Author’s Note: Mut’s speech was inspired by “Thunder, Perfect Mind” (a monograph written as Sophia, goddess of wisdom in Gnostic Christianity) from the Nag Hammadi Library (Dead Sea Scrolls). The whole thing is way too long to put here, but it’s gorgeous and inspiring, esp. to women into that whole pantheistic goddess thang. http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/thunder.html if you’re interested.
Without, Part 22
“Mommy?” Dawn said, her words almost a whimper as her gaze roamed hungrily, disbelievingly over her mother, taking in the brown curls of hair and bright eyes. There was even the faint scent of the Coco perfume that Joyce had always favoured. She wore the flowered black halter-dress she’d worn on her last date, the night before she’d died… Dawn blinked.
“Dawnie,” Joyce replied, smiling. “I’ve been watching, you know… I was so proud of you for coming to be with Buffy.” She took Dawn’s limp hand and placed the lembas in it, then began strolling in a slow circle around her daughter, face turned up to the sunlight. “It’s so good to see you happy. You are happy with Boromir, right?”
Dawn nodded numbly, slipping the lembas into her pocket, and her mother continued. “I’m glad. Wouldn’t want to have to hit him with an axe.” In spite of the gravity of the situation—and bizarrity of the conversation-- Dawn felt her lips tugging upward at the memory of how Joyce had clocked Spike in the head the first time he’d tried to kill Buffy. “And Mercas… oh, Dawn, I’m so proud. You’ve given me a beautiful grandson.” Her smile turned wistful. “I only wish I’d been there with you for your pregnancy, and the birth…”
At that, the floodgates opened, and Dawn burst into tears. “Why are you here?” she sobbed. “Is it really you? Not a zombie you?”
“I’m as real as anything gets here, Dawn,” Joyce said with one of her rakish grins, brushing away the wetness that spilled onto her daughter’s cheeks. “And don’t I look great?” She craned her head to examine her backside. “In real life, I’d be almost sixty-five… I’m fairly sure my tush would be nowhere near this firm.”
Dawn managed to smile through her tears. “But why are you here, Mom? What’s going on?”
“I’m worried about you, Dawn,” Joyce replied in her quiet way, sobering. “This place… it’s dangerous. I don’t want you to get hurt. What would happen to Mercas? I don’t want him to end up an orphan, like you did. I think you should call it quits and go home, right away.”
Dawn stiffened. “Nothing’s going to happen to Boromir or I,” she protested. “And even if it did, Eowyn and Faramir love him, and would take care of him like their own. So would Buffy and Legolas. Hell, so would Gimli, if it came to that—“
“But it doesn’t have to come to that,” Joyce interrupted, stooping a little so she could take Dawn’s hands. The feel of her mother’s warm skin against her own almost made her cry again as the memories rushed back: Joyce kissing away childhood boo-boos, pouring her juice, tucking her into bed, smoothing her hair back from her forehead. Joyce saying she loved Dawn, was proud of her, would miss her…
Ok, so what if they were only falsely implanted memories. They were still there in her head, and they felt real enough, Dawn thought crossly, squeezing back.
“Are you listening to me, Dawnie?” Joyce asked, voice a little sharp. “I need you to pay attention to me.”
“I’m listening, Mom,” she replied, even as her mind flew over what she should do. She had to introduce Boromir to her mother! “Mom, you have to meet Boromir, he’s right… here…” Her words trailed off as she turned to where she’d last seen him, only to find that there was no one around, save her and Joyce.
“I needed to talk to you alone,” her mother explained. “But you have to listen… this place is dangerous. You have to go back. Go back to Arda, and go home right away.”
“You mean, to Minas Ithil?” Dawn asked, starting to get confused. “But I can’t, we have to find Corinne, and there’s this god, and he…” She stopped speaking abruptly, for Joyce’s face had taken on an avid cast, an eagerness to hear what Dawn would say that didn’t exactly suit the circumstances, and the clot of hope that had been choking her plummeted to her stomach, to be replaced by a hard knot of anger.
“Who are you?” Dawn demanded, voice low and dangerous, hands clenching at her sides.
“Dawnie, it’s me. It’s Mom,” Joyce replied, her pretty face clouding with concern. “What’s wrong?” She came forward to stroke her daughter’s head, but Dawn pulled away.
“You’re not my mother,” she said dully, turning away.
