I F I C O U L D T U R N
B A C K T I M E
”I do not like this activity named
Illyria’s curt statement made Spike sigh into his beer. “It’s not my
fault we’re here.”
And it wasn’t. If she hadn’t decided to follow the painful sounds bleeding
into the street he wouldn’t have entered the small karaoke bar, but like
always the god king was never to blame.
As it was, he’d actually been trying to give her the slip; he knew from
experience that history’s greatest party pooper was a poor drinking buddy and
he’d really needed a night off from being her chaperone, but she’d followed
him from bar to bar anyway, still too curious about the world to remain in their
motel room while he hit the town.
But the sounds of the karaoke had drawn her in and if Illyria had decided she
was going to investigate, then investigate was what she going to do. If he’d
been sober, he might have realised that Illyria plus karaoke equalled a very bad
idea; but a few drinks into what he hoped would be a spectacular bender was not
a time when he was known for making his better decisions. That and an annoying
sense of responsibility, one that hadn’t yet been washed away by a beery tide
and some vague promise he’d made to Angel to watch over her, meant he
couldn’t just leave Illyria to get on with it. The singers might have been
bad, but they didn’t deserve that sort of punishment.
The beer had left something to be desired too, but at least it was alcoholic.
Illyria could do what she liked. If she was determined to see what it was that
attracted humans to get up and sing tunelessly to their friends, he didn’t
care, as long as she didn’t keep him from re-papering over the cracks in his
broken heart; this sort of drinking required serious sorrows and today he had
plenty. Hopefully by the morning he wouldn’t remember any of this and
Buffy’s birthday would have passed for another year.
Seemingly oblivious to the aching loneliness that consumed her companion,
Illyria watched fascinated as a young man in a crumpled business suit drunkenly
nailed an Elvis classic firmly into its coffin. The man suggestively swiveled
his hips in what he must have thought was an appropriately Elvisy manner and his
workmates gave him a riotous cheer.
"He moans painfully. Is he injured?" Illyria asked with her usual
frankness. There was a hopeful lilt to her voice.
Spike turned and squinted at the singer. “Nah, he’s just singing, but it’s
hard to tell the difference.”
“Then this pastime is pointless.” She tilted her head the way he knew she
did when she narrowed her focus, trying to understand, scrutinising everything
that was going on in minute detail. He could see her processing all the input
and coming to her inevitable conclusion – that what she’d discovered was
disgusting to her. “Humans spewing forth their emotions without pause.
Relentless moaning mouths that can only be silenced by death.”
“This is why I bring you to parties.” Spike went back to his beer. For once,
he couldn’t agree more. Karaoke had to be one of the most offensive words in
the language. And that might have explained why Illyria was so interested in it.
He had a suspicion that the awful noise generated by the singers reminded her of
The man on stage, encouraged by the shouts from the crowd, started to serenade
an embarrassed female colleague, rapping over the Jailhouse Rock backing
track with a different song entirely.
Illyria seemed impressed with this mild torment. “These flesh bags find
pleasure in their own embarrassment,” she observed.
“Or somebody else’s.” Spike added as he watched the woman squirm in her
seat. He wondered idly if Wolfram and Hart had ever considered karaoke for their
The man finished the song with a flourish, his whoop into the microphone causing
a searing blast of feedback to rip through the bar. Illyria didn’t twitch,
never taking her eyes off the stage.
A new singer took picked up the microphone and Spike’s guts twisted as she
broke into a shrill rendition of Wind Beneath my Wings. Murdering the
unmurderable, her weak but enthusiastic voice was completely unsuited to the
song she’d chosen. He knocked back a big gulp and asked the bartender for a
bottle of bourbon. He wasn’t going to survive this night on beer alone.
“This shell contains many memories I do not comprehend,” Illyria told him.
“It found enjoyment once in this activity, especially after intoxication. I
should like to know what it found to be pleasurable.”
“If you work that out, let me know.” Spike took a swig straight from the
bourbon bottle. The liquid fell to his stomach with a satisfying burn. He
chuckled bitterly as the evening took on a different, more malty, perspective.
Then he had a wicked thought. He grabbed the Song List and slid it along the bar
towards her. “Why don’t you have a go, blue?”
Illyria stared at it blankly.
“You choose a song,” he prompted. “Then you sing it.” He winced as the
singer demolished another high note. “Or not.”
She picked up the folder and turned the pages gingerly, staring at the titles
without recognition. “These are not familiar to me. I would not know the words
to such ballads.”
“Neither does anyone else.” Spike shrugged, cringing again as the singer on
the stage launched into a flat, off-key chorus.
