Fic: Ars Poetica (5/6)

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Ars Poetica
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Title: Ars Poetica
Medium: Fiction
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 five of six.
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 Sonnet III from A Few Figs from Thistles by Edna St. Vincent Millay and “Fletcher McGee” by Edgar Lee Masters.
A/N:  Thanks so much to the brilliant and talented mere_ubu  for finding “Fletcher McGee” for me.  You’re right–it’s just too perfect not to use.
Summary: The story of her life with Spike, Buffy realizes, is written in poetry, not prose.

A Ghost in Marble

She doesn’t cry. Not till six months later when she’s in her 20th Century American Poetry class—the one she signed up for because she’d sort of enjoyed her Intro to Poetry back at UC Sunnydale and thought it would be fun to take an English class in addition to the more practical ones she’s trying out—and finds the poem. She’s flipping through the back of the book while the professor rambles on about enjambment or tetrameter or something else she doesn’t care the least bit about. The final pages of the textbook contain a variety of poems, and she turns the pages idly, scanning the words.

She should be paying attention; the Council is paying tuition, after all, and Giles gets cranky when he thinks someone is wasting his money. But when they’d all gotten settled in Cleveland on the new Hellmouth in the wake of the destruction of Sunnydale, Giles had been thrilled when she announced that she wanted to go back to college. She didn’t tell him that it was because she needed something to fill her days so that she wouldn’t think about all she’d lost, all she’d left behind (so that she won’t think about him). College seemed as good a choice as any, especially since Willow was going to try to graduate.  Still unsure of what a Slayer should be studying, she’d signed up for very diverse classes, hoping she’d hit upon something she really enjoyed. And so she’s slid quite comfortably (if passionlessly) into her life of studying by day, Slaying by night.

This poetry class is her favorite, though what she really likes is reading the poems and talking about what they mean, not analyzing the way they say it. The professor Dr. Ray, a favorite on campus, insists that you can’t separate the two, but sometimes Buffy just can’t help but zoning out when she starts to talk about the more technical aspects, and as long as her grades don’t suffer, Buffy cuts herself some slack.

When her mind does drift, it usually drifts to patrolling (actually, it tries to drift to him, but she always jerks away from the thought; she isn’t prepared to deal with that yet). She’s thinking about where she’ll take the baby Slayers tonight, when one line on a page seems to jerk her gaze to it like a magnet, and once she starts reading, she can’t stop.

 I think I should have loved you presently,
And given in earnest words I flung in jest;
And lifted honest eyes for you to see,
And caught your hand against my cheek and breast;
And all my pretty follies flung aside
That won you to me, and beneath your gaze,
Naked of reticence and shorn of pride,
Spread like a chart my little wicked ways.
I, that had been to you, had you remained,
But one more waking from a recurrent dream,
Cherish no less the certain stakes I gained,
And walk your memory’s halls, austere, supreme,
A ghost in marble of a girl you knew
Who would have loved you in a day or two.

With the first line, a tear slips down her cheek. By the time she reaches “all my pretty follies,” she’s shaking. And by the last line, she’s sobbing so hard that she can’t hide it from the other students, the professor, the TA, who are all staring at her, some repulsed, some concerned, some curious, some annoyed.

She shoves her books into her bag, stumbles out of the classroom and into the empty hallway before she collapses on the floor and, weeping so hard she knows it’ll be some time before she finds the strength to stand again, she finally lets herself remember him.

“Miss Summers?”

Buffy’s head flies up, and she gulps back her tears, pushing her hair back behind her ears, wiping her tears away, trying to make herself presentable. But her body is still shaking as she looks up at Dr. Ray. Buffy glances at the classroom door, wondering if class if over already, but the door is closed, and now that she isn’t sobbing, she can hear the TA’s voice.

“Sorry—I’m sorry. I just…” Buffy trails off.  How can she possibly explain what memories those words shook loose in her?  How can anyone ever understand?

