By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION ONE: STIRRINGS
Chapter Four: Nothing Gold Can Stay
Spike went into the Magic Box through the training annex, easing quietly into the store in case there might be customers and Anya busy with them. Would have put her in a real foul mood to be interrupted with customers, who might then not buy anything and all his fault.
And sure enough there were customers, couple of children, boy and a girl, seventeen, maybe, trying to decide about candles but mostly scared about doing what they looked to be thinking about, shy side glances and desperate rictus smiles with panicked eyes, because they were scared mostly and hopeful a little, and Spike let them be because he knew how that felt, well enough.
Though he hadn’t made the slightest bit of noise, standing quiet by the shut door and only watching, Anya knew right off he was there, swinging around and coming quick back toward him, all frowning and concerned so he couldn’t look at her and keep his mind clear for what he had to talk to her about.
Anya fussed back and forth and around, halfway to grabbing at him and then yanking her hands back like he was red hot and she daren’t touch him, which was about the truth, Anya understood about such things, which was why it’d gone the way it had between them that one time. If there was one thing Anya understood, it was sorrow. She could sniff it out from miles away and had, in her Vengeance demon days.
He turned away to the wall. “Just let me be, Anya. Let me be awhile, go tend to your customers.”
“Oh, piffle. Candles. Who cares about them? Three dollars, tops. What on earth’s the matter? I’ve been picking it up all day, figured it was none of my concern, being human now, more or less, but I had no idea it was you!” When Spike only shook his head and wouldn’t answer her, Anya shooed at him and told him to go on in back. “Like I said, three dollars, tops. I’ll make them buy something and then get rid of them and close up, it’s practically 4:30 anyway, and how much business is that to lose? Go ahead, I’ll be right back.”
Spike took a heavy, sprawled seat on the back bench, the training room very familiar to him from sessions with the Slayer and lately some of the SITs, for workouts that needed both more space and better padding for the falls and rolls than was available anyplace else. By the time Anya came bustling back he had himself a bit more in hand and figured he was fit to talk.
Sitting tight against him, Anya asked at once, “Who’s died? Not Buffy, I would have heard about that, I’d have had Xander in here instead of you wanting to weep on my shoulder, not that I’d let him. But of course you can if you want to, I didn’t mean you couldn’t, and why do you smell like sauerkraut? That’s an odd choice for perfume, though if someone likes it I have no objection, it’s certainly distinctive. And what have you done to your arm? Let me see!”
Spike held the arm out, and Anya found it a little awkward to read her way around but got there in the end, she always did.
“Well, isn’t that nice! Robert Frost, isn’t it? What’s the occasion, besides being drunk?”
“Dawn. She’s gone.”
“That’s why it starts out that way, with the capital D. Of course. Should I know Dawn?”
“You might, if you put your mind to it. Since you’re a demon. Or were,” Spike amended, respecting her fiction. “Buffy’s little sis, about so high.” He marked a line at the bridge of his nose. “Just starting at the High School. In and out of here nearly every afternoon, some small shoplifting a few times--”
“Yes, of course! And she was paying me back in labor and I had to watch her near the jewelry, just in case.” Anya frowned perplexedly. “That was so hard to remember!”
“They got somebody doin’ that, it seems.”
“That explains it, then. Did she die of something contagious? Not as if you’re any problem, but I should know in case Xander wants to make up again. That would be the first time this week but it’s only Monday and a girl can’t be too careful, humans are so unsanitary, always catching things.” After that burst Anya waited, poised and attentive, for his answer.
“Didn’t die, exactly. At least I don’t think so. Just…vanished.”
“Dissolved into constituent elements. You don’t see much of that anymore. Probably her keyness in some fashion. How terrible for you! She was so attached to you! Could hardly drive her away with a stick, or is that inappropriate humor? It’s so hard to tell with vampires, they sometimes have such an odd sense of what’s amusing. Probably from being technically dead. Gives a different perspective, I’d imagine. Since most humor depends on incongruities and primal fears, if you’re already dead, even technically, there’s the big one gone already, and what you consider incongruous undergoes drastic changes.”
