By Annie Sewell-Jennings
The city was falling with such an incredible grace that it barely seemed like falling at all. A divine splintering, a magnificent crumbling, like watching stained glass windows in a cathedral break into a thousand multicolored pieces. The towers of metal and glass that had once scraped the skies above Melbourne were now topped with fire, burning slowly in effigy. Smoke unfurled with gracefully intangible whirls of gray, blanketing the bedraggled citizens with a premature death shroud of soot and ash.
Crumbling stars of ash hit the windshield of the Cadillac as Buffy drove over the bridge, a pair of sunglasses perched on her nose and music blasting from her stereo. She refused to acknowledge the sights that she saw, the huddled masses of people crowding hopelessly on the steps of the City Hall while the navy blue banner rippled in the wind. "THERE IS STILL TIME" it proclaimed, and Buffy had to believe that there was. She had just reclaimed her life. Just discovered hope. She couldn't lose it now.
Not while she still had peaches in her front seat.
The small globes in varying shades of tangerine and darker dusk rolled in the passenger seat as she turned, and the plastic bag that they were encased in rustled as Buffy rolled down her window and lit a cigarette. She had managed to buy the last two dozen peaches in Melbourne from her cigarette dealer, all for her vampiric lover. The only one who could make her forget that the winds were coming. The one who could keep her from drowning.
So she bought him peaches and cigarettes and gave him herself for dessert.
Flickers of fiery red tickled the bridge of her nose, and Buffy wiped them away with her hand, driving down the winding road that stretched and curled through rippling green grasses and over steep, rocky cliffs. She was driving furiously away from the city, refusing to acknowledge anything that she saw, denying all that displeased her. It was the best way to live her life right now - ignore the future. Dispose of the idea that she *had* no future.
With a twist of her slender, rosary-decorated wrist, Buffy cranked up the dial on the radio, playing Placebo loudly on her CD player. Music blared from the speakers in the old Cadillac, and the wind rushed through her hair, playing with the fine ends of her dyed magenta streaks. Houses were perched on the edge of the colorful Australian coast, glass windows lined up to view and display the natural jewels of the ocean and sand. Her own house was nearby, with her own lightning-colored lover still sleeping in their rumpled bed. A glint of mischief lighted her eyes as she thought of how she'd wake him up, squeezing a peach's juices into his mouth. They'd make love and stave off the inevitable, and smoke cigarettes afterward in bed.
She exhaled smoke and inhaled another helping of tobacco and nicotine, craving the addictions that had sustained her: cigarettes and Spike. She was a junkie for death, whether she could smoke it or fuck it. Ironic, now that she thought about it. She was obsessed with death and terrified of it.
They both were, because she thought that she might be dead underneath her false joy.
Beads on her rosaries jangled as she turned her turn signal on and turned into her driveway, the peaches rolling in the bucket seat like a solar system of tangerine fuzz. The sun was setting, and she took her sunglasses off, revealing bejeweled and darkened eyes, covered in her layers of mascara and eyeliner, her mouth a boysenberry pair of silk. She was velvet sheathed in blackberry juice, decked out with rosaries wrapped around her wrists and wearing a silk violet dress that slid around her body like a snake's skin. It fell around her knees, and her feet were bound in sparkling violet sandals that had lilies embroidered across the slim straps. Armed with a bag of peaches, a cigarette, and a coy smile, Buffy walked up the steps to her house and into it, ready to share her fruit with her lover.
Her smile fell when she saw him.
Face pressed to the glass, surrounded by a scene of twilight falling on ocean waves, like a jewel had been cracked and left to dye the skies, he was bent over the window, surrounded by the beach. If the glass hadn't been there to shield him, he would have tumbled to the cliffs below. Sheathed in black as always, the leather duster covering his lean, spare body, he looked like a hybrid between a widower and a punk. His shocking blond hair was sleek and slicked back, pushed away from his face, and Spike looked dangerously sensual. He wasn't the only one with a love for all things sad and lonely - he was often never more beautiful than when he was in mourning.
His white palms were spread across the glass, black fingernails flashing like obsidian against the clear window. Silently, Buffy watched his hands, feeling horror crawl beneath her skin like a languid predator when she noticed that he was shaking. He was shaking. Trembling. He showed no reflection, this vampiric creature with a face so sultry that it should be committed to canvases and preserved throughout all time. Immortality should have done that, but...
And then she knew.
