hannah: (Across the Universe - windowsill_)
hannah ([personal profile] hannah) wrote2017-06-06 06:24 pm

The stronger the wind is, the stronger the tree.

The vampires on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel don't have a culture. They've got traditions and customs, like not going out on Halloween, transmitted information and oral histories, like the Whirlwind's notoriety and the near-mythic Slayer, and the occasional prophecy or cult of personality, but no culture. No society as such. It reminds me a bit of childlore and other parts of children's culture, where it's only tangentially connected to the surrounding civilization. They're so bereft of anything - any connections whatsoever - that the moment someone says "I'm going this way" they've got people following them.

Usually vampire society is shown as something that's existed for thousands of years with all sorts of small details, elaborate hierarchies and aristocracies, and established protocols and rituals, like what to do if you make a new vampire. Sometimes it's completely absent and vampires are non- social solitary predators. Every so often, it's shown as something in flux and ongoing development, but I've never seen anything with vampires creating a society of their own.

It'd take an immense shift in the entire dimensional paradigm to get vampires to talk to each other long enough and consistently enough to make something which could be accurately called a culture.

And it was when I was discussing the parallels between Spike and Konstantin Bothari - two monstrous people that devote themselves to becoming heroes and take meaning in their lives from being a beloved woman's dog - that I realized the Vorkosigan Saga had the ideal framework I could hang these thoughts on.

As ever, would that I had world enough and time; instead, at a friend's request, a write-up it is.


Vampires are monotheists. They refer to their god in euphemism, by her title, because her current name isn't known and her old names aren't to be spoken aloud. They call her Slayer, as she was in life. In all of her lives. Her face is never shown in the same way her names aren't used, especially when there's no knowing what her next face might look like. She's not here, but it's understood she may yet return, if needed. So vampires work to make sure she's no longer needed. They swear on her bones, her eyes, her hands, her mercy, her grace. Her name, all the ones she's had and all that may yet come.Vampires work to be good, to let her know that she's not needed. To make sure they never see the face she may yet have. Once a year, on the day the last known Slayer died, they gather and pray that they live to see another year without her. They pray she doesn't return. All that they do, they do for her, to please her. To make her proud, make her happy. To see that she stays kind, to see to it that they never see her again. To make sure she's not needed, and they do her work for her. By her grace, they live. By her mercy.

Vampires don't make new vampires on a whim anymore, not for the fun of it, and they certainly don't abandon the newly-made vampire as soon as the deed's done. Depending on where the vampire's made, there are different customs on how it's done - if there's dirt, then there's laying together in it while the transformation takes place - but it's always done at the human's request. It's not offered, as such, and the human has to be turned away, to have the chance to step away if this isn't exactly what they want. Usually it isn't. Sometimes it is. If you're trading one life-ending condition for another, details like breathing don't always matter so much.

Vampires throughout the Nexus, including Barrayar, are seen as lower-class, working-class, hard labor class - if a job would be dangerous for a human, try sending a vampire - and while a few of them do rise in society's eyes, most of them stay far down. But that sort of human-style stratification doesn't exist for vampires, not in the same way and not even close. Depending on where the vampire's from, where they were made, lineage can be an incredibly important factor - who made them, who they might make, the unbroken chain up and down the centuries. Or it might not be, if more emphasis is given to the group at large once you become a part of it, one small piece of the network, the net that catches them. In either situation, there's no governing authority determining what's correct or improper. Wherever you find vampires, it's consistent that while there's varying social standings and persons of given amounts of power within the group and over the ones right around them, there's no magistrates, no mayors, no kings. It's all very social, self-governing from within. Not necessarily by committee, but more by non-voting consensus. Some places put more focus on deferring to the ones above them in their lineage, and in other areas, that's much less important and not given nearly the same amount of emphasis.

There are rules and customs governing how to eat, where to eat, when to eat. It's always blood, and it's meant to be shared. You eat at a table, sitting with people, holding your bowl in both hands. It'd be rude to do otherwise, especially because it's important to know where everyone's hands are. Blood is bought, and shared, and sometimes it's synthetic human and sometimes it's vat-grown animal and sometimes it came right out of a living thing, but if you're living together, it's strange to eat all by yourself. If you're living alone, all bets are off. But in a shared home, it's expected to be done as a group.

