By Annie Sewell-Jennings
The skies opened up like a fresh wound and bled rain onto the city of Melbourne, dampening the city's streets and its huddled masses with water from heaven. It was as though God was crying for the foolish demise of the people He had created, grieving in the last days of humanity, and the rain was a slow, gentle weeping instead of a thunderous sobbing. Gray skies blanketed the city, reflecting granite in the rivers that ran through the city, and coating everyone with moisture.
Including all those standing in the line in front of the steps of the Capitol building.
People lined up slowly, a string of humanity waiting, all dressed in torn gray and wearing despair on their hopeless faces. There were mothers in battered coats holding children with sores crusting their cherubic mouths, and a man stroking the back of his wife as she bent over to vomit on the streets. Another man had to be escorted out of the line when he started screaming when a tooth fell from his mouth, loosened by the radiation poisoning. The line moved slowly, forever moving, and the rain refused to cease.
She stood there and prayed for sunlight, but was still pounded by the incessant raining. Multicolored brightness streaked down around her face, dampening her slender cheekbones as she walked in the line. Troubled, she crossed her arms over her chest, her gray sweater dampened and tame for her. No heavy eye makeup hid her seafoam eyes. No glitter graced the tarnished gemstone. She didn't wear anything revealing or dark. Her eyes, plain and desolate, were revealing enough. After all, they revealed that she was dying.
She had hidden her illness well from him, laughing while he made love to her even when it hurt so badly to orgasm that she wanted to die. He had no idea that she was dropping weight so quickly, as they only made love in nighttime and the shadows concealed her ribs when her skin no longer could. And if he noticed a tremor in her hand when she held a cigarette to her mouth, he didn't comment.
Shivering, Buffy wrapped her arms around herself tighter, wishing for the humidity and heat that had once made this a summer, and hating the fact that the season was finally over.
Slowly, a car pulled up beside the line, and Buffy turned her head to look at the bright red Mustang that idled next to the massive line of dying. A man rolled down his window and stared at them with a horrified expression on his face, terror apparent and gleaming in his eyes like sharpened blades, and she stared back at him, realizing that he was repulsed by what he saw in her. The death in her eyes. The gray of her skin. The sores that were beginning to erupt on her mouth. The smell of sickness that radiated off of her. And all that she could do in return was smile sadly at him, feeling sympathy with someone who saw death and recognized it as his own.
With that, the red Mustang drove off, leaving Buffy back in the line.
Gray mist drifted by her as the wind blew, and she hated the wind more than she hated anything else in the world. After all, it was the wind that brought the radiation to her. It was the wind that infected her and made her vomit at night. It was the wind that had cost her a molar the other night, and the wind that made her mouth bleed when she kissed her lover. It was the wind that was taking her life from her.
But it was the line that would give her control again.
The couple in front of her walked away from the small folding table set up at the crux of the steps in front of the Capitol building, and she was next in line. A woman with grayed skin and a sour-looking mouth sat in a folding chair, and a stack of white boxes with blue crosses imprinted on them stared hopelessly at Buffy. She remained still for a moment, looking at the boxes with the horrible knowledge that this was how she was going to end her life. For inside of each of these boxes were two pills and a syringe, all quiet, painless, and lethal. They were the Australian government's final gift to its citizens.
Death in a box.
Biting her lip, Buffy stepped forward, avoiding the woman's dead eyes as she picked up a box embossed with a blue cross with shaking fingers. The cardboard simplicity of the box was cool and damp, and Buffy tucked a lock of magenta hair behind her ear as she took the box and quickly tucked it in her shoulderbag. "Um, is there anything I need to sign or..." she asked, fidgeting with her sweater and hair, uncomfortable as the woman stared at the radiation sore blossoming like a rotten lotus on her lip. "I brought my, um, passport and birth certificate, and I..."
"No," the woman interrupted, turning away from the sight of Buffy's scabbed mouth. "There's nothing you need to sign. There's not enough time to register. Just go."
Not enough time... Buffy stumbled as she walked away, losing her balance briefly, trembling terribly from the horror of having to deal with her own suicide in such a forced and brazen manner. But as she left, she heard a fluttering from behind her. She turned around to see the blue banner with the words "THERE IS STILL TIME" imprinted on it in bold white lettering loosen from its tethers and fall to the ground, rippling like a dying bird.
She had to get out of there.
