Aging Gracefully

TITLE:

Aging Gracefully

AUTHOR:

raven39_25

DISCLAIMER:

Joss' blocks, my building.

DISTRIBUTION:

Sharing is good. Just ask.

RATING:

PG

SPOILERS:

Everything up through (but excluding the last scene of "I Was Made To Love You"

SUMMARY:

You find secrets in the oddest places.

POSTED:

February 22, 2001

After taking the April-bot back to Warren, and giving him strict instructions to...well, it came out something like "be good," Buffy had decided to patrol and then go home. As she walked the usual route through the cemetery, she heard the telltale slam of a certain crypt door followed by footsteps and English muttering going in the opposite direction. She continued her slow circular route, unmoved.

When she was sure he'd gone, she decided that the fact that it was "his" part of the cemetery didn't mean that she shouldn't patrol there as well. So she turned around and walked back to that area she'd avoided. As she approached his crypt, she saw some papers scattered about. Picking one up, she saw it was one of the pictures that had recently been pinned up on the wall under his room. Too creepy!

She threw it down, then thought again. Pictures of the Slayer probably shouldn't be floating around Sunnydale willy-nilly. So she began picking them up and shoving them in her pockets. Pick. Shove. Pick. Shove. She gathered all she could find and headed for home. She needed a hot bath. Spike really was obsessed, wasn't he? Well, maybe she'd put a stop to that for good. Good.

Once in the house, she climbed the stairs to her room. She took off her coat and threw it on her bed. One hot bath later, she was sitting on her bed, cleaning out her coat pockets. The pictures were recent. Not necessarily flattering. The sketches were definitely not. Who ever told this guy he could draw? After looking over the first few things, she pulled them all out at once and aimed for the trash can. "Nothing but net," she said with very little self-satisfaction.

She crawled into bed and reached to her nightstand for the newest copy of Cosmo. A girl could dream...couldn't she? She settled down to read and took one last look around the room. Something taunted her from her wastebasket. She wouldn't have taken second notice, except that it had the look of rather...creativity...about it. It was hand written, in several different inks. Some words were scratched through, others written in.

Spike can write? She sneered. Oh, yeah. William the Poet. What a laugh. This was probably just a shopping list; pig's blood, troll mallet, Buffy's underwear. She shuddered. The more she tried to ignore it, the more she had to see what it said. Finally she got up to step in the wastebasket, to crush it down and make it stop looking at her. Instead she reached out and picked it up.

She read the first few words and then the ground began to tremble and her carefully constructed world of right and wrong began to crumble.

Spike's Elegy
I am a creature of the night.
I own it and in it, no one owns me.
I prowl the streets in lithe movement.
I have power and want for nothing.
But somewhere, between night and day,
I dream.
I dream of not what I've become,
I dream of things I've lost and cannot reclaim.
Things not missed, until you stirred my memories, love.
In my dreams, I lie on my back in a sun-drenched meadow.
The yellow light gently warms me.
I close my eyes and a soft breeze drifts over me,
Carrying the fresh smells of wildflowers.
In the distance I hear the laughter of children at play.
I look up and see the crystal sky.
It is bluer and bigger than I remember.
Clouds, looking like the toy boats of my youth, float overhead.
My heart beats with the wings of the flocks of birds,
And my hands shake with the joy of life coursing through them once again.
I stand.
The gloriously green grass sways at my knees,
And the earth is soft and warm beneath my bare feet.
Leaves on trees far away rustle and shimmer.
And across the meadow, there is you.
Your golden hair rivals the sun,
Your strength is softened by the freedom of the light.
Here you are not a shadow, but a siren,
Calling me to reach beyond my nocturnal nature.
I smile.
I run to you and my lungs gasp for air.
When I reach your side, out of breath,
We laugh for the joy of the need.
And the deep, full laughter is good.
These things; sunlight, laughter, warmth,
They are fragile, for when I awaken at dusk,
As the precious drops of sun give way to twilight,
They shatter.
And I am a creature of the night once more.
But changed.

Buffy sat on the side of the bed, holding the paper for a long while, until the room stopped spinning. How could Spike, Spike of all...vampires, write something like this? Vampires were soulless demons, right? They had nothing left of their former selves, they were shells full of evil intent and fangs. And with one exception she'd stalwartly believed that for 5 years now. How DARE he tell her that it was wrong!

