thinks that it is Buffy who is making the electricity jump and skip. Everything is over. There are no more battles to fight. They have lost. Failed. For the very first time.

For the very last.

Tears slide slowly down Willow’s cheeks, and she slowly, dazedly walks through the hallway into her bedroom, to the cabinet with the metal lock where all of her abandoned magic supplies reside. The roots and their pungent smells. The sticks of incense with exotic aromas. Parchments, books, herbs and candles. She can sense everything through the rosewood cabinet. Everything calls to her. Numbly, she lifts her hand, not even noticing that she is crying, because she is always crying now. Maybe that is how she will die. Drowning in her own tears.

When she returns to the room, she sees Buffy standing naked in the room, and she is shocked by what she sees etched into the Slayer’s body. A tattoo, bold and haunting, etched into the sensitive skin of her lower back. Slowly, the girl turns around, her eyes dark and pained. “I did it before I killed her,” she says in a small voice. “Spike went with me and held my hand while the ink went in my skin. It hurt so bad, but I knew that it would never hurt as much as me losing her. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to love someone so much that you’d feel incomplete without them.”

“I understand,” Willow whispers, the tiny little apothecary jar shaking in her hands. Buffy just smile sadly, enigmatically, looking around the bare walls of her sister’s room.

“You know that I slept with Spike,” she says, touching her sister’s plain curtain with her fingertips. It surprises Willow.

“No,” she says, blinking a little. “I didn’t know.”

The smile fades a little as she turns her face away from the sunlight, her cheeks instantly turning a bright, oddly beautiful shade of crimson. “He loves me more than anyone’s ever loved me,” she says then. “I don’t know if I could have ever returned that. I don’t think that I could have. But… He’ll take care of me. And I think I owe him something for fighting.”

Buffy startles Willow with her request to be left with Spike. It is a strange, unexpected sort of idea, to be placed in the care of a vampire who is obsessed with her, but she thinks that she understands. She just wants to be loved for a while. She wants to go back to heaven, and since she is forced to live in hell, she may as well be loved.

Now her lovely, bottle green eyes turn to Willow’s, and she says everything quietly, her naked body streaked with sunburn and blood. “I love you, Willow,” she whispers. “Now please, lock the door.”

Somewhere in the middle of it, as the words fly from her mouth and the naked girl in the circle closes her eyes, she hears beating and knocking at the door, yelling and pleas for them open up, but she ignores it. Their hands clasp inside the small circle of crystals, and a vibrant, cold blue wind starts to rise from the scattered precious stones. The candlelight jumps and flares up, and Buffy’s eyes flutter open, blank, forgetting, forgetting…

When Willow finally opens the door, she sees Spike standing there with a desperate look on his face, his knuckles bloodied from banging endlessly on the door. She knows that he wants to speak, but his entire body freezes when he looks beyond her, to the girl pooled on the floor amidst smoking candles and surrounded by crystals and polished stones. Somewhere in the middle of it all, her hair went white, and the look is shocking, stunning. She looks like something blank, her red skin baking slightly in the heat of the summer sun.

Spike’s voice is dark, bleeding. “Is she dead?” he asks, and Willow knows that is what he expected to find. Her body dangling from a rope tied to the ceiling fan blades, cuts in her wrists, a bullet in her skull. A stake through her heart.

Willow shakes her head. “No,” she whispers. “She’s sleeping. She’ll probably be unconscious for a while. Maybe a day or so.”

His eyes are horrified. “Cor, her hair,” he says in shock, and she knows that Buffy was right. He will love her because he can’t help but do so. He’ll take care of her like she wants. Teach her. Worship her. Love her. “What happened in here?”

Before he can enter the room and go to her, Willow stills him with her hands and gives him a dull look. She knows that she must look like a bloodied urchin, and for the first time in a while, she is aware of the fact that she is only wearing her bra and her best friends’ blood. She does not care.

“Listen closely, Spike,” Willow says, trying to keep herself together long enough to do this. Just long enough to finish things. “There isn’t much time… We both know that. She’s gone, Spike. Buffy’s gone. She said… She said that she couldn’t take all of this anymore. She’s done nothing but suffer since…” She takes a deep breath, owns up to it. “Since I brought her back. I can’t kill her. Neither can you. But she can’t live with it anymore.”

A scared note enters the vampire’s voice as his hands dig into her upper arms. “What did you do, Willow?”

