Title: Ars Poetica
Author: Lirazel (penny_lane_42)
Timeline: “Becoming Part II” – post-“Not Fade Away.” Canon all through BtVS; ignores the comics and “The Girl in Question.”
Rating: PG-13 here, R overall
Installment: Part three of six. More to come this afternoon/evening.
Disclaimer: The world and characters of the Buffyverse do not belong to me. Neither do any of the poems.
Poetry: The poems featured in this chapter are “Resume” by Dorothy Parker, “Up” by Margaret Atwood, and “i like my body when it is with your” by e.e. cummings.
Summary: The story of her life with Spike, Buffy realizes, is written in poetry, not prose.
Might as Well
The job search, once again, has been a bust. The interviewer at the department store told her straight out that she didn’t have any skills, and Buffy had wanted to show that sour-mouthed know-it-all every last one of her skills—or at least the ones involving sharp objects. Every potential employer marked off the list Willow helped her make brings her one step closer to her absolute last resort, and she swore to herself that she would never set foot in a DoublemeatPalace, much less actually work there. Still, there are only a few more names on the list, and if those don’t pan out….
When she lets herself in the house, she bypasses the kitchen, though her stomach is growling. All she wants is a shower and then to fall into bed and wallow. She deserves a little wallowing time. But she isn’t going to get it tonight.
Because taped to her bathroom mirror is a piece of paper, Dawn’s loopy handwriting swirling across her old Hello Kitty stationary that Buffy hasn’t seen her use in years. Probably an “I’m not talking to you” note or a request for more Pizza Bites next time Buffy makes a grocery run (well, that’s not going to happen. Those things are too expensive even with a coupon).
But it’s nothing of the sort.
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
Buffy stares at the words a moment, then giggles. Giggles harder. Laughs straight out. Throws her head back. Shakes so hard she almost has to grab hold of the sink for balance.
She isn’t quite sure when the tears start sliding in, but she suddenly discovers she’s laughing and crying at the same time.
Wiping her cheeks, she heads to Dawn’s room. Little sis is laying on the bed, sprawled out on the too-pink sheets (if she had the money, Buffy would take her out and let her buy all new decorations for her room; despite the way they all treat her, Dawn isn’t a little girl anymore), a textbook open in front of her, but she’s bobbing her head to some too-catchy bubblegum tune, so she probably isn’t actually getting anything constructive done.
“What’s this?” Buffy asks, holding up the pink piece of paper.
Dawn raises and lowers her eyebrows eloquently, communicating that she can’t hear over the blare of the music. Buffy rolls her eyes. The music isn’t that loud. Without rising from her stomach, Dawn contorts her body till she can reach the stereo, flips it off.
“What was that, Buffy?” she asks, far too innocently.
Another eye roll. “This. What is it?”
“It’s a poem.”
“I know it’s a poem. I didn’t actually fail English. Why was said poem on my bathroom mirror?”
“I just thought you needed the reminder. Heaven might be great, but the actual dying process? Yeesh.”
Buffy feels a lance of pain shoot through her; nobody ever mentions heaven—except Spike, back when we actually talked—but count on her little sister to be completely irreverent about the whole thing.
Well, that’s not far. When her little song-and-dance routine finally dropped the bombshell, Dawn’s reaction had been a mixture of hurt that she hadn’t been told and sympathy for what Buffy had lost. But that was weeks ago. And maybe a little irreverence is what she needs right now. Everything is so serious, so heavy, so dark all the time. And after all, it did make her laugh (even if it also made her cry: she can’t seem to do anything purely these days).
Anyways, better to change the subject.
“Since when do you read poetry?”
“Since this summer. Spike was always reading it, tried to get me to. I said I didn’t like it because nobody ever just said anything, it was all metaphor and simile and other things you actually have to take classes to learn to understand. I just wanted the truth. Just right out. So he gave me this.”
She rummages around in the tangle of the bedsheets, triumphantly holds up a paperback, the name Dorothy Parker prominently displayed on the front.
“I like her. Her poems are short and she never plays around with the truth. She just says things.”
“Spike gave you that?”
Now it’s Dawn’s turn to roll her eyes. “Don’t worry, Buffy. He bought it from the used bookstore by the bakery. So, no, you don’t have an excuse to stake him.”
Well, that’s both a relief and a disappointment (if she made with the staking, his delicious body that does so many sinful, distracting things to hers would be blowin’ in the wind. But if she could, maybe she’d be able to break free from this sick obsession. Either way she wins; either way she loses. Story of her life).
“He read poetry to you this summer?” No one’s talked to her at all about what the summer was like with her… gone (except for Spike and his every night I save you that still makes her heart clench when she thinks about his agonized whispers).
Dawn glances down at the pen she’s twirling around in her hand. “Yeah. We watched cartoons and bad soap operas and old black and white movies that were actually pretty cool. He ate my kitchen experiments and taught me how to play every card game known to man—or vampire. But I really liked it when he read to me. He has a nice voice, you know, and that accent.”