But Dr. Ray just shakes her head. “Come on.  I think you need some tea.” With that, she turns and starts walking down the hall to her office.

Buffy scrambles to her feet and follows the small woman. Her cheeks are scarlet; she’s horrified that the professor she admires would catch her having such a breakdown. And Dr. Ray’s normally beaming face had looked solemn. Maybe she’s going to give her a lecture on disrupting the class. But if that was it, would she be offering tea? Buffy trails along behind her silently.

 Once inside the small office (she and Giles would certainly get along, Buffy acknowledges as her eyes scan the two walls covered in bookshelves nearly sagging under the weight of all the books they’re holding up), Dr. Ray plugs in the small electric kettle and reaches for two mugs sitting on the windowsill. 

 Buffy stands in the middle of the room, awkward and unsure.  She half wants to tell the professor that she doesn’t drink tea, but after years with Giles, she knows that the offering is what tea drinkers do in order to show their concern and give comfort.  She’ll grit her teeth and swallow.

 “Why don’t you tell me what set you off, Buffy,” Dr. Ray suggests while offering her a seat.

 Buffy sinks down onto the chair and finds that she really, really wants to tell her.  She hasn’t had many conversations with the professor, but she adores the older woman: she’s passionate about her subject, enthusiastic about learning, and fair in every way.  Plus, she laughs more in the classroom than any other teacher Buffy’s ever had.  All her other teachers (Walsh) took learning so seriously.  Dr. Ray believes it to be a joy.

 “I found this poem.  About… loving someone in a day or two.”

 Dr. Ray nods once, smiling now.  “Edna St. Vincent Millay.”

 “Sure.  And, well, it reminded me of this guy.”

 “They often do, don’t they?”

 “Oh, yeah.”  She looks down at her hands folded in her lap and listens to the kettle hiss as the water starts to boil.  “We went through a lot of bad times together.  Hurt each other pretty horribly.  But he loved me, and he completely changed who he was so that he could be a person I could love.  And… I started to.  But I never really got a chance to actually love him, to let him know.  I told him right before he died, but…”  The tears have returned, and she wipes them away furiously as she hiccups out the last few words.  “It was too late.  He thought I was only saying it because he was dying.”

 “Here, sweetheart.”  Dr. Ray holds out a box of Kleenexes, and Buffy grabs one gratefully.  “I’m so sorry you lost him.”

 “All he wanted was for me to love him back, and I was finally ready to do it… and now I’ll never get the chance.”  She blows her nose noisily and finally looks up at her professor.  “I’m sorry.  It’s so stupid to get this way over a poem.”

 “Of course it isn’t.  Poems exist to help us see the truth.”  The kettle dings, signaling that the water is ready, and Dr. Ray rises to grab the tea bags.  “That’s the purest, simplest joy of poetry,” she continues, and Buffy has to fight the impulse to tell her that in her experience, pleasure had rarely been pure and never been simple.  “Finding yourself in someone else’s words.  Confirmation that you’re not alone—not crazy, not wrong—someone else feels exactly the same way.”

Those words hurt perhaps more than the poem itself did; they remind her far too much of the time in his crypt that Spike tried to give her that poem about depression and she rejected it (rejected him).  “I guess.”

“They also sometimes provide a mirror, a chance to see ourselves more clearly.  That’s what this poem did for you, didn’t it?”

Buffy takes the cup of tea from her and gratefully begins to stir in the honey she’s offered.  “Yeah.  I hadn’t really mourned him, I guess.  I miss him so much it hurts to breathe, but I tried to ignore it.  And I didn’t realize that I had to mourn for myself as well.  For the relationship we never really got to have and the love I never got to give him.”  The part of her that isn’t full of sorrow is kind of amazed that she managed to verbalize that; she never had before, and it seems more eloquent than anything else she’s ever said.  It also seems more true.

