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The Last Summer
By Annie Sewell-Jennings

SUMMARY: After the world is destroyed by nuclear apocalypse, Buffy and Spike meet up in Australia for what may be the last summer on Earth. Buffy/Spike
RATING: NC-17
SPOILERS: Post-"Restless"
DISTRIBUTION: My site at http://anniesj.net/ and at the UCSL site ľ please request for other places. :-) Also, note that this story will not be archived at my website until all parts of the story have been posted to the lists and newsgroups that I selected.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story was inspired by the story of "On the Beach" by Nevil Shute, as well as the updated version of the story as soon on Showtime, starring Armand Assante, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown. The film is poignant, exquisitely shot, and subtly moving, as it displays the end of humanity in a very calm and remarkable way. I can't stop thinking about the movie. I dream about it. I contemplate it. I fear its possibilities.

And I am inspired by it.

Thanks to Phillip-Morris, the unwitting sponsors of this work. Without my Marlboros, I don't know where I'd be.

Also thanks to Alanna, for making me read "Iolokus" (XF genre by MustangSally and RivkaT, and a truly inspired piece of work) and therefore helping me acquire the bitterness that inspired Buffy and Spike's dysfunctional relationship in this piece. The Mooselet will always kick ass.

Most of all, thank you Heather, for keeping me on the right track and keeping me writing this story, no matter what reservations I may have had about writing two fics inspired by the same film. This one is the fleshed-out version of what I truly wanted to write, and I'm glad that I could take the time to write this story in the way I wanted to write it.



The Last Summer

*****

Lights still flashed.

Noise still echoed.

And all in all, the world kept turning...

And she kept breathing.

Silver light flickered maniacally inside the confines of the warehouse that had been converted into a dance club by the desperate and frightened youth of Melbourne; the factory where gigantic fans swirled underneath the insane beat of electronica and added to the thickness of constant bass. Christmas tree lights decorated the poles and twirled through the club, and this was her world now. This was her kingdom, her Hell and her heaven, all decorated by gaudy lights and glass bulbs that flickered frenetically. This was where she would end up dying.

It was as good a place as any.

Streaks of crimson and magenta flickered through her white-blond hair and hung in her face as she slugged back a drink. Liquor wasn't really hard to acquire nowadays. It was just a thing. Just something that she could drink if need be. Something to numb the pain. Something to take away from the fear of what was going down around her. It's the end of the world, girlfriend, a voice from the past murmured in her ear, and she shook it off. Shook it all off. This was just a dance, just a ball, a millennial festival that was planning on lasting until the end of days actually came. It was an escape that ran nonstop, twenty-four/seven, and she was there for most of it. Sometimes she was fucked-up, out of it because of booze or drugs, but she was always there nonetheless.

The bar was crowded. The dance floor was jammed. Beautiful young people wearing nearly nothing or nothing at all, fucking so that they didn't have to feel and drinking so that they didn't have to die. She had fucked half of them before, so that she could escape, and it was just a fuck so it didn't really matter. Nothing really mattered now. Not when the world was crashing around them, on the brink of destruction, and it wasn't her place to save it. Not this time.

So maybe she was going to drink to that tonight.

To the world that she had nearly died trying to save. To the world that had stabbed her in the back.

A strangled laugh erupted from her coated mouth. Oh, yes, she was drunk already. Drunk and fuzzy, like a peach. A memory floated through her alcohol-muddled mind; it was a memory of peaches. Their soft, lovely flavor, the texture like skin... She missed fruit. Missed peaches. Missed bananas and apples and pomegranates that would coat her fingers like blood. Fruit was now almost impossible to find. Farmers had abandoned their crops for other climates, finding no point in feeding a country that would probably die. Yes, the fruit were the real victims of the war.

Yes, she was probably drunk.

A braid of bright red hair fell in her eyes, and she irritably swatted at it with her hand, her skin pulsating with the colors of the nightclub. All clubs were supposed to be closed, and curfews had been issued, and yet she had ignored them all carelessly. Most of the youths had, and the police allowed them their freedom. After all, what was left? Schools were emptied and drunkenness ensued. Liquor laws be damned - the Armageddon was approaching.

And so what if Buffy was afraid.

The flicker of a cigarette lighter sparked, and she lit the slender Marlboro between her lips. She had once been so repelled to smoking, hating the idea of inhaling poison, but soon the poison would be everywhere. Fuck the lectures that claimed smoking took ten years off her life - they were ten years she would never see. No matter if the world made it through this crisis; Buffy would die before she reached thirty. Such was the curse of the Slayer.

She thought about dancing. She oftentimes did. Sometimes she would sleep with men, but lately she found herself mixing up their faces. Their features would shift, move and blur, until she was gazing at the imprinted memory of a former friend, or a loved one, or even a lover. And she would find herself fucking her past, but it never went away. The world was crumbling all around her, and yet it was still alive. Somewhat.

Multicolored threads of hair fell in her eyes, and she let them hang, resigning herself to the wildness of this new world, refusing to fight it. Why should she? What good would it do now? Smoke curled from her cigarette, performing its own slow and sensuous dance as it trailed toward the ceiling, and Buffy exhaled thin, distilled smoke from between her lips. Her skin glittered, her body displayed in a shirt that barely covered her, and yet she still felt dead inside. Numbed with fear. Everything was changing, and the entire world was held in suspense, waiting for the possible horror that could be unleashed any day now.

All that she could do was finish her cigarette and start another one, chain-smoking until the dominoes all fell.

"You know, that's a nasty habit."

The voice was familiar. Not even vaguely familiar, but indefinitely familiar. Horribly familiar. Everything familiar was terrible anyway, if only because it was in fact familiar. The low, murmuring sneer. The taunting apparent under layers of North London and bass. These were elements that she recognized instantly.

Sighing, Buffy turned around. "You're one to talk, Spike."

The vampire smiled. Seeing him brought pangs of nostalgia and longing for others, for her family and for her friends, for those she loved and for Sunnydale. For California. For America. It didn't matter who this man was, or what he was, because she knew him and recognized the world that she loved inside of his glaring lapis lazuli eyes. Everything that she had left behind, everything that had died, was inside of her enemy's eyes. It pained her to see them there, to see the life that had been so effectively and permanently extinguished, smoldering in the ashes of the vampire's eyes.

Leather crackled as he sat down, and she closed her eyes briefly, hurt by the lingering smell of America on his clothing. Bitterly, Buffy turned her head, exhaling a stream of smoke from between her painted lips. "Why are you here?" she asked, her voice low and hollow, even to her own ears.

That chuckle... It was the sound of taunting, of old battlegrounds and of a time when life had been complicated but still plausible. "Looking to get drunk," Spike said, his black nail polish chipped and incongruous, revealing the glimmering moonstone of his fingernails. A low gaze covered her from head to toe as the vampire inspected her. "I take it that you've already accomplished that. You look plastered, Slayer."

Slayer... She flinched, grateful to the errant locks of hair that fell in her face, concealing the deceitful reaction to Spike's barb. She wasn't plastered. Not yet. She was tipsy, but not so drunk that she couldn't remember. She could still remember the shimmering excitement of battle, or the laughter of Willow, or the dark passion of Angel. No, she wasn't drunk enough yet. "There are a dozen other bars in this city, Spike," Buffy said darkly, still smoking her cigarette and refusing to look at the arrogant, angular face that had returned to haunt her. "Go have your fun somewhere else."

She heard the grind of a cigarette lighter from beside her, and smelled the scent of burning tobacco add to her own mentholated brand. The sound of his false exhalation and the murmuring trails of his cigarette smoke wafted towards her. "Well, you know, I heard that this was a pretty good dive," he said. "Heard you're here an awful lot. Shagging whomever you want, whenever you want, and all that. So I figured that maybe I'd come here, get a decent drink, and maybe end up getting a good shag from someone as lovely as you." The last words were a taunt, a sneer, as all of Spike's words were. Insults were his specialty. His talent. He excelled at making her bleed.

Spike knew her.

Oh, and did he know her well... It hadn't taken him long to track her down once he found out that she was in Australia, following her from Sydney to Queensland and finally down to Melbourne, to the warehouses and factories that the angered and confused youths had claimed as their own. Perhaps they should have them - after all, if there was any fun that could possibly be had in this fucked-up mess, then it should be had. But Buffy Summers had been having more than her fair share of fun.

And the girl sitting before him was barely her.

Heavy makeup coated her face, liquefied rubies staining her lips and streaks of carmine marring her teased and long white-blonde hair. Glittering jewels had been pasted carefully on her eyelids and cheeks, so that she shimmered like a fragmented gemstone. Black eyeliner had been applied with a heavy hand, taking away the carefree and fresh California girl image that she had once exhibited, and a slender strap was sliding down her shoulder as she smoked, revealing skin that was as bronzed and beautiful as ever. The red snakeskin dress clung to every curve, and it shimmered as she moved, like her glittered skin. All of these unholy children wore similar attire, from her platform sandals revealing vermilion toenails to her multicolored plastic bracelets.

And it was not just her new look that was different. It was her attitude. Her emptiness. Her hollow eyes and her concave voice. She was a ghost, a phantom, as though she had already died. It was disappointing. In a city filled with urchins who were terrified or numbed by fear, Spike had hoped to find some fire in the Slayer. He had hoped to find something interesting. And all he found was a shell of a girl, fragile and breakable.

Her scarlet fingernails tapped her cigarette impatiently, and she signaled to the bartender. "Hornsby for me," she ordered, and then she turned to Spike, giving him a long and irritated glance underneath her sparkling eyelashes. "And a Guinness for him. Put it on my tab." Nodding, the bartender went to get her drink, and she sighed, crossing her legs and revealing bare thigh due to the high slit of the dress. "Consider it a going-away present."

Spike arched his eyebrow at her. "You're planning on leaving?" he asked, and she shook her head coldly.

"No. You are."

Two brown bottles were placed in front of the old enemies, and Spike took a long swig of the strong beer, swallowing it and feeling the alcohol burn down his throat, radiating throughout his body. "And where would I go, ducks?" he asked pointedly. "Back to the Hellmouth? In case you haven't noticed, the Hellmouth's expanded. Matter of fact, it might just have covered the whole bloody Northern Hemisphere." A snide and bitter grin twisted his generous mouth. "So I think I'll just stick out here in Melbourne, thank you very much."

Frustrated, Buffy shook her head, not believing what was going on. Of all the people to escape a nuclear war... Of all the people to meet her in Melbourne... It had to be *Spike*. Of course. He seemed to survive anything and everything. "What is *with* you?" she asked. "Does being an asshole somehow make you invulnerable to radiation?"

Sweetly, Spike tilted his head at her. "If it does, luv, then I'd say you've got a long life ahead of you."

Buffy clenched her jaw, looking away at the crowds of people dancing around her. Bodies writhed and glistened with sweat and body glitter underneath the pulsating strobe light, and a hunger to join them seized her. If she walked away from him, if she moved onto the dance floor and went home with somebody else, and then packed up and left the city, she might escape. She could move down the coast, near the places where the cliffs were rocky and the grass shimmered like precious stones, and drink herself into sleeping through the apocalypse. And she wouldn't have to face him.

"Whatever, Spike," she muttered, preparing to abandon him, and he grabbed her wrist, encasing the fragile bones and cheap bracelets inside of his strong hands. Furiously, Buffy fought him, struggling against his grip, glaring at him venomously, as if she could poison him with her eyes.

"Now, you're not going to get away just yet," Spike sneered. "I've got quite a few things to say to you, Summers, and you're not leaving until I've gotten my way through it. So don't think that you can run off somewhere and ditch me in the middle of this pisser of a city like I'm one of your ninnies, because Spike's not exactly neutered anymore." With that, he growled at her, low and primal, guttural and visceral, and she glared at him, hating him with a vengeance and a passion. "So sit your ass down on that stool before I rip your bloody throat out." With that, he threw her onto the stool, watching with a twisted glee as her wrist bruised from the raw brutality of his grip. It was as though his fingerprints had been tattooed on her skin.

Silence hung between them, though the noise in the club was almost deafening. Someone three chairs down had taken out a slender plastic straw and was snorting cocaine freely. Another girl was giving head to a young boy. Nothing mattered. No privacy, no public law. It didn't matter now. And she was sitting here with a vampire that she hated, her wrist bruised and her blood boiling, as Spike calmly resumed smoking his cigarette and took a long drink of his beer. "Do you think that just because I left Sunnydale I'm not the Slayer anymore?" she said coldly, a ruthless note entering her voice.

"No," Spike said, his words slicing into her like a dagger. "I know you're not the Slayer anymore."

The impact and intention behind his words wasn't lost on her. So what if she'd changed? How could any of them possibly expect to stay the same when the world had changed around them? Environment influences the individual, and consider Buffy Summers a victim of atmosphere. Buffy flicked ash from her cigarette into a chipped glass ashtray coated in the remainders of dozens of other smokes. She then leaned in close to him, so remarkably close that he could feel her breath on his mouth. It was the first time that someone had breathed that close to him in ages. "I could kill you if I wanted to, Spike," she said lowly. "I could take this barstool and stake you right here in this club, and everybody's too fucked up to notice or care. So if I were you, I'd leave right now before you really pissed me off and go somewhere that's else. Got it?"

There was a smoldering look in her seafoam eyes, as though dead ashes were still simmering, waiting to be extinguished. "I'm not leaving," Spike said. "I don't fancy being alone right now, pet, and judging by your bed-hopping lifestyle, neither do you. It was a real pisser to get out of America before the shit hit the fan, so I'm planning on enjoying myself here down under. And pissing you off was always enjoyable." He flashed one of those devilish and predatory grins, so conceited and arrogant, so egotistic and self-assured that she envied him, and then took her cigarette from between her fingers with remarkably sharp reflexes. After taking a hit off of it, he exhaled it into her face and grinned. "Got it?"

Furiously, she took her cigarette back and ground it out in the ashtray, refusing to taste anything that had touched his wicked mouth. "You said you wanted to say something to me," she said, pulling out her pack of Marlboros and procuring another cigarette. After lighting it and exhaling a stream of smoke in his face, she arched her eyebrow. "Are you going to bullshit around it or is there actually a point to all this verbal sparring?"

Satisfied, Spike leaned back in his barstool, gripping his beer in his hand and taking a good long swig before resuming smoking his own Marlboro Reds. "You fucked up big, Slayer," he said, chuckling to himself. "Abandoning Sunnydale for Australia the first chance you got, robbing Giles blind so that you could run away... You know, they all died back in California, on the Hellmouth, and you managed to survive this all, just to die here. I think that's rather funny. Makes me respect you a little, ducks."

Selfish... It had been selfish. But the nightmares... The screaming of sirens, the rockets blasting through the air while streams of smoke fluttered behind them, and then the crashing of screams followed by an everlasting silence - all had haunted her dreams. She had prophesied it, knew it from the sensation of dreaming of the future rather than the past, and she'd had no choice but to run. Run to the place where all would be safe. Run to the coral reefs and the endless party, the ball to last them through the apocalypse, and she'd *tried* to warn them all. Tried to get them to safety. But they didn't believe her... None of them had *believed* her...

"I couldn't save them," Buffy whispered, her voice soft and hushed with the guilt of surviving. "I couldn't save any of them. I tried, tried to warn them, tried to get them to leave the country, but none of them listened to me. And I got so scared..." She cut herself off before she revealed too much, before he knew what lay beneath the girl clad in glitter and snakeskin, the betraying serpent that she was. "How did you get out?"

Spike exhaled and shrugged his shoulders at her. "Drusilla. She contacted me. Told me that the whole thing was falling to pieces and that Miss Edith was going to have a tea party in Sydney, or something of the like. You know Dru - always garbled and great." Buffy might disagree with him on the "great" part, but she understood. Drusilla had also dreamed of apocalypse. The two had always been bound together somewhat by their prophesies and power, something that semi-disgusted Buffy. "So I followed her down here." He shrugged. "She never came. The bombs dropped and Drusilla was still in Brazil when it happened." He shook his head. "She's probably still out there somewhere, wandering around, but not for long."

"Why?" Buffy asked, and Spike smiled snidely at her.

"Radiation might not hurt vampires, but it does hurt people," he said. "In fact, it pretty well knocks out anything left living. So that means that the restaurant's closed to us bloodsuckers - once you people go, our time's limited. Maybe we'll get by feeding off of each other for a while, but it's dead blood. Borrowed blood. So you can add vampires to the endangered species list."

It was a thought that had never even crossed her mind - the fate of the vampires of the world. They were as doomed as their human counterparts, damned by the mistakes of mankind, all because a couple of military men had decided that a war was worth killing off the entire human race.

For a moment, even just a glimmering of a moment, Buffy felt some sympathy for Spike. It was camaraderie born of being survivors in a world where no one could really survive. The feeling of having to watch the world die...

"I'm sorry," Buffy said in a hushed voice, tapping her cigarette on the ashtray. "No one should have to do this. No one should have to watch all of this."

He agreed.

The music throbbed, beating and moaning, and Spike turned his head away from her briefly to take in the life that she had decided to lead. It was a maniacal life, one born of anger and despair, one where life was an emptying glass and the liquid had spilled over into strobe lights and enraged music. He caught sight of a young girl and her lover passing by, their bodies moving in synchrony, crying in a melange of bass and soprano. What once would have pleased him now only gave him pause - for the same thing would happen to him soon.

"You want to know something about your old enemy Spike?" he asked, not taking his eyes off of the despairing couple. "He's terrified of dying." The irony in that statement was evident and thick, and she didn't comment on it. "After all I've done, after dying once myself, I look at this all and think 'I don't want to die like this'." His voice softened. "I don't want to die like this."

Softly, her hand brushed over his, and he was startled by the whisper of fingertips coated in scarlet. "Neither do I."

The loose possibility of fingers entwining remained; she cupped his hand in hers and looked at the world around her. It wasn't fair. Not for any of them. No one deserved this sort of heinous fate, doomed to walk the earth until the mistakes of others claimed their lives. The soft whisper of a cigarette being extinguished in glass interrupted the silence between them, and a slower song began to pervade the atmosphere, taking over for the hyperactive beats and rhythms that had been set up.

The Slayer turned her head and looked at the vampire sitting next to her. Impossibly dark and luxurious eyelashes covered his penetrating blue eyes, and she saw in his face the etchings of weariness and fear, his lips slightly parted and his other hand holding his head, black fingernails digging into lightning hair. Empathizing with him was strange to her, but he understood how it felt. How it was to lie in wait for the inevitable, knowing that the world had crumbled and would continue to deteriorate until there was nothing left but the Earth.

And yet when she looked into his angular face, those dramatic cheekbones and the straight, aquiline nose, she saw her old life. Saw the days of impassioned fighting and battle, of love and laughter, rather than panic and desolation. Saw the friends who had died for nothing. Saw her lovers and her dreams, her extinguished fantasies and hopes. It was like looking into immolation, and rediscovering memory. All of her efforts to bury her past were exhumed by this villain that she had once sought to destroy.

Now all she felt was the desperate need to autopsy her life through Spike.

Hushed breath hung between them as the song continued, with nothing but low piano and the voice of Nick Cave. "Why did you try to find me, Spike?" she asked, and he opened his eyes halfway.

"Because I thought I might kill you," he said. "But there's no point in it now. No point in being enemies when the world's going to end." He shrugged a little, and took another swig of beer. "I don't know, Slayer. Maybe you had the right idea coming here. Fucking your misery away. It's not like there's a lot of high hope left."

No, there wasn't.

Her fingers wrapped around his, twining through the tapering porcelain. "This is a good song," she said, and he knew what she was asking for. What she was inviting. And why the hell not? It wasn't as though there was any reason to hate her now. Burying the hatchet was easy when she'd be dead within months anyhow, and he would follow her to her grave soon. And so he nodded, and followed her to the dance floor.

The rapid pulsation of light had stilled to nothing more than ethereal and eerie blue, drowning the teeming crowd in electric cerulean, moths and dust shimmering in the light. Dancing slowed to a quiet rhythm, the youths of Melbourne falling into a silence as they all began to think of what was approaching. The storm of radiation, the winds pushing downward to the south, bringing the foolery of the Northern Hemisphere to extinguish the last candle of humanity.

Slowly, awkwardly, the two came together; she linked her arms around his neck and his fingers splayed across the frenetic snakeskin fabric coating her back. It was strange, foreign, unlikely and otherwise impossible, and the enemies refused to look at each other as they formed an unusual embrace. Slowly, she began to dance with him, the coolness of his body heartbreaking. Her skin would soon be that cold. That dead. That lifeless. All for nothing... "What a waste," she whispered, and he reached up to touch her hair, a frantic mess of color that didn't necessarily make her alive.

Sighing, she pressed her cheek to his chest, listening to the silence of his dead heart, and her eyes closed, fear suffocating and swallowing her. She had warded off death a thousand times, avoided Apocalypse and diverted disaster. But this time there was nothing to stop it. Nothing to fight.

Fingertips drifted shakily to the base of her skull, and Buffy wondered how it had come to this. How it had come to a dance with her enemy in an abandoned Australian warehouse after nuclear war. Yet it felt relieving to dance with Spike, to partake of pleasure and refuge with someone who had lost as much as she had and had shared her memories. He understood her, perhaps. She understood him. Luxurious slowness propelled her to him, and Buffy's fingers curled underneath the lapel of his leather duster, aching for the girl who had died in Sunnydale.

Aching for herself.

Piano and aching bass murmured through the club, and Buffy looked up at him, watching as he looked down. She saw everything that she had once loved about herself inside of his fathomless eyes, touched by centuries. The entire history of man and its madness was etched in Spike's piercing and intense lapis eyes, forever engraved in blue. She wondered what would happen if she tried to tap into that. Tried to steal the memories of man. Slowly, she closed her eyes, and craned her neck forward, and pressed her mouth to his.

