By Annie Sewell-Jennings
The mirror dissected her, quartered and drew her, leaving her a girl staring at herself with an image of ruined purity and destroyed joy. There she was, placed on the mirror, her hair flooding down her back in a mass of magenta, red, and newly dyed blue. It was all there, a multitude of color and frivolity, of something that he considered terribly stupid and she considered her. She couldn't return to the past. She never would be able to do that. She would have to find joy in who she was now, in the warehouse girl that she had become. The girl who danced under flashing lights and had a particular fondness for chain-smoking and screwing vampires - that was what Buffy Summers was now. The old girl who'd quipped her way out of situations was dead, leaving a stoic and sour girl in her place.
"Better," she proclaimed, and Spike stalked behind her, frowning at her hair.
"You look bloody stupid," he said, and she rolled her eyes at him in the mirror.
"Kiss my ass."
Slowly, Spike dragged his eyes away from the slender girl with the spill of frenzied hair and looked in the mirror, seeing only her reflection and not his own. It hurt to know that in many ways, he did not exist. He had died years ago, but he was still here, still in existence, and yet the mirror refused to give him any evidence that he was still alive. Death frightened him more than he confessed to the revivified Slayer. The notion that he was dead before he had even succumbed to the starvation that faced him was disturbing in a profound manner.
He'd wreaked havoc on the world for over a century, damning whoever crossed his path to a lifetime of absolute misery and chaos. Spike's reign of terror had been notorious, something to be written and recorded in the Watcher's Diaries, and now he would fade away into nothingness with nothing to remember him by. A whisper of a man, something unnoticed and unmemorable. Just another statistic to record, but no one would be around to count the masses of people who would die when the winds brought the radiation to Sunnydale.
She had become slightly nocturnal during her week with him, but she still woke an hour or so before he stirred. Whenever he did finally climb out of her bed and descend down the stairs, the daylight was oftentimes still strong and deadly. He oftentimes stood in front of the darkened sheets and windows and dared himself to part the sheets that she had so carefully hung, exposing himself to the blistering rays of the light. She would remember his death then, carry the memory of William the Bloody with her into her grave, but he found himself unable to end his own unlife. It was pathetic - a vampire who couldn't even kill himself.
A vampire terrified of the coming storm...
Shuddering, Spike scowled at the deceitful mirror, and she caught onto his sudden flinch. Frowning, she turned around and looked at him with the serious intensity that she possessed, furrowing her brow and looking at the arrogant man who'd somehow made it into her bed. "What?" she asked, and he shook his head, still looking past her at the mirror that refused to show him for who he was.
"Nothing," he said darkly. "Fuck, I need a cigarette."
The Marlboro Reds lay on the nightstand beside her bed, next to a glass ashtray blown in an unusual shape, something resembling a fish or another aquatic animal. She had acquired a collection of eclectic and unusual ashtrays, something to do in her idle time between the morning and the frenzied night, though Spike didn't understand the point in collecting when the collection would soon be nothing but a lingering menagerie of junk. Spoils of mankind's culture and creativity would be left as remnants of a society gone bad.
Sighing, Spike looked in the pack of Marlboros and saw that only five remained. Enough to get him through the remainder of the night, but he'd want them when the next twilight fell. "Bloody hell," he muttered under his breath. "I'm almost out of sodding smokes."
She frowned and checked her own pack of cigarettes. "So am I," she said. "Fuck. I'll run into Melbourne tomorrow and scrounge up a couple of cartons."
Arching his eyebrow at her, Spike gave her a look. "You actually want to go into that mess?" he asked. "You've seen the news reports, pet. Melbourne's shot to hell."
Dryly, Buffy smiled. "Is there anywhere left in the world that's not?"
He didn't have a good answer to that.
When she'd first bought her plane ticket with Giles's stolen money, the travel agent had given her a pamphlet describing to her the beauties of the Australian city. There were luscious landscape shots of the beaches with their crags and rocks, the cliffs that delved into the edge of the sea and the swaying palmetto trees that reminded her of the beaches near Los Angeles. Aerial photography captured the essence of the city at night, lit up with a thousand different lights that twinkled with the bravado of a Christmas tree. Everything was clean and modern, with lush beaches and magical possibilities. It was a salvation.
