Sequel to Who Am I?; part of The Bittersweets Series
Buffy came into the kitchen and set the bags down on the counter. The rain was still sluicing down. When she’d gone out to the market, everything looked flat and grey and out of place. She’d tried not to speak to anyone, or look into anybody’s face. Without being asked, Spike had given her money; offered to go with her—it was already dark—but she told him Dawn shouldn’t come in to an empty house. Glad of her demurral when she spotted Xander framed at the beer cooler at the end of one long aisle, and hid herself behind a pyramid of Libby’s Creamed Corn until she was sure he’d gone.
“Spike. Don’t teach my little sister how to be a card sharp.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Buffy. You never let me do anything. Besides, this is educational. Math is involved.”
“Yeah,” Spike said. “It’s a useful life skill, innit, Slayer? Knowing how to play a friendly game like a gentleman. Stand the Niblet in good stead when she goes off to college.”
“Oh, as if you were ever a gentleman.”
“He was, though,” Dawn said. “I mean—when he went to Cambridge, he—“ She stopped. Spike’s stare had dropped to forty below. Hey, Buffy thought. She could look at Dawn like that, but he wasn’t supposed—
“How would you know about that?” Spike said. His voice steel-tipped. “Not from me.”
Buffy said “Cambridge? As in Cambridge University?”
“I . . . I don’t know . . . didn’t you tell me?” She fidgeted with her cards. “I thought you did.”
“You’ve been prying into my box. My locked box.”
Buffy said, “What box?” and Dawn said “No!” and Spike, leaping up from the table, said “Fucking hell, you miserable child, you broke into my box!”
“I didn’t, I didn’t,” Dawn cried, “it was an accident!”
Spike turned his back on them, his shoulders heaving, and let out a roar that made both girls jump. Grabbing up a stake from the junk drawer, Buffy scrambled to get between him and her sister. Behind her, Dawn broke into fear-struck sobs. Spike came around then; Buffy expected to see his vamp face and had the stake half way into position before she saw only William, looking uncertain and angry.
“There’s some things kiddies aren’t meant to see.” He addressed this to Buffy, like a plea. “And my box is full of such.”
“What is this box?”
“My mementos. My history. Mine and Dru’s. Mine and An— . . . I’ve brought it with me everywhere. It’s not meant for anybody’s eyes but mine.”
“Well then what’s it doing in my house? Keep it in your crypt where it belongs.”
“But the crypt’s all broken up.” Dawn sniffed, and wiped at her eyes with the heel of her hand. “Willow and Xander and Anya wrecked it the other night and burned all Spike’s stuff. He almost couldn’t get the box at all. Willow blew it at him out of the fire with magic, it knocked him out, I thought it had killed him. And—and—and—I swear, Spike, I took it upstairs like you said to, and then it fell open when I was trying to put it down. I’ve only got one arm now, it was heavy. The lock was broken. All the stuff fell out. So . . . so I saw some of it. Just a little. While I was picking it all up off the floor.”
Spike said “Oh bloody fucking Christ you stupid girl!” and Buffy said “Wait a minute, you left the house without telling me and went to the cemetery?” and Dawn said “I couldn’t help it!”
Buffy rounded on Spike. “I can’t have this! I can’t have this in my house—you, your filthy influences—your devices—! Now how the hell am I going to wash her mind out with soap? I’ve got to wash mine!”
“Buffy, love, listen—“
“Get out! Get out of here this minute!”
“Spike, really, I didn’t see anything—just a few envelopes, pictures—I swear I didn’t open—“
“Out! I should never have permitted— You’ve crossed the line. Get out!”
“I’ve crossed the line—? I’m the one covered in your bloody—“
“Shut up and get out!”
“All right, fuck you then. Let me get my blasted box and I’ll go. See if I save the Niblet’s hide or yours ever—“
“Dawn,” Buffy said, “open the kitchen door, please.”
Dawn was sobbing again, chanting “Don’t do this don’t do this don’t do this stop fighting—!”
“Dawn. The door, unless you want to see a Spike-shaped hole in it.”
“This is how you serve me, bitch, after everything I’ve done for you an’ her! God all mighty, what does it take, woman? What does it take to get you to stop hating me?”
The sound Spike made when he hit the back porch boards face first was drowned out by the crash when Buffy slammed the door. She grabbed the little notepad out of the same drawer that held the stake, and began at once to chant the words handily written out on it for just such an emergency, the spell that would bar him from the house. Sobbing and wailing, Dawn followed her from door to door of the house as she sealed them all against him. “It’s not his fault. It was an accident. Why are you being so mean to us?”
Buffy rounded on her. The sight of Dawn’s tear-streaked near-hysteria made her wild. What had she done, allowing this undead demon to influence her sister, to inject her young mind with his taint? “Us? Us? You and Spike are not us! Spike is not us with anybody in this house! Do you hear me!”