“Then that poem was a gift.  It gave you a way of facing the truth when you might not have been able to.”

“But what does the truth matter now?  I know now just how much he means—meant—to me, but there’s nothing I can do about it.  He’s gone.”

Dr. Ray takes a sip of her own tea, then puts the cup down on the desk between them.  “Buffy, if he really loved you, he would want you to know and embrace the truth of yourself.  That’s what those who love us really do: they see us all, the good and the bad, and accept all of those aspects of ourselves and make it easier for us to do the same.  Was he the kind of person who would have wanted you to do that?”

Nobody has ever been that kind of person more than Spike was.  “Yeah.  He was.”

“Then this revelation isn’t wasted.  It’s what he would have wanted for you.  He may not have suspected that it would come in the form of a poem—“

Buffy laughs out loud at that.  “Oh, he would have.  He definitely would have.”  The story of her life with Spike, Buffy realizes, is written in poetry, not prose.  If he could have designed it, he would have designed it just this way.

She finishes the last of her tea, rises and hands the mug back to Dr. Ray.  “Thank you so much.  I’m so sorry for disrupting class.”

“Sweetheart, there are things much more important than classes.  Telling ourselves the truth and mourning those we love are definitely two of those things.  Now you go on.  Spend some of that time you’ve never taken to mourn.  Just have your explication turned in next Thursday, all right?  And if you want to change the poem you already selected to something a little more pertinent…”  She raises her eyebrows expectantly, and Buffy laughs again.

“Yeah.  I just might do that.”

She closes the door behind her and walks slowly down the empty hallway to where she left her things.  She throws her purse over her shoulder and then bends to pick up the book.  She looks down at the poem again.  Yes.  Now is the time to tell herself the truth.  She’s tired of lies.

Like a Fevered Moon

“Who?”

“Charles Gunn,” the voice says again.  The name sounds familiar, but Buffy can’t place it.  “I work with Angel.”

“Oh!”  Her hand tightens around the phone even as her heart sinks.  The news had reached the Council that there were four survivors of the L.A. battle, but she has yet to talk with any of them.  She had hoped that if they made it through, it would be Spike who…  Never mind that now.  Briskly, she continues.  “How are you?  Is there anything I can do for you?”

“More like something I’m doing for you,” he replies to Buffy’s confusion.  “It’s about Spike.”

She feels like her heart is going to shatter all over again as a thousand different emotions rush through her.  Joy, hurt, fear, betrayal, love, sorrow… they all clamor for her attention.  But she can’t deal with any of them, not now.  Instead, she makes her voice do that pleasantly indifferent thing Giles is so good at.  “Oh?  I don’t see how anything to do with him is any of my business.”

“Oh, please.  Like you don’t know he’s in love with you.”

Her heart jumps a little—if someone else can see it, surely that means…?  But no.  No.  If he really still loved her, he’d… “I think Spike’s made it more than clear that he doesn’t have any interest in me.”

When Andrew made a stop in Cleveland after picking up Dana from L.A. and before returning to Rome, he kept the secret for eight whole days, which is pretty damn impressive now that Buffy thinks about it—he’d never been able to keep the plot of the latest Star Wars movie to himself for more than five minutes, never mind something as big as Spike’s return from the dust.  When the truth finally came out, she was overwhelmed by a mixture of elation and betrayal more powerful than any she’d ever felt.  For him to be alive again was all that she wanted, all that she’d dreamed of since the day she lost him.  But he didn’t tell her.  He chose to stay there in L.A. with a vampire he felt nothing but bitterness toward instead of returning to her.  He had to know that she would find out from Andrew, and she had to believe that that was his way of telling her that he’d moved on.

Well, so has she.  She doesn’t let herself think about him anymore, doesn’t read that poem she found in class (doesn’t dream about telling him that she got an A on her explication), doesn’t self-flagellate about her words being too little too late.  She just goes to class, trains the younger Slayers, goes out patrolling, and returns home to fall asleep in her lonely bed.  Sooner or later, she tells herself, she’ll quit missing him.

