By Minim Calibre
Notes: It was based on spoilers and speculation (all aired now), but it’s not how things will go. It’s just another way they could have gone. Three parts, each hinging on the end of the world, and one tiny follow-up. Buffy/Wesley, R.
Spoils of War
He’s waiting in the wreckage of her living room when she returns to the house.
“Tell me how to kill him.” Flat voice, no preamble.
She doesn’t have time for this. The girls are waiting, Giles is waiting, the end of the world is waiting, but not for long. It never waits for long. She raises weary eyes to his, ready to tell him as much, but freezes when she gets a good look at him.
Thin has turned to downright gaunt, and he’s aged a decade in the handful of years since she saw him last. There are shadows under his eyes and bruises fresh and old on his cheeks so she can’t tell what’s from exhaustion and what’s from injury.
When a minute or more passes and she still hasn’t answered, he speaks again. “Tell me how to kill someone who wears the face of a loved one, Buffy. Tell me how you did it; I need to know.”
Laughing or crying, one of the two, seems to be the right response, but she can’t manage either. She can’t be hearing this, not now, not with what she’s up against. “What happened, Wesley?”
“Angelus happened. I trust you remember what that was like.”
And she realizes that she knew it the moment he opened his mouth. There’s a how and a when and maybe even a who missing. She doesn’t want to find them; it’s bad enough knowing the what.
“Fire, stake, beheading, forced ingestion of Holy Water in a pinch. You know all this, so why are you here? I can’t help you, not now.” Maybe not ever.
“You’re the only one who can. You’re the only one who’s had to do it.”
There’s no easy way to answer him. If there was, she’d tell him what he needs to hear and go about her business. She never thought she’d have to tell a Watcher how to kill a vampire.
Well, ex-Watcher, if she wants to get technical, but right now, pretty much all of them are ex-Watchers. At least this one’s still breathing, even if he looks like death warmed over. She wonders if he knows just how lucky he was, getting canned.
“You want to know how to kill him? Fine, I’ll tell you, but I need your help with something.”
“Buffy, I have an apocalypse on my hands and Angelus loose in Los Angeles. I don’t even have the time it’s taken me to come and ask for your help.”
“And I have an apocalypse on my hands, a few scared potential Slayers hiding out at an undisclosed location, and the First trying to kill us all where we sleep. The world’s ending. What else is new?”
Something’s gotten through, and she sees him go paler, revealing still more bruises. “Where are their Watchers?” Calm, quiet words, the kind of calm that means hysteria is waiting around the corner. Shit.
“Dead. Council HQ blew up.”
She’s not prepared for his reaction, for seeing his knees buckle and his arms reach into nothingness looking for something to grab hold of. She manages to get to him before he falls and helps him to one of the less-damaged chairs. Hopefully it will hold his weight, not that there’s much of him for it to hold.
Belatedly, she realizes he probably had friends who were killed in the blast.
“Family, actually.” She must have spoken out loud, either that or what she was thinking was written in huge letters on her face. Family. She should have known.
“Don’t be. He wasn’t much of a loss. Besides, I’ve been dead to him for some time.” But he’s shaking, whatever blood was left in his face has drained from it, and the words sound more like he’s trying to convince himself than like he believes them.
“Wesley?” He looks up at the sound of his voice, lost and bewildered. She needs to snap him out of it if he’s going to be any use to them, any use back in his part of the end times, but she can tell harsh won’t work, not right now. “When did you last eat?”
His brow furrows as he puzzles it out. “I found her last week. I’d just had a sandwich–chicken and lettuce on brown bread, because that was the only thing left at the only establishment open.” Enough blood returns to his face for it to flush slightly. “But it didn’t stay down, not after I found her. He wrapped her in plastic and left her for me to find.” A bubble of humorless laughter escapes his lips. “Quite thoughtful of him, really.”
“You haven’t eaten in a week?”
“When’s the last time you slept?”
“Last night.” Before she can feel relief, he continues. “For about twenty minutes.”
She does some rapid calculations. They still have a couple of hours before sunset. “You need to eat, and when you’re done eating, you need to sleep.”
When she realizes he’s too shattered to even nod, she goes to the kitchen and searches for something edible. They cleared out most of the food when they went into hiding, but she finds some stale peanut butter and staler bread. In his state, she doubts he’ll even be able to taste it, so she makes a couple of sandwiches, sets them on a plate, and grabs a glass of water for good measure. She’s right. He chews and swallows, but the food might as well be cardboard for as much as it registers.
