By Annie Sewell-Jennings
A week passed, revealing a night glazed over with the remnants of thicker cloud cover, draping the million stars with fine gauze of cirrus clouds, filtering the light into an opaque glow. The sliver of a moon provided little illumination, and cool light poured softly through the glass wall, casting a cobalt paint onto the two wine glasses filled halfway with dark red wine, sitting on the rosewood table and slowly warming to room temperature. Raspberry lipstick stained the slender rim of one glass, and the other glass was a little more full than the other, not thirsting this particular brand of crimson liquid, but it was a nice dessert wine to follow the meal he'd devoured earlier.
Two figures with skin stained boysenberry from the distilled light sat on the sofa. One figure, lean and strong, clothed in a black that had become uniform with him, was sprawled out in a careless scattering of limbs, legs spread and arms splashed across the sofa. The head tipped backward, shadows descending from his sharpened and cutting cheekbones, mouth pursed in thought, eyelashes closing over nighttime eyes.
The other figure was hunched and drawn, wearing a black tee-shirt that coated her body like his sheathed his, revealing a small sliver of gold skin between the edge of her shirt and the waistband of her slim black skirt. One slender arm crossed protectively across her abdomen, the other holding a cigarette thoughtfully, shapely legs pressed tightly together as she sat up straight and tense, smoke unfurling and staining her hair with its scent. A black clip held back half of the wild, peacock threads, and the rest floated down her slender back in a lick of color and silk.
Neither one spoke, neither one touched, and they simply looked out the glass at the gilded world, listening to the distant crashing of the waves on the sands, thinking of how quickly time moved.
The slender green neck of the wine bottle sat accusingly on the surface of the rosewood table, bereft of its contents, though she had consumed more than he had. She was constantly trying to fill herself, and he often wondered if her plan to make herself whole through drinking, smoking and fucking was any better than his own plan to lengthen his life through borrowed blood. Thus far, it hadn't done a very good job. He would kill and she knew, and it was just another indicator of how she had died in that she didn't try to stop him. There was no point now. No need to fight a battle when the end was drawing so near.
The first cases had been reported in Queensland, and it was only a matter of time before the first died in Melbourne. For her own sake, for the sake of cowardly mercy, she hoped to hold that honor. Celebration, she'd ironically suggested, and he took her up on the idea, devouring a girl with multicolored hair in the hopes that it would someday make it easier for him to lose her.
And losing Buffy was suddenly frightening.
It wasn't that Spike loved her. Not in the traditional sense. He would never buy her flowers or bring her trinkets, not as he had done with Drusilla, but he loved the fire that she invoked. Loved the inflaming arguments that sparked every day, loved the violence of her that had been unleashed with the end of the world, and almost loved how destructive she had become. Destruction was something that Spike understood and loved, and even if she only inflicted chaos in herself, Buffy was a master of ruin. Watching her tear herself to shreds was as alluring as it was heartbreaking, and she was a complicated mixture of self- possession and emptiness. Like a broken glass slowly spilling kerosene.
And screwing her had evolved. The sexuality between them was blistering, and it was the only heat that he felt nowadays. He had been living life in slow motion before he met her, with her bruising remarks that she threw like daggers and her searing kisses that left him feeling like lava, and he couldn't return to the achromatic unlife where he waited for his demise with a mixture of impatience and dread. Waiting was the worst. They were more damned than their counterparts scattered across the world, because they knew and were forced to wait.
Of course, she had known before the rest of them, and she still refused to tell him about that.
Ash trickled down in a slow shower of whitened flame, clinging to the slender tee shirt that clung to her skin, and she didn't move to brush it away. She had been in Queensland a month ago, dancing in a rave packed with youthful bodies strung out on an innumerable variety of drugs, laughing and dancing with her hair up in greens and golds. She had met a boy there and slept with him in a hotel room, tasting his sweat and the remnants of marijuana on her tongue, and now he was probably dying. Another narrow escape, another life to regret. She had no more narrow escapes now. Melbourne was the last.
The filter of her cigarette burned her fingertips when she inhaled, and the taste was distorted and sour, but she inhaled it anyway, smoking the filter until she winced and stubbed out her cigarette in the ruby glass ashtray. Her black-painted fingernails tapped the rim of her wineglass, polished and lacquered where his were chipped and bitten to the quick. She picked up her glass and took a cautious sip, letting the flavors roll in her mouth and erase the flavor a cigarette that had been smoked for too long and a life that hadn't been lived long enough. "To Queensland," Buffy said darkly, and tipped back the glass, her hair showering her shoulders in a cascade of china and carmine. "May they rest in peace."
