Title: The Soul Lies Down, Chapter 11
Author: The Moonmoth
Pairing(s): Buffy/Spike, (Anya/Xander, Willow/Tara)
Rating: NC-17 (this chapter: PG)
Length: ~52,100 (1,900 this chapter)
Timeline: AU S5, S6, S7 and post-series (this chapter: S6)
Warnings: character death, violence and gore
Summary: As a child, I used to dream of a man in black and white, spinning in the desert like a dervish, sword flashing in the moonlight as he danced with death. (A sequel to angearia‘s Fin Amour).
Notes: posting completely on a whim, since I hate to see one of my favourite comms empty on opening day. This is a new chapter from a longer fic, earlier parts of which can be found here: LJ | EF. Many, many thanks to rahirah and bewilde for fantabulous beta work. Quote lifted from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Concrit is most welcome :)
I was born under a crescent moon in the California desert, and there, twenty-one years later and no time at all, I saved my father’s life. I thought I understood, then, what he was, what I was; thought I knew what was to come. But I didn’t know this: standing faded in a cave, watching impotently as the man I had saved, on the understanding that he was a man, became a monster of storybook and nightmare, and killed a friend I have known all my life. (I hate to say it, sweetie, but I told you—)
Andrew lies in a broken heap on the uneven floor, an ugly distortion in his neck and his head turned too far around. Spike barely even stopped – just long enough to snuff him out, swat him like a gnat, before continuing his chase of the other ones.
The ones I can hear screaming now, though I cannot bring myself to care.
They kidnapped me. They were going to kill me, here in this empty place of magic and dust. I know that, but I don’t understand it. Not with Andrew’s dead eyes staring glassily up at me.
All I can think is that this didn’t happen before. Somehow, I have caused this to happen. And then I’m on my knees in the grass with the tent at my back, emptying my stomach over the moss and field flowers.
There is a wall in history. Time is a linear thing for us humans (do I know if I’m human yet? Will I ever?) so it makes sense there’s a beginning. We’ve called it the Big Bang for fifty years now, but in fact, the wall comes after. See, when we look into space we’re looking back in time, because light travels quickly but not instantaneously. With a strong enough telescope, or some nifty magical powers, you can see a long, long way back – stars that were burning before humans walked the earth, galaxies that lived and died before the Old Ones, constellations that shone before our sun was even born. But the universe was opaque for half a million years before light could actually go anywhere, and so we’ll never be able to look further back than that, not even me.
So: a wall. And at the other end of history, another wall: the apocalypse. And me, caught between the two, trapped between past and future and not really subject to either, but tangling my fingers in both like a giant, reality-spanning cat’s cradle.
It’s getting harder to keep everything straight in my head. My timeline, and theirs, the voices, and the possible futures that unspool from every action. More and more, it feels as though the walls are closing in. (Keep breathing.)
And then something like this happens.
The hardest part is, I can see his grief. Not for what he’s done, not really, but for the consequences. For a creature made of murder and darkness, even that’s remarkable. For a creature made of evil, these are all steps on a road. And yet, his journey has cost me something very dear. (As though I haven’t lost enough already.)
I sit beside him in his car as he watches the hospital. He’s crying silently, unaware, and beside him I sob into my hands.
I can’t hate him, though I want to; I do hate him, though I can’t afford to.
And Andrew, that baby-stealing little prick…
I have to keep sight of my endgame.
Because it howls in the back of my mind, that maddening vortex, the ravening maw that swallowed the world.
I don’t sleep, not anymore, but it still haunts me when I let my mind go lax. I see it in the sky above the field, darkening the horizon; the only thing holding it back is me.
Me, who’s never felt so human, so doubtful, so out of her depth as I do now.
I don’t know how it happens, how it can happen – I’ve changed so much I thought my original timeline was now only in my head – but one moment I’m watching my parents fumble through the birthday party I don’t remember, and the next I’m in the shop in Oxford: dark wood, old books amid new trinkets, the cast-iron spiral staircase up to the restricted level. The smells, the sights, it’s all so familiar that I half-expect Auntie Anya to come sweeping around the counter to shoo me back to work. When the voice comes, it’s male.
“Small fry! I thought you were still state-side. Gimme a hand, this bill of lading’s kicking my ass.”
I didn’t realize I wasn’t still faded. I wonder if it’s too late to fade out now. There’s a ligature at my throat, cutting off both words and air, but when I turn, there he is. Andrew.
This version is how I remember him. Older, filled out instead of teenage-boy skinny, dirty blond hair greying slightly at the temples, wearing one of his stupid tweed sports jackets with the leather patches on the elbows. He gives me a smile, only half-attentive as he starts unloading stock from a fresh delivery, checking it off from a list on his tablet, and I have to scrub at my eyes for the familiarity of the scene.
