Monday, 12 December 2016

Walking through epics

So you have a scene where your character must walk across the country due to: Apocalypse happened and we ran out of fuel, invading dragon horde ate all the horses, or some other reason. The reason doesn't matter here because this is not a guide to writing plausible reasons for tormenting your characters with endless treks across wastelands, verdant countryside or other scenery.

This here is a personal account of how unexpectedly difficult a long hike actually is.

To put it into context: I'm 5 foot 4, female, 32 (the walking discussed below has, except for those explicitly stated otherwise, occurred since I turned 30) and heavier than I'd like to be but not unhealthily so.

Gym routine (when I go!) is typically HIIT. Get the heart-rate up with a 1km run, warm up arms with a bit of light rowing (2.5 km) and then start the punishing part.
Burpees. Many burpees. I don't like burpees.
Then onto kettlebells.
I use bells of different weights for different things:
Squats at 16k
Two handed swings and lifts at 12k
One armed lifts at 8k
I do set numbers of up to 10 lifts, with a 30 second interval between each type of lift (eg, I do 20 swings, 30sec rest, 20 squats, 30sec rest, 10 right arm lifts, 10 left arm lifts, 30 sec rest, 20 lunges, 30 sec rest). Then I repeat the routine 3 times.
Then I do a 1km cool down
Then I go swimming
Then I go home and die.

My point is, I'm coming from a fairly solid underlying fitness level and I like hiking.

I did a little walking when I was a kid - my parents were fairly poor and there were 4 kids. As a result our treats tended to be on the frugal side. At some point they started driving us to north Wales and taking us over a few hills, around a few ruined castles and occasionally to a beach. For the cost of petrol and a few home made sandwiches and scones we could have a whole day out that served the double duty of entertaining and exhausting us.

As an adult I didn't walk. I moved to the Pennine Way when I finished uni and I walked out to the reservoir often and once cross country from Mytholmroyd to Hebden Bridge but no proper walking.

Then I moved to Gloucestershire and had even less walking.

Then I met Gavin and when we first dated we walked a little. Eventually we walked a *lot*.

At the start we walked because it was a good date. Then we stayed at home a lot and ate more than we should. Finally we realised we had become unfit and turned back to walking.

We broke up and I hit the gym. Hard. As described above. A month or so later we got in touch and resumed hiking. We walked every weekend, at first 3-4 miles, then 6-8, then up to ten, It was frustrating because there were very few walks of that length in the walking books we had, so we had to combine walks with long breaks driving from route to route or stopping for a pub lunch.

Finally we decided to walk the Cotswold Way. People do it as a holiday over 6 days, stopping in B&Bs overnight, so we decided to follow that plan each weekend until we completed the walk.

Our first walk was 18.6 miles, 2,289 feet ascent. We knew we didn't have time to stop for lunch so carried food; sandwiches, cake, beer, etc. and started very early. Here's the route - not exactly what we walked, but close enough.

We stopped at the 5 mile mark for a mid morning breakfast. It felt good and took some of the weight out of my pack. We kept going to 10 miles, no problem. We were chatting about how amazing it was that we had already met the usual limits and felt so good, while we ate many calories. We also had a look at what we'd covered already and felt kind of smug.

It was mile 15 that we hit real difficulty. If you check the mapometer route linked about you'll see that the profile from that point is basically downhill and level. However, I remember it as possibly the most torturous hour and a half of my life.

On our walks we average 2.4mph over rough terrain. That last stretch back to the car was sheer agony and took far, far longer than easy terrain should have. Our feet hurt, excruciating amounts. We were wearing robust walking shoes that we'd long since broken in, and I wore hiking socks. It was the day I realised all those people passionately evangelising about the right footwear actually knew what they were talking about and weren't trying to peddle snake oil.

So here is the TL:DR summary of things you need to know when writing your characters who have to walk a long distance without already being expert walkers:
1) your tolerance builds *fast* - start at 4 miles a day and you can rapidly and easily build to much higher than that. Humans are very effective walkers :)
2) your footwear *matters* - characters may not have strong soles at the start, but they can't walk without severe pain without them when you need to cover long distances. Speedy trick: if you can bend the sole back on itself without effort, that's too flimsy to walk. If it folds but takes some pressure, that's a good flat land or short distance walking shoe. If it doesn't give under the pressure, it's likely to be a good option. Obviously, in real life you need to do extensive testing, but for your characters, this should do :)
3) the first thing that will hurt are the joints: knees, hips and lower back for me. When the foot pain starts. it won't stop. If you take off your shoes or rest your feet for any length of time, you lose the numbing effect of constant walking. The pain that comes after mile 16 is intense and horrific but can be walked on. You aren't bleeding, you aren't even bruised. You just hurt like hell.
4) when you stop walking the first thing you want to do is take off your shoes. This is usually trickier than normal - bending is hard, your feet are tender so you have to open the laces wider than normal and then, of course, your legs start to stiffen because you're no longer walking. Good news, this isn't like post exercise stiffening where you can't use them the following day. It's more of a continuous tingling that unfortunately also hurts.
5) The next day you will still hurt. You can, if you have the right mindset, keep ploughing on regardless. I never have so I don't know what happens.

The most walking I've done was 24 miles in 48 hours. I didn't feel bad at all by the end of it because we never passed that tipping point. We did also do 22 miles along a river in one go with a stop for lunch halfway and by the end of that we were broken. However, it was very flat and I don't consider it to be a good measure of normal performance.
The fastest walking we've done was 4 mph. This was over pretty flat land, good daylight and firm under foot. It didn't last long.
The hardest walking I've ever done was Nympsfield - Wootton Under Edge stretch of the Cotswold Way. I don't know why it was so hard, but it was utterly brutal. There was a hill early on that destroyed me and I couldn't claw it back from there.

I'm very happy to answer walking questions from my own experience - just get in touch!

@demiurgent_g

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Grief

Most of the time I'm fine
It's not that I don't care
It's that 
I can't make myself keep hurting

Most of the time I know
But I can sideline it
Because
I'm losing you but you're not gone yet

Some of the time

Some of the time it takes me like an avalanche
I'm driving and a group of hospices 
Are releasing a Christmas song
About a loss
I sing along until
My breath
Heaving in and out 
Can no longer choke the slightest sound
Until the traffic ahead is blurry
And there is a part of me
That realises now is a bad time

Some of the time it makes me breathless
I'm building you a forever gift
In defiance of the futility
And as I finish
The Christmas film on TV reaches its crescendo
As all the little children
Celebrate the wishes they have been granted
And I cannot cry
I can only stop
And wait

Alicia

Monday, 28 November 2016

I am

Don't think for a moment
That I'll apologise
Don't think I feel badly about this
Don't feel, in any way,
As though you are entitled
To shut me up

Don't feel like I'm too loud
Too brash
Too bold faced
Or arrogant

I'm not full of myself
I'm not egotistical
I'm not self centered
Or self aggrandising

No, none of this.

I am
I am beautiful
I am smart
I am fun
I am sexy
I am pedantic
I am creative
I am
I am all of this and more

And I will not apologise for knowing
I will not be sorry for sharing
Or for letting you know
I love myself

You haven't met me
We don't share acquaintances
And you might feel
I am not

But you, my sweet, you do not know me.

I assure you

I am.

I am the greatest bucket of iced water that will never be poured on your head
I am the most delicious stinky cheese you will never be able to nibble
I am the smokiest whiskey that will never burn your throat with alcohol fumes
I am the flirtiest succubus that will never tear out your soul

I am
And I am not sorry

I am not sorry that you will never believe me
I am not sorry that you cannot approve of me
I am not

I am.
I always will be.

I give you leave to spend your life buried in a safe still-water haven.
I will be here
In the spray of raging oceans
In the force of the winds
In the resilient earth
In the sting of the flame
I will be here,
In the midst of it all
Under the onslaught
And I shall still
And always will
Be
Only
Me

Alicia

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Moments

Time passes in a series of moments.

At first a light drizzle; each moment seems small, incessant and eternal.

They grow into rain - becoming more distinct, more weighty, falling heavily on detritus and forming rivulets as one leads to another and drives life inevitably before it.

The moments fall, pounding my skin, wearing me down, carving grooves in my face.

I watch them accumulate, clinging to the branches above as I nestle in my tree waiting for the assault.

Time slows and I see that one moment, hanging precariously, swelling, turning, twisting, ready to fall... but like water it congeals as the temperature plummets.

More moments attempt to fall, each becoming crystalline as they fail to reach me - trapped on the tips of the branches above, forming daggers from what might have been.

All around a flurry of flakes whirls; blinding, devastating and cold; each moment jagged edged and ruthless, stacking together, building into drifts of life lived.

I watch the branches above, adoring those perfect moments as they accumulate.

They reach towards me and I pray for the blizzard to stop that I might touch them.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Mixers

For a moment she felt frozen in time. Her mind flickered briefly to how this must look from the outside - a perfect cinematographic tableau (because even at times like this she feels the need to use words like that, chides the tiny voice in her mind) - before she is pulled firmly into focus.

She met him, the most beautiful man in the world, about two hours ago. She made a snide comment about an award winning presenter slash hard sell man for a lousy product under her breath and he heard. He laughed quietly and from that point had her full attention. The speaker had never been worth listening to, but now he stood no chance.

As soon as the barely polite smattering of applause had greeted the end of the dreary session, he had introduced himself - Simon. Since then they had retreated further and further from the conference, moving by stages into a bar where he drank a JD and coke and she had G and T.

They talked initially about the conference and their various experiences before moving by degrees into more personal subjects correlating to the intimacy of the space they were in. Now, with their second drinks they had retreated away from the bar to a sheltered table in the corner and she found herself after each sip of the G&T licking her lips slowly and then biting the lower one.

Hypnotised by the colour of his eyes, she couldn't look away and the inevitable moment came where she spilled her drink on herself. He moved nearer when he handed her the napkin and she dabbed herself on the cheek and shoulder where she had felt the droplets. Unsure if she had caught it all she turned to him and asked: "Did I miss any?"

He nodded slowly, and gestured on himself to indicate where some droplets had caught in her hair. She quickly dabbed at them and looked back to him. "All done?"

He reached out his hand. "May I?" his words were gentle and low, almost a caress and she leaned involuntarily towards him, handing over the napkin as she did so. He shuffled forwards and, moving slowly, took the napkin before raising it to her face. He hesitated for a moment only before touching the napkin to the side of her neck. His movements were so slow it felt more like a caress and her eyes, watchful on him, dilated as her lips parted slightly.

For a moment she felt frozen in time. In the shadowy corner, with the drinks, smart clothing and bar ambiance, she felt the shades of Casablanca in every moment. Her eyes dropped to his lips and she watched them move, shaping the words of  flattery she imagined Ilsa must have heard in Paris. "You're breathtaking." He reached out his hand, slowly and gently catching the line of her jaw in his long finger. "May I kiss you?"

Wordless, she smiled and met his eyes with her own before nodding fractionally. Attuned to the tiny motion he leaned forward and their lips met.

The softness of his thin lips was in sharp contrast to the five o'clock shadow surrounding them. Her own lips were plump and full and it was natural for him to open his own mouth to meet them. As his lips moved over hers, she felt the abrasive stubble intensifying the sensations of the moment and her lips began to tingle. Very soon she had parted her own lips and shortly after felt the contrasting coolness of his tongue from the ice in his drink.

She reveled in the sensation but they were not horny teenagers and both knew the value of suspense. After a few intense seconds they separated and returned to their drinks, several inches closer and several degrees more intimate.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Tumour

It sits on my chest
my own tumour
like yours in every detail
except medically

Mine will never show on a scan
Or be cut into by a blade
It won't spread through my body
or be attacked by white blood cells

But it sits there
hard
tight
hot
a lumpy coal
seizing my heart
choking my lungs
blocking my digestion

It makes me weep

It takes away all of my life
As yours steals you
Too greedily
Too cruelly
Too soon
Mine grows

Monday, 12 September 2016

Undiminished

We all start the same.
Raw, uncut.