She didn't return to her car quite yet. Instead, she walked the streets with her head hung low and her hair blowing in the wind, the cashmere sweater stained with raindrops and damp with her own sweat. Broken glass hung limply in the windows of looted shops, and smoke fizzled from fires that were dying underneath the rain. People rested in sodden cardboard boxes, run out of their homes. But the worst was seeing a man keel over with vomiting and fall into bloodstained upchuck. Holding her hands over her mouth, tears brimming in her eyes, Buffy ran into the first building that she saw, desperate to shelter herself from the falling world, and found herself in a place that she didn't want to be.
It was the same warehouse where she had danced in leather and eyeliner, fucked men and done lines of cocaine off of broken cosmetic mirrors. The same warehouse where she had first seen the bombs fall on television and heard the news that Los Angeles had been destroyed. The same warehouse where she learned that her father, mother, Watcher and friends were all dead. The same warehouse where she had been smoking a cigarette in a snakeskin dress when she'd heard a familiar British voice murmur in her ear words that she'd never forget.
//"You know, that's a nasty habit."//
And it had started an even nastier habit: him.
Shaking, Buffy walked into the warehouse, seeing no lights glitter, no noises sounding, except for a soft piece of Chopin playing while scattered couples danced slowly, dazedly on the dance floor. Whether their hazed expressions were induced by drugs or just by the sheer impossibility of their reality was impossible to discern, and Buffy shivered as she sat down at the bar. She pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her shoulderbag, feeling awkward at dressing so casually in the club, wearing just a pair of tattered blue jeans, Doc Martens and a gray cashmere sweater dampened from water. She needed her protection. Needed her men and her leather, her glitter and her makeup, and instead she just had her cigarettes, her hair, and a white box of suicide in her bag.
The bartender approached and offered her a drink, and Buffy smiled a little sadly at him, revealing her scabbed mouth, ashen complexion, and the small gap in the back of her mouth where a tooth had fallen out last night. "God, yes," she said, and the bartender smiled back, exposing that he had lost seven teeth whereas she had only lost the one. "A red wine. Best Merlot that you've got." Her smile faltered. "After all, there's not much more time left."
The glass of wine came accompanied with a bottle, a gift from the bartender. "Not much use for them, eh?" he said, and she took it gratefully. It would be a nice thing to down the pills with after telling Spike goodbye. A final present to the lover that she had so oddly grown to love and loathe all at once.
A cigarette slipped from the soft pack of Marlboros onto the floor, and she hissed, ducking down to retrieve it when another hand took it instead. It was the boy, the Australian boy that Spike had almost killed the night that the family had killed themselves. The boy that she had almost fucked. He smiled at her and took the cigarette. "You know, there are rumors floating around that these are bad for you," he said, and she smiled a little softly at him, looking at the torn gray tee shirt that he wore along with his blue corduroy cargo pants.
"There are also rumors that breathing is bad for you," she countered, and the boy laughed, actually laughed. "I remember you, you know."
He grinned. "I remember you, too," he said. "Hard to forget an American whose boyfriend bit me. Weird kink, you know." She smiled a little, remembering her fury at his drinking him, and the shadows that only he understood. Odd, that only Spike knew who she was now, understood her history as a Slayer, understood her Hellmouth and her friends, when the rest of humanity couldn't. She'd fought him, hurled insults and cuts at him, tried to destroy him for knowing her, and realized then and there that it wasn't wrong to love him. Not when she had one day left and one peach left to consume. It wasn't wrong to love him at all.
It was wrong not to.
She asked the bartender for a glass and poured the Australian boy a glass of her Merlot, a present and an apology for what Spike had done to him. He sighed and lit the cigarette for her, and then pulled out a little white box from his cargo pants. It was the same box that she had, the suicide kit, and she looked at it with a heartbroken expression on her face. "Do you know what I'm supposed to do with this?" he asked, and then he coughed a horrible cough, wretched and shuddering, and she wanted to cry.
"No," she whispered, her voice dry and sandpapery. "No, I don't... I don't know what to do with it either." Slowly, with trembling hands, she opened up her shoulderbag and placed her own kit on the table next to his, exposing to him all that he needed to know and could have seen etched in her papery, ashen skin, her sores and her missing tooth, and her shaking hands. "I don't..."
And then a seizing nausea ripped through her, turning and twisting her stomach into dying hummingbirds, and she gagged, until the bartender raced over and placed a tin bucket in front of her. She threw up into the bucket, retching up blood and stomach lining, her sores stinging from the stomach acid. Moaning, she opened her eyes to see that she was throwing up into a bucket already thick with other patrons' vomit. "This is the worst," she whispered, blood dripping from her mouth. "This is the bottom. This, right here, is it. And I still have one more day left." She smiled a faltering smile, staring at the bucket. "You know, I think that this is the first time that I've not wanted that other day. I think I'm... I'm finally ready."