Wearily, she bows her head. “I did what she wanted me to do. She doesn’t want this life anymore, so I took the memories away from her. When she wakes up, she won’t remember any of this, and it’s up to you to give her a new life. You have to keep her safe, Spike. It’s what she wanted. She’s your last gift. I know that it’s hard to understand… God, I can’t understand it, but she wants you to have her. She says that you earned it. Don’t ever tell her. That’s the only condition. You can’t ever tell her. It would… I think it would just break her.”

She watches from the doorway as Spike pushes past her and walks to the center of the room, to the naked, sunburned woman that he loves. All of her golden curls have faded into colorless locks twirling down her back, all of her innocence returning to her face as she sleeps dreamlessly. Willow has to look away as she speaks to him next. “Take her away from California. If she ever… If she ever finds out, I’ll know. Just come back here and…” She laughs a little shakily. “Fuck, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

How soft his touch is, how the fluent the gesture as he brushes errant threads of pure alabaster away from her unlined face. “Go, Spike,” Willow orders, her voice snapping at the end. “Hurry.”

“She needs clothes,” he says softly, and Willow throws him a quilt, giving him a desperate look.

“There’s not enough time,” she whispers. “You have to take her and leave before it all falls to pieces. Before the air gets cold.”

It breaks her heart to watch him cover her with the quilt, carefully making sure that none of her skin will show, protecting her against the last light of June. The last summertime feeling. As he passes Willow in the door with the sleeping Slayer tucked in his arms, he stops and looks at her. “What about you?” he asks, and she wonders why he bothers asking.

“I’m fine,” she says, her voice a little dreamier than she intended it to be. “Just go.”

After they disappear and the house is abandoned, Willow walks to the bedroom which now reeks of burned Lethe’s Bramble and extinguished candles, burning wax. Gently, she rearranges the pattern of the gemstones arranged in a circle, changes a couple of the candles, and empties the ashes of the herbs from the small ceramic jar. There is a new spell to do. A new trick to perform.

It doesn’t matter anymore who sees her do this, who sees her light the candles and call the corners. No one is left to care if Willow Rosenberg dives headfirst into the surreal abyss of enchanted ecstasy and never resurfaces again. Glitter and warmth start to fill her system, and she collapses on the floor, writhing in self-induced rapture, free from the aching responsibility of being cared about.

Free, like Buffy is free.

******

(end part seven)

*****



Chapter Eight: The Future

*****

“And when no hope was left inside

On that starry, starry night

You took your life as lovers often do

But I could have told you, Vincent

This world was never meant for one as

Beautiful as you”

--Don McLean, “Vincent”

*****

It is a dark and stormy night.

Oh, he knows that it’s a cliché; he wrote enough terrible stories and poems to know what was trite and what was not. Of course, most of his stories were trite and clichéd, but hell, who’s counting now? No one, that’s who. Everyone’s fucking dead.

But she’s not.

The window’s still broken. Slivers of crumbled glass still cling to the wooden windowpane, tinkling like an off-key set of windchimes as the wintry wind howls through the open window. Snow has piled up in the room and most of the valuable things are gone, stolen and looted, leaving only photographs, mementoes, magazines, little things like that. Unimportant things. Things that aren’t necessary for survival, like videotapes and candy wrappers. These are the scraps of a teenaged girl’s life.

She stands in the middle of the room wrapped in a camel’s hair coat, the rabbit collar snugly brushing against her sunburned cheeks, her hair a mess of snow pouring like an avalanche down her back. There is a photograph in her suede-gloved hands, her fingertip caressing the frayed celluloid, the yellowing tint of the aging picture. In the cold weather, she has been forced to cover up all of her tattoos, but it does not matter because her history blares furiously all around her.

The photograph shows two girls underneath an apple tree in fading sunlight, arms wrapped lovingly around each other, smiles sparkling at the photographer. One girl is young, maybe twelve or thirteen, brown hair long and shiny, pale skin and a potentially pretty face, ripening and unfurling, coming into her own. The other is a little sadder, a little older. A lovely blonde with dying eyes. She has seen too much in her life, and she looks a little past the camera, her smile a shade dimmer than the brunette’s unknowing grin.

This is her. This is Joan, Buffy, whoever the fuck she is. Captured in celluloid, preserved forever as a part of history, holding her little sister in her embrace like it would keep her safe. She knows the rest of the story now.