Now, she saw only destruction.
The streets of Melbourne were bereft of cars, as hardly anyone had any petrol left with which to fuel their automobiles. Cars were being pulled by horses, brooding mares sullenly toting their masters and mistresses wherever they chose without any hope of ever being released. Faces that were haggard and almost skeletal from starvation and despair refused to meet her eyes, thinking that she was nothing special, just another girl without any hope for the future. And in a respect, they were right. Because Buffy had no chance or opportunity now.
The taunting words of Angelus floated back to her across a sea of memory. "No friends, no family, no hope... Take all that away, and what's left?"
She knew the answer now as she knew it then: She was all that was left.
And it wouldn't save her this time.
The smell of burning glass and metal wafted down to her, and the Slayer craned her neck upwards, looking at a skyscraper as it blazed without any control. Smoke curled up to the sky in wafting grains of gray, dissipating into the lackluster blue of the sky, hazy with clouds that blocked out the sunlight. Broken glass alerted her attention next, and Buffy jerked her head around, watching a crazed young man with a baseball bat break a window and steal a bottle of Jack Daniels from the window display. Alarmed, the former Slayer approached the boy.
"There's no need to do that," she said. Upon hearing her American accent, the boy's face distorted into a snarl, and he spat furiously on her shoes.
"It's all your fault," he said contemptuously, and took the bottle, running away from the situation, leaving Buffy stunned and heartbroken. It wasn't safe for her to be here. It wasn't safe for her, with her California eyes and voice that could only be a product of the United States. Bowing her head, she looked down at the spittle running across the heavy Doc Marten she'd worn, and closed her eyes briefly, allowing the boy's saliva to stain her shoe. She deserved it. She would shoulder the blame for this, be a walking target, because no one was more innocent than these anguished citizens doomed to death because of another country's stupidity.
Miserably, she continued walking, trudging down the streets among with the rest of the bedraggled city. Some were bleeding from attacks, others were weeping, and some, like her, were numbed to the entire situation. Melbourne was in a state of absolute chaos, of wreckage and apathy, like a fallen angel who'd been left to bleed to death. Carelessly, she stepped over broken glass, hearing it crunch and fragment further underneath her boot, and she felt numbed and hollowed by the city's massive descent into Hell itself.
It was a reminder of all that had happened. The world had changed around her, suddenly and painfully, reduced to nothing more than tumbled towers of glass and fear, and the eyes of the Australians around her were numbed and terrified. They'd lost their world as certainly as she'd lost hers, no matter that hers had been killed by a wave of radiation and theirs was destroyed by the rest of the world's thoughtless atrocities. Silence was a common factor in the city, as words were useless now.
City Hall stood like a crumbled mammoth, like a temple ruined and ravaged by the Nazis' Kristelnacht, littered with citizens who had nowhere else to turn. A small string quartet played a low and mournful song on the building's steps, musicians with a song left in them who could express their emotions and terror through the stroking of strings, and Buffy stopped for a moment, watching them play. The violinist stroked his instrument with an expression of absolute resignation, eyes quietly grieving, and the cellist sat on a small stool, her hair brushing her shoulders in a paintbrush of burnished copper as she added low harmony to the violin's weeping.
Above it all, this scene of helpless despair, a large blue banner hung, proclaiming a statement that was awful to read:
"THERE IS STILL TIME."
The Australians of Melbourne knew otherwise. They knew that the hourglass was slowly emptying, sands falling through the narrow funnel in a constant gush of precious seconds and minutes, and that time was slowly running out for them. Time was of the essence now, not because there was any time to save them, but only time left in which to live. And her time was running out as well.
Shuddering, Buffy walked away, her shoulders heavy with the burden of being a citizen of the country that had fated them all to an early death.
The convenience store's windows had been effectively shattered, and the clerk tending the counter was holding a rifle to prevent from any looting. He lowered it when he recognized Buffy, and he sighed, scratching the side of his head with relief. "I'm telling you, Yank, there's nothing worse than today," he said, and Buffy smiled wryly at him.