“Buffy, he’s my friend—! He took care of me when you were gone, and . . .and I thought now he was your . . . that you two were . . . it’s not fair!”
“Life’s not fair. Get used to it.”
“I knew you’d say that! You’re such a flaming bitch!” Dawn took the stairs two at a time, and Buffy practically flew up after her, catching her bedroom door before Dawn could crash it shut in her face.
“Give me the box. And everything in it. You may not have it in your room.”
Dawn drew herself up. “No.”
“What did you say?”
“I said no. It’s not yours. If I give it to you, you’ll destroy it, and then—“
“Dawn. If you ever want to set foot outside this house for the next three years, except to go to school, Give. Me. The. Box.”
Her face crumpled. “Take it! I don’t know you anymore! You’re crazy!”
There it was on Dawn’s desk, the size of a small footlocker, dented and singed. Buffy snatched it up and stalked out with it, while once more the house shook with the reverberations of a slammed door.
The box. As soon as she was in bed, lights off, the house ticking and creaking to itself as it did in the night, and the muffled sound of Dawn’s sobs still echoing in her ears, Buffy could think of nothing else. What was in it? What had Dawn seen, which she could never unsee now? Mementos, he’d said. What sort of obscene mementos would a vampire keep? One as obsessed and perverted as Spike
She didn’t want to look. Didn’t want too much information forced upon her: it was bad enough that she’d gone so far with him just knowing what she knew already. The memory of what she’d permitted him to do this afternoon filled her with loathing—what had she become, that she could let him drink her, and luxuriate in it! Him! She’d seen him brag and gloat over his past kills. Two slayers. Two. Seen him attack people, seen him feed. Always known he was unclean down to the marrow of his bones. Soulless. And yet she’d managed somehow to put all that out of her mind, and allowed him close to her. Allowed him all the way in.
I knew the only thing better than killing a slayer would be f—
Oh God oh God oh God what have I done?
She threw back the covers. Switched on the lamp. Too much information? There could never be too much information—she owed it to herself to know what he really was, so she could remember, every moment, why she was never going to make that mistake again. Never let him into the house, never let him into— She pulled the box off her dresser, spilled its contents across the floor. She would rub her own nose in his muck, she would shiver with the shame and horror of what she’d indulged herself in. And then she’d turn her back on it for good.
She spent little time with the musty black silk stocking or the doll’s head, its yellowed porcelain cracked although it was wrapped up in a twist of newspaper that was itself forty years old. Knew whom they belonged to.
A three inch square of linen, yellowed too, came beneath her fingers. It was stiff with dried blood, the spots faded to a light brown. A record of some act of violence so old as to seem almost benign: whose death did this commemorate? Only he knew.
The earrings startled her for a moment by their forgotten familiarity. Hers. The pair she’d been wearing the day she died. Buffy wondered if he’d taken them from her corpse by stealth or if someone—Willow? Dawn?—had given them to him. It didn’t seem important now, except that she didn’t want him to have them. She tossed them onto the dresser top.
Glanced indifferently at the little volumes of poetry. The Poetical Works of Keats was marked inside as being given on Prize Day at Harrow School, for excellence in Latin translation, 1870, to William______. So that was the full name of the man—a boy, then—whom Spike now impersonated. She sounded the syllables on her tongue, not saying them out loud. Dead for a hundred and twenty years.
A photo fell from one of the volumes: two boys in boater hats and pale soft tweeds, their smooth adolescent faces creased into affected frowns of disaffection, posing beneath the trailing branches of a willow. One wore little spectacles on his nose, held a book with a finger thrust between the pages to keep the place. She didn’t recognize Spike in either of them, and nothing was written on the back.
Bundles of letters, smaller and squarer than she was used to seeing, tied up in string. Addressed to that same William at an address in Cambridge, in two or three different feminine hands. Pale brown ink, the same color as the stains on the square of linen. Something told her they weren’t love letters. She set them aside unplumbed.
Another picture she plucked from the jumble showed a group of young men not much older than the first two, standing outdoors against the backdrop of an old stone building, formidably gothic. So odd, none of them bareheaded, none without a coat and cravat, all looking so serious, like men twice their age. Members of Magdalene College, 1873. Clipped to this was a piece of yellowing parchment that Buffy didn’t need to read Latin to see was William’s degree. She squinted at the faces, but wasn’t sure which one was Spike. None looked definitely like him. Perhaps it was the fellow standing second from left; or it might be the one in the front row of kneelers, fourth from the right. Or neither. They all looked so antiquated.