“This was Dawn,” she murmurs, and he remembers how much he loved the child. It is silly and stupid for a vampire to feel deeply for a little girl, but he loved her nonetheless and tried to die for her on several occasions.

Standing awkwardly in the doorway, looking at the ruined remains of the teenaged girl’s bedroom, he nods his head even though she isn’t looking at him. “Yeah,” he mutters. “Dawn Rachel Summers. Pretty little thing, isn’t she?”

“She’s not a thing,” she says. “I’m the thing. The monster. I did this all.”

He shakes his head. “It’s not your fault.”

A cruel laugh explodes from her body, and she drops the photograph, letting it flutter to the snow-covered carpeting. “Everyone wants to tell me that,” she says. “It’s not my fault. I don’t remember doing those things, so it’s not my fault that they happened. Except that it was still me. Still Buffy. You can call me Joan or Slayer or bitch, but it was still done by these hands and this body.”

He knows that she is right. He knows that she is wrong. Everything is a contradiction, a paradox, an oxymoron. Literature tells him and he accepts that this is all clichéd and trite. What a comedy. What a tragedy.

The snow is melting around them, icicles sliding from the soaked wood of the dresser and sluicing down the jagged remains of the mirror. There is a heat in the room, and he knows that it comes from her. He makes no mistake; he knows that it is not warmth. There is nothing soft about her anymore.

Wistfully, he walks across the room to her and touches her shoulder, smiling softly at her, fondly. “Remember when we were in the Keys after your first hurricane?” he murmurs into her ear, losing himself in the roseate colors of the memory, the way the sky had looked like a masterful piece of art, all blooming colors and streaks of light breaking through dark clouds.

Tangerine and carmine simmer above them in the calm, and she runs from the beach house onto the wet sand, into the flooding tide, throwing herself blissfully into the ocean. When she comes back into the house, she shakes saltwater and storm surge out of her hair and throws her arms around his neck, kissing him softly and warmly, and tells him that she loves him. It is the happiest moment in his life.

A little shadow of his lover reappears briefly, tugging at her mouth, pulling at her broken face. The woman that he remembers flinging herself into stormy waters and cutting through water like a dolphin, the woman that loved him. The Joan in her. “Yes,” she says. “I remember. I remember how much I loved you then.”

“Then don’t remember the rest of it,” he says. “Throw the rest of it to hell. It’s what you did in the first place, right?”

Flinching, she turns away from him and the room intensifies in heat again. Snow is soaking into the carpeting, and he absently thinks that it will mold. Like anyone lives here now anyway. This is a dead house and he never should have brought her here to see all of these ghosts and phantoms.

“I did make myself forget,” she whispers, her eyes afraid and vulnerable. It’s not the fiery nymphet that used to drape herself in turquoises and listen to Three Six Mafia. “But what does that say about me? God, what kind of life must I have had if I wanted so badly to forget everything? All of the stories… Killing my sister. Killing myself. I don’t know…” She shakes her head. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to live a life that I didn’t want to live in the first place.”

It’s the worst thing that she ever could have found out about herself. All of the struggles, all of the hardships, thinking that by recovering her past she is somehow striking back at whoever did this to her, and she finds out that she did this to herself. She has over a hundred tattoos written into her body. Every one of them was painful, even though she tried to play it tough and refused to show her tears. She wishes they would disappear now.

How is she supposed to go on? She understands why he would never take her back to California now. Remembering is hell, and knowing but not being able to remember is even worse. Her entire life is laid out in front of her and she can only watch it like a movie. She remembers nothing.

Not a fucking thing.

“Tell me something, Spike,” she whispers, her voice catching a little. “Willow never finished the rest of the story. She gave you to me, got doped up on magic, and then what happened? How long did you have me before I woke up?”

Looking down, he finds a photograph lying on the floor of her when she could still remember. A lovely little blonde, giving a slightly shy smile that could not hide all of the joy in her. Living in the sunlight, loving the day, being free. It must be a terribly old picture.

“I left as soon as she gave you to me,” he murmurs, never looking away from the photograph. “Got out of Sunnydale by the skin of my fangs. Took you to a tunnel I knew of right outside of Vegas, and you slept through the fires. The whole time, I didn’t know what to tell you when you woke up. Didn’t know what to say…” He shakes his head. “But I knew what you wanted. You just didn’t want to be you anymore. I was mad as all hell about it, but what’s done is done, right? Couldn’t blame you for what you didn’t know you’d done.” His mouth quirked a little into a sad, slightly shamefaced smile. “Couldn’t blame you for anything.”