"Feels that way, doesn't it?" she said softly, and the clerk smiled at her in return, with the camaraderie of being sentenced to death. "Can I get two cartons each of Marlboro Reds and Marlboro Menthols?" The clerk nodded and turned behind him, unlocking the glass doors that contained his stockpiled cigarettes.
"You know, I didn't start smoking until the bombs started falling," the clerk said conversationally, putting the cartons into a brown paper sack for her. "I figured that if I started now and smoked until the radiation hit in Melbourne, maybe I'd die of lung cancer instead of poisoning." Buffy grinned at him in response.
"I started smoking because I knew that it wouldn't ever happen," she said, and the clerk grinned at her.
"You're a smart little bugger, you know," he said, and then a wolfish grin spread across his face. "Even if you are one of those bastard Americans."
Snickering, Buffy took her cigarettes, resigning herself to the fate that she would always be a target, no matter if she herself was falling to pieces from being the target of too many arrows and knives. They deserved the opportunity to spit on their murderers, and she had been designated the martyr. If she couldn't be a savior, then she'd be on the cross - if Buffy were religious, she'd be drawing parables left and right, though she knew that she was just a flawed parody of Christ.
After all, Christ saved the world. Buffy had failed. Quite miserably, in fact.
She remained in the city until the sun set, watching it descend between two obelisks of glass and metal, the swollen globe of lush vermilion falling slowly and sensually in between the cradle of skyscrapers and technology, into the distant seas. She wandered the streets in twilight, opening up her carton of Marlboros and procuring one pack of cigarettes, absently packing the box as she walked down to where the warehouses were.
An addict always returned to the scene of the crime, and Buffy had quite cheerfully been addicted to the warehouses and their endless fun and games. The parties, the drinking, the easy lifestyle of coming and going whenever she pleased and not thinking about the future or the past, of screwing whoever was there and of returning in pieces of herself...
Shuddering, Buffy turned away, the wind tugging at her rainbow- colored hair and throwing it around her face in thin tendrils of wispy magenta and blue. The strap of her shoulder bag ached against her skin, and she shifted it anxiously, resisting the urge to walk inside and rejoin the festival that she could hear beginning. Electronic bass and throaty vocals poured from the club, too loud to possibly be contained in the concrete warehouse, and she sat on the steps outside, frantically reaching for her cigarettes, substituting tobacco and nicotine for the pulsation of the club.
Accusingly, Spike's cartons of cigarettes dug into her hipbone, and she was reminded of the viciously vibrant blond vampire she'd abandoned in the glass house on the beach. He would have wakened by now and found her missing, his white-blond hair endearingly rumpled by his day sleep, the red linen clinging to the svelte and sinuous lines of his slender body, clinging to him with the addiction that only he could inspire. She was an addict in so many ways now, addicted to nightclubs, cigarettes, and a peroxide vampire. She was succumbing to two and battling the first, wanting what she knew would destroy her.
She'd been close with the boy that he had almost killed. She'd been on the brink of damnation, on the edge of hurting herself and killing what she was, and she needed that sort of conflagration. It was nothing in comparison to the immolation of the world. Just a spark dying. She would have crushed herself in the boy's drug-addled fucking, and returned to her life before Spike, the life of taking shots of tequila and firing bullets into her soul.
Painfully, Buffy flicked ash from her cigarette, her other hand stroking her hair angrily. She needed to get home, get back to the train station before the last train left, and he would be waiting for her at the train station with a snide remark waiting on his arrogantly beautiful mouth. She stood up, preparing herself to return home and sighing, when a hand struck out and clamped fingers against her mouth. Shocked, Buffy struggled, eyes widening and cigarette falling to the ground, and a steel-toed boot reached out, gritting it to the concrete.
An Australian voice whispered in her ear snidely and spitefully, like acidic smoke. "Give me the bag and I'll let you live," the voice said, and she trembled in the boy's arms, a shivering hand reaching upward to remove the bag...
And then she bit him.
Crying out, the boy released her, pushing her forward, and Buffy whipped her head around, clutching her bag protectively while smiling dangerously at the boy who'd captured and tried to rob her. Her sea-colored eyes flashed at him like electrified liquid, and her scarlet-tipped fingernails gripped the shoulder bag, preparing to defend the cigarettes like a pirate guarding its loot. "You *really* picked the wrong girl to rob," Buffy said, and the boy narrowed his eyes, still clutching his bleeding hand.
