Little Scrap of Memory
The tattered snapshot came as a gentle surprise when you noticed it resting among a scattering of small personal belongings on the bed table while sipping half-heartedly at your evening meal; the telly silently flickering in the background for company. Somebody must have found this little forgotten scrap of memory in your duster pocket among the old racing forms, empty fag packets and a roll of dead presidents when they were cleaning up the mess that Dana made of you two nights ago.
(You can't pick it up; your hands are still two faintly tingling lumps of cold meat, so you lean over for a better look, trying to ignore the cramps in your back and the dull, miserable ache in your forearms.)
I was sitting under the boardwalk at the Sunnydale Public Beach drinking when Buffy handed her camera to some total stranger and asked him to take a picture for her.
(You turn your head, lip the straw and take a long, contemplative pull from the stadium cup of tepid plasma that sits beside this memory on the bed table.)
I wanted to be that stranger.
You overheard Buffy and her friends planning a "girls-only" afternoon at the beach on the 4th of July while lurking outside an open window late one summer night. Giles, Riley and Xander were supposed to spend the day bar-b-cueing at the house and then bring it out in time for fireworks over the bay.
There was no mention of yours truly coming to the party. Not that I cared. Still don't!
You waited for somebody, maybe Anya, to say, "Hey, what about short, pale and gruesome? I know he doesn't do daylight, but shouldn't we ask him to drop by our beach fire after sundown to watch the fireworks with us when we ritually immolate marshmallows or something?"
(You settle back into your pillow, staring up at the acoustical tiled ceiling over your hospital bed, the IV in your arm shifting uncomfortably with you.)
(Someone walks down the hall with brisk, echoing steps.)
(A doctor is paged.)
(The guy across the hall gives out a loud, wet cough.)
When the Niblet finally brought it up, all Buffy said was, "Dawn, don't you dare tell Spike about this!'
"Under the boardwalk, down by the sea..."
You followed the girls to the Sunnydale Municipal Beach through the sewer tunnels beneath their feet; coming out under the boardwalk through your favorite storm drain, the one that gave you a good view of the beach. You drank breakfast from your hip flask among the barred shadows, watching them through stolen welding goggles as they played, wanting to join them though you knew they'd just stand there staring at you, all blood breath, pale skin and black leather like they would some bizarre insect that had just crawled out from under a rock while you smoldered through the holes in your blanket trying to think of something to say.
Yeah, dead sexy there, mate. "Mind if I join you ladies while I burst into flames?"
(You laugh, but it sounds like a snarl.)
Tara would have been the first one to break their startled silence, asking you what you thought you were doing, risking yourself like that.
No, it would have been Joyce as she tossed a beach towel over you. Then she'd sit with you under the boardwalk out of the noonday sun, clearly wanting to be with her daughters and their friends but not going because she felt obligated to stay; even uninvited you were still a guest.
I might have told her to go on, have fun. Bein' acknowledged would have been enough. I was the killer, the fly in the ointment, the ants at the picnic, a fragment of nightmare wandering around sunblind and bewildered. Still am.
Instead, you sat unseen with only your hunger and a raging hard-on for company as you watched them play, wanting Buffy to run beside you in the night long before you knew you loved her... to hog the couch with Dawn and laugh with her at stupid old cartoons on the telly that you remembered as new while Joyce nuked popcorn in the microwave... to argue philosophy with Willow and ask Tara what kind of day she had with Demon Girl rattling nonstop in the background about her shop.
(You shake your head to clear it.)
I didn't want to join them. I wanted to kill them.
Butterflies in Amber
No, you wanted to sire them all, even Anya. You wanted to preserve these six muses like so many vicious butterflies in amber...
…leavin' all their so-called men dead on the ground at their feet so that I was the only thing they saw. Little too late for that now, innit? Bloody hell!
(Snarling, you shift around trying to get comfortable as cramps ripple down your back, squinting against the glare from the bedside lamp. Through the scuffs and creases you make out more faces.)
There's Tara, right next to Willow. Never would have given that one a second glance except as a meal in the good old bad days.
Tara with her hesitant smile, faded red hair, and womanly body died a real death while you were out getting you soul back.
Hardly knew her, but I miss her. She had the bollocks to laugh at me. Me, the Big Bad; she laughed at me. Should have torn her throat out for it.
Tara gave your bulging crotch a frank look after you'd made an ass of yourself after crashing Buffy's birthday party and gently teased you about it - trying to get you not to take yourself so seriously - lesbian that she was, your stiffy didn't offend her.
Told her I had a cramp. She wasn't buying.