Blood can be shared outside the home, in what's usually called a Liquitería or Sangrería or sometimes Hemeteria - ranging in decor from the utmost ethos of a dive bar to a shiny upscale coffee place. But they don't serve their blood "to go." Whatever's ordered, whether it's horse or bear or human, has to be consumed on the premises. Sometimes because of local laws and regulations, other times to prevent controversy from arising. Vampires have gotten pretty good about avoiding human-based conflicts, and at taking care of things among themselves.

It's the group that determines and delivers punishments, if necessary. One of the more well-known ones, because of its visibility, is the return of keelhauling. A vampire is stripped naked, save for a chain on their ankle, and thrown into the hard vacuum of space. It's the ultimate in solitary confinement, in its own way. They're left out there for days, sometimes weeks, depending on what they did and how much time they need to give to earn their forgiveness.

Vampire houses, when they're built with them in mind and not converted from human usage, have subterranean sleeping areas and don't bother putting in windows except on the highest floor. There's usually sleeping pits, like those old sunken conversation pits from the 1970s, that even come with covers that slide closed, to provide maximum security against any possible sunlight. And because emphasizing communal living in as many ways as they can is nothing but sensible. If you want privacy you can go into a little workroom, and if you want to sleep alone all you need to do is ask. There's a toilet off in the back somewhere in case a human visits, and plenty of soaking tubs to get some warmth into the body before going out and pretending to be harmless for a while.

They don't quite do marriage as humans think of the arrangement, but there are ceremonies where a pair of vampires will declare their mutual loyalty to one another in the eyes of their community and before the Slayer, may she ever be merciful. These happen with the community encircling the vampires - a ring around the couple - and also includes both members of the couple each placing a flower crown on the other, if resources permit. If they do, night-blooming jasmine is what's traditional.

Daysuits look like a cross between Scorpius' coolant suit, Crichton's vacuum suit, and Aeryn's pilot uniform: sleek, black, intimidating, shouting hi there! I'm a vampire! The open faceplates are highly reflective, both to keep sunlight down and for privacy. Because humans won't see who's inside, just their own faces reflected back. But if two vampires see each other, then they're fine, because there aren't any reflections getting in the way.

Vampire culture is precipitated on two things: forcing vampires to get into a position where they have conversations on a regular basis, and supplementary technologies providing assistance and helping humans see them as a different sort of person that shouldn't automatically be killed on sight.

Vampires still look at humans and have the instinctive, primary thought, "food." When the situation is such that there's cooperation and mutual benefit, it's easier to push those instincts aside and think "person." But it takes a lot of work for the vampires, more than for the humans.

Before vat-grown blood and other such technological developments and the basic idea of culture came along, there were a series of experiments done to figure out how to keep vampires from eating humans. One of them was a mass ensoulling project - cursing a control group with souls to see if that would do it. It didn't, and breaking the mass curse ended up being even more harmful than just killing them would have been, and it ended up as one of the factors involved in the decision to seal off the dimension from everywhere else.

It's not that magic vanished and it's not that it faded away and it's not that it was destroyed; it's still here, it's still available with the right tools and the proper knack. It's that this specific dimension got cut off from the rest of them. No more quick trips to Pylea, no more summoning things from the depths and the farthest realms. All that you've got to work with is just what's already here. Throwing up the walls was the best, most effective way to keep the place safe and stop things from getting worse. There was a lot of damage done before the walls went up, and they're not coming down anytime soon. There's two ways in and out: you can blast your way through with the magical equivalent of a tactical nuke, like for Quor'toth, or you can slither your way through the tiniest cracks and holes that will never be completely sealed over.

Which is why there's still new vampires coming along, though not nearly as many, or as frequently.


It took throwing up the walls to bring every slithering and creeping thing out of the shadows and into the open for everyone to learn about them. Something suitably terrific and terrifying to push the magic and the dark creatures out into the world's eye forever. Something to get vampires to speak to each other. The realization that where you once had a huge, lush forest, you've got a botanical garden. Beautiful, but not wild. Never wild again.

And about 200 years after that, humans start colonizing the galaxy.