Spike scoffed at her from beside her, and she didn't want to look at him and see the callous disregard etched in his face. "Ha," he said. "Rest in peace - that's the last thing I plan on doing when my time comes."
Arching her honeyed eyebrow that was fresh with a new piercing, Buffy turned her head to Spike and looked at him. "Well, considering the fact that you're pretty much already dead, I can say that you certainly haven't been the calmest of guys," she offered, and Spike grinned maliciously at her, the familiar smirk unfurling on his mouth.
"Well, practice makes perfect," he said. She shook her head and took another sip of her wine, slowly relaxing on the couch, sliding off her chunky black heels and resting her bare feet dangerously close to his lap. "But I plan on going to Hell, looking up the guy who tortured Angel for that century he spent there, and giving him a little present. Maybe a gift certificate or something."
Rolling her eyes, Buffy swallowed a smirk. "Never took you for a suck-up, Spike," she said, and he glared at her when she grinned wickedly at him in reply. The glass bracelets she wore on her wrists chimed like bells when she tipped the glass back for another drink, and she felt husky wine cling to her mouth as she reclined against the arm of the couch. "Well, while you're kissing Satan's fiery ass, put in a good word for me."
Spike snorted, lifting up his head and giving her a long look. "Oh, *right*," he drawled with trademark sarcasm. "You're *really* going to the big underground barbecue, Slayer. Saving the world and all that - the angels will probably give you a bloody medal."
Quietly, she gazed into the liquid pooling inside of her glass, feeling oddly compelled to stir the wine with her fingertip, if only to disturb the surface. "I don't think God exists," she said softly, and Spike rolled his eyes at her, stealing her glass and taking an alarmingly large gulp of her wine before finishing off his own glass.
"What a shock," he said sarcastically, his scarred eyebrow arched. "You're only figuring this out now?" The vampire shook his head and swirled the wine around in his glass, creating a miniature vortex constructed of maroon liquid. "I stopped believing in God a *long* time ago. Thought it might get me out of that whole crucifix-repellent thing, but apparently even a good dose of atheism won't stop it. Big disappointment, let me tell you."
Buffy ignored him, flicking ash from her cigarette into the ashtray, and he picked up his own pack of smokes, starting a Marlboro with his Zippo. There was something comforting in smoking, even though he didn't need the nicotine that the cigarettes packed. It was just the passage of time, measuring it in hours and cigarettes. Watching her had become another way to pass the time, hypnotized by her departures from reality, and how elegantly she would jettison herself from the world and flee into the depths of her mind. Distance grew in her eyes, and she would forget where she was, her cigarette snaking into ash, and her hair a troubled volume of rainbows. She sat there in the china lighting, her eyes wide and empty all at once, like a well that had dried up and become useless.
Irritated, Spike shook his head at her. "Go to bed," he said, and she shook her head, her voice soft.
"Not interested," she said. The nightmares would follow her there, hunt her down and stake her as their prey, before they plagued her with memories of how she had effectively abandoned her friends and loved ones in a world where their lives were over before they knew it. She hadn't slept in two days, not since she'd dreamed of Riley standing in a cornfield that was golden and rich with fertility, sweat glistening off of his sculpted body, watching the missiles fly over his family's farmhouse. He whispered her name softly, and then the bomb hit, and he was gone. "Sleep's not all it's cracked up to be."
"Well, you look like hell," Spike said, and she clenched her jaw in frustration, hating his honesty and wishing for lies instead.
"Sweet talker," she said coldly, and ground her cigarette out in the ashtray. He absently flicked ash onto the suede sofa, and she glared at him. "See that ashtray? It's there for a reason."
Furiously, Spike kicked the ashtray with the heavy sole of his boot, sending it to the floor with a crash. The ruby glass shattered into pieces, the fragments glittering brightly and catching the violet light, sparkling as though they had been coated in diamonds. She sprang up from the sofa, crouching by the glass, her hands reaching out protectively, hovering helplessly over the broken ashtray. He rose from the couch in a flurry of black leather, grabbing her shoulder roughly and pulling her to her feet. "It's just *stuff*," he said maliciously, spitting the words in her face. "It's not going to matter. Anyone who'd ever appreciate it is going to be *dead* in a few weeks."
Jutting her jaw at him contemptuously, Buffy slapped him, her hand stinging across his face. "It's *mine*!" she said. "Don't fuck around with *my* things. This is my house, and my ashtray, and my goddamn life!"
