Myths and Shadow Plays

by Christina K
Copyright 2002

Thanks to the Perri for the beta, Tina and Celli for commenting, and exclamations of glee from the other Horsechicks. Comments, chocolate, requests for Principal Wood's fax number? It's all welcome.

"Alas, poor Yorick." The skull is narrower than a human's, with an extended jaw and a nose that recedes farther than any mortal's ever will. He snaps the head off the shoulders, and considers it a moment, before turning to its neighbor, propped against the wall. "I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest... for all of the ten minutes he lasted. But rare good company while he was here, mate."

Too true. Distraction is most welcome in this circle of Hell, although it is also a permanent state for this particular denizen. So are addition and subtraction, as trespassers come and go the way of all flesh. Or ooze, as the case may be. Habeas corpus here is not as clear as it is above.

There are moments he wishes he were only haunted, instead of quite mad and being stalked. Irony, there -- the one who'd lurked in the shadows hiding from them. The one who'd sought metaphors as a means of expression unable to stop speaking in them. It's cheap irony though, more of a satire, just as he's become a caricature of his old selves.

A flick of the wrist, and Yorick is sent to the fiery depths of the high school's incinerator, leering back at him from the flames with the taunting expression of all departed things. Glad to be gone. "I see dead people." He breaks off a hand at the wrist, smirks at the obscene gesture it has stiffened into. "But then, who doesn't in this town?" It's the live ones that are giving him trouble. The Hellmouth calls with a voice too many hear, and he has no way to stop it summoning more.

All of the old gods (wit and guts and blood and passion) have failed him, like those of the Greeks. The soldiers were taken to Rome and thrown into the Coliseum while their deities were renamed and blessed their enemies. Except the lions were merciful to the Christians, weren't they? Trained to break a man's neck before they fed. He's not getting off that lucky.

No reason why he should.

Two by two and one by one and some in groups of six, they invade the corners of his refuge and plot wicked nastiness in the shadows. Unlike the dreams (which come in cluster headaches of a dozen or more), memories (a constant flow like blood through from a punctured vein), and haunts (a random prime number between zero and agony), the demons and other clever monsters are almost welcome, a way to pass the time as he tries to gather his mind. It's gone wandering with his hope, to pay visits on the crimes of old and bring him back care packages of guilt and rage in equal measure.

"Still, perhaps you don't see the dead as I do." Horatio's eye sockets are empty, save for trailing bits of gore. That's what happens when you challenge a being with nothing to lose but his soul, which he can't bear to give away. "But trust me, Horatio, if you hung about, you'd soon see phantoms in the mist and witches on the blasted heath. Slayers with a grudge come to glare at the monster in his den. Bloody insolent lot, the dead."

They really are -- the only ones who don't answer back when he screams at them, the only ones who don't tell him what they want when he asks. Dead is dead and what do the dead want with him? Perhaps it's enough that he tries.

"No, that isn't it. No marks for effort. It's all about the outcome, chums."

The attentions of the live Slayer are even worse, though she was dead once, so perhaps it's all the same to the shining champions he killed. Once her attentions and bad intentions would have lit these caverns with heat and light. No longer, though. "A side show attraction, that's what I am. Rude, rude, rude. No one can teach the dearly departed any manners. The afterlife must be an appalling place."

The steely logic's gone, and the bloody poetry's back, twisted and sour as abandoned wine. The fire's eating his flesh and mind instead of warming his heart, and he'd give anything - if everything he had and all he was weren't already pledged and mortgaged - for a taste of oblivion. Perhaps a paring of a fingernail for a little *less* sanity, thank you very kindly, and where is Dru with her dolls and rhymes and matching pain when he truly wants a distraction? Why can't memory be an escape insted of a prison full of Furies? When he wants to fly from his troubles, why can't he even find his way out of this maze? The Minotaur at least got fed plump young Athenians once every seven years before he was killed. Icarus was allowed to fly before he fell into the ocean. His own sea of troubles comes from without as well as within, from inside his skin and the breath of the Hellmouth, and oh, there are moments when he'd (die) (kill) (cry) (lie) for a bare bodkin and the right to use it.

"Screw that." He turns to Horatio and taps the demon's chin with the tip of a discarded knife that had come nowhere near to killing him. "Hamlet always was a wanker. Had to care about what was *right*, and had to hate, as well. If he'd been sane or smart, he'd have killed Claudius at his prayers." Vengeance, justice, mercy, and an ending there. No need to complicate things with dead girls and venomous swords and flights of angels to sing thee to thy rest. Such men are dangerous. They think too much.

Like him. Because his hawk is a handsaw, and there are rats in the school that Sunnydale built, and he gave up his rights to bodkins and ease when he demanded his soul. The spirits lie to him and won't stop when called at the stroke of midnight; they pour poison in his ears and smirk when he cries. Lies can be sickly-sweet enough to choke on, but the truth is always bitter and never set free any but the innocent. Which he was, once, but that was in another country (and besides the wretch is dead).

"Stop it! Start over, sod.... Focus."