“Dawnie…” Joyce tried again, hand outstretched, but Dawn batted her hand away. “Punkin’ belly…”
The pet name sent a lance of pain through her. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re not her.” Head bent low, she studied her hands and hoped desperately that the Joyce-imposter would go away soon. “You should go now, because I won’t do anything you say.” She couldn’t take much more of the looking at her, now that she knew it wasn’t really her mother. Oh, Mommy.
There was a whisper on the wind, and then a firm hand was grasping Dawn’s chin, lifting it. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut but there appeared an image in her mind, that of a woman with close-cropped hair and skin the colour of coal. Wings of snowy-white curved forward around her shoulders, and she wore a circlet with a disc of gold on her brow. Her gaze, when it fell on Dawn, was both stern and loving—in a word, maternal.
“Who are you?” Dawn whispered, clasping her hands together to keep them from shaking.
“Some call me Mut, some call me Eve,” the winged woman replied calmly. “I am Shakti, I am Kerridwen, I am Hera and I am Grandmother.”
Dawn only stared blankly in confusion. “You’re not my mother.”
“I am your mother, child,” she stated, eyes soft and sooty-black as they rested on Dawn’s face. “I am everyone’s Mother. I am the first and the last, both honored and scorned. I am the whore and the saint, the wife and the virgin. I am the mother and the daughter; I am the barren one, and many are my sons.” Then she smiled, her teeth blinding in contrast to her dark-satin complexion. “Forgive me for the deception; it was necessary to at least try.” Then she released Dawn’s chin and stepped back. “Return soon to your son, child. He misses you.”
The wings expanded, grew; they wrapped around the woman like a shroud, then faded way to nothingness, and Dawn opened her eyes to find the others ranged around her, all similarly shell-shocked. Arwen wept softly, calling, “Naneth, Naneth,” while Elessar, his face grave, held her and surveyed the others. Boromir’s jaw was clenched, but Dawn was well familiar with her husband’s expressions and knew he was battling tears.
“It’s not really her,” she told him softly, slipping her arms around his waist and resting her head on his chest. His own arms enfolded her tightly, and he buried his face against her hair, breathing deeply of its scent as he always did when upset, just like Mercas did. “It wasn’t really her, honey.”
“I know that, sweet,” he replied, his voice muffled. “She was just as I remember her, Faramir looks just like her…”
“She too had a beard?” Elessar queried, smiling faintly when Boromir lifted his head and stared, startled, at his king before realizing he was being teased.
“Haldir, you are well?” Boromir asked the elf. Haldir nodded immediately, to no one’s surprise; if he’d been a skeptic before, then dealing with Aker and the cartouche had made a hardened cynic of him.
“We must be on our guard,” Elessar declared. “For it is clear they do not scruple to avoid that which we hold dearest; naught is sacred here, and we will be attacked where we are most vulnerable.” He looked down at his wife, who had ceased her crying and now sniffled quietly against his shoulder. Haldir looked pointedly into the distance; if any of them knew how Aker struck a vulnerable point, it was he. “A reprehensible way to fight a battle, is it not, Boromir?”
Boromir studied the tear-stained visage of his own wife, and nodded grimly. “Aye, and one they will regret, Elessar.” The look on his face boded ill for Aker. “When Arwen is well enough, she should relay a message to the others of… this experience, so they are warned.”
Dawn was fervently relieved that Buffy wasn’t with them. She didn’t know how well her sister would handle seeing Joyce again, as her last sight of their mother had been the discovery of her dead body on the living room sofa. Splashing cool, clear water from a nearby spring over her face, she could only hope the other group was having a better time of it.
“You are mad,” Spike declared as he hacked his way through the jungle. The rhythmic, almost hypnotic, motion of his arm was in direct counterpoint to the jangling disharmony of his senses, which were on full alert. “Howling mad,” he clarified. “No way in hell Bette Midler’s version of ‘Beast of Burden’ was better than the Stones’.”
“It was so better,” Corinne contradicted, panting as she strove to keep with him. The heat and heavy dampness of the air had her soaked with perspiration, and she swiped matted curls off her forehead for what seemed like the fourteenth time in as many minutes, feeling like she’d sell her soul for a hair scrunchie. “Mick Jagger is totally overrated… lousy singer, and damned ugly too. What Jerry Hall ever saw in him…”
Spike rolled his eyes. “The man’s a genius,” he informed her. “You obviously have no appreciation of the true classics of modern music. Next you’ll be telling me the slow version of Layla is better than the original.”