The velveteen of her ruby-coated lips was soft and warm, inviting, memorable. He hungered for her as well in spite of who and what she was, or perhaps *because* of who and what she was. She was the Slayer. She was his enemy. But she was also familiar. She was all he had left in the world, and whether it be love or hatred, he kissed her back and felt the memory of what life had once been like in her mouth.

The kiss ended softly but quickly, nothing more than a whisper of passion suffocated by a scream of sorrow, and they pulled away, looking at each other with startled expressions. Fearful expressions. They were the looks of those who had sinned, of those who feared the possibility that stretched between them, and of those who were going to die.

The song ended, and silence ensued, not a single person in the club speaking. They were all that was left of humanity, these crowds of youths frightened and afraid, haunted by their memories and by all that was destined to come for them. It would be their last summer, their final season in the sun, before the years would end with a stunning swiftness. The end of days was coming, and there was no avoiding it now.

It was time to leave; people were beginning to head for home, even though the party would continue without them. Buffy was tired, exhausted from being confronted by her past, and she pulled away from Spike, looking at him underneath eyelids painted and bejeweled. "Where are you going?" she asked, her voice husky and slightly hoarse from smoking too much too soon.

"Don't know," Spike said, his voice low and equally raspy. "Where should I go?"

Uncomfortably, she took his hand in hers, and swallowed reservation. "With me."

And the party was over for her.

*****

(end part one)

*****



Part Two

*****

They didn't make it home.

Slow creeping of fingers, a dance of hips, brushing multicolored hair out of eyes that were coated in jewels and heavy with lust... She had started it, not him, the kiss that had made him pull over on the cliffs leading to her house on the beach, the Cadillac that she had stolen filtering moonlight through glass and somehow making the outside world even more surreal than it had become. Slow, sliding, needy in spite of how much she wanted to be alone and dead. Passion still existed inside of her, fire and heat, and he tasted the sparks and embers on his tongue when she slid her mouth across his. She was still alive.

And so was he.

Crashing waves from the beaches below collided onto the rocky cliffs, but Buffy wasn't concerned with these nighttime noises. She yearned for his touch, for touch in general, for his fingertips that contained the whorls and spirals of Sunnydale to etch themselves into her body until she bled American blood. Creating passion of a dead world here in this slowly fracturing remnant of humanity was important, and she kissed him with all of the breath in her body. Kissed him until his mouth hungered for other places, for the juncture of her neck and shoulder, for the sweet hollow of her throat, and then she would allow him her body. It wasn't like her body mattered anyway. Not anymore.

Hunger fueled his descent, his slow assault on her senses, escalating passion and heat emanating from her slender snakeskin- sheathed body. She was stretched out across the driver's seat, slender legs propped up on the steering wheel, ankles beaded with jewelry and feet strapped to platform sandals. The thin straps of her snakeskin dress were beginning to slide down her shoulders, revealing inches of skin that seemed to stretch for miles. Pale in moonlight but toned by summer light... He hungered for her beyond reason and craved to feel her skin on his.

The Cadillac's seats reclined far into the backseat, and Spike took advantage of that fact as he positioned himself over her, shedding his leather duster as she chuckled and reached to her side, unzipping the sheath of snakeskin that coated her petite form. It was insane, doing this on this cliff, but the world had gone crazy anyway. One brief excursion into insanity wouldn't complicate matters any more than they were already complicated. Fucking the Slayer when there was nothing left to slay wouldn't hurt him.

And not when she was all he knew in the world.

Multicolored threads of hair spilled over the seat as she tipped her head back and arched her hips, the dress sliding down her body and to the floor of the car. Her breasts were round and sweet, full enough but not in a voluptuous manner, like a Victorian woman painted in light. Silk panties remained, colored black, contrasting harshly with her skin. These slid off easily, down her thighs and pooled on the floor. The shoes were left on, those ankles so slender he thought he could break them with his bare hands. They glittered on the steering wheel, her legs slightly parted, and her fingers went to remove her panties when he stilled them. He wanted to touch them. Wanted to slide the silk off of her and reveal all that should be revealed.

Chipped black fingernails, bitten to the quick with worry, began to move down her hips. That was Spike, all right, wanting to polish his nails one minute and then tear them to shreds in the next in his unfocused lack of attention and thought. Haste and hormones propelled his actions, and now his fingernails slightly dug into her skin as he removed her underwear. "Draw blood," she murmured. "I don't really care."

Chuckling, the platinum vampire scratched behind her knees, and she moaned, feeling her blood rise to the surface of her skin. "You know, Slayer, I always knew that this would happen," Spike said lowly. "Knew you'd give in sooner or later."

A ghost of a smile flickered across her blackberry lips. "May as well be now then," she said softly. "Because there's really no later left." Time was filtering through the hourglass at a frightening pace, spilling to emptiness, and then the world would stop. And her fright consumed, her cloistering fear of death impossible, and she kissed him to drown out the screams of the dying world.

Black cotton followed her clothing as Spike pulled off his shirt, and he hastily unbuckled his black boots, abandoning her body to strip himself. She watched him, watched his elegant fingers and his taut, muscled abdomen, hard and contoured so well that she thought of scratching him to mar the perfection of his skin. The worn buttons on his black jeans complied easily with the vampire's demands, and she smirked when she saw that his pants were the last article he had to remove. "Living dangerously, Spike?" she asked, referring to his lack of underwear, and Spike grinned at her wickedly.

"Well, I'm here, aren't I?"

A moan escaped her lips as she felt his weight settle on top of her, silver and gold clashing and fighting underneath the light, as the waves from the sea screamed below them. Far, far away... The world was so far away, gone to her, disappearing underneath a cloud of haze and radiation. Black nails dug into her shoulders, and crimson ones grabbed his. She wasn't here in this car to have him make love to her. Nothing slow or possibly sweet. He would fuck the past into her, ramming memories of what Sunnydale had been into her body and her mind.

Harshly, she kissed him, a burning and smoldering one, wanting to light his dead skin aflame and set him on fire with the heat that her body emanated. She was fucking death right now, and Spike's long cock pressed between her legs, hesitating briefly. Understandable, this brief pause, as they both suddenly remembered the hatred and the battle, the past simmering and smoldering. How many times they'd tried to kill each other, only to be found preparing to screw each other into oblivion.

But Buffy knew. She knew what she needed. What she wanted. She wanted to remember Sunnydale and California, the Hellmouth and her friends, and Spike could give her that.

Forcefully, Spike entered her, and she screamed from the contact, from the length and the power of him, throwing her head back in a shower of rainbow-colored silk. He was sheathed in her heat, in the fire and hell that was her, coupled together in a mixture of frost and flame. It was better than he wanted it to be, her body glistening with sweat and brocaded in silvery light, as though she had been kissed by fairies rather than by a vampire. The Slayer's fingernails dug forcefully into his back, urging him to drive deeper, to forage everything, to push into her until she couldn't breathe.

And that was exactly what Spike wanted.

Greedy fingers scoured his back, and he kissed her as he pushed into her, his cool tongue colliding with her heated one, battling for dominance in a war that neither one of them would ever win. One hand tangled in her hair, the chipped fingernails devoured by her mass of multicolored hair, shining like a shattered prism in the strained silver. Faster and faster, the tempo built, and all the memories came flooding back to her in a deluge of drowned possibility.

The way that Willow smiled, really smiled, with all of her happiness curving her mouth in a matter that was absolutely charming. The constant courage of Xander, strong and capable, and how he could always make her fight laughter. A perfume of books and paper clinging to Giles's clothing, so that he always smelled beautifully of libraries and history, and Riley always smelled of honeydew and wheat. She felt a rush and mistook her impending orgasm for the power of battle.

And Angel's hands...

With a scream, she came, shattering into a thousand pieces, as though she had exploded like one of those dreaded disasters that had destroyed the world. He came behind her, not noticing that she was starting to cry, and not noticing that he was starting to cry as well. Both of them disintegrating from the hard shells that they had created into melted glass, frail and brittle, ebbed away by the wave of radiation and hell. "Oh, God," Buffy whispered, and they didn't separate.

They just remained there, silently weeping, tears streaking black eyeliner down her face as her mask melted.

*****

Kaleidoscopic threads of hair fluttered behind her as she sat on the damp rocks, a cigarette placed carefully between her fingers, watching the tide come in. The cliffs were dangerous and deadly; she had read stories of cars veering off the winding roads and falling down on the rocks, some accidents and some suicide attempts, and yet the ocean was tranquil and beautiful to behold. Like liquefied gemstones topped with frills of lace, the waters lapped at the shores, waves crashing and exploding like fractured glass. The former Slayer contemplated life and death as she sat there, sandals abandoned but bejeweled in her fake glitter none the less, as the vampire sat next to her and smoked.

The wind blew his leather duster into a frenzy of black, dramatic and harsh around his elegant face, and Buffy leaned her body slightly into his, legs together except at the knees, spread apart for balance. Slender snakeskin fluttered in the sea breeze, and Spike found that he now saw the girl that he had once despised and grudgingly respected from before. Contemplation and sadness moved across her face in a fashion that made her difficult to hate, as Spike had always had something of a soft spot for her in pain. Not enough to spare her life, but enough to make him quiet. Perhaps it was just watching the majesty of her beautiful agony - like looking at fine art.

Sparks flew off of her cigarette as she flicked ash off the tip, and Spike turned his head to hers. "When did you begin to smoke?" he asked, and she shrugged slightly.

"Before the bombs," she said. "Waiting for the war to escalate to that point... I don't know. Too stressful, I guess. Everyone was smoking, watching the television set nonstop, on pins and needles or something pointy. And I was so afraid, so frightened of what could happen, that I started to smoke along with the rest of the world." A dry smile curved her mouth, the blackberry color smudged and swollen by kisses. "Of course, there's no reason not to now."

Wryly, Spike smiled. "Point taken."

Smoke was tossed on the wind as he falsely exhaled, his dead lungs expelling the cigarette smoke and throwing it at the mercy of a soulless breeze. These were the winds that would eventually bring hell and radiation down on them, the traitorous breeze tasting of saltwater and coconut. She flinched slightly, fearful of her silent murderer, and wondered what it had been like for her family and friends in Sunnydale. She wondered if their deaths had been silent. Wondered if they had been sweet.

"Did they know?" Buffy asked softly, and Spike shook his head.

"No," he said. "I got out of there pretty late in the game, and they were all still certain that it wouldn't come to this. Guess I was right all along about your team of imbeciles, wasn't I?" Harshly, Buffy whipped her head around and glared at the vampire, and he tilted his head, acquiescing to her point. "Well, I never said I was going to bloody well be *nice* afterwards." He grinned. "Drusilla and I would always-" His voice was interrupted by a waver that he didn't want to think of. Drusilla, draped in her outdated finery and old-fashioned mind, addled by the past and by their sire, was gone. Dead forever, annihilated by the dropping of the bombs on Rio. "She never had a chance."

Shortly, Buffy laughed. "None of us have a chance, Spike," she said. "We're all royally fucked. Up a creek without a canoe."

"Without a *paddle*, you ninny," Spike said, and Buffy glared at the vampire. "Well, if you can't use an expression properly, then don't use it at all."

Rolling her eyes, she turned her head, deciding not to argue semantics with him. It was pointless anyway. They were screwed, no matter how it was said. They were both lost in separate memories unified by their clash in life, and then she spoke, her voice hushed. "You remember the strangest details, don't you," she said aloud. "Like scents or favorite foods, or watching movies while eating burned popcorn."

Wistfully, Spike smiled. "Yeah," he said, a dreamy note in his voice. "I remember how Dru always liked to steal her dolls from the children she killed and then name them after their owners. She had the greatest sense of humor."

Wryly, Buffy stared at him. "You have strange memories."

Spike snorted sarcastically, picking up a coil of highlighted magenta and twirling her own hair in her eyes. "You have strange hair," he said.

Buffy arched a honey-colored eyebrow in his direction, eyeing his lightning-colored hair pointedly. "And *you're* one to talk, bleach-boy?"

Roughly, the vampire tugged on the stolen curl of magenta while her scalp ached. "Fuck you," he said obstinately, and she laughed, a little insanely, a little drunkenly, a little strangely. She was feeling all of those things. Mad, sloshed, and bizarre. Everything was disoriented and fucked beyond belief. Like glass was inside of her veins instead of blood. Perhaps that was why she had done what she had done - fucked Spike in her stolen Cadillac, and then cried after it was all over.

But she didn't know why he had fucked her and then shed post- coital tears.

"You're still daft, you know," Spike said, and Buffy hated that she was mildly charmed by his British slang. Spike could be charming, if a girl liked his brazen wit that was honed and sharpened like a scythe. He could be charming like broken glass was charming, dangerous but beautiful nonetheless. "We both are."

"I think that the real morons out there are the ones who started this whole mess to begin with," Buffy countered, and Spike laughed shortly at her.

"Yeah, and of what nationality are they again?" he reminded. Buffy flinched. It was true. America, home of the free and land of the brave, had fucked up royally as they were prone to do. Freedom and independence might have meant something before time had stopped so rapidly and ruthlessly, but apparently the definition had waned somewhat over the past few months. "You certainly didn't see the Brits getting involved in all that nonsense. It was you stupid Americans who had to go all John Wayne and step in."

Buffy bristled, her eyes flashing dangerously at him like electrified seawater. "You know, you're awfully quick to judge for someone who hasn't even been *back* to London since the Beatles broke up," she said snidely. "Come on, Spike - let's not lay the blame on the country. Let's blame the *men* and their testosterone-fueled politics that fucked the whole world up beyond any and all recognition. If they could just keep their penises out of their politics, then maybe I'd still have a home and a family and you might still have Dru!"

A fist connected solidly with her face, and Buffy took the blow easily, returning it harshly and cruelly. It didn't matter that he had just slept with her; she wouldn't take the blame for the end of the world. Not when she had saved it too many times to count. Not when she had given up everything that was her and had to suffer through a year of numbness because of her birthright. She had done her job as mankind's protectorate and no one had remembered that - and it was worse to hear it coming from someone who knew that she was the Slayer.

Even if it was a peroxide-blond vampire who needed to ash his cigarette.

Menacing eyes glared into hers, flickering like obsidian, and Buffy grinned at him malevolently and violently. The voice of Faith whispered inside of her head like a devil, low and sexy, predatory and cruel. Go on, B, Faith said. The violence is the best part. And somehow, it was good. Tenderness had just weakened her defenses; Spike tore them down and then tossed them back up at regular intervals. Now was a good time for those defenses to be fucked to hell, and it was also a good time for Buffy to get fucked to hell with them.

"You don't know anything about Dru," Spike said, his voice growling like hot velvet. Like a tiger in heat. "She was everything. Damaged, a little deranged, but still innocent and pure in a lot of ways. She didn't deserve what the world did to her."

Frustrated and furious, and oddly aroused by the anger inside of Spike's eyes, Buffy glared at him coldly and threw her cards down on the table. "Willow. Xander. Giles. My mother. Riley. Angel." Her voice could have frozen icicles on that last one. "Those are the people that care about me. Those are the people that love me. And you don't know *shit* about them, Spike, so don't think that your nutty girlfriend is the only victim of a cruel, cruel world."

It wasn't nice when it was over; Buffy knew that now. It didn't always have to be cuddles and kisses and pillow talk. It could be rocks and cigarettes and harsh barbs. These things were satisfactory as well. And they could also make her burn with anger and arousal in a way that was something as harsh as a nuclear blast, an atom bomb, or something as poetic and blistering as the war that had wrecked her mind beyond belief.

He looked into her seemingly sweet face for a second and saw nothing of the girl who had once giggled like a ninny and worn pastels at night. He only saw a girl in running mascara and snakeskin, a girl whose slender body was a little too thin, even thinner than she had once been, and a girl who was waiting for a death more physical than the one she had inflicted on herself. Buffy Summers was suicidal in a way, like one of those idiot cutters that they made bad television movies about, slicing into herself because she couldn't stand who she was. Resentment was a powerful drug.

But there was also something about this girl that was just as infuriating as the one from before, and something raw from her periods of numbness that had lifted just for tonight. Special occasion and all that - fucking good old Spike. "We're all victims, is that it?" Spike asked, tossing his cigarette in the rocks in a fashion that made her angry. Littering was a pet peeve of hers when the Australian beaches were so brutally beautiful. "I don't think I'm a victim."

Buffy laughed cruelly. "Well, duh," she said. "You hunted mankind for centuries. That would make you the predator, you shit."

His smile widened considerably in the dark, the moonlight glinting off of silver-white teeth that had killed thousands. Teeth that could sink in the ripeness of her slender neck and drink her dry if he wanted to do it. "Yeah," Spike said lowly, his eyes beginning to glow with burning amber. "I guess it would."

The sound of a growl broke through the air as his face changed and the demon possessed him, hunger and rage fueling the desire for her blood. But what he didn't expect, what he didn't foresee, was Buffy tilting her head to the side and exposing her neck, multicolored strands of hair clinging desperately to her sweaty and glittery skin, offering him her blood. She wasn't begging for death as some had done, not whining or pleading like a simpering schoolgirl. She just didn't care if he killed her. "Whatever" said the bend of her throat.

And, well, that wasn't any fun at all.

Irritated and somewhat saddened by the figure of this hollow girl who didn't give a rat's ass if her mortal enemy on, Spike swallowed his hunger and reverted to his more familiar fašade, eyes dying from burning gold to a softer blaze of blue. "Oh, hell," he muttered, and Buffy looked at him with empty eyes as clear as the Australian sea, a haughty but meaningless smirk on her blueberry mouth. "You're not worth it anymore anyway."

A snide remark whipped from her tongue as she spoke. "Nope," she said. "Neither are you."

None of them were worth anything now, but she still thought that she might screw him again. He had been wonderful, exactly what she needed, pounding into her with the coldness of death and reminding her that she had once been someone. Reminded her of the Buffy who had worn pretty little designer outfits that revealed what others couldn't have and made smart-ass comments that others had wet dreams about. She liked that Buffy. She didn't know who this one was.

Maybe Spike could teach her.

So she kissed him again, wet mouth sliding over wet mouth, both tasting of burned tobacco and of each other. She thought that she tasted her kiss on his tongue as it tackled hers, and that she tasted of menthol and madness. It wasn't a bad flavor, but it wasn't as beautiful as she had once been. Her hands slid around to embrace the nape of his neck, fingers curling into the ends of his white-blond hair, too artificial to ever be real, but that was Spike in a nutshell. When she finished kissing him, her fingers stayed there, touching his hair that wasn't damaged by bleaching. Vampire perk, she supposed.

"I'm not done with you," Buffy said softly, and Spike shook his head. He wasn't done with her either. Not finished with the woman who had once tortured him both sexually and physically. He had plans for her, if only because it didn't matter whether or not she was the Slayer now. In months, they'd be corpses and dust, respectfully.

So Spike kissed her again, ferociously, using the teeth that she'd bowed to earlier and nipping playfully at her tongue, until she took him off the rocks and drove him to her place.

And she reminded herself that nothing mattered anymore.

*****

(end part two)

*****



Part Three

*****

It wasn't a bad place to die in.

The sound of waves crashing followed them from the winding and rocky road to her house, which perched over the precarious and dangerous cliffs with a mammoth size and spaciousness. It was a condominium that had been abandoned by any and all vacationers, as there weren't too many people deciding to run away right now. There wasn't anywhere to run to. Large, modern arches and a pretty garden that was dying of neglect and running wild were bonuses, as was its large loft of a bedroom decorated in black sheets and its spacious bathroom with a Jacuzzi that she rarely used.

But she did like the glass wall.

The downstairs living room area, which jutted out over the cliffs, possessed a wall made of glass. Nothing but glass, separated by thin metal that kept the individual panes from shattering at the first gust of wind. They sloped upwards, leaving part of the ceiling exposed to the sky, and the first thought that Spike had was that if he stayed down there too long, he'd incinerate and ruin the glass. Placing his hands behind his back, the black fingernails threading through and through, slightly covered by the cuffs of his oversized duster, Spike looked out the window and contemplated leaving.

Leaving might be the best idea for him, though not for her. If he left, she'd probably go back to her old way of living. The way of living that had gotten her this far and this fucked-up. It wasn't his concern. Her problem, not his. But Spike was thinking about it, his hands fidgeting somewhat anxiously with the lack of attention that he was prone to. Ritalin probably would have helped, but Spike wasn't into drugs like she was.

She was upstairs right now; he heard her ruffling in the loft, maybe tidying up or maybe trying to find a bottle of some sort of strange medication that could numb her to the impending end. Didn't matter to him as long as she had a flask of something and an ashtray for his ubiquitous cigarettes. Shrugging off his coat, Spike turned away from the windows and placed the duster on a footstool the color of wine, a little worn for the wear and not in her style. The place had probably come furnished.

Spike sat down with a sigh, his body slightly bruised from their rough tumble in her Cadillac and then the post-coital sit upon the not-so-cushioned rocks. Groaning, he shifted, his long limbs never finding comfort, and then placed his hands behind his head, looking out at the Australian beach where he would soon die. Spike smirked when he thought of asking the Slayer to stake him, to spare him his misery when the day ended. Maybe that was why she'd so vacantly offered him her neck earlier. Not much to live for anymore.