Over time, we are hacked, carved, cut.
We are shaped by the universe

The first cut will teach us pain
The second, fear
The third is hunger
And so it goes.

Yet we remain
Undiminished

As each facet is hewn
We are given a memory
A gift
The moment the blade fell

You do not like it
When one facet catches the light
And for a moment
Above all else
You are the product of that memory

But the flash is only that
A momentary encore of a memory

When it fades
You are always
And consistently
Undiminished

You are a gem

A

Isolation

Some days
I want nothing more than to be left alone

I can't yell or scream
I can't tell you to get the hell away
But I want to
I want to tell you that I need time
I need time where I'm not gearing myself up
I need space where I don't have to worry about my impact on others
I need a life, briefly, where I can be all about me for a time
And I hate myself for it

On my way to reclusive safety
I feel the presence of every stranger I pass
their selves bulging past the limits of their clothing
Clustering around
choking me like the stench of unwashed gym kits

I'm stopped by a friend
I want nothing more
Than to punch them and run
Just to be left alone
I smile, laugh and chat

We part and I fall back
Into myself
Behind my defenses
The meagre shields crumbling before the incessant onslaught as the surging mass of individuals gets bigger and louder and I am smaller and more fragile and I cannot bear this any more.

I am home.
I am safe.
I need not talk for a time.
I need not be.
And in my blessed isolation I am free.

I am not lonely, you fool.
I am an introvert.

A

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Not Quite Asleep

See, I'm not going to tweet about this one, because that would be too meta. But I want to have a separate record of this morning's poem, because I think it's a good 'un.


The air is cold,
The duvet warm and soft
When I turn it flows with me
An embryonic fluid
Loving me
Keeping me safe
I float
Not quite asleep

-A-

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Unable to sleep

Blue glitter
Dancing behind closed eyelids
In a mind not yet ready for sleep

Enveloping darkness
Soft and snug
Too warm for comfort
Where skin on skin is sticking
Each movement requiring arm to unpeel
Or thigh to cool from
Over-extended pressure

The humidity promises rain
And so the stickiness
Is endured
As the body anxiously assures the brain
It's time
Sleep is required
And the fretting circles
Of a wild animal
Laying flat every blade of grass
Before it can rest
Continue unabated

And while this continues
The head yawns
The eyes close
And the sparkling pin pricks of light
Create all the disturbance required
To ensure the grass
Continues to spring upright.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

I wish that you were here

There are cats fighting outside the open window
There is rain foretold in the humidity of the air
The earworm has me in its grip 
And I wish that you were here

The sun is setting sooner each night
Autumn is casting chilly tendrils through the dawn air
My onesie is out of storage
And I wish that we could talk

The TV is full of wondrous series
NaNoWriMo is coming, foreshadowed by writer's block
My to-read stack is growing
And I wish that you knew

There are projects to be done
There are four canvases and three ideas awaiting me
Second hand clothes to repurpose
And I wish that you could see

There is a novel to edit
Another to sell to a publisher, as soon as possible
There is work to be done
And I wish that you could help

It would be too selfish for me to burden you
So I won't
Although it feels like lying and I'm afraid

I wish that you were here
Each day, in everything I do
I wish that you were here

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

I believe

Under a clear sky, on a summer night, lying on flattened wheat with you by my side I can tell you how I believe while we watch the stars whirl by in their cosmic dance.

On a snowy day, as we sit before a fire, I can wrap my hands around a warm mug and tell you why I believe as we feel the insubstantial flames flicker.

In the midst of humanity, I can whisper to you and heart to heart you will know all that I believe.

You will know of our insignificance, although the stars of the universe are the same as the electrons of our selves.

You will know of our reality, and how we leave our mark, however fleeting our time and however small our light.

You will know of our isolation and that, despite every effort, every wish, every dream of being a part of something bigger, we can never be more than one. Just one. Alone.

We are insignificant, small and alone and that is why we hold ourselves accountable.

I, by myself, take responsibility for fixing the mistakes that have been made.

One day, we can be more than this.

A

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Responding to criticism

There was a #storycrafter question from @writerology about negative feedback and how you/we/I handle it when it gets you/us/me down.

The simple answer from me was: it doesn't.

Herein lies the long answer.

*Of course* negative feedback about my writing doesn't get me down, how could it?

Let's look at some areas of criticism and see how they work.

1) spelling and grammar - the only possible response is "thanks for these corrections!" People get paid just to do this very thing. Someone notices I frequently make a mistake and take the time to point it out to me? That's brilliant! Over the years I've had the difference between practice and practise explained, syntax for sentences ending .) or )., and various other bits.

2) plot holes, confusing segues - the whole universe is in my head. I know every detail of every player, every place, every tool. If I don't know it, it doesn't exist. This can be very hard to get down on paper and, when you're writing a novel, you may leave entire scenes undescribed because your brain is filling in the blanks. Think of that experiment where you find your blind spot by drawing a blob on paper and moving it in and out of focus until the blob disappears, or those sentences with every word jumbled that you can still read because your brain corrects what it sees to what it thinks it should see. The only way I'll know this has happened is if someone else tells me. So thank you.

3) flow - particular fault of mine. Pacing correctly is *hard*. Again, I know everything: I know what's coming, what's happened off page, how people are developing. I don't always correctly choose what shouldn't be there, but other people can tell me what's disrupting the story for them. I can't tell myself. It has to be external.

4) character development - I know how people should feel about the characters and what they're going through. If they don't, that's entirely my fault and I've written it wrong. Not necessarily badly, just incorrectly for the message I want to convey. People are all going to react differently anyway, so this is a very fuzzy target to aim for and if someone cares enough about a character to get emotionally involved in the feedback they're giving, that's my job more than 50% done! All I need to do is *change* an emotional response, not create one.

5) poor language choices. Admit it, we all take shortcuts at times, to speed through a scene and get onto the one we *really* want to write. We all have speech patterns that make their way into our writing. If that's what's been caught then I'm nothing but grateful. If I think it's OK writing and someone criticises it, then I have to assume it's lazy writing and consider how else it could be done. If I think it's good and someone else thinks it's terrible then I need specific guidance and this is where I'll ask for detail. But none of those are reasons to be hurt or down. I haven't failed, I've either knowingly or unknowingly taken a short cut and criticism is the price you pay for that.

6) resolution - a satisfying ending is so important to me. It's a huge challenge to put together a story where nothing is wasted or extraneous, and nothing is left incomplete. Even in a series I feel like each book should have an end, with the promise of stories untold, not stories unfinished. This is very, very difficult and as with points 2&3 it's very hard to achieve this when you're also trying to filter through an entire universe. You might slip up, someone tells you, you're golden.

All of these things should be caught in editing and pre-publication. If it makes it to print, it's not all on me. If I ever get readers and they come to me to say any of the above then, well, I have to be a bit irritated, but at the end of the day I still *can't be down* about it because every single reading experience is about the reader. Every single one. And if the reader has a legitimate criticism/ complaint that is not peculiar to them, then my writing is at fault. If that reader didn't get the right stuff from the story but 90% or more of the readers did, then my job has been done well.

Final caveat, if someone says some variant of "I don't like this." then that is also OK. You cannot write something that creates emotion, challenges perception or build conflict and have everyone like it. If people don't like it, but do not criticise the writing or content then I have done my job perfectly.

Of course people will criticise the writing though, so I recommend allocating yourself a margin of allowable error that you feel is OK to slip up on. :-)

Alicia

Words failing

I'm not good at talking. Words, my best friends, my stock in trade, don't spill from my lips as easily as through my fingers. I can't look you in the eye and say anything clearly, because I'm so afraid of being misunderstood.

But there's something I want to tell you, something I want you to know. It's the shadow of a dream I had, an unbidden wish that decorates my night like the stars. It is similarly unattainable, remote and ultimately powerful.

I want to say the words because there ought to be no lie, no deceit, no fear. There ought to be honesty and how can we be honest if every word is curated? How can it be real if I write, rewrite and edit each sentence to be elegant before all else?

The words must be spoken to allow me to fuck it up; to look you in the eye and see that you understand this is truth, however badly expressed.

If it were written, you would be moved to know of the dreams I have in which we meet, spend time together, love one another with no agenda. You would be entertained to hear how I wistfully hope for another such dream with you. You would doubt me if I described just how I find you attractive, and yet want it to be true.

But if I spoke to you... if I spoke you would hear only that I want more dreams of you, as though it were your job to provide them, and I would clumsily say you aren't an objet d'art, leaving you to think I don't like to look.

And while I feel, I must think of your feelings too and acknowledge these are words you may not want, in any form. I used to be sure that you would reject my clumsy confessions utterly. Wishful thinking has changed my expectations into a maybe, but...

Maybe is not enough to build a dream catcher.
Maybe is not the way to learn to speak.
Maybe is not how we harness the stars.

Maybe is how I can wait until tomorrow.

Maybe then.
Maybe not.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Silence in the presence of promise

In my mind I see words as they are born, grow and develop. They breed through use and pass from one mouth to another like a disease. Successful words overpopulate, absorb new meaning and, like, become a blight. Old words gather dust and rot; occasionally brought out and presented with elitist smugness to confused onlookers who cannot take it away with them, further sealing their fate.

Words join, mingle and merge. They have offspring and mates. They are attached to music, cadence and rhythm for meaning and pleasure. They have the double entendre, puns and jokes. They are synonyms, antonyms and rhymes.

They sit on the tip of my tongue, in the back of my mind and feature prominently in whirlwinds around my conscious when I want to sleep.

And yet, and yet.

I can sit here and stare at a blank whiteness for hours on end because to use any one of these vibrant individuals for my own ends seems impossible.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A little moment



Before you lies a flower, petals slowly unfurling... Slowly, so slowly, reluctantly even, the petals release their grip on the safety of the bud as they turn outwards towards the sun. Imagine them bending, gradually, gently until suddenly

Snap

They pop fully open and there before you lies a full blown bloom in all its glory.

Each day, I feel pressured. I feel the outside world bearing down upon me and until I snap, until I reach that moment, it isn't possible to tell if I'm on my way to breaking or blooming.



Friday, 8 July 2016

Extended Friday Phrase

The theme is incubators. I came up with a piece and am not satisfied with the 140 character version. Hence: 

Every love has two incubators.
We can each choose which chance to nurture and I limit myself to one.
This is my choice.
I will keep our chance warm while I await your light to shine upon it and bring forth our fledgling romance.
It may never come to pass, but I will wait because our hatchling is important.

Alicia

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Tremblessent

I've spent the evening carving out a query for a novel I completed a couple of years back and have been buffing since. I haven't read all of the query shark archives yet, or I'd send my shiny new query in to be judged by her. Thing is, this is only my second ever. My first was BAD BAD BADBADBADBADBAD and I was so unaware of how bad it was that when I realised I felt incredibly embarrassed to have wasted that agent's inbox space.

This time round I've been contemplating queries in the back of my mind for a while and I have a much better idea of how to do it. Really, that wouldn't take much. It was very bad.

I still don't think I'm great at it, but there was a Twitter pitch thing for The Knight Agency and since #FridayPhrases really got its claws into me I've felt so much more comfortable putting myself out there on Twitter than through any other medium. So I tweeted my pitch for two novel, just to see if there was interest.

There was interest in one pitch :)

Please note: this is the first time that I am aware of that any professional writing related person has given the slightest indication they think they might be interested in reading my works. I really hope it was for the alliteration because I was *so* pleased with how that felt!

Anyway. As soon as I'd done squeaking and rushing around in a panic, I suddenly realised I needed a query.