“It is!” Corinne exclaimed, earning her another eye roll. “It’s so sensual and dark.”
“That’s it,” Spike said flatly, wondering how much longer his machete could carry on without needing a sharpening. Already its edge had blunted to where he was more bludgeoning the vegetation rather than slicing it.. “I have to kill you now.”
“Well, let me catch my breath first,” she said with a laugh, bending over and bracing her hands on her knees. “Then you can kill me all you like.”
Spike took the opportunity to rest his arms a little. They’d been following the river on the premise that it would eventually lead to civilization, but unless you counted weird pygmy tribes armed to their pointy little teeth with what turned out to be very painful blow-darts, none was to be found. “How’s that doing?” he asked, motioning to her arm where she’d experienced one of the darts first-hand.
“Sore,” she replied, twisting to try to see the wound on the back of her upper arm. “More upset the shirt’s ruined, though. It was a DKNY original.”
He gave a bark of laughter, the sound echoing over the shoulder-high reeds surrounding them and startling some nearby birds to flight, their wingbeats the only sound in the ensuing silence. “Shades of Cordelia,” he said at last, smirking down at her. “Maybe I should rechristen you Cordy Junior.”
“Only if you want a Reebok up your undead butt,” Corinne informed him, giving up on inspecting her arm to look at him. “How are you holding up? How long’s it been since you’ve eaten?” She paused. “Um. Since you’ve drunk.” Pause. “Um. What do you call it?”
“I call it feeding, pet.” He leaned closer and gave her a credible leer. “And a Reebok up the butt? Schoolgirl, for me that’s just foreplay.”
To his disappointment, she only frowned at him. “Behave yourself,” she told him severely, placing her hands in the small of her back to rub the sore muscles. “Or else no supper for you.”
Now it was his turn to frown. “What, you’re gonna keep me from catching a bird or pygmy? Like to see you try.”
“I was referring,” Corinne said, rotating her head to ease her aching neck, “to the all-night-but-definitely-not-all-you-can-eat Corinne Williams buffet.” She gave him a sideways glance. “But if you’d rather eat a bird or a pygmy…”
“No, no,” he said hurriedly, taking up the machete once more and getting back to his weedwacker impression. “I’m just… surprised, is all. Never met someone who’d let me feed from them.”
She shrugged. “Well, it just makes sense. I like to think of myself as a logical person. Now that my libido is my own again, that is,” she added with a hint of asperity. “I’ve been eating all the fruit I can hold since we landed here, and there’s plenty of fresh water; I’m doing fine, and if you only take a cup a day I figure I’ll be able to refill myself while I sleep.” She peered at him. “Can you survive on only a cup a day?”
“Not really,” Spike admitted. “But human blood will definitely keep me going better and longer than animal blood… a few birds just to top me up after a mouthful or two from you, I should be grand.” He looked over his shoulder to study her with bright eyes. “Do you really trust me that much?”
“Well,” she began thoughtfully, “I figure, if you were going to drain me dry, you’d have done so already. You don’t seem the type to be able to stick with long-winded nefarious plots, you know? I doubt you’re going to save me for later.”
Thinking back to how he’d jumped the gun on attacking Buffy that first time because he’d gotten bored whilst waiting, Spike chuckled. “Got me pegged there, pet.” Then he spun around and brought the machete toward her neck, stopping only a scant inch from her throat. Her eyes huge behind the lenses of her spectacles, she stopped in her tracks and stood there, barely breathing as she waited for his next action. “But you’d best not forget what I am, and what I can do. Complacency is dangerous, and you’re just a child.”
Corinne blinked at him, and then lifted a hand to delicately push aside the machete with a fingertip. “Are you done with the heap-big scary guy thing now? I’m not afraid anymore. After all the crap that’s happened to me in the last month, you’d think I’d be afraid of every damned thing, but I’m not. The fear has been just… bleached out of me, or something. I don’t know. All I know is that Haldir’s not with me anymore. Apart from that, I’m lost.” She motioned to the machete. “Can we get a move on now?”