Speaking of fates and blind men, as well as to them.... The sorry truth about Oedipus is that he lost his temper, nothing more or less. He killed a man because - are you paying attention? - because he could. No question of right, wrong, compassion, restraint, or higher moral purpose there. An unknown, unnamed king stood in his way, he killed him, end of story. The rest was silence and the inevitability of character, and how could he *not* marry and destroy the lonely queen? Except it was really the king, coward that he was, who couldn't face having a patricide in his house, and so set the whole misery in motion. Run from your fate and the bitch speeds up and smashes into you. Face your fate, call her names, tell her you're not afraid, and she punches you in the jaw.

So thank you, Angel, for not thinking to ask the obvious questions about the anchoring of conscience and harboring of ghosts, and for not keeping your damn destiny to yourself. Thank you, Angelus, for never mentioning that a hero is more than the sum of his parts, heart and soul, and that the gods and Powers destroy their tools as they use them. Thank you, Grandfather, you utter bastard, for hurting her and leaving her and pointing out that to love this girl you have to kill her.

"Wait. That wasn't it. Git. Get it right. Face the light. Stand and deliver."

He twists an arm loose, pulls off the other, plays a riff of Zepellin on Horatio's cracked head, and scores a rim-shot off the chest of the eviscerated demon piled up next to him. Gotta make your own rhythm, when your heart doesn't beat for you. Gotta listen to the pulse of the world when yours lies sluggard in your veins. Killing is a dance, he told someone once. Death, and glory, and sod all else. He's done death, and now death's done for him; and as for Glory, you can keep the bitch, and her little dogs too.

So he's in the middle of the sod-all-else, and isn't it luverly?

"~All's I want is a room somewhere....~"

Half of Hell is wandering through Heaven, unable to touch it or look away. The merest corner of the smallest hole in the walls of her life is paradise, because she lives and breathes and loves there. Because she persists, exists, and does not know what waits. What walks around and through these halls, what whispers of the catastrophic futures to the one person no one could believe. Cassandra never had it this good; at least she had only one version of damnation to look forward to, and knew it for what it was.

Two corpses down, and four to go, and where did he leave that sword to hack them to bits with? This is going far too slow. "Seven at one blow, or almost. And what did happen to Jack at the end of that story?"

Hell if he can remember. All the other things - murders and savagings, feedings and ravishings - those are all fresh as daisies and violets, a whole field of poppies and opium-laced nightmares to trip on. His memory's been diced by deaths, splattered with the remains of a thousand victims, until he can't look through the glass of memory without getting distracted by what's smeared across its face.

Truth and lies braid together in his brain, and he has several different versions of Hades singing him to sleep, with the terrific uncertainty of possible useful competence to unbalance an already feverish mind. If not for that hope and the allure of doing something *right* (bright, glowing, effulg--- shut up, moron) to close the mouths of all the shades, he'd simply be the Slayer's spaniel. Abuse me, kick me, but let me look on you and hear my name on your lips.... No, no, no. She owes you not one crumb. Love looks not with lies of the mind, and Cupid was never required to be kind.

"Try again. Learn faster. We don't have the time. Fast-forward. Come into this century."

Self-knowledge can be a curse. Freud got much of it wrong, no surprise, he cribbed half his theories from other colleagues and never gave them credit. Projected his fears and fantasies onto his patients. Didn't protect the wounded ladies who asked for help, told them they'd dreamed of being hurt. He'd never had a use for Freud, dead or alive, but give him and the demon this: a raging Id can get things done. Wrong things, bad things, no question there. But direct the pain and loss and frustration at the appropriate target, sharpen the wits to the razor's edge, take the need and point it toward a goal, and suddenly you have a chain with which to pull yourself out of Hell. The Slayer may be the light at the end of the tunnel, may be the freight train come to kick his ass, but better that than hopeless wandering through the cold, lonely neural pathways of the minds of Hell.

Chop, chop, chop. Arms in this pile, legs in that, and torsos to arrange in a neat row so they can't run away or sneak up on him. "Don't think you're fooling me. You aren't sleeping. You're not going for a walk. You don't feel happy, you nutters. You're not getting better. So shut up about wanting to go home, I'm on to your game."

Ex-demons loll and sneer from the line-up, the Usual Suspects of the Hellmouth assembled for identification. "Which makes me Keyser Soze, don't it? I'm the one that lives to tell the tale. The one that walks away."

Or staggers. Or falls, and crawls, and cries across a floor of broken promises and the stabbing truth that he was always the villain of the piece.

"That's right, I'm the Big Bad... the Big Bad... what?" Wolf? No, he'd be in the fire with the remains of Horatio and Yorick, if that were true. Or at the bottom of the sea with stones in his stomach. Let me in, or I'll huff and I'll puff, and he'd done that and worse. He can't be a bear,'cause he never had anything to be broken except his heart. Goldilocks drove him away, and Red turned wicked and almost killed the Huntsman, and his Princess left him long ago, and he's not a part of any happy ending. Not a wolf, not a bear, not a Cowardly Lion, because it wasn't cowardice that got him into this hell, not by half.

"I must be the Scarecrow. 'Cept she always loved him best." He damn well isn't Toto. The Tin Man, maybe, and what use was a clockwork heart and a mis-used soul to a set of armor, anyway?