Whole new kind of panic. My old one would not suffice for reasons already discussed (principally its badness) and I didn't want to risk this opportunity. Speed reading of queryshark.blogspot.com gave me a top level frame. I went away and wrote my query. I went back to queryshark and read their responses to 60 more queries (there are a lot on the site). I looked for evidence of crimes in my own query and couldn't find any obvious ones.

With very little time on my hands I extracted some key points and scrubbed the rawness out of my query. I was quite savage by the way.  My natural over-wordiness was not permitted its moment in the sun, which may go some way towards explaining why I felt the urge to write this!

Key points (all the good ones are stolen from the shark):

  • Good spelling and grammar. Already a bug bear of mine, I dread to think how ashamed I will feel if it turns out I missed one.
  • Who is the main character?
  • What are they doing?
  • Why are they doing it?
  • Why do I (the reader) care?
  • Is the writing style the sort that would keep my interest for a full book?

I am more than willing to keep working on this (although I obviously hope they'll just throw bucketloads of cash my way, no further questions) - but it's still impressive what you can do with a couple of hours of really intense focus and the right motivation!

Monday, 20 June 2016

When bad things happen (4)

I hope he's sleeping well
I'm so grateful
I think
When I first said
I had to go to Yorkshire
When I first texted him
I think I knew
He would offer his support
His presence
I reached out
Because I knew
And because
I think
I needed it
I hope
I am not taking advantage of him
And
I hope
He knows
How grateful I am

When bad things happen (3)

Page after page turns
Words
Meaningless
Useless
Rhythmically patterned
Illustrating nothing
The emptiness
The pain
When does
My
When do
I
Where is
Reality?
Words pour forth
I can't stop them
I will destroy them
When this is over
They are useless
Nothing
Like me
A shell
Waiting for the time
When I can have an impact

Love
Love
I love you
I love you
Love
It's all
But does no good

When bad things happen (2)

I could see more of the day
If I opened the curtains wider
Black and grey
Frames a patch
Of gray, grey and brick
The meagre light
Reflecting off matte aluminium blinds
Perfectly illustrates
Semi flat design
How modern
How comforting
How repulsive
I want to destroy it
I imagine the punch
How unsatisfying
An image that should shatter
Instead
The blinds would flex, rattle and wobble
The window would not respond
The world would not notice
And I would still be alone
In a world of grey
While bad things happen
Far away

When bad things happen (1)

She writes her pain from the outside
Clinically assessing
How she is perceived
She writes their pain from the inside
Emotionally experimenting
With the impact it has
In the morning
She sits alone
Waiting for the world
To notice the passage of time
She writes
She feels
She taunts herself
Reveling in the memory of
Pain
Tears fall
Unbidden
And she cannot tell
What is the boundary
Between her true pain
The suffering of others
And the memory of pain

When bad things happen
There is no way
To make it stop

Keep pushing on
Until exhaustion
Gives you no choice

And
Since the world hasn't seen
That there is all this time
Fill it
Wash
Clean
Write
Exercise
Draw
Paint
Cry

Friday, 27 May 2016

The fiddler

Let the music play
Let the dance turn
Let the song unfold
Let the fiddler burn

He dances in the ashes
Of a city turned to dust
He mocks you and your wishes
To feel unbridled lust

It takes less than a moment
To make your wishes heard
Yet he will not cease playing
Nor do honour to your word

You want to stand unbroken
Before his vile onslaught
Shattered are your dreams
Your wishes ground to naught

The fiddler dances onwards
Trampling your soul
The cushion for his dainty feet
On the pathway to his goal

Do not fear the fiddler
Nor the song he plays
He augurs not your sunset
Nor the ending of your days

Let the music play
Let the dance turn
Let the song unfold
And the fiddler?

He will burn

Man flu

It's fine, I say. I'm still able to work.

It's true, you know. I can think coherently. I can walk, I can run, I can communicate, I can do my job.

But I just sat down alone in a quiet room.

My head is heavy, my forehead is inexplicably mis-sized. When I close my eyes there are high pressured cavities the size of golf balls in my sinuses and my forehead protrudes several inches further forwards than normal. My ears are hot and empty and yet I hear everything through my nose.

When I close my eyes I want to keep them closed - the lines of the sealed lids is hot and dry and when I open them my eyes will feel soggy for no reason. My hair roots itch and the floor is too close. I want to stretch upwards, away from it, but it makes me dizzy - as though vertigo has a grip on me.

I'm tired. So tired I could cry.

My throat vacillates between sore, tender, dry and claggy. Each time I swallow my ears try to pop. There is moisture wrapped around my uvula and my tonsils are extending their grip into the roots of my brain. I can't taste anything or smell anything, but I am convinced I am unclean and stench-ridden.

But I'm fine. I can write this. I can walk. I can run (briefly). I can work. I can do it all.

I don't want to. I want to stay in bed and sleep for days. I want to recline on my sofa and feel secure. I want to not have to think. But if I stay at home watching TV then other people will have to do my work and frankly, they can't. Or, in the case of some of the less pleasant aspects, shouldn't have to.


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Desired relationship status

This yearning 
Won't fade
These words
Unheard
Will remain 
Pointless homage
To what could be

If it were you and me
If it weren't for the rest
Our petty problems
These daily fails
The fear

I know you 
Won't speak
You aren't
Aware
Or inclined
In my direction
And if you were

Could it be you and me?
Can we ignore the rest?
Our petty problems?
These daily fails?
The fear?

I have a type
It's you
Almost
You with 
Interest in me
And inclination
To say something

It's that you and me
We can ignore the rest
Work through the problems
Burn daily fails
Face fear

We could be a team
If we
Could get past
This difference

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Meta post

All I want to write about is the passage of time, the constancy of the slipping away of life, the underwhelming monotony of adulthood wearing thin the memories of whimsy.

It's depressing, frankly. 

I need an adventure. I need to be inspired, to feel like dreaming is a valid thing. I need spontaneity, romance, perhaps (although I'm not sure I could ever be so uncharacteristic) a little irresponsibility.

Today I had a jam croissant and a slice of incredibly chocolatey birthday cake (not my birthday) on top of my usual soup, sausage roll and fruit, and I already feel that was too irresponsible. 

Heaven forbid I do something actually reckless. I'm not now, nor have I ever been, the sort.

It may be a problem actually - it's very hard to write about recklessness in others when every fibre of your being is screaming "YOU STUPID CHARACTER!" ... It has a tendency to be reflected in the words you use. 

On the other hand, it makes me wonder if my ability to write with ease about characters who *care* is saying good things about me. I don't think of myself as a caring person, but others do. Maybe I care, but don't feel it in the way literature and films tell me I should.

My characters are also typically strong, independent and comfortable shouldering responsibility. 

And apart from Bub, I think they were all female. Bub is a teddy bear, assigned a male gender by his boy. Could have been a lass, I guess.

This is starting to get a bit meta.

Alicia out.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Hypocrisy

I pride myself on telling the truth.

I boast of it.

I recommend it as a lifestyle.

I call it "playing life on hard".

I do this in the full knowledge that there are some truths I avoid saying.

I avoid them because they will make my life harder.

Hypocrite.


Thursday, 28 April 2016

Song for you

I wanted to write a song for you
You'd never know it was yours
But I would
And every time I heard it
I would wrap myself
With thoughts of you

I'd see your eyes crinkle
As you started to smile
I'd see your lips tighten
As you fought back a laugh
And I'd see your hands reaching
To keep me with you

If I ever wrote a song for you
It would be about the way you smell
Or how you sound when you're tired
It would be about how you make me feel
Or the way you groan when you forget things
And you wouldn't know

I see your eyes crinkle
Each time you smile
I see your lips tighten
As you fight back a laugh
I see your hands reaching
To hold on to me

But you
You don't see
Past the nose on your face
The hair in your ears
Or the scar on your chin

You can't believe
That song was for you
Because it talks about
Someone beautiful

Friday, 15 April 2016

Woman seeking man.

Of course looks matter. I'm never going to stop getting turned on by the way your biceps bulge or how your body hair feels to my touch. But bulging biceps alone won't keep me interested.

You must be intelligent and want intelligence in return.
You must thrive off challenge, because I don't understand any other way of life.
You must be open to embarrassing yourself in the pursuit of happiness.
You must live life as though what you do has an impact on others.

If you aren't open to joy or freedom, I will be saddened and leave.
If you object to independent thought, I will rebel and leave.
If you think cruelty is OK, I will be afraid. And I will leave.
If you think you can follow the laws that interest you and disregard the rest, I won't understand you and I will leave.

I don't want a hero or a villain.
I don't want a beauty or a beast.
I don't want a dictator or a freedom fighter.
I don't want an extremist of any sort.

I want an intelligent man who cares about people he loves and gives everyone else the freedom and respect to let them be.
I want a strong man: truly strong. Not an "alpha male" who thinks strength is only found in hurting others. Not one who thinks it is strong to never cry. I want a man who doesn't cater to the whims of cliques for fear of losing their support. A man who can be vulnerable without fearing it will cost him. A man who would let his daughter paint his nails pink and not feel he has to apologise for making her happy.
I want a creative man - any sort of creativity is fine. Word play, music, whatever, as long he puts new things into the world.
I want a reliable man who will be with me in dark times and light, who doesn't think I owe him anything for the privilege of being held by him, who is not counting the days passing as though waiting for the acceptable duration to have passed.

But hell yeah, I also want to enjoy looking at him.

Why shouldn't I?

A

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Little things

Should you step into my home, the first thing you will notice is the shelving. It greets you as the front door opens, saving my shoes and junk mail from the trials of hovering. At the top of the stairs are two more sets, one full of books as is right and proper, the other telling you all of my life. It holds my hiking rucksack, jogging kit, gym kit, cat carrier, a large box of towels and sheets. There are my excess candles, this is a money box I got when I was little and next to the discarded art supplies are the tools I'm supposed to have put away about two years ago. There's a doll in fancy Victorian children's dress, and on her lap she holds a doll's doll in baby clothes of the same era. Gathering dust is a fancy silver and black velvet mask. It's plastic, but still shiny. In the bathroom is a tall, narrow shelving unit with a door discretely hiding the bottom half which shelters the toilet roll (I care more that it keeps them dry) and cleaning products from the curious. The upper half contains old makeup, a myriad of things I should have thrown away and more cleaning products.

Enter the lounge now and you will be amazed. It's smaller on the inside. It shouldn't be, but the shelves overtook everything. In here are three full height Billy Bookshelves, one of them half width, the others full width. A half height Billy is wedged under the light switch. All of these are solidly lined with books, and in front of the books is a collection of some of the art works I have fallen in love with over the course of my life. On top of the shelves are many jigsaws and more art supplies as well as board games and a box I occasionally delve into when I try to recall where I put things. They are arranged in the corner so the narrow one is at 45 degrees and in the middle of them is the dinner table.

Along the wall is a filing cabinet (which are technically sliding shelves) containing more arty crafty things. My flat is not large, so the sofa is wedged right up to the filing cabinet and in the tiny gap on the other side of it is a slim red shelf holding my DVDs. Some of my DVDs. I have a penchant for CEX and 4 for £6.50 offers, so it's tatty and eclectic and utterly valueless to any collector. Past the coffee table (holding my router, Lego Wall-E, and current thing I'm supposed to be working on) is a mini shelf for the TV which holds more DVDs. These are typically dustier than the ones on the red shelf. 

With all these shelves, you'd think I'd be able to keep my bloody dinner table neat and tidy, wouldn't you?

But nooooooooo.

It's got my decorative settings in place and the candle, but they are repeatedly shoved aside for any letters I actually read, the latest art thing, the rejected materials for the latest project, anything that needs filing (I don't have anywhere for that), the stuff that got in my way when I was in a hurry and I haven't yet tidied away.

I am not, I must confess, one of nature's tidy.