Spike saw a hardness in her eyes, not-quite-set, as if it were freshly painted and not dry yet, as if she weren’t used to being so wary and tough, and the poet in him felt a pang of sadness on her behalf. The death of hope was always a tragic thing for him, no matter that he’d been the cause of it hundreds of times his own self. “Yeah,” he replied at last. “Let’s get going.”
They hadn’t gone far when they met up with another band of the sodding pygmies, and it took all of Spike’s speed and agility to dodge their tiny feathered missiles whilst at the same time getting close enough to snap their stubby necks. Gibbering wildly, waving their gruesome fetishes, they delighted in causing great confusion and preventing him and Corinne from working as a team. She devoted her attentions to beating the nearest pygmy with her brass knuckles, filling the air with resounding meaty thuds whenever she connected, and Spike was confident enough to leave her to her own resources while he dispatched the others.
That was his mistake. When he turned back to take care of the one she was fending off, he noted that she’d gone a funny colour under her normal hue of bookworm-pale: sort of greenish, like she was nauseous, but also tinged bluish, as if she were cold. “Teal,” he muttered, sending her opponent to that big pygmy hut in the sky. “You’ve gone teal.” He frowned, and caught her as she collapsed, seeing as he did the dart embedded in her backside. “That can’t be good.”
He pulled it free and swung her limp form into his arms, the machete still clutched in his hand and sticking out rather dangerously. He looked skyward and saw that it was beginning to grow dark. “Bloody hell.” They had to get to shelter and quickly, or they’d not survive for him to enjoy another sunny day.
An hour later, he’d stumbled into a deserted camp, probably inhabited by the same pygmies they’d killed earlier and who’d injured Corinne. After selecting the least-decrepit of the huts and starting a fire in its central hearth, he placed the tip of the machete in the embers and removed Corinne’s jeans. She was still unconscious and, more disturbingly, still teal. It was actually not a bad look for her, Spike thought to himself. Not every day you saw a teal woman, after all. Gave her a bit of intrigue to make up for her lack of looks.
Rolling her onto her front on one of the grass mats lining the floor of the hut, he inspected the site where the dart had lodged. It was on that swell pf muscle where butt cheek met thigh, and a welt the size of a pancake radiated out from a central pinpoint of dark, vicious purple.
Unconscious, she did not respond, and he didn’t feel quite so bad when he switched to game face and sank his fangs carefully on either side of the wound. Jerking back, he managed to avoid the jet of black, infected blood that shot out of her. When it slowed to a trickle, he lowered his mouth to pull fresh blood of bright, clean red through to cleanse the injury. It was the first time in decades he’d fed on a live human, and he found himself grasping her hips tightly as he fed, relishing the hot sweetness of her life’s essence before forcing himself to stop.
Wiping his mouth carelessly on the back of his hand, he turned to the fire. “This is going to hurt, pet. A lot,” he told her. Even in the dim light it was clear the dart-wound had caused a mess, and he took up the now-glowing machete after placing a twig between her teeth. “Sorry ‘bout this,” he said, and touched the cherry-red metal to her leg, instantly sealing the gaping and ragged flesh as the smell of cooking meat filled the air.
Corinne jerked, whimpering pitifully, and he had to press hard on her back to keep her still. Finally it was done and he tossed the machete aside. Covering her with his duster, he lit a cigarette from the fire and slumped back against the wall, resting his arm on his raised knee and lazily bringing the fag to his lips.
She’d been a right trooper, this one. They’d shared a few of their particulars whilst trekking through the jungle, and he’d learned she’d been under some major mojo compelling her to lust for some elf bloke. God that’d caused it—Aker—sounded like a nasty piece of goods, too, but then hadn’t Spike learned the hard way what it was like to deal with gods?
An image of Buffy’s form, silhouetted dark against the brilliant flare of the portal, shimmering and deadly as she passed through it, came to him then and he felt his reserve crumble. After three decades he was pretty much over her, but he’d always had an excellent memory, Spike had, and the recollection of what he’d felt at that moment could still shatter him. At least he now knew she was safe in that other world thanks to the Powers—
Hang on. Facts he’d believed unrelated and merely floating around in the murky void of his brain were coming together, coalescing… he thought back, concentrating hard, on the last time he’d seen Dawn. It had been the lobby of the Hyperion, twelve years previous, and Buffy had stood on the other side of the portal with… an elf.
And his name, Spike realized with an almost audible click as the pieces fell into place, had been Haldir.