“Dawn?” he asks at my frantic snuffling, coming to a clumsy, indecisive halt. “Are you… ah…”
“Remember that cartoon we used to watch when I was a kid, with the mutant superheroes?” I ask, my words raspy and pent. “What was it called? X-files?”
“Oh, ah, X-men.”
“Right, X-men. Remember that one where they had to go back in time to prevent the guy getting killed? To stop the future turning into a… a robot-filled nightmare?”
“Days of Future Past,” Andrew says, nodding. “A classic. Did you know they adapted it from the original 1981 comic series? The first issue of that arc was recently—”
His eyes, which had drifted away to the ether, snap back to mine, and he gives me a narrow-eyed look. “Why are you asking me about this now?”
“It’s me,” I tell him. “I’m the time-traveler. This – none of this – should even be here anymore. The world ended and I went back two decades to fix things, but…”
His hand on my arm is so familiar. The eager glint in his eyes is too. “You need a cup of tea,” he says, in his best mimicry of Giles. “And then you need to tell me everything.”
He’s always loved stories, as long as I’ve known him.
He even loves this one. Some part of him does. The drama, the romance of it. A supernatural girl, made of both hero and monster. A forbidden love drawn across battle lines. And his role, such as it is.
“One man dying so that the rest may live,” he murmurs to himself. “It’s logical, Captain. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few… or the one…” The horror of it doesn’t seem to touch him. But then, in his mind, I suppose it’s not really him. Not the him sitting in front of me sipping his English Breakfast. The best of both worlds, a heroic sacrifice made by a doppelganger – none of the pain, and all of the glory.
It angers me, his blitheness.
“It’s not a fairytale,” I tell him. “It’s how things are. You, right here, now, you don’t exist anymore. You’re dead. Spike murdered you.”
He looks, for a moment, as though I’ve slapped him. Then his expression returns to a familiar passivity that I am only just realizing is entirely schooled.
“A just fate for the villain of the piece.”
The thought of Andrew, a born follower, having the drive to be anything more grandiose than naïve and misguided is ludicrous. But suddenly, there are tears in his eyes, and then I understand – it’s not just overblown sentiment. He believes he deserves it.
I know, in my timeline, that he killed someone. Heard Auntie Anya bring it up in matter-of-fact argument more than once. But my life has always been steeped in death and magic, violence and blood, and the knowledge made no impact on me. Not until just now. He has been atoning for that one great sin all the rest of his life, and now, I have brought him another – that he kidnapped and tried to kill me.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper.
“My wrongs are not yours to right, padawan.”
His soft words shudder through me like a crack in a fault line.
He gives me a watery smile, clears his throat, pats my hand. He doesn’t seem to notice that he’s trembling. “So you’ve been travelling the space-time continuum, fighting injustices and righting wrongs,” he says after a moment, as though I’ve just caught him up on the semester’s latest mischiefs. “Cool. Do you have, like, a costume or something?”
Once more in the field I sit in my deckchair with my back to the dark blot on the horizon, pants rolled up to my calves, feeling the warm breeze and the grass between my toes, and close my eyes, and try to let it all wash through me.
I am a net. I caught the memories of my loved ones like butterflies as the ground collapsed beneath our feet, and took them with me when I slid into our past. I never knew butterflies could weigh so heavy.
Andrew asked, before I left, “Promise me one thing: remember me. I’m only truly dead if I’m forgotten.” I will. I do. I can’t not. The delicate truth of another human being, clasped firmly in my heart.
(You always had such a big heart, Dawnie.)
But he didn’t understand. He was already gone. They all are. Just echoes of wingbeats now; it’s me who can change the weather. And once the storm has started, not even I can control where the rain will fall, but I have to keep sight of my endgame.
At the very least, one can give shelter, to keep fragile wings from getting wet.
And so I sit, and inspect the threads I hold in my hands, pull them until I find the knot, the sticking point from which everything I’ve worked for might unravel. I’ve given up too much to let it. I think he would’ve understood that.
They fight it out, words coming to blows coming to words. They know how to hurt each other, these two. If only they knew what else.
It’s a brutal dance and I can see, as they go at each other, that each blow landed, each shard of insight gleaned by Spike doesn’t weaken my mother’s walls, but hardens them, until she is a fortress.
And yet, it’s not disgust I see in her mortar, but terror. The kind that wipes the mind of all but the instinct to run, to protect. I see now why this is the moment. The possibilities for what happens after are so numerous that I can barely keep track, and too many end in badness.
If I am going to do anything, it must be now.
Pausing time, I fade in, and force myself to meet his eye.
When he speaks, it is somewhere between a gasp and sob.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/546064.html