But I do hold space in my life for the little things. My uncle sends me a card every time something major happens and they are displayed on the cabinet. I have a piggy bank I will need to smash one day. My sister gave it to me years ago and there's hardly anything in it. Not because I won't save, but because the more I have in there, the closer I am to destroying it (I have another from a friend and that has even less in). There's a ceramic art deco tile - also from my sister - of a slender woman wearing a red dress on a staircase. There's a large vase - from my sister in law before I divorced - holding ostrich feathers in different colours (I bought them for a costume for a friend's history themed wedding). There's an assortment of candle holders. Tiffany lamp style, autumn leaf themed, plain glass squares in a severe wood holder. There is a clock made from a kit that my mother bought. I deviated from the plan and made it from maps and butterflies instead of matchsticks as I was supposed to. It is unfinished, but beautiful. There's a father's day card I bought but have never sent because I don't really like father's day and I do like making cards. He will get it one day, because he's an amazing dad.

There are postcards stacked behind the TV. There are memories of my godparents - I still have the communion card and gift they gave me and I still feel the sorrow when I hold them. There is, somewhere, the last card my grandfather ever sent me. I was 9 or 10 when he died. 

If you set foot in my flat, you will probably see the clutter on my shelves. These are my little things. They are my life. Every aspect of me is here for you to see, whether or not you take advantage.  

A

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The first move.

They sort of knew of each other already. They'd been moving in peripheral circles for months; friends of friends occasionally mentioned them in conversation and they saw each other on the train, in the gym and occasionally at bars thus making it utterly impossible for them to introduce themselves.

Kate already felt stalkerish for sneaking extra glances when he was straining through his weight training, neither could break the unwritten social law that dictates silence on a commute and although she hoped he'd introduce himself at a bar, Mark couldn't bring himself to approach a stranger.

And so they continued - each convinced the other had no interest and neither willing enough to put themselves out there and risk rejection.

Thankfully, as their friends were oblivious, the universe became irritated with their mutual stupidity and threw them together. At a bar one evening, Kate had retreated to the ladies for a little secretive social media surfing. In this particular establishment, the toilets were upstairs and as she descended, an impatient man pushed past her going downstairs. Taken by surprise and slightly precarious in her heels, she stumbled and as she regained her balance she reached out and grabbed the nearest solid object. It was Mark.

He hadn't seen anything to explain her sudden assault so, startled, he stopped and stared enquiringly at her. "Er, can I help you?"

She realised she was clutching at the fabric covering the rather firm expanse of his chest. Thanks to his penchant for wearing t-shirts at the gym that became see-through and clung to him when he drenched them with sweat, she already had a perfect visual of what was going on under there and her hand flexed involuntarily. Blushing vividly she snatched her hand back as though it burned and muttered incoherent apologies through a tight throat.

She tried to rush away and instead fell, compounding her mortification as she landed in an ungainly heap several steps below. He immediately retrieved the scattered belongings that fell from her bag and she anxiously checked her phone to ensure it had suffered no hurt whilst thanking him profusely and trying not to look him in the eye. As she was also trying to avoid ogling his chest, arms and, now she was seated, his thighs, she ended up staring at his ear lobe, wishing she had some witty observation, intelligent remark or in fact any three syllables to string together that might let him know she was in any sense admirable.

Kate stood hastily, apologising again and he offered his hand to help her. "Are you sure you're OK to stand? Did you hurt your ankle at all?"

"Sorry, thanks, no I'm fine. I'm fine, thanks. Sorry. I didn't mean to... I'm really sorry. Are you OK?" She was highly conscious of her hand in his, but didn't want to seem rude by snatching it away, so instead let it remain, deliberately relaxing it so he didn't feel obliged to maintain the contact.

"I'm great, and," as he spoke he looked down at his chest and smiled. "My shirt seems equally fine. We're very resilient."

The reminder of how he'd felt under her hand upgraded the temperature in her cheeks from minorly incendiary to full-on napalm and after a brief, horrified glance into his eyes she fixed her gaze avidly on that earlobe, noting that his thick stubble ended naturally just below his jawline, leaving the skin on his neck soft and smooth. The sounds of someone new ascending the stairs alerted them seconds before they appeared and prevented her from having to form a coherent response. The new arrival glanced incuriously at them and she was able to form a polite smile as he passed.

It didn't last long. Mark, in an effort to make space on the stairs, stepped closer to her and, like a startled rabbit, she gasped and stared at him. He was close enough now that his scent overwhelmed the stale air of the stairwell and her sudden inhalation meant it hit her in full force. It was woody, spicy, masculine and carried a hint of plain old soap. He went to step back and as he released her hand, it flew out and caught his waist, gently urging him to stay.

"Resilient or not, I owe you for rescuing my purse. Can I buy you a drink? As a thank you." Her hasty justification amused him and his lips twitched slightly.

"That sounds nice, but I'm the designated driver tonight."

"Oh." She hesitated, wondering if he was trying to hint her off before deciding to go all guns blazing. "Well, honestly, I prefer to get to know someone over a quiet dinner instead of at a noisy bar and I've been thinking for a while that I really want to get to know you. Do you eat?"

His surprise was obvious, but he quickly took up her offer, suggesting a curry house nearby. They exchanged numbers and agreed a date before saying goodbye. As he turned to leave, she hastily leaned forward and brushed a kiss against his neck. He looked down at her oddly and she smiled, wiping away the smudge of lipstick she'd marked him with.

"I'd have kissed your cheek, but I'm not sure I'd be able to wipe any excess lipstick out of your stubble."

He rubbed his jaw, grimacing slightly. "Yeah, I've been told it's a bit much."

"Oh, no!" her objection was instantaneous and heartfelt. "I really like it! Bring it with you on Wednesday and I'll prove it." As she spoke she stepped away from him and smiled before sashaying away. He carried on up the stairs and, when she was sure he couldn't see or hear her she punched the air triumphantly and did an excited little victory dance before hurrying back to her friends.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Help, my strong female character is an idiot!

Fair warning, this is a rant. It will use aggressive language and confrontational statements. There will also be biased opinions and it will be heavily coloured by my interpretation. In short, I'm very annoyed and being highly dramatic. HOWEVER: I firmly believe that when you dial back the emotion, there is a lot of truth in this piece and I will enter into debate with any party who wishes to oppose my point of view.

----------------------------



What makes a strong female character? I'll be honest, I don't have a magic answer for you. But I can tell you one behaviour which is far too often gifted to the "strong female character" that undermines everything this character is supposed to stand for. I refer, of course, to the female character who does something spectacularly stupid under the guise of "strength" and "independence" that too frequently results in her becoming a "Damsel in distress".

Examples? Stephanie Laurens is rife with these. Her books are historical romances littered with female characters who rebel against the expected status of women of the period and partner off with men who respect their strengths. However, these women have a tendency to completely disrespect their men, assuming they don't know what they are talking about when they say things like "that place is littered with criminals who will do unspeakable things to you" and merrily prance to said location at the earliest opportunity, requiring the man to step in and rescue them. *sigh*

While I'm willing to accept that on the grounds that - well, let's face facts - those books are light fluff and don't need to be consistent or in any way plausible, there are other instances of this that have disappointed me greatly.

Consider the ending to Andy Weir's The Martian. He wrote a good ending and Hollywood... they butchered it because they wanted the commander to get more screen time. In the book, the commander is a very strong leader, excellent communicator and delegator. She takes charge of all situations without needing to be the center of attention and her team respect her greatly. In the film, as they are rescuing Mark, she suddenly (at the very last possible second) changes the game plan, without communicating it. Despite knowing both the length of the tether available and the distance they need to travel she launches herself out of the spaceship in an effort she knows to be futile. She behaves completely irrationally and unjustifiably and it totally undermines everything that she represents - strength, capability, professionalism - in the book.

In her debut sci-fi novel, Fluency, Jen Foehner Wells is very invested in her strong female lead - according to several tweets describing her as such. However, within the first few pages, said "strong" character has complained about a nickname one man bestowed on her at the very start of her time with NASA (as I recall, the phrase was "he called her doc although it didn't make sense, they were all masters or PhDs"). She didn't say this to the guy who gave her the nickname. Oh no. She just sits there being a victim for years.

Being charitable, I can find circumstances under which this behaviour would be justifiable, or that sort of fit with the strong female character archetype. Possibly she wasn't really complaining or bothered by it, maybe she was just confused. Perhaps, despite both reflecting on the nickname and not being able to understand why he's singled her out for years, perhaps she had still never found a need to clarify it with him. There are instances of this inconsistency throughout the book, but it's a debut novel, so I pull my punches.

However, the point the character falls apart is the moment you discover one tiny fact about her that actually serves *no* purpose in terms of plot, except to trigger a conversation that no strong woman would ever feel the need to have.

Before I tell you, here's some context:

  • she's in a capsule travelling to Mars for 18 months
  • the capsule has a single private toilet area covered by a curtain
  • bathing is not a thing
  • she's trained with NASA for over a year before going on the expedition
  • her preparation would have included cat scans and X-Rays to check bone density and internal organ health 
  • her doctor is female 


The woman has an IUD the doctor on her expedition didn't know about.

 An IUD.

She didn't take hormone pills that would stop her period entirely, thus eliminating a messy bodily excretion for the period of the expedition, despite having a female doctor on board who would have *no* reason to forget to take the tablets, even if they weren't in the habit of taking them with their breakfast vitamins.

She didn't have an operation at NASA to implant it (or her Dr would know), she didn't have it when she was scanned by NASA (or her Dr would know) and she obviously didn't ask anyone for advice on how an IUD would operate in a gravity free environment because if lack of gravity means it slips, what then? There's clearly no way it can be reinserted in the capsule given the lack of space.

She deliberately went out of her way to get a form of birth control she couldn't self administer and keep it secret from a trained health professional while operating in a completely foreign (and gravity free) environment. Not only is that not strong, it's the behaviour of someone who is deeply ashamed of a simple bodily function. They are too ashamed to speak even to a female doctor and, crucially, so ashamed that they take a huge risk with a dodgy choice rather than speak sensibly to someone about their options.

 And the conversation it triggered? "Oh, I don't want you to think I'm ready to have sex with you because I'm using contraception." It could even be interpreted as "I don't want you to think I have loose morals because I'm using contraception."

What. the. Hell.

I'm sorry, but really. How, as a strong woman, can you take a mental stance other than "I have the right to choose whether or not I want to have sex with you, and my wants have nothing to do with my contraceptive choices" therefore making that entire conversation utterly redundant? If it came up in conversation at all it should only be because he raised it (Hey. pretty lady, I see you're safe from unwanted babies, therefore let's get it on!) and her response is easy. Two words: Fuck off.

I'm conscious I've become slightly passionate, so I'll dial it back a little. Let's say that conversation was crucial and the only possible trigger for it was evidence that she was sexually aware. Let's claim all of the above is completely rational. This wasn't the only example of a time where an irresponsible, immature choice was made by this character.

A big deal is made of the fact that the main character doesn't like guns. OK, fine. I'm not fond of them myself. But think about any particularly dangerous or stressful situation when a small group works together. That group depends on each other for survival. Trust between them is critical, especially when entering completely unknown, possibly hostile territory. Any threat could come forward. Every member of that team is dependent on everyone else. One person fucks up, they all could die.

In Fluency, during their pre-flight training and in preparation for dangerous situations, it is more important to this strong female character that everyone knows her stance on guns than it is to ensure her teammates know they can trust her to take care of herself and them in a dangerous situation. She isn't willing to do that. She deliberately, as an intelligent, mature, capable individual who has been in survival situations before, chooses to undermine the strength of the team by making herself a weak point.

The guy who leads the expedition when her skillset isn't needed is portrayed as a bad guy for the way he reacts to her behaviour, but I'm totally on his side. Completely. I can understand exactly where he is coming from and I pity him. She had several options; the one she chose was the dramatic, reckless one, with no long term rationale behind it.