The bartender took the bucket away, and she closed her eyes, taking the box off of the bar top and replacing it in her shoulderbag. She leaned over and touched the young man's hand with sympathy, and whispered in his ear with her sour breath. "Take the pills when you know that there's no more time," she advised, and then she stood up, watching him cry.
She walked through the club as Chopin's somber piano concerto played throughout the club, gently washing through the patrons. Young women with sores and missing teeth cried on lover's shoulders. Others wept for the senselessness of it all. Some stopped to vomit in between dances, and she knew that there was no more time left for her. The last peach was senseless.
She was ready to die.
With that, Buffy walked out of the club, her fingers clutching her shoulderbag and her suicide, and went back home for the last time.
His voice was ragged even to his own ears as he said it, and he didn't care. He didn't care what she thought of him, if she thought him weak or if she thought him cowardly, because he refused to listen to it. There was still another day left. She couldn't possibly want to do it this way. Couldn't possibly...
She stood before him in her gray cashmere, her hair streaming down her shoulders like a polluted river of gold, and her eyes were clear and sad. "I do want to do it this way," she said, her voice soft and sweet, lulling almost. She was set against a clearing sky, standing in front of the glass wall, light pouring down from a full and ripened moon, while the dunes whispered ancient secrets from outdoors. The box was in her hands with all of its accusations and possibilities, the slender white rectangle containing the way that she was planning to end her own life. Pills and a syringe for the children... Christ, what a useless way for these idiots to kill themselves with. "I'm ready, Spike. I saw what was happening today, and I'm ready." Buffy swallowed. "And I'm sick."
Sick... Furiously, he flung the box out of her hands, his voice strangled and choked. "That's a lie!" he said, and she kissed him, swallowing his words and his rage with her mouth. In it, he tasted blood, tasted resignation, tasted the bitter coppery sourness of vomit and erupting sores. And he could smell the sickness radiating off of her, like a perfume of baking bread. It was true, he thought in a daze as she kissed him with frail, dry lips. She was dying. The radiation was taking her away, claiming her, and she wanted to end her own life.
And he didn't want her to die.
Shock filled his body when he realized that he didn't want Buffy Summers, the vampire Slayer, the tart in leather and snakeskin with hair streaked like a chameleon to die. He wanted her to live, wanted her to stay with him to flirt and wink and hurt him. Reeling backwards, Spike backed into the glass wall, and she cupped his neck in her hand, her thumb caressing the nape of his neck with a gentleness that was almost benevolent. The tumultuous sin that he'd seen in the warehouse at first was gone, replaced with a woman who was tired and dying, fading into oblivion. "It's true," she whispered softly. "I wish that it wasn't. But I'm sick. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to cry. It hurts to..." She swallowed. "It hurts to live. And I don't want to live this way. Not another day, not another hour. I want to go." She smiled falteringly at him. "There's no more time left."
Panicked, he shook his head, imagining dying. The demon inside of him screamed, and the part of him that would always be him rebelled as well. "You can't be bloody serious," he protested, and Buffy kissed him again, her mouth sweet and trembling with tears. "Stop," he whispered, parting from her. "Stop kissing me like you love me."
"I do love you," she said, and he was appalled by the revelation. She smiled a little at him. "Didn't know until the other day. And I hated that I loved you. I hated that I could ever love someone as horrible and evil as you. But there's no one else who knows me. No one else who understands me. No one else that I understand and know. And you cut where everyone else ignores. You always have. So there's no point in being ashamed of it. Not anymore. I love you, Spike. So let me die."
Torn, he turned away from her, the wings of his trench coat fluttering behind him like a crow. Sickened by everything around him, by the words from her mouth, by the confessions and resignation, by the notion of losing her and caring about the fact that he'd lose her, he looked out the window. What he saw was a world made beautiful and tragic by neglect and nature, a world dying and dwindling, and she was a part of that world. So was he. She had days left on her without tonight, and he had little time after that. Meaningless time. Time would be meaningless without her, and her days were numbered.
"You can't do it that way," he murmured, looking at the reflection that she cast and that he did not. "It's a coward's way. A lame fucking way for anyone to die, with some sodding pills or a needle. It's worthless to..." He choked on his words. "Worthless to go that way."