Her voice fluttered to him like the noise of a frightened bird's wings, fragile and desperate. "When did it happen?" she asked, tears strangling her words. He saw her in the glass, saw the silhouette of dark shadows poured into the slender shape of a young woman.
"Yesterday," he said, his voice dark and empty. "Diagnosed at the medical university. Sick since three days past. Dead now. They euthanized her."
The first. The first case. The first case in Melbourne had been reported. As if to punctuate this statement, the wind fluttered in, blowing her hair around her face in a tumble of colors, and plastic rippled, until a noise hit the floor. Spike turned around to see peaches rolling around on the floor in a scattering of deep orange and vermilion, the fruit scattering around her feet. The wind of the dusk sent her dress fluttering around her slender knees, and her hair was a mess of magenta and blond.
Blackberry lips trembled as she whispered, clinging to the doorframe for support. Shattered green eyes looked at him pleadingly, begging him to lie to her for once in their brutal relationship. "No," she whispered, her fingers clutching the doorframe. "No, no, no... It's not true... Not so soon..."
Bitterly, he cocked his head at her. "It's been three months," Spike reminded, and she shook her head emphatically, refusing to acknowledge that.
"But there's not enough time left," she whispered, choking on her own terror. She felt like she was trapped in a nightmare where she was trying to scream and only breathless pleas would come out of her mouth. She couldn't scream for help. "There's not enough time left before..." She choked on her own words, and felt like she was going to stumble. "No, no..." Delirium rattled and shook her, and Buffy wobbled on her feet, unsteadily and uncertainly. She felt like choking.
Roughly, Spike walked to her and grabbed her shoulders, spinning her around to face him. "What's wrong, Buffy?" he sneered, never delicate, never sweet, even when delivering her death sentence. Brutal as always. Harsh and cutting. "Didn't have enough time to cope with that fact? You had a head start on it all if you don't remember." His voice was cold and biting, like a blast of cold air, and she refused to let herself shiver in the arctic bitterness of Spike's voice.
Instead, she fought his cold accusations with heat, fire drawn up from the rage and despair that she had bottled underneath globs of mascara and eyeliner and multicolored shades of magenta, carmine, and cerulean. Furiously, she pushed him backwards, raging emotions coursing through her veins. "Fuck you!" Buffy shouted, her mouth twisted in her anger. "You had over a hundred years to live your goddamn life, and I had eighteen! Eighteen years and..." Her terror overtook her, strangling her, until she was barely able to speak. "It's not enough..." she choked. "Not enough..."
He looked at her and saw a girl stumbling on platform heels, irises that no longer bloomed crisscrossing across her feet and dark violet turning her into the color of a plum, a fruit that no one would ever enjoy again. She was a relic of a world that was dying around her, mascara streaking down her face as everything that she had become melted into rivulets of black ink. And he was a man who had seen centuries pass with the assumption that he ruled the world, only to fade away into the scenery along with her.
"You think a hundred years is enough?" Spike said, approaching her and crushing a perfect peach underneath his boot. She winced at the fruit's disintegration; she couldn't swallow her flinch in empathy for the fruit's death. "It's *not* enough. Not when you've spent those years assuming that immortality was yours. Not when you never had the opportunity to prepare for something like this. Not when you never thought about it." Enraged at the thought that his eternity had suddenly been stolen from him, that there were weeks left to his existence instead of centuries, he crushed the peaches underneath his feet, stomping on the delicate fruits until their lovely-colored insides were scattered and smashed into the carpeting. "So don't you assume things about me! Not when there's days left and I can't..." He choked. "And I can't bear to even *think* about dying!"
With one snarl, one inhuman and demonic roar of indignation and rage, his face changed into the mask of the demon that was him, that possessed and fueled him, eyes glowing with amber desperation and anger, and he kicked the wall, crushing the forest paint. And then he braced himself against the wall, refusing to cry, refusing to be weak and stupid and human like she was. Refusing to weep over something so stupid and useless as his own death.
Gentle hands washed over his shoulders, and Spike sighed, his face shifting from demon to human again, eyes fading from incandescent gold to a tumultuous sapphire, as tumbled and disturbed as the oceans outside. Slowly, she wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing the warmth of her body to his cool solidity and leather, and inhaled the smell of cigarettes and centuries that permeated his skin.