Just because you can't drive to Pylea doesn't mean you can't ride a rocket ship to outer space.

Full-on demons are more or less yellow-billed magpies. They're not endangered, but there's only one place they live, and they can't be found anywhere else no matter how hard you look or how much you want to see them. They just don't live anywhere else but Earth. No matter how far out humans go, demons are staying on that one planet. But vampires can leave, and a lot of them do.

Synthetic blood was intended for human use in surgeries and emergency situations, and it's still widely used in those applications. But vampires eat it, and knowing they're eating something that never came from a person helps humans feel a little more at ease around them. Never entirely so, but enough. The best that can be said of it is that it stops vampires from being hungry. It's nutritionally complete and tastes of real blood the way energy bars taste of chocolate, which is just enough to get you to remember the actual flavor and realize the vast gulf between that and what you're eating. But at least you're not hungry anymore.

Until the technology comes along to synthesize specific blood types and different animal species, Spike eats his with Sriracha. And sometimes Weetabix, if he's got any. Usually at the same time.

He'd been doing Outside, deep-space work - construction and repairs and long- haul spaceflights - for some decades. Angel's still on Earth, and he doesn't leave until there's a terraforming project that opens up. He'd been drifting around at short-term positions - twenty years here, forty there - and wanted something in a long-term scale he could really devote himself to. A couple hundred years at the very least. And terraforming seemed the best fit.

Wormhole jumps are bad on vampires - they're the leftover spaces from where the present dimension slips and touches the next one over, a little pocket of in-between that you can slide through if you manage to maneuver your way through that fifth dimension. The works of Winnifed Burkle were some of the founding texts of wormhole theory, and most people have it on good authority that for a vampire, riding through one feels like having your soul ripped out. So to get through them, vampires have to fast for at least a day beforehand, take a heavy dose of the good drugs two hours before, and hide in their cabin in the fetal position because that's how they're staying for at least another eight hours after they get out the other side. Angel wanted to take as few wormhole jumps as he possibly could, so a direct flight to his new jobsite seemed like a good idea. He and Spike parted on good terms, joking over different work positions and what to do when they see each other next.

It was 50,000 human colonists to Barrayar, and 1,250 vampires.

Then the wormhole closed.

Almost immediately after that, the vampires collectively explain that if anything happens to them, the humans are going to be fine, but if anything happens to the humans, the vampires are screwed. So they're pitching in everything behind the humans, and they're there to help any way they can. ("Can I get you something? Soup? Another blanket?" "IT'S JUST THE SNIFFLES." "I'll get you some tea.")

It's Barrayar where vampires are integrated into human society, much better than in the Nexus. Even on Earth. They always stand apart, with their own traditions, customs, and belief systems; it's that on Barrayar, there's a level of mutual support and understanding between humans and vampires that isn't seen elsewhere. Usually, vampires are a mix of predator and parasite. It's rare and almost unprecedented for them to be symbiotic.

It took Spike a little getting used to, when he arrived.

Most people would think it'd be Beta Colony, given its subterranean cities and extensive vat-grown blood options. But it's not exactly friendly towards them - tolerant, to a point, and indulgent, in its own way. Betans think of themselves as providing services and assistive technologies that free vampires from their previously chaotic ways and what they'd call "specialized needs." Vampires wish Betans understood it comes from their social structures. Even when a given vampire predates the technology that allowed their planet to be colonized to begin with - well, Betans can condescend to anyone. It's really part of their charm. Cordelia Vorkosigan couldn't quite understand the level of Barrayaran integration for her first few years living on the planet, how fundamental they are to her new home's culture, and her realization that they're satisfied with how they are. How the way they're living is very much what they want.

(To a lot of vampires, post-Time of Isolation Barrayar looks right in a way that only works for beings who think and live in the very long term: big honkin' castles right next to flying cars.)

(Beta Colony has the second-biggest population of magical practitioners in the Nexus, right behind Earth. Magicians and witches and wizards skilled enough to slice the electrons off an atom! ...who do a lot of work in research labs where they can pull together a cubic foot of helium for particle accelerators without any fuss.)