“Well, you’re wrong about that.”

“Oh, so he’s told you that he still loves me?”

“Well, no.”

“See?”

“There’s something else.  I want you to check your email.”

What?”

“I found your email address in some of Wes’s old things, and I sent you something.  Are you close to a computer?”

Confused but intrigued, she crosses her room to the laptop sitting open on her desk.  She’d been in the middle of history homework when she got this call, and the browser is still open to a website devoted to the Egyptian gods.  She opens another tab and then her email.  When she opens the letter from Charles, she stares blankly at the words.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a poem.”

God, he’s worse than Dawn.  “I can see that.  Why did you send it to me?”

Charles Gunn sighs as though she’s hopelessly thick.  “We’ve spent the last couple of weeks laying low, holed up in Spike’s apartment—the Senior Partners are still after us; they’re not gonna let this thing go anytime soon.  Anyway, we haven’t had much to do besides watch TV, play videogames, and eat takeout, so you start to notice things.  I noticed that he keeps opening this book to just one page and reading it over and over again.  While he was sleeping, I swiped the book and found the page he’d marked.  This is the poem he’s been reading.  I transcribed it for you.  I think it’ll refute your theory that he doesn’t think about you anymore.”

Dazed, she reads the words.  Reads them again.  And a third time.

She took my strength by minutes,
She took my life by hours,
She drained me like a fevered moon
That saps the spinning world.
The days went by like shadows,
The minutes wheeled like stars.
She took the pity from my heart,
And made it into smiles.
She was a hunk of sculptor’s clay,
My secret thoughts were fingers:
They flew behind her pensive brow
And lined it deep with pain.
They set the lips, and sagged the cheeks,
And drooped the eyes with sorrow.
My soul had entered in the clay,
Fighting like seven devils.
It was not mine, it was not hers;
She held it, but its struggles
Modeled a face she hated,
And a face I feared to see.
I beat the windows, shook the bolts.
I hid me in a corner–
And then she died and haunted me,
And hunted me for life.

Oh, God.  It’s so them.  A few of the events out of order—and he’s the one that died and haunted her, at least this time around—but the emotions, even the mention of his soul: she sees so much of them there.

Dr. Ray’s words echo in her mind:  They also sometimes provide a mirror, a chance to see ourselves more clearly… Confirmation that you’re not alone—not crazy, not wrong—someone else feels exactly the same way.

The words aren’t pretty; they’re cruel and unmerciful, damning for both of them.  But that doesn’t matter.  We have something, Buffy. It’s not pretty, but it’s real, and there’s nothing either one of us can do about it.  He’s thinking about her.  He wouldn’t be reading that poem if he didn’t still care.  If he didn’t still care, those words would mean nothing to him.  Which means…

“Buffy?  You there?”

“Huh?  Oh.  Yeah.  I’m here.  Say, Charles?  Can you give me the address of where you’re staying?  And can you make sure that by the time I get there, Spike’s alone?”

She doesn’t even pack a bag, just uses Giles’s connections to hop on a plane.  The flight is only a few hours, but it feels like eons, and by the time they set down at LAX, she’s so keyed up that she has the taxi pull over a few miles from the apartment so that she can run the rest of the way.

But when she reaches his door, she can’t quite bring herself to knock.  All the what ifs and accusations start clamoring in her head again.  She’s just about to turn to go when the door flies open.

And there’s Spike, beautiful and real, with that look in his eyes she saw as she walked down the stairs of her house the night she was resurrected.  And suddenly nothing else matters.  Not the pain they put each other through, catalogued in that poem.  Not the fact that he didn’t let her know he was alive.  Nothing except that he is here.  God or the universe or the Powers or whatever: someone gave him back to her.

“Hello, Spike,” she says.

Part Six

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/341985.html

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