By Annie Sewell-Jennings
With a scream as low and keening as a widow's wail, the sirens began to call, their screeching a knell tolling the funeral of the entire world.
Wonder painted the faces of children as the rockets shot off, missile silos in Oklahoma opening to allow their masters of death to streak across the sky, flying to attack the enemy and inadvertently kill the righteous and innocent along with them. Towns froze. Traffic stalled. Everything stilled, silencing voices so that all could be heard was the massive ignition of the missiles being launched. It was a moment that no one should ever have to witness, a harsh pill to swallow.
It was a moment that interrupted the joy and painted a scene of exquisite anguish on the faces of those manning the Hellmouth.
The missile fell in Los Angeles, encompassing the city in darkness and exploding in a shower of angry radiation, sucking the electricity out and into the bomb itself. This swift blast was followed by a stray bomb, missing its target and following the path to Sunnydale, California, exploding on the land and painting a fiery wall across the city, encompassing it in death's angry wings.
A streak of vermilion whipped backwards as Willow tipped her head back to scream, wailing with anguish as the fires came, screaming Buffy's name and lamenting her horrible death. Pain and anguish painted Xander's hazel eyes a murky black as he covered her with his arms, tackling the ground in a futile but poignant final show of courage. No struggle, no bravery, only a sad bow of the head and removal of glasses as Giles accepted their fate, and then glass shattered and walls caved in, as Sunnydale was ripped to shreds.
Skeletons reached out in suffering, bones where fingers had once been, caught in a fragile repose, horribly beautiful, like dissected angels, before the second blast came with the sound of a scream.
And it screamed her name.
Eyes flashed open and alert, Buffy Summers woke, whole and unscathed, scar-free and undamaged physically, twisted in tangled linens in Melbourne. Not in Sunnydale. There was no Sunnydale anymore - it had exploded in a pile of ash and hellfire, swiftly destroying lives in a mess of nuclear blast. Or it had passed away quietly and painfully in a phenomenally strong wave of radiation drifting off of San Francisco and Los Angeles. She didn't know which one was accurate.
She only knew that her nightmares were fantasies painted in a melange of bone and blood.
The dawn had risen; soft light bled through the black sheet that she had tacked up over the windows, filling the room with a quiet unlike twilight, no matter that the clock informed her in its lime green electricity that it was three in the afternoon. She had slept only partially soundly, not kicking or flailing, but still writhing in the bedsheets. It was a habit. A habit like the heroin she occasionally smoked or the booze she liked consuming. Yes, Buffy Summers was addicted to nicotine and nightmares.
The colors in the room were muted by darkness, melded into shadows and indistinguishable from each other. She was ashamed of her shaking fingers, combing them through her tangled mass of multicolored hair and feeling sick from what she'd done to herself and to the world. She hadn't saved them. They'd perished there, all of them, the people that she loved and needed, and now she was plummeting into a spiral of escalating hell in one of the most beautifully doomed places on Earth. The image of Willow's magnificently miserable face tipped back in a kiss of death refused to abandon her mind, so poignant with her charred halo, like Christ's crown of thorns.
Carmine fingers swept tendrils of magenta and maroon away from her face, never smoothing and never calming the flyaway locks, frizzed somewhat from humidity and heat. Air conditioning was a luxury, but Buffy could afford it. Blood money, money stolen and money thieved, and she hated what she'd done to get away from Sunnydale. Hated how she'd robbed Giles blind and not been able to save him.
Hated that she had fucked Spike the night before...
Startled, Buffy turned around at the memory of her rough encounters with her peroxide enemy, expecting to find him in bed next to her, undisturbed by her fit. Like he'd care anyway. But her bed was empty; she was the only one sitting in it, and that bothered her more than she'd like. Quietly, she tiptoed to her closet and wrapped herself in a black silk robe embroidered with vines, glimmering slightly and softly in the light, sheathing her copper body in the finery of it. She carelessly tossed her multicolored locks across her shoulders and padded softly down the stairs, expecting to be blinded by the light of the glass wall.
Instead, she found sheets tacked up, protecting the house from poisonous sunlight, and the vampire she'd fucked sitting at the kitchen table, eating Rice Krispies.
The sight of him was admittedly endearing. Wearing his black tee shirt and black jeans sans expensive steel belt, Spike had his bare feet propped up on the oak table and was reading the morning paper, the bowl precariously perched on the end of the table, a cigarette halfway turned into ash in the blown-glass ashtray. For a moment, she just looked at him, drinking in the slim and built lines of his body, stretched out underneath black cotton and denim, skin as pale as bone exposed. He was a spare creature, economical in design, like a piece of modern art architecture. Slender feet that weren't tipped with black like his chipped and bitten fingernails, long legs, taut abdomen that she had licked last night, strong, capable arms, and a face that was strikingly sensual.
And he was a vampire, a killer, but if one were to judge on the basis of species, she was a member of a race of murderers as well.