The six hundred years apart passed one day at a time. There wasn't always much to distinguish one from another, and Spike continued on through them, knowing either faster-than-light technology would come along as promised - they've got spaceships and flying cars and fake gravity and people grown in jars, FTL should be arriving any day now - or there's going to be a new route uncovered at some point.

There was one time he miscalculated the dose and timing of the wormhole jump drugs, and wandered out of his cabin in a weird daze - "Are we on a planet?" "...no." "Right. Fake gravity. Forgot we had that now." "Yeah." "Should I get dressed?" "Yes." - and no matter what people say to him, whether or not he knows the precise model and year of a given ship, his vocabulary is always at least twenty years behind. It's fake gravity. It's a spaceship. It's a ship in space. A spaceship! Give him some credit: when he was human, cars hadn't even been invented yet.

There was one time he was working Outside in a group, and there was a small accident, an explosion, and his comm suddenly cut off. His crewmates worried until they saw him again, and he seemed to be doing fine, but once they were in the airlock they saw it wasn't a failure of the comms: there was a cut in his suit and all the air had gone out of it. So he couldn't tell them what had happened, or even that he was okay. It nearly made one of his crewmates throw up, because they'd seen people die from exactly that sort of rip, and here Spike is, talking cheerfully and saying he'll fix it with duct tape. Because humans don't survive those things.

(Reclamation crews call vampires "twitchers." Because calling them anything more detailed, like "people who are starving and will try to eat you," is exactly the kind of press vampires hate. They're why modern defrosting protocol always involves a heavily armored chamber and readily available bags of blood. Because everyone, especially vampires, understand the necessity of being careful about these things.)

There was one time Spike was doing some fine repair work, and by accident and bad luck, got a jolt. Not a big jolt, just a little electric kiss that anyone could shrug off, no damage done - except he still hates electricity, can't stand it, has such issues with the shocks, the one thing that makes him lose it, dropping his fangs and screaming and swearing by the Slayer's blasted blessed cunt and locks himself in his cabin for the rest of the day, and some of the next. He apologizes as best he can, as much as he can, for the rudeness of dropping his fangs in front of humans. But not for how he acted, because he knows he shouldn't have to. Not for that.

But there was one day he'll always remember. That's the day one of his crewmates came out to see him standing on the hull, job long since over, staring out into the stars. They want to know if he's okay, if there's anything wrong. No, nothing's wrong, not at all: "That's my sun," he says. "There. That one," he points to a tiny dot, no different from all the rest. But vampires know their sun. "I haven't seen it in..."

Because far enough away, every sun becomes a star.

It's got nothing to do with wavelengths or radiation. It's got everything to do with light, and magic. There's no practical biology involved with demon-possessed corpses. Vampires can happily soak in starlight and moonlight, but they can't walk in the sun. No matter where they are in the universe.

On Barrayar, years came and went. Society rebuilt itself almost from scratch. In the beginning, some humans said that because vampires were alive when Earth was at similar technology levels, they should be able to help out with more practical work, with vampires pointing out humans rode spaceships here so by that same logic they should know how to build those.

Among the developments in the rebuilding process was formalizing something that had been casual circumstance until then, done in a specifically Barrayaran way: vampires aren't allowed to be Vor. If you're Vor and become a vampire, you left that honorific behind, and no vampire can ever earn it. Too much worry about corruption and immortal dynasties. It goes beyond tradition into written law.

Keeping the Slayer away is an active process, and threats humans make to each other - I'll get a vampire to eat you! You have a mutie baby, you just leave it out for the vamps - don't help matters.

Angel only turned two vampires, both in the last hundred-fifty years or so before the Time of Isolation ended. Both of them asked for it to happen, were turned away three times and still came back. He lay with them in the ground until they dug themselves up, and it seems better, now, for someone to be with you when it happens. Kinder, to know you're not going to be tossed aside and abandoned. That it's a process, a commitment to the new person you've brought up from the ground. What he had with Darla and Dru and Spike was for the most part stable, and he knows that helped keep the four of them as functional as they were. With so few vampires turned on impulse, the average age for turning went up by a couple of decades. Because there aren't many resources for both humans and vampires to share, not many are made on Barrayar at all. One of the first things to go was vat-grown blood, the support needed to keep that going winding down fast, so with vampires relying on butchers, on consensual feedings, and the occasional horse with a broken leg, they've gotten used to being a little hungry all the time. It's accepted as a normal part of being a vampire.