And that's the problem. In some fluff you can accept that the "Strong Female Character" is just a nod to modern sensibilities, or an excuse to bring sexual freedom into a repressed world. But when dramatic, reckless behaviour becomes the norm, and you can see it spreading across into genres which take women more seriously?

That pisses me off.

What is worse is that while the women are busy flouncing and declaring their strength an independence, the men are working away in the background getting the damn job done; except when they have to stop to rescue the idiot female.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

What you want (Chapter 2)

Spike remained in his crypt for weeks. At first when he wanted to leave, he wondered; “What if she comes by right now and I’m not here?” When he became annoyed at himself for mooning over her that way and tried to overcome it he never passed the door to the crypt. Whenever he tried his mind would throw up ways they might accidentally meet and while he was thoroughly excited by the prospect, he couldn’t risk her thinking he would give up his side of the bargain so easily.

He called upon Clem for support; begging him to do grocery shopping in exchange for TV time and practicing at kitten poker. It was Clem who kept him in touch with the demon world and gave him his first distraction in weeks when he mentioned the presence of a Suvolte demon locally. Bored, frustrated and in need of some cash to feed his various habits, Spike formulated a plan to entice the Suvolte to nest in his crypt.

It went perfectly – using the alias of “The Doctor” Clem purchased and delivered the required ingredients for a vile concoction which lured the demon with the scent of a potential mate. Upon arrival, it was trapped by a dangerously constructed electrocuted web, held there long enough to lay its eggs and then driven out by strategic use of the same web. During this phase, Spike was electrocuted almost incessantly. After some bartering and nudging there were a couple of potential buyers lining up and Spike was triumphant for several days until a very angry Riley burst open his front door while he and Clem watched TV. Clem stood and retreated rapidly, while Spike maintained his arrogant swagger.

“Soldier boy! I’d no idea you’d be…” his words trailed into silence as Buffy walked into the crypt behind Riley. He abruptly stood and walked towards her, raking his fingers through his hair.

“Buffy, you came!” His surge of relief and joy was tempered by Riley’s presence – there was no reason he could think why she would want to bring her ex along to get him back.

She put her hand out, rejecting him, and his movement slowed. In the background, Clem waved an excited greeting at her before realising he might as well be invisible in this drama.

“Not for….” Her words were tense. “We’re here for the Doctor.”

He was silenced. Although he’d been right, it wasn’t, unfortunately, in the way he had hoped. In the end he managed to mumble out a not-very-convincing “Don’t know what you mean.” Under Riley’s threatening gaze, Spike turned and frantically tried to distract them. “If you brought soldier boy here to experiment, you’re off the mark. I’m strictly a ladies man.”

Enjoying the light of confusion in Riley’s eyes, and finding a measure of relief in Buffy’s nervous tension, Spike pushed a little harder. “Ohhh…” He feigned surprise. “Didn’t you tell him? Was I supposed to be your dirty little secret?”

Riley’s expression changed from confusion to disgust and Buffy flinched. Spike turned a blind eye to her reaction, wanting to rub his triumph into the face of Buffy’s former boyfriend, all too conscious that he’d never had that kind of status himself. Ignoring her was a mistake; her fist came fast and hard, smashing up against his jawline. For a moment his eyes caught hers and in that moment he saw unshed tears. He suddenly felt a failure. He was supposed to make her happy; not do this. Whatever this was. Needling Riley suddenly brought no satisfaction. He wanted them out and was on the verge of telling them to clear off when rustling noises sounded from the entrance to his lower floor, where he stored the eggs and he whipped round to stare. An unknown, athletic female stepped out, dressed as Riley was and with the same nonchalant control over the gun she wielded. She nodded, “The eggs are there.”

“Hey!” Spike’s outrage, although genuine, was a bit flustered. “You can’t just wander around down there, that’s private property! Who the hell are you?”

“Sam Finn, meet Spike. AKA, the Doctor.” Buffy spoke bitterly, and Spike knew her resentment was aimed at him, not the mysterious Ms Finn.

“What is this?” he snarled. “Finn, huh? I don’t remember a sister ever being mentioned, so you must be the Mrs?” When there was no surprise or negative reaction from any of the three, he suddenly felt like a sideshow freak and wondered what kind of kick Buffy was getting out of this. Bitterly he turned to her: “And you! You just happen to lead them here to include me in your big adventure? Why?” Spike, never particularly emotionally stable, was giving full reign to his tendency to lash out irrationally when he was hurt. “Now you know you lost him, you decided to prove to him that he wasn’t missed? What am I in this?”

“You’re the Doctor.” Her words were flat and spoken with absolute conviction. “We wanted to find out who it was that threated Sunnydale with a brace of Suvolte demons. It left a nice clear trail when it escaped your trap and we just had to follow it back to the start. Imagine my surprise when we found it came out of your favourite sewer pipe.” She spoke coldly, staring him in the eyes as she did, barely blinking. “How could you, Spike?”

“What is this? You’re disappointed in me now?” He shrugged and gestured at her as dismissively as he could. “You know what I am. You’ve always known.”

She was silent for a few moments as she struggled for the words. “I should have known.” Her words were quiet. “But for some reason, you made me believe that you wanted to be better than that. I guess that was a lie.” Spike tried to counter her flat statement but she cut him off completely; turning to Riley as she did so. “Let’s grab the eggs.”

Sam opened the hatch to the crypt then hesitated before climbing down. Moving fast, she crouched and gazed into the space below before leaping back up, throwing her belt of explosives and an unclipped grenade down there and slamming down the hatch, holding it firmly down against the explosion.

Nonchalantly she smiled at her husband. “I guess they got too warm – they were already hatching.”

“Not much point staying here then. Buffy?”

She had returned her gaze to Spike and she practically radiated disappointment. “Yeah, I’m with you, Riley.”

As she followed Riley and Sam out, Spike took an impulsive step after her, but then deflated as he realised he’d completely lost. Clem crept forwards and looked enquiringly at Spike. “Now what?” he asked.

“Well there’s no more bloody eggs, that’s for sure.” Spike wrenched the top off the whiskey and swigged from the bottle neck. Abruptly, he turned to Clem, “And what the hell did she mean, being all disappointed at me like that?”

“Well, you know.” Clem’s soul gave him insights Spike lacked. He forgot that sometimes, as now, when Spike had to gesture him to continue because he definitely did not know. “She’s the Slayer. The embodiment of the powers of good. You’re in love with her and want her to love you back. For that to ever happen, she needs you to be good too.”

“I am good,” railed Spike. “With this bloody chip in my head I don’t have any other choice!”

“No.” Clem shook his head and his ears flapped sadly. “No, no. You were trading on the black market, putting a town full of people at the mercy of a family of Suvolte demons, just to make money. That’s not good.”

Spike took another hefty swig of the whiskey and sat morosely on his sofa. The explosion had cut the electricity and the TV now stared blankly back at him.

“Was your bloody idea.” He muttered, offering Clem the whiskey bottle. He declined and sat down too.

Back home, Buffy had seen off Sam and Riley, leaving the Scoobies to revel in how awesome they were while she retreated to her room. She curled up on her bed in silence and hugged a pillow. A part of her was weeping inside, even as her face remained emotionless. Eventually she stood and opened the window. She stared outside for long minutes, wistfully. She’d done this every night for the past week, always looking towards the tree Spike had hidden behind while watching the house. She smiled as she thought how he always believed his actions were completely secret, not realising that every morning she cleared away his cigarette butts. She told herself it was so no-one else realised he was doing it, but couldn’t think of a good reason why that could possibly matter.

The first morning she’d gone out and there were none there, she was shocked. It didn’t seem possible. On a daily basis she expected him to crack and each morning she checked. As time passed, she became confused, almost concerned, and on occasion she even brought him up in Scooby conversations to see if anyone else had seen or heard from him. They hadn’t, but assumed he’d got the message and left town, so his name always sank and disappeared from conversation almost immediately after she raised it.

Before discovering he was the Doctor, she had been on the verge of going to him and inviting him back into her life as a trusted friend. Now she knew that wasn’t possible; no one who could do that could be trusted.

On the other hand, she couldn’t kill him. Yet. If he came for her, she could. If he broke their pact and sought her out, she felt she could consider him fair game. In her mind she listed the reasons that would make it OK to kill him, counting them out, over and over, wondering which would most likely come to pass. Wondering if she could do it.

She’d killed Angel and she’d loved him. Killing Spike would be a piece of nothing. He could fight back, he could hurt her, and it would be justified. And yet a part of her did not want to cross that line.

She lay down in her bed and rolled onto her side, staring out the window. The moon hung heavily in the black sky and she felt isolated. She reached her hands above her head, gripping the bed head, and cast her mind back to the feeling of being in his arms that night. Being cherished. Being loved, even by a demon. She and Spike had crossed a line that night and since then she hadn’t been able to forget.

Back in the crypt, Spike lay on the sofa before the defunct TV, trying to sleep and failing utterly as his mind replayed every particular of the day’s events. He kept fixating in particular on the look in her eyes, the disappointment, as she had given up on him. The loss of his stuff in the basement had barely registered, even when Clem had commented on it and even his discomfort now wasn’t enough to help him forget that moment where he felt her sever the fragile bond they had been building.

Outside, the sounds of demon revelry beckoned but he had no heart for the party and merely wished the upper levels of the crypt were as well soundproofed as the basement. He moved to turn on the TV and growled in frustration as he recalled the damage. Suddenly realising he’d have nothing to keep himself occupied with if he spent a whole day awake, he leaped up and threw his energies into re-establishing comfort in his home.

It took a couple of hours to clean out the basement, but he was left with a nice pile of kindling from the furniture he’d been accumulating, and the ironwork was still mostly intact. The most heavy duty rubbish cleared away, Spike headed to the dump to start collecting replacements, detouring only to pick up some new fuses from a hardware store. From the dump he was able to liberate a few items – a new TV was first on the list, a few old power leads and a blanket were enough to get him through the next day, but as he was walking out he passed a book bin. Unable to resist, he punched a hole in the side of the bin and began sorting through the books left there. They were mostly cheap tatty romance and thrillers that were wildly popular for long enough to have a film made and then everyone started throwing them out. There were a few hard-backed coverless ones as well which he held onto without knowing what they were and a few volumes of poetry. He marched back home and began to set up his meagre new belongings.

In the gloom of the crypt they looked small and insignificant, but he cherished them believing his need for these things brought him closer to humanity and to Buffy.

He settled into one of his books half an hour before Dawn arrived. He greeted her carelessly and she wandered idly round the room, commenting that it had really been hit hard.

“Yeah, soldier boy’s new hook-up redecorated it with a grenade for me.”

“Sam is so cool!” Dawn spoke with fervour and Spike, while understanding such appreciation for wanton destruction felt compelled to remind her that it was his stuff she’d destroyed.

“I’m not, at this moment,” he concluded, “her biggest fan. Speaking of,” he put his book down and unfurled from the sofa to pace towards Dawn, “your sister is particularly unfond of me right now and would definitely not want you here. Why are you?”

Dawn, perfectly relaxed as only a teenager could be, had become restless as he challenged her and now refused to meet his eyes, instead turning and playing with one of the books he’d left in a pile to be read later. When she finally spoke, the words tumbled out as though she couldn’t control them:

“I need your help.”

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

#200wordtuesday "Never Again"

As a single lady, a spontaneous holiday to the States was absolutely fine. Staying at a friend's house was marvelous. That friend arranging his evenings so you could meet people you'd like was, frankly, above and beyond.

At this dinner there were five couples and I mentioned it's nice to not feel isolated since John paired with me instead of bringing a date. The couple opposite - Nate and Mary - laughed and said they're emergency mutual dates of long standing. Dinner was lively, hilarious and the time flew until my single status was raised. I was finally able to say truthfully I'm thoroughly enjoying the freedom. The usual complimentary "it's surprising" comments were made and I told them, laughing, there may be a million men wanting to date me but I'm embarrassingly oblivious.