“No, that’s fine. None of the rest remember, except Buffy, a little. There for a second, when she was still half asleep. So your jokes are no worse than Willow thinking I’d been fucking the child. Didn’t like that much.”
“Did she? Really? Oh, that’s too gross. You weren’t, were you? That’s certainly not the impression I ever got.”
“No. Just loved her, is all.”
“Not the same thing, I understand perfectly. Though it’s so hard to get humans to make that distinction. Though I’m of course human now, and I make that distinction perfectly well. So what did you do to her? Willow, I mean.”
“Nothing to speak of. She wasn’t to know. They’ve all forgot. Red kept calling her ‘the Dawn,’ like she was some sort of a ‘bot.”
“You should have done something to her,” Anya advised seriously. “I’m sure it would have made you feel much better.”
“Yeah, maybe. For the two seconds before she set me afire.”
Anya went into gales of laughter and Spike found himself inclined to smile in spite of everything. He should have known Anya would cheer him up. The rest, they didn’t appreciate her. Particularly Harris. Took another demon to appreciate her properly and they both knew it but didn’t say anything about it much anymore, except for that one time and there’d been good reasons for that, and those reasons weren’t so anymore, so they were just good friends no matter what Harris thought.
When she was through laughing, Anya put on her worried/concerned face again, that set the lines between her eyebrows and her mouth all pursed up tight. “The soul. Does that make it worse?”
“Dunno why not, it ruins everything else.”
Anya thought that was hilarious too. Maybe it was. He didn’t trust himself to judge at the moment.
“Anya. I want to get her back: Dawn. Got no wishes coming that I know of and they come back to bite you in the ass anyway so that’s not a thing I’d do. Anything you can think of that would let me do that?”
Anya frowned, her eyes darting uncomfortably around. “I’m a terrible hostess, I haven’t offered you anything to drink! I know: I used to have a bottle of peach schnapps--”
Spike caught her wrist before she’d quite dashed off to fetch it. Pulled up short, Anya spun around and the lines were back between her eyes. She and Spike looked at each other for a minute or so. Talking without saying anything. Communicating all the same. Sympathy and discomfort and appeal and connection and a painful understanding that nothing was being said because there was nothing to say. Spike let her wrist go.
“Anya, there’s got to be something.”
“Spike, you’re not nearly drunk enough for me to discuss this with you. Let me get you something--”
Spike just tipped his head and kept looking at her. She made a huge, frustrated frown and dumped herself back on the bench, then smacked her fists hard down on her knees. “If she actually were dead, there are of course lots of things that could be done. Ghost, zombification, something elaborate with blood sacrifice like Buffy got, not that it wasn’t very tasteful, the demon bikers weren’t Willow’s fault after all, although it certainly was an awkward coincidence and the Magic Box wasn’t even touched, which of course is the important thing. I still have awful dreams about those bikers. I dream they’re getting into the good crystals. Impossible to mend once they’re broken, the harmonics are all wrong. But you don’t care about any of that, I’m sorry.” Anya patted his hand absently and quite hard. “But I don’t think you understand the problem. Maybe if I explained. It’s as though you’d thrown a bucket of water into the ocean. Not you personally: anyone. But you, you personally, now want exactly the same water back that was in the bucket to begin with. Do you see, or should I try a different analogy with seagulls or wire clothes hangers?”
Spike was concentrating because if you could get through the excess verbiage, generally Anya did make sense. And she was, after all, over a thousand years old. Seen a lot, over that time. Not much she didn’t know about--more, generally, than you actually wanted to hear, but everybody had some quirk or another. It wasn’t like being around the children, who mostly made him feel older than dirt. A vampire’s span hardly ever could begin to compare to that of a Vengeance demon, one of the longest-lived of the mixed demon races. Probably because they took such satisfaction in their work.