Illyria stared at the songs some more. Eventually she jabbed one with an armored
finger. “Then this one will suffice.”
“Good choice.” Spike nodded, not resisting the urge to smirk.
As the next singer warbled to the conclusion of their song, Spike returned to
his sulking spot at the bar.
“It is done?” Illyria asked him.
He slid back onto his barstool and resumed his bourbon where he’d left off.
“Yeah, you’re on in three— Oi!”
Only vampire speed allowed him to catch Illyria in time to stop her striding to
She stared down at his hand clamped around her arm. “You will let me pass.”
“Can’t do that.” He nudged her back. “Give it a minute.”
“I must wait?” Her head twitched to the side, analysing, inviting Spike to
explain something she seemed to think was unexplainable.
Spike had learned a few times – the hard ouchy way – that Illyria had no
concept of waiting for what she wanted. God Kings apparently weren’t known for
their patience. “It’s not your turn, smurfette. Let others have a go.”
It was hard to tell from her sour expression whether Illyria had given in or was
about to zap the Japanese tourist singing My Heart Will Go On in mangled,
accented English into smithereens, although Spike was almost tempted to let her.
“Just think about it,” he suggested, thinking up a reason to stall her.
“You’ll get top billing.”
Illyria mulled over the suggestion for a long minute. Whether she even knew what
a billing was and if it was something worth having, he had no idea and she
didn’t ask. “I should be top,” was all she eventually said.
“As always, blue. As always.”
Two songs later, after as much of the cheap bourbon as he could get down his
neck in the time, Illyria finally stepped onto the stage. A drunken trio of
young women giggling their way through Like A Virgin and a middle aged
woman singing I Will Survive, more appropriately than she’d ever
realise, had got through their songs thankfully without Primordial interference.
The opening bars of If I Could Turn Back Time filled the room. Illyria
stood before the microphone like a dictator about to rally her troops. She
didn’t seem to hear the leery wolf whistles from the men in the club as they
reacted to her tight battlesuit, but as she glared out over the crowd with
flinty contempt, she missed her cue.
Someone yelled, “Sing!” from the back.
Illyria flicked her head in the direction of the heckler and glowered at them.
The man sat back in his chair with a bump and didn’t say anything else.
When she was good and ready – about the time the second verse should have
kicked in – she began. The first few lines sounded fine, Spike thought with
surprise as she read the words from the screen; a little Marlene Dietrich
perhaps, and a bit too deadpan to actually call singing, but not unpleasant
under the circumstances.
But when she got to the chorus, she gave up. She opened her mouth wide and
screamed out a blood-curdling wail. Amplified by the microphone, the piercing
sound was beyond what the human ear could comfortably endure. Conversations were
forgotten and drinks were left untouched, as everyone in the bar covered their
ears to block out the appalling noise.
As she held the note for an inhuman span, every glass object in the room
disintegrated; the lights went out as every bulb shattered; the bottles behind
the bar ruptured; drinks drenched tables; spectacles cracked; and the mirror
ball, still rotating as it exploded, became a lethal Catherine Wheel of vicious
shards that spun out at the audience as they dived for cover.
“Bollocks!” Spike’s bottle broke in his hand, soaking his jeans in a
shower of bourbon and glass.
After an eternity, the song finished and Illyria brought the uncomfortable note
to a close. She returned to Spike, picking her way triumphantly across a floor
covered in shellshocked revelers.
“I wish to sing another,” She told him. It was a command, not a request.
He uncovered his ears and winced at the ringing tinnitus that still chimed
through his head. Bugger it; he even thought she’d managed to sober him up.
“No one’s calling for an encore.”
“I have found pleasure in karaoke.” For the first time since she’d awoken,
he saw a blaze of excitement thaw the slithers of ice in her eyes to a little
above absolute zero.
Spike looked mournfully at the broken bottle sitting in a pool of spoiled
bourbon. It looked like they’d have to find another bar. “Quite the singing
voice you have there, blue.”
She raised her head proudly. “My voice once laid waste to my enemies. Armies
would fall with my wrathful words ringing in their ears forever.”
He looked at the people carefully picking their way out of the bar like
survivors of some great calamity. Some were groaning painfully and others were
wandering aimlessly, dazed and disorientated. Illyria stood innocently in the
middle of it all, oblivious to the havoc she’d caused. He even thought he saw
the beginnings of a smile.
He chuckled; maybe he was still drunk after all. Somehow from now on he’d
remember this night for reasons other than the birthday of a long lost love. He
returned her smile with his own, the first genuine one he’d managed since
surviving a hopeless battle in a distant dark alley. “You ever considered
American idol, pet?”