Music began to pump through the stereo, an expensive system that must have been looted from somewhere in Australia. Stealing had never bothered Spike; it had once bothered her but not anymore. He didn't recognize the voice or the melody, but it was slow and sweet, with a bass line that throbbed like a bleeding heart. Arching the scarred eyebrow upwards, he watched with a slow calculation as Buffy descended from upstairs, her face freed of makeup and her hair bound back in a large tortoiseshell hair clip, piled high on her head in a kaleidoscope of frenzied color. She had changed out of her snakeskin dress into a simpler pair of flared blue jeans that frayed and tore at the cuff. Bare toes painted scarlet curled down the stairs as she walked, and she fidgeted restlessly with the strap of her red satin camisole top, a black bra strap rebelliously sliding down her shoulder.

She looked like a girl strung out on too many drugs, but she was beautiful anyway.

It was Sheryl Crow that she was playing, something strangely different from what played in her clubs, as Sheryl sang about rivers and tides. She was an indulgence of Buffy's, and she played this song a lot. It was calming, tranquil, and the bass line often coincided with the rhythm of the crashing waves on the cliffs. Sheryl murmured on and Buffy walked down the stairs, her eyes scouring the shores for some semblance of hope on the horizon, like a ship sailing in from America to tell her that she could stop worrying and that everything was going to be okay.

Instead, she heard the silence of Spike's nonexistent breath and knew otherwise.

Wearily, Buffy leaned her head against the glass, errant threads of magenta and ruby spilling down from her poorly-restrained mass of variegated hair to crowd her face. Her reflection glinted back at her, and she didn't recognize herself in her glass wall. "Sun will be rising in an hour or so," Buffy said lowly. "There's a spare bedroom if you want it. Or you can always..." Her voice trailed off, and Spike read her implications until she turned around and smiled viciously at him. "Stay here in the glass."

Spike scowled at her and turned his eyes to the view that was painted in the first lightening of blue. The sea glinted like a knife underneath the partially-full moon, and he walked to the glass, his eyes glimmering coldly and malevolently. The eyes of a murderer - Spike had taken many lives over the years, but none of them could compare to the lives that men had taken themselves by pressing that stupid little red button. Tilting her head, Buffy pressed her head against the glass and watched him. "What's it like to be a murderer, Spike?" she asked. "What's it like to kill?"

Shrugging, the vampire continued his languid seduction of the sea. "Fun," he said. At her rather disappointed look, Spike laughed shortly. "What did you expect? Some long, flowery sonnet on how you hold human lives in your hands? It's not playing God, not for me. It's just plain *fun*." His eyes smirked at her in synchrony with his mouth. "Maybe you should ask Angel some time. When he's soulless, he's got a whole different viewpoint on killing. With him, it's like that. Like taking life and possessing it, or some bullshit. He always went off on it in the early days. I think he was trying to write a book for a while, the bloody wanker talked so much about it."

Her voice was practically Arctic. "Angel's dead."

Spike's smirk didn't falter. "So he is."

Still chuckling over this latest barb, a barb that didn't even cut her cooled skin, Spike closed the distance between them by claiming her mouth as his, possessing her as though she was a vase or something ornamental. Sheryl continued to sing as she kissed him back, fingernails digging into the nape of his neck, something that she increasingly liked. Spike had a wonderful neck, long and slender, and his Adam's apple bobbed hypnotically as she kissed him with her eyes wide open. Red tangles of hair fell in her eyes as she kissed him with a ferocity that she thought she'd lost, and Buffy was happy to see that it still existed.

When she surfaced from the kiss, still gasping for breath, she began to tug insistently at his shirt, ordering that it be removed immediately. "You do know how fucked up this all is, right?" she said, her voice hoarse and breathless. Spike saw her carmine-tipped fingers wrapping through the cotton of his shirt and groaned, wanting her more than he wanted to live.

"Oh, God yes," Spike said roughly, and she slipped off her camisole, red satin flying on the floor near her flared and torn jeans. Breasts encased in black silk that glinted in the moonlight were beautiful, and Spike felt a sudden urge to do what he couldn't comprehend. He felt the urge to touch them, but slowly, to graze his fingertips over the juncture between silk and skin, to caress instead of crush. And so he did, reaching out a fingertip so that half of his finger traced the thin line between fabric and Buffy. She moaned, arching her back so that his breasts poured into his hands, and Spike greedily took advantage of her want and need. Roseate nipples pressed insistently through the silk, and his thumb rotated one over the silk, soft and almost sweet, and Buffy hissed in a breath.

"You're..." she started, but was interrupted by a moan low within herself when Spike trailed his fingers lower, barely grazing his skin, until he was lining the juicy crevice underneath her breast. She was going to tell him that he was being too nice, too soft, until she decided that she wanted this softness. Wanted Spike to go slow. To tease instead of pound. "Oh..."

The heat of her skin was an inferno encased in velvet, and Spike was obsessed with it, infatuated to the point of absolute madness and insanity. Buffy's reddened skin was magnificent to behold, as though a spark glowed in every pore. She then pulled him apart so that she could pull his shirt over head, never ruffling his slicked blond hair. Acres of skin the color of bone glimmered, and Buffy dipped her head down to taste his nonexistent sweat. Her hot little pink tongue flicked across his nipples, and Spike groaned, feeling himself harden in an instant, lengthening and swelling at the promise that she was giving.

Chuckling slightly, Buffy began to undo the buttons on his faded black jeans, and he instantly took off hers in response, feeling the concave smoothness of her stomach and her thin, jutting hipbones underneath the slightly baggy jeans. She'd thinned, hardened in places that he didn't think possible, wasting away along with the world that she'd left behind. Hardened so much that she'd become fragile in the process.

Grunting, Spike whipped her jeans off of her so fast that she felt denim scrape along her skin, burning in a fashion that wasn't entirely unpleasant. She was left in nothing but her underwear, and she stripped him down so that he was naked, thus upping the ante. Swooping gracefully, the girl who had once been known as a Slayer licked seductively and devilishly at his taut nipples, and Spike sucked in a breath when she scraped his sternum with her sharp little teeth. Vampiric tendencies --a lesson learned from stalking her prey. "Christ," Spike muttered.

"I don't think He's out there anymore," replied the Slayer, and he couldn't argue with her on that one. As she licked a trail down his abdomen, Spike reached around to her back, undoing the clasp of the black satin bra and releasing her from its bindings, his hands instantly gravitating to her breasts, groping her harshly and roughly, and she nipped naughtily at his shoulder, a delicious move.

The sky was beginning to lighten outside, birds singing, but Spike didn't care. Let the sunrise incinerate him. Let it all go bad. He didn't give a shit anymore. Turning to ash on the Slayer's skin would be a fitting way to die. Another crime for her to commit - it would add guilt to her conscience, and he'd always thought her beautiful when miserable. She was exquisite now, sensual and dead, and he forcefully took off her matching panties, revealing her tight little body that he picked up and slammed against the window, hoping to break the glass and send her to the rocks below. A merciful death compared to what was coming.

The clip fell from her hair when Spike entered her, and a rainbow of magentas and rubies spilled down across her shoulders, threading through the thick gold that was too long for her own good. Trickles of color and silk were splashed across his starlight shoulders, and she rocked back and forth, wrapping her legs around him as he pounded into her against the glass, challenging fragility and delicacy with the dominance of his cadences and rhythms. Moaning, she whispered words of nonsense and beauty as she felt her climax building, building from nothing but the brutality of their sex. The angle of his thrusts shifted slightly, exploding with cool collision with her clitoris, and she sparked like a fire, embers burning bright and brilliant inside of her veins, like coals heating up after a long death and stillness.

When she came, it was violently, fingernails digging into the luxurious skin of his back, and her feet scraped and clutched at the backs of his thighs, clutching him desperately as he followed shortly thereafter, falling into the blistering heat and moisture of her.

And then the sun was beginning to crown the horizon, a worse heat filling his body. //Face it,// a part of him whispered, //and die like this rather than whatever's coming ahead.//

But he couldn't.

Gasping with fear, Spike pulled backwards, nearly dropping the thin girl who'd wrapped herself around him so gracefully. Irritated, Buffy turned her head around to look at the window, and when she saw what he saw, she sighed and relinquished her hold on him, understanding. "Sorry, Spike," she said, her voice carrying little apology. "The loft will be safe. Go upstairs and close the blinds on the door. Go to bed."

Spike was ashamed. Ashamed of not being able to kill himself. Of not being able to face the sunlight. How was he going to cope? How was he going to handle it when the world finally claimed him in the coming months? Immortality was a bitch indeed, if only because his seemingly unlimited time was running out.

Irritated, he walked up to the loft, glancing briefly at the bed with its red linen (so trite for her) and then roughly pulling the blinds closed, not bothering with dressing. Let him see if she cared - and at this point, he doubted that she did. He didn't care if she did. He hated her for bringing him here and revealing his true cowardice, and he hated her for being so glassy and cold. Hated her for changing along with the rest of the world. If she'd been sunny and sweet, pure as the fucking daisies, then at least she'd be familiar. At least she'd be something.

But then again, he might have changed too. Apocalypse could do that to a person - or a vampire.

"Hell," Spike muttered, moving sluggishly and wearily to the bed, "maybe you can teach an old cat new tricks after all."

"Dog," she said, emerging from the downstairs in all of her glorious and precarious nudity. "If you can't use a metaphor properly, don't use it at all." He actually barked a laugh at that, her remembering his earlier words, and lazily covered himself with the sheets, closing his eyes to hear her rather than see her, lit in slits of dangerous dawn. Drawers opened; he heard that, and he also heard the rustling of sheets without feeling her getting into bed. He guessed that she was covering up the door to the balcony to protect him from the light, and almost wished she wouldn't. Maybe he could kill himself if he slept through his suicide.

Cowardly way to go, old man.

She didn't want another day. Didn't want the time to continue moving. It was like a journey with compressed mileage, a drive through never-ending countryside that would eventually stop with a tragic car accident. That was what life was nowadays. It was waiting for morning and wishing that it would always be night. It was looking for death and fearing it.

It was sleeping with the enemy because he was an enemy and not a stranger.

Sanity through insane acts, she thought to herself, climbing into the summer sheets and looking at the way the black bed sheet covered the light. She could trick herself perhaps into thinking that it was still nighttime when day had actually dawned, but she could never fool herself into thinking that she hadn't just slept with Spike. No lies there. She only wished that she had pretended the night away, back into the blind embrace of pills and booze and make-believe, but it had happened.

It would probably happen again.

Lying as far away from him as possible, turning her back to Spike so that Buffy could pretend that she was alone. Folding her hands in mock prayer, Buffy slipped into a troubled sleep, the last line of the song filtering through her head and leading her into nightmares.

"Time watches everyone cling, honey now, don't bail on me..."

*****

(end part three)

*****

The lyrics belong to Sheryl Crow, and are from her song, "Riverwide", which can be found on _The Globe Sessions_ LP.

*****



Part Four

*****

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)

*****



Part Five

*****

Soft lips caressed hers, never asking, never demanding, only giving. Smiling happily, she kissed him back, her hand moving across his chest, never able to record the broadness of it or scale the landscape of his body. Lovingly, she caressed his cheekbones with her mouth, clinging to him and all of his beauty. "You know that I've never loved anyone the way that I love you," he murmured, his voice dark as velveteen midnight. "You're everything that the world needs."

Chuckling softly, she wrapped herself inside of him, passing her hand absently over the spiked mass of his hair. "I'm not the sun," she said, her voice light and carefree, a smile in her voice. "No one should be expected to be a galaxy."

Laughter poured so freely out of his mouth that she wanted to drink it to see if it would get her drunk, like a dark red wine with a bouquet of fresh fruit. Cranberries and apples... That was his laugh. "But you are a savior," he said, and she tipped her head back, hoping to catch another kiss from her darkly beautiful lover. She loved him like the moon and stars, like he was celestial and silvery, someone beautiful and rapturous. He always tasted the same, like plums and faint coppery blood. Life, she thought while kissing him. He tastes like life.

Softly, he pulled away and murmured in her ear. "You're a failure."

Pain, deep and pungent, exploded inside of her chest, and she pulled away, shocked and destroyed by his harsh words. Hurt, she craned her neck away and looked down at him, and what she saw took her breath away.

A face ravaged by disease looked at her with accusing and bloodshot eyes. Teeth were missing from his mouth, blood seeping out of sores that had exploded on his pearly mouth. Patches of his spiked brown hair were missing, and sores were erupting on the surface of his scalp. The face of her lover... The face of an angel...

*****

Glass slammed shut as she closed the door to the medicine cabinet, and her reflection stared back at her incriminatingly. Bereft of makeup, her face was fresh and yet like a ghost to her - she didn't recognize herself. The strraight nose that flared like a flattened star at the end, the soft cheekbones rounded by baby fat that she'd never lose, and the thick eyelashes covering eyes the color of the Great Coral Reef's water. Frowning, she took in her expression, hair slicked back so that the colors didn't show, and she thought for a moment that she caught a glimpse of her old self in the mirror.

The girl who liked lilies and springtime, and wore the scent of freshly cut peaches behind her ear. The girl who would dance like a live flame and laugh while she did it, who stole hearts on a regular basis but loved her collection dearly. The girl who saved the world...

Buffy sighed.

Whorls of color sat inside of the makeup chest, bowls of shockingly dark lip colors, sticks of blueberry violet and whore red, and Buffy stared at herself with the dull glare of a girl who's lost everything, and then picked up the lipstick.

A stirring from the bed interrupted her slow dissection of herself, and Buffy turned her head, seeing a naked back covered halfway by vermilion linen. Spike... His peroxide blond hair turned on the pillow as he slept, the broad muscles of his shoulders pale and bright in the evening light. Black fingernails clutched the sheets to him, but they dipped low enough in the back to see the rise of his taut buttocks. He was exquisite.

Memory flashed and interrupted her gaze, showing her a vision of dark hair printed over the blonde, of larger muscles and darker breaths, and Buffy flinched, stumbling backwards, propelled by the ferocity of her remembered dream. Angel... So accusing and so heavy...

The cigarette lit in the darkness of the shaded loft, and Buffy took in a deep breath of mentholated tobacco, exhaling a cloud of smoke into the misted bedroom. It smelled of sex, but so did Spike. He always carried the heady aroma of utter sensuality, misted slightly with the soft aroma of spent cigarettes. Quietly, Buffy walked to the bed, not making a sound as she padded across the carpeting, bare feet sinking into the soft rug as she crouched by his side, the wings of her robe folding around her arms and legs as she sat there.

Moaning softly in his sleep, Spike turned on his side, facing her now, black lashes closing over startlingly blue eyes, mouth pouting boyishly in slumber, as his black fingernails clutched his pillow and he dreamed of the past. The mouth that spat harsh insults to her earlier was now closed in his fitful repose, and Buffy stroked her fingernails through his hair. She wondered briefly what it would be like when he died. Would he explode into dust, dissolving into nothing more than a remnant of the man he used to be? Would be just fade into oblivion, turning into a corpse in the cruelest of deaths?

Bitterly, she closed her eyes, listening to the silence of his dead breath. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore. No matter how he tried to ignite the dead fire, no matter how harshly he taunted her or how softly he held her, she was still dying. They were both dying. They were *all* dying.

The whisper of her ghost came murmuring on the wind, his wine- flavored voice carrying to her across the wastelands of the Northern Hemisphere and down to her doomed sanctuary in Australia. "You're a failure..."

Mouth twisted in an empty sneer, Buffy answered him softly, her voice murmuring inadvertently in her lover's childe's ear. "No one should be expected to be the sun."

And with that, she dressed and left.

*****

Lights flashed...

Noise continued...

And she was still in the club.

Vodka was her poison tonight, a substitute for the tasteless radiation that would later choke her to death. A temporary reprieve from the promise of her oncoming death, and a better way to drown the guilt than... Heavily, Buffy picked up the shot glass and tipped her head backwards, swallowing the liquefied fire that burned down her throat in a clear potion of potency. Her many bracelets jangled as she drank, glowing with the fluorescent light that flowed through them.

Leather coated her body, from her flared carmine pants that rode low on her hips to the matching top that tied in the small of her back. Glitter covered her shoulders as usual, so that she sparkled to hide the tarnish that no polish or love would ever remove. Her fingers shook slightly on the glass, but not from drunkenness. No, whispers of the past had done this, from the slow murmurs in her ear in her dreams to the peroxide blond vampire sleeping stilly in her bed.

Spike... The burn of the liquor wasn't enough. It was a conflagration inside of her body, what he had done to her, burning her to a holocaust until she was an immolation of a girl, and then softly kissed her with a gentleness foreign to her as far as he was concerned. Taken away the guilt, taken away the pain, and yet he couldn't see that that was what she needed. She needed to take the blame and wear it like the glitter covering her skin. She needed to fill herself with the misery or else she'd be empty and frail. Hollow and worn. But in so many ways, Buffy was already vacant and barren.

She was already dead.

Loud, pulsing music pumped through the warehouse, and Buffy somberly turned her head, her hair falling in her face in its multicolored mass of braids. The dance floor was full, bodies twisting and turning in time with the rhythm, beautiful youths clothed in rags of designer clothing, easily accessible for whoever cared about what they wore. Everyone wore jewelry that glowed tonight, given away outside by some teens who'd found the box in an abandoned nightclub. Bracelets, necklaces, and anklets, so that everyone was artificially incandescent. Buffy had woven luminescent pink and green through her hair, like a halo made out of false fluorescence, and she was radiant in her own harsh way.

Wincing, Buffy felt the first glimmerings of a buzz coming on, and tapped her shot glass insistently, calling for another shot of vodka. The clear liquid was poured into her glass, and she threw her head back with a vengeance, intent on drinking herself into a frenzy tonight. She was insistent upon losing herself in liquor and lust tonight, intent on losing the past that she'd only hours ago demanded from Spike. God, even thinking his name hurt. It hurt because she knew him, and tonight she needed something foreign to steal her memories from her.

"Rough night?"

The voice was Australian, distinctly so, and unfamiliar. Slowly, Buffy turned her head to find a man sitting next to her, a young man, with blond hair the color of crystallized sand and eyes that were indistinguishable in the pulsating lights. Fluorescent bracelets twined over his wrists, and he wore a cream-colored jersey shirt along with khaki cargo pants, reminiscent of Xander... But she wasn't going to think about Xander tonight. She was going to smile at this boy and forget the ruin of the world.

So she *did* smile, and she put the shot glass down on the table, pulling a cigarette out of a slightly crushed pack of Marlboros. "Isn't it always a rough night?" she said, injecting coyness into her voice.

From the shadows of the club, amidst the dancing bodies, he watched her with the boy, glaring at her with the anger of seeing someone intent on destroying themselves. No matter how he loved chaos, he didn't care for its taste anymore, not after all of the ruin that he'd witnessed. He looked at her ridiculous appearance, with the leather clinging to her legs and the glowing necklaces threaded through her hair and twined around her wrists and ankles. Beautiful but stupid - what with her glittering eyeliner and lip gloss. She was a fractured gemstone.

The boy was stealing her smiles, basking in her artificial glow. Silently, he moved through the shadows of the club, the dark wings of his trench coat fluttering around him in an incognito of darkness. Nothing glowed about him, disintegrating into the shadows, with the possible exception of heated blue eyes, drinking her in like the vodka that she was consuming. Did she think that she could keep him tied up in her crimson sheets? Tangled and twined inside of the vermilion... Oh, Spike wasn't a fool. He knew that she had panicked, run away to her foolish nightclubs and her lifestyle of fucking and drinking. Her death before death... Oh, Buffy was truly screwed up now.

However, the voyeur inside of him fed off of her, watching her heavily lidded and drunken eyes flirting with the foolish boy wearing khaki like the whelp the world had killed in California. He was basking in the ray of her lying sun, of the nonexistent light that radiated off of her. Some people would think that there was a fire underneath her skin, but Spike knew otherwise. He knew that she was running off of fumes and nothing else.

Crossing his arms, Spike leaned against the doorframe, watching the lights flicker and flash across the dance floor. The former Slayer stood up and took the boy's hand, drawing him to the dance floor as her braided hair glowed with the luminous neon lights she'd carefully woven through her hair. Slowly, she sidled up to him, running her hands through his spiked hair, styled in a fashion similar to Spike's old sire's, the great and fabulous poof. Angel...

She'd screamed his name when she woke up today, and only he knew that.

Languidly, she ran his hands over her hips, purring in false satisfaction, and Spike watched as their dance continued, feeling a strange ache to be the object of her affection and attention. That was his dance. His tease and taunt, his seductive smile lit by missing kerosene, and Buffy was giving it all away to the whelp that she was dancing with. The whisper of a leather-clad girl ran her hands up the sides of her body, and Spike watched with building anger as she took the boy off the dance floor. She had other plans for him.

Fog curled through the back alley, sheathing her in thick smoke, and the distant sound of sirens could be heard from miles away. He followed her out there incognito, careful not to reveal his surveillance of her. Braids fell down her shoulders in a cascade of decorated color, pouring over her slim and glittered back, and she wrapped her arms around the boy, pulling him to her in a rough and volatile kiss. Anger surged through him, not jealousy, but rage at the fact that she could be so absolutely useless and worthless. She possessed nothing but her thin sensuality, using every trick she knew to make herself forget. To lessen herself so that she was as villainous as she wanted to be. To make her a worthy vessel for her cargo of guilt.

This was what she needed, she thought as she undid the boy's leather belt. No pity, no empathy, no reminder of who she had once been. That girl had died with the rest of them in Sunnydale, an escort to their unwilling and innocent cadavers. She was another victim of the nuclear war, another shadow to be cast on the sundial of the world. Time was running short... Desperately, she kissed him, her fingernails digging into his shoulders and insistently propelling him towards her. No words, no clever repartee, no soft lovemaking. Just this rough and tumble coupling against the brick wall of the warehouse...