Her words were bittersweet. "Didn't you always say I was worthless?"
Slowly, he revolved to look at her, this girl with hair that made up for the death inside of her, now refilled with a soft glow of resignation. She had direction now, even if it was a compass that pointed towards suicide. She was finally content. How could he rob her of that? He had stolen everything else from her - he'd give her the last hours in a wrapping of solemnity and peace. "You're not worthless," he said quietly, and he hated that it almost made her cry.
"How else should I die?" Buffy asked softly, gesturing to the little white suicide kit.
Slowly, through eyes that were almost drunken with grief, Spike smiled at her. It was an exhausted, grievous smile. Joyless and yet almost tranquilized. "Your boy Angel once said something to be right after he lost his soul and his plot," he said, and Buffy dryly ignored the comment. "He said, 'To kill this girl, you have to love her.'" His voice shook when he said "love", but she still understood.
Her smile trembled when she looked at him, eyes despairing. "Can you kill me yet, Spike?" she asked, and he took her in his arms, his hands shaking when he swept up locks of her soft hair and felt multicolored strands fall out at his touch, loosened by the radiation poisoning.
"Yeah, baby," he murmured, closing his eyes and brushing his mouth against hers. "I can."
The night passed with quietude and gentleness, the rainwater softening outside and clearing the glass window so that it was easy to gaze out at the Australian beaches below. The rocks glistened with damp moisture, and the tide receded to show stretches of white sand and turquoise waters. They had waited for dawn, indulging a final night of lovemaking and wine drinking. Cigarette butts rested in cut-glass ashtrays that caught the morning light and glistened like amber. The emptied wine glass remained next to the two glasses stained with the mulberry Merlot. Candles burned gently until she blew out the cinnamon and vanilla, and walked upstairs.
Darkened shadows were lurking in the corners; she had turned off the electricity a while ago to keep the house from burning down. Everything was shutting down, and she felt a soft benevolence embrace her as she dressed for her death. Simplicity was the key, none of the wild outfits that she had donned for her warehouses. She selected a white silk dress that fell to her knees and dipped low in the back, revealing her tattoo that rested at the crux of her spine. It was appropriate to forever be marked with a crown of thorns. Slayers were always martyrs.
When she saw him, he was sitting on the bed, holding two peaches in his hand. They decided to leave the other two in the basket to rot as a memento of the world they were leaving behind. She studied his face as he contemplated the peaches, feeling terrible at the notion that she was going to kiss him for the last time tonight and then give herself up to whatever fate awaited her. She would miss drawing her fingernails down his spine, consuming his lower lip, or licking the scimitars of his cheekbones. Didn't matter, though. She needed to do this tonight, with her regrets and her desires still fresh inside of her.
Softly, she spoke, not wanting to interrupt the quietude that he was enjoying. "You know, I'm not that afraid anymore," she said. "It doesn't matter what lies beyond. I'm cool with it." She had made her peace with whatever God ruled the world. She'd lived a full life, a rich and bejeweled life, and she'd be okay. She was okay now.
"Good," Spike said, turning to her. "Are you ready?"
Slowly, she smiled a little, and nodded. Somberly, he passed her a peach, and threaded his arm through hers. In synchrony, never tearing their eyes from each other, they bit into the fruit, and she closed her eyes, savoring the flavor of culminating sweetness as it unfurled like a flower on her tongue. It tasted too good to be heaven, and so it could only taste of Earth. Of history and of humanity, of freedom and of summer, of the things that had been stripped away in ripping explosions. It tasted like everything before.
To him, the fruit was bittersweet, tainted with the knowledge that his world was never going to be his again. Spike had no choice but to do what he was going to do. Everything that he had loved, the violence and the mayhem, the power and the pleasure, was all ending, dwindling down into nothing, and the world that he'd once ruled was rolling into oblivion. Tomorrow wouldn't give him anything but soured memories and rotting fruit; tonight was all that he had left.
The wizened peach pits were the only remnants when they finished, and they both placed the pits on the nightstand next to the bed, soft mementos abandoned for the possibility that perhaps someone would know what humanity had once been.
Gingerly, she leaned back onto the bed, wincing as her sore body rested in the cushions, her hair piling around her face in streaks of crimson, gold, and china. Strips of dyed dynamo, of borrowed bravado, all made real in these last moments. She was prepared, and she felt the soft comfort of knowing that she'd wake up without having to bear burdens or bare brittleness. She would just... Fade. Slowly, Spike looked down at her, this girl who'd once fired off beatings and barbs like they were second nature, this woman who had stripped herself down to leather and sex, and now this creature glowing like candles were lit in her veins. She was a memorial made of skin and seafoam eyes, with fire glowing underneath her closed eyelids.