The darkness thinks it has an answer. His phantoms practice temptation and mockery in one moment, command and cajoling the next, and it's an old, old game that Spike always won. Defiance as an end, not a means, and the desired end here is that there be no ending. Not for her. Not for this world, this paradise. William rarely defied, sometimes lied, and was never completely satisfied; and in that at least the demon and the man, the warrior and the bad poet, heart and soul, are agreed. No victory to the spoilers, no quarter to the torturers, no triumph for the dark. As much for spite against those who'd tried to crush him (ran a spike through his head) as for any greater thing. The only I or Id left may be in the ability to choose, so if he must go to Hell he'll go in his own fashion.

The demons are looking at something behind him. He eyes them suspiciously, trying not to give away the chill that's raising the hairs on his arms. "Trying something funny, are we? Well, you can just forget about that---"

He spins on his heel, ready to do battle, but all that reaches his ears is soft feminine laughter. Drusilla's? Maybe. Darla's? Possibly. Can't be, she's Halfrek now, Cecily (and what's the story there, he wonders) and she must have better things to do. Has to have. Can't be here. No, she can't be here.

And Buffy wouldn't come back so soon. No. She still doesn't understand....

He swallows, and whispers to the corpses, "Did you hear that?"

No answer, and he turns to glare at them. They stare back with would-be innocence. "Fine, if you're going to be that way. Everyone into the sauna."

One head, two heads, three heads, four; eight feet, five hands, and shut the door. Twist the knob, watch the glow, and don't forget how much you owe....

To whom?

Not to the demon in the cave (if demon it were, and not an old god on retirement, laughing at the vampire disturbing his golf game). Not to the fates, those harpy witches with needle and scissors, sewing his shadow back onto the soles of his feet. Not to the Powers or the Power or the things that come out of the walls.

Not to Buffy, although she is the Crusade and the Cause. She took him off the cross so carefully, and cried silently when she did it. Left to his own shabby devices the holiness would have burned all the way through, past bone and muscle and shredded heart, until his head fell off for nothing to hold it up. No pride or spine to keep it steady. She laid him down, covered him with the discarded shirt of the demon-who-was, let the tears fall unchecked. And since she seems to have decided that he is not to die, he won't question it any longer. He will accept that the demon has a purpose and the soul has sunk in past blood and hate. He will fight her enemies, real or imagined, and avoid the glare of her gaze until she's safe and he can ask someone for a better forever for them both.

"Except she'll never be safe, of course."

Fire isn't safe, it burns or it dies. Which it does will never matter, he's so hypnotized by the glow. Maybe he'll throw himself on her funeral pyre this time, though he doesn't wish to die. One last good-bye in a blaze of - not Glory, no, never her, never that - of hope, perhaps. Pray They don't ask anything else of him. Pray Dawn finds sanctuary, her friends find peace, that he's allowed to rest. Although what he's praying to he can't even begin to name.

No. No death. Nothing that cheap or safe. Because he owes some charity, some trace of grace, to the thing that got him this far. To the vice that would become a virtue once named William the Bloody (Idiot). To the hunchback who smiled, and smiled, and threw himself on a bonfire of pain (hanging from chains, taunting a god) instead of in front of a coffin, so as to win the fair Anne. To the survivor who loved the world enough to help save it, and one girl enough to give up a simple bloody immortality for an eternity of lonely remorse.

Something is owed to Spike, it seems. Who he still is. Who he'll never be again.

The flames have died down now, nothing left of this set of spawn but blue ashes and shards of bone. "Fee. Fi. Fo. Fum." He turns and picks up the sword, scanning the shadows, keeping his eyes straight ahead, so as to avoid for a moment longer the things he sees out of the corner of his eyes. He never smells the blood of a Englishman, just hears the tread of evil crawling up his spine.

He isn't very mad. Not much. But he read far too many books, six or seven lifetimes ago, and the echoes haven't stopped yet. He thinks too deeply and remembers too well, and not all of his ghosts talk back to him, and sometimes that silence is the worst thing. He sees too far, in too many directions, all in shades of blood. He simply feels too damn much. He dreams of Ragnarok, Gotterdammerung, and ashes blowing across a barren plain. He wishes he were only haunted, instead of possessed and obsessed and stalked by sins and shades.

"So. Time to make like Hamlet." Hide the plan inside the pain. Befriend the harpies picking through his memories, and smile as they tear at his heart. Promise the inner demon and Id anything for the chance to choke the gatekeepers of the outer darkness and throw them back into the Pit. He doesn't have the luxury of a king's willful blindness to comfort him in his labyrinth. The monster waits for Ariadne, for Esmeralda, for Persephone wandering to pass him by. Waits for whatever other players want to take their place on this stage. Waits for his cue to make a difference.

"The play's the thing...." ... and Fate's still a bitch, and he's still Love's slave. No escaping this cage of truth. For any of them.

He walks away, waiting for the next attack, swinging a sword that can't cut the shadows as well as his madness can. He has a bodkin up his sleeve, and fangs and fists that will never desert him in middle of the act. He'll simply wait for one of his stalkers to turn their back.

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