“I got the bucket,” he said. “Got the water in the bucket, that’s Dawn herself. So what’s the ocean, then?”
“Why, the Powers That Be. I thought everybody knew that. What are you going to make a dimensional key from except what formed the dimensions themselves in the first place? Dimensionality is one of the Powers That Be. A fraction of that Power was sequestered--would that be the right word, ‘sequestered’? Maybe ‘separated,’ except that doesn’t carry the idea of ‘hidden.’ All right, I’ll try secreted, only that sounds glandular.”
“‘Sequestered’ will do fine, pet. The rest, we can take as given.”
“All right, if you’re sure,” Anya responded dubiously. “Anyway, a fraction was sequestered, put down here and hidden because after all, this is such a nothing backwater--”
“This whole planet and most of this reality, though it has its nice points here and there. But you have to look for them, they’re at best an acquired taste, so what better place to hide something, since nobody would bother to look? Except Glory, and who’s she? Minor Hellgod with the fashion sense of Mae West. Or…or Anita Ekberg, that’s another one. And who’s the new one? I have it just on the tip of my mind, married that rich old guy and then orgasmed him to death. Oh, you have to know what I mean!” She thumped Spike hard several times on the tatted arm, which did sting a bit and he removed it carefully, so as not to offend her.
“What, Anna Nicole?”
“Yes! I’m ashamed to have a name even close to hers, and I’ve had it longer so it’s entirely the fault of her parents.”
“Imagine you’re right about that. Now how would a chap make contact with the Powers That Be, or that one in particular? To hear him tell it, Peaches does it every day and twice on Tuesdays, so how hard can it be?”
Anya shook her head vehemently, making her hair all fluff out in a way that was more pretty than not. “You don’t want to do that, Spike. You really don’t.”
“You heard me say that vampires have a peculiar sense of humor? Try the Powers if you want the truly bizarre. There was a story going around Arashmahar once about an entire solar system that was crisped for a punchline by one of the Powers. And that they’re still laughing about it, as they get the point. One by one. Every thousand years or so. Sometimes, apparently, it takes awhile.
“It’s one thing when they contact you, which would account for Angel’s situation. It’s quite another to contact them uninvited. Totally utterly different. And fatal is the best that could happen. Trust me: you do NOT want to bring yourself to their notice. Will you please trust me about this? You’re a mere child, and I’m trying to warn you away from a very hot iron. As in ironing.” She mimed it. “Or even a hot poker, everybody’s seen those. I am giving you very good, very important advice here. And you’re not going to take it, are you.”
“Never have before,” said Spike, feeling a kind of calm, almost lazy, resignation. “So it’s best to continue how you started out.”
“Well, there’s that, and I’m sure it’s important, but I just can’t feel it at the moment. I know: I’ll tell Buffy,” Anya announced triumphantly. “And she won’t let you!”
“Now, Anya. Coming between an honest vampire and his Slayer, that could be disruptive, now couldn’t it. And I always thought you tried not to do that, break couples up an’ all. Because of the whole vengeance thing. Now isn’t that so.”
“Yes. Drat! Drat fudge shit. Excuse me, but I’m very vexed. All right, but you have to promise to tell Buffy yourself, then, before you do anything rash.”
Spike thought about it. Thought about how often Buffy had told him before she did anything rash. Which would be zero. In fact, he was generally the last to find out and had to do the clean-up. Well, maybe one: Glory’s tower, he’d known about that beforehand. So that would make once. But these were special circumstances, and Dawn after all was her sister, even if made up out of dimensional stuff and even though Buffy couldn’t precisely remember her at the moment. Family was important, regardless. So maybe Anya was right. Maybe he should. “All right. I promise.”
Anya leaped up, dashed a few paces, then spun around. “You do know how to use a focusing crystal, don’t you?”
Spike nodded slowly several times.