Sharp cries echoed against her teeth, probably from his drug- addled ecstasy, and Buffy kissed him anyway, undoing the fly on his khakis and keeping her hands fastened to his hips, and she could sense danger in the air. Could taste it with a tangibility that was marvelous to behold. And then...

The boy fell, fell to the side, blood dripping down his neck in a cascade of crimson, and Spike stood above her, eyes glowing an iridescent gold, face disfigured to reveal the demon within. The boy was not dead; he'd live, but only for a short period of time before the world claimed his life. "You *bastard*," Buffy growled, shoving him with her hands before going slightly mad and beating him into a frenzy. "You piece of *shit*!"

Easily, he blocked her rage-induced fighting, his face shifting back to normal as he cornered her against the wall, placing his hands insistently on her shoulders, not caring for her discomfort or possible pain. "Is this what you want, Slayer?" Spike asked, his voice rough as gravel, low and predatory. "Is this what you think you deserve? You don't want someone to understand you, you just want a good rough shag."

Grinning predatorily, the leather clinging to her skin in a fashion that was decidedly appealing, Buffy sneered at him. "You'll never understand me, Spike," she said viciously, lashing out at him with words rather than fighting. "You'll never understand anything at all. You're worthless."

He met her smile with an arrogant smirk of his own. "Ah, is that the pot calling the kettle black?"

Growling, she kissed him, brutally assaulting his mouth with her own, heat boiling inside of her belly in a mixture of anger and carnal arousal. She wanted him, wanted him to pound into her, to make her into something that she suspected she already was, and she insistently rubbed her hips against his, feeling him harden and ready for whatever she was willing to give him. "Just fuck me," she said into his mouth, her hot breath panting onto his lips. "Don't do anything else but that."

Spike pulled away from her roughly, his fingers bruised from holding the powerful girl so closely, and he glared at her coldly. "You're not worth it." With a final push, he slammed her slender body against the brick, and she grunted with the force of his hands. Disappointed, Spike turned away, leather coat covered in mist, ready to leave her...

And a gunshot interrupted the scene.

Stunned, they both turned, Buffy running towards the point where the gunshot had first rose from, only to hear two more join it. Eyes widening, lips parting in an expression of true horror and dismay, she ran, braids unfurling like a thousand serpents behind her as she ran. He followed, startled by the sound, only to see the results resting behind a bright orange dumpster.

Three bodies lay there, painted in an effigy of blood and blue light, like holy statues tipped over and abused. A woman, her dress ragged and worn, a gunshot clear through her head. A small girl, golden hair stained crimson with spilled blood, held tightly in the dead arms of her mother, blood splashed on the woman's dress. And a man, a gunshot wound straight through his graying temples, the weapon still warm in his loose fist.

Gasping, Buffy fell to her knees, her hair shimmering behind her in a tapestry of braids, choking on her own breath and tears as she looked down at the three. Shaking fingers hovered over the three, but she couldn't bring herself to interrupt the picture that they painted. "Oh, God," she whispered, realizing what had happened. "Oh, *God*..." They were a family, the wedding bands matching and glistening in the cool streetlight, the daughter still clutching her mother and a stuffed bunny animal for protection. There was no murder here, nothing but a desperate attempt to flee the inevitable in a fashion more merciful than what was coming. "Oh, Jesus, oh no, oh God..."

Sobbing wracked her body, and Spike stood numbly behind her, looking at the defiled angels with an expression of stunned horror on his face. Swiftly, he covered up his unexpected pain and reached a hand down to touch the quivering Slayer as her fingers floated over the dead child helplessly. "Buffy, this was their choice," he said, his voice sharpened to try to make her understand. "They made this decision... You can't do anything; they're *dead*..."

Horrified, she shook her head, her braided hair tossing over her shoulders as her eyeliner ran down her cheeks like stained oil paint. "No," she whispered. "No, they're *not* dead; I can still help them. I can still save them, just go for help *now*..."

Roughly, he pulled her to her feet, looking at the expression on her face as she was caught in an insane spiral of grief and terror, and she hit him with useless fists, screaming incoherently at him for interrupting her impossible salvation. "There's still time!" she screamed, and he slapped her, ruthlessly, yelling back at her.

"No, there's *not*!"

With that, she dissolved into incomprehensible weeping, crying for the family that lay beneath her in a tangled pile of limbs and blood, and crying for her own damned future. She wept for those who had no other way out, for the world that had tumbled to its knees, and for the haggard and ruined girl that she had disintegrated into. Covering her face with her hands, heavy makeup staining her palms like stigmata, Buffy leaned against her former enemy, clutching at him as she wailed, and Spike held her, wrapping his hand through her hair and another one across her lower back. All the while, he looked down at the family that had taken their own lives, hypnotized by the way the dead daughter's hair fluttered in the soft breeze like a white-gold banner of surrender.

There wasn't any time left.

*****

(end part five)

*****



Part Six

*****

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)

*****



Part Seven

*****

The scene was destructive. Painted in the cool lime of a streetlight, his mouth berry red and glistening with ripe moisture, face shifted into the immortal and distorted visage of the demon that she had ignored since his arrival, Spike held the young girl limply to his body. The girl was dead, blue hair glimmering around her face like a pixie, her slender body clothed in tight zebra pants and a sequined top. Death had already stolen her - she was gone. Absolutely gone.

Pained, Buffy staggered backwards, and Spike threw the body to the ground, his snarling face shifting back to its more human visage, if anything about the bastard of a vampire could ever be considered human. The very sight of her anguished expression infuriated him, and he stepped closer to her, knocking the stake out of her hands with his bloodstained palm. Caught red-handed, Buffy thought dazedly. She had caught him red-handed.

"So what!" he shouted at her, an inhuman snarl catching his words. "Yeah, I killed her. I'm a bloody vampire! It's what I do. You didn't think that fucking me would change that, did you? You're not *that* na´ve!" The angular cheekbones stood out gauntly, and his eyes flared with a mixture of cerulean and amber, so passionate that she felt burned just by looking at him.

Rage flooded her body, pure and uncontrollable, and she slammed her fist into his face, hair flying around her face in a fury of multicolored gold. She was a portrait of danger, of death and destruction, in her black tank top and flared jeans, the Doc Martens heavy and her hair a frenzied mass of fragmented gold. She smelled of cigarettes and hormones, and he knew that in this state she'd kill him just for the adrenaline high that would follow. "I know what you are," she said harshly, her face clean and unmarred by her heavy hand and eyeliner, flushed the color of exploding roses. "You're a pathetic bastard of a man who's terrified of death and kills to make up for it." He was floored and she knew it. "Yeah, Spike, I know that you're scared of it. You tiptoe around the windows during the day and you can't bring yourself to actually kill yourself. I've watched you and waited for you to go Nike and just do it, but you wimp out every single time." She twisted her face into a sneer. "Loser."

Rage uncontrollable. Lust undeniable. Anger irrevocable. He had never hated her more than in that singular moment, with her self- righteous sea eyes and her dusted clothing, her hair a myriad of ridiculous colors and her chin tilted in the lift of the arrogant and stupid. Outraged pulsed along with the lights inside of the warehouse, and Spike grabbed her by her hair, his chipped fingernails sinking into the raging rapids of her blue and gold hair, and she hissed at the pain, never giving him the pleasure of whimpering. "You're a ripe one to talk about fearing death," he hissed. "You with your bloody warehouses and little whelps, your sodding *stupid* hair and your badgering. You're nothing, you know. You're just a good shag and that's about it. Everything that was decent about you died in America with the rest of your friends, and now you're worthless."

With that, he tugged once more on her kaleidoscopic hair, the strands flying out like parrot's feathers when he released her, and she stumbled briefly, regaining her balance and approaching him with a voice like cut glass and barbed wire. "I'm *not* worthless," she said boldly, and Spike arched his scarred eyebrow at her. "None of us are worthless. That's something that you don't understand and something that you never have understood. We're all worth something on this planet, and everyone thinks that we're just nameless bodies. Statistics." She glared at him as though he had pressed the button and started this mess. "Well, I'm not a fucking statistic! I'm Buffy Summers!" Her voice was becoming mangled by tears that she shattered before they could fall. "I'm the goddamn Slayer! The Chosen One! The one who saved everyone's asses but still got screwed in the end because no one knew who I was!"

Furiously, Spike yelled at her, his mouth inches away from hers, gesturing emphatically as he spoke. "Yeah, well what about me?" he demanded, his voice broken and dark, like hard candy. "You think you know everything that there is to know about old Spike, don't you? That I'm just a bad-ass, chain-smoking, murdering, bad, rude man? Well, I've got a little confession for you, Summers - it just so happens that I *like* this planet. I like its style. I like living my immortal unlife and I don't fancy the idea of giving it up any time soon. I'm supposed to be bloody immortal, and I feel a little cheated on that whole end of the deal!"

Thunder rumbled in the distance; lightning the color of his bleached hair and just as malevolent flickered in between the spires of glass and metal. Wind whispered, and the entire world seemed electrified with the violence rippling between the vampire and the Slayer. Desperately, desolately, Buffy threw her hands up, her wrists seemingly chained and shackled by the myriad of black bracelets that decorated her gold skin, eyes brimming with the emptiness that came from being sentenced to death. "Don't you get it, Spike?" she said, her voice hard and brittle all at once. "We were *all* cheated. Every single one of us. We all got screwed over because of this."

Lightning blistered through the skies, and the clouds exploded over them, showering them with pelting rain. The world had turned on her again, a storm unfurling and unleashing a devastating assault of liquid and electricity, and Buffy closed her eyes, tipping her head backwards, feeling the rains falling on her. It made her feel like crying and it made her feel like killing someone. These were the rains that would one day kill her. Maybe they were killing her now. The rains sweeping in from the Northern Hemisphere, weeping tears of radioactive liquid, bringing damnation and precipitation in a flood that not even Noah's ark could survive.

Oh, fuck, they were all so screwed.

Descending in a whirlwind of impassioned destruction, Buffy felt her emotions spiral in an earth-shattering tornado of tumultuous discord, falling into despair, and she fought tears with a skill less sufficient than her abilities as a Slayer. She wanted to weep, wanted to scream, wanted to do something rather than remain in this state of helpless anticipation. Waiting for death was a long and drawn-out process of anguish, and she felt useless, felt worthless, just as he'd said that she was.

Slowly, terrified of seeing the whorl of death's cloak in the twist of storm clouds above her, Buffy opened her eyes, looking at the storm that was pouring on her in a torrent of ruining rain. Palms outstretched, waiting for the nails to drive through palms and feet, Buffy let it rain, and he watched her silently, wanting to draw her into himself, to swallow her wretchedness and digest her despair. He understood it. Understood the feeling of absolute uselessness, the desperation of knowing that death was knocking and there was nothing that he could do to stop it. They were bound together now. Tethered by turmoil - it was a bond that they would never have experienced if the world hadn't destroyed itself.

Leather licked at his legs as he walked to her, and she opened her eyes slowly, looking at him in his exquisitely defiant beauty, water sluicing down the carved angles of his cheekbones, catching on the incongruous pout of his lower lip. That mouth, soft and luxurious, was the antithesis of who he was. Such an oddly soft mouth for a man who was so malevolent and sharp. She reached her fingertips out and touched him, and she crushed her body to his in an embrace too brutal to be kind or sweet. Water poured down on them as she kissed him, her hair a drenched mass of color and design, never colorful enough to hide how achromatic and numb she had become.

"I don't know who I've become," she confessed in a hushed murmur, and her murdering priest threaded his hands through the tangle of reds and blues that had swallowed the purity of her hair.

"Neither do I," he said, and it wasn't as comforting as she had wanted it to be. Didn't matter. She would kiss him anyway, make love to him here, because she could understand passion better than she could understand herself.

Water poured down in a constant timpani of percussion, soft and hard all at once, and that was him as well. Shaking fingers pulled his duster off his shoulders, and it fell to the ground in a puddle of leather and liquid. She set herself to work on his mouth, tossing her hair back in a fan of magenta and cerulean, the gold as white as his peroxide hair. Hooking her arms around his neck, she felt his hands ascend her spine, fingernails digging into her skin with a pain so pleasant that it was delectable. Scratch the surface, she willed. Remove the scar tissue.

It was too thick for her to ever deal with.

Crying out into his mouth, she arched her back, edges of flamboyant hair tickling his wrists, and he grabbed the skin of her back, wrenching a throaty moan that was mixed with agony and ecstasy from her mouth. Coarsely, he kissed her, holding back nothing, lusting for her in a thousand ways, and it was a heartbreaking want that propelled her to a mouth that tasted like melted pennies, coppery from the blood that he had stolen. Pennies from heaven, swallowed by hell - that was the flavor of his mouth, and she was addicted. Hooked. She was hopeless.

Rain slammed down on them both, coursing down the lines of their bodies, painting them in opaque waters. Safe, clean, supposedly redeeming; these na´ve rains. She was filth that required more cleansing than one thundershower, and yet she took this for what it was. She took it because it temporarily filled her. Sad, that the only time she felt alive anymore was in the embrace of the undead.

Bodies separated for a whisper of a moment to remove clothing; she commandingly and brutally tore off his tee shirt and revealed his milky skin to the rain, as though it were some sort of twisted sacrifice to the gods. The gods were silent these days. Perhaps they were ashamed of the foolishness of their creation; she didn't know. The black tank top that revealed a sliver of her taut abdomen slid off of her slicked body with less ease, stubbornly clinging to the moist curvature of her svelte figure. Spike couldn't blame the article of clothing; he wanted to remain plastered to her skin for the short remainder of his life. She was the best thing left on earth, even if she thought herself hollow and criminal. It was criminal for them to do this, but Spike had never been one for rules in the first place.

Black satin clung to her breasts, shimmering with the rainwater that dampened it, and she felt so heated from arousal that she thought she'd exude steam from her body heat. He was so cool that he personified rain, and maybe that was what flowed through his dead veins. Water instead of blood. Precipitation instead of pulse. She tipped her head back as he caressed her, and the street light died suddenly, plunging them into darkness. The power had gone out, the lights slamming them into pitch, and the lightning increased with an intensity comparable to a natural strobe, flickering and giving images in flashes and spurts. Percussion matched with thunder, creating a synchrony of arousal and storm, and she was as taut as an electric wire with want.

And the lightning revealed it all in fragmented glimpses:

Scarlet fingernails scraped up his back, a sharp contrast of crimson and porcelain. Flashes of magenta and blue, dark and damp, fanning in the air as she tilted her head back from pleasure. Her face a mosaic of desire, eyes closed and lips parted, a symphony of sensuality pouring from her mouth in an operatic score. Breasts round and ripened, chipped black fingernails tracing juicy underside and sliding underneath satin to caress coral nipples. Hardness straining for soft warmth, navel hollow and filled with perspiration and precipitation. Magnetic cerulean eyes underneath fringes of black, lost with lust and impossible to surface from, deeper than tidal pools and oceans. A mouth too soft to be his, exuding shaking rasps of want that were incomprehensible to anyone but her, sculpted in a fashion that rivaled Adonis.

Fingertips delved inside the waistband of her ebony pants, tracing the line down to the soft rise of her satin-covered mons, and he slid his fingers inside of her panties, tracing the swollen and moist folds in a fashion that made her strangle a scream. Taunting, like silk scarves cooled and poured over muscle and bone, and she clawed his shoulder frenetically, not caring who saw them or who knew. No one to tattle on them now. No one to damn them for their tryst, this affair between vampire and Slayer. No one to care.

No one to stop them.

Brutally, his fingertip slid inside of her, and she moaned, her head flying forward and resting against his chest, gasping into the soft skin that seemed so hard, like marble, but was as gentle as milk and cream. Slowly, he pumped one finger inside of her, a second one joining the first in a rhythm that seemed to delicate to undo her, but she was being unlaced anyway. Hissing in a breath, she begged for more, thrusting her hips against the palm of his hand, and he teased her with an agony. She would make him go faster; she kissed the juncture of his shoulder and neck and nipped at it with her teeth, scraping at the skin, and he groaned loudly and suddenly, aroused beyond control.

He was losing it. Losing his sanity, losing his cool, losing the malevolence that kept her away from him and kept him effectively away from her. Desperation replaced taunting as her daring little teeth swept at his throat like a kitten's, her tongue and teeth undoing him in a thousand different ways. She knew what he was and instead of loathing him for it, she turned the tables on him. She embraced his vampirism and used it against him, turning him into a raving lunatic, mad with desire. He'd never wanted anyone like he wanted her, if only because she was the most original creature he'd ever known. More magnificent than Drusilla - and he was almost afraid of thinking that.

Raspberry lips stained his throat with her juices, coloring his throat a soft mulberry with her lipstick, and Spike actually whimpered, hating how she could make him lose himself so easily. His fingers circled her clitoris, so hard and so aroused that he almost felt warm with the stolen blood that pumped through his veins. He was shocked by the heat that flooded through him and around him, as though he was borrowing blaze, and she was burned clay in the sculpture of a beautiful girl. She lavished attention on his jugular, and she cried out when he finally touched the swollen berry between her legs, her head tossing back an arch of colors, and her teeth nipped the underside of his chin. "Oh, Christ!" Spike cried out, his other hand grabbing her hair in a needy attempt to still his arousal for just a few moments longer.

The downpour of water continued, showering them both with liquefied diamonds, and Buffy thrust her hips in rhythm with his fingers, feeling herself nearing orgasm, nearing climax, all from the combination of the taste of his skin and the way that his cool fingers rotated the bundle of nerves that demanded his touch. She was going insane, and his fingers flew with a frenzy, as she bit down on his hardened male nipple, deriving a hiss from the vampire she'd grown so attached to in the course of a couple of days.

Suddenly, in the flash of lightning, he'd pulled his hand away, roughly turning her to the wall, and her hair trailed behind her in a banner of blues and reds, like a tarnished flag. "Now," he said, his voice broken and shaking from the power of his desire. "Right *now*." With that, he undid the fly of his jeans, and she followed suit, yanking down her pants and panties, smelling the salty aroma of her own arousal like a marsh in summer. She was shaking, quaking from arousal, and her lower lip trembled as it only did when she was on the verge of tears or climax. White light flickered again, and she saw the look of frenzied need in his eyes, and she kissed him as he lifted her up against the bricks. Threading her arms and legs around him, Buffy kissed him, soaking strands of dyed hair clinging to both her skin and his.

A scream shattered the air and was swallowed by thunder when he entered her, hard and thick, cool skin underlined with the heat of his borrowed blood, and she gasped, eyes wide and alert with the force of his thrusts. The angle of his cock hit her clitoris as he pumped in and out of her, and she suddenly felt his cock slide inside of her, brushing the sensitive spot inside of her that made her want to melt with arousal. Elusive and real, a place that only she knew about and Spike had almost instinctively found. The satin that bound her breasts heightened the heat that had been released, and she arched her body against his, drowning her screams in his mouth as he thrust in and out of her. She suddenly came with a fury, biting down hard on his lower lip as she climaxed, making them both taste his blood.

Frenetic pulsing surrounded his cock as her orgasm hit, and the spasms tugged at him insistently. The pleasure-pain of her bite brought him over the precipice, and he followed her swiftly, merely seconds behind her hard orgasm. Groaning with a strangled insanity, Spike threw his head back when he came, hips pulsing inside of her, and he came so hard that his knees trembled under her meager weight. Rain shot down the hard angles of his razor- sharp face, and she cupped the nape of his neck with her fingertips, softly massaging the nape of his neck as he emptied himself inside of her, sighing out a nonexistent breath from their coupling.

Slowly, tremulously, he pulled out of her and lowered her to the ground, both drenched beyond belief, and she was nearly panting with the exertion and unabashed passion of their coupling. Water clung to her eyelashes as she looked up at him, and he braced himself against the wall, his lungs panting dead breaths in a parody of respiration, pressing his forehead to hers. She found herself locked in the tired eyes of the blond vampire, usually so dangerous, now exhausted and tired, and she did what she thought she'd never do.

Sweetly, she kissed him, dragging her lower lip against his, and her carmine fingertips traced the sharp line of his jaw, smiling a little at him with the old innocence of who she once had been. Startled, Spike looked at her, and he found himself almost laughably mad when he thought that he might be falling in love with her. "You know, I hate you too much to let you go," he said, and Buffy just chuckled at that breathlessly, her mouth twisted in a cynical smile.

"Well, if you can't spend the end of the world with someone you love, you may as well spend it with someone you hate," she finally decided, and he laughed at that. She ducked down, picking up his black tee shirt and handing it to him, soggy and drenched from the steady flow of rain. "So don't leave me."

When he spoke, it was with a strangled earnestness. "I don't think I could leave you," he said, and she shivered at that, at the frightening prospect of actually falling in love with this monster.

"No," she whispered. "I don't think I could either."

And they stared at each other, helpless in the idea that they were all that was left.

*****

(end part seven)

*****



Part Eight

*****

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)

*****



Part Nine

*****

The wind whispered through the trees with calmness, softly rustling the summer leaves and gently loosening the blossoms from their boughs, bringing down a gentle rain of pastels onto the green grass of the cemetery. Gravestones carved from marble and angels sculpted of stone were dusted with minute pastels in violet and in pink, beautiful and gentle. It was a scene that seemed almost holy in its ethereal light, and there was a perfumed sweetness in the air that seemed projected by the calm inside of her body. She stood before a gravestone, looking at the antiquated scripture that marked the body of a Sunnydale resident, and felt a sudden eerie shiver up her spine, as though she was walking on her own grave.

A voice startled her from behind. "What are you doing, Buffy?"

Startled, Buffy turned around to see Willow standing there, dressed in a long pink satin skirt and a white tee shirt, her slender throat decorated by a candy necklace. Sheepishly, Buffy shrugged, a little embarrassed. "Enjoying my own morbid fascination with how pretty tombstones are," she confessed, and Willow gave her a quirk of her mouth, threading her arm through her best friend's.