After he’s finished, she pulls him gently to his feet and leads him upstairs to her room. Helps him get his shoes off and get under the comforter. He’s asleep almost as soon as he’s horizontal. And almost as soon as he’s asleep, he starts thrashing, struggling against something or someone.
This is ridiculous. She needs him rested and lucid, and a couple hours spent trapped in nightmare country isn’t going to get him any closer to either, as she knows from bitter experience. Knows it the same way she knows what will work.
G-d knows, it won’t be the worst sacrifice she’s ever made.
She strips quickly, efficiently, and crawls into the bed. It’s easy enough getting him undressed: he wakes up when she’s got his shirt tangled around his chest and helps her get the rest off. No words, just frantic hands and needy kisses from dry, cracked lips followed by hard, urgent sex. She wonders if he’s even aware enough of his surroundings to know who he’s with.
While he sleeps, she dresses and gathers the last of the weapons and supplies from the chest—they’re what she came here for in the first place. She puts them in a duffel bag and sets them next to the door so she can grab them when it’s time to go. Makes a list of things they need researched to send with him to Los Angeles. Half an hour before sunset, she wakes him.
“You want to know how to kill him? Don’t think about him, about what he means to you. Focus on what will happen if you don’t kill him, on all the people you love who will die because of him. It’ll be easier for you, because he’s still Angelus, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.” She hands him the list. “Here’s everything I can think of that we need answered. My cell number’s on the bottom. When you’re done in L.A., call it.”
He nods. As he puts his clothes back on, she can see that the injuries to his face are minor compared to the rest of them. She reaches into the duffel and grabs a length of bandaging. “Sit down,” she orders. He complies, and she binds his ribs, then pulls his shirt back down.
“Thank you.” A lot of meaning in two terse words, some bad, some good.
“Go,” she tells him. “Do what you need to do.”
When he’s gone, she grabs the bag and lets herself out of the house. She hopes she’s done the right thing. They’re going to need all the help they can get if they want to get through this.
Life in Wartime
These days, Sunnydale is practically a ghost town. The official news reports claim gas leaks and other understandable disasters are behind the destruction, but if the local populace is running scared, you know things have gotten bad. Worse than bad, if that’s possible. It’s a struggle to just keep breathing, and even more of a struggle to keep fighting.
She’s figured out a few things that work since the shit hit the fan. Some were things she’d kind of known for a while, some were new insights, but they all pretty much boiled down to one hard and fast rule: do what needs to be done, repent at your leisure when and if you survive. There’s no time for thinking beyond the immediate future, let alone time for regrets.
Act first, ask questions later, if at all.
Giles gets it. The rest of them haven’t quite grasped what’s happened, what’s changed, but Giles gets it. She doesn’t think he’s happy about it, though. Oh, he’s happy that she’s finally really seeing the big picture (and it’s not that she wasn’t aware of it, but before, she was always too far inside the frame to see anything but the details). That’s not his problem with the situation; it’s her methods that—he claims—give him pause.
As much as she hates to disappoint him, right now her methods are the only thing keeping them alive.
Wesley brings her information and armaments whenever he can spare the time and the weapons—L.A. is in almost as bad a shape as Sunnydale, not that anyone’s noticed a difference, and he’s stuck in the middle of the fight. In return, she provides him with comfort and promises to get Willow’s help recreating the ensouling spell.
After his first rush of grief and guilt had passed, he tells her, he realized it would be short-sighted to go for the kill instead of the capture. There’s too much at stake, he says, and they need Angel back. She suspects there’s more to it than that, but it’s not relevant, so she doesn’t ask for clarification.
Not worrying about unnecessary details is just one of the many variations she’s discovered for the main rule. There’s too much happening for her to be able to sort it all out, even if she wanted to, which she doesn’t.
She’s pretty sure he’d still be helping her, even without sex, but it keeps him sane and focused while everything’s falling apart. Besides, it’s the only way she has to relax anymore, and she’s learning that when neither side has any emotional investment, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. It’s refreshing, though she wishes it hadn’t taken the end of the world for her to figure that part out.