You expected Tara to go off blabbing to everyone about it, but she never did. You didn't have put up with Xander's derision and Buffy telling you to get out because you had no business being around decent people in that state.
"Decent people? Ha! They had souls but they were no better than I was half the time." A nurse pauses in the hall and looks in at you, "Do you need anything?" Embarrassed, you shake your head, so she glides on past in her sensible shoes.
Outside of Joyce, Tara was the only decent one of the lot - Willow didn't know how lucky she was. Didn't take Red long to find a new one though; had that Kennedy bint followin' her 'round like a bitch in heat...
(You squint. Is it? Yeah. It is.)
That's our Red.
In a lime green one-piece that matches Tara's, Willow grins up at you while sharing a rainbow sherbet with her lover. You still wonder what might have happened had you ridden out the chip's agony and sired Red anyway that night in her dorm room on the USC-Sunnydale campus.
Red isn't like that stupid cow Harm; she would have figured out how to get the chip out of my head in no time.
And... she could be nice. You remember times when Willow insisted that you be included after you were chipped. Being dragged into their kiddie games like some weird, smelly cousin that their mothers made them play with pissed you off; pity was the last thing you wanted. Maybe like Tara, Willow could see right through you even when you were at your nastiest because at the same time being included sure beat being left out by a long shot.
Chip be damned pet, I would have ripped Warren's head off had I been there if it meant sparing you seeing Tara die in front of you. Sorry Red, I was out running fool's errands that day...
"It's been a couple of hours, let's see how those kidneys are doing."
Bloody hell, not these lads again! "Sod off."
(The pair of large male orderlies ignore you and your verbal two-fingered salutes as they heave you up out of the hospital bed and walk you tubes and all on shaking legs to the humiliating ordeal of the loo, no thanks to Dana and her "no prisoners" attitude towards hangnails.)
Could be worse, could be a bedpan like last night, or that soddin' catheter.
(You don't want them touching you, you don't want them watching you; you'd just as soon as hold it for a week but you give in because it sure as hell beats laying there in your own filth like the time Buffy broke your back with only Dru to nurse you.)
Wish Joyce was here instead of these two uglies.
(The thought of having Joyce around to baby you eases the humiliation of having two sods that, soul or not, you'd just love to shove under a speeding a bus ease you down onto the crapper. You try not to yell as your poison laced kidneys stab you in the back.)
Oh God this hurts!
(One of them leans against the open doorframe and starts whistling tunelessly beneath his breath while taking notes on his clipboard - all of them, always taking notes around you, askin' stupid questions, like "Can you feel this when I do that?")
No, no, I'd just as soon Joyce not see me like this...
(You shoot him a vicious look; he just smirks at you as his partner chats up the nurse's aide changing your sheets.)
Sod that! I'd let Joyce see me; she'd have had the decency to look away... "Hey, hands off the merchandise, mate!"
(They help you back up and clean you off before leading you back to bed, only you have to wait because the aide is still changing the sheets; so you stand there nauseated and swaying between them as your dead body struggles with the garbage Dana shot you full of. Your mind wanders back to the photo so that you don't even notice being eased into bed with a fresh stadium cup of blood beside you.)
After Willow, Dawn would have been next.
The Memory of Dawn
Giggling, Dawn leans over Tara and Willow's shoulders in a candy pink tankini with a butterfly across the front in glitter while unsuccessfully trying to control a chocolate dipped cone that's dribbling down her arm and heading for Willow's bare back.
Never had any brothers or sisters, mum was too sick. Lit'l Bit here was the closest thing I ever had, even if she could be a real pain in the arse sometimes; always slippin' into my lair, stealin' the remote... eatin' my crisps, leavin' the bag open so they got stale and attracted rats...
Dawnie thought you were cool until she found out about how you tried to give Buffy what you thought she wanted: to be tossed down onto the bathroom floor with you rutting atop her like some filthy dog when what she needed was to be left alone to lick her wounds in peace.
(You wince and sit there for a long time, eyes closed, face screwed up.)
The look of betrayed hatred in Dawn's eyes when she threatened to set fire to you when you came back to Sunnydale all full of soul was worse than a stake. You knew you deserved it - nothing will ever make things right between the two of you and this time you realize its all your fault.
God, really blew it there didn't I?
(Finally you open your eyes, take a swallow of fresh blood and look back down at the picture.)
Sorry pet, didn't mean to hurt either of you.
(You allow your eyes to wander away from the memory of Dawn because right now it hurts worse than your forearms.)
Holding a dribbly Klondike Bar in one hand, Anya stands in the background off to one side - part yet not part - of the group, rail thin in a flowered pink and yellow string bikini, bleached hair plastered to her skull from coming out of the surf. There's a wistful expression on her sharp face as she looks at the other five women.