(During the Cetagandan invasion, young vampires looked to Angel for guidance, for advice, for permission - "Can we eat them?" "With the Slayer's blessing, you can eat them." Because she was a warrior, a defender, and would have understood. And many of those young vampires learned, for the first time, what it felt like to eat their fill and finally be sated.)

("What do you mean, he threw the horse at you?" The rider had been a vampire, wrapped up safe from sunlight, out during the day, and the scouts had shot the horse. "You mean he threw the -" "No, we mean he PICKED UP THE HORSE and he THREW IT AT US." When Angel relates this story to Spike, he can't stop giggling over Angel's banked and simmering anger. It's been a long time, and he's still mad - "They shot my horse!" He'd kept horses for centuries, one at a time, as food and companionship, and that one was one of his favorites. Then the Cetagandans shot it. He knows a few landscapers who hate them for similar reasons: two hundred years they spent on that one lawn, and now the whole thing's radioactive!)

Angel lives alone, and always has. Some vampires live in small communities, little neighborhoods, and of those, some stay with the ones they've made or the ones that made them. He doesn't - he's the oldest vampire on the planet, third-oldest in the Nexus, and it's hard to find someone to really speak to who's able to understand because they've also been there. He hasn't even bothered to remove the mirrors from his bathroom.

Then another wormhole opens, and spaceships come roaring through the atmosphere for the first time in centuries.

And not long after that, coming every day and waiting where spaceships touch down and open up for visitors, he sees someone in a daysuit walk out with the other humans that can turn their faces right to the sun. He's there in the finest wrappings and rags and his best goggles, and there's no way to be sure - except that he knows. They walk right up to one another and from the outside, it's a strange scene: goggles looking down into a faceplate, a faceplate looking up at goggles. With no reflections to get in the way.

And they hug.

They stand there for a long time, not paying any attention to the people daring glances or openly staring, and then silently go off to Angel's basement apartment, turning away from each other just long enough to get undressed, removing the helmet and unwrapping the rags, both of them boggling at the other - Spike's let his hair grow out, brown and corkscrew curls, and Angel managed to find something to get his hair to lie flat in a perfectly regimented military cut. But that's nothing to their accents, with Angel rolling his R's like a native Russian speaker, and Spike's flat Californian accent a tribute to his long-lost friends.

("Cavemen," Spike grins. "Astronauts," Angel insists.)

There's a lot of time spent comparing notes, a lot of requests to pronounce given words, some bonding over both of them having settled into four-digit ages ("Do you remember when five hundred years was old?"), and some deep amusement when Spike meets the two vampires Angel raised. He's comfortably over a thousand at this point, Angel closer to twelve hundred, and even taken together the two vamps aren't even half as old as Spike is. But by Barrayaran vampire custom, they'd be seen as being above him - they were made by Angel while Spike was made by someone Angel made, so they should rightly be above him. Or so they thought, until he throughly trounced them both.

Angel sat back and laughed his ass off; they needed to be taken down a peg or two.

The Barrayaran insistence on direct linage above and below is hard for Spike to fit into: the one who made him is gone and there's no one he's raised who remains. He won't talk about them, and the Barrayaran vamps respect his desire for privacy, but still - no one? No one at all? So he's isolated and alone like that? How can a vampire live all alone like that, nobody directly connected to you? It must be so lonely.

The Nexus insentience on the group and collective life is hard for Angel to fit into: he doesn't know how to fit into a group where there's nobody in charge, no clear chains of command, and he really doesn't know how to sleep in a shared space. He requests, and gets, a sleeping-pit all to himself even though it's understood as something of an odd request - even if nobody's in charge you tend to defer to the oldest ones in the room, the ones closest to or from the time of the Slayer. And as he's trying to fall asleep, Spike slides the cover open, "Shove over." Neither of them comment on it, but it's easier for Angel to fall asleep with Spike there.