“You love me,” she murmurs, and he covers his face in his hands. Love is a crime and he’s a repeat offender.

“Of course I love you,” he says, and he touches the side of her face. “Love you for Buffy, and I love you for Joan. Let that be enough, pet.”

Quietly, she turns her face to his and strokes his cheek, the gray light of darkening sky cutting through the melting snow, droplets of water falling all around them. Everything seems to slow, time stretching into decades, the years passing in the slide of her hand through his tousled hair. “Show me my bedroom,” she murmurs into his ear, and he obeys, twining her fingers through his and leading her to the place where she once slept.

He remembers this bedroom as being forbidden territory, a place where he was off-limits. Though she would fuck him in the dust or rut with him in ashes, she would never invite him into the soft, feminine warmth of her bedroom, take him underneath the down comforter that caressed her skin when she was vulnerable, allow him to make love to her instead of just fuck her until she was bruised and battered.

In a slow cascade, the camel’s hair coat slides with ease off of her body, and she wears dove gray underneath it, coils and wisps of white hair clinging to the appealing curve of her slender neck. She has covered all of her tattoos, but now she strips off the cashmere sweater and throws it on the ground, not even looking around at the space that she once occupied in another lifetime. He already knows that this is not about a jaunt down memory lane. She needs him now.

But he can’t help it. Fuck, how can he help it? He has all of the memories, all of their time together, living in the backseat of his stained and dirty DeSoto, threading their arms together and taking shots of tequila, chasing liquor with limes. He remembers every tattoo burned into her body, every symbol, every character, everything. He can connect all of the words into a story, a biography on her body. Every touch reminds him.

Sunburned skin slides easily over the tense muscles in her back, rippling and showing off the tattoo that bears his forgotten name, and stray bits of snow drift in through the shattered window. With shaking hands, she sweeps off the ice crystals that cling to the bed, and closes her eyes. She wants him to fuck her in the snow, melt the winter wonderland which frightens her desert soul, and he will oblige her because he loves her.

Shamefully, she loves him too.

When they begin to make love, it is like exhuming Atlantis, their lost kingdom that stretches across the scorched globe, filled with all of its myriad paradises and sanctuaries. A gasp ripples from his chest like an unwinding ribbon, and she closes her eyes, wrapping him inside of her arms, scrambling to remove all of his clothing. How many times has he made love to her? He knows her body like a solar system, all of her tattoos becoming constellations that only he can connect.

As he sees her, he sees a thousand images of her imprinted over her tattooed, inked body. Her in the backseat of his DeSoto, running her hands frenetically through her hair while sweat pours off of her body, exquisite ecstasy racking her face and crinkling up her nose. Moonlight sliding down her cheeks while he takes her from behind, hands spreading across her lovely ass, rising up to her pert breasts. Raspberries, fuck, she tastes like raspberries whenever she gets drunk on red wine. Or God, oh God, the smell of vanilla on her collarbone, vanilla and saltwater marshes…

Broken, delicate, fragile girl pushed against the snowy wall, crying and weeping while he fucks her, eyes squeezed shut and oozing fat tears while her head bangs against the wall. Ice crystals on her eyelashes. Snow melting from the heat of anguish. It’s a horrible portrait. It’s the only memento that he will be allowed.

“I love you, I love you,” she whispers painfully into his neck and he groans. “I can’t stop loving you, why can’t I stop loving you, it’s not fair… Not fair, you liar, you fucking liar, oh, God, I don’t want… I don’t want to live…”

“Don’t say that,” he gasps, pounding into her, squeezing her breast while she writhes and moans. “Don’t ever say that, I love you. I love you so much. Don’t tell me that… Don’t tell me that you don’t… Live, Buffy, you have to live…”

“I’m not Buffy!” she screams, her orgasm flushing her face as it approaches, threatening to overtake her. She screams. She cries. “I’m not Buffy! I’m not! I’m Joan! Joan, fuck you, I’m Joan… I’m not Buffy! I’m not! I’m nothing…”

And as she screams out, her voice shrill and hoarse, she orgasms in a desperate, mad frenzy of muscles and limbs, and his orgasm is a sad following act. They collapse on the floor in a heap of white and red limbs, intertwined together as they always are, inseparable and indistinguishable. She has become a part of him, and she is not certain which pieces of her are really hers and which are just the result of his methodical lies. It is a terrible realization to come to, but she has accepted it nonetheless. There is no more Buffy, but there is no more Joan, either.