She shifts beneath him, her hips thrusting hard against his, her hands gripping him and pushing him closer. The bedroom reeks of sweat and sex, with the faint scent of blood mixed in—exertion tends to open wounds, and they’ve both got plenty of those. The smell will cling to her like smoke for the rest of the day, and a cruel streak she didn’t realize she had until recently revels in it, in knowing that when she’s back with the group, one of them can tell exactly what it is she’s been doing, even if the only thing he ever does with the knowledge is suffer.
When they collapse against the increasingly stained and tattered sheets (she’s down to the one set—the rest having been turned into bandages and fuel—and there’s nowhere left to wash them), she’s sore, exhausted, and sated. Her thighs are sticky with perspiration and semen, and it’s going to take her the better part of an hour to untangle her hair.
They’ve avoided talking much beyond business for the most part. It keeps things safe, balanced, detached. So she’s a little surprised when—after they’re through fucking—he tells her he needs a favor.
“I need you to shelter someone.”
“More refugees weren’t part of the bargain, Wes.”
“I know, however, there are extenuating circumstances.” He looks troubled where he’s normally unreadable.
“I can’t take on someone who can’t fight.”
“Buffy, it’s Cordelia.”
“That doesn’t make a difference.” It might have, at one time. Not anymore.
“She’s vulnerable in a way we hadn’t anticipated.”
She’s finding it hard to imagine Cordelia as vulnerable in an expected way, let alone an unexpected one. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“It’s not my place to divulge the specifics. If you agree to take her in, she’ll explain.”
“I can’t. It’s too risky.” She hasn’t even told Wesley where everyone is holed up, and she’s not about to introduce someone else to the mix.
Frustration and irritation flash briefly in cold blue eyes, and she realizes he’s not going to take no for an answer on this one. “She can’t fight, but I can send someone with her who can, though I can ill-afford to lose the manpower.”
Another body for the fight is a tempting offer. “How good a fighter are we talking about?”
“Better than any you have on hand, although he is prone to not following orders.” He watches her consider the words, then adds, “He’d also take responsibility for Cordelia’s care. All I’m asking for is a safe location outside of Los Angeles in which to put them.”
She looks around the bedroom and makes her decision. “They can stay here, in the house. If they cause trouble, or try to follow me when I go back to base, they’re gone. I don’t care how vulnerable she is, or how strong he is.”
“You owe me,” she grouses.
That earns her an unexpected grin. “I know, and I can assure you I’ll find some method of repayment.”
She shrugs, her shoulder brushing against his chest. “That’s pretty much the only reason I’m agreeing to it.” Her eyes close as she thinks about what they need now, and what they’ll need in the days to come. “When you bring them here, bring food and clean water, if you can find any.”
“Weapons as well?”
“Whatever you can spare, same as usual.”
“Will that be everything, or am I paying this off in installments?”
There’s not a moment’s hesitation before she answers. “Installments.”
With the negotiations completed to her satisfaction, she allows herself the luxury of a nap. They’ll be on the move again in the morning, after all. Time to save some strength for the battles ahead.
The whole problem with the end of the world is that it didn’t. End, that is. Turns out there was something worse than that waiting for them when the Hellmouth opened. Devouring them all seems to have been more of a figurative description for some people. She envies the dead. They got off lucky.
For half a second, the thought pushes away the gnawing guilt.
“There was nothing else you could have done.”
She hates it when he can tell what she’s thinking. “Thanks, but that doesn’t help.”
“Neither does sitting around and dwelling on the things you can’t change.” He sounds far too sure of himself.
“Please.” She looks up at him in disbelief. “Like you’re not guilty of the exact same thing.” She’s right, and he knows it. She can tell by the way his face flushes and hardens at the reminder. “Do as I say, not as I do, Wes? Is that it?”
“In this case, and given my history of bungling things, yes. You’re better off not following my dubious example.”
There’s no sense arguing with him when he gets like this, so she changes the subject. “How’s Cordelia?”
“Fred?” She can’t keep the faint sneer out of her voice, but it’s her house, and she’ll be petty if she feels like it.
Even if it does cause his brow to raise and a smug smile to appear on his face. He treats every time she displays an emotion as if it was some sort of huge victory. “My, we do seem to be touchy and territorial today, don’t we? I gave her a box of crayons I found in the basement. They should keep her occupied for a few hours, at least.”
This is what her life has come down to: sitting on her porch trading weak verbal punches with her lover (she uses the term loosely, but she can’t think of a better one), while a knocked-up ex-cheerleader sleeps in her old bed, and an insane physicist scribbles formulas and pictographs on what used to be her sister’s walls.