"We're aware." Mary was smiling but took me by surprise. It obviously showed and she elaborated, gesturing at the man beside her: "Nate's been slack jawed and drooling since he saw you."

I considered him for a moment, reflecting that dating would mean never again having the freedom to do this, then asked Mary if she'd swap seats for dessert.

Monday, 22 February 2016

What you want (Chapter 1)

There was a feeling niggling at her and she couldn't quite figure it out. She lay, panting, in the ruins of the crypt with her lover wondering about it. She was distracted by his quiet laughter as he looked at the destruction around them and his related comment on the pointlessness of ever decorating. She teased him about his efforts so far. "Is that what you call adding a few candles and a TV? Decorating?"
"Hey!" He tried to look offended but due to his air of lazy satisfaction it lacked conviction. "I'll have you know I spent a long time looking round the dump for that TV!"
She smiled and looked away. As she did he gazed at her, taking in every detail. Had she asked him, he'd have been able to describe exactly how he felt. Happy, grateful, intimate, lonely, frustrated, satisfied and sad. Spike had loved before and such a roiling turmoil of emotion within him was how he felt it should always be. His love was always given with a commitment and intensity that would leave him devastated, whether it was returned or not. He strove to be the best he could, in any way that the recipient of his love required. With Drusilla it had meant savage cruelty; any antic or pastime that would entertain her broken mind and make her happy; and with Buffy it meant this. This and only this. She would let him fight beside her and would resent any impulse to shelter or protect her. She would come to him in the dark of night and hide from her friends. It wasn't him she wanted, he knew that, it was what he could give her. And so, every time they met alone, he gave her what he could.
He always wanted more. Every time he fell asleep, he wished she was cradled in his arms. Every time she left, he wished he had the right to ask her to stay. Every time she attacked him, he stood up to her and gave her the fight she wanted. Every time he stood outside her home in the night he wished he understood.
Looking at her now he wished he knew if she was happy. If she'd got what she wanted. He'd become increasingly creative with her, trying to find something that would meet her needs, but day after day, night after night, whether she came to him or he to her the outcome was the same. She would let him know she wasn't happy and leave.
Without a soul, he couldn't understand her guilt or shame. Without guilt and shame, all he took from their time together was a lot of happy memories and satisfaction. And so he was confused and took her ever nearer the darkness, trying all the things good girls aren't supposed to like. Night after night, she lay with him, returning for more and hating herself.
Tonight, Spike had found a way to get a little of what he wanted. She'd agreed to be bound and he'd taken the opportunity to love her slowly and thoroughly. He'd banished the darkness she sought for one night and tried to compensate with sheer pleasure. Without saying a word he'd succumbed to his deepest wishes and took her to new heights. Every time she crested, he lay with her cradled in his gentle embrace and listened to her breathe until she began to stir and he began again.
Now they lay together in their mutual afterglow and he knew the second he untied her she would leave. He didn't want that. He wondered if he could keep her with him, knowing it wasn't feasible, but unwilling to lose her again. Looking down at her he wished he could bring her closer to him. His chip didn't protect her, he could turn her if he wanted to, but it would hurt her too much and she might not be the same afterwards. His one rule – don't hurt the one you love – underwrote his every action and so, despite the demonic wish to keep her bound and enslaved to his desires, he reached to untie her.
She made a noise, as if she was stopping herself from saying something. He paused and looked down at her. Stretched out beneath him she looked so fragile and vulnerable and he knew she would be getting a kick from being unsafe, but to keep her that way would hurt her. He kissed her gently, then reached up again to remove the bonds. The cords were tight around her wrists and he rubbed them gently in apology, but when he went to untie them, his questing fingers found frayed ends. Startled, he looked sharply at the iron hoop he'd laced her ropes through. Her fingers were clutching onto it, but the ropes that had bound her had been broken.
He looked down at her and one eyebrow raised almost of its own accord. She shrugged defensively and said "I was enjoying myself."
He thought back over their evening, reflecting with serious pleasure on some highlights, until he recalled the point at which she stopped struggling. He'd already brought her to her peak twice and was just about to reach a third when she'd cried out and gone still. He'd stopped and looked at her and her wild eyes briefly regained sanity. She'd frowned and he'd smiled before going back to work. Afterwards, he'd moved in for his cuddle and she'd tensed briefly, as though to reject him, but then she settled into his embrace. He'd helped her come twice more before succumbing to his own physical need.
His heart lurched and he was speechless. She'd been able to leave, all that time, and she'd chosen to stay. Not just for the sex either; all those times they lay cuddling, all of that intimacy that she could have rejected, she could have spurred him onto more active pursuits, pushed him away or even sneered at him. Instead, she'd lain peacefully in his arms and given him a little of what he wanted.
"Invisible again, hmm?" The question came unbidden as he realised she'd hidden her choice to be with him behind the excuse of her bonds, the same way she'd used her temporary invisibility to be with him without fear of being caught. Her eyes narrowed fractionally and her lips tightened. Already defensive, she became upset and that earlier indefinable feeling fled.
She kicked at him and stormed off to retrieve her clothes. As she dressed, he spoke quietly: "One day, love, you are going to have to admit that you are here because you want to be and, shockingly, that you might even like me."
"You're disgusting, and perverted! There's nothing about this that I want!" she hurled the words at him like knives and they hit their mark. Had he been ensoulled, Spike would have had empathy enough to understand how her attack was in the form of defence - unwilling to admit the truth to herself she pushed away those who would make her see it. Instead, all he had to cling to was his certainty that she had chosen to lie with him, to hide the broken bonds and to accept his closeness as they cuddled.
He hesitated, then for the first time in his life, offered a woman he loved a glimpse into what he wanted. "Here's the thing, love. I want you to be happy." Feeling vulnerable, he leaped up and put on his pants. "You come to me, you do all of these things, it sounds like you like it, then you leave unhappy. I don't want that. I really like doing it, but I don't want you to be unhappy. So tell me, pet, what do you want? What would make you happy?" He dreaded the answer he knew was coming, but walked towards her, hoping that somehow his proximity might cause her to change her mind.
"I want you OUT of my life!" cried Buffy.
"OK. There's the door," he gestured towards it as he turned and walked towards the whiskey he'd liberated from Giles. "I'm not leaving Sunnydale, but I won't follow you. You want me out of your life? It's simple. Don't come back. Be very clear on this love: Stay Away. Because the second you walk through that door again, you're inviting me back in permanently. Understand?"
Buffy looked confused. "It's that easy?"
"There's nothing easy about it, pet."
Scared, she retreated towards the door and opened it. Sunlight slanted through, beckoning to her. She hesitated, then turned back. "Spike, I.."
He looked at her over the glass he held poised near his mouth. She walked slowly back to him and stopped just outside the reach of his arms. He took a hefty swig of the whiskey and watched her. She stepped closer, leaned upwards and kissed him. When she dropped away she whispered: "I don't know what I want, Spike. I haven't since I came back, but I know this," she gestured around them "is all wrong. I've got to go and figure things out and I might not come back."
She walked back towards the door and looked back at the last second. "If I do come back, I need you to know it won't be for this."
"What will it be for?"
"You. If I come back, I'll come back for you."

Friday, 19 February 2016

The truth hurts

A little fanfic I wrote for Buffy. Hope you enjoy :) x-posted to AO3 http://archiveofourown.org/works/6059278