You understand that look all too well.
"Might as well as been me in a dress; she was about as bloody welcome."
(A nurse come in, briskly pulls on a pair of latex gloves, and starts to change the dressings on your forearms, a miserable experience that smells bad and brings back a lot of memories of being deep underground at the mercy of something uglier and nastier than you...)
"Don't touch me!"
(She's a pleasant, chirpy older woman, so you try not to snarl too much her as she gently peels back the layers of gauze to expose the sutures where your wrists and hands have been reattached to your forearms. The pain of her touch settles in your elbows in a dull, boring drone; the whole thing's ten times worse then being walked to the loo.)
Oh god, oh god, oh god...
(You look at the ceiling, the open door, the soundlessly yammering telly, anywhere but down at where she's working because you're afraid of what you might see, that the skin from your forearms isn't joining with the skin from your severed hands, that the smell is rotting flesh which means that you're going to be...)
(The photo mercifully distracts you once more.)
Joyce smiles up at you with her hair blowing dark gold against the dark navy of her one-piece as she sedately eats vanilla ice cream from a sugar cone with one arm across Dawn's shoulders.
"Bloody hell, woman - that hurt!"
Buffy's mum found you face down behind her gallery in the rain one night after one too many at Willy's. She dragged you into the back of her shop, ripping you a new one for your stupidity while peeling you out of your soggy duster and Doc Martins. Two pots of black coffee later, Joyce let you help her get things ready for the night's event before inviting you to attend.
"I'm sorry dear, it just means that the nerves are starting to recover. Hold still just a little longer; I'll be done soon. Would you like Novocain?"
It was only a couple of local types doing readings from their latest unpublished works. Bloody awful, really.
"S-s-s-s-ss - sod - Yeah. Hit me."
Invisible, you sat listening in Joyce's office with the door open and the lights out because you were too embarrassed by your "bad boy" clothes to sit among the grown-ups.
(The Novocain burns but the itchy stabs of pain quickly subside. You relax. She smiles at you as she drops the syringe into the biohazard container and pats you on the knee before she resumes her task.)
I helped Joyce clean up and walked her home.
Awkwardly you'd recited some of your least awful poems to Buffy's mum from beneath a shared umbrella...
She didn't laugh.
(You try not to watch as the last of the iodine and blood stained gauze is peeled away.)
Maybe that's why one morning you wandered through Joyce's house after picking the lock on her front door when they were all out for the day and stole this picture from her wall, leaving the empty frame still hanging for anybody to see, not caring if they knew you took it. You walked up to the picture over the sideboard in the dining room, took it down, pried up the staples and cardboard, pulled out the photo, stuffed it in your duster pocket, put the scene of the crime back up on the wall, and swaggered away.
(The nurse pauses, arranges your hands side by side on the bed table, takes a snapshot or two and then starts cleaning the wounds.)
The next time you were allowed into the house, you looked to see if anybody had noticed your theft. The looted frame was gone, replaced by a small oil of the beach at Brighton dated 1865.
(You don't feel the saline solution as your nurse sloshes it on your forearms and wrists before blotting it back up with gauze.)
I think Joyce wanted me to have this snapshot.
(After taking a few more snapshots, the nurse wraps your arms back up with gauze pads and some other stuff you don't recognize until you can no longer see the angry red lines that decorate them.)
Maybe Buffy's mother knew you were watching them that painfully brilliant summer afternoon when the Pacific was the color of a Bombay sapphire against the white sand as the girls, Buffy, Dawn, Anya, Willow and Tara ran in and out of the surf, laughing and eating ice cream that melted all over their hands and down their sun-browned arms with the wind in their bright hair, and wanted to let you know that she forgave you your hunger.
(You lean back, blankly looking up at the ceiling again, mentally walking through a neighborhood that no longer exists.)
Why did Joyce have to die?
"Would you like a back rub? You've been laying here a long time; you must be cramping, dear." Her gloves follow the gauze and the syringe.
Why did I have to find Joyce all sprawled out on the kitchen floor all cold and staring up at the ceiling like one of Dru's dolls in the morning sun?
(Absently you assent and the nurse leans you forward, working the knots between your shoulder blades loose.)
Why did I have to be the one to arrange her body on the couch with her skirt decently over her knees so that she wouldn't be too shocking when Buffy or Dawn found her later that day?
(The nurse finishes the backrub, gathers up her tools, and asks you if you want the light left on. You nod yes, and she bustles out, taking the stench of old gauze and antiseptics with her.)
Why couldn't they have held the funeral at night? I would have been happy to be a pallbearer - I even nicked a suit and tie in case they asked.