Neither one said anything. Apologies never accompanied them. He would never apologize for who he was, and she never said that she was sorry for the hurt. They simply remained in their tumultuous, hollow, despairing embrace, her eyes wide open and blank, staring at the peaches scattered haphazardly on the floor. Peach juice soaked into the carpeting, the remnants of her gifts to him absorbed by shag. She didn't pick them up. She just watched them, destroyed presents, some still whole and ripe, others ruined and broken.
"There's never enough time," she murmured then, and it provided neither one of them with little solace. Comfort was unnecessary. She didn't speak, just moved away from him slightly, kneeling down to the crushed peaches as though they were pieces of broken stained glass from a cathedral. Her fingers dipped into the cool juices, coming away sticky and sweet-smelling. The aroma of a world gone by clung to her fingerprints, embedding itself into the whorls and loops that defined her, and she felt like weeping for everything that had been destroyed.
Buffy was hunched over the crushed peaches like a battered wife picking up the pieces of her favorite vase, her hands slender and shaking as she gathered up the remaining fruits and placing them in a small pile, their bright and gay color ripe and lush in the twilight. Purple satin shimmered in the indigo lighting, and her hair spilled down her back in straight lines of rainbow colors that seemed brighter than she was. He felt sorry about the fruit. "Sorry," he apologized, and she murmured something that was inaudible until she repeated it.
"Fourteen left," she said in a hushed tone. "Seven for each of us. I had two dozen. But there are still fourteen left." She turned around, a peach in each hand, and passed him one with great solemnity. "One for each night, Spike. Seven days, seven peaches. We'll give ourselves a week and then..."
She said nothing, let the sentence dwindle into oblivion, and he understood her anyway. Seven peaches each until the day that they ran out, and then they would let themselves die by their own hands if death hadn't taken them by then. It gave them a limit, gave them certainty, and he nodded, taking the peach from her hand and cupping the small fruit with his fingertips. Spike looked at it contemplatively, and then reached out his arm, threading it through hers as newlyweds did when eating wedding cake. But there was no joy or mirth in this impromptu, bastardized ceremony as they sank their teeth into the relics of the Old World, and taking a large bite out of what could have been.
Skins moved with the slow joyless sorrow of what had once been fucking and had evolved into some sort of lovemaking. Raw, anguished, pained and destroyed, her fingernails raked up the column of his spine, drawing blood that wasn't his and staining the forest sheets with the stolen essence of him. Strong, slender male fingers drew her hair into his fist and crunched the colors, crumpling the myriad of reds and golds into a ball of silk before he cried out a groan and thrust into her. Muscles moved, juices flowed, kisses swiped from mouths that tasted like forbidden fruits.
Peaches, to be precise.
The night reflected on their moving, entwined bodies through the glass wall, painting them with the splendid indigo of the Australian night. Throwing back her head, she released a primal sort of scream, a wail for pleasure and a noise of despairing ecstasy. She was rapture in ruin, beautifully tainted goods, and he was a dagger with a dulled and useless blade. Danger lurking inside of his veins that had no purpose except to tear him to shreds. He was surrounded in her heat and immolated by her burning. Everything was afire.
Everything was already dead.
Juices from the peach stained the sheets, and she drew her knees up around him, toes curling as she pulsed near the precipice of absolute ecstasy, of releasing orgasm. Violet violence surrounded her and impaled her on a slender, cool blade, and she screamed for the absolute meaninglessness of it all, beautiful and broken, battered and bruised, but flickering in the way that broken glass catching sunlight used to do.
It was starting to rain, the water streaking the glass and painting them with reflected water, and he tilted his head as he pounded into her, seeing the tumult of a storm brewing. He wanted it to take him away with it, away from the harsh reality of making love to her. He wanted to disappear. Wanted something else to kill him so that he didn't have to. She craved suicide and he hungered for murder. They were damned indefinitely.
"Please, please, please," she pleaded into his ear, her mouth opening and closing with the illusion of kisses. "Please..." She begged for redemption, begged for death, but she was just begging for release. And so that was what he gave her, sliding his cock harshly across her swollen clitoris, watching her face contort with the painting of bliss. "Oh..."
And he reared his head back and roared with rage as he came inside of her.
Afterwards, when she fell into fitful and exhausted slumber, he stood up and took the peach pits from the pillows, placing them on the coffee table next to the wicker basket filled with peaches. There were two now, twelve to go, and six more days left before the end of them.
Disturbed, the vampire folded his hands over his eyes and refused to look at them.