Oh, yes. She knows all too well just how nice that voice is, the way it sounds rasping nasty, forbidden words in her ears, the triumphant surrender of it when he shouts her name as he comes, the way it catches when he tells her for the seven hundred and twelfth (she doesn’t count, really. She doesn’t) time that he loves her. She suddenly can’t let herself hear anymore, no more of his words, no more of Dawn’s: she can’t allow herself to know that her little sister got nearly as sucked in by his act as Buffy herself. It’s okay (it really isn’t) for her to get all corrupted by Spike—there’s something wrong with me; I came back wrong—but her innocent little sister? (She can’t let herself believed, even for a moment, that he might genuinely care about Dawn; that would rock her worldview far too much, and all her other foundations have already been ripped away. Those absolutes are the things she’s still clinging to).
“I don’t think you should see him anymore.”
Dawn’s head shoots up, her eyes startled. “What?”
Buffy tries to make her voice do that calm-but-firm tone Mom used to be so good at, and she thinks she accomplishes it reasonably well. “I said I don’t think you should see him anymore.”
“Did you hear a word I said? He was good to me! Is this backwards day? That’s supposed to get a reaction that’s the opposite of the one you just had!”
Buffy ignores her. If she doesn’t have the strength to cut herself off, to deny herself the feel of Spike’s body over, under, in hers, the sight of his eyes dark with passion, the sound of his voice, she can at least have the will to keep her little sister away from him. The old Buffy would never have let Spike touch her—ever—and that Buffy may be lost to her, but enough of her remains to keep him away from Dawn.
“Dawn, you know perfectly well that a vampire isn’t friend material. If you see him again, I won’t let you see Janice anymore.”
“But that’s not fair!”
Mom said it a thousand times while Buffy was growing up, and it’s long since become Buffy’s own motto. “Life’s not fair.”
Silence stretches tense between them for a long moment. When Dawn finally speaks, her voice is steely.
Nothing So Simple
Spike, at least, has more subtlety. She never imagined thinking that, but then again, if there’s any creature in the universe who has less subtlety than Spike, it’s definitely a teenage girl.
So while Dawn’s poem—and the revelations that came along with it—are as straightforward as Buffy could imagine, Spike’s, when it comes, hurts far more.
Yeah, she’d sworn to herself she’d never work at the DMP, but it didn’t quite work out that way. The days are full of the smell of burnt grease, the whine of impatient customers, the throbbing of aching feet. The only thing she has to look forward to is the few hours she steals in Spike’s arms, wrapped in his cool cleanness (it’s so hard to remember when she’s tasting his skin that he isn’t as clean as he seems, that there’s nothing clean in him at all). She fantasizes all day, and on the worse days, she practically runs through her afternoon/night routine to get to him.
This has been one of those days. She doesn’t even swing home to take a shower, nor does she make herself go through the motions of patrolling. Sure, she stakes two fledglings and scares away a mugger about to attack a little old lady on the way, but she heads straight to Spike’s crypt, and this time she doesn’t even make excuses for herself.
Nor does she give reasons to him: she begins stripping as soon as she slams the door behind her, ignoring the way his eyes gleam as he stands from where he was slumped in the chair in front of the television. She marches up to him when she’s in her underwear, pushes the button-down shirt aside, peels the t-shirt off his perfect chest, then shoves him toward the trapdoor to the lower level.
Later, the gasps not yet died down and the sweat not yet dried from her skin, she forces her protesting body to stand (all she really wants to do is to curl up beside him and let him hold her while she sleeps, but she knows that wanting that from a soulless monster is just sick, and to surrender to that desire would make her a far worse monster than having sex with him already does), knowing that she has to leave. But as she bends to find her bra (her underwear’s gone for good), he catches her elbow.
“Slayer? Do me a favor?”
“Spike, I already went down on you, and I need to go home and check on Dawn—“
For a moment, his eyes flash with something that might be fury and is definitely hurt, but then it falls away as quickly as it appeared. “Ever occur to you, Slayer, that I do occasionally think with my other head? The one with the brain?”
There are about a million retorts to that, but she’s still feeling boneless from their latest shag session, and if she doesn’t leave now, she’ll just collapse here and never make it home. “What do you want, Spike?”
“Read this for me.”
She stares at the book he’s holding out to her, doesn’t even see what’s on the open page. “What?”
“Just… I found it today and thought of you. Of how you’re feeling. I think it might help you.”
Suspiciously, she takes it from him, trying not to remember the night after Mom’s funeral when his borrowed words were just exactly the ones she needed. He didn’t fix the pain then, didn’t banish it, but it did help and…
She takes a deep breath and begins to scan the words.
You wake up filled with dread.
There seems no reason for it.
She looks up at him quickly, searching for some ulterior motive, but his eyes are merely expectant. She forces herself to look down again.
Morning light sifts through the window,
there is birdsong,
you can’t get out of bed.
Her eyes start to prick; she ignores them.
It’s something about the crumpled sheets
hanging over the edge like jungle
foliage, the terry slippers gaping
their dark pink mouths for your feet,
the unseen breakfast—some of it
in the refrigerator you do not dare
to open—you will not dare to eat.
What prevents you? The future. The future tense,
immense as outer space.