She dived, unhesitating, through the shadow casters' portal and found herself back in the desert. Unsurprised, she followed her instincts until she found the trio of men. Already somewhat lacking in fondness for them, when she awoke with a headache, chained to the floor, she began to hate them and was not particularly open to their proposal as a result. Unfortunately the chains were deeply set and strong, giving them several minutes to convince her to listen. It worked. Specifically the line: "The First is coming and you are not prepared. We can help you if you choose." 
Still tugging on the chains, Buffy was now inclined to pay some attention.  
"There are three paths out of here. The first path is to escape the chains and walk out;" 
"That's sounding pretty damn appealing to me!" she snapped. 
The speaker continued unperturbed, "The second is to absorb the demon and all its power;" 
"Why would anyone choose that?" 
"and the third is to face the demon and defeat it." 
Buffy was startled and paid him some real attention. "Why would a Slayer have the option to run, if the demon can be defeated?" 
One of the three men struck the ground with a staff and a black mist arose, forming a trail that appeared to be seeking something.  
"The First is the root from which all evil stems. Betrayal, deceit, pride and greed are the gateways through which it moves into the human heart and builds its army." The mist thickened as it sniffed around the cave and neared her. "By accepting this demon you will gain power over these emotions in others. By defeating it you will destroy them in yourself. If you can escape it, you will return home with a deeper understanding of what you face." 
Buffy stared straight at the mist. "Bring it on, beastie." 
It swirled, gathered and charged straight towards her. As it neared, she gripped her chains firmly and perfectly timed her jumping kick to smash into and, as it turned out, harmlessly through the place she thought its face must be. The mist swirled around her before plunging straight into her chest and she felt the pain, a searing torment in her soul as it was contaminated by the demon. 
The demon looked into her heart and pulled at her strongest emotions. Suddenly Spike and Angel were stood before her. They were disoriented for a second, but then recognised the danger she was in and both launched themselves towards her. They were caught by the mist – visibly insubstantial, but to them impassable. Enchained, Buffy struggled and fought ineffectually, trying to physically pull away from her spiritual pain. She was already sweating profusely and as she tried to fight it off she groaned, giving the two vampires a clear impression that she was being tortured. 
The three men had moved and now stood in a formation which she hazily noticed seemed to form a triangular pyramid binding her and the vampires inside with the demon and keeping them safe outside it. Annoyed at these early Watchers who displayed all of the worst traits of the Council, she felt contempt for their fear, a fear which was reflected in the horror she felt as this nightmare unfolded. The demon wiggled sneakily further inside her but she was adapting to the pain and didn’t buckle this time. Stood in her chains, accepting that she couldn’t physically fight it, she wondered what she could do. Her Slayer training and instincts came to the fore, analysing everything she could see and feel and her own fear dissipated in the urgent need to do her job. 
She felt the demon’s disappointment, but it was so fleeting it may as well not have existed. It turned its attention to the two vampires. Choosing Spike first, it flung up a copy of him immediately in front of Buffy. The real Spike objected, but Buffy was unable to see him. Her Spike looked her in the eyes and told her he loved her. She accepted it, deep in her heart. She knew it was true. Spike's soul was unwavering in his commitment to her.  
With barely a flicker, suddenly she was facing Spike from a year before. He'd just asked her if she wanted to be on a date with him. She rejected him and his supposed feelings for her then and did so again. This wasn't love. She could feel a fierce independence building up inside her, rejecting the demon and she triumphantly concluded her thought - monsters can't love. 
Angel appeared. Her emotions moved so fast she was no longer capable of rational thought and she simply felt that she loved him and knew his love for her would always be true. He became Angelus and she knew he didn't love her. It hurt, but she knew the truth. Angelus would always be a monster in her lover's body. Spike returned. He loved her. She began to feel confused. 
“What is the point of this?” Her frustrated question echoed around the inside of the pyramid. 
A voice vibrated the air around her: "The demon feeds off the evil within you - lies, deceit and betrayal will strengthen it. You cannot hide. You can only face it with the truth, or escape." 
Buffy believed him, feeling the same certainty she did when she saw Angel and the voice continued; "The demon will find its path into your soul through lies. Each truth sets a barrier in place whether it is yours or someone else's. If the demon embeds itself within her, the Slayer has the power to leash it. If you defeat it, you will earn a new immunity to the forces of evil. You can still escape at this point, the demon will not follow." 
Buffy desperately hauled at her chains, suddenly terrified and desperate to escape, but not sure why. Reality blurred for a second and four men stood before her. Two Spikes, Angel and Angelus. She rejected Angelus instinctively, turning towards Angel and ignoring both Spikes. There was a question in the air, an unspoken feeling of testing her. She focused on the one thing she had to cling to with certainty. "Angel," she said, gazing into his face, taking refuge in the warmth of his smile. "Angel, I love you."  
Angelus stepped towards her with a snarl on his face, looming over Angel's shoulder. She recoiled, yanking on the chains as she did so. Both Spikes had faded and now Angel disappeared leaving her alone with Angelus. His taunting voice filled her, mocking both her misplaced love and the weakness of the human soul that shared his face. 
Back in the real world a demon emerged as the portal closed. After a brief tussle it easily escaped the group who frantically discussed ways to get Buffy back. Realising they needed the demon, Spike declared his intention of bringing it back and got as far as turning towards the door before he froze. It lasted only a few seconds but when he returned he roared to Willow; "Open the bloody portal! Now!"  
"I can't! I don’t know how! We don’t know enough about it...” 
"Buffy is chained up in there, facing off against some bloody powerful demon who wants to steal her body. I am going in there and I am going to get her out!" The room stood aghast before Xander reminded Spike; 
"Yeah? Seconds ago you were leaving here to catch the demon we needed to make the exchange. What happened to that idea?" 
"Buffy dies in there, we all die out here. You keep telling me I'm not wanted here: you go fetch the big ugly. Besides," he sniffed slightly, "if it's an exchange of a demon for something better, you might get lucky with what comes out when I go in." 
Robin sneered, "If it’s too much for you, I'll get the..." Spike froze again as some part of him was pulled back into the cave. In LA, Angel's soul returned to his body and his first words were "She's trapped with Angelus." Lunging for a phone he frantically dialled until Andrew answered. His message convinced the group that Spike had spoken the truth and they had to get the portal open immediately. Robin departed to retrieve the demon to make the exchange and Willow collapsed shaking on the floor. 
Buffy's words earlier about none of them really contributing began to silently echo in the room and this combined with the statue of an angry Spike taking up the space was driving tension to a peak. Xander snapped first and punched Spike as hard as he could. There was no response from the vampire, but the rest of the group stared at him in shocked bewilderment. “Just making sure he’s not faking.” Xander explained. The rest of the group continued staring. “What!?! Oh, come on, we’ve all wanted to turn Spike into a punching bag for years.” 
“He has a point.” All eyes turned to Anya, startled. 
“I’m gratified…” began Xander, only to be interrupted. “Not you. We need to retrieve Buffy and Spike is a demon we could possibly use as a transfer. And sure, Willow might try to kill us, but at least we'll have Buffy back to stop her.” 
Willow jumped up and punched the air in emphasis; “Enough talking! Especially about how useless I am.” 
“You’re not useless Willow. We believe in you.” Kennedy's voice was oddly gentle compared to the usual tones she employed to "encourage" people. 
“Yeah,” Xander’s voice seemed unnaturally loud, “you were doing magic for ages before it went wrong. Remember teleporting Glory? No sweat, and no bad Willow.” 
“I’ll help with the research,” Dawn volunteered, and ran off to the stack of books, impatient to start the process rather than sit talking about it. As she ducked around Spike she glanced up at him briefly and asked: “But what about him?” 
Regarding him, Xander suggested: “We could turn him into a lawn ornament? Of course, the sun's still out so there wouldn’t be time for photos…” 
“Maybe we’d know what Buffy was fighting if we could figure out how he was being held.” Anya spoke with complete disregard for Xander’s words, which he acknowledged with a shrug. “It seems like Angel and Spike saw the same thing, so they were probably there. I’ll talk to Angel. Unless he’s frozen up again too.” 
Andrew followed her out of the room, while Xander and Dawn turned towards the books. In privacy Kennedy took Willow’s hand and the two of them sat in silence until Willow shook herself, determined to face up to her challenge. 
In the cave Buffy was angry. The demon had latched onto her through the intensity of her emotions for both Spike and Angel and it was niggling away at those darker parts of her that she had tried to put behind when she ended things with Spike. It taunted her with Angel and what she had lost there and brought up memories of the many and varied parts of her life that she wanted to keep shrouded in darkness. 
At first she refused to look, trying to place obstacles between herself and the thoughts the demon provoked, until the man’s voice spoke to her again: “Fear, deceit and betrayal are the pathways the demon will use to take possession of your soul.” The reminder was timely and terrifying, but the effect of the words was tangible to Buffy as the truth hurt the demon and gave her hope. She could do this. All she needed to do was counter the lies the demon told her with truth. 
She steeled herself and opened her eyes to what the demon showed. 
She watched two sets of memories unfolding side by side. On the one hand was the perfect love she shared with Angel and on the other the violent passion she shared with Spike. The associated feelings pounded through her and she was furious that the magic she had with Angel was being tainted by her sordid behaviour with Spike. As she tried to separate the two, she fought the demon, dreading what was coming in both sets of memories. 
They happened at the same time. The demon produced the moment she was betrayed by both her lovers at the same time and the pain she felt as it surged within her couldn’t stop her fear of seeing it happen. She lived through it as she had before and began shaking violently under the torrent of pain and despair. 
Spike and Angel were once again held hostage by the demon and were unable to help her, but she caught a glimpse – just a brief glimpse – of Spike as he struggled to get near her. It was enough to focus her and she tried to find the real Angel. 
Under the onslaught of the demon she was bowed, trembling and barely able to find her feet, but when she focussed on Angel, she clung to the truth of their love. She held herself still under the savage attack of the demon as it tore into her and focussed everything she had into her conviction that she and Angel were everything. Her antics with Spike were a distraction and his betrayal was proof that they’d never had anything real. Her relationship with Angel was real and he would never have betrayed her was it not for the demon within him. Like a mantra she spoke of their undying, perfect love, fighting to loose the demon's hold on her. 
Suddenly, Buffy felt strong. She stood upright, feeling power flowing into her as she gazed at Angel, knowing that their love was pure, eternal and true. Her breathing eased and she felt that she was past the worst. She could do this. She smiled at Angel, wanting to share her victory with him and was startled to see how distraught he looked. He stood, unmoving, as she became strong. Spike, meanwhile, was working himself into a frenzy. She could hear a steady stream of profanities emitting from him and she turned to him to reassure him. The bleached blond vampire was struggling through the mist and yelling at Angel to help her. Angel remained still and only shook his head as he whispered: “Buffy, I… I love you.” 
Delighted, she smiled at him and knew that what they had was the most wonderful, magical, special love the world had ever known. The demon that had been steadily worming its way into her gave a little wriggle of glee as it prepared to take the last strike to the center of her soul and she felt it. Some part of her rebelled – fought to survive – and in that moment Buffy’s heart broke in realisation as she saw through the lie. 
Everything froze as she saw with perfect clarity the deceit within her that powered the demon. It recoiled, as hurt as she was by her brief, devastating honesty. 
Impulsively she tried to reject it, fight against it, denying the nature of the beast that rode her and willing her own wishes to be true but she felt its power rise in her again as she did so and was forced to confront the truth. She and Angel had loved, but it had been merely a first love on her part and a relief from torment on his. Had it run its course, who knows what would have happened. 
In reality, she had experienced the worst betrayal she could imagine at the hands of her first love and everything that had followed had been fed by her need to believe it was worth it. As things got worse, her love for Angel had become cemented and her hatred for Angelus had developed. The demon lashed out to divert her with memories of sex with Spike – that first time after a brutal fight, how she had betrayed herself by dancing in the darkness. Briefly she tried to excuse it, but her falsehoods fell unformed. In this fight lies weren't her weapons to wield, so she took up the truth. She had been alone in the dark for too long and she’d needed someone like Spike to stand beside her. It wasn't shameful; it was human. While he was safe, she was never tempted to do more than exchange a few kisses but once he was a danger to her, she couldn’t resist that urge to be vulnerable, to feel in danger - the adrenalin surge and will to survive that erupted every time she felt herself to be at risk in his arms was addictive. 
She felt it spasm and retreat marginally before re-issuing its attack. Spike was behind her, touching her, and his mouth was on her neck, yet she felt no fear. The demon prompted that this was the soulless Spike and she felt with certainty: He would not hurt her. Spike, unlike Angel, could overcome the demon that drove him when he loved. Angel was led by the beast whenever it surfaced. Even knowing she was hurting didn’t give him the strength to overcome his monsters. Truth after shattering truth drove through her and she saw herself with horror. 
She hadn’t cared for Spike – she had truly been addicted, as Willow was, to the feelings that came with her actions. After a short while though, she had begun to feel real emotions. She almost liked him and one day she trusted him. She didn’t realise it until Riley told her he was the Doctor and she felt betrayed. She’d had to cut it off. When he’d attacked her – the memory was crystal clear and she flinched involuntarily – she’d felt shock, horror and deep, searing betrayal. Some part of her had believed in his love, his avowal that he wouldn’t hurt her, and that moment had deeply damaged her. She slumped in her chains, sweat coursing down her body as the fight ebbed out of her. 
Before the demon could even start testing avenues by which it could find its way back to her, she began volunteering her own truths and shutting down its options. 
Spike’s love, initially, was a demon’s love. Not impossible. Not for him. It was impossible for Angelus who was too selfish and motivated by his own pleasure to give anyone a piece of himself. The nature of Angel’s feelings for her were suddenly cast into doubt in the stark light of realisation; he was happy when they’d had sex, not when they’d admitted their love. What had turned him? Was it the depth of his love for her, or was he gratified by the pleasure he’d found with her, the first woman he'd had in decades and the only woman he'd ever wanted to love? She saw Angel before her and saw him slipping away. She tried to explore her new feelings further but couldn’t get a firm grip, so gave up the notion and simply acknowledged that their love had been real, but not the grandiose, perfect thing she’d so desperately wanted it to be. 