"Do you regret anything, Spike?" she asked, and Spike grinned at her with the mischievous heat that had always been a part of him.
"I regret not bedding you earlier, Slayer," he said, and she smiled, eyes dancing at him. But then he shook his head, moving away a stray piece of hair from her eyes. "But I don't regret much. You?"
She smiled. "I regret a lot," she said, "but I think that I'm forgiven for it."
And that was what she needed anyway.
Blush light began to permeate the heavy cloth, still protecting him from the daylight but lending the room brighter hues. He looked at the dawning lights, and she looked out there as well. He slowly sat up, and she watched the shadows fall from his sharp cheekbones, carved out of everything that should be beautiful. "Time, luv," he said, and she nodded, swallowing the last vestige of fear and consuming any lingering worry. Nothing to be worried about, after all. Nothing that she could stop now.
She blinked back tears and stroked his cheek. "What are you going to do?" she asked, and he smiled a little, certainty secure in his eyes.
"I have a plan," he said, but wouldn't share more. She accepted that - it was his right and his way.
"I'm not going to tell you that I love you," she said softly. "Those aren't going to be my last words." She swallowed again, her throat dry and parched. "I just want... Want to say that everything was good." She smiled a little. "Everything was good."
Shortly, he laughed, but it was earnest and not mocking. "Yeah, baby," he said. "It was good."
And with that, Spike sank his teeth into the ripe curve of Buffy's neck, and began to drink, killing her in the way that a thousand women with her power and passion had been killed before. He gave her the finale of a fighter, of a warrior, of a savior.
He gave her the death of a Slayer.
The pain was fierce at first, but it slowed when he drank, the life flooding from her and leaving her with emptying sweetness. Gasping, Buffy arched her back into his bite, and then turned her eyes to the side, feeling the life wane from her body with the blessed slowness of his thirst. The curtains moved slightly, revealing the world to her in a thousand flashes of memory. Cherry blossoms raining as Giles shone his glasses. The kisses that her mother bestowed upon her when she skinned her knees or made a mistake. The trust of Willow. The understanding of Xander. Everything in that small sliver of light. After all, what she saw was the world that had nurtured her, the world that she'd grown up in, finally revealed to her in carnelian and tangerine, in carnation and cerise.
"Ah," she murmured, her voice weary from sickness. "Dawn."
And with that, Buffy died, eyes half open, drinking in the world.
For a while, he didn't move. Didn't speak. Just sat there on the bed, holding her loose neck in the palm of his hand, frenetic streaks of color racing over his hand. She looked quiet in repose, wrong, blood pouring in small rivulets from the wound in her throat. Eyes that were empty of the life she'd once had, a soft, sad smile forever imprinted on her lush mouth, and bones loose and limp rather than strong and able. She was his third Slayer, and she would be his last. After all, Spike had made up his mind.
Gently, he lowered her head onto the pillows, tilting her face to the side so that her halfway open eyes would never see the daylight, and the vampire moved off the bed, leaving his victim atop the sheets in the shift made of white spun silk. Her hair gently spilled in its myriad of colors, and he could still feel her inside of him, the power and the passion, the flavor and the ferocity, throbbing through his veins. It gave him strength that he'd always used to kill. He'd use it again for murder this time, only the victim was predetermined.
The victim was standing in black, lightning hair shining, before the door to the balcony, curtains still drawn tightly, and therefore inches away from the daylight that he had always feared.
He could still taste her memories on his tongue, the pleasure and the pain, and he smiled a little rakishly at his nonexistent reflection. Didn't matter how history remembered him now. Didn't matter if he was written up as the king of broken bodies or the vampire who'd once loved a broken Slayer. All that mattered was that he was ready, that the world was finished, and he was about to step into everything that had once terrified him. He had the strength do it now. The acceptance and the courage. With that, a grin tugged at his mouth.
After all, it had been one hell of a ride.
"Yeah, baby," Spike repeated again, still smirking. "It was good."
And with that, he tossed the curtains apart and let the daylight in.
Thank you *very* much for reading this story - it came from a dark place and maybe ended with a little light. Thank you again, Heather, for being the fine beta reader that you are, and for supporting this work from its conception to its ending. You're the most supportive editor I could have ever possibly known, and a damn good friend, too.
Feedback would be *greatly* appreciated :)