"And your mother says you have no appreciation for fine art."

Grinning, Buffy joined her friend, eyes still lingering on the tombstone that had unsettled her with its very presence.

The two girls threaded through familiar tombstones, Willow's satin skirt swishing back and forth with the percussive sound that only water and satin could ever produce. "So how's living with your mom working out?" Willow asked, and Buffy grinned, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her light suede jacket, shrugging her shoulders a little.

"Working out well," she admitted. "Mom's been on the June Cleaver bend, with the exception of the fact that she's not baking brownies 24/7, which I'm *very* grateful for. Otherwise, I'd never leave the house and vampires would run amuck."

Willow frowned and shook her head. "The absence of chocolate is actually a good? I think that Satan just put on mittens."

Grinning, Buffy lightly elbowed her friend and Willow giggled. "Seriously though, I think that Mom's grateful to the fact that I'm home during this time, what with all the stuff going on in Taiwan. I don't know who told her that someone was going to press the button, but they deserve some major slaying, ASAP." Joyce's concerns over her daughter's safety and the general safety of the world had been bothering the Slayer, as though her mother's paranoia was an inherited trait that could be transferred over through osmosis.

A shiver passed through the redheaded witch's body, and Willow wrapped her arms around her, visibly disturbed by the whisper of a mention of the politics going on around them. Buffy understood her fears, understood the eerie sensation of lying in wait, and it was what propelled her to Slay with such frequency. Helplessness and hopelessness were two states of mind that Buffy didn't want to cope with, and she had been feeling increasingly useless as the standoff between America and China intensified. Televisions were turned on everywhere, and even the Bronze had started to show CNN all day and all night on a TV set to keep the Sunnydale citizens updated on the situation. Someone had whispered of sirens being strategically placed in the town in the event of an emergency. Just in case...

//Ring around the rosy...//

The child's nursery rhyme flitted through her head with a suddenness that was disturbing and upsetting, and Buffy snapped her eyes open, shuddering and wrapping her arms around herself as she walked with Willow in the cemetery. The slabs of stone and molded marble gazed at her forlornly, and Willow turned her head to her best friend, tilting her face to the side with worry and concern. "You okay, Buffy?" the girl asked, her red hair flaming around her face in a conflagration of red, and Buffy suddenly saw a flash of the girl dead, skeletonized and reduced to nothing but a bone structure where a girl had once been. It was brief, fleeting, but it was still there.

"No," Buffy whispered. "Just..." She shook her head and turned away, refusing to linger on her rampant and paranoid imagination. The slideshow of morbidity wasn't going to get her down. Not today. Not now. She had a life to live and a job...

A scream broke the air, and Buffy snapped her head up, eyes darting across the cemetery. She removed the stake tucked into the waistband of her fashionably frayed blue jeans and raced across the graveyard, her hair flying behind her in a banner of pure gold, speeding toward the sound of the cry.

The source of the cry was a young girl in a colorful dress being attacked by a vampire, black hair fanning across his face and still in his burial garb. He snarled and dropped the girl, blood splashing out from the sloppily-opened jugular, running for her with the stupidity of the newly risen. Instantly, Buffy rolled underneath him as he lunged for her, gracefully rising as Willow ducked behind a gravestone. The Slayer pulled the stake out and stabbed him swiftly, cleanly in the back, watching as the vampire spun around with a stunned expression, startled at his sudden disappointment with immortality, and fell to pieces.

Buffy took no time to gloat over her victory, turning instantly to the girl who had been attacked. Dashing across the grass, Buffy leaned down and looked down at the girl, realizing with a numbing horror that the girl had been drained to the point of no return. "Willow, go get help!" the Slayer called, and the redhead sucked in a sharp breath upon seeing the awful wound on the young woman's neck. When the witch didn't move, Buffy whipped her head around and looked at her friend with a desperate glance. "Now!" Startled back into motion, Willow stumbled away, running through the graveyard for help.

The girl gasped as she lay there, her eyes wide as a doe's, smudged with shadows of embracing death, and Buffy smoothed the girl's hair with her hand, pressing her other palm to the slowly dying fountain of blood gushing from the girl's destroyed throat. "You're going to be fine," Buffy soothingly said, not believing the lies that she had concocted to protect the dying girl, and the girl shook her head slowly, wearily, gazing past the Slayer towards the stars.

"Not gonna be fine," the girl murmured, razors of brown falling down her brow to cover her eyes. "None of us gonna be fine."

//Pocketful of posies,// the childlike voice sang insistently inside of her mind.

Disturbed, Buffy frowned, feeling her skin crawl across her bones at the girl's dreamy despair. "Just hold on, stay with me," she urged desperately, watching blood spill forth from the girl's mouth to stain her lips the color of disemboweled strawberries. The color was passionately beautiful, as though death was always colored so brilliantly and boldly, and Buffy felt her stomach twist in knots while she held the dying girl in her arms. "Please, just hold on..."

Slowly, the girl's mouth trembled, not out of fear, but out of utter desolation. "Doesn't matter," she murmured. "Doesn't matter... I'll just die later on... Anyway..." Her voice lowered to nothing more than a murmur, and Buffy had to strain to hear it, lowering her ear to the girl's mouth, feeling the liquid silk brush her ringed earlobes. The words that she spoke combined with the sensation of the girl's spilled blood made Buffy feel as though she had been turned inside out.

"We're all gonna die now."

And with that, the girl's breath hitched in her chest, and she gasped loudly, startling Buffy so that she jerked her head back, looking down at the brunette as the life slowly ebbed out of her, eyes glazing and breath stilling. "No," Buffy whispered, removing her hand from the girl's throat, looking at the red staining the palm, and she felt like crying for the loss of this innocent victim. "Oh, no..."

It was too late.

*****

The water was clear carmine, transparent and translucent, as the blood slowly poured from her hands and thinned in the plain tap water. Furiously, Buffy rubbed her hands underneath the faucet, her fingertips wrinkled and pruned from soaking, and her skin smelled heavily of peaches and bananas as she tried to clean her skin of the girl's blood. Streaks of it were found in her hair, and her palms were stained with borrowed stigmata. Numbly, she looked in the mirror, seeing the brunette's despairing, hopeless eyes reflected back at her in her own seafoam-colored orbs.

Startled and hurt, Buffy turned away from the mirror, fingers dripping blood-tinted droplets of water onto the tiled floor as she walked out of the bathroom.

Her mother stood in the hallway, hair tumbling to her shoulders in piles of fallen curls, lines marking her face with gentle etchings of time and worry. Concern pinched her soft mouth, and Joyce reached out her hands to touch her daughter, smoothing Buffy's hair away from her shoulders in a gesture of concern. "Are you going to be okay, honey?" her mother asked, and Buffy slowly wrapped herself in her mother's embrace, touching her cheek and noticing the ashen color of blonde that Buffy had inherited. United by their hands and their hair, by their stubbornness and smiles, and by their joint love of papaya. "I know how it must have felt for you..."

Softly, Buffy shook her head, resting her cheek on her mother's slender shoulder, inhaling the familiar scent of jasmine perfume and coconut oil conditioner, and Joyce soothingly stroked her daughter's hair as Buffy clung to her. "She said that there wasn't any point," Buffy murmured, remembering the words that the dying girl had whispered to her on a breath of final air. "That it was sooner or later for us..."

"Oh, Buffy," Joyce said softly, hugging her daughter tightly to her. "It's not going to come to that, I promise you. There's no need to worry about it." Gently, she pulled away from her daughter and Buffy saw the gentle waves of the Pacific in her mother's eyes. The eyes that she had inherited, only her eyes would never be so clear and tranquil. There was always a storm brewing inside of Buffy. "There's no point in thinking about it. Everything's going to be fine, sweetie. Go to bed and get some sleep - you need that right now."

//Ashes, ashes...// the frail soprano murmured, and Buffy saw her mother, hands clasped in prayer to a God that knew no mercy, eyes closed with utmost benevolence, falling to her knees in the wrath of a God that fell in radioactive clouds. She bit down her lip to keep from flinching, to keep from screaming, and Buffy closed her eyes, exhaling deeply, loosening the thought from her mind and releasing it from her imagination.

When she opened her eyes, she saw her mother again, soft face and gentle ashen hair, beautiful and tender, and Buffy smiled a wavering smile at her. "Right, Mom," she said softly. "You're right." After giving her mother a soft kiss on the cheek, Buffy turned around to walk in her bedroom, the blood of the girl still imbedded in the whorls and spirals of her fingerprints.

June breezes blew in from outside as Buffy slid her window open, the curtains billowing and dancing across a canvas of stars and winding branches. The perfumed scent of the outdoors in humid summertime wafted through the open window, and Buffy let it drift inside of her room, mulling and turning like the bouquet of a good wine. She leaned out the window, looking down at the world in its sweet lull of night, in its quietude that was deceptive and traitorous. Quietly, she looked down at her hands and read the misfortune of the girl still sunken into her fingers. She still heard the whisper of the girl's voice as she got in bed and pulled the covers over her body, turning on her side, away from the open window.

//We all fall down...//

*****

Flash.

Red, carmine pure and malevolent, pulsated thickly and angrily. Lightning descended from the sky with a fury so thick that it encompassed rather than struck, surrounding all who witnessed it. Dead grass crackled, broken slabs of marble and stone tumbled and crumbled to the ground, and blackened branches clawed to the ground before disintegrating into nothing but rotted wood.

Flash.

Barefoot, she walked through the ruins of the cemetery, naked and crowned with a halo of thorns that dug into her skull and poured blood down her body in rivulets of red. The sky was stained the color of blood from the masses that had been slaughtered, and she walked on a carpet of skulls and soot, blackening her feet and cutting into her heels, leaving a red trail wherever she walked. She was bleeding everywhere, draining herself, and she continued to walk through the scarred angels and the charred cherubs.

Flash.

Nude as well, her skin a soft wash of light vermilion, the vampire sat in a circle of tumbled tombstones, scattering runes on the grass with absent grace, the runes falling with a sound that was likened to a porcelain waterfall. The runes cascaded down from her outstretched palm, her raven hair shimmering with the light of the bloodied skies, and her mouth moved without making a sound. Complicated twists and curls flickered and flashed like a live being, a Medusa made of silk. Red rose blossoms threaded through her hair, the petals descending from her dark locks in a soft rain whenever she moved, like she was unfurling and shedding.

Flash.

Slowly, the girl crouched down by the vampire, entering the circle and dragging her bloodied train behind her. Slowly, the vampire looked up at the girl, luminously empty eyes smiling serenely at the blonde crowned with thorns. "Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down," she sang softly, slightly off-key, like wind chimes. Slowly, the girl looked down at the runes that the vampire had scattered on the ground, and found them all blank. No inscriptions were written on the ivory.

"These runes are blank," the girl murmured, and the vampire smiled at her, rose petals falling from her thick mane of twists and curls.

"What good are runes when we have no future to foresee?" the vampire said absentmindedly, and she slowly began to bury the runes underneath a pile of dried earth, creating a makeshift grave for her fortune-telling materials. "Bury it all, no need for it now..."

Flash.

Clouds moved overhead with the speed of comets and meteors, passing the scorched earth by for better pastures, and the girl tilted her head backwards to drink in the sight. "Who stole our future?" she asked, and the vampire shrugged her slender shoulders, shedding rose petals like a beautiful thing left to wither and die.

"Miss Edith and I aren't staying for the ball," she said absently, her voice light and airy. "We're going to go be sharks in the reefs. We're going to swim and survive. We're going down under and wait until it's all over, and then we're going to paint new toys and cast the runes again."

Flash.

Images of blue skies unmarred by the violence of red, of bridges and reefs that were visible from underneath clear layers of water, of cliffs that glittered like emeralds and a city alight with possibility. A city safe from the world's insanity, a city with painted runes rather than the horrid ghosts of fortune, and a city where she could be protected. Not this horrible, ruined place where all life ceased to exist.

Quietly, the girl and the vampire stood and faced each other, one shedding rose petals from mahogany lit with flame, the other spilling blood from her pure golden hair. They examined each other, the vampire and the human, and the vampire smiled slowly, placing her hand on the other girl's shoulder. "The world is a silly place," she said. "I don't fancy it."

The bleeding girl, the martyr crowned with thorns, shook her head as a blackened angel looked on. "I don't understand..."

Flash.

Bombs falling from the skies like a rain of fire. People screaming and falling to their knees, blasted apart as the bombs hit. Cities crumbling like houses of cards, death and disease sweeping the lands, the winter approaching with its blanket of nuclear fallout, and the world dying a slow and miserable death. Her lover wandering the world dressed in black before stepping into sunlight. Her friends standing in the middle of red bombs. Her mother bowed in silent prayer before being shattered apart.

And with that, the vampire darted out her hands and crushed the thorns to the girl's head, the thorns digging into her scalp and wrenching a strangled cry from the girl as blood spurted down her face and stained her hair.

Drusilla smiled. "Wear them *well*."

Flash.

******

She woke.

*****

"The world is going to end," she said to them, and silence fell as she stared out the window.

Daylight felt like an intruder on her skin, something unnatural and unreal, the world so whole and complete as she walked outside. Sunshine and butterflies, summertime kids laughing and playing in sprinklers, wearing neon-colored bathing suits as they frolicked in wet grass. Innocently, beatifically, beautiful little children with their hair of gold and hands like tiny cherubs. Chasing each other and pretending at war, when they had no idea of the threat that faced them with utmost certainty.

But she did.

Softly, she pushed the curtain back with her fingertips, letting the linen descend as they stared at her. She felt their eyes on her, felt the shock and the horror as it pressed down on her with an intense suffocation. Numbed, Buffy spoke with flat intonations, a monotone devoid of the emotion that she had swallowed in order to carry this to them. "I dreamed of it last night. I dreamed of Drusilla in the graveyard, burying blank runes, talking about how she and Miss Edith were going down under and that we were all fools."

"And if Drusilla calling us fools isn't a perfect display of hypocrisy, I don't know what is," Xander quipped, and no one replied. She couldn't do anything but look out the window at the children playing in the sprinkler, watching the water flood on their smooth skin.

"The war will escalate," Buffy continued, and all attention was lavished on her once again. "Peace talks will fail. The President will assure that everything's fine, but no one will back down. Taiwan will press the button first, and we'll retaliate. Everything goes. The whole world goes up in flames." Darkly, despairingly, she turned her head out to look at the others in the room. "And there's nothing we can do to stop it."

The scene was an assembled mass of shock. Giles stood in his cranberry sweater, a handkerchief pressed to his glasses that remained smudged in lieu of what she had said. Willow's fingers threaded through Tara's with an intensity, the two girls looking fearfully at Buffy. A head of strawberry blond rested on Xander's shoulder as Anya closed her eyes, and Xander looked at her with a sudden seriousness, realizing that there was nothing funny about anything Buffy was saying.

"Good God," Giles finally said. "Buffy..."

Her eyes lifted up to her ex-Watcher's, seeing the familiarity and the warmth, the trust and the respect looking back down at her. "There's more than that, Giles," she said. "We have to get away from here. We're not safe here; nobody is. We need to go to Australia before it all goes down. It's where Drusilla said she was going."

She was met with silence, silence as they stood there, looking at her with worry and concern tinted with palpable fear. Startled, Buffy looked around the room, realizing with horror that they didn't believe her. Desperately, Buffy walked to Giles, looking into the eyes of the man she had grown to love and trust more than anyone else in the world. "Giles, you have to believe me," she whispered. "I know that it sounds crazy, but it's true."

Softly, Giles shook his head, placing his hand on her shoulder gently, looking into her eyes without ever seeing the truth. "Buffy, I understand that you're afraid," he said. "We've all been having these nightmares. They aren't necessarily prophetic, what with the influences of the media. And witnessing that poor young girl's death last night must have been quite traumatic..."

Frustrated, she shrugged his hand off, her heart racing when she realized what was happening around her. They thought that she was overreacting, that she was insane with fear, and they thought that her visions were merely flights of fancy and not of any portent. Pleadingly, she walked to Tara, looking into the demure blonde witch's gentle blue eyes and hoping for some sort of refuge or confirmation. "Tara," Buffy said, picking up the young woman's hand and threading it through her own, "you're in touch with the spiritual realm more than any of us. Don't you see things? Don't you dream?"

Uncertainly, Tara looked out the window, her eyes clouding over with what Buffy thought was hidden knowledge, but Tara closed her eyes, bowing her head so that a braid of fine gold fell in her eyes, tied with a small peacock feather. "N-no," she said. "I don't... I don't see anything like that, B-Buffy."

A hand with painted fingernails swept sweetly through Tara's hair, and Buffy looked up to see Willow soothing her lover, her eyes darkened and clouded with worry and fear. "Buffy, I understand," Willow said, looking in her friend's eyes and trying to make her understand that her dreams were lies. "It's terrible what's going on in the world around us, but you can't just tell us that we have to pack up our lives and move to Australia - it's insane."

A flash of remembered lightning crackled through Buffy's mind, bringing visions of Willow descending to the floor in a pile of ash, her head tossed back in a disarrayed flurry of vermilion, clutching her lover's body to hers as the women were destroyed by a blast of nuclear proportions. Hissing in her breath, Buffy turned her head away from her collected friends and looked at Xander. "Xander," she whispered, and Xander shook his head, eyes stormy and thick.

"Buffy, I think that you're starting to scare everyone," he said, and Buffy groaned, walking away to the center of the room, pleading with everyone to listen to her.

"I know you think I'm crazy," she said, "but I know what I saw. I *know* that there's not going to be some happy-ever-after ending to this. I see things in daylight, in waking. I dream of them at night. The whole world's falling apart right now and I'm giving us a solution that no one wants to accept! Please, just listen to me..." All that she saw was Giles's sadness, Willow's fear, and Xander's anger. She heard Anya whisper to Xander about the Slayer finally having lost it, and she saw Tara's fearful eyes, and Buffy knew then and there that it was hopeless.

It was over for all of them. They were living on dying time, waiting for the sands to filter through the hourglass and the glass to then shatter. She could see it all, knew the truth, and knew in her heart that there was nothing that she could do to convince them. Fear twisted her stomach and destroyed her insides, making her sick from the hellish notion that they would all be dead in weeks, and she closed her eyes briefly, hearing the sound of sirens that only she could hear. Like Cassandra, she was cursed to know the future, and no one else wanted to believe her.

"Fine," she whispered, opening her eyes to look at the room. Buffy gave a wavering smile, and walked to the door, her fingers shaking from the force of the terror freezing her veins. "You're all probably right. I'm just... Upset. I need to go home and get some sleep, and not watch the news for a while. I just need to get myself under control and... I'll be okay."

Giles approached her, and she looked into the familiar, worn lines of his face, the softness of his eyes behind glass, the stray strands of hair that were slightly grayed with silver falling across his brow, and she wanted to cry. "I think that's a very good idea, Buffy," he said softly, and she had to look away. Had to shut out the visions of him dead. Had to.

Softly, she smiled, and walked away, not looking back. Never looking back.

*****

The night fell slowly, achingly slowly, and until then, she sat in the graveyard, in a circle not of blank runes, but of fallen greenery, of boughs of wildflowers that had grown up around a grave. Her legs were crossed Indian-style, and she felt the twilight move in, deepening the sky to an almost violet hue, wind murmuring through the trees and ruffling her hair. A dead calm had befallen her as she waited for midnight, the wooden stake in her hand as she waited for the time to pass.

And when the night finally came, when the hour was late enough and the world was asleep, she began to walk toward her Watcher's house.

Her choice was difficult. Her world was dying. The duffel bag filled with her belongings weighted heavily on her shoulders as she walked, dragging her back in time to the last day she had left Sunnydale in such a fashion. Remembering the feeling of not being good enough to stay, of sinning so heavily that she could never return, and knew that her crimes this time would outweigh even murder. Betrayal was her greatest burden.

The garden outside of his house had flourished in the summertime, and Buffy stood in the middle of it, inhaling the various perfumes of oleander and lilac, and looked at his house with the heartbreaking knowledge that she would never return. There would be time to regret later on, but never an opportunity to redeem herself for what she was going to do. She knew what sort of life she was condemning herself to for this, and she accepted it with a shrug of her shoulders and a tilt of her chin as she walked into his house in the middle of the night for the last time.

Darkness surrounded her as per usual, as she had never been meant for daylight. Silently, she tiptoed through his house, almost praying for him to walk out of the bedroom and find her, and Buffy walked to the small aluminum box in his laundry room, lifting the lid and looking at the cash that she would need for her escape. Green paper stamped with the faces of dead presidents looked at her forlornly, at the product of this country that was damning itself to death, and Buffy resignedly reached inside and took it all. Over three thousand dollars disappeared from Giles's emergency cash, and she robbed him with unwavering hands.

She didn't leave a note. She didn't leave a calling card. All that she left was a stake, a sign of her resignation and retirement from her fated trade, because where she was going Slaying wouldn't matter. She closed the lid slowly and locked it up again, and when she turned around, she saw Drusilla again, the black-haired vampire nude and showering dying rose petals on the ground, as the thorns bit into the Slayer's skull. Instead of the rest of Giles's laundry room, Buffy saw that the vampire was gesturing to a world of dingy streets and sullen fog, beckoning Buffy to walk with her into the desolation of her future, the blank runes carving a path of white porcelain.

Quietly, Buffy stood, the duffel bag heavy on her shoulders, and followed.