Spike flowed into her consciousness to replace everything else and she felt the urge to avoid this part, but the demon lurked, waiting for an opportunity. She refused to give in to it. 
She watched him, carefully. The demon portrayed him with that wicked grin, inviting her to be bad, teasing and enticing her to play on the dark side. Her memory played different versions: a gentle hand on her shoulder when she cried, a bruised and bloody protector, a demon who would put his own happiness on the line to regain his soul and a man who would put his life on the line to protect her. They were equally real; Spike, she knew, had his flaws but underlying all his interactions with her since Dawn came into her life was a single driver. “He loves me.” The words were spoken out loud and with a certainty that she couldn’t disguise. 
The demon frantically produced memory after memory of searing shame, hurt, despair, disgust and self-loathing that she blamed Spike for and she shook her head. “No,” she shouted, finding the strength to find a fighting stance for a bare second before falling into mumbling. Once again she hung limply from the chains, no longer physically able to hold herself up under the weight of her struggle, “no, Angelus wanted me to feel that. Spike... Spike tried to give me what he thought I wanted. I could stop him any time I wanted... I wanted to feel that way.  wouldn't let myself be happy with him... it betrayed how special Angel and I were.”
Spike faded out of the cave and Buffy felt the demon lashing around, shrinking, frantically seeking a way to overpower her again but becoming increasingly ineffectual. Each time it threw a lie or unwelcome truth at her she was able to bat it away or accept it easily. The most harrowing fear had been faced, the dearest falsehood exposed and the deepest, festering betrayal had been lanced.
Buffy was completely alone now, but she felt a new strength – not the power the demon had offered, but a new feeling of certainty. The demon changed tack; mocking her, it desperately revealed the plans of the First to her and asked if she would be the one to defeat it. “Maybe not,” Buffy answered, hanging in her chains. Her head lifted and her eyes glared out into the open cave, resolute and more than a little angry, “But I’m going to try!”
Spike's body relaxed. They'd put him in the corner, facing the wall and out of the way, so his expression was unnoticed by the others. He stared vacantly for a second before understanding dawned in his eyes and pure joy began to take over. It lasted less than a second before it was replaced by concern and hesitancy. Just because she'd admitted it there didn't mean she'd carry it through here. And just because she'd admitted as much as she had didn't mean she wanted a relationship to form between them. 
Behind him the portal opened and he span, alert, to watch the transfer. Robin launched the demon into it and moments later Buffy appeared looking shell-shocked. Knowing what she had been through Spike moved forward through no conscious will of his own to offer support, then hesitated before crossing the edge of the circle. 
Buffy's eyes were blank as she stared at her gathered friends and family. She looked around them all then returned her gaze to Spike. He didn't say anything, just kept his eyes on her in watchful understanding. She stepped out of the circle, walking straight into him, wrapping her arms around his ribs as a ripple of shock passed around the room. He hesitantly raised his own arms, one to lay around her waist, the other hand cupping the back of her head. He rested his own head against hers with his eyes closed feeling relief that she was OK, a flicker of joy that she had turned to him and the overwhelming love that drove him to give her anything she needed without expectation. They stood in a silent tableau for a few moments before he, unable to contain himself any longer, murmured questioningly: "Love?" 
She raised her head and looked into his eyes with genuine remorse. "I'm so sorry Spike." 
He stroked her hair back, accepting her words as rejection, and although the sadness was visible in his eyes he simply shook his head and said, huskily, "Nothing to be sorry for, love. You already made me happier than I deserve and I won't push it." 
She shook her head in turn; "No!" 
He dropped his hands and stepped back from her, speaking gently. "It's OK, love. I won't... I know." 
"Shut. Up! Spike." Her words were snappy and direct, an air of irritation overtaking her remorse. "I am sorry. I'm sorry for what I did to you. I'm sorry for hurting you and blaming you. I'm sorry for being so angry at you for overcoming your demon when Angel couldn't, even for me. I'm sorry that I was so absorbed in my own little world that I refused to acknowledge your sincerity. I kept writing it off - I kept writing *you* off - because if you were right, if you were able to love me as a demon and a man, it meant that what I had with Angel was less important than I thought it was." She paused for breath. He didn't dare speak, but his expression was wondering. For a second it looked like she would say something more, but she held back and looked around the group. 
"I'm sorry to the rest of you, too, for the things I said this morning. I was scared because even though it's been tough so far it's only going to get tougher. But now... I know what we're up against now and we need to throw everything we have at it, including the things we're afraid of. I don't have time for fear any more. 
"Willow, I need you to work with Giles and the coven. I need to know you can control your magics and support us. All those people who've been telling me for years they want to patrol? Well, now they get to. We need to train everyone available to us." She looked up at Spike and said: "You've been having trouble because you aren't a killer, William. I need to teach you how to be a Slayer." 
His eyelids flickered as she said his name but otherwise he didn't respond. She reached out, took his hand and reassured him "You can do this. We can do this." Turning to face the group as a whole, she informed the room; "We can do this together." 
Xander moved first, reassuring Buffy that they would do everything they could before taking Willow and her quietly spoken fears from the room. The others gradually dissipated, some with questions, some without until only Buffy and Spike remained, still hand in hand. He lifted their joined hands and looked at them significantly, before casting her a questioning glance. 
"Spike, I..." She looked around, as if searching, before looking back at him, "Can we talk somewhere private?" 
"The basement should be free." She nodded and led him there. There was an awkward moment as they navigated the first few steps down but she never once asked him to let her go and he wasn't about to volunteer to. 
Stood in the middle of the basement she still couldn't find the words she sought. After a few false starts he interrupted her, stroking her hair back with his free hand: "No pressure, love. I've got hope now. I can wait forever." 
"I don't want you to wait any more." Her whispered words broke mid way as she choked on the emotions waging war inside her.  
"What do you want?" 
Suddenly it was so easy for her to reach up and kiss him. The merest, gentlest whisper of a kiss completely different to their previous lustful embraces. His eyes closed involuntarily, but he made no move towards her. When she dropped away from him, his eyes opened slowly, remaining heavy lidded and she held eye contact before moving in for another kiss. Her free hand crept up around his neck as she deepened the kiss and leaned into him. His spare hand held her at the waist, splayed against the small of her back, the cold burned into her consciousness. 
She pressed herself fully against him, refamiliarising herself with the feel of him. She was unsurprised to feel something else - the certainty that she had nothing to fear. The last time she had been so close to him it had gone horribly wrong, but now she knew for certain he would only follow her lead. The pain and guilt he had felt still burned in him and she didn't want that any more than she had been tempted to move further than a few kisses when they had both believed him to be leashed by his chip. She was only interested in an equal, not a supplicant.  
She pulled back and caught his face between her hands. "Spike, it's OK. We've both made mistakes. We've both hurt each other. I'm here now and I want to be here, with you. I trust you. Spike, I.. I ..." 
Still the words wouldn't come but he didn't need them. "I can wait," he repeated. "Take your time."  
But her words had made a difference, because now he reached out to her and took control of their kiss. Spike curled his fingers through Buffy’s hair, relishing the silken feel of its tangle between his fingers as their lips met, parted and the kiss deepened. He felt a burning rush of happiness as he embraced the feeling of his soul being redeemed by this woman and her forgiveness of the act he still reflected on as the only truly wicked thing he’d ever done. His fingers threaded through her hair where it fell from the band she'd tied it with, combing their way to her shoulders, tracing their way down her back until finally reaching her waist. 
He wanted to feel her, all of her, so he pulled her until she was flush against him and she shuffled to meet him. His legs were splayed in his usual arrogant stance so hers tucked nicely between his for a few minutes as they learned each other’s flavour once again. She began with her arms entwined around his neck, but soon she became conscious of all that she wanted to feel again and her hands felt too empty, so she slid them down his neck to begin exploring his perfectly formed body. The muscles in his shoulders were tightly corded as he held her and she felt in his restraint the strength of his desire to crush their bodies together being tempered by his unwillingness to hurt her. 
Her hands slid down over his chest, feeling the hard tightness of his torso and with her eyes closed her memory gratified her with a stream of visuals from all those times he’d teased and taunted her about how good looking he was and how much she wanted a piece of him. Wanting the feel of his skin she tugged up the t-shirt he wore out of his pants and ran her hands around to his back, stroking, caressing, massaging, anything, just to touch him and feel the way he responded to her. 
He followed her lead, consumed by his urge to be closer to her. He began to run his hands around the waistband of her skirt, before stopping and letting her go. He continued kissing her but she was startled by the sudden distance between them and broke off to protest. He paused, hands in midair to grin that wicked grin at her, “Don’t worry, love. You’ve got me wherever and however you want me,” then hastily pulled his shirt off before tugging his T shirt over his head. 
Before his hands returned to her, she whipped off her own jumper and they resumed their embrace, the heat between them rising with each new level of intimacy. He ran his hands over the skin on her back, absorbing the feel of her ragged breathing, the rise and fall of her chest and the constant pulsing of her blood through every inch of her body. With his eyes closed he could feel her body being flooded with hormones driving her desire and noticed the lack of adrenalin that had been present every other time. Afraid it meant she was less excited, or in some way unwilling, he hesitated. She responded by swinging one of her legs to sling around his narrow hips and he noticed that her blood was flowing to all the right places. She was excited, but in a wholly different way. 
He moaned and answered the allure of her swollen nipples by flicking open the clasp of her bra. As she eagerly shook it off, he lifted her to wrap her legs around him fully and caught one swollen peak in his mouth. She was momentarily driven back to the very first time and a thought that they’d best not do that damage again flickered through her mind. It was soon drowned by her pleasure and her hips began to undulate against his in time with the movements of his mouth. He caught hold of her and leaned back to look her in the eye; 
“I am all in favour of that particular idea, but if you don’t slow up, little Spike isn’t going to wait for you.” 
She smiled. “I think you’d better take me to bed then, because I do NOT want to miss out.” 
Obeying immediately he carried her to the bed and laid her gently down before him. He gazed down at her in awe and she, blushing shyly, made no move to hide herself from him. He leaned over her, stroking his hand from her neck to navel and back to cup her breast. Her hands moved to the waistband of her skirt impatiently, but he prevented her. Instead, he gently tugged her arms until her hands were clasped above her head and returned to his adoration of her torso. She moaned and gasped under his tender ministrations until she trembled in his arms. He unfastened the buttons on her skirt and gently slid it and her panties down her legs simultaneously, stroking her legs the whole way down. Feeling the cool air of the basement swirling whenever he moved, Buffy shivered and closed her eyes, like him relying on her specialised senses to take their loving to a new place. 
He moved up her body, kissing her gently as he went, picking on all of her most sensitive spots – the inside of her ankle, behind her knee, her upper thigh. There he stopped and she arched her back, offering herself up to him with her eyes closed. When he didn’t take up the offer, she opened her eyes, confused. He loomed above her, looking her straight in the eyes as he ran his fingernails up her inner thigh, until he reached that point at the apex where her labia met. Her eyes dilated almost fully as she stared up at him. He stroked the seam as though it were the petals of a delicate flower and she opened to him. 
Passion between them had always been intense, but now it was personal and he relished this moment of pure openness between them. For the first time he could feel it was important to her that it was him doing this, no one else. The thought hit something inside him that he hadn’t even realised was there. Drusilla had loved him, but only through the haze of her insanity and underlying obsession with her sire; any thoughts Harmony was capable of were totally self-centered and Anya had been in love with Xander. This, now, was the first time he’d lain with a woman where he was the whole world to them, as she was to him. Overwhelmed, he stopped the movement of his fingers, rested his hand on the cluster of curls that were gradually accruing dampness and lay over her to kiss her gently. “I love you,” he murmured, only now recognising the true depth and sincerity of his own words. “I love you and I always will.”
She reached up to his face and pulled him towards her for a long, sensuous kiss. After a few moments, his fingers slid down once again to touch the hot, wet center of her being and he played gently, caressing her, mimicking the motion of their tongues with his clever fingers.
Soon she pulled away from him and groaned; “I want you, Spike! Please!”
Only too happy to oblige he leaped up, struggled out of his jeans and shoes and returned to her arms. He lay over her and, pausing only slightly to ensure he wouldn’t hurt her, entered her. The two of them lay still, adjusting as she adapted to his coldness, and he to her scalding heat. He moved over her, thrusting slowly at first, burying himself as deeply as possible within her with each stroke, listening for every caught breath, learning every beat of her heart, timing himself for the maximum impact. Her tension built, urging him faster and faster and she heated still further in his arms until she could take it no more and the two of them cried out together.
He collapsed above her. Not from exhaustion so much as shock at the intensity of the experience. The words may never come, he knew that, but he knew with absolute certainty that he was her one as much as she was his. They lay for a long time, her breathing heavily, he revelling in the beat of her heart as it slowed and entered a slumbering state. Not wanting her to be uncomfortable, he rolled them both onto their sides and watched her while she slept, cradled in his arms. 
In Los Angeles Angel had revived surrounded by his worried friends. He looked around them as Buffy had and disregarded the questions they pelted him with. For a long time he was grateful for their concern but eventually he couldn’t bear it any more, he stood and walked away in silence. Walking out into the hallway, he shut the door behind him, the gentle click resounding in absolute silence. As he walked he cursed himself. He had stood and watched as the love of his life was consumed by a demon. Worse, it had been able to consume her because of his flaws. For long minutes he was tempted by the evening sunlight slanting through a nearby window, but eventually he gave up the idea, bitterly acknowledging his own cowardice. 
He wanted to be close to her and called the house. Andrew answered and reassured him that both Buffy and Spike were fine. 
"Can I talk to her?" 
"She's a bit... busy right now. But we'll tell her you called."
Obliged to be satisfied, Angel hung up. As the sun set he stood alone and desolate, wondering just how much he had really lost.