“They should have included an undo function.”
“I beg your pardon?”
She hears her thoughts so loudly that she often forgets she’s the only one listening to them. “The monks, when they made Dawn. They should have made it so that when she was unmade, the memories would go away.”
Unmade. That’s one way of putting it. It’s easier to say out loud than eviscerated while her sister tried and failed to keep the mouth of hell from opening. Eviscerated, gutted, disemboweled, sacrificed. Slaughtered.
Now that Buffy finally has the time to think, she can’t seem to stop. The hell outside seems almost comfortable compared to the one inside her head. Today’s hell wears a schoolgirl’s face, numb with shock and pain and betrayal. Yesterday it was Xander, the day before, Giles. And always, Willow’s face is there, looming in the darkness that swallowed her whole before the other darkness folded the whole of the world in its embrace.
Everyone she loves is gone—dead or changed beyond recognition. There’s no one left, and her hell is an empty place, all shadows and illusions.
Months ago, after Los Angeles fell and Wesley dragged his crippled band of comrades to Sunnydale to fight alongside hers, they started keeping score, tracking their losses in a sick game of one-upmanship. She thinks she’s ahead; she’ll have to check the books. There’s still some debate about who gets to count Angel. Wesley was closer to him towards the end, but she thinks she gets bonus points for having her last girlish illusions shattered by the whole Cordelia thing. Maybe they should just flip a coin.
Not that it matters. He still has two people left to lose, so he’ll win in the end. Three if she counts herself, which she doesn’t.
She stares out at the empty street. Night and day have lost all meaning, and it’s hard to keep track of time. Even Wes has given up on wearing a watch—as sure a sign as any that they’re living at the end of days. Cordelia’s belly serves as their calendar: almost three quarters of a year now since the beginning of the end.
Cordelia’s close to term, and Buffy realizes she’s jealous again. Not of the imminent motherhood (the very idea is one of the few things that can still scare her—since her pill prescription ran out, she’s been playing Russian roulette with five chambers loaded and somehow getting the empty one each month, but she knows even that small amount of luck will most likely dry up sooner rather than later), but of the reasonable chance of death associated with it. It just seems easier than slowly starving from the lack of food and hope.
The lack of the latter hurts more than the former. Even Pandora’s box released hope with hell.
The touch of his hand on her shoulder breaks her out of her reverie. “It’s safer inside,” he says.
By which he means he’s not ready to let her give in to the inevitable, not yet. Maybe because if she does, he’ll be dragged down right along with her. He’s still clinging to the possibility of continuing the fight from sheer stubbornness. She knows he finds the idea of failure intolerable, even when it’s already gone from idea to reality.
It’s another thing she’s tried arguing with him about, when she was trying to make him see that maybe death wasn’t such a bad option. She even brought up her own experience to try and prove her point. He just quietly informed her that it all depended on where one was going.
She lets him lead her back into the house, where they feel their way up to the bedroom in the darkness. Their supply of candles is limited, so they make do the best they can without light whenever possible. He helps her undress, lights one of the candles, and then leaves the room.
When he comes back, he’s balancing two bowls of water and her toothbrush in his hands. He tries to keep all of them focused as much as possible on the mundane realities of life as it’s become. Which, apparently, means being careful about oral hygiene. She doesn’t think he really believes that they’ll live long enough for tooth loss to become an issue, but she brushes and flosses twice a day to keep him happy.
While she’s using one of the bowls to rinse her mouth, he’s dipping a washcloth into the other. He waits until she’s done, then washes her face with something approaching tenderness. Watches her in the flickering light as he moves the cloth to her neck and shoulders. She closes her eyes so she doesn’t have to see it, because she’s close to breaking down completely. The terrycloth is cold and soft, like dead kisses against her skin.
She waits until she’s started shaking to open her eyes. His expression is unreadable, but she still knows what he’s doing—he does it every night. It works, of course. She already feels heavy and damp, almost languid. He keeps stroking her with the cloth, brushing the tips of her breasts and the slight curve of her hips until her jaw grows slack and the noise in her head finally subsides.
He backs her towards the bed. Pushes her down and kisses her like it could somehow keep her tied to the world. Works her with his hands until the lassitude vanishes and she’s twisting frantically beneath him again. She can taste the desperation on his lips, can feel it inside her as he tries to keep her with him.
It works, for now. But it won’t be long before he can’t pull her out of it, before she finds enough strength to give up the fight.