“Immense as outer space.” She barely breathes the words aloud, but there’s so much truth in them. That’s the way it feels: the whole future spread out before her and all it is is DoublemeatPalace days and slaying nights. She doesn’t even allow herself the balm of considering that she’ll also have these islands of escape, these little moments with Spike. No, she’ll find the strength to walk away. Someday soon.
She knows she will die again, and soon.
You could get lost there.
No. Nothing so simple. The past, its density
and drowned events pressing you down,
like sea water, like gelatin
filling your lungs instead of air.
Yes. Drowning. She’s drowned once before, knows exactly the way lungs burst for air. Yes, that’s what every day feels like now.
Forget all that and let’s get up.
Try moving your arm.
Try moving your head.
Pretend the house is on fire
and you must run or burn.
No, that one’s useless.
It’s never worked before.
Those aren’t exactly her lies, but they’re close. When she doesn’t feel that she can get out of bed at all, doesn’t think she can leave behind the warm cocoon of her sheets, she catalogues all those who have died because of her and reminds herself that there will be more added to the list if she doesn’t get up.
It does work, actually. Sometimes.
Where is it coming from, this echo,
this huge No that surrounds you,
silent as the folds of the yellow
curtains, mute as the cheerful
Mexican bowls with its cargo
of mummified flowers?
(You chose the colours of the sun,
not the dried neutrals of shadow.
God knows you’ve tried.)
Now here’s a good one:
You’re lying on your deathbed.
You have one hour to live.
Who is it, exactly, you have needed
all these years to forgive?
A smack resounds through the crypt. She stares at her hands, finds them empty, then, delayed, remembers that at the last words, she hurled the book across the room. Now her hands begin to tremble.
“You want me to forgive? Is this some kind of sermon, Spike?”
“What?” he scrambles to his feet. “No! That’s not what I—“
“You, I guess. I guess you want me to forgive you for all the people you’ve killed and for chaining me up and for being a vampire. Then I’ll finally give you what you want, right?”
His eyes darken. “Buffy—“
“Or maybe Mom? Want me to forgive her for dying? Or Giles for leaving? Or Angel? Or my dad? Maybe you want me to forgive the people who pulled me out of heaven, is that it? Who is it that William the Bloody thinks the Slayer needs to forgive?”
He reaches a hand out to her, almost brushes against her bare shoulder, but she jerks back before he can make contact. “How dare you tell me that I need to forgive! You!”
That half-hurt, half-angry look flickers in his eyes for a moment, or maybe it’s just the candlelight. Then he squares his shoulders. She always thought that he looks bigger, more impressive when he’s naked, like he was made to be naked, his natural state, but right now he just looks small, though his eyes and voice are like iron. “I wasn’t telling you to do a goddamn thing, Slayer. I just thought it would be nice to know that you aren’t alone. That someone else has felt that way and made it through it.” He grabs his jeans off the floor, wrenches them on violently. “But never you mind. Just forget you even read it, right, Slayer?”
And then, for the very first time, he’s the one who storms out the crypt, door banging behind him, leaving her feeling small and alone.
Quite So New
Sometimes, she pretends to fall asleep right after.
These moments are the only times she ever really relaxes—because she has to, otherwise he’ll know. He curls his body around hers, and she forces herself to stay limp in his arms. She keeps her breaths even, her eyes closed but not screwed up tight. She sometimes suspects that he knows that she’s pretending, but he would never, ever voice it: it would put an end to the charade, and that’s the last thing he wants.
He whispers horrible (sweet) words to her, words that no demon could ever believe but that, like tiny drops of rain on drought-dried ground, give just the tiniest bit of nourishment to her soul. He praises her beauty, her courage, her conviction (these days she feels ugly, cowardly, weak). He swears never to hurt her, never to leave her (all she’s ever been is broken and abandoned). He tells her he loves her (she doesn’t feel worthy of love).
And this time? This one moment—a Tuesday night in January as he cradles her to him and strokes her hair—he whispers her poetry.
“i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh . . . . And eyes big love-crumbs,
and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you quite so new.”
She wants so badly to weep, wants so badly to turn around and take him inside her (she’s throbbing with desire, with need; she never would have thought that poetry could turn her on that way, but it’s all about his voice, the raw edge to it, the unadulterated yearning. Dawn was right. He does have a nice voice) and never let him go.
Instead, she lurches upright, pretending to have been jarred out of sieep. Despite his protests, she throws his arms off of, grabs her clothes, dresses, and leaves him.
But she cannot leave his words behind. They echo in her ears for days afterwards. She uses Willow’s laptop while the witch is out to look the poem up, searching with words she remembers (“eyes big love-crumbs” is the one that sticks out; he must think her eyes are giving him his crumb, but they aren’t. They aren’t). When she finds it, she prints it out covertly and memorizes it.
A day or two later, she begins to feel guilty—dirty—and burns the paper.
It doesn’t matter: the words are a part of her now, written on her bones, in her blood, and they ring in her head, always whispered in Spike’s rough voice. The words, chanted in her head, provide a nice addition to the fantasies that get her through her days.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/341249.html