“I’ve got one put by, I didn’t expect there to be any commercial demand for it, most people have more sense. A collector’s item. It came in by mistake with a shipment of ordinary scrying crystals, but it’s rare and therefore worth a great deal of money if I were ever to find the right buyer. And we’d have to make arrangements for how you were going to pay me for it. But…if you get crisped, you’re not going to pay me, and Buffy certainly wouldn’t hold herself responsible for your debts, it’s not as if you were legally married, after all. Or are you? No, you couldn’t be because although Buffy and I aren’t particularly close at the moment since she tried to kill me, I can’t imagine not being invited to your wedding, assuming you’d had one, which of course I’m now certain that you didn’t. Since I wasn’t invited. Didn’t even help with the planning. So that’s my price. In the unlikely event that you survive this, when you and Buffy decide to do the decent thing, since she’s human or practically and that’s what humans do, get married, that is--all the magazines say so, to say nothing of the thousands of Harlequin romances--I get to make all the arrangements. All of them. Every one. No exceptions.”
“Now, I’d have to ask Buffy about that. But supposing she has no objections and hasn’t made other plans herself, then yes, I’ll promise you that.”
Anya beamed and then finished running off to get the crystal.
Spike had been sure he could depend on Anya to come up with something.
Spike had promised in all good faith, and had meant to do what he’d promised: talk to Buffy before doing anything toward contacting the Powers That Be…one of which was apparently (partly) Dawn. So it was completely involuntary and unintentional on his part that when he left the Magic Box by the back door, considering the faceted softball-sized crystal in his hand and holding it because it was too large for any pocket, he was blindsided by an angle of light and realized where he was. It was that alley. From what he thought of as “the Never dream.” The light falling just so, and the walls where the walls were, and the places where the shadows slanted down all corresponding, dark and bright, everything he saw all corresponding in every least detail. It seemed to get larger and larger before him as though it was moving toward him although he wasn’t moving at all, gone completely blank with astonishment and recognition and terror that this should be the place after all, the very one.
The one thought that came to him was that it had been Dawn all along and he hadn’t known. Only that it was coming and he was like not to survive it and that had been all right because he’d thought he’d have a chance first to put himself between, take the death himself and make it leave his girls be, but there’d been no chance and he hadn’t even known she was gone for such a time, hours, and it’d been Dawn all along.
And just as he got that far in understanding it, it was just as though it was all beginning afresh, the first instant of recognition and shock, deeper and higher and bigger and moving in faster, and then again, and again, and again. It felt like getting hit, it felt like getting destroyed, hammered and beaten smaller and smaller until finally there was no space at all left to be in. And then it stopped. Or he did, he had no way of distinguishing.
And nothing at all happened for what seemed like a very long time.
Something set in amber, the thought came. And stayed awhile. Long or short, no way of telling. Anyway gone eventually.
Trapped inside his skull. Didn’t know if that was a thought or not. Just something there, some way, that he was aware of. And after a time no longer aware of it or it was gone, no difference.
He’d been moderately drunk but wasn’t now. Not a bit. This was what real meant. No question of it, not an instant, supposing he’d know the difference between an instant and anything else.
Then after the longest while of all, the least touch of sensation. His left arm. Couldn’t name it any particular sensation except it got stronger, awareness strengthening into pain and then past that, way past that, a very long time of that. And then suddenly gone. No kind of sensation at all.
You have no claim on us.
Neither sound nor thought, just something that was present and he was aware of it. It was there a very long time, and he aware of it, and that’s all there was.
I do. He’d done that. He didn’t know how or what it was, but he knew it was his and he’d done it.
If I have no claim, why bother to tell me so?
That was even better. That was a place he could stand and know himself apart from all the everything else. It was an attitude, and it was his. It was defiance and argument and it wasn’t nothing because it was still there, hadn’t been answered or refuted or simply made not to be.