*****

(end part nine)

*****



Part Ten

*****

Her hair moved as though it were a live being, consuming her, flashing around her face, writhing like multicolored snakes as she danced. Blue threads fell in her eyes as she slowly dipped her head back, eyes closed in the lull of melody and breathless soprano, hips swaying hypnotically back and forth, hands stretched up towards the ceiling in a pulsing flash of color and light. Dark cranberry leather pants rode low on her slender hips, and a matching leather top that revealed her bejeweled belly button clung tightly to the curve of her breasts. She was decked out in her usual massive amounts of jewelry, beaded bracelets and plastic necklaces, her skin dusted with a glittery lotion that smelled like boysenberries, and her hair was wild around her face in its long multicolored locks. Heavy eyeliner hid her eyes from the world as she danced, and the sound of Portishead filled the club.

"Cause nobody loves me, it's true... Not like you do..."

The glass filled with scotch was cool against his hand, never warming because of his own cold skin, and he slugged back his drink, mulling over the alcohol and the girl all at once. She danced alone, slender limbs flashing in the lights, and she looked excruciatingly exquisite. The belly button piercing that she had gotten accentuated the slender perfection of her taut abdomen, and he'd watched as she'd done it, even when she'd punched him for smiling during her pain. Odd, how the world could be ending and yet there were still tattoo artists and piercing parlors doing good business. Perhaps permanence wasn't so permanent anymore.

It was why she'd gotten the small circlet of thorns tattooed into the small of her back, after all. The ink was still fresh and raw, plain and black, but the small crown that forever made her the failed martyr was visible in the low pants and leather midriff. She'd made it sparkle tonight, bidding him to rub the glitter over the small of her back, and he'd acquiesced. Now his hands smelled of boysenberries and Buffy, and the faintest whiff of cigarettes. The tattoo shimmered along with her hair, and her fingernails were like molten cranberries.

He watched her and thought that he was insane for living with her.

They'd returned to the warehouses out of boredom, out of the acknowledgement that there was nothing better to do, and only one thing had changed since her last visit - she was with him. Neither one of them talked about it, not wanting to admit it or confront it, but they both knew that neither one of them was here for anyone else anymore. She wouldn't revert to her pattern of fucking randomly, and Spike wasn't interested in picking up some young girl to shag and drink. They worked well together, in their dysfunctional function, and they were enough to make each other feel.

It was better to hate her than to be empty.

She had wanted to dance; he had nothing better to do. So he claimed an ashtray and sat on the end of the bar, watching her dance, watching her hair move. She had told him about the first time she had dyed it, how she had painstakingly tried to cover her old self in case anyone looked for her once her plane landed in Sydney. She'd also told him of going to the warehouses for the first time after arriving in Melbourne, of finding a torn flyer on the street and seeking escape from the pressures of the world. She had told him everything, confessed her sins, and Spike refused to redeem her. Even if he knew a way, he wouldn't.

They worked better if they were both destroyed.

His freshly polished nails tapped the glass thoughtfully, and Spike watched her, the silent figure alone on the dance floor, dancing with a sensuality that radiated from every pore of her lithe, leather-clad body. What they'd had between them in the beginning was merely sex, and yet it had evolved into an odd relationship of fighting, chain-smoking, passion and an odd sort of understanding. She was coming alive, different from who she had been in Sunnydale, and yet different from the girl he had seen slowly numbing herself at the bar almost two weeks ago. He refused to love her, and she refused to love him back, but the fact was that he loved irritating her, loved provoking her and annoying her, and loved being irritated and provoked by her.

It would do until the world was over.

Slowly, her head lifted upward, her eyes glinting at him dangerously underneath layers of heavy eyeliner and glittering eye shadow, like sparkling jewels, and she put her hands on her hips, fingers dipping underneath the waistband of the leather pants that hung low on her slender hips. Amber eyebrow arched provocatively, Buffy smiled at him invitingly, shrugging her shoulders from side to side, her mouth glossed and breathless as she crooked one finger at him, the carmine nails glistening like flames in the dark red lighting.

"Cor, I must've lost the plot," Spike muttered into his glass, and he finished his drink, shrugging out of his coat and abandoning it on the bar top, walking out to the dance floor and to the wild woman who demanded his company.

Lights flickered as he walked onto the dance floor, and she watched him approach, lean muscles and lithe body encased in black, his freshly lacquered black nails glistening dangerously underneath the light, and his hair shining with the malevolent seduction of a razorblade. He was walking suicide, and she was addicted to him. His ripe mouth curled into a smirk, eyes wicked and wanting underneath a thick layer of eyelashes, too dark to distinguish the deep lapis from his dark pupils. Shadows clung to his cheekbones as he walked, a swagger in his step and a sneer on his mouth.

The tempo was low and pulsing, throbbing as the song changed to project Shirley Manson's velveteen purr. "You look so fine, I want to break your heart, and give you mine," the singer murmured, and Spike wrapped his hand around one slender wrist, toying with the beads that twined around her bones. She flashed her eyes at him, placing her hand on his hip, thumb moving teasingly over the joint, eliciting a shiver from him.

Dancing with him was simple and sumptuous, and she brushed her hips against his, tipping her head back so that her hair fell back in a shower of multicolored locks. She looked into his eyes as he danced with her, one hand splayed across the sparkling span of her slender, taut abdomen, fingers brushing the undersides of her breasts in a manner that made her blood accelerate through her veins. Slowly, she lifted her arms over her head, crisscrossing her wrists as though they were tied together by sparkling chains, and she swayed her hips back and forth, never letting her gaze leave his. To do so would be a surrender, and it would break their contact.

Necklaces twined around her slender throat, accentuating the inviting slope of her neck. Spike looked at it with dangerous eyes, wanting to drink her and consume her, to swallow her taste and let her flavor mull inside of him. But destroying her would leave him alone with the greedy consumption, and enjoying her had expanded from killing her. Merely killing her would be temporary ecstasy - now Buffy-induced bliss was arguing with her, fighting with her, taunting her and dancing with her, and fucking her until he thought that he was going to die. It was drinking wine with her and watching her steal his cigarettes. It was watching her shower through misted glass, and listening to her breathing when she slept during the daylight.

And he was going insane, but sanity wasn't a necessity when the rest of the world was crashing down around him anyway.

The inviting curve of her jaw tilted, and she looked into his eyes, seafoam eyes covered with a fine fringe of black lashes, the amber freckles dotting the bridge of her nose with a childish innocence that she no longer possessed. Hair trailed down her shoulders, spilling over with false rainbows, and she slowly wrapped her hand around his cheek, her fingers brushing the erogenous area behind his ear, and Spike felt arousal slam through his body like a freight train at her whispering touch. He hissed in a breath and arched his hips slightly, and she chuckled until he got his revenge.

Sleekly painted black fingernails pushed upward and underneath the cranberry leather encasing her breasts, and Buffy felt Spike's cool fingertips trace the rounded slope of her breasts, heavy and warm. Her fingernails suddenly dug into his shoulder, throwing her head back with momentary ecstasy, eyes widening and breath quickening inside of her. "Jesus," she tried to whisper, but he had swallowed her words by crushing his mouth to hers, filling her mouth with his tongue and sliding his hands upward to cup her breasts completely. She arched against him, begging him for more, and he fastened one hand in her hair, bunching up the multicolored locks in his fist like a handful of confetti.

Red and magenta flashed over her cheek, and she looked like a portrait of ecstasy as he danced with her, slowly teasing her by brushing his hardened cock against her, and she snaked her hands down his back, reaching underneath his tee shirt to rake her fingernails down his spine. The pleasure-pain send him into waves of ecstasy, and Spike moaned, reaching his hands down to squeeze her firm, leather-clad buttocks. She released her moan into his mouth, reaching up to snatch a kiss from him, and while he was distracted in the warmth of her inviting little mouth, her agile fingertips reached downward to stroke the hardened length of him with her fingertips. The former Slayer smiled a wicked smile when he hissed into her mouth and thrust against her.

Slowly, she pulled away from his mouth, licking his lower lip with the tip of her tongue, and she looked at how easily she'd made Spike, William the Bloody, dissolve into a mess of want in front of her. Not that he hadn't gotten in his own blows; she was fighting to keep from thrusting against the tight crotch of her leather pants. Sparring through sex had replaced their old physical battles, and it was much more pleasurable to take him on in this manner.

"Never thought I had it in me, did you?" she asked tauntingly, and Spike grinned lecherously. She thought that his arrogance was so thick that it was almost palpable, and it tasted like Jack Daniels and sweat. He leaned in close to her, trailing his fingers against the frail bones of her clavicle.

"Well, Slayer, you don't have it in you yet," he said, the denim- clad hardness pressing suggestively against her thigh, and she laughed like bells chiming, wrapping her hand through his and gesturing with her head to the door.

Smirking, Spike followed her, stopping by the bar to pick up his coat and cigarettes. He shrugged into the duster and lit up a cigarette, passing her the Marlboro Menthols that she smoked. She picked up her own deep red leather coat and slipped into it, a cigarette resting between her lips. A slender flame sparked in front of her, and Buffy inhaled as Spike lit her cigarette for her, inhaling the flame and exhaling slender tendrils and wisps of smoke.

Just as they were preparing to leave the club, a gunshot sounded and a scream ripped through the club.

The music continued for a beat before the deejay silenced it, and the club fell into a dark, haunting quiet. The party had stopped for the first time since it had begun, and Buffy dropped her cigarette on the ground, extinguishing it as she ran into the melee, red leather flying behind her like a cloak. Spike followed her out of sheer curiosity rather than her concern.

In the middle of the dance floor, a young woman stood, her hair dyed a frenetic lime green that twisted in a multitude of insane braids down her back. Her right arm was outstretched, bracelets and armlets spilling down her slender limb in a tumble of multicolored cuffs and chains, and a plain revolver was in her hand. A young black man lay on the floor in a pool of blood, the dark liquid spreading out. A circle had parted around the young girl with the grass-colored hair, and her eyes were dead, vacant, as she unflinchingly held the gun in her palm. At the gasps and cries of the terrified youths, the girl smiled at them all maliciously, mindlessly. "We're all dead," she said, a low smile on her face. "None of this matters anymore."

Slowly, carefully, Buffy stepped forward into the light, her knee-high black leather boots stepping into the blood. She tossed back her brightly colored hair and spoke cautiously to the girl with the hair like poisoned limes. "Of course it matters," she said softly, raising her hands upward to show that she wasn't going to hurt her. "It always matters."

There was a silence as the girl looked into Buffy's eyes, gray eyes glittering, and she spoke with a smile in her voice. "No, it really doesn't."

With that, she lowered her arm, aimed at the leather-clad Slayer, and fired.

Screams. Shouts. Cries. Pleas. She heard them all as the girl fired the weapon at her, and prepared in that moment for the bullet, for the final blast into eternity, when she felt weight thrown on her and was knocked to the floor of the club. Her hair flew around her face and blinded her, and her cheek was splashed into the blood of the dead. She heard a cry of pain from behind her, sudden and hissing, and she felt cold hands grabbing her arms. Startled, she sat up, brushing her bloodstained hair out of her eyes with her fingers, blinking as she realized that she had survived. She had lived.

Because of Spike.

The vampire rose from the floor, blood coating his leather coat, and she didn't have time to ask if he was okay. She scrambled to get up and get the gun away from the girl with the braided green hair, but didn't have the time to do it. The girl lifted the gun to her temple, smiled viciously at Buffy, and pulled the trigger. Blood spurted from her head in a fountain of vermilion, spewing to the ground, and the girl fell to the ground, her green hair stained with splashes of red like a ruined Christmas.

Numbly, Buffy sat on the floor, her hands sticky with still warm blood, looking at the girl who had tried to kill her. The lights were hit, flooding the club with plain white light, and the sound of crying was audible in the crowd. Buffy felt like vomiting. Smooth fingers wrapped around her upper arm, and Buffy looked behind her to see Spike looking at her with absolute exhaustion. "Let's go," he said, and she closed her eyes briefly, accepting his hand up, her leather crackling like the tension and fear in the room. Still shaking from the experience, Buffy allowed herself to lean on him slightly for support, and he carelessly gave it, wrapping arm around her waist and passing her her box of cigarettes.

The crowd parted around her, and Buffy looked around, confused, until she realized why they were looking at her with such fear and shock. She had said something. She had done something. She had tried to save herself, and no one else in the room cared. They were more terrified of her and her desire for living than they were of the hellish death that had been played out before their eyes tonight. Panic bubbled up in Buffy's throat as she looked at these colorful clusters of dyes and glitter, realizing how close she had come to being another member of their sick collection. She had been so numb, so futile, so helpless and hopeless. Dead on the inside and anticipating her outer death. These children were nothing more than brightly colored fragments of fun, snorting coke and smoking pot in the hopes that they would die in a drug-addled haze.

They were all cowards.

And then she looked at her lover, her lightning-colored lover who had saved her life in spite of the fact that they were sworn enemies, and realized that he was as terrified of dying as they were. As she was. He cut glances at her underneath a fringe of ebony, and in his eyes was the same wonder that she had tried to save herself, even though he had ducked and saved her nonetheless.

Slowly, she stopped him at the door, resting her palm square on his chest, feeling the silence of his heartbeat. Softly, she reached her hand back to cup the base of his neck in her palm, looking into his sapphire eyes that glinted like confused jewels. When she saw his terror, his agony over dying, she reached up and kissed him with a softness that was foreign to them, unusual and exotic. Their kisses were always predatory and prowling, not gentle or understanding. But hers was, her mouth nipping softly at his, tasting the cool flavor of wasted cigarettes and the remnants of coppery blood.

When she pulled away, she looked up at him, and murmured to him words he was surprised to hear. "I'm never coming back here," she said, and he nodded his head slowly, closing his eyes and swallowing in relief.

"Yeah, luv," he said. "There's no point in coming back here."

With that, she linked her hand in his and turned her back on the vacuous youths who stared at her like she was a foreign creature, and walked out of the warehouse, abandoning that world forever.

*****

(end part ten)

*****

The lyrics mentioned in the story are from Portishead's "Sour Times" and Garbage's "You Look So Fine", respectively.

*****



Part Eleven

*****

She sat on the balcony in a portrait of light, leaning against the wooden rail and looking out at the beach that spanned out in a landscape of flourishing violet and blue. Damp hair still wet from her shower scattered along her back in a coiling mass of multicolored highlights and bared shoulders, dotted lightly with freckles. The cream-colored nightgown that she wore was simple and almost pure, like flawed innocence, and that was appropriate for her. It fell to the floor in a shower of simple elegance, and smoke from her cigarette furled around her face in a blossom made of gray. Tilting her head to the side, she looked at the ocean, and he watched her, admiring the beauty that she had suppressed and hid underneath skimpy clothing and dark eyeliner.

Images flashed through her mind as she watched the ocean, the waves crashing with a consistency that was remarkable. The chorus from an old Peggy Lee song came to mind, something that her mother had always played. "Why does the sun go on shining; why does the sun seem to shine? Don't they know it's the end of the world? It ended when you said goodbye." Frail moonlight fell through the skies, so frangible that she thought it might break before hitting the surface of the earth. Yet the moon kept shining, kept rotating around the earth in a slow circling, and the sun would rise tomorrow in a dazzling display of gold.

Turquoise waters glistened like a still gemstone, and she heard the constant percussion of waves hitting the sands in the short distance. The thought of drowning came to mind, the possibility of losing herself in the aquamarine waters and ceasing to breathe underneath tons of liquid... She could become driftwood, hollow and forgotten, and perhaps she'd eventually crash upon the shores of California again. Maybe she'd one day return home...

Cool fingers slipped over her shoulders, tiptoeing across the canvas drawn on her skin, and Buffy turned around, furrowing her brow in confusion. It was Spike, obviously, his chipped fingernails absently sketching shapes on her skin. "What are you doing?" she asked, and Spike shrugged his shoulders, the black tee shirt a sharp contrast with his white skin.

"Drawing constellations," he said. "Drusilla does that sometimes. I'll wake up and she'll be drawing on me with a razorblade. Scars me up for a few hours, but being a vampire is the best plastic surgery out there, no matter what anyone else tells you."

Chuckling, Buffy trailed her finger across the scar that branched across his dark eyebrow, the white skin soft and shining as scar tissue often does. "Is that how you got this?" she asked softly, and Spike shook his head, grinning at her a little.

"Before I was turned, I had a fondness for robbery," he said. "Turns out that some people don't like robbery so much."

Wryly, Buffy smirked at him. "Wonder why," she said, and he kissed her fingertip, resuming his absent doodling on her skin. She took another hit off of her cigarette and exhaled into the night, the smoke curling upwards to the heavens, dissipating before it hit the star-painted atmosphere. "Willow had this dream once about painting on Tara. She was writing a Sapphic poem on her back. I always thought that would be beautiful to see - I wonder if she ever did it in reality."

Spike's snide voice answered her. "If she did, I hope that there are Polaroids."

Buffy considered elbowing him for being a pig, but she decided to let it go. It was nice, this old banter assumed between them, and it was relieving to be able to talk about the past without wanting to scream. She could remember the good memories, such as Willow's love with Tara, and he could remember Drusilla's fondness for sadomasochism - if that was a fond memory in the first place. Their memories were decidedly different, sharing different sets and different personalities, but she was calming down. She was able tonight to remember without feeling guilty.

It was a step.

Child's laughter wafted to her ear, and Buffy looked down off the balcony to the beach below. A child was dancing on the sands, her father standing nearby, holding a kite in the shape of a Chinese dragon, exotic and vividly colored, the tail of the kite tied with different colors that shone in the light like satin. The child was blurred by shadow, but Buffy could see the joy in the way that her shadow ran and skipped. Smiling softly, she bowed her head, until the memory of the dead little girl clutching her dolly and held tightly in her mother's arms came to mind.

Her skin stiffened underneath his touch, and Spike shook his head, knowing what she was thinking of. "I don't know why you keep blaming yourself for that," he said. "It's not like there's anything you could've done. It was their choice." //Good for them,// some little part of him whispered. //At least they had the courage to go on and do it instead of being a big poof.//

Brokenly, her head shook from side to side, and she felt the distance grow inside of her, as though her soul was being stretched out by pain. "I know that they did," she said softly. "But what a choice..."

Spike snorted a little, irony and bitterness heavy in his voice. "Rather ironic, isn't it, that suicide is usually considered to be an act of cowardice?" he asked, looking at the slope of her neck, and wondering what it would look like if torn open. "And yet I rather admire those blokes for having the wrinklies to do it." Troubled, Spike snatched the cigarette from between her fingers and took a long hit off of it, the menthol unfamiliar and only mildly soothing, before attempting to pass it back at her. Tilting her head at him, she acquiesced and gave him the cigarette, pulling another one out of her pack and lighting it, the alabaster silk rippling across her bronzed body.

"You're afraid to die," she said, and he glared at her defensively.

"Well, there's no need to broadcast it, now is there?" he said, taking an angry hit from the borrowed cigarette. "So what if I am? I was promised immortality and now I'm fucked. So yeah, I'm a little hacked off that I'm dying, and I..." He swallowed a little, lowering his voice to dark, embarrassed tones. "I never thought about it before. I've tried to kill myself, waking up and trying to throw the curtains aside, or carve a stake for myself, but I can't. I can't work up the bloody nerve to off myself." Angrily, Spike tossed the cigarette off the balcony with a flourish, watching the spark sail through the night and then tumble down the cliffs, disintegrating into black.

She turned around, smiling at him a little sadly. Lowly, Buffy rubbed his shoulders with her fingertips, and she leaned across to rest her cheek against his chest. "Then don't be afraid," she said lightly. "Don't think about it. So what if we're all going to die? So what if we're scared? Our time hasn't come up yet. We're still alive. I know that it might not feel like it or seem like much, but maybe we should just make the most of what we've got."

Live to the fullest... It was a nice idea. A welcoming idea. To embrace the world that was left, to laugh and be filled with joy before the end of the world came... She smiled, thinking of running through the tide pools that collected on the beach in front of her house while holding a kite, just like the little girl on the beach right now, or lounging in a chaise with a glass of wine while reminiscing over the good old days. To think of the past without pain, to remember instead of torture...

Buffy arched her eyebrow at the peroxide blond vampire who was intent on drawing a map on her skin, and she lightly caressed one angular cheekbone. "It's a nice thought," he finally commented, and when she smiled at him, he scowled at her. "Don't think I'm going all soft on you," he said in warning. "I've never been one of those fluffy kitten types. That was Angel's job, and he handled it quite nicely."

The memory of her lover's face came to mind, with his beautifully soft mahogany hair and his skin that was like brocaded porcelain, cool to the touch. She thought of thinking of him with pain, but instead she remembered him with a fondness. She remembered making love to him in their single sweet coupling, of touching his mouth and knowing that he was the one who would always understand and embrace her, and it was a good thought. "Angel was a good man," she murmured. "He was a good person, no matter what demons haunted him. I love him." She didn't say it for his benefit, but rather for her own, and Spike bit his tongue and choked back a nasty remark.

"You know what I miss?" Spike said. "I miss peaches." At her confused look, he rolled his eyes. "Not *your* Peaches, but actual peaches, you ninny."

Arching her eyebrow, Buffy looked at him strangely. "You like peaches?"

Spike grinned at her. "Yeah, I do," he said. "Vampires have a fondness for fruit. Good substitute for blood. When this bloody chip was still functioning, I ate fruit by the truckload. Something to sink my teeth in, you know. It's like chewing gum on a non-smoking flight. But I always fancied peaches above the rest of them." At her look of curiosity and almost fondness, Spike shrugged and turned away. "Too bad that it's not peach season anymore."

Smiling a little at him, the first real smile she'd given him in a while, she raked her fingers through his hair. "The real victims are the fruit," she said, and he snorted a little laugh for her, amused by her random thoughts. She had always been such a strange woman - wearing platform sandals with daisies embroidered in the leather while kicking his ass from Sunnydale to Cleveland was just one of her many quirks.