At Spike's insistence, they take a couple of wormhole jumps. He wants to show him their sun, and they both want to see Earth again for the first time in centuries. And he gives Angel his two-part human name of Liam Summers when he needed forms to travel through the Nexus - they both knew the gesture for what it was, and don't speak about it, not needing to. Angel says nothing about Spike taking Drusilla's human surname, William Keeble,for the same reasons. When they get to Earth, they go to the same places most vampires come to see, the places important to their religion: the Hellmouth that Spike closed, the Los Angeles that Angel helped sink, battle scars and birth sites and places that used to take you someplace very different but now only leave you wondering what might still be on the other side. While they're on planet, they attend a wedding out in the California mountains. They were only told about it a few hours beforehand, because you're supposed to invite all the vampires around, and when they say who they are, all the jaws drop. It's an amazing honor for all those present to have them there, and they're asked to give a few words, which they both do. They speak about how the Slayer would approve of what they're doing, how she would be happy.

A while after the Cetagandan invasion, long for humans but not so much for vampires, there's a small gallery show in Vorbarr Sultana, a collaborative venture with some poems inspiring art and other pieces of art inspiring poems. Words by William Keeble and art by Liam Summers. They've both had centuries to hone their craft and get genuinely good at it, enough to be worth the sharing.

Someone asks the two of them, "You've both got souls? How many souled vampires are there?" They think a minute. Spike counts off, "One. Zero. One, two, one. Two. Twenty-seven. Then, one." He smiles big at that. "Now, two. Us. Him and me." "I've had mine longer." "I've never lost mine."

(When the curse broke, Angel's soul left him, because it was all the curses breaking. Not so with Spike's - "It's mine," he says. "I earned it. It's not a curse, it belongs to me." And it was Drusilla who helped Spike fight to get Angel's soul back to him, by her own agency, coming to Spike on her own in her last moments of clarity. And it was by her own agency that she died, meeting the sun one morning as it rose after saying good-bye to Spike. And never in a hundred thousand years would he have known any vampire could burn blue like a flame - it must have been the part of her that was never human, that burned so blue and beautiful. Not even ash remained. In a way, he's all that's left of her.)

Someone else asks the two of them, "I've seen pictures of old vampires, they get all - grr, argh. How come you both still look human?" They look at each other, shrug. "Soulful living."

(And if you thought that maybe, just maybe, because Buffy's magic is strongest when it has a backdoor, that if a small number of specifically impossible things occurred long after the walls are put up, impossible like vampires standing in the light of their sun, then those walls would come falling down...you just might be right.)


Spike met Taura when she was in her early 20s, on shore leave from the Dendarii. She was out with her friends, enjoying the night, and when Spike didn't hesitate at all when he saw her across the room, just came up and started talking. It was the first thing about him that she liked, that he wasn't afraid of her. Granted, he came up to her and started speaking in some sort of gibberish, and when he saw she didn't understand, switched to another, different kind of gibberish. In all fairness to Spike, he'd mistaken her for a demon and wanted to know where she'd come from, if a portal had been opened back up and the walls were coming down and maybe she - wait, you're not that kind of demon? You're not that kind either?

He leaned in and took a big sniff, and in a flat, almost Betan accent, immediately apologized for the misunderstanding. She accepted it gladly. And by then, they were happy and willing to keep talking to each other. That said, the sniff was a little strange, and Taura asked Spike very delicately what that was. He just points at the big mirror on the wall. She looks, and then does a double-take, because negative space is hard to notice unless you're looking for emptiness. Then it's her turn to stare and apologize for staring, because she's never met a vampire. So they formally introduce themselves, and shake hands, and very quickly go back to her quarters to make with the sex.

Spike really likes that Taura doesn't waste any time.

The second thing about Spike that Taura likes is how strong he is. Especially since he doesn't look it at all. He used to be a fairly reasonable height, and then nutrition standards got raised across the board so by modern galactic standards, he's not that big - the top of his head might not even reach her collarbones. But he's the strongest person she's ever met, even stronger than she is. She knew a little bit about vampires, had read about them, but this is her first time so much as talking to one, let alone getting into bed with him - and more to the point, this is the first time she's never had to worry about how fragile her partner is. Much as she loves Miles and Roic and all the men she's had, they're all fragile in ways that she has to be careful about. Not so with Spike.