“I’m a shadow,” she whispers to him, and he pets her hair, trying so hard to get her to see that he loves her, a vampire loving a Slayer, and shouldn’t that make her something good? Something worth living for?

“You’re the sun,” he tries to tell her, but she shoves him away and crawls desolately onto the bed, her sea-colored eyes large and hollow, like a child’s. There is snow cluttering the bed, but the moment her electric body curls up on the bed it begins to melt. She aches for the desert, and she smiles ironically, hurt.

“I know why you never wanted to take me here,” she says, and he smiles sadly. Too little, too late. “Never take me here again, okay? Never take me to California again.”

Slowly, he crawls onto the bed beside her, cradling her in his arms, holding her tightly against the wicked plies of the night and the dreams that will undoubtedly invade her mind tonight. Icicles pool into liquid puddles on the windowsill, and the remains of Buffy Summers surround them as they spoon on the former Slayer’s bedspread, scattered photographs and remnants of a teenaged girl surrounding them.

He makes a grave mistake – he falls asleep first. When he disappears into the escape of dreaming, she carefully untangles herself from his lanky body and looks down at his face. For the past ten years, she has trusted in the architecture of his cheekbones, the scar forking his eyebrow, the pout of his Botticelli mouth when he is asleep. He loves her, and it will do nothing but destroy him. Tough shit, Randy. She knows the truth about him. He’ll be her slave forever. A broken man. A toy.

Tenderly, she leans down and brushes her lips against his forehead. “I love you, Spike,” she whispers, but as always, he never hears it. He never hears anything.

He does not hear her pad barefoot out of the bedroom door.

He does not hear her enter the pillaged master bedroom to the antique trunk in the closet.

He does not hear her lock the door.

He does not hear her chanting.

He does not hear her fall.

All that he hears is the snow.

*****

(end part eight)

*****



Chapter Nine: Athens, Greece

*****

Ten Years Later

*****

"her green plastic wateringcan

for her fake chinese rubberplant

in the fake plastic earth

that she bought from a rubber man

in a town full of rubber plans

to get rid of itself

it wears her out

it wears her out

it wears her out

it wears her out"

--Radiohead, "Fake Plastic Trees"

*****

It was a mistake to keep her in America.

He knows that now, of course, though it doesn't do much good. Damage done and all. But he knows it now, and it's a mistake that he won't make again. The United States is a wasteland, and while the rest of the world is not faring much better, all of her memories reside in California. It is a danger zone. A bad place.

The miraculous colors of dusk are beginning to settle on the Athenian coast, staining the incredible Mediterranean with the myriad shades of amethyst, sapphire, turquoise, and other precious stones. Waves caress the flawlessly white sands of the beach, and broken shells are scattered along the water's edge.

The silvery peals of her laughter float over to him as she stands up to her calves in the immaculate waters, the hem of her plain white linen dress floating on the water's surface. "God, it's gorgeous!" she cries, her sunburned face alight with pleasure and awe, her white hair twisting and spiraling around her cherubic face. Turquoise jewelry slides around her neck and twines around her wrists and ankles, her smile bright and resplendent, her arms thrown up with pure joy.

All that he can do is smile tiredly, because he is worn out.

How many women has she been now? Six, maybe seven. He has loved them all. All of her different incarnations, all of the women that she has been. The girl who loved jazz music, feather boas and thigh-high stockings. The girl who read poetry and made love to him in Venetian gondolas, surrounded by the crumbled ruins of Italian architecture. He has loved them all because they still have her eyes, the smile that can make a thousand suns rise at once, all of that sinful poetry. She's a constantly changing piece of art, the world seen through a kaleidoscope.

Her world is always broken.

*****

"she lives with a broken man

a cracked polystyrene man

who just crumbles and burns

he used to do surgery for girls in the eighties

but gravity always wins

and it wears him out

and it wears him out

and it wears him out"

--Radiohead, "Fake Plastic Trees"

*****

He remembers the journey over to Japan, the first city where she dressed up like his geisha and fed him plum rolls and fucked him in the rice fields. She slept the entire way over, just like she always sleeps after she destroys herself. He considered abandoning her then, destroyed and shattered by what she had done to herself yet again. But he can't leave her because he understands her, and he loves her. Stupid, stupid fucking heart.