"You're a bloody American," he said hatefully, and Buffy smiled at him with an innocence so false that it was malevolent.
"No, I'm Canadian," she said. "And I'm *really* pissed that there's not going to be any hockey this season."
When he snarled and charged at her, brandishing a switchblade, Buffy took the bag from her shoulders and slammed it into his head, kicking him in the stomach with a beautiful synchronicity. It felt *beautiful* to return to the battle, to fight again. She was an artist when she fought, and she felt relieved and reborn to battle this boy who'd wanted to steal her bounty. He stumbled backwards, and Buffy whipped the bag over her head like a sword and lashed out at him again, her hair flying around her face in a flashing halo of crackling color. Smiling, she ducked her head when he attempted to punch her, and she swiftly lashed out a leg, catching his knees and effectively bringing him to the ground with a thud.
Triumphantly, Buffy tossed her hair out of her face with a haughty nod of her head, and put her hands on her hips, settling her shoulder bag back across her shoulders as she stood over the groaning boy's body. "Never come between a smoker and her cigarettes," she scolded. "It just gets ugly."
Shockingly, suddenly, the boy growled at her, and Buffy's eyes widened with surprise as the boy's face shifted and changed, revealing amber eyes and long, glittering fangs. "Wrong," the vampire leered, rising from his position on the ground. "*This* is when it gets ugly."
Its golden eyes gleamed in the darkness, penetrating the shadows with its liquefied glare, and Buffy felt her past creeping up on her like a cloak, deliciously familiar. "You know, I'm *really* happy to see you," she said, smiling at him cheerfully. "I think it's been at least a year since I last killed a vampire. I know, I know, you're wondering if I'm a little rusty at the whole slaying thing, but I think I can still manage killing you without breaking a sweat *or* a nail, for that matter."
The vampire smiled at her, bangs of dark brown falling in his blazing yellow eyes that glowed like glycerin. "You're the Slayer," he said, and Buffy rolled her eyes.
"Well, state the obvious, why don't you," she said, and the vampire rose from the ground, pulling out the switchblade and jabbing at her with the weapon. Effortlessly, she skirted to the side, avoiding the sharp weapon, and her eyes darted around the alleyway, looking for any object that could be transferred to a weapon. A discarded mop caught her eye, and she smiled, removing her bag from her shoulder once more. She slammed the vampire in the face with it, disorienting him briefly, and she raced across to the mop, breaking it in half over her knee.
He saw it and snarled at her, and she shrugged. "Nothing personal, but it's pretty much my job," she said.
"You were supposed to be dead!" the vampire said, and Buffy smiled, tilting her head to the side, her fingers clutching the stake with blessed familiarity.
"I've got a couple months," she said. "May as well make the best of it."
And with that, she charged forward, kicked the vampire in the face, and slammed the stake easily into the vampire's chest, watching with a marvelous relief as the vampire shattered into nothing but dust, falling to the ground in a shower of ashen remains.
Slowly, a smile spread across her face, lovely and wonderful, and Buffy closed her eyes briefly, the stake's splinters cutting into the healed calluses of her hands with a delicious bite. This was her element. This was her expression. No form of poetry or painting could ever fit her as well as this moment, the joy and adrenaline of battle, the feeling of being masterful and talented, and the knowledge that this was truly what defined her. She was the Slayer, whole and qualified, the champion of the earth.
But there was no earth anymore. There was only this last continent, these huddled masses of ruined people, waiting for their death, and she couldn't protect them from that. Only one Australian vampire who had already been vanquished by her resourcefulness.
The sounds of a scuffle came from nearby, and she felt a tingling sensation low in her belly. The sudden twisting of muscles, the heightened senses, the feeling of sensing the preternatural... Arching her eyebrow and lifting her stake, Buffy slung her bag over her shoulder and crept down the alley, towards the signs of struggle, embracing her old duties...
Only to find Spike, her lover and enemy, holding the limp body of a warehouse girl in his arms.
(end part six)
Continued in Part Seven