Sighing, Spike looked up at her, letting her know that he had seen her the whole time, and flashed the front page of the Melbourne Times at her. "AMERICA DAMNED". "Not a good time to be an American, luv," Spike said, and the Slayer shrugged, descending down the stairs as her bare feet sank into the plush carpeting.
"Not a good time to be alive in the first place," she countered, "so I'll deal with my nationality."
Point conceded. Spike tilted his head in her direction and she walked across the room to the table. He took his time to drink in her body wrapped in the black robe that fell around her knees, revealing her thin calves. Her mess of hair looked even more ridiculous now, when all of the lights were on and her multicolored hair shimmered like oil mixed with water - rainbows liquefied. "According to this, Melbourne's reached Stage Two," Spike announced, tossing the front page at her. The paper had slimmed quite a bit, once the sports section had been deleted. Not a whole lot of rugby going on nowadays, Spike supposed. "Which means that we should get royally pissed in celebration of that." A snide smile curved his mouth upwards. "Not that you don't get royally pissed to celebrate the sun going down."
Absently, Buffy gave him the finger as she read the headline, scanning through the article. "I think that the media might be biased," she murmured, reading the diatribe about America fucking the whole world over.
"Well, I doubt that anyone's going to fine them for it, pet," Spike reminded. "In any case, you Yanks did start this whole mess, no matter what anyone tries to tell me about Taiwan being invaded by China. Using the nukes - *smart* move." His voice dripped with sarcasm, though it usually oozed such a high level of sardonic cynicism that he could fill an ocean by now.
Arching her eyebrow at him, Buffy put down the paper. "Well, since you're so willing to pass judgement on the good old US, what should we have done?"
Spike grinned. "Well, not what you did, luv. That's for bloody sure."
Distance clouded her eyes rather than the black eyeliner she'd taken so foolishly to, and Spike watched her with curiosity, seeing liability in motion. It was almost beautiful, the way that she took the weight on her too-slender shoulders and tried to balance it enough to walk. Almost ethereal, if one liked pain, and Spike had a thing for tortured women. Drusilla had been a muse of misery, and Buffy was a goddess of guilt.
It snapped suddenly, and she stood up, wrapping her arms around her and walking to the windows, expecting a better view than the black sheets that she was met with. Sighing, she peeked through them, and Spike ignored her, turning back to his soggy cereal and craving a better meal. The blood pumping through her veins would be a delicious feast, but he wasn't for killing her now. Not when there was a wave of pain coming right for them both. "You know, you Americans seem to have this whimsical attitude towards life and death," Spike said, continuing torturing her with words and guilt that she really didn't deserve. "Kind of funny, really. You people just think that if you hit a button, you can win a war. Too many spaghetti Westerns or some rot like that."
The beach was beautiful... Seas lapping at rocks and devouring stone, white foam topping it like floating doilies. Her skin ached for the sun, longed to stretch out on the sands and never return to the land. Maybe she could float on the waters, turn into driftwood, and float off to somewhere where she didn't have to feel so bad. Feel so empty and yet so full all at once. Emptied happiness, drunken guilt... She was a bottle that was always being consumed.
"And I really don't know why China invading Taiwan was such a big bloody deal in the first place," Spike said in the background, droning on in a fashion that was grating on her nerves. "The Cold War was a stupid sodding idea to begin with. Who really cares about communism?"
Irritated, Buffy sighed, fogging the glass window with her breath. "Spike, I actually paid attention in foreign relations. We care about communism because it's wrong."
"Well, it's none of your bloody business if a nation of idiots decide to make themselves pillocks," Spike said. "And you people *certainly* didn't have to start pressing random buttons and firing missiles everywhere. I was quite content without impending doom."
Anger flooded her veins as she snapped, storming across the room in a maelstrom of embroidered silk and coppery skin. Fury blazed in her eyes like a building tsunami, and Buffy slammed her fist on the table, threatening him with a cut of her eyes. "You know, I'm *really* tired of your bitching and moaning," Buffy said, her voice as harsh as the craggy cliffs outside of her home. "You accuse and accuse, and yet you never stop to think of what *I* did for a living. I saved the world. On a regular basis. I think that you could put it on my calendar. 'Go shopping, write chemistry paper, save world.' And did anyone ever thank me? Anyone ever go, 'Hey, Buff, thanks for adverting Apocalypse'? No. Instead, they go do exactly what I've tried to protect them from - they destroy the planet."
So there it was. There was her anger, laid neatly out on a table for all to devour and dissect. She had been betrayed, deceived, and for a moment, Spike understood her. She had spent all of her young life saving the world, being man's salvation, its Christ in pastels, and it had spit in her face and thrown a knife in her back. No gratitude from the world that she had endeavored to protect. No care or regard to the girl who had once killed her lover to save them all from Armageddon. It wasn't fair, not at all, not for her.