They never did.
(After a while you ease back up, and take a long pull at the plasma before looking at the photo again; Buffy's in a white string bikini with her arm around her mother's waist and is concentrating on a mouthful of ice cream: strawberry with rainbow sprinkles.)
You thought you understood pain until you met Buffy and watched her sail right past you to other men when you thought you'd made your desires clear.
Bloody hell, what did it take? A soddin' billboard in her front yard? I gave her my best dance and she looked right past me! She had to die before she took me seriously, Hell, that was no picnic...
When you finally got Buffy all to yourself, it was hollow: so what if it hurt in all the right places?
I got the body, but not the soul - she wouldn't give it to me; kept danglin' it in front of me like a soddin' carrot. Had I a soul, I would have given it to her. When I got mine back? Bloody hell, she wouldn't take it no matter how hard I tried to... oh God!
The confusion that tracking and then being mutilated by Dana deferred boils up and you feel like William again, stupid, lost, and hurt in this strange and evil-smelling place.
What's wrong with me? I gave Dru my heart; she didn't want it. I was only a baby-minder, a toy.
A mama's boy - running crying to mother every time the world barked at you, only mother's no longer around to cling to...
Tried giving it to Cecily; she told me I was beneath her for even thinking of it. What's wrong with me? Even with a soul I'm still missing something, and nobody'll tell me what it is!
Getting your soul back only made that feeling of "What am I missing?" worse even as the First with its many voices yammered at you from inside your head, stripping you naked in front of everyone you'd ever brutalized so that you couldn't hide anymore behind the mask of Spike. You'd dragged yourself complete with broken wings to Buffy's feet but she didn't believe you because you'd already used up all your chances.
What's wrong with me? I had to be half dead before Buffy knew how serious I was, and then I had to finish the job - that was all that was left to me. I'd wasted everything else.
Near the end, the nights you spent with Buffy doing nothing were doubly agonizing because your brand new soul showed you what you'd been missing, and that now that you knew, your time had run out and it was too late.
Not that knowing did me any good. In every way I was just a substitute, a bloody stand-in for Peaches.
Buffy told you she loved you and took your hand in hers like you really mattered even as the light you carried tore into you; for that alone, you'd do it all over again.
Pity for the dying, mate. She wasn't counting on me coming back.
So, now what do you get? Silence. Complete and total silence. Andrew claims he's Buffy's right hand man; wouldn't he have said something to her after he retrieved Dana for the Watchers?
Prolly did. Lit'l git never shuts up. Prolly told her everything. Bitch obviously doesn't need me. Bitch obviously never needed me. If it hadn't been me, it would have been somebody else. Why should I put myself through all that again by lookin' her up?
(You stare blindly up at a commercial for some soft drink or another, the Pop-Tart of the moment flaunting herself in front of you, navel ring twinkling enticingly; out of reach unless you're willing to pay for it...)
(Exhausted, you slump back, legs sprawled in front of you, staring at the stolen remains of a long-ago summer's day.)
Three of your girls are dead. The rest? Fluttered away, leaving you behind. Of those that are dead, there are no graves to visit, only a giant sinkhole out in the California desert where there used to be a town.
Let Doyle play with the nasties in the alleys for once. Soon as I can feel my hands again, I'll slip upstairs an' nick that bottle of rare French wine that Peaches keeps taped up under his desk just to wank him off. Then I'll nick his Viper.
"You've had a long day." A loud, firm female voice breaks into your thoughts, "These will help you sleep." You glance at the bedside clock; last time you bothered to look it was five in the evening. Now it's ten, which means that you've been dozing in and out without noticing.
Maybe I'll call Buffy, Dawn, maybe Willow. Yeah, I'll call them - ask them to come with me. No, what would be the point? Buffy and Dawn are living it up in Europe, and Willow's in Rio facedown in Kennedy.
(The night nurse helps you down a couple of sleeping pills, holding a glass of ice water to your lips before easing you into a prone position. She turns off the lights and the mute flicker of the television as she leaves, closing the door behind her.)
With the radio blasting out something loud and hard, you'll drive out to that sinkhole and sit among the owls and the coyotes on the crumbling rim, absently picking at your stitches while listening to the wind in the Joshua trees and the quiet ticking of the Viper's engine as it slowly cools in the clear cold desert night.
(The dark around you goes fuzzy as the pills start working.)
After a while... you'll open that bottle and drink half of it... while pouring the rest of it bit by bit into the Sunnydale Sinkhole, the shared grave of three women... you loved in different ways... telling them what's been going on... in... your unlife... after you apologize... for. abandoning... them...