"I don't want to break you, love." "You can try."

But what's even better than that, the best part of how strong he is, she realizes not too long after she's invited him into her bed, when he lies on his back, places his feet on her stomach and holds her hands - and lifts her up into the air in a delightfully old-fashioned airplane ride.

And Taura cannot stop laughing.

They spend the rest of her shore leave exclusively in each other's company. Comparing horrible memories of testing labs - electricity is the worst, by far the absolute worst, they both still have nightmares about it - and amusing themselves over their vastly different dietary needs and metabolisms - "Do you have one? Technically speaking." - and going out and doing all the things Taura's seen and read about and never been able to do before. And now she wants to do it all. Things like that airplane ride. Going out dancing and being dipped by her partner and if the dance is right, being lifted up over her partner's head. Jumping onto his back for an impromptu piggyback ride. Sitting on his shoulders. And simply being picked up and carried.

Spike's equally over the moon about this, because he loves making women into princesses and queens.

That Taura can do all of those grand romantic gestures to Spike is nothing special. That they can each do that to each other, now that's something different. It's novel for Taura in all the best possible ways.

What's also novel for her, though far less fun, is what it's like for them to sleep together. Just the sleeping. Because it's when Spike's asleep that Taura realizes exactly what she's in bed with. It's deeply, viscerally disturbing when Spike's asleep, because of the complete lack of automatic bodily functions.

She's handled corpses before, and to think of the man who cheerfully tossed her around and gave her such pleasure as one is genuinely creepy, down in the bottom of her guts and the small parts of her spine. She reaches out and pokes him as gently as she can. His flesh moves, but he doesn't snort in response. Because he's not breathing. She puts her hand on his chest, and there's no movement there. It's the same temperature as the bedsheets. Ambient temperature. She leans down to sniff him carefully, and there's not much there, either. He's a not-corpse, and doesn't have much personally generated scent.

He'd been so - not body-warm, but spirit-hot. She sits back and looks at him, really looks at him, someone from the other side of death, and wonders, would it be rude to ask if it hurt?

Later during their time together, he tells her about the Slayer, the vampire's god-figure. Not quite myth, not quite truth. Those lovely warriors from long ago, girls and women, beautiful and terrifying, figures of fear and love who always burned up fast. She'd have made a grand one, in the days they were needed. There hasn't been a Slayer in centuries: "We're good, now, us vampires. All of us, we're good. So the Slayer doesn't come for us. If she comes, she comes for us all. So we're good, so she won't come." "But you miss her." "I do. And I hope I never see her again. But meeting you is like meeting her." And Taura knows how high a compliment that is.

She doesn't quite grasp how old he is, when she asks him. The number he gives her - that's too much. A hundred years, two hundred, she could understand those. But what he has, that's practically the age of a planet. It's beyond her comprehension, that he's well into his eleventh century and still counting. There's only four vampires around that are older than him, and three of them are on Earth, so almost anywhere he goes, he's the oldest creature around. Once she knows how old he is, she doesn't much care if it's rude anymore, and there are all sorts of things people have asked someone over a thousand years old, and this is a question almost everyone wants to know the answer to.

The way she asks it, though, he knows to give her the truth: "It did at first."

("Thank you. For telling me.")

She asks him if vampires still eat people. "We don't hunt," he tells her, which isn't saying no. He doesn't ask her - he can't ask her. It'd bring the Slayer, asking her. But if she offers her blood freely, he can accept.

It's not until their last night together that she offers him her blood, her own choice, her own decision. He thanks her before he accepts, and when she sees his other face, she thinks not even the greatest sculptors on the Whole could make a face like that. When he's shifted back to his human face, and looks at her with clear blue eyes, and she knows they couldn't carve this one, either.

And when he's finished eating she asks what she tastes like. So he tells her: "Like smoke. Like the air before it snows. Like forests, and running."

They part on good terms, happy with the time they've spent together. And they do see each other again, once. Several years later. He's still the same, and she's burning up, burning fast. And he still looks at her like she's the same. She thinks to ask, if he could, might he - he says no, cutting her off, no, he'd never.

"Thank you," she says, and smiles. "Thank you."

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