Awkwardly, he stood up, not certain of what he was going to do, and he surprised them both when he wrapped her in a soft embrace, his fingers smoothing through her mass of multicolored hair, trickling down over her shoulders in a tropical waterfall of color. Cool arms bound around her back, hands splayed out across her shoulder blades and lower back, and he moved one hand upward to bind through her hair. He said nothing, not having any words to try to comfort her. He just held her, pressing her face to his chest, his cheek resting on the top of her frenzied hair.
The embrace surprised her, stunned her even, if only because it was Spike, the vicious and the dangerous, and not someone who cared. Not someone who would hold her, or love her, or thread his hands through her hair like he was holding gold. "Not right," Spike murmured, his voice low and deeply appealing. "Not right what they did. What they did to you... Wasn't right." She supposed that this mumbled apology was the best she would ever get from a creature like Spike, in all of his complexity and cruelty, and she took it for what it was.
What she didn't expect was to want to cry because someone was finally holding her. Because someone finally understood.
Slowly, carefully, she wrapped her fingers around the back of his throat, claiming the nape of his neck as hers for the rest of her life. Pale skin where paler hair met, as though he'd tried to bleach himself albino. Red fingernails covered him, taking him into the mess of color that she'd created, sensing a hurt there that she'd never sensed before. Sensing vulnerability in someone who'd never been vulnerable in such a way. Yet Spike could be vulnerable in an incongruous way, a contradictory need that only surfaced in times of emergency or anguish. When his world spun off its axis, turning on the wrong poles, Buffy sensed a fear and a fright that she never noticed when he was his wisecracking, annoying self.
Softly, Buffy kissed the place where his neck met his shoulders, that sweet juncture where vampires usually preyed. Destruction wasn't her folly when she kissed him there, suddenly wanting nothing more than to wrap herself in this predatory creature who had made her feel like herself again. Made her feel gentle instead of harsh, like velvet instead of cut glass. "You don't have to go," she murmured. "I know that you thought that this was a one-night affair, a brief encounter, and that's not..." She cleared her throat. "Not what I want anymore."
He battled on whether or not to scorn her or embrace her. To humiliate her or to accept her. In the end, he took the better man's route, and it was an honorable decision rather than a lecherous one. "All right," Spike whispered. "I'll stay."
As they moved upstairs and back to her beckoning bed, she shed her robe, so that she ascended in the nude, and he admired the strength and fragility of her, like a contradiction cloaked in summer skin. Buffy was heartbreakingly beautiful, her hair trailing down her back in a mess of ruined sunlight, and there was no such thing as wholesome beauty anymore. It had all been destroyed effectively, so that everything was tainted by the fingerprints of the world. She was stained, and so was he, but in different ways. Ways that made them fit together at last. She was jagged, hard at the edges, slightly fractured and embittered by the world, and he was softened by it. Their different pains made them work together.
Softness replaced cruelty, barbs fading away to nothing more than whispers or moans, as he peeled off his clothing and carelessly tossed it on the floor. With a gentleness foreign to the both of them, he laid her on the bed, murmuring words into her neck rather than draining the lifeblood out of her. Leaving her alive had become less of a taunt to her eventual death through radiation poisoning and more of a need for her to be around. A need for his only link to the world he'd lost.
The lovemaking was slow and sweet, something harshly different from the rough sex against vinyl and the frenetic coupling against glass. Claws turned to whispers, and she moaned as he laid her gently on the bed, stretching her palms outward as he kissed them, the calluses healing after her long absence from holding splintered stakes. Slowly, he drew one finger in his mouth, nipping slightly at her fingertips, and she took in a slow breath, the pace of their previously hasty encounters slowing to a soft lull. Lullaby instead of heavy metal. She threaded her fingers through his hair, loving the bleached beauty of him, so harsh instead of sweet.
She kissed him with a slowness, tongues moving back and forth, sweeping across teeth and colliding in a mixture of frigidity and fire. Copper skin moved underneath porcelain, both of them worn to a brittle fragility in an ode to the cruelty of the world around them. She parted her legs in acquiescence to his need, thighs opening for him to enter. Spike moved in, gently, an inch at a time, and then his fingers moved between them, softly coaxing her towards climax, a spiraling sweetness unlike him. It was gentle. It was forgiving. Redemptive and almost healing. He forgave her for what she'd done, for what her entire nation had done. He forgave her for leaving, for running away from Sunnydale, and when she finally came, it was in a kaleidoscope of relieving ecstasy, a thousand different colors shimmering instead of the achromatic shades of black and white that she was accustomed to.
Groaning, he came inside of her, cool quietude invading her heated skin, and they laid there, curled up into each other, clinging to the last thread of Sunnydale and America. The land of the free and the home of the brave - this coupling was the last remnant of it.
Slowly, languidly, she fell into sleep.
(end part four)
Continued in Part Five