Sighing, Buffy leaned back over the rail and looked down at the beach below. It was unfamiliar terrain to her, Australia, a place where spiders could kill in a second rather than the more unusual (but more familiar for her) vampires and demons. A place where cliffs and jagged rocks signified beach area rather than sand dunes or boardwalks. She ached for California, missed its sweet softness and its smooth sands. She yearned for the good old days, and was suddenly struck with a sharp pang of homesickness.

"There was a road stand in Sunnydale that Riley used to stop at to get fruit from," Buffy murmured, her voice low and cool, like a sea breeze. "Fresh apricots and great apples, and figs. He had a thing for figs. When he found out that Giles had a fig tree in his courtyard, he was giddy for the rest of his day. Free fresh fruit - he'd feed it to me sometimes when we were in bed. But the orange peels got the sheets sticky, so I banned those." Sensible and smart - Spike bet that she'd done it with the little pout that she often utilized to get her way.

"Dru liked bananas," Spike said thoughtfully. "In Brazil, they fry them for breakfast. Fresh off the vine, allowed to ripen there, and they were bloody amazing. Nothing like them in the whole world."

Bonding over fruit... She was actually about ready to laugh at the absurdity of it, discussing their lovers' fruit preferences with each other like they were old chums instead of mortal enemies thrown together in the ruins of Earth. It was almost nice, this civilized conversation between the Slayer and a vampire, and she tilted her face up to kiss him softly on the mouth, lingering slightly on the curl of his lower lip.

"Peaches are my favorite fruit too," she said serenely, and left him in a state of surprise as she walked off the balcony and into the house, her long white nightgown and crimped colored hair trailing behind her like a punk bride.

When he walked inside, following her with an odd compulsion, Spike saw her stripping off her white nightgown so that she was only clothed in a pair of black silk panties, her breasts ripe and rare in the nightgown. She opened up the closet doors and revealed a massive wardrobe ranging from casual to slutty, and she picked something out of the more comfortable genre. She pulled on a turquoise spaghetti-strapped top and a pair of blue jeans that were cut off below the knee. Clamdiggers - he'd stolen her fashion magazines while she was sleeping earlier in the day, before turning to the morning paper. Her slender feet slid into a pair of simple platform sandals and she smiled at him appealingly. "I need to take a walk on the beach," she said, shoving a pack of cigarettes into the waistband of her denims. "You're free to join me."

Spike considered it, weighing the option carefully. Stay here in the Slayer's house or see how amazing her hair looked while being caught on the wind... "All right," Spike decided, and he picked up his own pack of Marlboro Reds, jingling his gold Zippo lighter in between his hands, tossing it back and forth out of boredom. "Let's go have a romp by the sea."

A boardwalk led from the house to the beach, long and sturdy, enough to survive a storm and possibly the end of the world. Stairs crawled down like spiders' legs to the rocks, stretching down the sands and across vivid green sand dunes. Seashells coated the railing in an artistic fashion; whoever had previously owned her house had a flair for decorating. The tide was low, revealing a long distance between the boardwalk and the sea, and she stood there for a moment, watching the waters wax and wane, washing on the shores like soft fingers made of foam and aqua.

She seemed clad in sea, in the turquoise top that she wore, as she bent over to fight the impossible battle of lighting a cigarette on the beach. The ocean winds were always moving, and Buffy cupped her hand around the white Bic while frowning, a cigarette hanging between her lips. Sighing, Spike pulled out his own Zippo and lit her cigarette for her, bending his own head down to light his Marlboro Red. Menthol was for sissies, no matter how good it tasted.

Manicured fingers slid the Zippo out of his hands, and she looked at the inscription, smirking when she read it from the shadows. "Roller Racer?" she asked, and Spike snatched the Zippo out of her fingers, pocketing it in his jeans.

"Present from the giant poof when I was still wheelchair-bound," he said, his mouth twisted in an irritated sneer. "Pillock thought that he'd make a ninny out of me because I couldn't walk around. Stole Dru and made fun of me whenever he could." The bitterness in his mouth was sour and irritating. "Guess he did make a fool out of me in the end."

One slender gold eyebrow arched at his statement, and Buffy shook her head, taking her cigarette out of her mouth and holding it between two fingers. "You're not a fool," she said, sparks flying off of her Marlboro as the wind blew in from the water's edge. "I used to think that you were, but you're not." She flashed her eyes at him mischievously. "You're rash and impulsive, and probably in need of a little Ritalin, but you're definitely smart." Before he could give her his patented arrogant smirk, Buffy spoke again. "But you've got an ego the size of the Empire State Building already, so don't think I'm going to stroke it for you."

He gave her the smirk anyway, eyes flashing in a primal manner that had always managed to shake her to the core. "Something else you'll stroke?" he asked, and she rolled her eyes, stepping away from him, hiding a smile. She wouldn't let him know that his brand of smug sensuality charmed her, or else he'd never stop using it on her.

Groaning, Buffy kicked off her sandals and let her feet sink into the plush and moist sands near the water's edge. Tidal pools had collected in the wake of the receding tide, revealing miniature kingdoms of sea life. Hermit crabs crawled in and out of the waters, carrying swirling shells on their backs, and schools of minute fish swam eagerly through their newly carved surroundings. They scattered quickly when the former Slayer stepped into the tidal pool, the waters lapping serenely at her slender ankles. He watched in amusement as she was careful not to flick ash from her cigarette into the pool, not wanting to disturb the serene landscape that had settled over the hours.

"Tidal pools are the neatest things," she said, her voice and words sounding almost giddy. Maybe the drunkenness hadn't worn off from their stint at the warehouse from earlier on in the night. "They're like little outdoor aquariums."

"Except that you don't have any of those little skeletons to put in the bottom of the tank," Spike reminded, and she ignored him, bending down to pick up a conch shell that was pearly pink and lustrous in the light. A few scattered barnacles clung desperately to the shell's polished surface, but she thought that they only added to the peculiar beauty of the seashell, and considered stealing it away from its resting place in the tidal pool. Considered taking it and putting it on her mantle like a prize.

Instead, she replaced it in the waters, and turned her head out to the sea.

The tumultuous motion of the water was something that had always fascinated her. Tides never ceased or slowed, no matter what happened to the rest of the world. Nature did not depend on mankind for operation. Towns and civilizations would die, were dying now, in fact, but the waters would still bestow beautiful gifts of the sea on the land, even if no one ever saw them.

Narrowing her eyes, Buffy gazed out at the distance, looking down a stretch of beach. It was abandoned on that side, the houses darkened and lights extinguished. For a brief moment, she felt the suddenness of their impending death. This was how the world would feel when humanity died. This was the desolation and destruction that would soon descend upon them in the most impenetrable of nights. They were in the twilight of the world now, that heavy and rich period of time when the sky glimmered with a cerulean glow and the stars just barely twinkled, sun descending and moon stealing its place. They were suspended in a state of extended dusk, before the night rose and they all fell into an everlasting slumber.

Sweet humidity coursed through her blood as she stood there, bare toes murmuring through the waters, and Buffy realized in that moment that they were experiencing what would be the world's last summer. There would never be an autumn, with its resplendent and showy foliage, or a winter that shimmered like endless vampiric skin on the landscape, and spring would never blossom and unfurl in radiant colors and perfumes. This was their last season on the planet, the last months that they would ever be able to grasp. Perhaps this was their final opportunity to taste the saltwater on their tongues, their last chance to wade in water, and their terminal try for happiness.

It was a better way than living like the dead.

A wavelet rippled out and touched her calves, and Buffy grinned, looking down at the lacy waters with mischief and joy brewing low inside of her chest. Wicked ideas were stewing inside of her head, culminating and combining with the feeling of absolute freedom on the strip of sand. Quickly, Buffy shot Spike a mischievous glance, and flicked the cherry off of her cigarette, watching the ash burn and sizzle into darkness in the wet sands. After she tucked the butt away in her pocket, careful not to litter, Buffy winked at the peroxide vampire and tore her tank top off of her head, peeling the fabricated ocean away from her skin in favor of the actual sea. She wriggled out of her clamdiggers and panties, and took off for the waters, streaking the short distance into the cool waters, laughing like a madwoman and leaving the vampire shocked.

Peals of laughter fell from her mouth like wind chimes as she dove gracefully in between the waves, letting the seas swallow her. She disappeared underneath the darkened waters, and Spike ran out to the water's edge, gaping at the girl who had decided so unusually to act like a child and not an emptied whore. She emerged from the waters in a pool of multicolored hair, sleek and sweetened by seawater, and Buffy laughed as she took in the expression on his face. "Get your ass in here!" she yelled, and Spike groaned, bending over and putting his cigarette out in the wet sands, not caring enough to think of the litter.

"Angel was right," he muttered confidentially to the hermit crab. "I *am* a big ninny."

And with that, he peeled off his clothing, shedding black to reveal alabaster, and dove in after her, graceful as a dolphin, cutting through the waters like a blade. For a moment, being surrounded by the waters was like being encased in the womb, nurturing and kind, and Spike remained there, floating calmly, briefly contented to be immersed in something as familiar and liquefied as the ocean. Breath was not an issue for him; he could remain in the water for as long as he liked, and yet he surfaced with a flourish, droplets of water flinging away from him as he shook them off. A high-pitched cry of absolute joy sprung up from Buffy's throat as she yelled with bliss, and she laughed with a happiness that was almost insane.

"What in the bloody hell are you *doing*?" Spike yelled, and Buffy grinned impishly at him, her wildly colored hair floating on the surface of the water like mad seaweed.

"I'm having fun!" she yelled back, splashing water at him with her slender hands. "Instead of moaning or weeping, I'm having fun!" And with another banshee-like scream, she dove underwater and surfaced next to him, her fingers climbing up his bare torso and wrapping around his neck, a wild grin on her face that seemed barbaric and utterly charming, like an eight-year-old about to put a whoopie cushion on the teacher's seat. It was enough to make him almost smile.

"You're a loon, Summers," Spike remarked, and Buffy just continued to flash him that winning and adorable grin, mouth wide and eyes dancing like the waters that she was surrounded in. "An absolute loon. You've lost the plot."

"Well, then why don't you help me find it?" she drawled, and she ducked her head under the water, manicured nails tickling his feet in a fashion that was irritating and endearing. Yelping, Spike dove underneath the waters and felt warm limbs, liquid and smooth, and small and young breasts underneath the embrace of the waters. She was laughing outright when he pulled her out of the waters, saltwater entering her mouth and forcing her to spit in an utterly unladylike fashion.

Spike smirked at her, and she slapped him, not cruelly, but playfully, grinning as she did it. In response, he shoved her, and she cackled with laughter, leaping on him to try and dunk the offending vampire. As she wrestled with him, her smooth copper skin beaded with water and sweat moved gracefully over his body, her slender shoulders and smooth, aquiline figure caressing his body in an inviting caress. The cool water did nothing to deter his arousal; it stimulated him instead of crippling him. She was exquisite and easy with the waters, avoiding the waves that threatened to knock her over, gracefully flowing in the tides, and her Slayer training taught her how to bring him underneath the waves with ease, until he was submerged in seawater and salt.

Grinning wolfishly, the bleached blond emerged with water clinging to his slightly wavy locks and trailing down the forked scar in his dark eyebrow. "You know, Slayer, I haven't been skinny dipping in aeons," he said, and Buffy arched her eyebrow at him devilishly, scouring his bare chest with her eyes, drinking in the beads of water that clung to and poured down his abdomen in a trail of moisture.

"Well, this is my first time, so I guess we're pretty much prudes together," she said wickedly, and then pressed her body up to his in a crush of coppery skin, binding his mouth to hers in an enchantment of saltwater and sensuality. A battle of cool and warm took place as their tongues fought for dominance, a minor parody of their own constant war that neither of them would ever win. She slid her hands down to the small of his back, swapping positions with him, and he bunched his hands in the soaking silk of her hair, kissing her slowly and contentedly. She tasted like saltwater and tobacco, and he tasted the same way.

Grinning, she flashed her eyes at him, like pale seawater ringed with darker circlets of jade, hidden underneath flared dark honey eyelashes. She gravitated the ripe plum of his earlobe, flicking her tongue against the lush droplet of flesh, tasting the salt of the sea on his skin. His voice was like honey fermented in London, so beautiful that Buffy wanted to taste his consonants and vowels, to gorge herself on his vocabulary of mysterious slang and curses so exotic that they were almost quaint instead of coarse. "Remember tonight for me," Buffy murmured. "You're going to be around a little longer than I will at least, and I want someone to remember how wonderful this feels after I'm dead."

Tangling her fingers through the fine hairs that hit the nape of his neck, Buffy fastened her mouth to his again, arching her back so that the tops of her breasts, tipped by fine nipples the color of coral were exposed from the depths of the ocean. She was exquisite, so magnificent that he wanted nothing more than to dip his head to her and take her pert young breasts into his mouth. When he saw the look on his face, the former Slayer smiled in a coquettish fashion and acquiesced to his unspoken demand. The feel of her heated skin covered in the cool waters was ravishing, like fire that could never be extinguished, no matter how much water was poured onto its flickering flame. Smiling beatifically, Buffy bent backwards and let herself float in the waters, as Spike lowered himself to her body and dunked his head beneath the waters. She could not see him, not even a flicker of lightning hair exposed by the waters, but she felt the track of his mouth as he descended low on her body. A kiss landed in her navel, and another one made its way on the inside of her thigh, until she felt him part her legs, like he was diving for pearls.

Ecstasy clouded her vision and thoughts as she felt his lower lip brush over the intimate and heated folds in between her legs, that generous mouth pleasuring her in a fashion that was less brutal and more loving. A teasing tongue slid inside of her briefly, and she jerked backwards, a low moan erupting from her throat that was instantly stolen away by the wind. A sweet symphony of sexuality building inside of her, reaching for its crescendo, and he played her body magnificently. She should have known that he could be so good at this, with his infatuation with constant motion and the way that his body radiated sex with every singular movement.

Throbbing, pulsing, her body floating buoyantly on the surface of the water, Buffy cried out when his tongue whispered over the aching bundle of nerves covered in her secret folds. A sharp gasp was ripped from her mouth, and she opened her eyes, looking at the stars that flickered in the midnight sky. Everything was still for that moment, as though time had stilled for her, giving her this moment of bliss in water. She was living in the funnel of the hourglass, sands shifting all around her, but she refused to move from this capsulated portion of time.

Frenetically, Spike's tongue moved over her, and Buffy arched her back, her body on fire with the joy of being consumed, and she came with a furious joy, laughing instead of crying, and the rapture of being so filled with happiness. It didn't matter in that moment that the world was coming to an indefinite and horrible end; she was happy then. She was content. When he surfaced from the waters, liquid sluicing down his high and haughty cheekbones and pooling on his lower lip, Buffy kissed him with a smile and tasted herself on him. It was the first glimpse of who she was in months.

"Come back to the house," the former Slayer said to the vampire. "I've got a new perspective on life."

Spike grinned at her. "And what's that, luv?"

She winked. "I'm alive right now, and I'm going to make these final days into one hell of a party."

With that, she kissed him heartily, and then dove underneath the waters, leaving him no choice but to follow her.

*****

(end part eleven)

*****



Part Twelve

*****

Smoke unfurled from the cigarette, rising up from the slender cylinder of burning and dying ash, curling and creating shapes that seemed perfect for a woven blanket from Egypt. It rested in the crook of the green crystal ashtray, scattering bits of ash like incinerated snow onto the bottom of the glass. Slowly, thoughtfully, Buffy picked up the cigarette and took a hit off of it, contemplating her next move. She exhaled a stream of silvery smoke, and then carefully decided. A choice painstakingly made, difficult to part with...

With a wicked grin, she placed the Queen of Spades down on the pile, and waited for Spike to make his move.

The peroxide blond vampire scowled at the hand that he'd been dealt, and cut his dark blue eyes at her disapprovingly. "You're cheating," he accused, and Buffy arched an eyebrow at him teasingly, fanning through the selection of cards with a wily expression on her face.

"I would never cheat," she scoffed. "You're the one who would cheat at cards, o soulless one." With that, she kicked him, stretching one pajama-clad leg across the bed and hitting him right in the kneecap, smirking when he yelped and swatted at her thigh with his hand. The strong lines of his shoulders gleamed like pearls stretched across bone as he lounged across the bed in nothing but his reliable and well-worn jeans, belt undone and jeans riding low on his slender hips. She admired the lines of his body over the fan of cards in front of her face, impishly scouring his lean and muscled body with her eyes.

He caught her staring at him, and arched an eyebrow at her, amused with her appearance. She sat Indian-style on the bed, carmine fingernails tapping the patterned back of the playing cards impatiently, scanning her hand for moves. Streaks of blue, red, and magenta ripped through her light gold hair as it spilled over her slender shoulders, and locks of it dipped invitingly into the cleavage of her tank top. Embroidered dragons and tiger lilies in different shades of green and violet shimmered on her blue silk pajama pants, and her scarlet toenails were bright splashes of color on her simple dark green bedsheets. He'd convinced her after a week to ditch the trite red linens, and she decided that he was right.

A smirk flowered on his mouth as he watched her, and he drew an ace of diamonds from the deck, instantly placing it on the discard stack. "For your information, Summers, I don't cheat," he said haughtily, and Buffy arched her gold eyebrow, taking a hit off of her cigarette before picking up Spike's discarded ace and adding it to her hand. The vampire inwardly cursed; she naturally had to take whatever he didn't want. "I always fought you quite fairly."

She rolled her eyes and tossed hair off of her shoulder, no matter that it was all pulled back into a frenzied ponytail so that her colored highlights shrieked across her scalp. "Sure you did," she said dryly. "And the Ring of Amara was completely fair. Or attacking me when I was helpless that Halloween. Yeah, Spike, you always fought fairly." She frowned at him as she discarded a seven of clubs. "I always did wonder why you never used a gun on me. Darla did once, but you never did."

Spike shrugged at her, frowning a little as he contemplated the card that she had thrown out of her hand. "I once went to a gun shop and picked up a weapon," he confessed, leaning back a little and remembering the day with much glee. He smiled a little dreamily and gazed off at the curtained glass door. "A rather nice little handgun. Held it in my hand, fired off a couple of rounds, but you know, killing you with it would just be too quick. Too easy. What would I brag about later on to Dru or to the other demons at Willy's? That I killed the Slayer with a bee- bee gun?" Spike shook his head, flipping through his cards and looking down at the spread of diamonds, clubs, spades and hearts. "Besides that, I had all these great plans for killing you."

Arching her eyebrow, Buffy took another hit from her cigarette and exhaled, exasperated with Spike's rambling remembrances. "Really?" she said, her tones flat and disinterested.

Spike didn't notice her rampant disapproval, and if he did, he didn't care. "Yeah," he said, a half smile on his ripe mouth. "I was going to carve you up and feed you to the dogs, or maybe stuff you and give you to Dru as a present... They were nice little plans. A gun would just be... Boring." He shrugged, and Buffy looked at him with flat, disbelieving eyes.

"And if that wasn't the most charming speech I've ever heard, then I don't know what is," she said drolly, and Spike threw a cracker at her head, watching when she burst out into gleeful laughter.

"Sod off," he said, taking her card and discarding a three of hearts. She picked up his card and slammed down a seven of diamonds, a proud smile on her face.

"Gin," she announced, fanning out her cards on the bedspread to display her triumph over him. Spike scowled at her, leaning over to look at her cards.

"You cheated," he accused, and Buffy grinned lecherously at him, shaking her head and pointing out the sets to him. He threw down his hand in irritation, disgruntled with himself for losing to her, and Buffy grinned wickedly, crawling across the bed, the silk dragons on her pajama pants glistening with a dozen multicolored threads. Lithe muscles flowed like water underneath the shimmering dragons, and Spike watched her warily, feeling himself want her just from the expression on her face and from the motion of the embroidered dragons on her legs.

Impish eyes sparkled like California waters as she nuzzled his nose with her own, brushing her lower lip against his in a whisper of a kiss. "Now, Spike," she murmured, moving her tongue to just barely breeze between his lips, "if you keep that up, you're going to be a *really* sore loser." Impishly, Buffy grinned and ducked her head back behind his ear, softly licking the sensitive area that always made him shiver. Spike hissed as arousal shot through his body, grabbing for her and digging his nails into the tattooed small of her back. He growled at her and flipped her on her back, and Buffy grinned at him beguilingly, drawing up her knee and wrapping it around his waist.

Slowly, she drew her tongue down his cheekbones, tasting the sharpness of bone underneath taut skin the color of the moon, and she saw the way that his eyes liquefied when she did it. She smiled, draping her hands down his back, feeling the rich coolness of his skin, kissing the juncture of his neck and shoulder, licking the pronounced clavicle and then nipping playfully at his throat, eliciting a moan and a chuckle from him. Her hands dipped lower as she suckled on his neck, dipping into the waistband of his jeans, and she felt the silken coolness of his hardened cock, stroking it with her thumb. Spike hissed a breath out, and stopped her hand with his. "But you were the winner this time," he said, and she arched her eyebrow at him provocatively.

"Winner takes all," she said, squeezing him slightly and causing him to suck in his breath shortly before hastily agreeing with her.

"Oh, yeah," he said, and when she unbuttoned the fly of his faded denims, she smiled mirthfully at him, claiming the prize that she had collected from her skillful game of gin. "You know, I still... Still think that you cheated..."