It’s just a matter of time, and she’s counting the days.
Cordelia did not survive the birth of her child. With Buffy’s help, he removed the body to one of the nearby cemeteries for disposal. Afterwards, while Buffy tended to the infant, he burned the blood-soaked bedding and Cordelia’s personal effects. Five weeks later, the child passed on, unnamed and essentially unmourned. No assistance was necessary in disposing of the tiny corpse.
The following week he abandoned his efforts to find a functional portal to anywhere. The opening of the Hellmouth had sealed all the recorded ones, and, in all likelihood, all the unrecorded ones as well. Shortly thereafter, he realized that Buffy’s last courses had predated Cordelia’s death by about a week. Had it not been for the fact that she was having difficulty holding down water, he might have been tempted to attribute it to stress, grief, or starvation rather than the most obvious cause.
“Yeah.” Resigned lightness tinted her words. “But I’m not going to live long enough for it to matter.”
He fumbled for her hand in the pitch-black and offered up the only comfort he could. “You’re probably right.”
He felt the movement of her smile against his chest. “Want to take bets on how much longer we’ve got?”
“Not especially, no.” His free hand moved to stroke her hair. “Just because I’m resigned to the fact that we’re going to die, doesn’t mean I feel like making light of it.”
Her fingers traced the outline of his ribs, soft pads against the sharp bone and tight skin. Her fingertips were one of the few things on either of them that still felt almost normal. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine her as she’d been before, all gentle curves and bright skin. Pity he hadn’t known her well enough to wipe the picture of her pale and practically skeletal from his mind. At least their rations only needed splitting between three people now. Though he supposed prolonging the inevitable wasn’t going to earn him any thanks.
“We need t-shirts,” she said. “I survived the end of the world, and all I got was this lousy lingering death.”
“If we gave Fred some fabric and some markers, perhaps she could produce something.”
“For someone who doesn’t feel like making light of the fact that we’re all doomed, you’re pretty good at it.”
“I can’t help it if you’re a bad example.”
“And I can’t help it if you’re a rotten liar.”
Lips nearly as soft and normal as her fingertips covered his with slow, languorous kisses. Her movements no longer contained any of the desperation and worry about the non-existent future that had defined so many of their actions in the past. Instead, they were hazy, narcotic touches disconnected from time and space. Morphine in motion.
He found the dream-like stupor of it almost as comforting as the knowledge that everything would be over soon. His hands skimmed the sharp ridge of her spine, folded over slender hips and he pulled her on top of him. Her weight barely registered: a ghost of a girl, save for the tight, wet heat of her body and the uneven rhythm of her breath.
Everything existed in a halfway state now. Halfway between waking and sleeping, between life and death. In a rare moment of lucidity, Fred compared them all to Schrödinger’s cat, trapped in the in-between with no one to open the box and determine the outcome. Trying to live while waiting to die, which, as it turned out, wasn’t as bad as it seemed, once you gave up.
All consequences were essentially inconsequential to the walking dead. He thought it explained quite a bit about both Angel and Angelus.
As the weeks passed, Buffy began to spend more and more of her time asleep, sprawled shrouded beneath the makeshift bedding. With little else to do, he would sit in the room and listen to her breathe. Occasionally, he’d curl up beside her, his hand spread possessively over her belly, states of potential layered like Schrödinger’s nesting dolls.
It was funny, the efforts the body went to to propagate the species, even with extinction ’round the corner. He’d never felt any particular urge for children of his own—too many uncertainties and too much that could go wrong. He still didn’t, and didn’t have any regrets knowing they’d die before potential became reality. Just an odd disconnected connectedness to the experience.
Days came and went in a blur, indistinct and shapeless. Fred slipped from her room while he and Buffy were sleeping, leaving behind one last drawing—on paper this time—of an elephant (at least he assumed from the context it was an elephant, though it more closely resembled a tapir) trudging off to a pile of bones. On the back was a short, apologetic letter of explanation and the last lines of “The Hollow Men”. He burned it for fuel with the rest of her possessions.
On the last night, he gathered the remainder of the candles and set them around the room. Lit them one by one until it was close to bright. Buffy’s wraith-like figure, all angles and bones except for the slight curve of her stomach, glowed silver in the flickering light, the ends of her hair faded to white from months without retouching. He watched her until the candles began to sputter, then crawled next to the still form and drifted off to sleep.