OK, Big Bad. Watch out. I'm on my way, she muttered as she put on her clothes. She headed out, determined to...well...something.

She ended up at Giles' door, poem in hand. She rang the bell twice, (it was 3:00 am after all). He finally answered on ring number nine. Wiping his eyes, Giles led her to the living room. "Well, I can assume this is not a social call?"

She held out the paper and Giles wiped his eyes once more before setting his glasses on his nose in the usual place. When he'd finished reading, all he could say was "Oh my."

""Oh my? OH MY!"? Is that all you can say? Giles?" She snagged the paper out of his hands and shook it at him. "Tell me. A vampire, a REAL vampire can't feel these things. They can't know these emotions, these dreams. Right? RIGHT?"

Giles had hoped he'd never have to tell Buffy what he was about to tell her. She was a Slayer. Slayers just slayed, they didn't ask questions like this. He knew the answer, but he hesitated.

He'd discovered a secret many years ago in a dark room, in a dusty book. Something, it turned out, that the Council held sacred. He'd confronted the Council with it and their dirty lie and, having admitted to it, they swore him to secrecy and took him into their confidence. He'd held his tongue and become one of the inner circle. Keeping their secret had gotten him out of England, to California and assigned as Buffy's watcher. There he could do his own research. But now confronted by his own Slayer, by...Buffy who held the proof in her hands, Rupert Giles had no choice. He told her the truth.

"Buffy, Watchers have been watching vampires for an eternity. Since there were vampires to watch, I'd say." She gave him a "tell me something new" look. "Anyway," he continued, "over time, some of the more experienced Watchers developed a theory about vampires aging."

"Aging? I KNOW you're not telling me that they get old."

"No, not in the way we do. But in a way. It's to be understood that young vampires, only a few years or even decades old, are fierce, violent and malevolent. They stalk and hunt their prey with vulgarity and ruthlessness. As a vampire gets older, and again, I use the term only to denote the passage of time, they begin to tire of the blood lust and revel instead in the "art" of their kills, they test their hunting skills and push the limits on what they can get away with. These vampires are at their peak, in their prime."

"Great."

"After quite some time, usually one or two centuries, those vampires which survive move on to the next stage of their life. They become angry at their circumstances, they get lazy in their appearance and their habits. Their skills are honed, but they get sloppy. They begin to wonder if there's more. Something they've missed. They start to look beyond the blood at the life that they could have had. At things they might have made better."

"No, Giles. No! Don't tell me that I'm the object of Spike's mid-life crisis!"

Giles smiled. He hadn't thought of that. "Well..." he began.

Buffy shook her head. "I'd rather he buy a red sports car."

Giles laughed nervously.

After a pause, he began again. "After that, most begin to stop feeding, to stop, shall we say, caring. They even begin to think of suicide and most often, if they make it that far, they succeed. A very rare vampire will change sides. That's only happened once or twice in the last 3,000 years." He stopped. Letting it sink in. "Buffy, I'm sorry I hadn't told you this before, but thanks to the hellmouth, Sunnydale has so many young vampires... Well, I didn't think you'd ever have to know. It's Council orders, you see. Any Watcher who speaks out about the aging process is condemned and ostracized." She raised her eyebrows. "According to the Council, no one is to know that vampires mature emotionally throughout their existence, because...well, if a Slayer knew of the vampires maintaining human-like emotions, or even the possibility of them, the Slayer's resolve to slay is threatened, and thereby..." He hesitated. Buffy wouldn't like this last part. But he had to finish what he'd started, "...the Council's very existence would be threatened."

She was trying to grasp it all. "Are you saying that vampires have "potential"?"

Giles started to speak then looked away and nodded.

"And that the Council has kept this secret, instilled this...this prejudice for the sake of their own existence?"

Giles nodded, slower this time.

She saw red. She hated being used, and they had used her...and Faith...and Kendra, all the way back to the beginning. How DARE they! The Council had created killing machines to destroy sapient beings for their own benefit. To keep their precious jobs. Vampires were not demons, not soulless creatures. Sure, vampires had challenges in their new existence, but they had potential for...good? Buffy would have stormed out, if she'd known where to go. But she didn't.