A false pout landed on Buffy's ripe little mouth, and she arched her eyebrow haughtily at him. "Spike, it's not my fault that I was dealt a good *hand*," she said, emphasizing her last word by giving his hard cock another squeeze. Spike groaned and then finally shut up, arching his hips and giving her the opportunity to remove the one article of clothing that he wore. "Now, you just lay back and tell me if you think I cheated..."

And with that, she flipped him on his back, lowered her mouth to him and Spike hoped that this was the afterlife he got when the world ended.

Molten honey surrounded him slowly, a warm tongue descending low on his erect cock, gliding around the tip before slowly descending on him, brushing her plump lower lip against the sensitive underside. Multicolored locks of hair spilled down on his thighs, magentas and mulberries spilled with boysenberry threads, all with the occasional natural honey gold shade. Fingers lightly cradled his balls, and he felt like he was sinking into her, moaning and arching, and if his heart could beat, it would have been with the chaos of a timpani.

Thought disappeared as she slowly descended on him, moist mouth taking him in and inviting him inside of her. Groaning, Spike arched his hips and she assaulted him with her tongue, taking him from the hilt to the tip, and her hands slowly, gently rotated his heavy, aching testicles. Buffy was a master at oral sex, something that he never would have suspected of the Buffy of old days in California. The girl who wore prim little skirts and dainty handbags would never have thought messing herself with the dirty business of blowjobs. But the woman in leather and black eyeliner, the woman who had stripped her hair of its innocence by tainting it with a myriad of different colors, was a champion of the sport.

"Oh, Christ, Slayer," the vampire moaned, and the Slayer moved on him with an increasing rapidness, her hands following her mouth, and he felt himself near the verge, approaching climax, moaning and clutching the emerald bedsheets for dear life. His orgasm built and he fell into it, throwing his head back and groaning as he came, and she slowed her motions, coaxing him and moving with him, swallowing his seed effortlessly.

He didn't want to think of how much she must have practiced since her jaunt to Melbourne.

Sleepy bedroom eyes lifted from his lap, and Buffy arched one dusted gold eyebrow at him, her hair a mass of shimmering colors as it fell down her back like a distorted rainbow. "I told you that I never cheat," she said archly, and Spike watched her as she rolled elegantly off the bed and to the bathroom, the dragons on her pajamas glinting at him wickedly as she left him on the sheets.

Water splashed on her face in droplets of crystalline liquid, clinging to the delicate planes of her face, and she washed the taste out of her mouth, never being one for the taste of semen, replacing it with mint and the promise of burned tobacco. She glanced behind her, not expecting to see his reflection, but she did see a cigarette burning in the ashtray, smoke filtering around the room and staining the sheets with its charred perfume. She looked at her eyes in the mirror, peering at herself, trying to find what had changed inside of her and realized that what had changed could be seen in no mirror or looking glass.

After all, he didn't have a reflection.

She wasn't sure what had happened. She only knew that playing gin with Spike and winning/losing (and occasionally cheating, though she'd never admit it to him and fuel his nasty fires) had begun to mean more to her than her old jaunts to the warehouses. Colored lights and cocaine were no longer necessary, not when she'd shifted her addictions over to the peroxide blond smoking in her bed and trying to stack the deck in his favor. She wouldn't lecture him - she wasn't a hypocrite. That was his job.

Her makeup drawer almost beckoned, begging her to put on her face and go dancing, go fucking, do something other than sit here and play innocent games with him as he stroked her hair or touched her face, or argued with her until she wanted to kill him. It was frustrating, infuriating, hateful and spiteful, and yet it was all that she had left in the ruined world. She was fractured and fragmented into a thousand pieces, but he was slowly putting her back together by grinding her into a powder and pouring her into a glass, instead of scattering her to the winds like he should be doing. This tug of war relationship was the best thing that she had going for her, and so she kept it going.

She didn't have the time to be alone anymore.

Suddenly, a scrap of paper flew in her face, and Buffy spun around, startled. It was just him, of course, a wicked smile on his face while his black fingernails contrasted sharply with the party. Just two weeks since he'd painted them and they were already chipped. He bit them when he was bored, and sometimes he bit her. Just playing though. He wouldn't kill her, and she knew it. After all, he didn't want to be alone either.

"You've been invited to a party," he said, and she scowled at him, snatching the piece of paper away from him while tucking an errant strand of magenta behind her ear.

The little piece of paper was inscribed with the American flag. The old Star Spangled Banner, in all of its glory, twinkling at her with the tarnished pride that it carried now. Just seeing it made her heart ache. Buffy quickly looked past it, and read the engraving on the note. It was, indeed, an invitation to a party. A banquet, actually. A dance to celebrate the Fourth of February, a sort of joke to the fact that they'd never have what they all wanted to have - Independence Day. They were inviting any Americans that may have escaped the United States, trying to celebrate their dead homeland one last and desperate time.

Quietly, Buffy took the little piece of paper over to the sink, turning her back on Spike, looking down at the invitation. America... To see it assembled in its broken pieces one last time, to talk to others who felt the burden and the guilt of loving a country that had destroyed the Earth, was something that she dreaded and desired all at once. She hated her homeland as much as she loved it. She remembered the liberty and idealism, the history painted in a wonton need for independence, and how awfully that history had ended.

The Stars and Stripes shimmered at her with the boldness of the crimson colors, and Buffy traced over them with her fingertip, hungering for the country that had been blown to smithereens.

Impatiently, Spike took the invitation from her, and she didn't turn around, keeping her slim back to him. "You aren't actually thinking of *going*, are you?" he asked, and her silence irritated him. Celebrating the cause of their misery was foolery, and she was contemplating going.

"Yeah, Spike, I am," she murmured finally. "I want to go."

Snorting, he threw the piece of paper in the air, and she stared at him coldly as it fluttered to the floor like a dying bird. "You can't be serious," he said, and she rolled her eyes, arching one ashen blonde eyebrow at him.

"Quit telling me what I'm thinking of," she said, and he clenched his jaw at her, looking at the obstinate little mess in front of him. "I'm an American. Plain and simple. I loved my country."

He arched his scarred eyebrow at her as well, the white scar tissue glistening dangerously. "Even after what it did?"

Harshly, she closed her eyes, blinking out his assaulting image. "Yes," she spat, and she looked away, at the little piece of folded invitation in his fingers. "Being an American is something different now. It's not about pledging allegiance to a goddamn flag or singing Bruce Springsteen songs. It's about bearing the burden of sentencing billions of people to death. I carry that responsibility, and I do it because these people deserve someone to blame." She sighed then, wearily and tiredly. "But it's exhausting. It's agonizing. It's horrible to stand there while people spit on your shoes and blame you when you lost everything, too. My family's dead. My friends are dead. My lovers are dead. I'm all that's left, and no one can understand that. No one should have to understand that."

She lifted her eyes to him and then snatched the invitation away from him, crushing it in her fist. "But *these* people understand that! They lost everything too, and they're going to die in a foreign country alone and afraid, and if they want to have a party for everything that they used to have, then fucking good for them. And I'm going."

And then, brutally, he kissed her, because she had been angry and she was incredible when she was angry.

Furiously, she resisted him at first, and then he pulled away enough to calm her nerves so that she would agree to what he wanted to give her. "Fine," he said, looking into the angry eyes of the former Slayer and American. "Go to your party. But give me tonight."

They fought as they made their way to the bed, scraping fingernails against skin and clashing teeth and tongue before he stretched her atop the sheets, the dragons shimmering on her legs with the fiery blues and greens. He removed her pajama bottoms with his teeth, pulling them down around her ankles and revealing the magnificence of her small blue panties, silk, hugging her hips and revealing a small inch between her navel and the edge of her panties. She hissed when he touched her, as though her veins were electric wires, and her back arched as he dragged his fingernails lightly up her thighs, arcing when she moaned. Teasingly, Spike flashed her a crooked grin, and she smiled sweetly.

"You think that's the way to apologize to me?" she asked, aqua eyes flashing at him. "By fucking me?"

Spike smirked at her. "Well, of course not," he said. "But it's a good start."

With that, he took off her panties and said that he was sorry.

Afterwards, as the light crept in through a crack in the curtain, slivering down the room, she brought her hand up to it and let the morning light dissect her fingers and palm. The sunlight crucified her and her lover nuzzled into the crook of her neck, watching the bright light cut through her hand and impale her with dawn. He envied her absentminded ability to move her hand up to the window with such languid grace, never minding the fact that she could do what he couldn't do. Envy filled him, and he wished that he could just walk so easily to the light and let himself go.

But he was tethered to the world, and he was also bound to her. So he stayed in her bed and watched her draw and quarter her own hand with the innocence of the living. A greater death awaited her, he supposed, and maybe his envy wasn't so warranted after all.

Sighing, she turned her head to the side and looked at the full- length mirror that hung on the closet door. She saw herself painted in the colors of afterglow, the generous golds and glistening sweat running across her exposed body, her hand divided by sunshine. Buffy looked at the colors she had placed on herself, and began to speak. "You know, half the time I look in this glass and I don't see myself. And then I think that maybe I understand a piece of you. What it's like not to have a reflection. Not to see yourself in the morning when you wake up, or after you've lost everything that you thought you had."

It was, quite possibly, the quietest confession she had ever given him. Just the murmur that she didn't know who she was anymore, and frankly, he didn't know who he was anymore either. It was impossible to grasp one's self in a world where everything had turned topsy-turvy all of a sudden.

Slightly, she tilted her head at him, and captured his eyes with hers. "Come with me," she said. "Come see the last of America with me."

And so he sighed, and watched her take her hand out of the light, placing her sun-warmed hand on his chest, and knew that it was only a matter of time before her skin couldn't interfere with the inevitable. But until then, he may as well take what he could have.

"All right."

*****

(end part twelve)

*****



Part Thirteen

*****

The sun had descended into the seas, the oceans swallowing the fire and sending the moon spinning into the sky. It hovered over Australia like a heavy pendant, silvery and pure, filling the skies with luminous light. A faint breeze had started in from the hall's close proximity to the ocean, and it blew the vivid blades of grass into blurs of kelly green. Music pushed from the hall, adding to the percussion of the waves crashing ashore, and the sky was the color of a darkened robin's egg. Clouds were stretched across the sky like whitened cotton candy, light and fluffy, and it looked like what heaven might look like if this weren't already hell.

Grass whispered as she walked up the path, her hair blowing around her face in a mass of curled blues, reds, and magentas. Soft tendrils of bright gold twisted with cerulean and vermilion brushed her bared shoulders, and he watched her walk up the sandy path in twilight. The white spaghetti-strapped tank top clung to her body, and she wore turquoises around her throat and wrists. A bright aquamarine and cerulean sarong was wrapped around her waist, knotted at the hip, and her slender calves walked with the precision of slim scissors atop white platform sandals.

Spike scowled briefly, looking at the brightly colored beauty that she wore so easily. It wasn't the cheapened finery that she wore to her warehouses, though there were bright colors and fine fabrics that she wore around her body. She looked like California and America embodied, past and present, with her wholesome destruction. Copper skin, melee of wild hair, and too-bright colors that seemed perfect for her. And he shook his head, shoved his hands in his pockets, and followed her into the hall.

And inside was America.

A flag hung from the rafters, wavering with the open windows, as Christmas tree lights were strung around poles with their twinkling white. Hamburgers sizzled on the grill, and children ran about laughing, holding hot dogs and balloons, as old music pumped from the speakers. Bob Dylan, the great American songwriter and poet, sang old anthems as she walked into the hall, looking at citronella candles burning brightly and children holding sparklers on the back porch that overlooked the cliffs. Couples danced on the dance floor, holding hands and spinning each other about, laughing as they did so, reviving the old times and remembering the freedom of their old America.

It was delicious.

Grinning, Buffy walked through the dance hall, holding her invitation in hand, taking in the smells and the images. There were about sixty people in attendance, all laughing and holding ice cold beers. People smoked if they felt like it, eating slices of pizza and hot dogs with relish. It was everything trite and cliched about the good old U.S.A., and she loved it.

Swaying her hips back and forth, Buffy walked through the dance floor, her jewelry glinting, smiling as she saw America assembled here in spades. Picnic tables lit with citronella candles were assembled outside, and she walked to the three gas grills working furiously to cook enough food for the partygoers. The American flag shimmered proudly, and underneath it stood a woman in a checkered blouse and a plain denim skirt, grinning broadly at her. "The Californian, right?" the woman asked in a blissfully American accent, and Buffy nodded, extending her hand to the woman.

"Buffy Summers," she introduced, and the woman nodded, smiling.

"I'm Dorothy," she said, shaking Buffy's hand. "We got your address from immigration. I hope you don't mind us invading your privacy, but we just wanted to get as many people as we could to come. One final bash for the U.S.A., you know." Her smile faltered a little. "After all, we've all lost so much."

Buffy's smile remained steady, but she felt a pang for those that had been left behind. "Right," she said. "It's fine. I'm glad that I could come."

Dorothy led her out to the railing, wrapping her arms around herself. "Most of us were residents of Melbourne for business reasons when the bombs fell, but there are also vacationers like yourself who left family behind in the States," she explained, and Buffy flinched. This had never been a vacation for her. It had been a ruin of strobe lights and snakeskin dresses. Dorothy didn't see the pained expression on the ex-Slayer's face and continued speaking. "We all lost our home, and after we heard that Sydney starting to report radiation cases..." Dorothy's voice trailed off, and she cleared her throat. "Well, we realized that this would be the last chance we'd have to remember our homeland."

Bowing her head, Buffy looked down at the waves crashing ashore, and she rested her arms on the railing. The beaches were different here, with their perfectly clear waters and their dramatic cliffs and rocks. Everything was vibrantly and vividly colored, as though God had used a brighter palate of colors when painting Australia. From the hall, she heard strains of Joni Mitchell waft out to the back porch.

"California, I'm coming home, will you take me as I am, strung out on another man..."

A half smile pulled at Buffy's mouth, surrounded by the refugees of America, and Dorothy smiled at her in return. "Where are you from?" she asked, and Buffy smiled, pulling out her pack of cigarettes and lighting one.

"California," she answered in a breath of expelled smoke. The smoke traveled out across the sea like a failed smoke signal, pleading for any ships and knowing that there would never be any. She was from California, land of free love and impossible dreams, of demons and dreams, and Buffy smiled. "I was from Sunnydale, California, right outside of Los Angeles."

"I'm so sorry, hon," Dorothy said, patting Buffy's arm reassuringly. "It's hard to deal with losing someone, let alone a whole world full of people, especially when people think that it's your fault." She shook her head, and walked away, leaving Buffy alone, as Joni Mitchell sang an anthem to the Sunshine State in the background.

Turquoises shimmered down her arm as she thought about the legacy left behind in the ruins of the United States. Perhaps there would be another civilization that would one day inhabit the earth that humanity had foolishly wasted and abandoned, and they would return to her homeland and find a history rich with aspirations and dreams, with human arrogance and human beauty. Maybe they'd have better luck. It was almost comforting.

Black fingernails pinched the filter of her cigarette, and Spike sidled up next to her, stealing a hit from her cigarette before passing it back to her. "I don't know why you wanted to come so badly," he said, shrugging at the partygoers. "All a bunch of ninnies if you ask me - having a party in the face of the end of the world. That's why humans are idiots." She rolled her eyes and turned to him, her face plain and honest in its fresh earnesty.

"I wanted to come because these people understand something about me that you never will," she said, and Spike arched his eyebrow.

"And why is that, luv?"

She didn't smile when she spoke. "Because they're human and you're not." It was a simple statement, and it would have hurt if he cared about humanity or possessing enough to understand her innate desire to celebrate a dead country's independence on the wrong damn date. She sighed then when she saw the look on his face, and she lifted her hand to the side of his face, tracing a thumb down the long angle of his cheekbone. "But you understand the rest."

The music changed inside of the hall, shifting from Joni Mitchell to another American classic. Soft piano and lulling voice, and slowly, Buffy turned her head away, her vision shifting the sparklers and watermelon to Giles's living room, her Watcher sitting on a stool, strumming his guitar and singing. He used to sing this song. She teased him about the irony and he told her that it was one of the best rock compositions ever. He would sing it in its entirety, while Willow pored over his books and tapped her foot underneath her long skirts.

"Long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile..."

Softly, Buffy smiled, remembering how well Giles could cover Don McLean. "I love this song," Buffy confided to Spike, and he rolled his eyes, slugging back a beer that he'd picked up somewhere.

"Decent song," he commented, and she turned her head to him, an electric smile flickering over her face. Instantly, he shook his head, looking out at the ocean. "No. I'm not dancing with you tonight. Not to this damn song."

Eyes flashed at him with their glorious seafoam spark, and she tugged at his arm. "You *are* going to dance with me," she said. "I need to dance tonight. Giles used to sing this song and I want to dance to it. Besides, the radiation hit Sydney, and there's not much time left. I'm going to dance while I damn well can, whether you want to join me or not." With that, she took a swig of his beer to repay him for stealing her cigarette and flicked the remnants of her Marlboro over the side of the porch, and left for the dance floor.

Americans milled about, laughing and dancing, and she joined the fray blissfully, twisting her body and shaking her hips, her hair flying around her face in a melee of color, as sparklers threw off bright stars of fire and the American flag loomed overhead. It was the dance of a woman enthralled with her own homeland, of a woman celebrating the old dream. The dream of independence, of liberty and justice for all, even if it had all ended so disastrously. People joined her on the dance floor, limbs flying and laughing cheers filling the hall. Her hips turned with the music, and she danced with whoever she saw, with everyone, for the ghosts of the past that had been America for her. "And do you believe in rock and roll; can music save your mortal soul?"

It didn't matter in that moment that she had destroyed herself or that the world had fallen around her. It didn't matter that time was running out or that death was imminent. All that mattered was the sheer joy that had once reverberated throughout her country, the energy of being young and American, of inheriting the Earth and rapture all at once. Laughing, Buffy tipped her head back and danced wholeheartedly. It was all okay in that moment, while Don McLean sang and the last Americans on Earth danced around her.

Then black fingernails clung to her hip and dipped in the waistband of her sarong, and Buffy grinned when she saw Spike reluctantly dancing with her, a beer in one hand and her hip in the other. Impishly, she linked her arms around his neck and danced with him, forcing him to twirl her around until she was dizzy with remembered glee. She was okay, she was fine, and even if it was only temporary, it was here for now.

It was okay for now.

Then the music slowed, quieted, and the people on the dance floor stilled along with them, listening to the lyrics that a dead man sang.

"I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
She just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred storev Where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play

The last Americans were lit by Christmas lights, by dying sparklers and darkening twilight, trapped in a foreign land where they would be forced to die, haunted by the memories of old American joy and new American damnation. Empty, endlessly sorrowful expressions were cast on the Americans' faces as they listened to the music of their dead country, forever bound by the misery that their homeland had caused.

"And in the streets the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died

Buffy broke apart from him, and she looked around her, seeing the hollow hurt in everyone's eyes, and she felt like crying. Felt like weeping. Felt like shedding remorse and regret for everything that humanity could have been if they hadn't destroyed themselves. These were the ashes of the flames, the final few cinders left to fizzle out of existence. She bowed her head and wished that she could pray, but had no faith to offer.

Not when nothing could save her now.

"And they were singing bye-bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry
And good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing, 'this'll be the day that I die'
This'll be the day that I die"

The crowd began to sing, unified and whispering, some voices off- key, but most knowing the lyrics to the song and therefore joining in with the chorus as the song died and the verse repeated.

"And they were singing bye-bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry
And good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singing, 'this'll be the day that I die'"

She didn't sing. She didn't want to sing. She just wanted to escape, and that was what she did, walking off the dance floor as her top rose up to reveal the lower half of her thorny tattoo.

The porch was empty, and Buffy bowed her head, clenching her hands into fists, gripping her hair as she thought of the haunting portrait of doomed mankind. She shouldn't have come here tonight. Not to witness this last celebration before death. It just made her want to despair for all of the people who deserved joy, who deserved giddy rapture, and were instead dealt sorrow. There was no way to cheat at this card game.

His hands moved through her hair as he walked up behind her, and he looked at the black ink circling her lower back, forever branding her with her decision to martyr herself as the failed savior of the world. "You were right," she said coldly, her voice frozen over with a thin layer of ice and snowflakes. "I shouldn't have come here. It was a mistake to see this."

Spike traced her tattoo with his fingertips, and Buffy wanted to shrug off his touch. She didn't want to be touched. Not now. "That's life for you, Summers," he said in a hushed voice. "May as well deal with it now, right?" If she didn't know him better, she thought she detected a tremor in his voice. "After all, there's not much time left now."

As if to confirm this, the wind blew softly in from the seas, and a chill passed through her body. Images of choking, of drowning in dust and death, of disease and poison flashed through her mind. She swallowed a cry, a desperate scream, for she knew what she tasted on the air. It was the flavorless breath of radiation. It was the call that she didn't want to receive.

Shuddering, she looked out at the water, and knew that it was happening. It was all happening. Dry-mouthed, she turned around and looked at her lover, his blue eyes stormy and turbulent as always, and she wrapped her arms around him, looking out toward the ocean. "Take me home," she whispered. "I want to go home."

Suddenly, he received the same flash, that same chill and lulling calm, that same flavor of frightful inevitability. "Yeah, baby," he murmured, and this time, his voice did shake. "Let's go."

As they left, her sarong fluttering in the wind and his duster flapping around his legs, the wind blew ominously and the American flag rippled like a dying bird.

*****

(end part thirteen)

*****

The lyrics enclosed in this chapter are taken from the wonderful Joni Mitchell song, "California", and Don McLean's masterpiece and classic, "American Pie".

*****



Part Fourteen

*****

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)

*****



Part Fifteen

*****

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.

A warehouse.

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.

*****

"No."

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.

*****

(end)


*****

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 :)