But fuck, nothing hurts like that first moment when she opens the eyes he has always known and asks him who he is.

Wading backwards toward the depths of the Mediterranean, farther from the ruins of the old Greek statues, the loose sash of her white dress ripples and waves like a slender white banner in the wind. She holds her hands behind her back in a coquettish manner, snowy eyebrow arched, turquoise earrings dangling from her earlobes. "Get naked and come in here," she commands boldly, teasingly, and he smiles from the sand.

He thinks that he has changed a lot in the last twenty years, since all of this madness started and he fell in love with eight different women. Or is it nine? He should not be able to lose count, but that's what is beginning to happen. He finds himself drifting into daydreams more frequently, a quieter man, less prone to violence or fun. Just as Buffy stole his romanticism, the first Joan stole his sense of humor. He'll never laugh at stealing cigarettes or write a poem again. Instead, he'll just sit on European beaches and watch the tide ebb and flow.

He's ruined her, of course. She's nothing but ashes now, collected into the shape of a woman with slender hips and albino hair. She kills without guilt, does not see the right from the wrong, does not weep for the broken bodies who lay in her wake. His fault. He taught her everything that she knows about the world, about herself. The irony of his love is gone. A villain loving a hero... She's just an afterthought now.

He tries. Tries so hard to protect her. But in the end, she always falls back into history, waking up remembering what she has done to herself, how low she has descended, and it destroys her every fucking time. Memories of her down on her knees, holding onto his shirt, crying and begging for him to do something. Kill her. Drown her. Take it all away. He used to fight her, trying to tell her how special she was, but it always fails and he gives in. She's his addiction, and she's addicted to a blank page.

*****

"she looks like the real thing

she tastes like the real thing

my fake plastic love

but i can't help the feeling

i could blow through the ceiling

if i just turn and run

and it wears me out

it wears me out

and it wears me out"

--Radiohead, "Fake Plastic Trees"

*****

Laughing wildly, she runs from the water, saltwater clinging to her shapely legs and bare feet sinking into the water-soaked sands. Long white hair trails down her back, and she has a seashell in one hand, amazed by the shape of it. The spell fucks itself up sometimes, makes her forget simple things, like what seashells are or how to read, and he always teaches her. Stupid him.

Pillars of white stone arc above them, majestic and regal, the houses and temples of gods. Desperately, he looks up at them, thinking that he should kill himself and her and then this would all be over. Done. Buried in the Greek sands. But he can't do it. Love is a cruel, cruel thing.

She throws her salty, damp body against his, the soaked hem of her simple cotton dress clinging to her wet legs, and plants a seawater kiss on his mouth. "You never told me how beautiful Greece was," she says accusingly, teasingly, wrapping her fingers around the base of his neck. "Silly vampire."

Helplessly, he shrugs his shoulders. Always defenseless against her. "Wanted you to see the rest of Europe, luv," he says, and she shakes her head, looking past him at the fallen temples to dead gods, the majesty of the mythology cut into mountainsides and coasts. He knows instinctively what she sees, and he finds it terribly, dreadfully appropriate that she find a home in the Greek ruins. She's an artifact of the past herself.

Tangled up, intertwined, they fall onto the sands where the ocean meets the earth, the incoming tide lapping seductively at his feet while she pulls away his shirt. Swept away, he is, trapped in her tidal pull. He'll live an eternity with a thousand different visions of her dancing through his head because it's all that he knows. He lives her life. Carries the memories that she willfully abandons. But it's all got to be worth something, right?

Right?

Suddenly, he clasps her tattooed forearms in his hands, fingers spreading over the inked marks that only he can read and decipher, and stares hard and long into her youthful, cherubic face. "Tell me why," he demands. He has to hear it. Something in this disaster must be his; there has to be some reason why he can't leave her. Some reason to make him stay.

The smile that spreads across her face is slow, fond, endearing. Passion and purity, innocence and impishness. "Because I love you, Randy," she says simply, stroking his cheek.

Wildly, insanely, he laughs at her and at the skies, at the decapitated statues of forgotten gods, at the twilight that he'll never quite shake.

"I love you too, Joan."

*****

"if i could be who you wanted

if i could be who you wanted all the time"

--Radiohead, "Fake Plastic Trees"

*****

The End