A flat cardboard box of the kind stockings were sold in in the 1940s yielded up more photographs, but these were all of Spike and Drusilla. Buffy never could get over the oddity of vamps’ unchanging faces down the decades. The daguerreotype reproduced in one of Giles’ books was just like the Drusilla she first saw talking to Angel in that playground across town . . . and here she was again, and again and again, usually looking out of time, or at least rather out of fashion. Conforming only to her own idea of herself. Unlike her, Spike kept up. When they’d won a dance marathon in New Orleans in 1925—Buffy gaped at the oddity of that, the shiny cup and the fistful of twenty dollar bills they held up, grinning before the camera—his dark hair was slicked back from his bony forehead, and a slim dark moustache rode the line of his upper lip. For the next twenty years he’d stuck to pinstriped suits. The cut of them, the shapes of the hats—hats!—he wore low over his brow changed gradually with the years, but his face was always the same, whether he and Dru were posed against the running board of a car like Bonnie and Clyde, or captured in one of those four-for-a-quarter strips you got at amusement arcades. Leather—a motorcycle jacket straight out of The Wild Ones—made its first appearance around 1950. After that, he was every shade of punk the last half of the century offered, while Drusilla reverted more and more to the clothes of her own grandmother’s youth. There were lots of Polaroids they’d obviously snapped of each other over four decades, backgrounds murky with suggestions of rumpled beds containing corpses, or cobble stoned alleys, ditto.
In the bottom of the box were a century of train ticket stubs; a confetti of colors, languages, shapes. Buffy stirred through them idly with her finger tip. He’d been pretty much everywhere that had trains, except Australia and Black Africa.
Beneath the stocking box she found two carved wands, like short chopsticks, lashed together with an intricately knotted tress of dry black silk.
He’d murdered her, that girl in China. Sought her out, killed her, and stripped off not just a lock of her hair, but the very ornaments she’d used to bind it up. His trophy.
At least Dawn wouldn’t have known what to make of that.
What trophy would she find of the other, the one in New York?
The next thing that came to hand: an oval wooden frame, the glass shattered into a spider’s web, held a discolored photo of three hollow-cheeked girls in the stiff poses of long ago. Buffy saw they were just teenagers, although it seemed odd to call them such, when they were so very still and decorous, their strangely greased-looking hair severely parted in the middle and drawn down over their ears. Dressed in identical high-necked frocks, unsmiling, arms clasped around one another’s tightly-laced waists. They all had the same air of patient melancholy, and the same hawkish nose, and so must be sisters. In a brown velvet case that looked like some sort of wallet, Buffy discovered another picture, this one apparently on glass. It was silvery and hard to see until she held it just so under the lamp. A young man, seated, a woman standing. Solemn, almost blank faces. Both in black clothes up to their necks, down to their wrists. The man wearing a clerical collar. The woman with that same nose.
The family he’d ripped to shreds.
There was more, but she’d seen enough. Began heaping the things back into the metal box. Thought of burning them, releasing the dead victims held there by their captured images, erasing the gloating record of Spike’s triumphant wickedness. The Chinese slayer’s hair, she thought, she’d keep until Giles came. They could make a proper ritual of it together, something suitable to the terror and waste of her death.
When she’d swept everything back into the box, one item remained. A discolored envelope bound tight round and round with a pink velvet ribbon so pale it was almost white. First she tried to dislodge with her fingers the tight knot that showed her Dawn hadn’t penetrated this far, anyway. Then, with a rush of anger, snipped through it with her cuticle scissors. Fuck him and his privacy. Fuck him for what he’d made her do. Made her feel.
The envelope disgorged three postcards, faded sepia images like she’d seen sometimes in the antique shop on Main Street, the points of their corners broken off, the French name of the photographic studio stamped in gold at the bottom.
She blinked at them, unable at first to comprehend what they showed, and then taking them in all at once with a rush like a boot to the gut, so she choked and coughed. Even with eyes squeezed shut, the images remained indelible: Angel, no—Angelus, seated before a studio backdrop, in a suit of evening clothes over a pale waistcoat, a cravat with a pin in it, top hat set rakishly back from his forehead. Holding a cigar in one enormous hand, and the other arm curled possessively around a slim young man. A young man whose fairish hair curled over his forehead, whose chin was tipped saucily up. A young man who wore nothing at all but a floppy white shirt open halfway down his chest. Who was seated, obviously bare-assed, straddling Angelus’ left knee. Whose erection, barely concealed by the shirt draped over it, was gripped tight in Angelus’ fist.
Who was Spike.
The second picture, a sort of mirror image of it: Drusilla, in just her corset and black stockings, on Angelus’ right knee. Staring out of the last century with that mind-melting look of hers, full of melancholy madness, lascivious pain, and awareness of her sire’s hand holding the lips of her cunt open to the camera’s eye.
On the third postcard, it was the three of them. One straddling each leg, arms draped over his shoulders, facing the shutter with the bold expressions of seasoned whores, and Angelus’ eyes burning out of the photograph, owning and defiling and devouring everything his gaze touched.
Buffy made it to the waste basket on the other side of the room before she vomited.
Continued in Four