Title: Forget and Smile
Rating: R, eventually
Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc. Only the lame plots and dialogue herein are mine.
Notes: This is a sequel to Sweet Lethe, a short story I wrote just after Chosen aired. At the time, I called it my Silly!Sappy!Amnesiac!Shanshued!Spike tale, and that still strikes me as a pretty good summary. I started writing the follow-up then, but never finished, although I kept adding bits from time to time. I suppose the delay makes sense, because the story picks up years later, when Buffy goes to visit Willow and Spike. She hasn't seen him since the events in Sweet Lethe, and he still has no memory of his past and no idea he was once a vampire.
Word Count: Still editing, but this got away from me. It's going to be a long one, folks, at least 25,000 words.
ETA: Additional disclaimer on this fic: I wanted this story to end a certain way. My habit is to write the ending first, so I knew what had to happen. But as I wrote, I realized it felt a bit of a cheat. But I still wanted that ending. So I went back to put in some foreshadowing for a sequel. As I'm editing, I realize the foreshadowing got a bit strong, which makes sense because I've already written some of the damn sequel. So there will be a conclusion by the end of tonight, but it's going to be clear the story isn't over. This is always fine with me, because that's the way life is, but I felt I should add a warning.
Thanks: To keswindhover andrevdorothyl for betaing, and enigmaticblues for reopening the comm and running this season in spite of having an incredibly busy life.
This place could be nothing but a school. Its character was proclaimed by the wide, echoing hallways lit by ancient fixtures covered in metal mesh, by the cork bulletin boards covered with motley collections of ancient flyers and posters, and by the inevitable trophy case holding a few dusty relics of victories past. Walls once painted a cheerful blue had faded to a dirty grey. Some of the scarred wooden doors that lined the hallway stood open, and from beyond the nearest one the sound of papers and books being shuffled around warred with whispered comments and giggling. From the hallway, a few girls could be seen taking their seats at the back of the classroom.
The giggling subsided as a male voice from within the room called for order. "Finish texting messages and stow the lip gloss, ladies," he announced in an English accent. "I have news. I'm sure you've all heard that Ms. Yoder has done a bunk. Well, the gossip is true for once. She has gone on the lam, seeking the bright lights of Des Moines and a life in sin with Mr. O'Brien of Chemistry class fame."
There was a brief murmur at this, which quieted when the voice spoke again. "I'm sure you will all be equally sorry to hear that this does not mean class is canceled. I am here to teach you what I am informed I need to refer to as Language Arts. Sod that. This is English class for the duration. And the duration is until that henna-haired witch that runs this place finds someone stupid else enough to take on you brats. So open your books, find page 42, and say 'hello' to Christina Rossetti."
"I always knew he was more than just a cute Hagrid," a striking brunette at the back of the classroom hissed to the girl in the chair next to her. "One of the seniors told me he knew all about poetry and stuff."
"Astrid," called out the teacher. "Please read the poem to the class."
The brunette stood up, blushing, and began to declaim,
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
In the hallway beyond the open door, the school principal turned to watch a slight blonde woman who was listening intently, her back against the wall, her face pale and grave.
"He taught this course for a couple of years when I first started the school," said Willow. "Back when we had just a handful of teachers and a dozen girls. But the grammatical errors in the girls' essays really got him down after a while. Plus, with the poetry and everything, an even greater percentage of the new arrivals fell in love with him than do these days. So when enrollment increased, I found someone else and had him focus on Demonology. No one knows that subject like him anyway, so we really need every girl to take at least one of his demon studies classes at some point."
"Yeah. He really gives them some insight into motivations, daily lives, habits of all kinds of demons."
The brunette, who was just within their line of vision, finished her mumbled and uninspired reading of the poem and slunk back into her chair.
The teacher said in a much more forceful tone, "So, ladies, tell me, what is the poet saying here? Madeline?"
"Huh?" Madeline's voice came from somewhere by the windows. She had clearly been taken by surprise. "Uh, she doesn't love him any more?"
"Do you think so?" asked Spike in a voice that indicated he certainly did not.
"He's gone away?" asked another voice uncertainly. "Well, someone has." The last sentence was uttered defiantly.
"Yeah, 'gone away' could cover it," agreed the teacher. "But who has gone away and how? Look at the words, Isabel. What do you see? 'Grieve,' 'darkness and corruption,' 'gone into the silent land—'"
"Someone's dead!" announced the girl triumphantly.
"Good," said Spike. "Now, do you have any clue who that could be?"
Buffy was staring at Willow. "I can't believe it. He—he's almost patient."
Willow grinned. "They're all his girls. That's what he calls them. If this is what he has to do to make them learn, he'll do it. He's not so good with other people."
"Not so good?" asked Buffy. Her expression was suddenly stricken. "You mean, he doesn't have friends, or—"
"No, no," said Willow hastily. "I just mean he's not, you know, famed far and wide for his tact and consideration. He has some friends in the town, and a few of the other teachers get along with him okay, and he and I are pretty good buds whenever I'm not actually threatening to fire him for undermining my authority. And, of course, there's Katie."
"Who?" asked Buffy, but before Willow could answer, she was distracted by the sound of Spike's voice just on the other side of the wall. Apparently, he was moving up and down the aisles, picking victims at random and tossing questions at them.
"What do the last two lines mean, then?" he wanted to know.
"The last two lines?" parroted a girl's voice nervously.
"That's a lovely echo, isn't it, and it shows you're paying attention. But I'm being all Socratic here, which means you get to explain to me things that I already know. Set aside the absurdity of that notion for a moment, pretend I have no idea what's going on, and tell me what she means when she says, 'Better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.'"
Buffy grabbed Willow by the arm. "Can we go back to your office?" she asked in a tight voice. "I don't think I'm ready for this. Even after all these years, I'm not ready."