Something forming: so now there was sight and some least sense of near and far. Medium distance because it could have been farther, but not much. Something filmy and gauzy and like a skull. And suddenly, instantly, all complete. Dawn’s face, if she was dead. And then under and around the face, the rest of her, thrown in almost contemptuously to complete her, head to toe, be done with it.
He made no comment, but he’d seen masks before and wasn’t impressed, and maybe that was a comment in spite of him.
The eyes opened and the mouth moved like inferior animatronics. The bad illusion of life without any actual life and so as fake as it could possibly be. Not-Dawn said, “You don’t want this.”
And apparently the Whatever was fair: if not-Dawn could form actual words, then he was allowed to as well. Otherwise, wasn’t much point to it, actually.
“No: because it’s not her.”
So the not-Dawn was made exactly like her: each least thing he questioned or found fault with changed until he didn’t, until he could see nothing except what was exactly like Dawn. And he hoped for a second it might actually be--
He thought, This is what will probably get me killed. And he figured Whatever knew he was thinking that but no help for it, it was important to him to know it.
So whatever passed for saying, he said, “I’m a vampire. I can’t smell her or hear her or touch her. She has no weight, no actual substance. She has no heartbeat or breath or blood. Nothing at all of what a girl should have inside her. I can’t feel her breath. She doesn’t look at me as Dawn looks at me. This is not who she is. This is not Dawn.”
If he’d hoped to dicker his way to further and closer approximations, he was disappointed: the whole everything was gone and there was nothing again. Nothing at all. He began to suspect the Whatever was beginning to get peeved.
He often had that effect.
Spike, you should go home.
It didn’t sound at all, much less sound right. All the same, he knew beyond question: Dawn. Herself. Not angry with him. Only sad.
A very large feeling seized him. As large as her absence had been. There was nothing else he could be aware of; and that continued.
I know. I know why you did this.
With that soft comment came the least fingertip touch to the back of his left hand, which was there because she’d touched it. And stayed.
The feeling didn’t change or diminish. But something, not his choice, moved it a little away, so there was a little away. Words were possible again.
“Wanted to do it right for you. Wanted that real hard.”
I know. But you’re bothering the rest of Us.
“Am I bothering you?”
No. Yes. I’m here because you’re bothering Us. We want to you stop. They will stop you if you don’t stop yourself.
“You stop me then, if you want to.”
No. I don’t want to. They do. The rest of Us. I am only part. Very small. Almost nothing.
There was no way he could respond to that. Only the feeling: off to the side and very large. As she was to him.
Some of what you think of as mine isn’t. It was taken, to be me. To make me. From Buffy-for-herself.
Truly Dawn. It was truly her. “Yes, Bit.”
Because I trust, she does not. She doesn’t cry when you hurt because I cry. Buffy-for-herself fears all because I fear none. You’re not first because that was given to me for mine. It was for Buffy, to claim her with, so she would protect me. But I claimed you with it too because you were there and it wasn’t planned, for it to be so. You weren’t part of what was planned for, but you were there all the same. After the tower. You know how it was then. All these things that were taken have been returned. They should not be taken again, Spike. They are hers. I love you but I’m no one. Almost nothing. And when you go I will be nothing again. Scattered. And that’s as it should be. And should have been. But she was gone, there was no way to return what I’d been given, and I would not go and leave you so. With nothing at all. I didn’t know that was why I stayed, but I know now. She should be whole. And you should be whole. And not divided. You’re not mine to keep. Once, but not now. May I take something from you? For a keepsake?
“Whatever you say, Bit.”
I have taken it, and I don’t think it’s a thing you’ll miss. I wouldn’t do that.
Nothing possible. Only the feeling.
Do you want to forget?
The touch to his hand, to her name there. Stronger. Then you won’t. Goodbye, Spike.
And he was sitting on a crate in an alley in a certain slant of light. And he didn’t know what to do with his hands.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Continued in Chapter Five: Vampires by Moonlight