"Buffy, you must understand that the choice about slaying was theirs, not yours." She was silent. "Ultimately, though, it is the same goal. Humans live, vampires find peace." More silence. "It's very rare that a vampire reaches maturity. Very rare."

"How rare?" she asked quietly.

Giles reasoned, "Well, as I said, only one or two ever have. Dru, Angel and Spike are unique situations. Dru is insane and will probably never mature. Angel...well you know...has a soul. Even at that I hear he's struggling. And Spike has the chip. I think that it must have made him age more quickly. I've only known of 15 or 20 that ever made it as far as they have."

She thought of last week. She'd dusted about 20 total on patrol last week alone. God! Twenty unlives with potential! There were 20 people in her Bio class at school. So many. So many. She ran into the bathroom and threw up.

Where do you go when your whole belief system has been thrown to the wind? When you discover that your enemy should be your friend? That with a little work and a lot of time, you might be able to awaken a vampire's soul? Gypsy curses and visits to hell, NOT necessary?

She had to leave. She walked out of the bathroom, past Giles, out of the house and into the dark not sure what she was looking for. She found it. Or rather, it found her. Spike was in the courtyard of Giles' building, smoking. Waiting.

"I thought I might find you here, Slayer. We need to talk."

Buffy looked at him. "Don't call me that."

"Call you what?" he looked confused.

"Slayer," she spat with contempt.

"Oooo. Trouble in Buffydom?" he smirked.

"Spike, please," she begged. She looked at her hands and found that his poem was still there.

He followed her gaze and knew immediately what the paper was. "Where'd you get that?" He grabbed it away from her, folded it and stuffed it into the pocket of his duster. Bloody hell, he thought, it must have fallen out of the box earlier when I took everything over to that Warren kid. Best to put up a good defense. "Well, where do you get off reading my private..." he began, but he didn't know how to finish that. He looked at her to make sure she was up for a fight. A little sparring would be fun. Better than being told to leave, at any rate. Then he saw a new look on her face. What was it? Damn. Why did his needs always seem to disappear when she was in pain? He backed off and waited.

Buffy couldn't find any words. He put out his smoke and waited some more. She just stood there. There was silence.

"Spike?" Buffy finally said. "Tell me what you remember about...before."

"When I was human, you mean?"

"Uh, huh."

Spike sighed. She'd read the poem. She had to know how it hurt to remember. "Can't we talk about something else?"

"No," Buffy answered, "Not just now. How much do you remember?"

He paused and closed his eyes. "All of it."

Buffy's kness gave way and she sat down on the stairs. Spike knelt before her. Looking at her intently. Wondering.

"And it hurts?"

He dropped his head in acknowledgement of something he'd rather have forgotten, "Yeah."

Buffy started to cry. She couldn't help it. The tears just wouldn't stop.

"Slayer?" Spike asked, confused. "Buffy? You needn't cry. It's my past, not yours."

"Damn it Spike. I'm not crying about you. It's all the others. All the vampires I have managed to slay. All those lives I've ended. Each of them was a person. Each of them had a future. I never even gave it a thought. Evil they said and slay I did."

Spike was puzzled. "They?"

"Watchers," Buffy sputtered.

"Oh."

"What do I do? Now that I know, Spike? I can't just walk up to each one and say, "Excuse me, vampire dear, but could I speak with you? This killing you're doing is wrong. You'll realize that in about 500 years, so just hold off and we'll talk later."?"

"No, luv. You do what you do. You slay." She couldn't believe she was hearing her sworn enemy say this.

"Are you telling me it's OK? That the hundreds of vamps I've dusted in the last five years don't add up to anything? Couldn't have added up to anything?"

"No, I'm not saying that Buffy. What I'm saying is that you have a purpose in this game of life and death. Getting rid of vampires is what you do. Protecting people is what you do. Really, you're doing those vampires a favor. Saving them from a lot of heartache later on." He couldn't look at her anymore as he continued, "You read the poem. You know." Then he added, "It's better ended before it starts."

Buffy sniffed and looked down at him. The thought of what he had been and of what he could be again (without the chip), were still frightening. But here was Spike, Slayer of Slayers, evil-doer extraordinaire, kneeling before her, filled with just as much confusion, pain, regret and sorrow as she was.

It was just too funny.

She smiled.

Then she reached out and put her hand on his arm.

He looked up, surprised.

And he smiled back.

FIN