He sneered at her. "Not *really* your things, are they?" he asked, and she flinched, turning away from him, her hair flying behind her. Satisfied that he'd gotten to her, Spike followed her, grabbing her waist and holding her back to him, leaning down and whispering into her ear. "Who did they belong to, Buffy? The last bloke who owned this place? Or do they *really* belong to your Watcher?" She stiffened at the mention of him. "After all, it *is* his money."
"Shut the *fuck* up," she whispered, but her voice was too fragile to contain the venom she'd tried so desperately to inject. "You don't know anything about that. I had no choice; I couldn't stay there-"
"Too much of a coward to die with your own friends?" he asked, breathing in the smell of peaches and old cigarettes that clung to her hair. "Couldn't bear to stick it out with them for the last days? Not very courageous, *Slayer*. Oh, but I forgot - you retired."
"Shut up!" she screamed, whirling around and pressing him to the wall, her fingernails clawing at his shoulders as she pressed them there. Tears were welling up in her voluminous green eyes, and yet she wasn't crying. She wouldn't cry, not in front o f him. Not because of him. "You bastard, you have *no* idea-" Her voice caught on her last word, and she couldn't help but cry because of him. Tears streamed down her face, and her voice hitched as she wept, crying because of how he had incited her into thinking of her ultimate betrayal. She fell against his body, fingernails digging painfully into his skin, and he ignored the pain, uncomfortably responding when she wrapped her arms around him, clinging to him as her uncertain anchor as she felt the weary pain of mourning pass through her body.
Riley's golden smile... Willow's small hands... Xander's impish eyes... Giles's warm arms... Angel's hushed murmurs... The memories of the dead bombarded her and waged war on her, and she accepted the responsibility for them all, taking the guilt and allowing them to lay the blame at her feet. She wept uncontrollably, resting her cheek against Spike's chest and allowing the cotton of his tee shirt to absorb her tears. "Spike," she whispered, and he suddenly felt guilty for this, uncomfortable and awkward guilt, hating that he'd reduced her to this.
"Sorry, baby," he muttered, and she sobbed until her tears ran dry.
The sound of liquid pouring into glass was soft and comforting, and he listened to the quiet noise as he poured her another glass of wine, the dark liquid lukewarm and no longer chilled or comfortable. She watched as she sat on the sofa, a cigarette between her fingertips, bracelets catching the violet light and releasing it in small prisms through the cut glass beads. A stray braid of blue, magenta, red and gold fell in her eyes, just that singular bit of braided hair, and he brushed out of her eyes as he passed her the wineglass. "I'll steal you another ashtray," he offered, and Buffy chuckled lowly, figuring that it was the best that the vampire would ever do.
"Doesn't matter," she said. "You're right. It wasn't my ashtray to begin with, and Giles would be upset if he found out I was spending his money on cigarettes and ashtrays. Not good for the Slaying, you know."
Spike scoffed at that. "Are you kidding? Rupert would be pissed that you were smoking because the chap had a thing for you." At her startled glance, Spike shook his head. "Not like *that*, you ninny. He loved you, but he wasn't in line to get in your knickers like the rest of them were." He snickered. "I think Red might have wanted a go at you."
With a spark of her old mischief, Buffy flicked ash into his wineglass, thus ruining the wine he'd poured for himself. Irritated, Spike stole a sip of hers, and she smirked triumphantly at beating him in one minor battle of wits. The brief moment faded, and she flickered back to the old days, when she'd had the world wrapped around her finger. "He trusted me, you know," Buffy murmured, gazing out past the thin layer of glass towards the ocean. "He trusted me and I betrayed him to save my own ass, and I couldn't even get that right."
Spike tilted his head towards her, looking at the girl bound in bracelets that served as plastic chains, her hair falling down in a shimmering array of colors that increased with the passing weeks. It was as though her frenetic chaos threatened to swallow the purity of her gold hair, and he wondered if she would have a trace of herself left by the time that she died. "I want to know what happened," Spike said, and she narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously, vivid green covered by thick mascara and outlined by too-thick eyeliner. He knew that she didn't trust him, and so he shrugged his shoulders. "Luv, who am I going to tell? It's not like I have a wealth of friends left or a lot to gain from it. You may as well tell somebody, and we've got another bottle of wine to finish off."
She weighed the option. Her burden had been hers for so long that she didn't know what would happen if she exposed it. Didn't know what her life would be like if she exposed the depth of her betrayal to Spike. She sighed and took another hit off of her cigarette, grinding the remainder out in the ashtray. She picked up her pack of Marlboros and opened the box, looking down at the thirteen remaining cigarettes. "Okay," she murmured. "Fine." A little desperately, she laughed. "What do I have to lose now?"
And when he couldn't provide her with an answer, she began to speak.
(end part eight)
Continued in Part Nine