The peaches slowly disappeared over the turning days as the city fell to its knees in the face of the radiation wave. Buildings burned like bridges, and hospitals were crowded with the suffering, who were released with cyanide into a better and more forgiving place. Radio waves slowly dissipated, and the tight unit of communication was slowly released into the wind like a broken cobweb.
And every night the peaches were eaten.
Six peaches rested in the nest of black wicker with silent imminence, ominous and foreboding. They gleamed slightly in the warm lamplight and candlelight that smelled of exotic fruits and mulling spices, like cinnamon or mulberry. The dawn was going to rise soon; the skies were brightening into lighter shades of blue, and the heat was rising as well. She plucked two peaches from the basket and refused to acknowledge that there were only four left. Two days.
He stood out on the balcony, dressed in nothing, body bared and sleek like a lynx's underneath the descending moon. She looked at the silver of his skin, the cool tones of cream and coldness, and ran the peach between his shoulder blades in hopes of making him shiver. He did, turning around with hungry and consuming eyes, bright like cut sapphires. "They're shutting off train service tomorrow," he said, and Buffy ignored him. It was an acknowledgement that the end was nearing, this slow shutdown of services and humanity. "People are dropping like flies in the streets. It's violent." He sighed. "Not a good place to be, ducks."
She watched as Spike took a bite from his peach, tearing off a large bit of the fruit while juice sluiced down his chin. He ate with brutality, like he did everything else. She thought that she loved him. She could have been just desperate. It didn't matter though if she loved him now. There was nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to pretend. She was in love with a murderer, a soulless savage, someone who could smirk and throw cutting wounds on her skin and then whisper about his history with peaches and lovers.
"I wonder if it's a worse place to be than in Sunnydale when this all first happened," she said, rolling the peach between her palms thoughtfully. "I wonder if I should have spared myself the trouble and stayed." Her voice lowered. "I wonder if I'm a coward."
All that he did was kiss her slowly, letting her taste the juices on his cool tongue, mingled with the coppery hint of blood that she never questioned him about anymore. Nothing she could do to save anyone anymore, even herself. It was the most genuine, kindest kiss she'd ever received from him, and it made her want to cry. Everything had changed, even him. Everyone was tired, winding down, bowing to the blade. "Don't think," Spike murmured when he pulled away from her mouth. "Just eat your peach and come to bed, luv." And then he turned around, the muscles of his body moving like a sly god as he moved back into their bedroom.
Wind blew in from the ocean and tossed her hair into a tumult, painting the skies with the multicolored dyes of Buffy's hair. The angel's wing sleeves of Buffy's white silk nightgown fluttered gently, flaring around her hips and moving around her slender legs, and she thought of dying with her friends. Perhaps holding Willow's hand when the blast came, or maybe curling in her mother's lap when the radiation waves filtered through the city. The worst was not knowing what had happened.
But her destiny was sealed. She had certainty as to her end. She was just terrified of accepting it as truth.
Sighing, Buffy lifted her peach to her mouth and let the juices flow through her lips, expecting to taste the sweetness of the fruit travel across her tongue and saturate her senses. Instead, she tasted horrible bitterness, decay and death, and her stomach lurched, weakness encompassing her body, dizziness consuming her. Buffy lurched forward, gagging on the taste of the peach and the horrid sickness that moved through her like a freight train, and vomited over the side of the balcony, throwing up peaches and something that seemed red in the light of the brightening dawn. Blood. She had vomited up blood.
Weakened and still nauseous, Buffy stumbled backwards, grasping the wall of the balcony for support while clutching the guilty peach in her palm. Her hair flew across her face as a sweat broke out, and she tasted her own vomit and bitter peach in her mouth. Gasping, she felt the waves of nausea slowly dissipate, and she lifted a shaking hand up to look at the peach with a horrified expression twisting her mouth.
It was rotten.
Panicked and despairing, Buffy looked up at the sky, seeing the stars revolve suddenly at a speed that was rapid and frantic. Time... She was watching time move with the speed of a thousand angry birds, and she felt tears spring to her eyes while her head and the stars spun in synchronicity. Buffy slowly slumped down the wall until she was sitting on the floor, and the peach rolled out of her trembling fingers. "Oh," she whispered, her voice ragged and worn, and she knew that the fruit was not the only thing rotten. She was rotting, decaying, disintegrating. She was dying.
The peach just rolled absently on the planks of the balcony, its spoiled insides glistening in the rising light.
(end part fourteen)
Continued in Part Fifteen